Membership has its privileges – says the old American Express campaign. And, according to author Sarah Sladek, that used to be true. In her book, The End of Membership as We Know It, she describes how the times, they are a-changing and that, as a result, the traditional membership model is at risk.
The Millennials Are Here
The primary reason for the end of membership as we know it is the generational phenomenon of history’s largest transition from one generation (Baby Boomers) to another (Gen X and Gen Y).
You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard the discussion about millennials coming of age and all the ways it’s altering our culture. For membership organizations, this changing of the guard is a clarion call to adapt or die.
What’s Happening to the Membership Model?
Sladek describes the golden era of memberships as a model that was created and sustained by the mindset of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers who—before the Great Recession in 2008—found what they needed and gave what it took to keep valued associations alive.
Then, two things shifted: (1) A rapid evolution of technology occurred which allowed (2) the generations raised on and by it (in an economically unstable culture) to manage their lives in untraditional ways. The fact of the matter is, the Baby Boomers are retiring (at the rate of 10,000 per day for the next 15 years) and those coming behind are quite particular about how they spend their time and money. They are not motivated by traditional, inflexible or low-value offerings.
And so, Sladek warns: Unless membership models adapt, they will die out in the next 20 years.
5 Mindsets You Need to Refresh Your Membership Model
1. Embrace the coming change.
Survival won’t be assured from a position of fear, denial or even acceptance. You’re going to need to get enthusiastic about thinking WAY outside your current box. (Example: Be a part of networks like ClassPass that lets participants pay one fee and access multiple organizations’ programs.)
2. Be motivated by your numbers.
Sladek shows how to calculate your retention rate, your loss rate and your turnover rate, as well as the expected attrition of Baby Boomers, in order to estimate how much longer your membership will exist – if it continues at current rates.
3. Provide value that meets the core needs of your members.
Do the work to find out what benefits (and at what price point) millennials would consider valuable. Putting millennials in places of leadership will help you gain the insight you need to refresh your membership.
4. Embrace technology
This generation won’t have a clue about your organization or how to connect with you otherwise.
5. Involve members in something bigger.
Millennials want to be a part of something global, yet local; something that makes a difference. Petitioning for legislation that affects your constituents is just one idea of a cause they could feel good about supporting.
More on memberships: