Thanks to the Internet, information is more accessible than ever. It’s almost impossible to imagine that just two decades ago, the only way a person could access some industry-specific literature was to become a paid member of a trade association. While the rise of the digital age has prompted evolution for many specialized professions, it has also posed some challenges.

“People used to join associations because they simply couldn’t get courses or information anywhere else,” says Smith & Harroff, Inc. President Rick Morris. “It’s become harder for associations to differentiate themselves, especially professional organizations whose business models are based on content being profitable.”

The generational shift is making things harder, too. Millennials need more convincing when it comes to paid annual memberships. As this segment enters the workforce, associations are forced to present membership models and benefit packages that provide a means to an end. This younger group seeks tailored engagement, networking opportunities, unique credentialing programs and other features that contribute to their professional success.

Creative associations are combating the changing landscape and widespread skepticism with hybrid membership models. These models build upon the standard format and include additional options which reflect the needs of a full range of membership. “You still see a lot of traditional individual, student and professional membership offerings, but that doesn’t quite cut it anymore,” says Smith & Harroff, Inc. Executive Vice President Carina May. “You need to offer up various membership scenarios based on the specific needs of your audience, or different tiers based on the products and services you provide.”

Some examples of popular hybrid membership models include the following:

Group sales. Entice business leaders with a group membership that improves the efficiency of their workforce and provide it at a discount. “We work with the Community Associations Institute, which has members who range from homeowners to association managers to industry professionals who support them, such as accountants and bankers,” May says. “They recently introduced an option that allows an entire community association board of up to 15 members to join as a group for a reduced fee. This organization took time to understand its members and created a whole new membership package based on a targeted niche.”

Specialized offers. More now than ever, association membership must be complemented with options that help members meet their own professional goals. “Many specialized offers are structured to help members navigate career challenges and explore continued or higher education in their field, such as courses or career counseling,” Morris says.

Hyper-bundling. Associations who offer a wide variety of programs and services, from annual conferences to online tools, should consider bundling these selections together with an organizational membership. “This approach offers associations a more efficient sales process and allows members to better budget, plus it creates a culture of engagement and has been shown to result in higher retention rates,” Morris says.


This article is featured in the February 2018 edition of The Membership Management Report and is being republished with permission by the Wiley Company. The Membership Management Report, (Online ISSN: 2325-8640), is published monthly by Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., a Wiley Company.


Click here to read more about additional trends as they relate to hybrid membership models.