The Future of Membership

January 29, 2021
By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President

One of the areas that PHCC National is exploring is governance – especially as it relates to membership. In preparing for those conversations, I reviewed Sarah L. Sladek’s (2011) book, The End of Membership As We Know It; Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century, and took away some key concepts that I think are worth sharing.

In general, most trade associations are supported by baby boomers—those born between 1946-1964 and are traditionalists in terms of how the association interacts with its members and how its governed. However, as we all know, technology and shifting demographics are major disrupters in how we maintain relevance within our industry. Sladek (2011) notes that technology is changing how members interact with the association and with each other– and that between now and 2030, someone will turn 65 every 8 seconds. With only 2 percent of board members being under the age of 30, there is a generational gap between the “needs, values, wants and expectations” 1 of younger professionals we seek to attract into the association. So, the trick is how do we continue to be a “dominant, member-attracting, revenue-generating organization” within the plumbing, heating, cooling industry? Sladek (2011) suggests the following:

  • Embrace Change: We must shift from, ‘our members have always supported us’ and we must stay with what we know instead–anticipating the future. Change must be defined by its specific ability to lead to progress and make a difference. Analyzing data to determine the association’s life expectancy (Ibid, p. 26) like membership retention rate, loss rate, and member turnover will help determine how quickly the association must change.
  • Offer Better Benefits: Focus on “outcomes of membership.” (Ibid, p. 36) Younger members are laser-focused on return on their membership investment. This may be in the form of increased business contacts, immediate access to responsive business intelligence, access to leadership training, and mentorships—and all that is provided within the cost of membership dues. Helping members solve their problems equates to providing value for which members (especially those under the age of 45) will continue to invest. Their view of membership is that it “benefits them personally and professionally and also their community or industry.” (Ibid, p. 50)
  • Further Your Reach: We must attract and proactively engage Generation Y and Z recruits without “alienating the most loyal generation of supporters.” (Ibid, p. 61) We need to understand specific drivers for each target member as shown in the table below: (Ibid, p. 65)

Baby Boomers

Generation X

Generation Y

Generation Z2





1996- 2009

Why they are the way they are Grew up in a time of affluence. Reared to pursue the American Dream. Wartime generation. Children of workaholics and divorce, cable television. Reared to be self-sufficient. Micro-managed by parents, technology, always rewarded for participation. Reared to be high achievers. Never lived without the internet. Great recession.
Communication styles Prefer detailed dialogue in-person or via phone. Appreciate meetings. Believe no news is good news. Print Media. Prefer clear, concise communication- not over-explaining, cliches, or corporate jargon. Prefer email. Prefer frequent feedback and problem solving via technology instead pf phone calls or meetings. Social media and virtual networking sites (online communities)
Problems they are facing Dwindling retirement funds, job dislocation, rising healthcare costs or inadequate health care coverage. Debt, caring for young children and aging parents, balancing life and career, stuck in middle management. Debt, underemployment, difficulty transitioning from college to career, negative stereotypes, being taken seriously. 1 out of every 2 will ultimately get a degree and pursue higher education which means there will be an abundance of professionals and experts.


This is bound to make the workplace have an imbalance in terms of task setting and adoption including experts for select tasks.3

Why they join Opportunities to lead and leave a legacy. Opportunities to further their careers. Opportunities to learn from others. Impact on society, internships and professional development.
Volunteer styles Want to lead. Like to manage others. Like to hold meetings and discuss strategies. Team collaboration. Want autonomy. Hate being micromanaged or anything that wastes their time. Use as a consultant. Want structure. Expect immediate feedback and increasing responsibility. Thrive on instant gratification.

As Sladek (2011) writes, “Belonging means two things: … you have a secure relationship and … have ownership in something.” (Ibid, p. 67) These are what drives trust in and respect from the organization. Tips in building trust and respect include listening to their perspective, generating new ideas, soliciting feedback and be inclusive [not just multi-generational, but also multi-race and ethnicity] through online chats, focus groups, sentiment surveys, and etc.

  • Build Online Communities: An association’s website is inherently its ‘online community’.  PHCC National deliberately developed online ‘Business Interest Groups” in order to provide virtual neighborhoods in which members of like-interest could connect and share best practices, review like-content and network.  Sladek (2011) provides several tips for creating online communities, but those most important to me include providing access to experts, maintaining alignment with PHCC’s overall mission, telling PHCC’s story, and keeping industry content and best practices relevant and timely.
  • Redefine Membership: Sladek (2011) observes that “It’s a choice between survival and extinction.” (Ibid, p. 94) After increasing the value of membership, we need to assess the way the association generates membership revenue.  Emerging association membership modes include: (Ibid, p. 95)
    • Customized- Members’ custom-build their membership packages to suite their interests and needs.
    • Electronic- Membership is restricted to web-based resources and programming.
    • International- Membership is accessible to people worldwide.
    • Multitier- Menu of membership options based on interests, professional designation, budget.
    • Open- Membership does not require the payment of dues (does not require upfront financial commitment)
    • Lifetime membership- Paid up for life.
    • Career Transition- Career On Hold program temporarily costs less than full dues.
    • Student- Tremendous growth area through access to internships, jobs, professional development, resource library, etc.
    • Young Professionals- Online networking, career listings, etc.
    • Monthly Automatic Payment- Aligned with latest trend toward pay for service and monthly subscriptions.
    • Trial- Offered through membership marketing featuring promotions, free trial to qualified prospects, no-obligation trials, and free trial accepted by credit card to evaluate membership value and subsequently can be cancelled.

Sladek (2011) writes, the” association should write a new [business] plan for engaging members and increasing value through improved operations.” (Ibid, p. 110)

  • Build a Next Century Association: As we seek to enhance value for our members and a “dominant, member-attracting, revenue-generating organization”, Sladek (2011) lists several steps that can be taken to include: define and or reaffirm its mission and determine what distracts us from our mission; define or reaffirm its vision- ask where it wants to be 10 years from now to determine goals;  market through value differentiation; list possible guarantees; core benefits that bring greater success to members; and target market segmentation- ideal members; determine organizational obstacles to organizational growth; and select priorities (S.M.A.R.T. goals), set budget and track progress. PHCC National has been careful to ensure that its annual budget is tied directly to its strategic plan to ensure goals are funded and achieved.

I wrote several articles over the last several years about the value of membership that you might want to skim that are found here: and The themes are eerily similar to those more eloquently described above.

PHCC protects our members and their employees, families and communities by supplying relevant resources, sharing best practices among our members, advocating to secure business-friendly legislation and regulations, pledging to train new workers, and providing the best education in the industry. We must continue to focus on member-ROI in all that we provide and as Benjamin Franklin remarked, “when you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” 



1Sladek, Sarah L. (2011), The End of Membership As We Know It: Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, Washington, D.C.

2Dretke, Calli (2017), Engaging the 5 Generations of Association Membership, nextwaveconnect (blogs and resources).

3 Guttulus, What challenges will generation Z face in the future, Retrieved on the world wide web on January 29, 2021 at .

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