Tiered Membership Models to Consider for Your Association

Members and prospective members, like all of us, are spoiled by options. As consumers, they’re used to choosing from a menu of subscription features. They only pay for what they need or want. They question why they should have to pay for benefits they’ll never use. Because of this value-conscious perspective, an increasing number of associations are offering a tiered membership model.

In a tiered membership model, dues are based on a tiered structure of increasing member benefits. We’re not talking about the model used by trade associations where members pay different levels of membership dues depending on their number of employees, annual revenue, or building permits pulled. We’re talking about tiers that reflect different levels of member benefits.

However, many associations use a tiered membership model in combination with a traditional structure, where dues are based on certain member attributes, for example, student, recent graduate/new professional, retired, fellows, etc. In this case, associations offer different tiered pricing for these member types within a membership tier.

The marketing sweet spot for subscriptions and memberships seems to be three tiers. In associations, these tiers are labeled as Basic, Plus, and Premium, or something similar. Also growing in popularity are specialized tiers that focus on a set of related benefits, such as education or advocacy.

Reasons for offering a tiered membership model

Membership tiers give prospects and members a choice. Instead of a one-size-fits-all membership, they can pick the tier that fits their interests, needs, and budget. 

Basic Membership

A Basic membership level appeals to new professionals and people who aren’t ready to spend a lot of money until they sample your offerings at a lower price. But when they are ready, tiers serve as a ramp leading to increased engagement and spending. 

If life circumstances change, multiple tiers give members the flexibility to choose a different level of membership. They can invest more or pull back based on their needs.

Tiered membership

Tiered membership levels maximize revenue possibilities. You can generate more dues revenue from members who receive more value from your association.

Examples of tiered membership models

We looked at many websites to find out what type of membership tiers are commonly offered by associations.

Basic membership tier

The target audience for a lower tier Basic membership includes:

  •         Recent graduates
  •         New professionals
  •         Professionals in transition
  •         First-time members
  •         Solopreneurs and independent contractors
  •         Small businesses and startups
  •         Membership shoppers

A Basic membership is often a digital membership with online benefits only, for example, website resources, newsletters, online community, career center resources, and online town halls. 

As part of a Basic membership, many global associations, like RAPS, offer discounted dues for individuals in emerging markets as defined by The World Bank.

Plus tier

In the Plus tier, a member receives all the benefits of Basic membership plus:

  • Print magazines or journals
  • Limited or unlimited access to online educational programs, webinars, and webinar recordings
  • Access to regulations or standards manuals, manual updates, and contract templates

At this level, depending on bylaws, members may also have voting rights. Check your state laws to find out if you can withhold these rights from members at the Basic level.

Premium tier

The premium tier includes all Basic and Plus membership benefits as well as access to more exclusive (expensive) benefits, such as:

  • Coaching or consultation services
  • Limited legal advice from staff or external counsel
  • Technical, marketing, or other advisory services
  • Insurance programs
  • Cohort educational or mastermind programs
  • Compensation or operations survey reports
  • Exclusive meetups at in-person events that include peer networking and VIP sessions with experts

Specialized membership Tiers


Professional development or publications

Besides Basic, Plus, and Premium tiers, many associations offer “Preferred” tiers of membership that focus on a set of related benefits, like professional development, publications, or advocacy.

Associations often sell professional development as an add-on learning subscription (a membership upgrade) or as a stand-alone membership tier that includes: 

  •         Monthly webinar series
  •         Monthly or quarterly book club
  •         Unlimited online learning—courses and other educational programs

A publications tier could include access to all association-published ebooks plus two print books per year.

In a corporate version, employees of member companies receive access to a limited or unlimited selection of online educational programs.


Policy leaders

This tier is for companies that make a high-dollar investment so they can be at the forefront of legislative and regulatory policy development. They pay extra to serve on a special council or on regular government affairs committees and task forces where they can provide input on association policies. They receive regular updates from government relations staff and are invited to private briefings with members of Congress. 


Startups & solopreneurs

Startups, small business owners, and individual entrepreneurs are often strapped for cash, but need more than basic membership benefits. For a limited number of years, members in this tier receive benefits focused on education tailored to their needs, including cohort programs where they also can find peer support.


Local events

Chapter members are looking for networking and community. If they don’t attend chapter events, they won’t realize these benefits and won’t remain members. In some associations, registration for monthly or quarterly in-person or virtual lunch-and-learns are included in chapter dues. Chapters subsidize event expenses by year-long partnerships with sponsors and exhibitors.

What to consider before switching to a tiered membership model

You like what you’re reading about membership tiers, but before deciding to move forward, take into consideration these two factors.


Can your AMS handle it?

Make sure your AMS can manage membership tiers, because not all can. You shouldn’t have to customize your AMS to handle a different membership structure. In fact, don’t. Customization takes you off the upgrade path and can make integration a lot messier too. That’s why you hear friends at other associations complaining about their customized “legacy” AMS that’s stuck in the past and preventing them from moving into the future.

Configuration is the way to go. It allows you to make changes that don’t affect the base code of your AMS. You can stay on the upgrade path, but tailor the AMS to your needs. With configuration, you can easily offer membership tiers to different segments, set the pricing, and turn permissions on and off according to the member’s role and tier.

Your AMS should also allow you to pull reports that include data related to membership tiers. You want to see how different member segments are engaging (or not) in different tiers. This information will help you figure out where you have to tweak offerings or pricing for each membership type.


Have you done enough research?

Associations that have successfully adopted a tiered membership model spent a lot of time up front on research. Start by looking at current engagement data by membership segment. What kind of members use which benefits the most?

Conduct a member value study. Survey and interview current, lapsed, and prospective members of all segments—including industry partners—to learn:

  • How they currently use membership
  • Who’s paying for membership
  • What value they’d assign to different benefits
  • What their employer values
  • Whether their employer would pay if X was included as a benefit 

As you put together a new membership model, continue to gather feedback. Ask current, lapsed, and prospective members about their likelihood of joining or renewing different membership tiers at different price points.

This is a complex research project with multiple variables to consider. It’s best to hire a membership consultant who can guide you through the process. Find one who has experience developing new membership models for associations. They can help you with competitive analysis, conducting a member value study, data analysis, and coming up with financial models to address revenue concerns.

People want a membership that fits their interests and their budget. They want and expect options, not a one-size-fits-all (because it never does), but a membership tailored to their needs.

Find out how Impexium’s simple, smarter membership management helps you create an unlimited number of membership types and member statuses, giving you the flexibility to offer the membership tiers that work best for your members and your association. 

Smarter, Simpler Membership Management

Impexium’s association management software (AMS) empowers associations to focus on what matters most—your constituents. We help you streamline operations, reduce development costs, and improve business outcomes.

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