Should our association give away free memberships to everyone?

It’s a very radical notion, but has your association ever considered giving away membership for free?  Some associations already come close to it by offering very low membership dues.

The reason for giving away memberships for free is fairly obvious – it will make the membership grow in size.  The benefits of that are numerous:

– It leads to a collectively larger voice for the association.  This can be critical in areas such as government affairs.
– It results in a larger association membership.  This can allow the association to increase rates for advertising and sponsorships.
– It provides a larger target for marketing other non-dues revenue items such as association event registrations, services, books, etc.  Along with advertising and sponsorship revenue, this could, in theory, overcome the loss of dues.
– It allows the association to better define and understand its target audience.  Without offering the free memberships, some of the members would have still been part of your target audience as non-members.  However, bringing the companies into the fold as members allows the association to gather more information about them and understand their needs and wants.

There are some obvious downsides to giving away your association memberships for free.  Chief among them is the loss of dues revenues.  In addition, the association may lose the tax advantages that may be associated with the dues revenues. Just as importantly, the association may lose credibility in the eyes of the members who might think that “the association is only worth what you paid for it.”

Indeed, not charging for association membership is fraught with risk.  But in an era where a significant portion of the fixed cost of membership can be eliminated by substituting electronic media, it may be an idea whose time has come.

Does your association offer free or very low cost memberships?  Do the members value your association less than they would otherwise?

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