Brendan Lewis – Chairman, The Churchill Club
Who were the panellists and what were they doing?
Justin Reeves is the General Manager Supporter Services, Collingwood Football Club. It is the largest football club (all codes) by membership in Australia history, with 70,000 members. They also believe they engage around 400,000 through their website and other facilities and believe about 1.2M Australian’s would respond “they barrack for Collingwood” if asked. At this size the club is no longer just a social club . It doesn’t allow player access any more, has replaced volunteers with professionals at every level. It is looking the club and league to understand how it can grow.
Kelly O’Shanassy is the CEO of Environment Victoria a state based not-for-proft group that advocates for a better environment. It was formed 40 years ago, by 18 different environment groups that came together. In 1994 it opened itself up to individual memberships. It now has around 20,000 members who keep their membership for 3-5 years.
Sarah Adams – who is the Marketing Manager of Artshub an international, for-profit Arts community that is based in Melbourne with around 7,000 members.
The difference about members based businesses
Subscriber is just a revenue model for customers, regularly used by membership organisations, and normally called “membership fees”. Simply having subscribers doesn’t make you a membership based organisation.
Members have a sense of team, they dress up or show their allegiance and have a sense of shared purpose or passion and ownership. Membership organisations allow their members to become involved. This is why Foxtel, although it has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, wouldn’t be considered a membership based organisation.
Interestingly the Arts industry has a very high level of unemployment. One of the reasons that Artshub is successful is that it allows its members to be engaged in their industry, even when they are unemployed.
Most members feel a very strong sense of ownership, however this generally doesn’t translate to a desire for a governance role. This is why there is traditionally almost no one at Annual General Meetings.
Successful Membership based organisations:
- Provide members a clear understanding of their entitlements, even in times of change due to exponential growth.
- Have lots of ways their members can become engaged ( the ultimate engagement where members get to choose what they can do, but this is difficult, if not impossible to achieve).
- Have lots of different offerings, dependent on members desires and provide value at each offering along the membership path.
Professional Membership today is no longer about a community or social club, that provides access access to talent and is run by volunteers. Its an Organisations that employs professionals to become great at what it does and constant seeks insights from members on how to provide value.
Member based businesses generate revenues in many ways, however membership fees are usually only a minor part.
Collingwood – Membership Revenue is only round 25%, but that’s still up from 13% where it was 4 years ago,
Environment Victoria – Membership Revenue is only around 1%, whereas donations make up around 13%.
Artshub – Membership Revenue is only a tiny percentage most, revenues are from advertising sales and services.
There are plenty of ways you can derive revenue in member based organisations:
- Grants – to support your group.
- Membership Fees – Lot of packages, to meet lots of different types of member needs.
- Event or activity fees.
- Services such as training & accreditation.
- Branded Product – T-shirts, Caps etc.
- Support Products – Soft drinks etc.
- Alliances – Football clubs also get fees from the venue and the AFL.
You can also achieve cost saving s through volunteers doing work.
Its not ok to sell membership lists though, as privacy laws may prevent it, its generally immoral and when it has occurred in the past, it didn’t have a happy ending as it upsets members. It is okay to sell advertising space, in your newsletters though.
Sponsorships are becoming harder to achieve, which is why more energy is being put into membership by the football clubs.
Dynamic pricing (each person gets a different price) for games is becoming popular in the USA. They AFL is currently doing a study into this locally, however the Clubs and the AFL don’t own the stadiums, so its primary a venue revenue issue.
Can you pick up members with free or cheap offerings and then up-sell them? Not really. There are no entry level products and membership path, just different value offerings for different demographics and desires amongst members and potential members. Free services, such as Twitter feeds are in many ways more of a marketing offering than a membership offering. However for every organisation it is different. Environment Victoria sees its free knowledge sharing as its entry level product.
Designing Membership Packages
There is no membership path that starts with a free or introductory offer in a true membership based organisations. There are just lots of different ways members want to engage. Clever organisations design lots of membership packages so members can engage in the way that best suits them.
Regular professional research leading to insight around current and future member demands is what sets Collingwood apart from other clubs. They know all the ways members want to engage, and design a package for everyone. Collingwood does not make decisions around membership by gut feel. Value has to be there for all offerings.
