During the pandemic crisis, associations offered free education to help members quickly expand their skill set. But that membership benefit came to an end in the return to “normal.” Business as usual means members pay their dues and then have to keep pulling out their credit card every time they want to attend an educational program.
Associations brag on their websites about the educational benefits of membership, but anyone can access these “benefits.” Sure, members pay less, but it feels like a bait-and-switch for those who didn’t thoroughly investigate what benefits they were really getting.
Value-conscious members want to see a return on their dues investment. Perhaps that’s why an increasing number of associations offer free education programs to their members—a valuable and tangible membership benefit.
Why offer free education programs for members?
Are your members grumbling about nickel-and-diming? If you listen carefully, you might learn that many of them resent having to continually pay for so-called benefits on top of their dues.
People like having choices. When you tailor membership tiers to market needs, you give people the option to choose what’s most important to them. You could offer limited or unlimited education as part of a basic or premium level of membership. Or you could offer a learning subscription as a stand-alone or upgrade membership option. This option will appeal to employers who won’t pay for membership but will pay for the tangible benefits of professional development.
You can easily put a dollar amount on the value of this membership benefit. For example, monthly webinars are worth $540 and 20 credit hours of online learning programs are worth $975—that alone is worth $1515.
Spending $45 for a webinar may not seem like much, but it is a barrier for many people, especially if it’s coming out of their own pocket. Offering educational benefits makes membership more inclusive.
New and young professionals are especially price conscious. Because they may not have a professional development budget, a lower priced membership tier that includes a limited learning pass would appeal to them. Consider it an investment in future members who one day will have bigger budgets.
Many associations can afford to offer free educational programs to members thanks to generous sponsorships—another revenue stream.
Examples of free education programs for members
To inspire your thinking, here are examples of how associations offer free education benefits to members.
Free webinars for members
The most common approach is to give members access to live and recorded webinars. At the Construction Management Association of America (CMMA), members attend bimonthly webinars for free and get unlimited access to webinar recordings.
The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses makes it easy to find the 30+ free programs they offer with a “Free to Members” section in their online catalog.
The Texas Digital Learning Association highlights the “bite-sized learning” offered at their free (for members) monthly lunchtime webinars. They also give non-members a sneak peek of sample webinars.
In sponsored webinars, industry partner members share their expertise and insight on trends, technology, best practices and more. Make sure you have strict guidelines in place and review content in advance, so sponsored webinars are focused on teaching, not selling.
Online book club
Include an online book club membership in a membership tier or learning subscription. The American Society for Public Administration hosts regular BookTalks, conversations with “authors of provocative books in the public affairs arena.”
Virtual site tours
The CMMA also offers virtual site tours on their website. These tours share details about the construction methods, materials, processes, and difficulties that occurred during each project—another opportunity for sponsorship.
Online courses—and microcredentials
The Forging Industry Association offers about a dozen online courses that are free for members. To attract new or young professionals, offer a series of free programs and courses that award microcredentials or digital badges. Combine introductory industry education with career services and programs.
Host a “Free Course Friday” on the first Friday of each month. Give members the weekend (or longer) to complete the course.
Virtual summits or conferences
The Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario hosts a spring virtual summit with their annual members meeting in the morning followed by 1-1/2 hours of credit-earning education.
Host a virtual conference for early-career professionals, like the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation does. Their six-hour virtual conference is “intended to help physiatrists in-training and newly graduated physiatrists navigate their career paths.” Conference topics include CV-building strategies, job search advice, interview techniques, contract negotiation, managing personal finances, starting a private practice, marketing, and social media ideas.
Curated complimentary learning package for members
The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) combines many of these programs into their Member Curriculum, a curated package of 24+ credit hours of education. OSCPA promotes the Curriculum on their membership benefits page as a $780 value that includes:
• Town halls: Hour-long monthly virtual events hosted by OSCPA’s president and CEO who invites thought leaders to share insights on emerging issues.
• Spring and fall virtual conferences: These signature programs cover news, economic developments, emerging trends, and best practices in four days of three-hour sessions meeting over three weeks.
• A limited selection of on-demand online courses.
• Members can read the bi-monthly magazine and then take a self-assessment for one credit.
Free education included in an individual membership tier
Members of the Mortgage Bankers Association receive complimentary registration to all webinars, access to webinar recordings, and access to 16 foundational web-based self-study courses covering commercial/multifamily and single-family lending, as well as regulatory compliance.
The New Jersey Society of CPAs gives members access to 20 online courses. They point out: “This benefit exceeds the cost of membership.” The membership director told Associations Now that this program increased NJCPA’s membership retention rate to over 90%.
Free education for employees included in a corporate membership tier
The Construction Management Association of America offers a Mega Members membership tier for companies. Mega Member company employees receive unlimited access to Standards of Practice online learning modules, Construction Manager-in-Training stackable credentials, webinars and recordings, and body of knowledge ebooks.
The Illinois Homecare & Hospice Council (IHHC) does something similar with their IHHC Online Academy. Employees of member agencies have access to 60 online training courses, including state-mandated compliance training programs and home services worker training (initial and annual).
Anyone serious about their career and earning potential knows they have to keep learning and developing skills. Today’s members—and prospective members—have many more options for education than members in decades past. If membership doesn’t include education, is it something they can rationalize spending money on? You need to find out and make the changes necessary to remain a relevant part of industry professionals’ lives.