Should our association raise the requirements for membership?

In an era where many associations seem to be broadening their membership bases, raising the requirements or standards for membership would seem to be counterintuitive. Moreover, raising the association membership requirements could actually backfire, causing the association membership to decline both short and long term.

With these possible risks, why might your association consider raising the bar for membership? There are two primary reasons:

1) If the association is facing the threat of becoming one of many organizations or associations that provide a similar function, raising the association membership requirements may provide a significant differentiating factor. This differentiation may help to solidify the association’s niche. Hopefully, it will also prove to be a competitive advantage as members join because of the greater prestige, despite the hardship of the higher standards.

2) If the association wants to be able to advertise that its members are clearly better than their competitors, raising the standards may accomplish the goal. This could be helpful in trade associations where the association provides referrals to prospective customers, and in individual societies in which members may be seeking new career opportunities. Not only does this new competitive advantage provide a “carrot” for members, but it also provides a “stick” for non-members, as they may face unfavorable comparisons when going head-to-head with members for new projects/jobs.

On the downside, raising the membership standards are very likely to cause the membership to decline short term as some members are unable or unwilling to meet the new standards. The long term risk of declining membership may be driven by factors such as the perceived legitimacy of the new standards and the cost associated with complying with the new standards.

Has your association recently raised the bar of membership requirements? What was the impact of doing so on your association’s membership level – both short term and long term?

    >Contact Us / Subscribe     >See More Q&A's