Why associations need to think beyond traditional methods of engagement

Written by Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE. Adapted excerpt from Pivot Point: Reshaping Your Business When It Matters Most (Chapter 1)

(Image: Adobe Stock)

It’s the beginning of the new year (and a new decade), and many people use key events like the first of the year to hit the “reset” button, changing their habits to achieve a goal (e.g., save money, quit smoking). One of the most common goals is exercising more, as evidenced by the increase in gym memberships in January.

When I was looking to join a gym many years ago, my priorities included…

  • its proximity to my home,
  • the hours of operation, and
  • an indoor track or a lot of treadmills.

If the club offered an upscale locker room where I could get ready for work, that was a bonus. Price was a consideration, but it was secondary to the other factors. The membership structure was virtually the same for every health club in my area at the time. The clubs required a 12-month commitment and an initiation fee with some clubs offering the options of using the facility during nonprime hours for a discounted monthly fee.

Many of these traditional health clubs are still in business, and their value propositions meet the needs of those who use them on a regular basis. However, scores of individuals, like myself, eagerly abandoned their gym memberships when boutique studios opened. For me, it was Orangetheory Fitness while many of my friends joined Club Pilates and CorePower Yoga. All three studios offered pay-as-you-go or short-term membership plans. I could join for three months, six months, or pay monthly and cancel anytime. Plus, with locations across the United States, it offered more options for me to work out while traveling.

When I first learned of Orangetheory Fitness, I signed up for Orange Premier which offers monthly membership for unlimited classes. Over time, I’ve switched between this level and the Elite membership which includes eight sessions per month. I’ve moved up and down the membership levels based on how frequently I used the gym. Both options offered a month-to-month membership, and at no time was I required to sign a lengthy contract. I am a membership person—I even wrote the book on membership. But had the studio maintained a traditional membership model, including a 12-month commitment and a cancellation penalty, I would have most likely just been an occasional customer and looked for a more flexible option elsewhere.

The goal of most associations is to capture the attention (and financial support) of everyone who wishes to access their resources, including those who have resisted joining because they don’t find enough value in the current bundle of benefits—very similar to health clubs.

Associations can no longer rely on traditional methods of engagement. In many cases, you must build a model that includes alternative paths to engagement, moving beyond a “one-size-fits-all” membership to a more customizable experience based on the needs of the member or customer. As many individuals (including your members) are hitting the “reset” button in the new year, now is the right time for associations to consider hitting the “reset” button on how membership is done and make forward-thinking changes that will help members reach their goals for the new year—and the new decade.