How to Build a Case for and Implement Joint Membership for Your Association and Chapters

Without an effective sales pitch and a comprehensive implementation plan, good ideas die. Joint membership is one of those good ideas for associations with a chapter network.

Also known as unified membership, the joint membership model packages national and chapter memberships together. Members pay either the national association or the chapter for both memberships in one dues payment.

Part 1 of this three-part series on joint membership described the benefits of offering a joint membership model. Read Part 2 to learn how to:

  • Find out if joint membership is a good idea for your association.
  • Develop your pitch for joint membership.
  • Line up support.
  • Identify process, technology, and budget considerations.

Now, we’ll take our joint membership plan through the steps to implementation.

Introduce the joint membership plan to chapters.


Chapter staff and leaders must feel invested in any decisions made about membership, even when those decisions can theoretically be made without their approval. Before making your plan public, create talking points for the chapter representatives on your project team and any other chapter champions of your plan.

Make sure the talking points include:

  • How joint membership will help chapters (and national) better achieve their goals.
  • Benefits of joint membership for members.
  • Arguments for overcoming any anticipated objections from chapter staff and leaders and for alleviating any anticipated worries.
  • Joint membership incentives, rebates, or additional expenses for chapters and national.
  • Process and technology changes required at the national and chapter level.

Ask chapter reps to provide feedback on the talking points. This feedback will help you develop a stronger ‘sales’ document you can distribute to chapters and other stakeholders, for example, national staff and leaders.

Schedule a virtual town hall to discuss the plan with chapter staff and leaders. Encourage chapters to bring their questions and concerns. Enlist the help of an experienced facilitator so the discussion remains informative and productive.

Get approval to move forward with the joint membership model.


Your association’s policy and governance culture will determine how early you need to involve the board in discussions about a joint membership model. Your executive sponsor can provide guidance on this issue and act as the liaison with the board on the plan’s progress.

Consider whether any revisions must be made to your association’s bylaws and/or chapter affiliation agreements. Who needs to approve these bylaw changes – only the board? The membership? When can that approval take place – at a regularly scheduled board meeting, an annual membership meeting, or a time of your choosing?

What about chapter affiliation agreements – how, if necessary, are those amended? Will you require agreement from each chapter?

Other approval issues may arise:

  • Besides your association’s board, does any other group have to approve the joint membership model?
  • Can you implement it without the approval of chapters?
  • If not, what form does chapter approval take?
  • What if some chapters don’t agree? What then?

Prepare for changes.


Think through the entire member recruitment and renewal process with chapter representatives and national staff from the finance, membership, component relations, and IT departments. Walk through all the different scenarios related to membership type and member transitions.

Now’s the time to nail down how the join and renewal process will look for the member, and how the money and data will flow between national and the chapters.

  • How much will joint membership cost? Will there be more than one price?
  • Will a discount be offered for joint membership? If not, be prepared to demonstrate irresistible value.
  • Who will collect dues and how will they be processed and disbursed?
  • How will chapter rebates or incentives be processed and disbursed?
  • What changes must be made to standardize, streamline, and/or automate these processes?
  • How will new member data be shared with chapters (or vice versa)?
  • How will chapters share member data changes throughout the year?

Make a plan for the renewal process too.

  • Who will communicate with members up for renewal?
  • What is the plan for renewal communications?

Next, think about technology.

  • What systems and software do you use now to process dues and maintain member records?
  • What systems and software are chapters using?
  • If chapters collect dues now, what changes must be made for national to collect dues, disburse dues to chapters, and share member data with chapters?
  • If chapters will continue to collect dues, what changes must be made to the process so national quickly receives its share of funds along with member data?

Make the smooth transition to joint membership.


Start thinking about the best time to launch. Do you have a standard renewal anniversary date for all members? Should you consider the fiscal year or other association calendar events?

Get your project team ready. Make sure everyone knows the plan, timeline (and deadlines), and their roles and responsibilities. Communicate regularly about the project’s progress with chapters and other stakeholders.

Talk to others who have been down this path. Ask the ASAE Collaborate community if anyone would be willing to talk to you about their experience. Ask your AMS vendor for referrals. Or, talk to us – we know of many organizations that offer joint membership. Once you find your joint membership ‘mentors,’ ask them about the challenges and surprises they encountered and the lessons learned along the way.

Questions to ask as you get ready to offer joint membership.

  1. Decide whether you will test the program. Some associations first offer joint membership to new members only to work out program and process kinks.
  2. What type of membership marketing materials will you provide to chapters? Some national associations provide marketing copy templates that chapters can customize for their websites, email marketing campaigns, and print brochures or flyers.
  3. Will you incentivize chapters to promote joint membership? You could offer a rebate to chapters that refer prospects to the joint membership offering – make sure you figure out that process ahead of time. Or, you could reward chapters that have the highest percentage of joint membership growth with scholarships to your annual conference or other educational program.
  4. No matter how you launch your joint membership model, think of it as a beta program – joint membership 1.0. Let chapters know you are open to feedback. Continue to tweak the offering and the process to make it work for everyone, especially for members.
  5. Above all, remind everyone to keep their eye on the larger goals – making it possible for national and chapter staff to focus on more strategic work and offering members more value for their dues investment.

Did you see the joint memberships features in Associations Now? Check out some additional resources and examples of joint membership in action.

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