Why does one person sign up with your association and another doesn’t?

One person says, “Yes, I want that,” and another says, “No thanks.”

Not everyone is a good fit for your association. But it would be a mistake to assume that all those potential members that don’t join are in this category.

What’s happening most of the time is that the offer you’re making isn’t valuable.

 A potential members looks at it and:

  • Isn’t interested. Nothing you’re offering is particularly compelling to them.
  • Thinks they can get the same value cheaper, or easier, or with better results elsewhere.
  • Doubts the value they’ll receive. They may doubt your ability to deliver or their ability to take advantage of what you offer.

How do you overcome these obstacles in the minds of potential members?

At Steward, we’ve developed a model to address these challenges and help you succeed in convincing members to join.

What Really Matters?

Our perspective is not from the association industry, but from business, where a venture lives or dies based on the quality of its offers.

The Member Magnet Framework is derived from our experience of more than twelve years in business making hundreds of offers for consulting, service, software, and information products. We’ve made offers both through live sales and through digital marketing. In the process, we’ve mined the best techniques from direct marketing, world renowned trainers, and the startup world.

There is a lot that goes into making an effective offer. But we’ve found that if you strip away all the surface tactics and dig deep into the fundamentals, you’ll find that effective offers address three core needs:

  • Relevance
  • Uniqueness
  • Risk

member magnet framework

These form the three pillars of the Member Magnet Framework. If your offer successfully incorporates these three it becomes a highly persuasive proposition.

Framework Pillars

How does the framework work? What does relevance, uniqueness, and risk mean, exactly?


Relevance is what develops interest in potential members. One of the most common mistakes associations make in their offers is that they don’t present relevant member benefits.

This occurs most often because there is only one membership offer and it talks about the association, not the member. The membership offer says, “This is what we do.”

At its core, relevance answers the question of why you matter to a potential member. A relevant offer says, “This is why we matter to you.”

Most offers start at the association with your features and potential benefits. If you’re smart, you might connect the dots between these and why you matter to members. You think, “How might our membership features be valuable to x kind of member?”

However, a truly effective offer starts at the member with the member’s needs, goals, and pains before even looking at your association. It fits the association into what the member values and doesn’t theorize about how you could be valuable starting from what the association does.


Unfortunately, having a relevant offer for your members is enough.

The problem is that we live an incredibly abundant period of time. That means that for all the desires, pains, and goals your membership offer purports to address, there are many alternatives.

You offer education? So does the local university, a national university’s online program, several private online providers, a for-profit training company, their Amazon Kindle, Google Search, and the local library.

You offer networking? So does Meetup.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, a local non-profit charitable organization, and a for profit industry event.

You offer legislative updates? So does their network of peers, bloggers, online forums, local news, and an industry listserv run by a passionate participant.

Uniqueness is the part of your offer that differentiates you from all the alternatives. It takes that relevant interesting aspect of your offer and says, “We’re the only game in town where you can get this specific kind of value.” E.g. “Our association is so close to the pulse of regulation we provide legislative updates before a bill’s name has been decided. We can warn you of the tsunami a hundred miles offshore.”


Relevance and uniqueness will make you compelling to potential members.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to get people to sign up. The reason why is risk.

Risk colors every decision we make.

Every time you buy from a familiar business, read a book from an author you’ve already read, watched a movie that is well rated, or gone to your favorite restaurant rather than a new one, you’ve let risk guide your decision.

It has a powerful influence on every decision we make.

You must address it in any membership offer. Some common questions you must answer are:

  • Will the member get their money’s worth?
  • Can you deliver on the promises (relevance/uniqueness) that you’re making?
  • What do they stand to lose? What are they risking?

If you can’t answer these and mitigate their risks, even though someone may be very interested, they’ll avoid signing up in order to protect themselves.

Does it work?

The framework is just a tool and its value derives from how well you use it. But like any good tool, it's designed to help you be successful.

As an example, we ran an 8 month study on a website that incorporated the Member Magnet Framework into their offers. We used Analytics to set goals for member signups and assigned a dollar value to new member registration of $200 (average.) In essence, we used Google to tell us what pages on the organization’s website were most effective at creating members.

After 8 months and 114,000 page views, Google identified the two membership offers as the most effective in turning a visitor into a member. These two pages were not a mandatory step in signing up, they were something potential members could review to learn more prior to making a decision.

eight months

All pages report from Google Analytics sorted by page value.

Google says that for every person who sees these offers the association makes the dollar amount on the far right.

The overall conversion of the membership offer prior to these changes was 8.8%. 8% of people who viewed the old membership offer with a typical list of benefits became members. After reworking the membership offer using the framework, this increased to 20.5%— a 133% improvement in creating new members.

John Hooley
President, Steward

John is a graduate of 10,000 Small Businesses, a certified Customer Acquisition Specialist, and a Zend Certified Engineer. He speaks and writes on connecting digital strategy to association goals. Outside of work he's an avid traveler, climber, diver, and a burgeoning sailor. He also volunteers with Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters.