Whenever I teach a course on membership dues these question always arise: “How often should we raise dues?” or ‘How much should we increase our dues?” Now that the economy seems to be slowly recovering, many associations who maintained their dues levels during the recession are wondering if it’s time to raise them. We’ll show you the most recent information available on dues increase trends and then share with you some considerations to explore before making your final decision.
Well, according to the 650 associations that responded to the 2011 survey conducted by Marketing General Inc., an association consulting firm, most of them raised their dues “as needed” and do not have a regular dues increase schedule. About 110 of them cited they raise dues each year.
The number one cited reason for dues increases was “keeping up with inflation,” followed by ‘increasing advocacy” and “addition of new programs and services.” I’m sure those associations that only raised dues as needed had to increase them because they didn’t do so each year and finally had to catch up with inflation!
According to the chart on the right, most associations raised dues between 1 – 10%. Associations that raised their dues more than 20% also indicated they had not done an increase since 2008. And associations that raise dues by up to 10% are significantly more likely to raise dues annually. Just over 30% of these associations did or were planning to increase their dues in 2011, so more associations made the move last year than in previous years.
- If your retention rates have held pretty steady over the last couple of years, you could initiate a modest dues increase without much repercussion. Whether you have been blessed with this outcome or just feel that some forethought needs to take place before raising your dues, I would recommend that you consider these strategies before moving forward:
- Deliver value before asking more—You can’t just tell members “Our costs are rising and we need to raise our dues.” The number one reason why members don’t renew is “Lack of value.” Truthfully, even if they say it’s due to financial reasons or they’re too busy to participate, they really are telling you that the value isn’t worth the price. So, spend some time discovering the perceived value members have about who are, what you offer, and your strategic direction. Remember, that value is worth more than price and that value is in the eyes of the members.
- Have loyal members tout the value of membership—As much as we try to communicate the value of membership, sometimes we don’t do a very good job. It’s not that we don’t deliver value; we just tend to talk a lot about features (e.g., BAH, advocacy) and not touting outcomes that really make a difference to our members. Interview members who really “get it’ and have them talk about specific outcomes they have realized because of their membership with you. Use their words verbatim and believe that our members can say it better than we can, in a language that is readily understood!
- Prepare special offers and incentives—If you think your dues increase might be too steep for some members, consider making contingency offers available. Allow members to pay their dues in monthly quarterly or semi-annual installments. Offer a slight discount on multiple-year memberships. Provide an incentive for members to pay their renewals early and receive a small early-bird discount.