Did you know that in the U.S., there are more than 20 professional accounting associations and more than eight plumbing trade associations? Everyone has probably heard of the American Bar Association (that’s for lawyers, not frequent bar patrons). However, there is a group for bar proprietors—the International Association of Professional Bar Owners. Instead of boarding, your dog wants you to check out the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
According to the Center for Association Leadership, there are estimated to be 22,200 national associations and another 115,000 associations linked to state, regional, and local areas in the U.S. But there is one thing all associations have in common—the need for a steady stream of non-dues revenue.
Each professional association or organization represents a market of consumers with similar interests, and retailers and service providers whose products align with an association’s member base benefit from the ability to reach that market through an affinity program.
What is an Affinity Program?
According to the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) an affinity program is a type of business partnership where one entity (or brand) teams up with another related but non-competing brand to offer goods or services to a target audience or membership. The “affinity” has a mutually beneficial interest to increase revenue and customer base for both partnership entities. For suppliers, the benefit is reaching new audiences (association members) in their target market. For associations, the benefits include non-dues revenue as members utilize the discounts and an enhanced value proposition for new and existing members. A good affinity program can serve as a tool for recruiting and retention, plus boost the value of having an association membership.
Examples of a valuable affinity program would include a national hotel association teaming up with a supplier like Cintas to offer its hotel members exclusive discounts on uniforms and uniform cleaning. Another example would be an association partnering with an insurance company to offer discounts on travel insurance and pet insurance for members. Credit card programs are a popular affinity program with cards branded with an association’s logo to help promote the group while having the added benefits of reduced interest rates or cash back on purchases for association members. You see colleges and universities today offering this kind of affinity program with the school and the bank both sharing in the revenue earned by the alumni member’s use of the credit card.
Other examples of affinity program products and services associations use include:
- Retirement consultations and products
- Fuel cards
- Car rental discounts
- Shipping services
- Office supplies
- Retail discounts
- Industry-specific product discounts
3 Steps To Start an Affinity Program
1. Identify Member Needs
While affinity programs can be an effective non-dues revenue stream, associations should create one only through the viewpoint of the member’s experience. By offering something an association’s members value would open the gates to the revenue stream.
How do you know what the association’s members value? You probably have a sense of member needs already, but a membership survey will give you more insight. You can also consult with the most active association members and use them as a sounding board for ideas.
2. Make the Right Supplier Connections
Busy associations often don’t have time to build relationships with suppliers to form affinity partnerships. That’s where companies like Core Affinity can help. With extensive supplier connections and partnerships already in place, Core Affinity can curate a custom portfolio of member discounts to meet your members’ needs/interests, and increase the value of membership.
This is the most critical aspect to the success of your program; finding suppliers whose products or services will be highly relevant to your audience. If members don’t use the discounts, no one will benefit from the affinity program. The goal is to delight members by offering an exciting mix of their favorite brands from whom they’re already purchasing, and new brands they may not have known about who can provide a valuable service or product to make members’ lives and/or work easier or more enjoyable.
3. Market to Your Members
Finally, you need to get the word out about the affinity program’s value to potential and existing members. Associations usually have a small staff wearing multiple hats and not a ton of time. Here are some promotional tactics to encourage utilization of an affinity program.
- Promote the offers on your website via a dedicated page or portal
- Make it easy to register, receive communications, and activate the discounts
- Send program announcements, such as a new supplier offer, to members via email, social media, and your website
- Promote discounts individually that you anticipate members would be excited about
- Leverage seasonality to highlight offers (i.e. FedEx shipping discounts around the holidays)
- Collect member feedback to ensure they are happy with the program
Frequent, effective communication is essential to a successful affinity program. Make sure you clearly communicate how the elements of your affinity program are connected to your association’s mission. It may take six, eight, or ten times for an association member to cognitively receive a marketing message and connect the value offering to his or her company.
Affinity programs are an exciting way to delight your members and bring in non-dues revenue for your association. Core Affinity can assist you in developing a valuable portfolio of affinity partners to offer to your current members while also being a tool to recruit new members.
Contact Core Affinity today and learn how an affinity program with the right partners can benefit your association.