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The surprising reasons you shouldn't exclusively focus on membership

image image imageSeptember 09, 2020 image image3 min. to read
The surprising reasons you shouldn't exclusively focus on membership

Associations could learn a thing or two from Amazon. 

Amazon is one of the biggest membership-based companies in the U.S. In January 2020, more than 112 million Americans belonged to the company’s Prime membership, which offers benefits such as free two-day shipping in exchange for an annual fee.

But Prime’s famous two-day delivery is far from the only service Amazon offers. As the global company experiments with brick-and-mortar retail, web services and online sales, members and non-members alike can take advantage of the company’s offerings.

Engaging non-members is something associations could benefit from. Though they’ve traditionally focused on attracting and retaining members, associations that ignore non-members risk falling behind. 

Here’s a closer look at steps associations can take to engage non-members:

Allow non-members to take a test drive

Have you ever bought a car without taking it for a spin around the block? For most shoppers, a car is a major investment that requires careful thought. A good test drive will allow you to see how a vehicle handles and whether you feel confident driving it. 

Similarly, joining an association is also a major investment for most members. Membership is not only a financial investment, but a commitment to become part of a community. It’s no wonder some potential members will hesitate before taking the leap.

Amazon addresses this problem by allowing non-members to shop freely on its online marketplace. Though non-members won’t have access to the full membership benefits, they’ll be able to get a feel for Amazon’s selection, customer service, and more. The more non-members rely on Amazon, the more likely they are to join Prime.

Associations that offer public content — such as videos and newsletters — offer non-members a chance to see the rich benefits full membership provides. Unless they realize how much value your association truly offers, potential members may simply seek community and content elsewhere.

Fully commit to your association’s core purpose

As mission-driven organizations, associations’ decisions should always align with their core purpose. An effective core purpose uses a short, action-packed phrase — typically five to eight words — to inspire and align an association’s forward momentum.

Associations that ignore non-members might not be living up to their core purpose at all. Like Amazon, Disney is a global company that regularly makes headlines. Disney’s core purpose is just three words: “Make people happy.” 

Once fans purchase a ticket to a Disney theme park or subscribe to its streaming service, Disney+, it’s natural that the company would work hard to keep them happy. But what about children whose families can’t afford these experiences, or people who only occasionally encounter Disney products in their daily lives? 

Interpreted literally, Disney’s sweeping core purpose applies to everyone, everywhere. To truly live up to this promise, the company must experiment with creative ways to ensure that anyone who encounters Disney has a positive experience. That means the company might license select characters to external partners, donate to children in need, and create enjoyable retail stores that anyone is welcome to visit.

In today’s modern world, associations must compete with many other online communities that  promise similar experiences. By serving members and non-members alike, your association will be better able to live up to its core purpose and ensure its relevance for generations to come. 

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Heather Nolan is a marketing specialist at Sidecar. A former journalist and social media manager, Heather lives in New Orleans with her husband, son, and grumpy rescue dog.

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