An Affinity for Success or Failure?
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New thoughts on an old rule

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By David Ewald, CAE and Kathie Pugaczewski, CAE, CMP

Non-dues revenue has steadily become more essential as associations aim to balance their budgets through diversified income streams. Membership dues are no longer the leading revenue source for many associations. The search for new sources of non-dues revenue often includes consideration of potential affinity programs. Done well, an affinity program can be a way to reinforce the association’s value proposition to individual and corporate members.

Done poorly, it can become a catch-all discount program that dilutes the message to members and distracts staff and volunteer energy away from work that is central to the association’s mission without adding substantial value. Perhaps your association is considering an affinity program of its own. If so, here are a few quick steps may to get you started.

It is important that any affinity program meet three tests:

  1. Exclusivity of Access. The program must provide a real benefit to members that is not easily available to them through other means or off the street through "hard bargaining."
  2. Benefit to the Association. The program must include a significant benefit to the Association from the providing entity. This benefit must be more than "you will get more members because of this affinity program." In other words, there should be a financial incentive or free in-kind service to the association in exchange for endorsing or adopting the program. It should also align to the association’s mission.
  3. Provider Marketing. There must be willingness and intention by the providing entity to actively market the program.

In addition to these three tests, affinity programs are most likely to be successful if they address an industry-specific need of the members. The American Society of Association Executives and Center for Association Leadership has published a variety of articles that discuss affinity programs and affirm this point. It is important to prioritize what you are going after for the member. Bear in mind that those you approach about an affinity program must see something in it for themselves as well.

How to begin

  1. Prioritize a list of up to 10 different programs that could best meet the criteria discussed above.
  2. Survey members regarding their preferences and collect data from them regarding the potential market size so that can be leveraged when approaching potential providers. Also, review your current data on your members to develop a profile of your membership. Don’t underestimate the value that your members bring to the table if there’s a good match between the affinity program and your membership. If there’s real interest, the program will succeed and add real value to the member value proposition. It must be win-win for both the member and the affinity program and a real partnership where both parties are vested in the success of the program.
  3. Selectively approach vendors to implement a few programs at a time so the association can gauge interest and success. These results can be leveraged if the association decides to approach additional vendors in the future.

It is essential to keep in mind that implementing these activities can be very time-consuming — so they really must accomplish something that makes it worthwhile for both the Association and the member. If it adds real value, it will be worth the effort to put time and resources to the activity. In addition, it must be integrated in the marketing plan for the association as we need to remind our members of the value of their membership throughout the year as well as expand the membership base by providing a compelling value
proposition.

KNOWLEDGE & RESOURCES

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