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"Good Horsemanship is Built on Solid Basics...So is Good Business!"

Minding The Membership
By Lisa Derby Oden

No matter what your interest, involvement, or orientation to the horse
industry is, there is most likely an association that is right for you. From
professional associations, to breed and performance organizations, to youth
groups, to geographically-based, to marketing groups, to welfare, to
therapeutic use of horses, to environmental issues, to land preservation, to
search and rescue - well, the list is a long one and those mentioned here
give you an idea of the depth and breadth available.

The successful operation of an association is based on a variety of factors.
The factors include vision and mission, board and leadership development,
fundraising, programs and services, and public relations. One of the many
fundraising methods is to offer membership to the organization. The members
receive benefits in return for paying their dues. In this way, members
become one of the association's customers. Not all associations can offer
memberships based on their charter, however. For these groups, hiring an
attorney provides the means for making the appropriate governance changes.

In many horse associations, membership forms the core of the association for
a multitude of resources. Whether members participate in events sponsored by
the organization, or are involved on a committee or the board of directors,
the role they play is an important one.

Membership dues are usually one of the primary income sources for
organizations. Dues provide the advantage of immediate and unrestricted
funds. These funds can be used for the day-to day operation of the
association. Other revenue sources and fundraising initiatives can require
longer timeframes to accomplish, or may be dedicated to a specific project.
For example, grant writing requires filing for the grant by a specific date,
with approval or rejection being announced by another specific date. So
there is a delay here from when the request is made and the funds are
received, if approved. Grants are usually also project specific, and the
process is highly competitive, so approval is very difficult to achieve.
Annual campaigns and other fundraising programs begin by asking the current
membership for contribution first. Similarly, committee positions, board
members and association-run event volunteers are often filled by members
first. Even when looking for ways to build your membership, it is your
members that most frequently get new people involved.

In addition to being valuable individually, members are also valuable as a
group. The numbers that the association represents will have more political
power than each person does alone. As membership grows, the association also
carries more clout when dealing with public policy.

In order to provide the best member satisfaction so that you can keep your
members renewing annually, think of all the reasons that someone would join
the association.
1) First and foremost, the members are people that are giving you money to
support your mission. They want the results that your association provides.
2) Second on the list is social interaction and networking. People join to
be with other people that have similar views or enjoy similar activities.
3) Third, some people join for professional purposes. This will vary
according to the nature of the organization.
4) A small percent will join to be part of the leadership team and assist in
running the association. Usually, however, the leadership comes from people
that have been members already.
5) Sometimes people will join because of a special offer made by the
association. For example, a clinic is offered with a world-renowned
clinician, and only members can attend. Or, insurance is available in
special packages or better rates if you are a member. Or for a limited time
period an association can provide a solid discount on a new truck. An
association may see its ranks swell dramatically in a short period, and then
drop just as dramatically at the next renewal period.
Whatever the reason for joining, when someone has joined the association,
they have now entered into an ongoing personal relationship with the group.
The association must give the member benefits, be responsive to the members,
and provide easy communication channels. Members may also want to be part of
the decision-making process.

