Why Joint Membership is the Special Sauce for Associations

Associations are appreciating their chapters more than ever. As the number and quality of online educational and networking opportunities continue to increase, chapters provide a unique professional experience for members.

“They provide that ‘extra-special sauce’ that is so important to belonging to an association community: face-to-face interaction,” said Marilee Yorchak, CAE, executive director of the Digital Analytics Association.


The Joint Membership Model

How do associations encourage members and prospects to double-down on their membership commitment? Many of them offer a joint membership package.The joint membership model, also known as unified membership, packages national and chapter memberships together. Members pay for both in one dues payment either to the national association or the chapter.

In 67 percent of associations, national collects the dues, according to the 2016 Chapter Benchmarking Report published by Mariner Management & Marketing.


The Unified Model

The unified model is required for membership at 31 percent of the associations that participated in the Mariner survey. Peggy Hoffman, Mariner’s president, sees a growing number of associations adopting the joint membership model despite the recent interest in an “a la carte” menu membership model.

Associations offering three types of membership – national-only, chapter-only, and joint membership – often promote joint membership at a discount to encourage prospects to join both the national association and their local chapter.

The national association usually absorbs the cost of this discount since it has the larger budget and more efficiencies of scale.Whether your association requires joint membership or offers it as one of your membership options, you’ll discover the many benefits it has for your association, chapters, and, most importantly, your members.


Benefits of the Joint Membership Model

Members join an association’s local chapter to network and develop relationships with their peers – the #1 reason members join associations, according to the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, published by Marketing General Inc. (MGI).

By offering a joint membership, you now have an opportunity to promote the value of national membership to these prospects.However, joint membership is only of value to members if the national association and its chapters offer different but complementary member benefits.

Joint membership must offer more value, not the same value as a national or chapter membership alone. Members should not only get access to a wider network of peers but also access to a wider and more diverse selection of resources and benefits.

Billhighway's Innovative Team Member Programs Gain National Attention

A Positive Chapter-National Relationship

Joint membership provides the foundation for a more collaborative relationship between national and its chapters. You’re in it together – both invested in your members’ national and chapter membership experience. You’re no longer rivals but partners who look out for each other and help each other leverage your strengths to provide value to your shared members.By tying themselves more closely to national, chapters serve as national’s pipeline for leaders, attendees, customers, and online community participants.

Instead of developing separate marketing and recruitment materials, you can now share this responsibility. Or, more likely, national can take on the heavy-lifting of marketing, allowing chapters to focus their limited resources elsewhere.


Relieve Chapters’ Administrative Burden

If chapters collect dues, the launch of a joint membership program provides an opportunity for national to automate, streamline, and standardize dues and membership processes. These changes will relieve the workload of chapter staff and leaders, and also save time and prevent headaches for your finance, data management, and membership teams.

Do what you can to make it easier for chapters to focus more on value delivery and less on administrative tasks. Technology that increases the transparency, speed, and accuracy of the dues collection, disbursement, and reporting processes will benefit both chapters and national.

When national collects the dues for joint membership, the chapter’s administrative burden is alleviated – a welcome relief for chapters run by small staffs or volunteer leaders. They get more time to focus on their mission of delivering value to members. Joint membership gives members an opportunity to broaden their association experience with just one click. But is it right for your members?

Is Joint Membership Right For Your Association & Chapters? 

The joint membership model is becoming more popular with associations. Develop your pitch, support, questions and technology issues, budget and next steps.

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.


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.


Questions to Ask About Process & 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 & 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.

How to Build a Case for and Implement Joint Membership

How to Build a Case For & Implement Joint Membership

Without an effective sales pitch and a comprehensive implementation plan, good ideas die. Joint membership is one of those good ideas for associations with a chapter network.

Also known as unified membership, the joint membership model packages national and chapter memberships together. Members pay either the national association or the chapter for both memberships in one dues payment.


Introduce Joint Membership to Chapters

Chapter staff and leaders must feel invested in any decisions made about membership, even when those decisions can theoretically be made without their approval. Before making your plan public, create talking points for the chapter representatives on your project team and any other chapter champions of your plan.

Make sure the talking points include:

  • How joint membership will help chapters (and national) better achieve their goals.
  • Benefits of joint membership for members.
  • Arguments for overcoming any anticipated objections from chapter staff and leaders and for alleviating any anticipated worries.
  • Joint membership incentives, rebates, or additional expenses for chapters and national.
  • Process and technology changes required at the national and chapter level.

Ask chapter reps to provide feedback on the talking points. This feedback will help you develop a stronger ‘sales’ document you can distribute to chapters and other stakeholders, for example, national staff and leaders.

Schedule a virtual town hall to discuss the plan with chapter staff and leaders. Encourage chapters to bring their questions and concerns. Enlist the help of an experienced facilitator so the discussion remains informative and productive.


