Sustainable Growth: 4 Considerations for Associations

This guide explores ways to sustainably grow your association.

After a few volatile years, membership rates are on the rise for associations. In 2022, 43% of associations reported new member growth, a hefty increase from 2021’s metrics of 29%. In the wake of this new trend, associations must work to secure more members and drive growth. 

Some of the keys to reaching and recruiting new members include deliberately allocating your budget toward outreach and marketing activities as well as making innovative updates to association offerings. For example, perhaps your association has updated its website and increased virtual courses since the pandemic.

When making these changes to your recruiting and retention strategies, however, it’s essential to keep sustainability in mind. In other words, will your association be able to implement and maintain new initiatives in the long term?

In this guide, we’ll explore top strategies and considerations that will help your association continue to be a stable, lasting institution. Let’s get started!


Deliver on promised value. 

As an association leader, you’re likely very familiar with the benefits your organization offers to its members. In fact, they are probably featured prominently on your website for potential members to browse. However, many associations make the mistake of promising vague or broad benefits. Not only does this make it difficult for your organization to deliver the value promised in these benefits, but they are also difficult for members to conceptualize.


Rather than just listing acceptable yet generic benefits on your website, highlight the impact those benefits have on your members. 

For example, the American Marketing Association offers standard benefits to its members, such as certifications, toolkits, access to research journals, training and conferences, and discounts. However, the association’s website also clarifies the ways each benefit provides value to members. Its toolkits, for instance, “include 100+ templates to help you save time and make smarter business decisions.”

To get started, audit your benefits and discern, based on feedback from existing members and what peer associations offer, which benefits have the highest perceived value. Develop quick descriptions of what each one looks like at your association. Then, spell out tangible ways your offerings will result in more efficiency for members or help advance their careers.


Diversify revenue streams. 

Creating and promoting member benefits is key to driving revenue and membership growth. However, depending solely on dues to fund your association can be dangerous. To protect your association from potential hardships or seasons of stagnated recruitment rates, develop a variety of revenue streams. 

Here are some ways your association can secure non-dues revenue:

  • Open an e-commerce store. Set up an easy-to-use e-commerce shop through your association management software (AMS) to sell items such as conference registrations, branded merchandise, or access to exclusive content. This will make it easier for your association to promote these items, track financial data, and apply discounts.
  • Hold fundraisers. If your association accepts donations, promote the opportunity to donate through fundraising campaigns. Clearly state why you are fundraising and what the donations will accomplish, ideally tying back to a member benefit (e.g., funding your yearly conference or an educational course you’re developing).
  • Develop workshops, learning pathways, and courses. Frequently discuss the skills and knowledge required to be successful in your field to build a culture of learning at your association—this way, members are always eager to learn. Offer them exclusive educational opportunities created by your staff and industry experts who have their finger on the pulse of emerging trends in your space. 


Having additional revenue streams also provides a safety net or cushion, empowering your association to take risks. For example, let’s say you are experimenting with new marketing strategies by dedicating a significant portion of your budget toward social media ads intended to reach more Millennial and Gen Z prospects. Whether this risk pays off or not, your association will have enough funding to recoup any losses. 


Target and appeal to younger generations. 

To increase the longevity of your association, focus on cultivating future leaders among younger generations. Younger generations are the future of your organization, and it’s important to begin recruiting them as soon as possible to build a sense of loyalty and trust. 


However, NPOInfo’s charitable giving statistics explain that baby boomers participate the most in associations and make up 34% of total members. Millennials and Gen Z, on the other hand, make up only 21% and 8% of members respectively. 


To keep your association from aging out, make an effort to intentionally engage younger generations by:


  • Increasing virtual engagement opportunities. Because younger generations tend to prefer virtual communication, consider offering more virtual and hybrid options. Hold meetings virtually and switch your conferences to a hybrid format. Additionally, aim to build a robust online community that fosters lasting relationships through member portals, directories, discussion forums, and networking events.
  • Performing more social media outreach. In the same vein, increasing your social media presence can help you reach more young prospects. Create posts for your association’s accounts that have short, engaging text and eye-catching visuals. Work with influencers in your space or partner with universities to make young people more aware of your association.
  • Remaining relevant and up-to-date. Stay on top of industry trends and technology updates (e.g., using generative AI tools like ChatGPT) to remain a thought leader in your space. Younger members should feel like they can look to your association for guidance rather than relying on other resources. To assist you, make sure your association uses flexible, customizable tools, like those built on Salesforce, that allow you to frequently update your offerings.


Recruiting and building deep relationships with younger generations will also give you access to untapped audiences. Once you make a positive impression on one young professional, you can encourage them to share about your organization with their peers through referral programs and other incentives.


Frequently show appreciation to members.

Members keep your association going, but it’s easy to forget to show your gratitude for them. Steward your members and show them how much they mean to your organization by frequently showing your appreciation.

Some effective member appreciation strategies include: 

  • Sending thank-you cards after a member attends an event or renews their membership
  • Congratulating them on career achievements or milestones
  • Giving them gifts (e.g., free merchandise or a subscription to a professional magazine)
  • Holding member appreciation dinners or parties


Over time, these efforts will have a positive impact on your association. Fonteva’s guide to member engagement echoes this sentiment, noting that by making members feel valued, you’ll inspire loyalty and show that their contributions are vital to your association. Remember to show appreciation for all of your members, whether they recently joined or have been members for years.


Tailoring member experiences to each individual’s preferences, needs, and career goals engages members of all backgrounds and experience levels. Over time, you’ll build a reputation as an association with a lot of value to offer a wide range of professionals in your field.

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