Association Membership Benchmarks

6th August 2019

Reflecting from Manila, Octavio ‘Bobby’ Peralta, CEO & Founder of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE), highlights the different models of memberships that can help associations grow.

I recently got a copy of the 2019 membership marketing benchmarking report published by Marketing General Inc., a Virginia, US-based marketing agency working exclusively with membership organizations. The MGI has been publishing this report annually since 2009 and associations find it most useful in recruitment, engagement, renewal and reinstatement of members.

Despite the rapid changes in technology, culture, and demographics, MGI’s data show that many associations have been able to sustain a level of membership growth and continue to serve their markets. A closer look at the trend data also reveals that the percentage of associations reporting membership growth over the last decade is on a gradual decline: from 52 percent in 2012 to 45 percent today. The remainder, in fact a majority of associations, is seeing either no growth or declines in membership.

Associations reporting important positive outcomes in membership also report higher innovation and level-of-value scores. In short, these more innovative and value-producing associations are successfully adapting to the challenges faced in today’s competitive marketplace. Eighty-one percent of associations reported membership growth in the past five years, and 82 percent have an increase in overall new members, indicating that their organization has a culture that supports innovation.

In terms of membership models, one that has seen remarkable growth is the move toward “combination membership” which offers members opportunity to join as either an individual (like a typical professional society) or as an organization (like a typical trade association or chamber). In 2011 only 13 percent of respondents identified their association as having a combination membership structure. This year 26 percent of respondents identified their association as a combination association.

Another developing innovation for associations is the use of paid digital media for marketing efforts. For membership recruitment, this channel has increased as a preferred channel from 12 percent to 15 percent over the past year. Of the 15 percent of associations that consider paid digital marketing tools as a highly effective method for recruiting new members, Facebook paid advertising remains the most effective digital marketing tool (68 percent).

The other technology-driven development that associations report this year is a significant decrease in data problems that have been reported in the past.  The top data complaint is lack of marketing results tracking and analysis, which dropped from 51 percent in 2018 to 39 percent in 2019. Similarly, the issue of inadequate membership dashboards and reporting tools went from 48 percent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2019.

Similar to 2018, the most effective offers for obtaining new members include conference/convention discounts (54 percent), a membership dues discount for the first year (52 percent), and additional months free, e.g., 15 months for the price of 12 (46 percent).

Almost identical to 2018, the top reasons executives believe members join is to network with others in the field (57 percent), learn best practices in their profession (26 percent) and access specialized and/or current information (25 percent).

Association executives reiterate the same top challenges as in 2018: difficulty in communicating value or benefits (38 percent, up from 35 percent), insufficient staff (35 percent; same as in 2018) and difficulty in proving ROI (25 percent, up from 22 percent).

Bobby Peralta is presently the Secretary General of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP), the focal point of 106 development banks and other financial institutions engaged in sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region. With over 25 years of experience as an association executive, Bobby Peralta is a long-standing member of and contributor to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the CEO & Founder of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE).

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