The last two years have resulted in a real revenue challenge for many associations. Declining memberships, fewer exhibitors and attendees at meetings due to travel restrictions, and increased costs overall have had a significant impact on bottom lines. In addition, many associations have been sensitive to their members’ financial situations, some reducing or waiving dues during the pandemic.
As associations slowly start to rebuild membership numbers and reintroduce in-person meetings, many of our clients are exploring or planning to increase dues in the coming years to offset reduced revenues and to continue to meet the growing needs of their members.
If you haven’t increased dues in a while, it can be intimidating and overwhelming. There are membership and revenue projections to calculate, systems and websites to update, and communications to write. What should I tell my members? Will my members complain and leave?
What should I tell my members?
2022 could be one of the easiest years to justify a dues increase to your Board and your members. The current level of inflation alone is probably enough justification by itself as salaries, printing, and postage continue to increase. But, when communicating to your members, “keeping up with inflation” is probably not the right message.
According to MGI’s 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report (coming soon!), respondents who recently increased dues reported their renewal rates stayed the same (27.5%), or actually increased (23.5%), when tied to supporting new programs or membership benefits. Perhaps you have made investments in technology, online communities, online event and webinar platforms, digitized publications, or created new programs or services and virtual events. If you have enhancements on the horizon, this is a great time to announce these changes to your membership. These new, value-added products and services provide ample justification and support for a dues increase.
Transparency is the best policy when it comes to communicating a dues increase to your members. You don’t need to shout it from the roof tops but having an organizational communication plan will help keep your messaging consistent and to the point. Many associations notify members through their newsletter, website, or in a brief note or email from the organization’s president.
A well-thought-out FAQ for staff will ensure everyone is singing from the same sheet of music and give them the tools to answer member questions.
How will my members react? Will they renew?
The biggest fear associations have when increasing dues is how it will impact renewals. Yes, you may get a few complaints, but the gain in revenue will far exceed the revenue lost from members who choose not to renew.
Based on data collected over the years from the Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, the median dues increase is 5 percent. When the dues increase exceeds 10 percent, associations may experience a slight decline in renewal rates. If you haven’t raised your dues in a while, you may want to split up the increase over a few years, if possible, instead of ripping the band-aid off all at once.
Bottom line: Whether you increase your dues annually or on an as-needed basis, if your value proposition is strong and the price is in alignment with the value that’s being offered, members will continue to renew.
Our soon-to-be-released 2022 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report answers several questions on best practices when raising membership dues.
If you’re increasing dues or fees in the next year or two, I’d love to hear how you’re planning to communicate it to your membership. If you’re thinking about increasing dues and want to bounce around some ideas, feel free to reach out! MPeterson@marketinggeneral.com or 703-706-0327.