Building a strong and ever-growing member base has continued to be a challenge, with 68% of organizations struggling to grow their membership in 2020. While there are multiple ways to attract and retain members, one approach is to revise your pricing model. If you’re only offering members one flat rate for membership, that may be one factor stopping them from signing up.

Both current and prospective members have different needs and priorities — which is why tiered memberships are becoming more popular.

Need some extra help with updating your chamber’s operations? Check out our full guide on how to simplify your chamber operations for more tips and tricks.

But what do membership levels look like for a chambers of commerce? And how can you establish membership tiers that meet members’ needs and help appropriately fund your organization?

To help you suss out how to create your own chamber of commerce membership levels, we’re uncovering:

  • An overview of common chamber of commerce membership structures
  • How to create a tiered membership for your chamber of commerce
  • Examples of membership levels
  • A few final tips to get started

An overview of chamber of commerce membership structures

Not all membership models are created equal. What works well for one type of organization may not be the best fit for your chamber or your members. That’s why it’s crucial to get a grasp of the common membership models and to really think about if and how a tiered dues model could be advantageous for your organization and members.

What is a tiered dues model?

A tiered dues model is where different packages provide different benefits or value. Members select a package that meets their specific engagement needs or requirements — and, as the name implies, different packages have different pricing. 

In other words, a tiered dues model enables chambers to stop limiting member organizations’ choices by forcing a one-size-fits-all strategy. Instead, chambers give members the option to pay for only the benefits they want.

What are other types of membership models?

Besides the tiered pricing, two other common membership models are known as fair share and investor. 

Fair share model

The fair share model provides membership pricing based around the member company’s:

  • Number of employees
  • Revenue
  • Size
  • Other factors.

Investor membership model

The investor membership model offers a single flat rate and any benefits are a token of appreciation. 

Graphic outlining fair share vs investor membership models

Why are membership levels an effective choice?

Multiple membership levels put your members in control and lets you structure your chamber in a way that makes sense. Whether it’s pricing membership based on business’ size, number of employees, revenue, or other similar factors or based on value, benefits and more, membership levels give that added layer of personalization to chamber memberships. 

How do membership levels help to improve renewals?

Cost of membership is an undeniable factor in getting (and keeping) new or existing members. In a 2020 Wild Apricot survey, 25% of organizations said their supporters had other spending priorities and another 23% said target donors simply didn’t have the money. 

Offering multiple levels of membership can help curb this common cost objection. Your organization can offer members varying levels of benefits with each tier, which gives current and prospective members more options to meet their needs while also staying within their budget. This can boost membership renewals as a result.

Benefits chambers of commerce can offer in tiered memberships

Before diving into creating your own membership tiers, you’ll need to make a list of all the benefits you offer. Sit down with your staff and brainstorm all the tangible (and intangible) advantages you provide to members. 

Once you’ve done a full inventory, you can make some executive decisions around how to group those benefits into membership levels. To help with this process, try to add the availability and current price (or potential value) of each benefit you list.

Example benefits of chamber membership

  • Business referrals
  • Member-to-member discounts
  • Online membership directory referrals
  • Business After Hours
  • Young professionals group
  • Mentors on the Move (Elite group)
  • Volunteer and meet
  • Ribbon cuttings
  • Member spotlight
  • Website new listings
  • Social media posts
  • Website banner ad
  • Website other ad
  • Online directory ad
  • Enhanced directory listing
  • Electronic newsletter
  • Monthly magazine
  • Informational webinars
  • Mailing – and emailing – lists
  • Advocacy
  • Group health/life insurance
  • Workers’ compensation policy
  • Payroll services
  • Courses/training
  • Annual conference training

How to create chamber of commerce membership levels

Now that you have a strong list of all your benefits, it’s time to begin the process of creating your chamber of commerce membership levels. Here’s a step-by-step guide to make this exercise as simple as possible.

1. Survey members to learn what they find valuable

Before you begin, make sure you’re focusing on benefits that resonate with your members. You can do this with a survey or member needs assessment. These insights can help you identify:

  • What benefits they find valuable
  • Which ones they don’t use
  • Gaps in your current offerings that you could include in your revised membership levels
  • Current member needs
  • Upcoming member trends

You can send a simple email survey or if your member organizations prefer a human touch, you can give them a call. When conducting your survey, you can couch the conversation as creating more value for members. You can say that your chamber is exploring new member packages to create more value and more options, for example.

2. Quantify your existing benefits

Make a comprehensive list of all your benefits and their availability (and don’t forget those intangible benefits). Start with your free offerings and then follow up with your products or services that you usually price individually. The list you made before can help with this.

3. Develop new benefits as needed

Now that you’ve listed out your current benefits, talk to your staff and see if you notice any gaps. Brainstorm some additional benefits based on your knowledge of your member organizations and on what your members said in your survey.

