Group Membership: One of the Best Association Growth Moves

Group Membership
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Group and corporate memberships can yield substantial revenue and thousands of new members if done correctly.

Why "Group" Membership Doesn't Work

Many associations have “group” membership, which usually amounts to a volume discount, sometimes with a single invoice. The idea is that companies will want to pay for more employees’ memberships if they get a price break and it is more convenient to pay. Unfortunately, these group membership plans do not do well and are mostly an afterthought in your membership strategy. 

The problem is that companies don’t want to pay for any employee’s membership. Or at least far fewer companies do. Most organizations stopped paying employees’ membership dues when times got tough and never started doing it again. Eventually, they realized it was unnecessary to keep their people happy, and people who want a membership are willing to pay for it themselves. 

Why "Enterprise" Memberships Do Work

The enterprise membership is an entirely different value proposition. It is a B2B offering designed with the executive decision-maker in mind. Discounts on individual memberships are but a part of it. The real magic in the offering – what makes it click – is a distinct set of benefits that speak to the needs of the executives who will have to write the check. These are things that benefit the company and the executives themselves. 

What kinds of things? They must be things that have demonstrable financial value and elevate the decision-maker’s profile. They include: 

  • Good PR in your publications highlighting the great things they are doing 
  • Access to advocacy and policy leaders to be in the know and have their voices heard 
  • A seat at the table on an Executive Advisory Council with your CEO 
  • Help in recruiting employees with exclusive data and promotional opportunities 
  • Substantial savings on education and events they have to pay for (e.g., continuing ed, training events) 

There are two things to note about this list. First, these are things that only you can provide, and you don’t offer them now. Second, they have real bottom-line value to an enterprise at a meager cost to you.  

This kind of offer works because it is a great business decision for the company. It has clear value and is easy to justify financially. 

Think Value, Not Dues Revenue

Membership organizations think about dues, which is correct for individual members and incorrect for enterprise members. Why? The value to the enterprise is not a matter of how many employees they sign up. The value to the enterprise is the tangible financial value you will provide. How much is $1 million in savings worth? Certainly more than the sum of the individual dues included. 

Corporations expect to price things this way—the greater the value, the more things costs. In membership, larger organizations generally get more value and pay more than smaller ones. A large organization might pay $100K for that $1 million in value. A smaller one might get less and so spend less. 

This value-based pricing is uncomfortable for many associations, but it is critical to effectively selling enterprise memberships. 

Large Leaps in Membership

A sizeable medical society launched an enterprise membership with overwhelming success. They designed the membership for large health systems that employ physicians. They offer a suite of benefits, including inside access, publicity, burnout prevention, early access to residents for recruiting, and free continuing education. In addition, all of the physicians in the system are eligible for an individual membership at no cost. 

The cost is value-based, ranging from a flat fee of $15k for smaller systems to $100K for large ones. The price is less than they would pay for all the individual memberships, but health systems buy it because of everything else they get. 

In the first year, 5,000 new physicians came in through enterprise membership, so many they had to pause the program because they could not onboard them fast enough. Some of the largest systems have enrolled as large as 15K physicians. The association projects that more than half of its new members will join through enterprise membership in a few years.

You Have to Sell It

What were the keys to success? First, an incredibly attractive set of benefits based on thorough research. Second, a thoughtful and convincing financial case. Finally, and most importantly, business development. That is to say, sales. 

The enterprise membership is a B2B sale. It takes time and skill to reach and persuade the right buyers. In this case, it meant a sales resource dedicated to building this program, armed with the quality of sales materials executive buyers expect. It also meant solid executive support: The CEO will personally engage with executives at large systems to help convince them.  

Their vision and investment paid off. Other Sequence clients, some smaller, have had equivalent success with similar enterprise membership programs custom-tailored for their markets. For example, the Executive’s Club of Chicago doubled its membership in three years after rolling out a new Enterprise Member value proposition. 

In another example, SAE International launched a subsidiary focused solely on the needs of companies in their industry and grew their non-dues revenue ten times over.  


How to "De-Risk" Group Membership

While the payoff is substantial, it is not entirely without risk. One concern will be to what extent you might “cannibalize” your individual members. You might ultimately decrease your net revenue by offering discounted memberships to individuals who would have paid full price. 

It is a valid question that you can answer with the proper data analysis. Unless market penetration is exceptionally high, the revenue gains outweigh the discounts in most cases. 

There is also a risk that big groups that join at once might leave at once, creating excessive volatility in your membership. To reduce this risk, you can mitigate this with thoughtful multi-year contracts that include extended notice provisions and other elements.

Group Membership That Works for Growth

Many associations have reached an individual membership plateau. Growth is meager, despite their best efforts, and it is unrealistic to expect big jumps in growth from doing the same old things. A new model is needed. 

Enterprise membership allows you to repurpose assets you already have to enter a new market where you have an immediate competitive advantage — and do so at a very low cost. The revenue and membership growth opportunities are significant. Too significant for you to not explore seriously.

For more on membership growth strategy see Association Success: 7 Ways to Thrive Not Just Survive.

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