Regardless of which industry or sect you are involved in, you will likely find an association representing it. Trade associations and membership associations typically start small. Yet they can proliferate when they provide a clear value to members, including industry news, resource sharing, regulatory insights, and community amongst members.
At various times, associations may need to set up membership drives or a sales team to keep membership levels high enough to support the association’s work. Yet, selling is not comfortable for everyone, which can result in slow membership growth.
Associations provide valuable benefits to their members and their work or volunteer industries. Conveying these benefits and how an association brings many voices together to make a significant difference for the association members can be a challenge.
What Are Trade Associations or Membership Associations?
Trade and membership associations are comprised of individuals or companies that work in the same or a related industry and work together to serve the common needs of everyone.
The main benefit of trade and membership associations is the networking and resource sharing that develops when many forces come together.
Customers look favorably toward companies and organizations that are involved in associations. Being a member of an association tells a customer that the company is active and engaged in the industry. Trade and association memberships demonstrate that a company is a prominent player in the industry and keeps up with the latest developments.
“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.”
-Napoleon Hill, Author of The Law of Success
There is even an association that represents associations called the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). According to ASAE, there are over 65,000 trade and professional associations nationally.
Members of associations continue their memberships by paying dues annually or monthly. Commonly, members of associations make financial donations and volunteer their time to the association. Occasionally, members will be “silent” instead of actively participating in the association and simply enjoying their membership benefits.
Whether members choose to be active in the association or not, all members benefit from the association’s work.
Why Individuals and Companies Join Trade Associations or Membership Associations
Associations may be formed at the local, state, or national levels, with chapters providing events, discussions, and regulatory oversight at each level. They are active in their particular fields, often lobbying on behalf of the industry and informing the public about updates within the industry.
One of the main reasons individuals and companies join associations is that they want to be in the loop of important issues and changes that impact them. According to the Petroleum Equipment Institute, around 85% of businesses not members of an affiliated trade association eventually fail. Companies and individuals also join associations because networking helps them succeed and enjoy the natural camaraderie among members at association events.
Being a member of an association gives them a chance to voice their concerns and possibly influence legislation. Furthermore, being a member of an association gives people opportunities to gain experience in leadership roles.
Trade associations and membership associations also provide many other benefits, such as the following:
- Access to seminars and conferences
- Subscriptions to newsletters and trade publications
- Access to members-only events
- Discounts on products and services
- Opportunities for training, licensure, certifications, and education
For example, the Associated General Contractors of America gives its members resources and tools through its AGC Legislative Action Center. The membership is comprised of over 32,000 firms and has 96 chapters around the country. Members also receive discounts on AGC’s services and products. AGC also provides opportunities for its members to network with related professionals, suppliers, and owners.
Members of associations that are willing to get involved will benefit the most from their memberships.
How to Increase Memberships in Trade Associations or Membership Associations
It may surprise your board that the retention rates of trade and membership associations are generally very high. Modern Marketing Partners states that membership organizations’ average retention rate is 76%. The average retention rate for trade associations is slightly higher at 85%.
Even if your membership and retention rates are high, there is always room for improvement.
To increase membership sales, the first thing you need to do is think like a salesperson. Winning salespeople know who their target market is, and they understand the buyer’s journey. There are three distinct stages in the buyer’s journey include:
- The awareness stage
- The consideration stage
- The decision stage
In developing your buyer’s persona, ask the following questions:
- Who is your target market?
- How do they identify themselves as individuals?
- How old are they? What industry are they in?
- What is their role?
- What is their degree of knowledge within the industry?
- What does your association offer that will benefit them most?
Be aware that you may need to establish two or more buyer personas to reach all potential members.
With this information in mind, you can create content that speaks to the exact audience you are trying to reach. Get as much information about potential members as possible, allowing you to personalize your interactions greatly.
The following strategies provide a wealth of ideas for growing memberships for trade and member associations:
- Collect information using a contact form on your website
- Set up social media platforms for your association and post content regularly on them
- Purchase paid ads on social media platforms
- Leverage automation with email marketing strings
- Host a speaker series
- Host a conference
- Encourage current members to spread the word
- Offer membership tiers
- Offer a continuing education program
- Offer an automatic membership for making a donation
- Offer a free trial, discount, or promotion
- Reach out to the lapsed member to reignite their interest
Promote renewals early and set up an automatic membership renewal process to retain members early.
As followers visit your website and engage with your association on social media, use analytics to track their interactions. Gather information along the way, such as whether they filled out a contact form, attend events, or interact with your ads. Add these details to their profiles on your CRM and utilize the information when interacting with prospective members. Be alert for cues on the likelihood of a membership sale.
Ultimately, memberships in trade and membership associations mutually benefit both parties and our collective society.