Subscriptions are the rage. I can subscribe to fresh meal kits. Bra and panty clubs. Makeup samples. Shaving kits. Wine, fruit or cheese-of-the month clubs. But can I “subscribe” to your association? 
In her book The Membership Economy, Robbie Kellman Baxter writes, “Members love membership models because they fulfill powerful human drives — like needs for affiliation and prestige.” As association professionals, we know this. But according to Baxter, membership models (re: subscription services) also benefit associations:
  • It creates recurring revenue.
  • It builds a more direct relationship that strengthens the brand, by putting customers (i.e. members) at the organization’s center. 
  • It generates an ongoing data system that can be used to improve services and identify opportunities to increase satisfaction.
I’ve had more than one person tell me that an association’s business model should be about what’s good for members rather than what’s good for the association. My response is three-fold:
  1. Associations must be financially sustainable to be able to serve members. It’s not selfish to consider what’s good for both the member and the association. In fact, it’s unwise not to consider both.
  2. Like it or not, what happens in the for-profit arena often becomes an expectation for associations. Young people who subscribe to a wide variety of services now will expect the option. 
  3. Though tricky, it’s possible for the traditional “annual membership” and a “subscription” to co-exist, placing the choice in the hands of members—the ultimate in customer convenience.
Subscriptions aren’t a panacea, however. According to The Economist, landing customers can be “eye-wateringly expensive” and subscribers can be “annoyingly disloyal,” fleeing at the first post-promotion bump in prices. So why should associations even consider this as a membership model? Choice. Members may resist paying to join to get access to programs and services but giving them choice about what programs and services they want puts them in the driver’s seat.
If you’re not discussing subscriptions internally, you should be. They are the rage — and I believe they are here to stay in some form or another. For associations, this may be less about the subscription and more about tiered packaging. Either way, the concept is something to consider — even if you decide not to do it. At least you will have considered the pros and cons.