Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Selling Memberships 1,000 Members at a Time

Posted by Princess Eva Angelica at 12:02 PM

I wanted to share a story today that my friend Chris Bluhm, Chief Operating Officer, of The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) gave me permission to share with you.

Over the past several years, Chris and his colleagues have established the AOTA National Partnership Program. As part of the benefits, the program includes a block of memberships that the partner company provides to their staff. This results in instant company paid memberships for AOTA. However, the partners also greatly benefit from the program as tool to help them identify, recruit, and retain top occupational therapists.

Two companies, Genesis Rehab Services and RehabCare have joined the program so far. The most recent partnership will allow RehabCare’s almost 1,300 occupational therapy practitioners to have access to the educational and professional resources that AOTA offers to other members. The 1,300 members also represent a sizeable new member input for AOTA.

There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to share this story. First, because it is an example of very smart membership marketing and that is what this blog is all about. There are multiple ways to grow membership for an organization and it is wise to take advantage of each opportunity. Obviously, this all assumes that a sound financial rational has been put in place before initiating any agreements.

My second reason is that there can be a fear among non-profits of partnering with for profit companies. Just yesterday, I saw members of an association list serv cautioning against allowing for profits to buy membership and give them to customers because it might lower the perceived value of the association or result in higher non-renewals.

Here are some reasons why I like the idea of developing innovative forms of bulk membership offers like the National Partnership Program.

  1. Typically, the more paid members an organization has the better off it is financially. Fixed costs rarely grow at the same rate as membership volume. So each additional member provides additional margin or profits for the association. This is a big help in challenging economic times.
  2. Members – from any source -- should be the best customers an association has for professional development, certification, books, conference, etc. It is said, “A rising tide raises all boats. “
  3. To acquire members through most channels – direct mail, ads, exhibiting, and emails – costs money. But a program of bulk or membership sales will typically cost some time, but represent the least expensive new members that an organization adds.
  4. Many people who the partner or company may recruit for membership are the company’s employees or customer list. There may be no other way to access these people except through a bulk membership.
  5. The partner may renew the membership resulting in a higher renewal rate than would normally be achieved from first year members.
  6. The partner’s sponsoring of membership results in a very powerful third party endorsement of the organization in the mind of the new member.
  7. Members who may never have had the financial resources to join the organization on their own will be brought into your community.

Let me know if you agree or disagree with me on these points. Have you had any bulk membership or partnership experiences with membership? Please share them.

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