While associations have always looked on membership as the special sauce that gave trade associations and professional societies the unique relationship with members that no commercial organization could ever hope to duplicate [there’s a reason that American Express refers to its card holders as “members”] a recent trend has surfaced which is worth all of our attention:  an increase in nonmembers as customers.

I just returned from attending the 50th anniversary annual meeting of the Association Management Company Institute [AMCi] that included a number of sessions which were extremely stimulating and thought-provoking.  A panel on industry trends moderated by Gregg Talley, President & CEO, Talley Management Group, who serves as Chief Strategy Executive for AMCi, included David Dubois, President of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events; Greg Melia, Chief Membership & Volunteer Relations Officer of the American Society of Association Executives; Deborah Sexton, President & CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association; and Tina Wehmeir, EVP of AMCi.

One of the trends that was discussed is that of the increase in nonmembers participating in association activities, such as meetings.  While associations have always had some nonmembers as customers, the majority of associations [with a few notable exceptions] have viewed this segment as a secondary market.  The panelists agreed that it appears there is an increase in individuals who are willing to pay a premium [i.e., the higher, nonmember fee] to participate in the association’s activities and even though it does not make economic sense, it seems to meet a more important need, perhaps flexibility of some sort.

The implications of this for associations are that it opens up possibilities in terms of marketing and promoting association products and services more widely than in the past to nonmembers willing to pay a nonmember premium.