Remember that offerings can be very organisation specific. E.g. a membership offering by Collingwood, wouldn’t necessarily work for other clubs – In fact other clubs have looked at the Collingwood offerings, and rather than do their own research, they made emotional decisions, introduced packages and failed.
Environment Victoria can’t afford market research, but knows from profiling that’s its members are skewed to the richest and poorest in society. Therefore, it pushes donations (tax deductible of course) as a way to achieve outcomes as an offering to its affluent members and volunteering to the less affluent members.
Even when an organisation has explosive growth, members should be able to access a variety of different offerings, and clearly understand their entitlements, therefore design cannot be random and you need to know your limits. E.g. the Legends offering is capped at 9,000 members – not to make it exclusive, but that’s all the club can cater for. Arbitrary exclusivity for marketing purposes doesn’t go down well with members.
Offering a free knowledge or education product is a great offering for all organisations to have as it provides value to those that currently want a light level of engagement, and it tests where interests may lie.
The key though is to make it easy for people to get engaged. Getup has done this and now boasts 400,000 members.
Artshub (7,000 members) has:
- Free Mini Membership
- Professional Membership
- Company Membership
Environment Victoria (20,000 members) has:
- Affiliate Groups
- Individual Membership
- Free Newsletter
Collingwood Football Club (70,000 members) has:
- Club 5 membership
- ANZAC Day Membership
- Legends Membership
- Captains Membership
- Social Club Membership
- Season Ticket Membership
- 3 Game General Admission
- 3 Game Reserved Seat
- Country, Interstate and International Membership
- Thommo’s Team 13 Membership
- Reserved Seating
- AFL and MCC Member Upgrades
- Magpie Nest
- Community Bay Membership
- Player Sponsorship
New Member Acquisition
Many traditional organisations are slowly dying, e.g.
- Catholic Church
- Political Parties.
The problem was asserted as they haven’t determined how to continue to provide value to a changing demographic or potential members and adapted. This is the key to attracting membership both now and in the future.
Youth are always seen as exiting as and valuable as they provide a future to organisations. Other State Environment groups, are generally only available to environment groups, mostly full of old people. This is seen as dangerous.
Differentiating and focussing is also important. For instance the Age Online is a competitor to Artshub, however its not focussed just on the art scene, has too much tabloid journalism, to many adds and appears to be shouting at you all the time.
But at the end of the day, getting members is all about asking people to join, its the only thing that works, however you must do this in sophisticated ways.
You should also have a very clear of the average lifespan of membership and the average value, so that you can look at the true ROI of your membership campaigns. Always design your campaigns to be measurable and asses their performance. The Football industry has traditionally is terrible at measurement of activities, and feels it is only now catching up.
Member get Member campaigns are always useful as your members will always know others who are passionate about the same topic, but they must be carefully constructed not to alienate members.
The radio station Triple R has successfully used guilt to turn listeners into subscribers. Which is play on the amount of social capital you can derive from being a member.
Most member based organisations need to form alliances to grow and have influence, but this can be very difficult. Consider:
Supporters won’t change clubs but the AFL is now effectively a competitor as well as a clubs biggest partner. There are now 47,000 AFL members.
Its difficult to run an organisation of highly passionate supports. Lots of agendas and very loud people. If you want to take a leadership role, be prepared to take flack.
So how do you form effective alliances? It appears that the answer generally is to form short term partnerships, to address specific campaigns or agendas e.g. Vic Farmers Federation and Environment Victoria come together to address a water issue. In this case an unusual partnership between normally arch enemies, gives credibility to agendas.
Social Media is a fantastic tool for growing and retaining membership, especially for resource constrained organisations. It provides an easy and accessible membership offering for those that are only comfortable with a very light level of engagement and in many cases it provides the initial engagement with an organisation.
Most organisations now announce new editorial content on Twitter and have Facebook fan pages. Facebook is also heavily used for running competitions and announcing give aways.
Social Media is a great driver of new visits to an organisations website. Environment Victoria’s visit increased by 8,000 unique visitors a month when they added social media as a communications channel.
Footy generally has been a late starter with Social Media, which means its a great opportunity for the sport.
– end of report –