Time for a cull of memberships. Reflectively.

I’ve written a fair bit about membership organisations and the impact that social media may have on them, and also helped start a project on the subject that’s now been taken forward by NCVO and RSA. The Carnegie UK Trust is also investigating civil society associations.I’m with Clay Shirky in believing that nonprofits which rely on members for support, action and advocacy will have to make a better offer in future, as people find they can get information, services and connections online.
Meanwhile direct debits have continued to feed money from my account to a variety of organisations, and magazines and other mailings have dropped into the post box and mainly gone straight into the recycling bag.
I’m now going to start a cull by checking out what’s the 5-S offer from the organisation. Are they seeking donations to Support their activities? Are they offering Services? Or asking me to be of Service …. saying that by joining the organisation I can do more good Stuff than I could otherwise? Maybe they are offering certification that I have met some professional or other Standard of learning or behaviour. In addition there may be Social networking

  • If the offer/request is for Support, could I achieve more for my money through organisations like Global Giving?
  • If the offer is Services, do they match my requirements? I think the Institute of Directors provides fine professional services, for example, but doesn’t meet my needs or match my style as a freelance. I’ve been very happy over the past year to pay a substantial fee to One Alfred Place as a place to meet, work and just hang out … but there are those who favour The Hospital Club.
  • Where the organisational offer is to help me be of Service and do good stuff can I achieve just as much by virtual volunteering or matching my capabilities to social needs via TimeBank?
  • I don’t have professional qualifications that require certification of Standards, but I can see benefits of being¬† Chartered this or that if it is essential for the job, gives lower-cost insurance, research facilities etc … although some of these organisations are being challenged by their members, as this discussion shows.
  • One of the core issues, of course, is Social networking. Organisations used to be one of the best ways of meeting like-minded people, those with whom you might do business, learn from. But as someone said to me the other day: “I get more from my Twitter friends that I do from membership of xxx”.

As I’ve written in the past, I find membership of the RSA brings many of these issues to the fore, because it offers some limited services, promotes the idea of Fellowship being a way to make a social contribution, offers some networking … and FRSA after your name, even if there’s no significant standard to meet for that. It can be frustrating as the organisation tries to get the balance right, but it is also very self-aware and so a good place to watch for development. They are partners with the Future of Membership project I mentioned above.
Anyway, I’m not going to cancel all subs immediately. There’s plenty of blogging mileage in the investigation as I review benefits of current memberships, and do some reviews of potential ones.
As a start, do you have some favourites … whether old-style paid-for, or new-style free through online self-organising? I’ll hold back for a bit …


  • Carl Reynolds
    May 30, 2009 - 9:28 am | Permalink

    David, you could also include membership via magazine subscriptions or blogging type ‘memberships’. And there are some more left field approaches. I’m not a member of any of the London ‘clubs’, but my Tate membership gives me access to some of the best views in London, wireless access and reflective strolls around some amazing collections. A work colleague and I had a very good amble and chat around the Rothko/Turner exhibit at Tate Britain the other day.

  • May 30, 2009 - 11:36 am | Permalink

    Carl – thanks for the extra perspectives. they make me wonder, on the one hand, what extras magazines may offer to retain their subscribers … maybe more convening of events etc. On the other hand, galleries and other places can play up their what-was fringe benefits. I love Tate Modern, just wish the members’ room was a bit bigger.

  • Carl Reynolds
    May 31, 2009 - 10:51 pm | Permalink

    David – I subscribe to four niche magazines – Resurgence, Foto8, le Monde Diplomatique and Granta. Foto8 is primarily image based and pics on paper seem more sensual (for want of a better word) than on screen. Resurgence, I’m guessing you know; and Granta is short stories, travel writing and a photo story. LMQ is long pieces of world news. I guess I like the tactile. All, except Grant, promote events and get togethers too and have web sites. Blogs and their ilk strike me as providing short and instant responses; magazines (generally) more reflective pieces; website the opportunity to delve into archives.

  • June 1, 2009 - 10:31 am | Permalink

    Carl – that prompts me to think membership is not, of course, either-or. You can get free entry to galleries and museums, but not members’ rooms and other benefits; read mags in libraries, but maybe not get to subscriber events; go to public events run by organisations, but not get other benefits. So it’s a bit like web services … there are free versions and premium versions. Reframing my culling idea – the question is where do I downgrade, wherer are premium services most worthwhile.

  • Carl Reynolds
    June 1, 2009 - 8:30 pm | Permalink

    David – re-reading your post I see you have criteria for helping you make your culling decisions. I think mine are different. Do I learn something? Do I get a space to reflect (internally or with others)? Can I have the chance to collaborate? I’ve been happy to pay, but you’ve inspired me to consider a fee free year. Can I get all this from the web and social interactions? I can access lots of interesting photo sites, and the Photographer’s Gallery is free. News is busting out of every search. Green and sustainable thinking is well provided for; and there’s the library for free books, newspaper and magazines – and the chance for random encounters. In a world with more information than I could possibly assimilate, do I need the premium – maybe not. Forgot to say I get New Scientist too. And I read them all. Over time.

  • June 10, 2009 - 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting David. The Future of Membership project is going to run some focus groups with individuals to explore their (changing) perceptions of/requirements of/feelings about membership of many diverse kinds. Your five Ss above will be interesting food for thought as we prepare for these…

    I wonder to what extent collective action influences people’s motivations under your support and service categories, eg a sense that the convening membership organisation ensures a collective response and brings people together, whereas online routes may be perceived as (I’m not saying they necessarily are!) more individualistic? Just a thought…

  • June 10, 2009 - 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Megan – thanks for the interesting collective-individualistic point: We not just Me.
    For me, it depends how the We is constructed … how much engagement and collaboration. If the organisation takes it members for granted, then the We is fictitious … just the Leader saying “my people”, and I don’t like being part of some chief exec’s army.
    If the sense of We has developed through members talking, working, campaigning together then it is different.
    These days I’m finding that the “ambient intimacy” of Twitter (Leisa Reichelt) does more to develop We than some organisations of which I’m a member … particularly when the online connections lead to Tweetup meetings face-to-face. These days a hashtag may be a more powerful convening tool than a mailout. Just for some of us of course!

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