“Member benefits are your association’s one and only asset, the key to building a dominant and financially stable organization.” ~Sarah Sladek, author

Do you belong to a book club? I joined a neighborhood book club about two years ago and really look forward to our monthly meetings. Some of the women get really passionate about the literary style and whether the plot was believable or contrived, and if the author kept them engaged or not. I enjoy the camaraderie, refreshments, and the book discussion, in that order. According to Sarah Sladek, author of The End of Membership As We Know It: Building the Fortune Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Century, belonging means two things—that you feel secure in your relationships within the group and that you feel empowered by identification with and ownership of the group’s mission. What are you doing to empower ownership and keep your members engaged? Let’s take a look at what else Ms Sladek has to say.


In the first chapter of her book, Sladek discusses the changing landscape of association membership. She explains that advances in technology and demographic shifts have forever changed how associations will do business in the future. “From now until 2030, every eight seconds, someone will turn 65. This shift in human capital—the largest shift in our country’s history—poses the greatest threat to associations because most associations remain entirely governed and supported by the Baby Boomer generation and few have or are developing strategies to cushion themselves from this massive exodus of board members, committee chairs, and dedicated volunteers.”


How should association leadership answer this challenge? Ms Sladek proceeds to answer that question. There were several key takeaways that I gleaned in my reading. First, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all world anymore. The free accessibility of information online makes it imperative that you set yourself apart as the “expert” and go-to resource for one key audience.

Second, getting to why has never been more important. What is your association’s story? Why is that important? What would happen if your association ceased to exist? Younger prospect want to associate themselves with a cause and be inspired to make a difference. Give them a reason to join. Use their language to answer their “why?” When you use their language, you show them that you are listening.

Third, culture matters. Because of the decision-making and strategic direction they influence, founders, boards, executives and managerial staff define your culture in many ways. Gen X and Y don’t like negative, challenging or draining environments. Build trust by listening to their point of view, offering solutions to their needs, and encouraging feedback.

We are at the tipping point of capturing Gen X and the millennials. Your marketing needs to be focus on the outcomes of membership. How does your association add value to the lives of your members? The values of generations X and Y tend to focus on three primary objectives:

  • The opportunity to lead
  • The opportunity to learn
  • The opportunity to make a difference

Make sure you are clear about answering “how” your organization provides those opportunities to it’s members.


In addition to sharing a broader analysis of the association landscape, Sarah Sladek also included a lot of practical action steps for execution.

  • How to calculate your cost-to-value ratio for membership
  • How to determine brain drain by calculating membership retention, loss rate and turnover.
  • Key pointers on how to offer better benefits
  • Specific ways for adding value through leadership, learning and impact opportunities
  • Information about ASAE & The Center’s research study, The Decision to Join (2007)
  • How-to’s for building an online community
  • Discussion of different membership models, pros and cons


In the final chapter, Ms. Sladek outlines how to get started with a strategic plan that outlines focusing on the “why,” identifying goals, determining marketing strategies, troubleshooting for obstacles and creating a timeline for targeted progress. The read is short, engaging and full of practical tips to get you thinking.

Are you a member of ASAE? You are eligible for a discount if you get it here.

Kathi Rabil , Slice CEO, is a Marketing Communications Consultant, Brand Advocate and Social Media Strategist. She is a recent graduate of the Relationship Marketing Institute and is listed in the Social Media Professionals Directory. A teacher by training, she loves to share her knowledge and help associations discover the marketing potential of social media. In her spare time, she also performs locally as a solo artist.  She performs opera, art song and German lied and will, on request, sing for her supper!