Blog | Walsworth

Association Membership Trends

Written by Christoph Sisson | October 30, 2014

Professional associations can provide immeasurable benefits to their members. But if the associations are incapable of adapting to changes, they’re on borrowed time. Today’s world presents a variety of challenges to professional associations. And the perennial heartburn issue of enrollment is just one of many obstacles in the way of the success of professional associations.


A steady increase in enrollment is the surest sign of a vital professional organization. However, more than 40 percent of organizations are not experiencing any growth, according to a study conducted by Advanced Solutions International. In fact, 10 percent of professional organizations experienced a decrease in enrollment over the past year. The study shows these figures hold true across the board, regardless of the size of the group.

You could look at the numbers and say that 60 percent of the organizations surveyed did experience growth. But, the problem is that all organizations are at risk of a decreased enrollment, largely because they are struggling to appeal to the younger generation of professionals. As mentioned in’s “Ten Things Every Association Executive Should Stop Doing in the New Year” article, a big problem is that the people in Generation Y aren't joiners.

Customized Content

We live in a world where customization is king. People can log into their social media accounts and see the news they want to see and read the posts from their favorite thought leaders. People have grown accustomed to having things their way and on demand, and this trend has continued into everything from newspapers to movies and everything in between.

And yet, when it comes to professional organizations, many are still utilizing a “one size fits all” model that doesn’t really work anymore. People don’t want to pay memberships fees for content that doesn’t meet their specific needs or that they can easily get for free elsewhere.

Tiered Memberships

The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) shares the membership success story of Alliance for Women in Media. AWM embraced a “freemium” model, not unlike the methodology behind popular mobile games, where users are allowed a basic set of privileges for free but must pay for exclusive content. This gives people a chance to sample the group and potentially become interested enough to invest money into the organization, while giving the group the enrollment numbers necessary to raise its profile.


We all know the importance of technology in everything that happens in today’s world. However, the leaders of professional organizations appear to be behind the curve in this area. More than a quarter of professional organizations have gone more than three years without a major website upgrade. In terms of how quickly website innovations occur, three years seems an eternity. And when viewed from this context, it’s no wonder that people have gone elsewhere for their professional fulfillment.

What’s more is that an outdated website design can actually drive away potential new members. More than a third of all web browsing is done on smartphones or tablets, yet few professional organizations have websites that utilize responsive design optimized for mobile devices. Especially when considering the younger audience that has yet to embrace professional organizations, not being mobile-friendly can be a deal breaker for an association trying to attract Generation Y.

How will your organization reach new audiences? Embracing responsive web design, defining an integrated content marketing strategy and utilizing tiered memberships are definitely steps in the right direction. All professional organizations should constantly strive to exceed the expectations of their members, and these are areas in which any organization can improve.