How to Build an Exceptional Member Benefits Program

Callie Hinman
June 3, 2020

From the American Accordionists Association to the World Bicycle Polo Federation, there seems to be a professional association for just about any trade or hobby. And even within the most niche categories, multiple organizations are vying to win the same audience.

For example, did you know that there are over 70 national and local associations just for individuals working in the concrete industry?

If you want to attract (and retain) members, you have to stand out from your competition. And to do that, you need to have a stellar member benefits program.

Here’s how to build a program that makes your members excited to be a part of your association.

Member Benefits Program Basics

What you offer your members should either support their professional goals, personal pursuits, or (ideally) both. And the best way to ensure this is the case is to consult your members directly. While you may have a strong inclination of the kinds of benefits your members want, there’s no sense relying on your gut when you have the ability to go straight to the horse’s mouth. To sum it up: Don’t assume—ask.

What makes your members tick? What are their motivations? Their frustrations? Their aspirations? Your benefits portfolio should be designed with these things in mind. Build a program that offers a variety of benefits that appeals to your membership base on a personal level.

IMPORTANT: Member benefits programs only work if 1) members appreciate what’s being offered, and 2) they know they can’t get the benefits elsewhere. If a member can access the same deals on their own, the perks aren’t really “member benefits” since membership in your organization isn’t required to get them.

Types of Benefits to Offer

To build a great member benefits program, you must choose benefits that provide continuing value. A $10 discount on a member’s first Uber or Lyft ride is nice, but once she uses the promo code, that benefit is gone and she can derive no further value from it. One-time offers like these are superficially attractive but won’t encourage long-term member engagement.

A better idea is to offer helpful content and career tools as part of your member benefits portfolio. Create a resource center on your website with downloadable e-books about industry trends and news. Offer continuing education courses and/or tutorials with expert career advice. You can also send a monthly e-newsletter so members receive the latest updates directly in their inbox.

Exceptional benefits programs provide benefits that are not only exclusive to their members but also personalized to their needs. For instance, the Austin Young Chamber, a group for young Austinites looking to grow professionally, offers its members discounts on coworking space reservations as well as free admission to workshops hosted by the Baylor Executive MBA program.

The benefits you provide must be substantial and worthwhile and should demonstrate your commitment to the well-being and success of your members. Most importantly, they should act as a tangible representation of your appreciation for their decision to be a member of your organization.

Choosing the Best Benefits Providers

As you begin vetting potential member benefit providers, be sure to consider the following:

  1. Would your members be genuinely interested in a deal or discount on the product or service this company offers?
  2. How does the potential benefit relate to the benefits your association currently provides? Would it complement your existing benefits portfolio or seem out of place?
  3. Do the values and mission of this company align with those of your organization?
  4. Would your decision to partner with this company reflect well on you in the eyes of your members?
  5. Will partnering with this company help both parties move toward their respective goals?

The most important aspect of the partnership is that both organizations start (and stay) on the same page. Outline what you both hope to accomplish, the specific standards you’ll follow, and each company’s responsibilities in the partnership.

Once you’ve established a new partnership, you must keep an eye on not only how much (or how little) members are taking advantage of the benefit but also which members are participating. This insight will allow you to see the impact the benefit has on engagement, retention, and new member acquisition.

From there, you can determine if it makes sense to renew the contract with the partner or go your separate ways. If the benefit seems to be having a considerable impact on membership, identify potential partners who offer related benefits that could strengthen your benefits program even more.

Building an exceptional member benefits program may not be a cakewalk, but a good program can be a major competitive advantage, which in turn can improve member acquisition, boost engagement, and increase retention. Seeing your membership soar and member engagement skyrocket will definitely make it worth the effort.