Get Approval to Move Forward

Your association’s policy and governance culture will determine how early you need to involve the board in discussions about a joint membership model. Your executive sponsor can provide guidance on this issue and act as the liaison with the board on the plan’s progress.

Consider whether any revisions must be made to your association’s bylaws and/or chapter affiliation agreements. Who needs to approve these bylaw changes – only the board? The membership? When can that approval take place – at a regularly scheduled board meeting, an annual membership meeting, or a time of your choosing?

What about chapter affiliation agreements – how, if necessary, are those amended? Will you require agreement from each chapter?


Other Approval Issues That May Arise:

  • Besides your association’s board, does any other group have to approve the joint membership model?
  • Can you implement it without the approval of chapters?
  • If not, what form does chapter approval take?
  • What if some chapters don’t agree? What then?


Prepare For Changes

Think through the entire member recruitment and renewal process with chapter representatives and national staff from the finance, membership, component relations, and IT departments. Walk through all the different scenarios related to membership type and member transitions.

Now’s the time to nail down how the join and renewal process will look for the member, and how the money and data will flow between national and the chapters.

  1. How much will joint membership cost? Will there be more than one price?
  2. Will a discount be offered for joint membership? If not, be prepared to demonstrate irresistible value.
  3. Who will collect dues and how will they be processed and disbursed?
  4. How will chapter rebates or incentives be processed and disbursed?
  5. What changes must be made to standardize, streamline, and/or automate these processes?
  6. How will new member data be shared with chapters (or vice versa)?
  7. How will chapters share member data changes throughout the year?


Make A Plan For Renewal Processes

Who will communicate with members up for renewal? What is the plan for renewal communications?

Next, think about technology: 

  1. What systems and software do you use now to process dues and maintain member records?
  2. What systems and software are chapters using?
  3. If chapters collect dues now, what changes must be made for national to collect dues, disburse dues to chapters, and share member data with chapters?
  4. If chapters will continue to collect dues, what changes must be made to the process so national quickly receives its share of funds along with member data?


Make the Smooth Transition to Joint Membership

Start thinking about the best time to launch. Do you have a standard renewal anniversary date for all members? Should you consider the fiscal year or other association calendar events?

Get your project team ready. Make sure everyone knows the plan, timeline (and deadlines), and their roles and responsibilities. Communicate regularly about the project’s progress with chapters and other stakeholders.

Talk to others who have been down this path. Ask the ASAE Collaborate community if anyone would be willing to talk to you about their experience. Ask your AMS vendor for referrals. Or, talk to us – we know of many organizations that offer joint membership. Once you find your joint membership ‘mentors,’ ask them about the challenges and surprises they encountered and the lessons learned along the way.


Questions to Ask As You Get Ready to Offer Joint Membership



Decide whether you will test the program. Some associations first offer joint membership to new members only to work out program and process kinks.



What type of membership marketing materials will you provide to chapters? Some national associations provide marketing copy templates that chapters can customize for their websites, email marketing campaigns, and print brochures or flyers.



Will you incentivize chapters to promote joint membership? You could offer a rebate to chapters that refer prospects to the joint membership offering – make sure you figure out that process ahead of time. Or, you could reward chapters that have the highest percentage of joint membership growth with scholarships to your annual conference or other educational program.



No matter how you launch your joint membership model, think of it as a beta program – joint membership 1.0. Let chapters know you are open to feedback. Continue to tweak the offering and the process to make it work for everyone, especially for members.



Above all, remind everyone to keep their eye on the larger goals – making it possible for national and chapter staff to focus on more strategic work and offering members more value for their dues investment.

What Can Joint Membership Do For You?

Why joint membership? What can joint membership do for your organization? Learn about the membership dues model. In part 1 of the membership series, we’ll discuss the benefits, the pitfalls and how to get started and/or optimize your current joint membership process. View Slides >>

  • What are the benefits of joint membership to National, chapters and members?
  • What are the pitfalls of joint membership?
  • Where do you start?


Why Joint Membership?

  1. Engagement: Increases engaged members who wouldn’t normally join. Chapter receive complementary support from National. Member have extra resources.
  2. Incentives: Members that normally might not join, do. Members that normally might not join, do. Offer incentives to their dues and receive greater value.
  3. Eliminating the pain: National shared information in real-time. Chapter have more support for volunteers/staff. Members have more time and resources.
  4. Meet more needs: Membership models serve a diverse set of member needs without ending up with an “everything but the kitchen sink” membership package.


You receive a lot of emails…we get it. Subscribe to the content you want and we’ll do the rest! We send updates on new articles, guides, webinars, events, conferences and more. Receive awesome resources in your inbox every month >>

About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.