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Hard to Believe, but “Members Only” Doesn’t Always Benefit Your Members

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 1, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, May 26, 2015
By Rick Rutherford
Industry Resource Director, YourMembership

It’s not easy to identify ways to make the value of membership offerings resonate with young professionals, but every association and membership organization will need to develop offerings that will attract them as members in order for their organizations to sustain. And the good news is that it can be done. 

In our webinar Flipping the Membership Equation: Thinking Differently About Membership Recruitment and Retention we discussed the need for associations to redesign their membership offerings to remain competitive and relevant to Gen X and Gen Y in today’s economy. Associations have been wrestling with questions around membership and dues for years, but like with everything, technology’s need to address this subject is accelerating.

Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age in staggering numbers, ten thousand people reach age 65 every day, and this trend will continue through 2020. By 2018, one in four workers will be over age 55.

Technology, and specifically the internet, has changed not only the way people access and purchase today, but it has also introduced a “try it before you buy it” expectation. There are many for-profit players working their way into the space, and at some point associations will need to take a hard look at what they are doing to keep their offerings fresh. Those organizations will need leaders who aren’t afraid to radically rethink business models or resources.

“Flipping the Membership Equation” discussed these challenges and highlighted how moving from “Dues before Value” to “Value and then Dues” can be a workable business model for your organization.

One area where we run into some lively conversation with association leaders is whether a job board/career center should be a “members only” benefit or open to any prospect wanting to post a resume and find a job. We almost always start out on the opposite sides of the question.

I’ll be the first to admit that I understand the rationale behind “member only” areas for associations. After all, there has to be tangible value created by being a member of an organization to get someone to lay down their money to join. Market forces have taught us that scarcity and exclusivity are two of the key drivers behind a members only value proposition. 

Scarcity triggers an emotional response because we find it hard to resist wanting things that are not readily available. Many people have an innate view that scarcity increases value. They assume it is more valuable and of higher quality – because it’s harder to get.

Exclusivity is also about availability, but from a different angle. Exclusive things are accessible only to people who meet particular criteria – like association members.  Scarcity and exclusivity can boost word of mouth about an organization by making people feel like insiders. If someone gains access to something that not everyone can, it makes him or her feel special. Gaining that insider knowledge is a form of social currency.

And so, on the surface, the thought of members having exclusive access to great job opportunities through a “members only” job board appears to fit the bill. Except for one basic reality about job boards – it’s always a numbers game.

By numbers I am referring to the number of job seekers registered on a job board; how those numbers are compelling to employers looking for places to list their open positions and the significant non-dues revenue available through an association career center.

When we call employers on behalf of the associations we work with, they almost always want to know how many people are members and what percentage of those members are registered job seekers on the job board. If that percentage is low, it is a much tougher sell to get that job posting. However, if you allow prospects to register and post their resumes on your job board that number can increase significantly. Remember, the more registered job seekers, the more valuable that job board becomes to employers. Their goal is to get that listing in front of as many qualified eyeballs as possible.

And as an added benefit, prospects registering on an association’s career center have given permission through their registration, for you to market to them directly. That conversation takes on a whole new direction when you are able to identify how they are already taking advantage of the products and services your organization provides.

There are some associations that don’t really seem to care if they charge for job listings or not. These groups will allow members and employers to post job openings for a minimal fee, or even at no charge. By taking this approach they are denying their organizations valuable non-dues revenue that could have a positive impact on their bottom line.

Experience tells us that employers are more than willing to pay to list and advertise their targeted opportunities to members and prospective members, all while creating a steady stream of non-dues revenue for the association. By posting jobs on an association’s job board, employers gain exclusive access to the best, most qualified candidates, consisting of engaged, (career-minded) professionals with the degrees, certifications, and experience needed to increase quality of hire and candidate success. Online career centers connect an association’s members and prospects to the top employers and opportunities within their industry, helping to build greater member loyalty and engagement. And most importantly, these associations are growing their influence as the trusted resource for career seekers as they continue to provide access to career opportunities within their industry.

So while association’s “members only” offerings are not going away, your job board is one area where you may want to reconsider making available to anyone in your industry. The value it creates for employers, prospects, members, and your bottom line most likely outweighs any perceived value that exists by making your job board a gated offering.

About Rick

As YourMembership’s Industry Resource Director, Rick guides YM’s thought leadership initiatives, directing the company’s Resource Center, weekly blog and monthly webinar series, as well as coordinates YM’s Industry Alliance Program.

Rick has worked in the association industry for more than 29 years, serving as a vendor partner, staff member, and co-founder of a technology company focused on associations. Rick previously served as the Communications Director for the Texas Society of Association Executives, where he received a Gold Circle Award from ASAE. @ricknatx

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