The state of being a member, as of a society, or club.
Any state, circumstance, opportunity, or means especially favorable to success, interest, or any desired end.
Interesting that, of the two words above, the word ‘membership’ has the higher difficulty or comprehension score, in that only some people would be likely to recognize the word ‘membership’ and what it means, compared to the word ‘advantage’ which is ranked as a word most people would know and understand.
This has some important consequences for those of us engaged in the profession of developing and engaging membership, that is, asking people to become ‘members’ of an organization. The fact of the matter is, for the most part, membership and civic involvement levels, across the board, are in decline – a phenomenon first identified by Robert Putnam in his essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”.
It is simply a statement of fact that more and more people understand less and less about ‘membership’ – in the sense of what membership means, and, for that matter, why they would want to be one – a ‘member’ that is.
Advantage – Associations
That said, most people do understand what an ‘advantage’ is, and the importance of taking ‘advantage’ of situations and opportunities, and, using these advantages to compete effectively and to empower and assert themselves.
This has some clear implications for the ways in which we market, communicate and present Associations to targeted audiences. In fact, given the difficulty people have in simply understanding what the word ‘membership’ means, let alone why they should become a ‘member’ of something, I am persuaded that the future of association growth lies less and less in traditional association marketing, and more and more in explicit presentation of those programs which offer people an ‘advantage’ that others don’t or won’t have access to.
This means presenting programs as ‘advantages’ and ‘opportunities’ uniquely designed to engage interest and develop expertise. Does having access to a professional development or research opportunity that is respected by others present an advantage? Yes. Does having access to exclusive networking opportunities present an advantage to the career-minded people, or like-minded individuals curious about various issues and interests? Yes. Does having exclusive access to insider briefings and insightful seminars present an advantage? Yes.
The Problem of Membership
I will go further. The idea of membership is becoming problematic. And not only for the reasons cited earlier. People just aren’t that interested in joining something that might involve obligations and requirements. However, when faced with the ability to ‘access’ important and interesting information and opportunities, people respond favorably. Note, however, that the information and opportunities must clearly be exclusive and unique. Programming needs to appeal to a sense of being set apart, or separated, from the commonplace.
We need to identify and discuss ‘advantages’ rather than ‘membership benefits’. In keeping with changing times, priorities and preferences, we need to adapt our communication (delivery) of the advantages, and replace the ‘membership’ component of the communication, with the concept of ‘access’ – this is clearly more contemporary and more attractive to the people we intend to serve.
Future Growth of Contemporary Associations
Equipped, and motivated, we, as Association Professionals, drive the sector forward to achieve the recognition, profile and value, it so richly deserves. Our engaged audiences, accessing unique, valuable programming and opportunities, will share interests and ambitions with their peers. In other words, they will be ‘members’ while not defining themselves as such.
Relevant, accessible, contemporary, exclusive and fully-networked – Associations will be enabled, and appropriately marketed, to serve the current and emerging generations of people who are passionate about making a life for themselves within the always-evolving, always-engaging, contemporary marketplace of ideas and opportunities.