When an association works on building its membership, several aspects come
into consideration.
Cost - Not surprisingly, cost is always a factor. Are membership fees
appropriate for the marketplace? Conducting a market survey to determine
this offers solid feedback. Be sure to include all association stakeholders
in the survey: those that the association serves; those that send the
association money (grants, agencies, donors, etc.); those that are on the
board and/or work for the association. The survey can be conducted over the
phone, via written questionnaire, or as part of a focus group set-up.
Information to capture should include:
-brief description of the image of the association (stipulate 30 words or
less, or two brief sentences - this shows how clear, or not, your
association's mission is)
-what position the association holds compared to other groups offering
similar services
-the reasons why the association is an asset to the horse community
-which services and programs the association should expand; which should be
reduced or discontinued
-what new services or programs would be good to develop
-what the problems with the association are
Once this survey has been completed, the association knows what the members
and other stakeholders think of the organization, why it is a valuable
organization, and what things might need to be changed to continue meeting
horse community needs.
Member Benefits - An association first must understand what it wants to
accomplish by offering memberships. Is the group looking to provide a means
of affiliation or are they looking to involve people actively in the
decision-making process at some level? Benefits will vary according to the
level of participation the horse association offers and the member
subsequently chooses. Junior/ Senior, Individual/Family,
Individual/Business, Business/Association, Annual/Lifetime, and other levels
of increasing financial support may separate membership levels. Generally,
the more that a membership costs, the more the benefits connected to that
membership. Benefits may include newsletter or magazine subscription,
discounts on program and event fees, advertising opportunities, year-end
awards, voting privileges, opportunity to hold office, and ability to
purchase products not available without membership. Other benefits may be
determined through the results from the survey conducted when considering
cost structure.
Membership Renewal - Memberships are offered in one of two ways. Many
associations offer membership that starts January 1 and runs for the
calendar year through December 31. Sometimes different calendar year dates
are chosen to make renewal time not coincide with the holidays or for other
fiscal purposes. January through December is perhaps the easiest term for
the individual member to remember however.
The other way membership is offered is from the time the member sends the
dues in. This can mean more work for the association, as memberships become
due on a staggered basis throughout the year. But the association may
attract more members this way. Members receive all their benefits for a
full year, no matter when they send their dues in. For example, if a new
member is thinking of joining a group, and has discovered the group in July,
he/she may decide to wait until January to join if the membership and
benefits are offered January through December. This person may reason that
they have already missed out on 7 months of benefits, and may not feel that
the membership is worth the dues for the remaining 5 months. The problem
with this is that this person may forget to join in January. It makes good
sense for an association to have a person or committee in charge of
membership. If prospective members inquire about membership in July, they
can automatically send this person a reminder as January approaches. This
entire situation is solved, however, by offering membership from the time
the member joins.
>From another perspective, it may be more beneficial to run the membership
January - December in order to conduct an annual membership drive that lasts
for a brief and well-defined period. The potential loss of new members can
also be resolved if the association chooses a date, such as August 1, at
which point the membership fee becomes half -price. In this way new members
are still encouraged to join no matter what time of year.
The time frame chosen by the association may be a result of resources the
group has to manage the renewal process. If the group is computerized and
has paid staff, it may be better equipped than a group that is entirely
volunteer-driven. No matter which method is chosen, it will take several
reminders: when renewal time is approaching, when it has passed, and when
the person will no longer receive benefits if renewal has not been received.
It is the association's job to make renewal as easy as possible for the
member. Don't be surprised if it takes at least 3 reminders to generate a

Problems are in the eye of the beholder. From a member's point of view,
primary problems will revolve around lack of response from the organization.
There is nothing worse than when a member responds to a request from a group
for volunteers, ideas, or funding and the group to fails to acknowledge the
member contact. Even if the group has filled the need, an acknowledgement to
others that also offered will ensure that those members offer again another

>From the association's point of view, problems revolve around high turnover
rate, members that are too vocal or want more power than their membership
allows for, and lack of involvement. An informal survey recently conducted
indicated that 18% of respondents didn't know what their member turnover
rate was; 27% reported 3-5% turnover; 36% reported 10-20% turnover; 27%
reported 25-35% turnover. About 55% of those surveyed indicated that renewal
turnover was a key indicator of member satisfaction. Another indicator of
satisfaction mentioned was the lack of complaints. Be careful here -
although constant complaints, particularly on similar issues or recurring
issues, is certainly an indicator of problems, lack of complaints can be
also. Often members may be dissatisfied, but rather than raise the issue,
they just don't renew their membership.

It can be an interesting balance to strike - to invite participation and
then hope that it's constructive. Or to turn complainers into action-takers
to help provide the solution to the problem. Remember that all these folks
are members because they believe in what's offered. Strive to reinforce
pride of membership by stressing commonalities at every possible occasion.

(Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and association consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. She is the 1999 AHC Van Ness Award recipient for outstanding service to the horse industry.
She can be reached at: (603)878-1694; email at; or visit her website at

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