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An Association Success Story: Earlier Registration and Booming Membership

April 6, 2012

As a speaker, few things compare with getting a phone call one year after a presentation that starts with “I have to thank you.” That was the start to my day yesterday, when I received a call from Scott Melnick of the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Last year, I presented the (poorly titled) session “Inferior Services for a Tough Economy and Other Lessons from Economists” at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference and Scott was one of the session participants. In the session, we discussed a number of ways to increase the sense of urgency to register for an event, including replacing traditional early bird models with a registration fee that increased by a pre-set amount on a weekly basis. Scott liked the idea and returned home and presented it to his colleagues. The reaction was unanimous: they thought it was the stupidest idea that they had ever heard. At this point in the conversation, my heart sank and I think I managed to muster a weak sounding “Oh?”; Scott then proceeded to tell me that they did it anyway, to great success. As my breathing returned to normal, I listened to his story.

The Registration Story

AISC has an annual conference that has been very successful over the past few years but has caused exhibitor angst because of late registration. This year, he is projecting that they will have a 5-10% growth in attendees, but, they were able to significantly increase how early people registered by having registration fees increase by $10 per week.

Benefits of this strategy include:

  • Greater confidence on the part of sponsors and exhibitors (at this point, they only have one 10×10 booth left available for their show, and expect it will be reserved very soon). As Scott explains: “Every year exhibitors would panic that so few people were registered and then would breathe a sigh of relief when the show opened and attendees were there.” With more reliable numbers, it improved the confidence in the event from exhibitors.
  • Improved cash flow for the organization. This year, 12 weeks before the event (an important milestone given the number of deposits that are often due 90 days before an event) they had over 729 registrations. At the same time last year they had 327 registrations.

Weeks Out

Weeks Out

Weeks Out

Weeks Out

Weeks Out

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  • Better savings for members those who signed up early. Those that signed up in the first week of registration saved $100 over last year’s pre-registration rate. The final revenue numbers are not yet in, but we do know that 959 delegates registered at below last year’s rate, and 1185 have registered at or above last year’s rate with even more still expected to register.

A year to year comparison of their registration numbers is depicted in the graph below.

The Membership Story

What I find absolutely fascinating about AISC is not just their registration story but also their membership story. AISC went from approximately 1,200 members to 25,000 members in just three years.

The Background

Up until eight years ago, AISC’s membership hovered around the 1,200 – 1,300 member mark. Every five years or so, their membership would spike to about 3,500. This coincided with the release of the latest edition of their manual. Membership was $135 per person, and with membership came a copy of the manual that was priced at $135. Although the association is for steel fabricators, they actively seek professional structural engineers as members – they are the decision makers of the steel construction world. In total, there are approximately 40,000 structural engineers in the US.

The Big Change

Eight years ago, things changed at AISC. They decided to digitize their publications (totaling about 10,000 pages), with the exception of their manual. They decided that this should coincide with a change in membership structure and benefits. From the benefit perspective, they stopped including the manual as part of membership but did include access to all their now digital publications. They also introduced group membership fees as follows:

  • Individuals: $135
  • Organizations with 2-6 members $160
  • Organizations with 7-19 members $200
  • Organizations with 20-99 members $300
  • Organizations with 100-499 members $500
  • Organizations with 500-1000 members $1,000

The Results

The change had direct and indirect benefits to AISC.

The direct benefits included:

  • Membership rose from 1,200 to 25,000 over a period of three years.
  • Membership dues revenues increased from approximately $250,000 to $750,000.

The indirect benefits included:

  • Increase in non-dues revenues from events.
  • Increase in sales of their publications. After seeing digital version for free, many members bought hard copies of the publications.

The membership numbers have held fairly consistently over the past few years, with a dip in 2009-2010 that can be attributed to a reduced number of working structural engineers during the recession.

Concluding Thoughts, Takeaways and Recommendations

I thank Scott for sharing his story with me and allowing me to write this case study. Some of my key takeaways from my conversation with him are:

  • Creating a sense of urgency to register is possible and worthwhile. It reduces risk for the association, can create new savings opportunities for delegates and increases confidence from partners, exhibitors and sponsors.
  • Group membership models that result in entire organizations joining rather than just one or two individuals can result in increased revenue and, importantly, reach.

I plan to follow up with Scott in a few weeks after his upcoming event to see what the end results were. Please post any questions for him in the comments below, and I’ll include them in my follow up conversation and write up.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. tonyrossell permalink
    April 12, 2012 7:56 am

    Thanks for sharing this story. I am curious to learn more. Lots of groups change their benefit package and membership structure, but do not see this level of membership growth. It would be great to hear more about the story. Did they simply sell 25 organizational memberships at 1,000 each to realize the growth ? Or did this growth take place from increased individual membership through some type of marketing campaign?

  2. Jenny permalink
    April 23, 2012 6:23 am

    I agree, thank you for sharing this interesting case! If I understand correctly, AISC counts each person in an organizational membership as a member. If so, I’m curious as to what level of interaction do they have with their members at the higher organizational levels. Did the companies provide contact information for everyone? Are they able to reach out to each member directly?

    • April 25, 2012 1:13 pm

      Thank you, Jenny – I’m following up with Scott this week and hope to be posting a reply very soon. Best, Mariela

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