5 Reasons to Consider Free Membership Tiers in Consortia

Best Practices : Article
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Mike McCamon, Managing Director 

From the onset, it’s important to carefully consider the membership design of consortia. It is common practice to have several tiers of influence/access with annual dues relative to these tiers. Additionally, some consortia have pricing that considers the size of members – with larger organizations paying more for the same access as smaller ones.  One more recent trend that we suggest including regional discounts for organizations located in developing economies. 

But what about a free membership tier for your consortia? We believe this is an often-overlooked best practice. Certainly, it’s best to have this in the original design, but it’s also something worth considering as your consortia matures and is looking to return to growth. Here are five reasons you could consider having a free membership tier in your consortia. 

  1. **Grow Community**. Nearly every consortia’s foundational goal is to grow “a way of doing something.” From new technical specifications, to testing for compliance or certifying knowledge of standards, each of these activities is focused on having a likeminded community. Not every person/entity in your community needs to be on the Board, or at the table that completes your work items. By having a free membership tier, you are giving entities an opportunity to be affiliated with your consortia at a low barrier to entry. It doesn’t mean they have the same benefits and privileges of paying membership, but they can have a role – even as a conduit for new ideas.
  2. **Extend Legal Reach.** Most membership agreements include language that obligates members to comply with Bylaws and Policies set by your Board. Philosophically speaking, the more entities that are obligated to your policies, the better. And this is especially true for organizations operating in your ecosystem. Legal obligation may not prevent bad behavior, but it will almost certainly provide a means to begin to address it.
  3. **Convert Interest.** When a loosely interested organization visits your website, you should always strive to convert them into a member of your community. Often, we design the path to membership based on our core work product which may have very specific legal and intellectual property rules and practices. This is a good practice, but this is also a high barrier for a loosely interested organization that is likely in your ecosystem or an adjacent market to join – not to mention the annual dues. By designing a minimal set of benefits, you might attract this type of organization to become a member of your consortia.
  4. **Marginal Cost is Near Zero.** In most cases you are already doing monthly/quarterly newsletters. You already have systems in place to manage member access. You already have online membership applications, and you have streamlined processes for onboarding members. Therefore, the marginal cost to add a new path of membership is likely quite low. They can receive the same newsletter – but now with links (behind your pay wall) to activities for which only paying members have access. The result is that your enlarged community knows what they are missing, which is one of the easiest ways to convert them to paying members.
  5. **Momentum.** Most Board members will discount this, but having a big membership number on your site is important; it is one of the few metrics you can use to show momentum. You must take a critical, non-informed view of a market to see this for yourself. Take it upon yourself to perform an online search on a technical topic of which you know very little. The first few pages of results will likely include a Wikipedia page, a few Ads, and then 2-3 (or more!) consortia that service this industry along with vendors in the market. What are the factors you use to determine the KEY consortia in this market? Often, one of your top ten, or maybe even top five trafficked page on your website is your membership listing. If two consortia look similar and one has 5x more members, which one is more important? Membership numbers are an external marker of momentum. They may over or understate the truth, but they are a metric people use to evaluate your momentum in the market. 
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