Jacobs The Art of Membership

Jacobs, S. (2014). The art of membership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Summary: The purpose of this “how-to” text is to provide strategies for professional organizations to increase their membership. It is divided into four parts: (1) Finding your value, (2) Identifying who your members are, (3) Selling the organization, and (4) Personalizing the process. The tone is personable and easy to read. It is designed for chief officers, executives, and board members of organizations.

Part 1: Find Your Value


Chapter 1: Understand the Value Before You Start Selling

The main purpose of this chapter is for you as an organization to understand your brand. Who are you? What do you stand for? How much is that worth to others?

Information from the Text

Individuals join because they need specialty information that only the organization can provide.

They also join because they want credentialed.

The organization needs to identify what their exclusive, members-only benefits are. Pages 4-5 offers some examples of members-only benefits.

Some organizations offer members professional development opportunities.

“Understanding the primary drivers of membership helps you communicate the value you offer and what is unique about your organization” (p. 7). Table 1.1 on page 9 offers a tool for understanding these drivers.

The most common reasons individuals join organizations are related to their personal benefits of accessing job-related information, taking advantage of professional development opportunities, and networking with peers.

“Understanding the fundamental difference between benefits that are important and the primary drivers of membership is the first step to understanding the marketable value of your organization” (p. 10). Table 1.2 on p. 11 provides categories for defining member benefits.

Some organizations hook new members as students.

An individual’s willingness to pay membership is based on 3 factors: (1) branding of the product, (2), perceptions of the value of the product, and (3) personal assessment of the value of the product.

“You must do the math: the total market demand is the sum of the quantities demanded by different individuals with different levels of willingness to pay” (p. 15).

A big mistake that organizations make that causes them to fail is when they do not completely understand the business they are in and when they fail to consider all of the potential sources of competition.

p. 21 offers a benefit value checklist

Other quotes and points:

  • “Truly understanding the value of your benefits, the next-best alternative, and the needs of the market place will help your organization remain nimble and capable of adjusting to technology innovations and changes in the economy” (p. 18).
  • Rule for bundling benefits: “When bundling your benefits, you should consider offering a base membership with enough valuable benefits to outweigh the cost and offer other benefits on an a la carte basis” (p. 18).
  • “Although bundling provides a financial benefit to associations, prospective members will also benefit from some bundles, if you position your bundle as a way to save money or provide specialized guidance. Individuals who are price sensitive and need to obtain the items you offer in a bundled membership in order to practice or maintain their license will appreciate a good deal if they see a considerable cost savings” (p. 19).
  • The Risks Associated with Making Change:

    • (1) Membership studies tell you only what your current members value, not what nonmembers value
    • (2) You could undermine current perceptions of value
    • (3) Changes to your benefits package could have major financial implications


Chapter 2: Value is in the Eye of the Beholder

The main purpose of this chapter is to understand how to understand your membership.

Information from the Text

“…the more a members is engaged, the greater the likelihood that he or she will renew” (p. 23).

“What is more important than level of engagement, however, is the combination of cost, value, and satisfaction” (p. 24). “Interests, needs, motivations, and attitudes should also be taken into consideration” (p. 24).

“The key to achieving member loyalty and retention is synchronizing cost and value. If associations create a membership package that provides the most value to members who volunteer, participate, and engage, it’s possible that they may not provide enough value at the lower levels of engagement. And these levels are critical to keeping the organization relevant” (p. 26).

There are 9 categories of membership engagement. They include : information seekers, lifelong learners, continuing education requirement members, though leaders – current and aspiring, rising stars and networkers, mission members, prestige members, uninvolved members, and transactional members.

“Correlating the reasons a member joins to the individual needs and, therefore, the perceived value for each of those individuals is paramount to the next step” (p. 37).

Pages 41-43 offer action steps for understanding your membership to include : Creating better member profiles, Expanding member research to include psychographic questions, applying marketing analytics and customizing our message, and updating records on a regular basis.


