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You want more members and adding new benefits is going to get them.


Well, maybe not. Before you go all-in on new perks, build out your marketing campaigns and announce them to your members, it may be  time to ask – “does my association have a feature bloat problem?” 

What is Feature Bloat?

From software updates on our phones to design changes on our favorite apps, new features are a normal part of our lives. But many of those changes get used once or twice and then fall by the wayside, turning into what Shira Ovide calls “bloatware.”

In an article for the New York Times, she dove into exactly why tech companies add features knowing they often go unused. In speaking to Cliff Kuang, a designer in the tech industry, she found that feature updates often fall into a few categories, including features that allow companies to market a product in a new way or those that appeal to the needs of a wider audience. 

However, many fall into a third category that can also impact the association industry – “the inability of users to distinguish between ‘Hey, that looks good’ and ‘Hey, I need that,’” said Kuang.

What Does That Mean for Associations?

For associations, member benefits are the equivalent of features. So, when looking for ways to retain or grow membership, expanding them is often one of the go-to strategies. However, how do you avoid feature bloat and create an offering that satisfies the needs of your members? 

  • Member Feedback – To help your members, you need to understand what they need. Feedback is invaluable – from annual surveys to association committees formed to interview members – the more you know, the easier it will be to come up with ideas. Beyond surveys, you should also look to how your members are already engaging with you, including data points like event registration vs. attendance, website traffic and what drives conversations in online communities. 
Related: What You Need to Know About Association Committees Learn More >
  • Look At the Market – Have there been changes to the industry you serve? Are new certifications or training required? These changes in the market can be a great avenue to build member benefits. 
  • Check Your Staff – While organizations may be excited to add new offerings, without the right staff in place, it can be a recipe for disaster. Whether you’re relying on your full-time staffers or association volunteers, make sure you have the resources needed to provide a quality experience for your members.  

If a proposed membership benefit doesn’t hit the mark, then new offerings may not be the answer to your membership concerns. 

Doubledown On Your Existing Programming 

Of course, just because you aren’t adding something new doesn’t mean you can't create new value with your existing membership. The most successful tech updates are often the ones that improve the functionality of features users already like, and the same can go for associations. 


Understanding the Membership Economy

What is the membership economy, who are your association's super users and how to you build a forever transaction? Dive into the 7-step framework and explain how you should and should not apply it in your organization through a series of real-world examples.

So how do you update existing benefits to help members old and new? 

  • Make Content Updates – Whether you’re adding a new virtual event or updating your continuing education programs, new content can help add value to members. Always work to keep your content as up-to-date as possible – the more of an impact you make on your members – the more valuable your membership becomes. 
  • Leverage Partners – Member benefits like job boards or discount programs often rely on outside partners to function. Work with your vendors to see how you can upgrade these platforms or find ways to help teach your members to leverage offerings to their full potential. For example, if you have a job board as a member benefit, offer supporting resources like resume workshops or interview tips – this way, you don’t add a new benefit, but you do upgrade the value of an existing one. 
  • Raise Awareness – When new content isn’t needed – new eyes might be. Make sure you’re consistently raising awareness for your programming. Whether it’s a mentorship program or a networking directory, use your member communications to promote your benefits. A good rule of thumb is to include all your member perks and programs in your welcome letter to new members

Curating Additions to Your Member Benefits

As the old saying goes, more isn’t always better. 

While many organizations may be tempted to add new membership benefits, these additions can often become “feature bloat,” providing little value to members and sometimes distracting them from the things your organization does well. 

Before adding anything, association leaders should always ask themselves whether this is something that looks good or is actually needed. Whether you’re surveying your members or simply looking at the industry's challenges, using this as a gauge for whether something is necessary can help you avoid adding bloat to your membership. 

Also, always make sure you leverage the offerings you already have. Whether adding new content or raising awareness for new members, you can easily add value without adding bloat. 

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
July 22, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.