By Anna Morris, account associate
Members are the lynchpin of most associations. Therefore, deciding to change your association’s membership system can be a big undertaking. After working with an existing membership system for a while, you may realize that doing it a different way could benefit the association more in the long run.
This happened with two of our associations that started their memberships on the “anniversary” system – members purchased a membership on August 21 one year and from that point on their membership renews on August 21 each year moving forward. This means the organization has 365 different renewal dates for members. Our associations decided they wanted to explore switching to an annual membership renewal system, where all memberships last for a certain time frame (say, January 1 – December 31). What exactly did this project entail?
We divided the project into four chunks.
- Present the pros and cons of moving to an annual renewal period
Since this is a big decision to make, your association’s board will want a detailed rationale behind why you are proposing the switch. This means presenting a sound case including both pros and cons of moving to annual renewal period. One of the main pros is being able to run a target renewal campaign, since members are all expiring at the same time. Other benefits include a more streamlined process, a decrease in the amount of staff and volunteer time needed to contact members about renewals, and a likely decrease in the LOSS of members since the association will be able to better communicate with renewing members in multiple formats during the renewal campaign period. The switch can be tricky to navigate, especially if members or organizations have been with your association for a while and are very used to the original membership system.
In the case of our two associations, the pros and cons were evaluated, and both boards decided to move forward with switching to an annual membership renewal system.
- Provide an outline of the timeline for adoption
Once the decision to transition is made, it is imperative to have a very clear timeline for adoption. The timeline should include how and when you are going to communicate with members, how the pro-rating of membership during the switch will happen, and when you will follow up with members about the change. One of our associations decided to pro-rate membership monthly, so that the membership cost decreased each month leading up to the date when the “annual membership” time period would start. Another option would be to pro-rate quarterly. But either way, make sure you sketch out the whole timeline beforehand, including specific price points and when that information needs to be changed in the database system.
Also, make sure you are sharing the timeline internally as well as externally with your board. Depending on the size of your AMC, you may have different staff working on membership, conference logistics, and accounting. In the case of a big change like a membership renewal shift, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows how to answer any member questions that come up.
- Provide a timeline for future years (post adoption)
Because considering switching from an anniversary membership system to an annual membership period makes things a whole lot easier, the timeline for the years post-adoption should be much more straightforward than the timeline you developed in step (2). For this step, be sure to clearly lay out the NEW system, including when rates would potentially pro-rate during the annual membership system, and when communications should be distributed to members.
Planning out all of these items ahead of time ensures nothing falls through the cracks, and that the annual membership system can be implemented without a hitch.
- Provide a letter to members for further explanation of how the change will be implemented and communicated during the change
A constant theme throughout this project is communication, communication, communication. The whole goal of the project is to ultimately make things easier for both the association and members (eliminating confusion regarding when their membership expries), but this goal cannot be accomplished if people are confused along the way. As part of our initial membership project, we found it important to prepare the communication that would ultimately be distributed to members once the switch occurs. This is another opportunity for everyone to see the facts in writing and raise any potential questions or concerns that might arise. In addition to the draft letter, have your staff, and any new staff that come on, practice explaining the switch in system (including the new benefits), in order to prepare for tricky questions that members may call in with.
Have you considered switching your association’s membership system? If you took the plunge and made the switch, what are some tips that you found helpful? Share in the comments below!