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Two associations go with tiered memberships

In the last two months, two national associations have unveiled new membership models that rely on a range of options as a core selling point.

  • On August 1, AIGA (once the American Institute of Graphic Arts) announced a new membership structure with five levels ranging in price from $50 to $2,500 per year.
  • On September 5, the American Alliance of Museums announced a new structure with three membership levels and six staff-size sub-levels ranging from "pay what you can" to $5,000 per year. (The change also coincided with a name change from "Association" to "Alliance.")

The rule of thumb is that two is a coincidence and three is a trend, so these might not reflect any major trends in associations. (Though now I'm curious if ASAE or anyone else has any benchmarking data on membership structures with tiers; I'll have to dig and perhaps follow up in a later post.) Nonetheless, there are some interesting common themes between these two recent revamps.

Broader inclusion. Both organizations cite the need to cast a wider net in diversifying industries, to expand beyond the traditional professionals to allow engagement among a wider variety of interested stakeholders.

  • AIGA CEO Richard Grefé writes, "The expectations of designers have broadened in recent decades, as have the range of design disciplines and practices. … AIGA has always adapted to the interests of the profession, and is now shifting to a model that makes membership more accessible, increasing participation while providing opportunities for those who value AIGA's role in the advancement of design to make a stronger financial contribution. A larger and more diverse membership makes AIGA's collective voice stronger and more compelling."
  • AAM explains, "… we came to believe that 'association' did not represent what we wanted to be as an organization, nor did it represent what the museum field needed us to be—an inclusive, collaborative organization prepared to work with museum professionals and volunteers, with those who do business with museums, and with those who just love museums. We wanted to be a good partner with other museum-related organizations and to help unify the field on behalf of the cause of museums. 'Alliance' describes the ideal role for this organization to play."

More choices. From those motivating factors, it's easy to see why they chose tiered memberships. Greater diversity in your industry means a broader mix of involvement and interest levels and thus demands a wider variety of membership choices to meet it. Conveniently, both AIGA and AAM provide a handy table of membership levels and benefits for potential members to examine their options.

Two weeks ago here on Acronym I asked whether associations should focus on smaller niches, welcome the masses, or try to serve both with tiered memberships. The answer might be different for every association, but these two are clearly hoping to broaden their bases while continuing to serve their most highly engaged members.

If you know of other associations that have recently adopted tiered membership structures, please share.

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