If Your Nonprofit has Student Members, Do You Charge a Nominal Fee?

by Nick NCS. Spencer 8/28/2015 at 11:00 AM in Not-for-profit, Ideas, Opinions, Process Improvement

​Student members can be a great way to keep your membership pipeline growing and stay aware of emerging interests and needs of new generations of professionals. Engaging these potential members as they embark on their professional careers also benefits the students through  networking, professional insight, and mentoring that an association offers its members. Such early engagement can help build loyalty too.

The concept of discounted student memberships has always seemed like a natural fit until I was speaking with a large healthcare association recently.  Our discussion revealed that the process of charging the nominal fee was actually costing the organization more money than it was receiving. This led to an interesting point around whether the money would be better spent on engagement.

For example, if your association charges student members $25 annually, yet your administrative costs average $65, how can the association improve the situation for processing a member at a fixed price?  Our group’s answer was engagement.  Why not eliminate the cost of student membership and put the money that was the deficit into engaging those students?  Suggestions ranged from free local chapter pizza parties to happy hour networking events.

The thought was that these additional points of contact could yield even more student members who, upon graduation, would be readily engaged with the organization and even better, be committed to becoming full members. Alternatively, when I worked for TD Ameritrade, we would often discuss the value individuals place in something that has a cost associated with it.  The perceptions of goods or services that were free was that it had less value.

Pricing and sales professionals usually recommend charging a nominal fee for this very reason.  How can we get students to see the value in associations without having to charge them the administrative costs?  Could this perception of valuing something free be changing with younger generations who expect many services to be free?

What do you think? ​

(I have previously written about the cost of member acquisition – Read that post.)​​

© 2015 Nick Spencer & Sutton Enterprises Inc.


Nick is an experienced Marketing, Branding, and Association Management leader. Throughout his career, Nick has developed various strategies to support the nonprofit and association management worlds. At Sutton, Nick develops Marketing and Sales Strategies and plays a key role in the development and implementation of special projects.​

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