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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The value of membership

One of the organizations I belong to is embroiled in controversy surrounding a proposed dues increase. One of the questions being asked is whether the value that a member receives is worth the dues paid, either current or proposed. That’s a good question, but it is a personal one. Something that is valuable to me might not be at all valuable to you. As a proponent of professional organizations, and a member of a number of different organizations, this is something I have to ask myself frequently. It’s a question every rugby player has to ask themselves too, as most clubs charge dues and USA Rugby requires membership to participate in sanctioned events (which are most rugby events).

One thing that membership usually brings is access. Members have access to events and information that is not available to non-members, and allows members to participate or hold positions that non-members cannot. The question is whether that access is worth what you pay in dues. Many organizations offer the same products and services to both members and non-members. The difference is usually the price that is paid; members receive a discount while non-members do not. If the price difference is greater than the cost of membership, many people will become members to receive the discount, but not all. For any number of reasons, some people will not become members to receive the discount. That begs the question of what membership means. If both members and non-members have access to the same things, membership is really meaningless. For all intents and purposes, the organization is simply a business, where some people get a discount and some don’t. No different than clipping coupons. Some people clip coupons and get a discount, and some don’t.

One reason that people join organizations is to be part of something, something that not everyone can be a part of. There is a feeling of exclusivity to it. That provides value to many people, often great value. Just look at country club memberships, which charge tens of thousands of dollars (or more) as membership fees, on top of thousands of dollars in annual dues. But exclusivity doesn’t have to involve lots of money. USA Rugby dues are only $35 per year. The dues to the organizations I belong to range from about $100 to $200 per year. If the benefits I receive, including the intangible benefit of belonging, don’t provide value equal to the dues, I don’t renew my membership. I’ll have to evaluate whether the dues of that organization considering an increase is worth continuing my membership. We’ll see.

As for USA Rugby, I joined recently (or rejoined) after not being a member since 1998, the last time I played. Since getting back into rugby after the World Cup I haven’t played, haven’t even been to a practice, don’t coach, and am not a referee. So why did I join? Well, I found my boots, so I might go to practice and try to pick up a game. Or I might try to find someone who needs a coach. Or I might try ref’ing (after the referee clinic, of course). Or I might just watch and blog, or help out with administration. What I will be though, is a member of an exclusive group – USA Rugby. That’s not much, anybody can join. I joined pretty much just to pay the dues as a show of support.

But why can’t those USA Rugby dues offer a greater feeling of pride and exclusivity? Just because anybody can join doesn’t mean they will. That membership card (although I haven’t received any card, or any other acknowledgement besides my receipt), if marketed properly, could be a real source of pride. It could also lead to an increase in membership, and therefore, an increase in revenue for the organization. If the USA Rugby brand was one of pride and value, or the brand of whatever organization you belong to, more people would want to join. They would want to join just to be part of the group, for the pride of it. Other benefits have to be provided, but that pride in the brand is a powerful motivator. Is your club or organization developing your brand so that people want to be a part of it? If not, you should be.

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