These add-on benefits can help fill out your membership tiers and differentiate you from other chambers. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Additional chamber benefits ideas

  • Application fee waived
  • Discounted mailing list/mailing labels
  • Complimentary conference room rental (certain dates or times could be excluded depending on tier)
  • Use of bulk mail permit
  • Deluxe membership plaque
  • Free email blast advertising
  • Free notary public service
  • Free job postings on chamber website
  • Free video included on YouTube channel
  • Inclusion of business literature in racks in chamber office
  • Invitation to welcome lunch during first year of membership
  • Subscriptions to publications
  • Free tickets to specific events
  • Preferred seating at events
  • Discounted booth space
  • VIP parking at select events
  • Complimentary drink tickets at select events
  • First choice of sponsorship opportunities
  • First choice of ad placement
  • Ability to host certain events, such as Business After Hours
  • Complimentary seats at athletic events in chamber box
  • Invitation to advocacy trips
  • Private meeting/meal with chamber president and/or leadership
  • Complimentary hours of consulting services

4. Assess and determine benefit values

It’s essential to assign a dollar value for each of your offerings so you can group your benefits appropriately (i.e., add high-value benefits to higher-end memberships) and later calculate the value on investment (VOI) for each of your membership tiers. 

For the benefits you previously priced a la carte, this is simple. But for your free or add-on benefits, this can be a little more challenging. You can calculate the potential retail value in a couple of ways.

 For a member referral, consider the revenue from one sale and then multiply it by the number of sales a member could expect from one referral. So, if one sale from a referral would equal $200 and the member organization operates on an annual subscription basis, the value would be $2,400 ($200 sale x 12 months).

This step can take some work and time, but will help you make the best membership levels for your organization. 

5. Begin creating packages by setting parameters  

As a next step in creating your membership tiers, you’ll need to establish a few parameters to determine some basic boundaries for your packages. That means considering the unique needs of your member organizations and your chamber’s needs.

When setting your parameters, ask the following questions:

How many tiers do you need? 

Start with at least two to three tiers, but be open to the possibility that your chamber may need more options than that for your members. Gauge this by examining the needs of each of your member segments.

What pricing will you set for your packages?

Get an understanding of the cost of membership for your chamber and research what your target market will realistically pay for your offerings. Do your homework about how other membership organizations price their tiers as well to give you some guidance.

How will you encourage members to choose middle- and higher-priced tiers? 

When making the transition to multiple packages, some chambers worry their large member organizations will consistently choose the lowest-priced tier. To curb this, include high-value benefits in your higher tiers that will particularly appeal to larger companies. For example: They may value your advocacy rather than leaning on you for networking.

How will you test any new membership levels you create? 

Consider running any new plans by a select group of members for their feedback. Their input can be invaluable in putting a final polish on your new membership levels and including benefits that truly resonate with their needs.

How will you transition members from current plans to new plans? 

Will you allow current members to stay on their existing plan until their renewal date? Or will you port all existing members over to comparable packages on the same date? 

Will members be able to choose individual benefits (and if so, which ones)? 

While you’ll likely include most of your benefits in one of your new membership levels, you can allow members to still purchase some of your benefits a la carte. Or you can allow members to sub out a benefit in their package for a similarly priced benefit. Just ensure you have a list of these benefits and their value so you can easily make substitutions and customize tiers [accordingly.

Can your current membership management system handle your new tiers? 

Transitioning from one pricing model to multiple membership levels can be a lot for your membership management tool to handle. Make sure you have the right software to make this transition as seamless as possible. 

6. Categorize your list of member benefits

When you’ve made your list of benefits, take some time to group them into specific categories based on the time and effort they take from your chamber.

Move the benefits that cost your organization little time and resources to the top of your list. Think member referrals and member-to-member discounts. Then you can create special “status groups” for member organizations that belong to higher tiers — for example, an elite mentors group.

Finally, include customizable offerings and detail how you’ll offer them to members. These could take shape as training, courses, annual conference training, etc.

See our table below of hypothetical benefits to get a sense of how you can start to structure your tiers based on these categories:

Chart showing benefits and examples of what membership tiers should include

7. Compile your packages into engaging documents or graphics

Now that you’ve put together your basic member tiers, you’ll need to style them so it’s easier for current and prospective members to visualize the value they’ll get from each level.

Working with your in-house or a freelance graphic designer, package your tiers into compelling tables, graphics, and/or PDFs. For great examples to inspire you, scroll down to check out three real-world examples in the next section.

8. Start announcing the changes by choosing a core message

Next, it’s time to start communicating the transition to your member organizations. Begin by selecting a core message. Likely, this will center around the broad idea that the new membership levels will offer more value and more options to members. 

