The Art of Communicating the Dreaded Membership Dues Increase

After many years in the nonprofit sector, and more than several working specifically with associations, I have yet to meet anyone who loves talking about increasing the price of membership dues.

(Ok, maybe finance who is looking forward to seeing that extra revenue hit the bottom line and ensure the financial health of the organization.)

At the core of associations are the relationships with its members, and the trust they’ve established after proving the value delivered as part of membership. Most members understand that, in exchange for the goods and services provided by your organization, they pay a fee which supports your operations, continued growth and service of your mission. But while they’re willing to pay for their membership, are they willing to pay more?

Broaching the topic can be a challenging one, made more difficult by the fact that you often have to rely on impersonal channels like email, direct mail or large annual meetings to make the announcement. Yet every organization will eventually reach a point where they need to raise the price of dues – to fund a technology investment, expand programming or just because the dollars coming in no longer cover the cost.

Many organizations are either working or placing the finishing touches on the 2019 planning process. If increasing dues are on your radar for the year ahead, here are some tips to help the process of introducing the change go more smoothly:

membership dues1. Honesty is the Best Policy

It’s tempting to bury a price increase – they don’t tell members their dues are changing until they get an annual renewal notice or attempt to complete their transaction in your online store. There are also organizations who don’t even mention it, changing dues prices without mentioning it in the hopes that the increase will go unnoticed.

These behaviors, while seeming to provide an easier path, undermine the trust that your members have in your organization. Be honest. Tell them about the increase and give them time to understand how it may affect them, especially if the increase is a significant one.

2. Explain Why

Context is the friend of the dues increase. As a nonprofit, members will appreciate associations aren’t trying to drive profit for shareholders but without the benefit of understanding the rationale behind an increase they may jump to their own conclusions.

Provide a fact-based, high-level overview of the reasons behind a dues increase. Reaffirm your commitment to providing them the best experience possible and remind them of the value you’ll be delivering with the additional resources.

3. Offer Options

Some dues represent a large investment for members – especially those who may be early in their career. If your planned increase is a sizeable one, it’s important to understand how the increase impacts different members and may pose a risk to retention efforts.

Should you introduce a new tier that provides fewer features but still creates a place for those unable to afford the new rates? If you do have tiers, do you need to introduce an increase across all levels simultaneously or can you stagger it to minimize the impact? Are installment payments an option or can you instead offset some of the anticipated revenue from a dues increase through the introduction of non-dues resources?

Although nonprofits are different in many regards, price increases are a normal part of business. Customers of all types understand raising prices to address increased costs offer a better experience. However, those changes need to be communicated honestly, presented in the context of value and alleviated by options if and/or when appropriate.