Is Joint Membership Right for Your Association and Chapters?

The joint membership model is becoming more popular with associations. Develop your pitch, support, questions and technology issues, budget and next steps.
How to Decide If Joint Membership is Right for Your Association and Chapters

Is Joint Membership Right for Your Association and Chapters?

The joint membership model is becoming more popular with associations, according to Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management & Marketing. In fact, 31 percent of the associations that participated in Mariner’s 2016 Chapter Benchmarking Report require joint membership.

Also known as unified membership, joint membership packages national and chapter memberships together. Members pay for both in one dues payment either to the national association or the chapter. But member convenience isn’t the only reason associations (and members) are choosing this membership option. In our last post, we delved into some of the other benefits of joint membership.

The Joint Membership Model

Before you start thinking seriously about a joint membership model, you must first do some research, line up support, and discuss the model and its implementation plan with chapter representatives. This initial work will help you figure out the challenges you may face when presenting the plan to your entire chapter network and board.

What does the data say?

Before introducing your great idea to others, back it up with data. Find out how many members belong to both national and a chapter now. Talk to a segment of these members to find out why they choose to belong to both. Survey the rest of those members. This research will also provide what you’ll need later to develop marketing copy and testimonials for joint membership promotions.

What about members who don’t belong to both national and their chapter? Why don’t they? What would make them more likely to join both? Do the same exercise with these members. Talk to some and survey the rest about their:

  1. Value perception of national and chapter benefits.
  2. Needs and interests.
  3. Willingness and ability to pay dues for both memberships – and how much they would pay.
  4. Preferences and perceptions of the purchasing decision-maker.
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Develop your pitch.

The joint membership model represents a change in the relationship between national and chapters. You’re asking chapters to give up some of their control over the membership recruitment process – and maybe some revenue too. Identify and prepare for any possible objections you may hear either from chapters or national staff involved in that process.

Think through the new membership recruitment and renewal process and identify the responsibilities of national and the chapters – who does what and who pays for what. If you think the potential loss of revenue from a joint membership discount will be a deal-breaker for chapters, consider offering an incentive to them instead.


“We’ve seen some associations rebate an additional 5%to chapters that get prospects to sign-up for joint membership.”


Develop a pitch focusing on the benefits of the joint membership model for participating members, chapters, and national. Remember, joint membership only has value if members receive different and meaningful benefits from both national and the chapter.

Demonstrate your suitability as a partner to your chapters. Take a hard look at your existing relationship and the challenges that chapters face.

  • How else can you support chapters?
  • What new resources can you provide?
  • This is a good time to demonstrate commitment to your relationship with chapters, not by words, but by actions.

Line up initial support.

To implement any change successfully, you must get the participation and support of stakeholders – representatives from the national finance, membership, IT, and other departments involved in dues processing and chapter relations, as well as chapter representatives – both staff and volunteer leaders. Include a diverse selection of chapter representatives on your project team:

  • Chapters ranging in size
  • Chapters run by staff and run by volunteer leaders
  • Chapters in varying stages of technology adoption.


You’ll also need the support of an executive sponsor – someone in the executive ranks who believes in your plan and can ensure you get the financial and human resources you need to implement it.

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Questions to ask about process and technology issues.

With your project team of national and chapter representatives, start discussing the changes you’ll have to make to existing processes and technology.

  • What will it take to automate and streamline the existing dues processing workflow?
  • If chapters collect dues, how will they disburse funds to national, and share new and renewing member data with national?
  • If national collects dues, how will you disburse dues and any rebates to chapters, and share new and renewing member data with chapters?


Think through scenarios involving different membership types, for example, organizational members, students, retired, affiliate/associate, and other special categories, and members moving from one company to another or from one geographic location to another.

What will you do about the existing variation in chapter dues amounts? A large chapter may now charge $400 for dues while a small chapter may only charge $75. How will you reconcile that?

  • Will joint membership dues vary by chapter?
  • Will joint membership dues be the same for all?
  • Or, will you compromise by offering three levels of joint membership dues for small, medium, and large chapters, or however else you define it?
  • If chapters must take a loss on joint membership, what other value will they receive from national in its place? Will the time saved on administrative tasks make up for lost revenue?

Think about your budget and next steps.

Make sure your plan is viable from a process and technology perspective before you start pitching it to your chapters and board. Are you willing to pay for new software or integrations if that’s what’s needed? How much are you willing to spend to achieve your goals?

Before moving forward, the chapter representatives on your project team must wholeheartedly buy in to the plan to offer joint membership as well as any required process changes. They will be your champions and advocates when you start introducing the idea to your entire chapter network.

In the next and last post of this series, we’ll examine the steps you’ll need to take to get chapter buy-in and prepare for the launch of a joint membership model.

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