Chapter 3: Sell What Matters

The main purpose of this chapter is identify and understand your brand.

Information from the Text

3 main reasons members leave are: (1) lack of relevant information, (2) cost exceeding the value, and (3) satisfaction with alternative sources

One way organizations can provide benefits is by providing solutions to members’ issues and concerns. These solutions must be customized, exclusive, and necessary.

Although the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) assessment is time honored, it may also hold you back from developing new products to meet member needs.

Table 3.1 on pp. 48-49 provides an exercise for understanding the brand attributes. “In addition to the ‘to-do’ list that results from this process, there should be a parallel ‘stop doing’ list!” (p. 49).

One organization provided solutions to their members by helping them save money, improve productivity, and increase profits.

One organization provided professional learning that was unique to only their organization. “The difference is these companies do not imitate their competitors; they create unique experiences that differentiate them and provide more value” (p. 53).

Marketing & Branding: “Morrison’s next priority was to make sure his members knew about the benefits and, more important, how having access to the corresponding programs and services would significantly improve their personal and professional lives” (p. 54).

“Creating a portfolio of products, programs, and services that yield meaningful benefits can be a challenge if your organization serves a multidisciplinary audience that includes both core and affiliate members” (p. 55).

Pitfalls: “From travel discounts to financial services, offerings that do not provide real and unique value can damage your brand and dilute the perception that membership is essential” (p. 56).

One small organization’s secret to success: “’We created, and updated every three to four years, our series of nine books that summarize the essential knowledge required to provide quality medical care to patients treated by our members,’ says Steve Smith, MS, CAE, executive director at the Academy” (p. 58). “Every time a new edition comes out, it sells, because people want the latest version of that essential tool that is used to teach and serves as an important reference” (p. 58).

Another product they sold helped support individuals who were taking their certification exam.

“It comes down to finding out what matters to your members and then selling that. So a successful product solves a problem, addresses a need, and makes membership in your association valuable because it offers what a member cannot get elsewhere” (p. 60).

The chapter offers action steps on pp. 60-61 for branding.

Other quotes:

  • “His advice is simple: ‘The best way to help your members is to give them what they can’t obtain on their own. And make it something they need to succeed in their industry. That’s what we did at MTI’” (p. 55).


Chapter 4: Change More or Less – And Other Alternative Pricing Strategies

The main purpose of this chapter is to understand pricing strategies for your products.

Information from the Text

“Price, and the perception of value and quality, are intertwined more than most people might think when they, as association professionals, consider how much to charge for membership, programs, products, or services” (p. 65).

One organization unbundled the conference registration from the membership dues.

“Because members and prospects vary in their price sensitivity and preferences, organizations should consider a variety of pricing strategies to enhance their marketing efforts to sell membership, programs, and products” (p. 70).

Reasons to implement a strategic approach to pricing: (1) Increase demand for a product, (2) Increase response rates during a shorter period of time, (3) Penetrate new markets, (4) Meet strategic goals and subsidize other benefits, and (5) Gain a competitive edge

One organization offered customized training plans, connections to experts, and VIP treatment during a special weekend.

Pricing Alternative Strategies: (1) VIP Pricing, (2) Urgency Pricing, (3) Monthly vs annual dues, (4) Loss leaders, (5) Supply-and-demand pricing, and (6) Good-better-best pricing

“By using the loss leader pricing strategy, your organization could potentially attract a different set of customers or members as they may be coming to you for one thing and end up purchasing or being attracted to something quite different. Basically, this strategy aims to eliminate competition so that you gain an advantage in the market and perhaps strengthen your organization’s brand” (p. 77).

“A supply-and-demand pricing strategy provides monetary incentives for individuals or companies to act quickly if they wish to receive the greatest overall savings or discount” (p. 77).

One organization had their students commit to three years of membership and then receive a discounted rate.

pp. 87-90 offers Actions Steps.