Some potential high-level ideas to communicate this include:

  • XX Launches New Packages With More Choices for Members
  • New Benefits Structure Allows Members to Choose Participation Level
  • Updated Dues Model Helps and Rewards Member Growth
  • New Dues Structure Brings Enhanced Benefits to Members
  • Members Get More Choice in Price and Participation Through New Dues Structure

9. Fully explain the changes to the dues structure

Now that you’ve settled on a core message, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. Break down the benefits included in each of your new membership tiers, explain who they’re meant for and how they compare to your previous pricing model. 

And above all, explain the “why”. You should be clear in describing your motivation behind this big change. Reassure them that this move wasn’t to boost your own revenue, but to better meet their needs with more options. When members understand your reasoning behind the transition, it’s easier for them to get on board.

10. Highlight the new benefits and improvements

As part of your messaging, summarize how all your member organizations will benefit from this move to multiple membership levels. And offer some specific examples to demonstrate these new advantages.

Some sample messaging could include:

  • Members can still list their businesses under three categories on the Chamber’s website and once in the hard-copy directory, but we’ve added new 50-word business descriptions for Elite-level members
  • The Chamber is still offering a variety of free programs and events for all members and reduced pricing for other events for members
  • The Chamber’s new BizLink program, which is for Executive-level members, gives members access to business-related workshops, seminars, webinars, and select networking opportunities.

11. Ensure complete information is available online

Communicate your changes early, often and everywhere! List your new membership levels on your website, but don’t stop there. Introduce the changes on all your online communication channels, including your email newsletter, on your branded social profiles and anywhere else your members are likely to see it. 

Also consider sending info about your new membership levels via offline channels like direct mailers. 

12. Thoroughly explain your membership transition plans

After communicating the “what” and “why,” it’s time to focus on the “how.” As part of your messaging, include details on how you’ll help your current members make the transition to new membership plans. Explain when you plan to make the transition and add step-by-step instructions on what members need to do for a seamless changeover. 

13. Keep feedback channels and communication with current members open

Ask for feedback from your members throughout this process. While you may have your transition planned out to the most minute detail, there’s always room for improvement. Plus, because membership tiers should benefit your members, you want to make sure that the levels you’ve created actually make sense for them. 

3 Examples of Chamber of Commerce Membership Levels

While you understand chamber of commerce membership levels now in theory, it’s even more helpful to see how organizations are leveraging tiered dues in the real world. With these three examples, you can get a peek at how these organizations have customized their membership levels to maximize their revenues while also meeting the unique needs of their members.

  1. Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce offers four comprehensive membership tiers for business members in their midwestern region. Starting with the “Executive” level, the chamber smartly provides members with a variety of compelling benefits, like access to 100+ networking events, three exclusive chamber newsletters, and a membership directory listing.

From there, the number of benefits incrementally increases through the “Premier,” “Leadership Circle,” and the “President’s Circle” levels. And to help prospective members understand which level might work best based on their business’ needs, the chamber created a handy comparison table that enumerates the benefits in each tier:

Chamber of commerce membership checklist examples
  1. Columbus Chamber of Commerce

The Columbus Chamber of Commerce takes an interesting approach to explaining the benefits in their three membership tiers. Rather than just listing out what’s included in each level, they summarize a few specific ways their chamber can help businesses meet their goals (depending on the tier they choose).

For example: A business choosing the “Growth Connect” level can use this tier to increase their visibility in the community. Whereas a “Leadership Circle” member can partner with the Columbus Chamber to lobby local government and serve as a voice for businesses. 

The chamber also incorporates brief testimonials from members on the same page, which serves as social proof for prospective members weighing their options.

Screenshot of chamber of commerce membership tiers
  1. American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

While AIGA touches on a couple of the top-level benefits for each of their five membership tiers, their primary focus is to target prospective members at specific stages in their career. For example: The “Contributing” tier, which is just $50 a year, targets students and entry-level graphic designers just starting out in the industry.

Example membership tiers for a chamber of commerce

Additional Tips for Chamber of Commerce Membership Levels

Now that you’re armed with real-world examples and the steps for a successful transition, you’re ready to create your own chamber of commerce membership levels. To get you started, we have a few final tips to help you optimize your efforts even further:

Lead with the “why.” 

When communicating the changes in membership tiers to current members, emphasize how the new options were customized for their needs and bring new value for them.

Ask for input. 

Before and after making any changes in benefits and membership levels, ask for member feedback.

Encourage upsells. 

When creating your member levels, structure them to spur upgrades versus downgrades. Structure your benefits so that the highest membership level also has the most valuable benefits, for example.

List out all your benefits.

It’s easy to focus on your most tangible benefits — access to member referrals, vouchers to conferences, etc. But don’t forget to communicate the value of your intangible benefits like consultation and research time and your ability to advocate for your region’s business community with local government.

Leverage the right tools. 

Use dedicated chamber management software to streamline and organize the process over time.

Get Started Connecting Your Members Today

Give your members what they want — several membership options chocked-full of benefits that resonate with them. With that principle guiding your efforts, you’ll be sure to attract and retain more members.

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