What's Worth Paying Dues For...And What's Not

As someone who recently dropped her ASAE membership, I found Joe Rominiecki's post asking "Who Pays Your Dues?" to be timely. I didn't leave ASAE because of any ill-will or gripe with the association; quite the contrary, I was actually enjoying my role as volunteer leader on the Power of A Awards judging committee and the Technology Section Council. I was happy to see the crappy old listserv go and was an active participant in their new online community. I had a great time in Dallas in July, if mostly at the social functions and not so much the sessions. I was super excited to nominate Debra Stratton as Industry Partner of the Year for ASAE's Women Who Advance Excellence In Association Awards...and more excited when she won. I was even gearing up to take the CAE exam--and have the huge, expensive books to prove it, if anyone's interested in buying them off me.

But when I switched jobs in December--to a position not in the association space--and realized my membership was on hold pending payment of my dues, I decided not to renew. Had I still worked at an association that paid my dues, would I have renewed? Sure. But was it worth my own $295? Actually, after going to check that dues rate on the ASAE website, I'm not even sure I'd have been able to renew even if I'd wanted to, since I no longer work for an association or an AMC, and I'm not a consultant. Basically, with the change of a job, I guess my value as an ASAE member evaporated? I suppose maybe I now qualify as an industry partner as "a member of a learned profession"? Is that like living in a house of learned doctors? (Stepbrothers reference, in case you're like "huh?")

So is there anything ASAE could have done to make it worth me spending $425 (the learned doctor rate) out of my own pocket? Seeing as I spent almost twice that to join the Community Roundtable a few years ago, and remain a member even though I'm not currently a community manager, I guess the answer is yes. In the case of ASAE, a few thoughts:

  • I was actually disappointed when I went to log on to ASAE Collaborate to look up someone's email address and couldn't. I may have considered paying a reduced rate for a "digital only" membership just to have access to that platform.
  • I really dislike the association model of putting on a conference, using volunteers to lead most of the sessions, then not only not paying those people for their time and expertise but CHARGING them to attend. It was one thing when I worked for an association and they paid for professional development, but still, they only paid for me to attend one conference a year. I spoke at way more than one ASAE conference a year. Would I ever pay out of my own pocket to prepare well thought-out session, complete with required Powerpoint due by a specific date (I HATE Powerpoint), then also pay registration AND travel expenses, all so an association could make money off that conference? Hell no. Again, this is not just an ASAE practice--it's the business model of virtually all associations and even association vendors, and I think it's crazy.
  • Basically all of my ASAE connections are still connections via Twitter, this blog, Linkedin, Facebook, or email. If the main value of association membership is networking, why pay dues when you can maintain those contacts easily and for free on your own?
  • The one thing I will miss being part of is the Power of A judging committee. I sincerely enjoyed reading the submissions detailing the cool things associations are doing and being part of the smart group of people who picked the winners.
  • My husband is still an ASAE member so I'm sure I'll still be attending ASAE conferences, if only the most interesting and inspiring parts: the social events and unofficial "pool-cons." Moral of this story: there is a lot of business value to be had from social events, which people can and do organize on their own. That, and ASAE knows how to throw an awesome party for which I may well pay.
  • If you read this blog, you know of my obsession with the Community Roundtable. I have paid out of pocket for that membership in the past, and could conceivably see doing so again in the future, even though it's much more expensive than ASAE. Why? Because of the membership experience there--as I've written before, it's like a concierge association. Granted, it's much, much smaller than ASAE, but the level of personal attention is what sets it apart from a larger association and what, in turn, makes me have a personal connection with it that I'd be hard pressed to lose. Granted, I was only a member of ASAE for three years (four, maybe?) but how many times did John Graham ever greet me personally, send me a personal email, engage with me on Twitter or offer to have a private brainstorming phone call when I needed professional advice? Zero. Yet those kinds of interactions are common at the Community Roundtable. Does it scale for John Graham to interact with every ASAE member and make them feel like a valued part of the organization? Probably not. But then again, if every member isn't a valued part of the org, can ASAE really expect that those individuals will pay out of their own personal pockets to remain members? Obviously not. That's the trade off.
Who knows--maybe I'll eventually be back in the association space and will re-join ASAE...I certainly don't rule it out. But pay for it out of my own pocket? Probably not; if I'm paying for something, it has to be something that provides value for me on a personal level, and something that goes beyond what I can already get for free.