I joined a professional association once. Over the course of several years and thousands of dollars, this is what I had received for joining: a useful Powerpoint on writing press releases.
That’s all. Obviously, that relationship didn’t last too long. The press releases I’ve constructed since are better, I suppose. Worth my investment into the organization? Eh, nope.
Ask someone why they join a professional association and they’ll offer up networking, educational opportunities, certifications, or representation. All important and vital functions of any association.
Then, ask someone why they won’t renew a membership, or why they’re not interested in joining at all, and they’ll tell you it’s because they didn’t see the personal value in it. There’s just not enough in it for them to justify the expenditure.
Dollars and Sense
The problem is that many of the benefits of an association are hard to quantify. What’s the value of being able to place an acronym after your name on a résumé? How do you put a specific dollar return on that helpful tip you learned from an association’s educational webinar?
These questions often go unanswered, and that causes members to lapse or never join at all. As a result there has to be a greater emphasis on the “other” member benefits, such as supplemental insurance, AD&D, identity protection, and others that can show a sort of dollar-for-dollar value to the member.
While those benefits can certainly show a financial return, they’re generally not highly-utilized. That’s where discounts come in.
Member discount programs seem to be growing among associations because of the simplicity of the benefit: the association helps the member save money on their purchases, and that money offsets their dues. For many, these programs provide a simple answer to the “What’s in it for me?” quandary.
The Great Benefits of Discount Programs
Access works with dozens of professional associations (in fact we just partnered with Oklahoma Education Association to add a discount program into their member benefits package). While we can certainly vouch for the purely financial connection between discounts and dues, there are also a few more benefits to this particular benefit that our clients have shared with us.
They open the door to greater engagement
Discount programs are something members can use daily. This positive brand reinforcement opens the doors to a deeper relationship with the association. Members are more open to hearing about the organization’s advocacy, for example, after they’ve saved $30 on shoes.
They provide the opportunity to say something other than “Give us more money”
In actuality, discount programs say the opposite – “Let us GIVE you more money.” Promoting deals and offers is a great excuse to have regular communications with members.
They bring the association home
People tend to separate their professional and personal lives, and with good reason. But the relationship between member and association deepens when members can draw a direct line between their membership and their home life in a tangible manner – such as saving money on the weekly pizza order or knocking $100 off back to school shopping.
Acquiring member emails, phone numbers and other information is challenging. Discount programs require members to register, which has two big benefits: associations get the contact info AND the member has opted-in to receive messaging around the benefits.
They add meaning to every member
Low usage benefits such as AD&D are nice to have, but really only have meaning to the few members who have to utilize them. A well-done discount program with a diversity of merchants and offers can speak to each individual differently. Some may use it every day on groceries, some may only pull it out when looking for dinner inspiration Friday nights. Regardless, people will use the discounts and find their own value in it.
Perfect Benefits for an Imperfect World
In a perfect world, an association takes care of its primary business – advocacy, education, and so on – and that alone is enough to bring members to the table and keep them there. Unfortunately the world we live in is one where dollars are scarce and each expenditure has to be scrutinized for some kind of return.
Maybe my old PR association had some great benefits buried under the surface beyond cool Powerpoints about press releases. Maybe not. I’ll never know, because I never found any value anywhere in the organization. I was never inspired to look beyond the surface.
That’s why discount programs are important. They provide an obvious answer to the “What’s in it for me?” question.
Adding a full-fledged discount program into the mix not only helps eliminate financial objections, which helps with retention and acquisition, but they also deepen the relationship by adding personal value and opening the door to deeper engagement.