Why Join?

In my previous blog post, I question whether or not the membership model is dying. After pondering further, I wonder why many of the association professionals I’ve met are unaware of associations that support their own functional areas—or if they do, why they don’t understand the value of joining. One would expect all association professionals belong to their relevant professional organization(s). You would expect other leaders in the industry encourage their employees to join and be involved. Yet, after working with more than 100 organizations throughout my career, I can confirm that this is not the case.

“In 2011, the American Sociological Association reported the decline in active memberships in civic groups, fraternal organizations, and other local associations is greater than the increase in checkbook memberships.” This and other research validates a decline in membership. Yet, what are associations doing about it?

The question of “why join” has changed. Traditional reasons people joined professional associations include:

  • Professional development
  • Public policy influence
  • Leadership development
  • Networking

So, what has changed?

  • More people work out of town and have longer work days.
  • More people are self-employed, so time out of the office is a loss of billable time.
  • The workforce is more transient.
  • Young people are attending school and working at the same time.
  • Gen Y & X are better at work/life balance.
  • There are more avenues for socializing and connecting.
  • Professional and leadership development can be achieved through online resources and through vendors in every industry; vendors are providing educational resources for little or no cost and even providing continuing education.
  • Networking is easily accomplished through alternative channels. Sites such as Meetup provide opportunities to quickly connect with professionals similar to you.

Membership is a big obligation. It demands time away from the office, dues, travel, volunteer commitment and more. So, why join?

It is more important than ever to truly understand your members and customers. My consulting company conducts membership surveys for associations. However, I believe associations must go much further in understanding their members’ needs. They must:

  • Gather feedback. Have staff ask members what you can provide to help them personally and professionally.
  • Understand how your members work. Are they at a desk, walking around a hospital, on a construction site, in their cars, and what is their free time during the day?
  • Study your first-time members at your annual meeting. What is their experience? Are they greeted? Can they register easily? Can they find where they need to be?
  • Understand how your members are truly experiencing your organization. What is the customers’ journey both online and offline?
  • Create a culture of customer service. Train, retrain and create expectations around service and the member experience.

What is your association doing to be relevant in these fast moving times? How are you retaining members? Please share your experiences as a member of an organization or as someone serving the industry.






  1. Sherry,I can recall that many years ago, there were several association CEOs who proclaimed that membership organizations were going to be dead in a few years.  That did not happen, and in general membership at large has grown, especially when you consider all of the new organizations that have been launched in the past ten years.  Clearly there are some older and larger associations that are experiencing a decline in membership.  Fraternal groups and civic associations have seen a decline, at least from my observations, but in addition, there are many more civic and not-for -profit groups that have sprung up with “niche” purpose that seems to have satisfied the need to associate for a particular purpose. I do agree with you that associations in particular, need to be constantly checking with their membership on what is important to them.  The one-size no longer fits all !!  It is my firm believe, supported in part by many years of person experience, that the focus on satisfying member needs MUST be directed by the governing board.  This is true for professional associations, trade groups as well as foundations and special not-for-profits that are focused on the arts.  Many Boards contain members who have worked their way “up the ladder” are are now content to rest on their laurels, rather than seeing Board service as an opportunity to continue to search out, embrace and look for ever new ways of meeting the organizations member needs. 

    I believe that there will always be “checkbook” members, although their numbers are likely to continue to decline in the face of competition from niche organizations that meet a particular need.  Some not-for-profit organizations may in fact be better off by disbanding and distributing their assets to other organizations that can meet their members needs in a more efficient way. Clearly the CEO and senior staff, regardless of the size of the organization, needs to own these issues, and engage both the Boards, Committee and membership if the organization is going to remain relevant to its purpose.  One very good way to begin the process is to look at the purpose of the organization that was set out when the organization was founded.  Most have probably forgotten that purpose, or it is written in such a way as to be basically meaningless to the current leadership and members.   It also takes a clear vision and willingness to experiment with changes to the purpose and functioning of the organization. 

    Just recently, I had a conversation with a consultant who was working with an organization that was started about 20 years ago.  He indicated that some of the Board members felt that they could provide better goods and services if they converted from a not-for-profit structure to a for-profit structure, changed from “giving away” goods and services as a function of “membership” to selling the goods and services to those who want them, as a company would do, and then create a “reward” structure that provided “membership” upon reaching an appropriate level of purchasing.  The consultant said that this idea had been proposed at the very beginning of the review, and had been soundly rejected.  However, over time, the Board is beginning to explore what such a change would actually mean for the organization, and they have begun in earnest to look at the pros and cons of such a move.  Neither the consultant nor I have any clear idea if such a major move will take place, but the consideration of such a drastic change has really focused the leadership (both Board and Senior Staff) on what is truly important and relevant in this ever changing world. Thanks for the post and for stimulating some discussion on this topic.  I think it would be a good session for the Forum as well as for ASAE. Ron Ronald S. MoenPresident and CEOThe Moen Group, LLC

    From: My Association Journey To: chicagolandron@yahoo.com Sent: Sunday, April 3, 2016 5:03 PM Subject: [New post] Why Join? #yiv6895857390 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv6895857390 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv6895857390 a.yiv6895857390primaryactionlink:link, #yiv6895857390 a.yiv6895857390primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv6895857390 a.yiv6895857390primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv6895857390 a.yiv6895857390primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv6895857390 WordPress.com | Sherry Budziak posted: “In my most recent blog, I questioned whether or not the membership model is dying. Pondering on this further over the weekend…I wonder why many of the association professionals that I have met don’t even know about their own professional associations an” | |


  2. Hi Ron, I agree and recall the conversations years ago. I didn’t agree at the time but I do feel that there is a shift happening. I heard from 3 folks this week who are not renewing their AF membership because they don’t see value. I do not think associations will “go away” but the ones who stay will be those who have a clear value proposition and can communicate the value. There are lots of other ways to “belong” these days.


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