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"Members only" no more - A new model for the future

· networking,members,2018,engagement

By Heidi Wilcox

If you’re an organization that strives to be the voice of the community, yet still charges a membership fee, it might be time to reconsider your membership model. It's getting harder and harder to find businesses today that consider membership-dues-based associations relatable.

Sure, it might make sense to charge a membership fee for the more engaged and interested parties that want additional benefits you offer. Carry on, indeed! Yet, if you're only representing businesses in your community that pay an annual fee, it's pretty hard to maintain you're the champion of anyone but the number of members who join your organization.


Times are evolving and popular sentiment is moving away from things that exclude. People want to be part of something that feels good and positive. Charging membership dues to be included is starting to be looked at as old school and out of touch. By allowing all businesses to be members of your organization, you are opening yourself up to a better chance of staying relevant for the long run. It is time to think outside the box of how “you have always done it.” Instead of asking people to pay to play, let them be part of, and help you build a different model. For example, host some events that are especially for members and others that are open to everyone. This gives all interested businesses a chance to experience what being part of your community is like. If they feel valued by you they are more apt to support you.

A few other ideas to raise funds in place of a membership fee, include:

1.Create a benefits package. Find a company or enterprise who provides goods or services your local businesses and members will be interested in. Then create a partnership with that entity that allows your members to save money on their goods while you get paid by the partner to be the customer connection and access point. This is a fantastic option where everyone wins— Your members get something that's important to them at a lower price point, the partner grows its audience and subsequently revenue, and you gain revenue too. The more partnerships and members you have, the bigger the audience you have to demonstrate your organization's incredible value.

2. Live events. Host a couple of mainstream guest speakers throughout the year that will garner a large turnout. If your guests are popular and knowledgeable enough, people will be more than willing to pay to attend it.

3. Charge for the extras. Think of it like this: Sure, you can be listed on our members page and come to five events for free a year. But! If you want to be able to get our full member list and attend the other 15 events including our biggest and most popular event, the fee is $XX.

Networking event

4. Marketing Opportunities. Small businesses are always searching for ways to market more efficiently in order to gain new customers. Be on top of the game with opportunities businesses can take advantage of for a fee. If you have a larger network, more people will pay for this feature. For example, charge a sponsorship fee at your biggest event, or a fee to market in the printed event book.

5. Donations. If you are really serving your community and welcome all, you will get a lot of people who value what you are doing and will be happy to donate to the organization. People support the causes that mean the most to them. Most of the time, all you have to do is ask! You could even set up a donation or fundraising timeframe so that it's exclusive to a few times per year.

6. Education. Is there a common subject or topics you get questions on frequently? Develop a webinar or educational series to help those companies learn about the issue.

We all know change can be hard but it is well worth it, as well as being a necessity. Try implementing one or a few of these fresh approaches with potential members and see how it works for your organization. And let me know how it works out!

Heidi Wilcox is our Strategic Market Superstar Director here at Excelerate America. Who are we? Well, we're a 2nd stage business accelerator that helps small businesses excel and grow in the digital economy. As for Heidi, she'd love to hear about what is and isn't working for your organization's membership model. Send her a line anytime at

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