An Avenue M poll reveals that 70 percent of associations don’t raise dues on a regular basis, but several note that it’s time, signaling an urgent need for change. Tailoring dues increases to each association’s needs is key.

Raising membership dues has long been a thorny issue. It’s hard to know when, how often, and how much to raise dues. Added to that, asking members for more money, especially during uncertain economic times, is not easy. Associations often fear member pushback, attrition, and rocking the boat.

As daunting as raising membership dues can be, it is often necessary and—deep breath—members usually understand because, after all, everyone experiences the same cost of living increases and effects of inflation.

However, many associations are reluctant to take the plunge. An early-September Avenue M Group text poll revealed that 70 percent of associations don’t automatically increase dues on a regular basis, 18 percent increase dues annually, while nine percent do raise dues but less frequently, and only two percent raise it every two years.

When asked to provide information about percentage increases in membership dues, established increase guidelines, or what prompts a dues increase at their organization, one executive panelist, whose organization raises dues annually, said, “We base our annual increases on CPI [consumer price index]. The increase isn’t always equal to CPI, but CPI is a starting point in our decision making. We’ve learned that annual increases around inflation work better than less frequent and, consequently, larger increases.”

Another association leader said, “We do not increase automatically but I wish we did!” They added that they’re hoping to change the board’s mind about automatic increases because now only the budget prompts one. One executive said, “The board is telling us it is time to increase. There is no set cadence.”

One leader said their association just passed a 4 percent annual increase a couple of months ago, and another CEO, who has been with their organization for four years, shared, “Dues haven’t been raised in 25+ years.”

A panelist, whose group does not automatically raise dues, said, “The last dues increase was back in 2016 after decades without one.” Their organization is considering a dues change for the upcoming year, transitioning from the current voluntary model to mandatory contributions for their political action fund.

A Steady Dues Strategy

“We regularly encounter membership organizations that say they haven’t raised their dues in years. Although the strategy for dues increases should be tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of the organization, we often recommend smaller, more frequent dues increases (e.g., every one to three years) to avoid surprising members with big jumps in dues rates. Implementing regular dues increases also enables members to better plan their budget for association memberships.” – Avenue M Group

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to raising membership dues—especially since every association is different—considering factors like the organization’s current dues structure, financial status, and the specific reasons for an increase all play a significant role.

It’s also essential to clearly communicate with members the reason for the increase, provide a timeline, and emphasize the value members are getting for their investment. These can all go a long way in making the process smoother.

More From Avenue M on Membership Dues

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For more insights on strategies for increasing membership dues, read Avenue M’s quick summaries of the following resources and click the links below.

How One Association Overhauled Its Membership Model to Better Offset Inflation
Associations often consider raising membership dues to counter rising costs and generate more revenue. The International Association of Movers (IAM) faced stagnant growth and repercussions from the pandemic. To tackle this, IAM decided to revise how they classify and price memberships.

IAM looked at how members were involved before, conducted surveys, and got input from their team. The group ended up creating new membership options with various levels of benefits, keeping the cost the same for the basic level to avoid members leaving. That helped to make their memberships more appealing and grow their community.

A Real-Time Dues Increase and New Membership Model Success Story
The Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) successfully revamped its membership model and raised fees. Despite past resistance, members backed the change after understanding the rationale behind it. AOA, formed from a merger in 2014, faced unsustainable dues levels and engagement discrepancies.

AOA’s executive director Robin Gifford led a strategic effort, categorizing members by interests and value, which the volunteer membership committee refined. Through cohesive communication—including events, meetings, and emails—members were well-prepared for the change, resulting in overwhelming support and increased renewals, highlighting the success of AOA’s approach.

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Contributors: Lisa Boylan
Image: Microsoft 365 Stock