One of my go-to sites for the latest and greatest in Association trends, tech, marketing and more, is Associations Now. Tim Ebner, a frequent contributor to the Association Nows blog, wrote a piece on “pay-what-you-can” dues structure..  As it sounds, this technique allows a member to choose the amount of money they’d like to pay for membership instead forcing them into a specific level. If the skeptic in you is raising his / her eyebrows, give Ebner a chance to explain.

A Case Study: SHAPE America

So who had the guts to actually implement a “pay-what-you-can” system? SHAPE America, “the largest U.S. association of health and physical education professionals” gave it a whirl. Their members could choose from a free membership or opt to pay what they wanted for a particular membership level. Matt Rankin, SHAPE America’s Membership Manager, felt this kind of system could increase engagement across the board and in turn grow their membership.  “It’s a pretty revolutionary idea,” (Rankin).

Benefit vs. Risk

A “pay-what-you-can” system is risky. We all know that membership dues are the building blocks to a healthy association. What happens when that influx is cut in half? Well, you can do the math. To make this work, your association needs to have a strong base of paying members. The “pay-what-you-can” system is best for low-hanging prospects. This could be individuals who would likely sign up for your lowest membership tier, are lapsed members in your database, or unengaged members who are getting ready to renew.

“While we were completely underwhelmed by the amount of dues it generated, we think there’s tons of long-term value. We’ll know in six to eight months if they bought a book, went to an event, or participated in an advocacy effort,” (Rankin).

Long-Term Benefits

Like Rankin mentioned above, you may not see an astronomical increase in dues revenue, but you will see increased engagement. And it’s better to have some engagement at a lower price than none at all.

Rankin also mentioned that his renewing members who had the option to “pay-what-you-can” actually continued payment at last years level rather than downgrading, reaffirming the value of their membership.

The “pay-what-you-can” system is not right for every group. It’s financially risky and could devalue your membership. Consider all the variables before implementing this type of dues structure.

For more tips, be sure to check back here every week! We post daily on the latest in Association marketing, events, membership growth and revenue management.


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