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December 4, 2018

How Do You Execute a 35% Dues Increase? Part 2: Communications and Creativity

In my post last month about the Water Quality Association’s (WQA) recent dues model assessment, I covered the beginning stages of evaluating an organization’s membership and dues structure. WQA had determined there was an opportunity to implement a new dues model based on research and data and began designing a tiered structure that would accommodate various member audiences. WQA recognized that their next challenges involved communicating and implementing these changes with their membership.

While the tiered structure offered a new sense of choice to decision makers, WQA also had to make up for years of minimally adjusted pricing — and not accounting for member growth. Like most trade associations, WQA’s members are mostly private companies, making it impossible to verify sales data. Many companies had simply renewed for years at the same membership level. However, through a member profile update campaign and individual sales calls, WQA staff was able to better assess where companies would fit on the dues scale and sell them on the new value-based model.

“At dues time, we agreed to move our base level members to our new Core membership,” said Jackie Price Osafo, CAE, WQA’s Membership and Development Director. “Because we spent months talking about the change and highlighting the new model, we were comfortable but cautious when we made this change. Members were given the option to return to [the new base] E-membership. Given this was a 45% increase in dues and this change was new, we budgeted conservatively.”

As it rolled out the new structure, WQA complemented its one-to-one sales techniques with a creative and compelling communications campaign that explained the new structure and addressed value through a number of different channels, including newsletter articles, podcasts, talking points for leaders and dedicated “lunch-and-learn” education sessions for staff. WQA budgeted for 29% of members to remain at the higher level, so it’s easy to imagine the excitement around the office when more than 45% of the members remained at this level.

“This was a clear indication our value proposition was in alignment with our members’ needs,” Jackie said.

While WQA staff considers its membership restructuring effort to be a resounding success, some members chose not to renew as well, as the association anticipated. For example, while this change was a “big win” on the domestic side, Jackie said that WQA’s international membership count was impacted.

“We understood this change would impact the decision for many,” she said.

Next steps, of course, are critical. WQA plans to monitor member satisfaction, evaluate its renewals and continue to enhance its benefits to match the value that members seek. Overall, however, it has been a successful process, and one full of good lessons. For those considering changing your membership model, the WQA team has some sound advice:

  • Conduct your research
  • Consider inside and outside resources
  • Understand the pain and gains from other associations and for-profit organizations that have made significant changes
  • Makes sure everyone has a home
  • Get buy-in from the Board, leaders, and internal stakeholders
  • Most importantly, consider members’ needs!

Follow in WQA’s footsteps and get started with your own dues structure assessment and implementation. Contact McKinley Advisors to learn more.

McKinley Advisors

McKinley Advisors is an award-winning association consulting firm providing tailored research, marketing and strategy services to solve your unique challenges. We help mission-driven organizations by providing strategic guidance, research and insights, business transformation assistance, and membership and marketing...


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