A Framework of Member Value

I’ve been thinking about member value a lot recently, and I see four ways that an association can provide value to members:

Association to Member – benefits offered directly from the organization to member.  These include such services as education, information, data, and events.

Member to Member – services which facilitate members feeling connected to each other and being a part of a group to which they really belong, a sense of finding their ‘tribe’.  These include mentoring, the social and collaborative aspects of events, online communities and discussion groups, and the member directory to find people who can help them.

Association as Leader – where the association acts as a leader, and provides services or creates positive change within the community.  This is often done through the work of both staff and members, but with credibility arising from the association acting as an organizational entity.  This includes advocacy, policy development, the development of certification standards, and national or international relationships.

Member to Association – where the member benefits by serving the association.  These might be tangible benefits, such as compensation for conducting training sessions, or intangible benefits, such as professional recognition or a sense of professional commitment and contribution.

I’m interested in testing the robustness of this framework.  Do you see other ways that associations generate value for their members?  Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. These are some very strong and conceptually clear ways to divide up the tangible and intangible member value proposition concepts for those members who are actively engaged within their association. Yet I have also come to believe that the member value concept in an association environment is often a much larger concept than just the sum of its different engagement parts.

    The vast number of members in every association who regularly pay their dues but are not actively participating in any of the four engagement frameworks has led me to believe that there may be a fifth way that one can think about member value — Member to Self.

    This Member to Self value concept is deeply personal and completely psychological. In this variation of the member value proposition, the member pays their membership dues simply to affiliate with a conceptual “profession” or “field” — and not with any engaged association community.

    It is the concept of “affiliation” that brings the value. The member value received for this particular type of member is tied first and foremost to a straight-forward validation of their respective life choices with regards to their own unique educational and professional career decisions.

    The association by its very existence serves as an overarching concept which reinforces the perception that one’s daily work has value. In this scenario, the association’s primary responsibility becomes to reinforce to it members that, “Yes, those were good life choices you made in your life.”

  2. Thanks Frank, this is a very useful addition.

  3. Moira,

    Read more. I don’t mean this as gratuitous criticism, but much has been written and researched about this topic. Try Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”. This research/book has been criticized much within the association community, but his notion of “social capital” is interesting. He describes “bonding” and “bridging” social capital.

    I find it very useful in thinking about organizations and membership value. Some organizations are designed to cultivate one type of social capital over the other. They are not mutually exclusive and they can take on different forms for different organizations, but down deep, aren’t they the same.

    I also recommend reading the chapter entitled: “On the Use Which The Americans Make of Associations in Civil Life” in Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”. It’s an oldie, but it’s still a goodie. It’s a short chapter and for someone in the association management field, the cost of the entire book is worth this one chapter. It may be more interesting to observe how much is the fundamentally the same for associations, and your question about member value, as has changed in 180 years since de Tocqueville made his initial observations.

  4. Michael, thanks for the pointers for more reading. I had reviewed The Decision to Join and The End of Membership As We Know It, and I saw member value dealt with as a single thing, this concept of the ‘value proposition’. But it made more sense to me to think of it as having multiple components.

    Re-reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s chapter (http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/805328.html) was useful and powerful, thanks for that reminder. I will get “Bowling Alone”!

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