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Association Financial Management

Communicating a Change in Dues Structure
By Stephen C. Carey, CAE

When associations consider revising their dues structures, which may impact the benefits they offer, both staff and volunteers must be prepared to communicate the new structure in such a way that the members have complete buy-in for the change and understand the reasons for its implementation.

Avoid falling down when communicating a change in dues structures to stakeholders by ensuring there is a direct link to the association's value equation when the new structure is rolled out and by including member input during the development process. Consider taking these steps in introducing a new dues program:

  • Include representatives from all stakeholder segments in discussions about alternative dues structures. Communicate early and often during the discernment process, rather than springing the new program on the members at the annual meeting.
  • Discuss anticipated changes to the dues structure using a variety of communication vehicles, calling for input and discussion. Conduct a town meeting to discuss the issue at an upcoming conference or via conference call. This will ensure that the association has provided every opportunity for input and discussion prior to the board taking action or the issue being put to a vote by the membership.
  • Use a common denominator, or unit of measurement, as a base for dues. Members must easily understand the value proposition of their membership in your association. Some associations have been operating on an unequal dues proposition for a number of years and need to rethink the dues base to make it more equitable to the various constituencies. For example, for a trade association, this may mean basing dues on total company revenues rather than on number of facilities owned or operated. You have to ensure equity in the application of the dues structure.
  • Tie the dues levels (whether fixed, variable, or tiered) to quantitative and realistic products and services provided. Regardless of the dues base you select, segment each class of member and ask how this change affects each segment and what current value each sees in the association. It is always a good idea to conduct a member needs and value assessment to link value to product to price and examine each segment's response as you develop the new dues structure and stratify it to different classes of members.

When the association and its members understand the basis for the new dues structure and feel that it is equitable to all members based on the vision, mission, goals, and value proposition of the association, members feel they are getting fair value for their membership dollars.

Stephen C. Carey, CAE, is lead strategist, Association Management and Marketing Resources, Bethesda, Maryland. Many of the concepts for this sidebar come from "The Guide to Member Value," a chapter in The Association and Nonprofit Marketing and Communication Guide, complete with best practices and templates available from AMMR.