Membership is stagnant or declining for many associations. Only 38% of associations participating in MGI’s 2022 membership benchmarking survey increased their membership in 2021. That’s an improvement over 2020 when only 26% increased membership, but the rest of the 2021 data isn’t so great: 33% lost members and 29% remained at the same count.
Although the decline in membership has many causes, 25% of associations lay the blame on employers not paying for membership dues—a challenge that’s always existed when recruiting members. But many employers who won’t pay for membership will pay for their employee’s professional development. In today’s tight employment market, companies see professional development as a perk that helps them recruit and retain employees.
Employers aren’t the only ones watching their wallet amidst economic uncertainty. Individuals who pay their own way rather just pay for what they use. As a result, we see an increasing number of associations offering a learning subscription as an alternative or upgrade to membership.
Why association learning subscriptions are a hit with members and customers
It’s second nature to subscribe to services these days: Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Peloton, and so on. You can find subscriptions for everything—Cat Lady, anyone? LinkedIn Learning is a popular professional development subscription—and competition for many associations.
Think about your subscriptions at work: Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms for your LMS, AMS, virtual event platform, data analytics, Teams, and Zoom.
Subscriptions fit easily into our lives. In a few clicks, you sign up to pay automatic monthly or annual fees. Although a subscription is theoretically easy to cancel, we often keep paying for them even if we’re not using them because next week we will definitely, and we mean it this time, get back to our online yoga membership.
Learning subscriptions lower the professional development barrier to entry because subscribers only need to get budget approval once instead of asking for money throughout the year. Subscriptions also drop the price point barrier for educational programs. Even if your employer doesn’t approve your budget request, you can afford to pay monthly out of pocket, considering the value you’ll receive.
With a subscription, if you decide, after starting a course, that it’s not for you, you can drop out with no consequences and take a chance on something else. You have the freedom to explore different topics at all levels of instruction.
Employers appreciate subscriptions because they reduce the number of financial approvals and transactions. Plus, they make professional development more accessible to employees.
Benefits of learning subscriptions for associations
We share association success stories below, but first, here are some benefits:
• The recurring revenue model increases non-dues revenue and provides more predictable revenue for budgeting.
• Less administration means staff can focus more on adding value for learners.
• Program participation and member/customer engagement increases. Subscriptions keep them coming back to your website, strengthening your relationship with them.
• Your association can better fulfill your mission by educating more professionals in your industry and helping them advance their careers and grow their business.
4 examples of association learning subscriptions
#1: American Planning Association (APA)
APA always included 30-day access to recordings in their conference registration but launched a new pilot program for attendees, extending access to 6 months. 90% of attendees took them up on the offer.
With that low-effort success under their belt, APA launched Passport, an expanded subscription. Besides recorded conference sessions, subscribers get unlimited access to APA's online learning library of 250+ on-demand CM-credit eligible courses, plus new live and on-demand content that’s added regularly. APA talked to Associations Now about how Passport significantly increased non-dues revenue.
#2: American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)
ASAE offers two subscriptions as an add-on to membership or for purchase by non-members. ASAE Learning Online is a monthly or annual individual, group, or team subscription to a library of online learning content.
The other option is a 30-day subscription to one of ASAE’s Online Course Collections. Courses are bundled by topic, for example, project management, leadership, and volunteer management. Courses can’t be purchased individually, only through a subscription. Subscribers earn a certificate and CAE credits. As a value-add, subscribers get access to the full library during their 30-day subscription—a nice enticement to consider the ASAE Learning Online option next time.
ASAE gives their members and customers a choice: they can focus on a specific area for a limited time at a lower price point, or unlimited access for more time at a higher price point. Your association could also offer an upgrade that gives access to discussion groups.
#3: American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA)
Please read this brilliant article about learning subscriptions at Leading Learning by Jack Coursen, senior director of professional development at ASHA. Jack is an adult learning expert who believes the pay-per-product model is hostile to lifelong learning and best practices in effective learning. If you’re considering a learning subscription, you’ll appreciate his take on the questions to discuss before moving forward, ASHA’s journey, how they handled finances in their transition between business models, and lessons learned.
ASHA’s Learning Pass is an annual subscription giving unlimited access to an “ever-growing catalog” of live and on-demand courses. To sweeten the pot, ASHA offers discounted introductory member and non-member rates, as well as individual and group plans.
In May on ASAE Collaborate, Jack reported over 22,000 active subscribers. Last year, ASHA’s professional development program exceeded their best revenue year ever and had well over $1M in subscription revenue banked for the following year. “We've seen huge increases in learning consumption; last year, roughly 30K members consumed about 300,000 hours of educational content.”
#4: The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research
Know who’s paying for learning so you can develop the best offerings and marketing campaigns. In their course evaluations, the Alliance asked about employer reimbursement and learned 96% of participants were reimbursed by their employer. They decided to strengthen their relationship with insurance agency decision-makers. They met with them to learn about professional development challenges: not having the resources for an LMS, the capacity for content development, or a way to track employee professional development.
The Alliance also asked employers to help them design learning paths to guide subscribers through the courses they need. Their subscription marketing campaign spotlighted learning pathways for different job role personas.
The Alliance switched from a corporate bulk purchase model to a corporate subscription model, plus one for individuals too. In a twist, subscription includes membership dues and provides unlimited online access to courses and designation programs, including exams.
Each employer has a learning portal where they can track employee participation. Since employers only have to make one payment a year, not per program, the subscription reduces time spent on administration.
Members prefer subscriptions. They don’t have to ask their employer to pay (or pay themselves) for repeating a course they don’t pass—and a third of participants don’t pass. They can also take as many courses as they’d like, unlike before, so can earn designations more quickly. The Alliance’s 98% certificate renewal rate generates a healthy revenue. In the first year, professional development revenue grew by 101%.
President and CEO of the Alliance, William Hold, described the ROI they promote when marketing subscriptions: “For a $400 course, the potential ROI is $100,000 income for individuals and 100% growth in book of business or revenue generated for that agency. The ROI is insane when you put pen to paper, like 1000% on the cost of getting the designation.”
Year after year, in the MGI membership benchmarking report, value is a key reason people drop their membership—lack of value or lack of engagement with the organization. Learning subscriptions are a tangible, transformative, and valuable option for engaging with your members, customers, and employers.