When I worked for a membership management software company, “past due” notices were loved or hated by member-based organizations. Those that used them, swore by them. Those that didn’t found them heavy handed.
The customers who used “past due” notices felt so adamantly about the process, including their members racking up the monthly charges, that we reworked the way the system calculated dues and billed members, giving them the option to bill this way.
A similar debate was occurring in our Chamber Professionals Group on Facebook when a person asked:
Does anyone include language on dues invoices suggesting that membership is self renewing, and that none payment is not interpreted as cancellation of membership? Patience has proven valuable for us, with most members paying even after extreme delinquency, 90+ days. But occasionally we here the comment “oh we didn’t renew this year”, after no response to our late notices and calls. The worst part is that they are typically businesses that invoice and certainly wouldn’t accept such a response to non payment of bills to them.
Cathi Hight brought up a critical point — unless the member has agreed to renew, he/she is not technically late or past due.
The technicality is self-renewing chamber membership, where the member – by joining – recognizes that the membership auto-renews unless they indicate otherwise. If your chamber marks members past due, you need to have an auto-renewing policy.
Auto-renewing Chamber Membership
The question then becomes — should you have an auto-renewing policy? At what point should members be penalized for delinquent payment? And how do you plan to enforce this? With late fees? With collections? None of those options seem appealing in a membership community.
Costco faced a lawsuit several years ago because members were not receiving a full year’s value if they renewed late. Costco’s former membership policy allowed that as long as the member renewed within three months of his/her anniversary date, the expiration date of membership the following year remained the same. This meant a member would pay for twelve months (if he/she renewed late) and get only nine months of service. Costco changed its membership policy because of the suit.
Collections never look good for a chamber community but then neither does floating a member and allowing them to take advantage of member benefits when they haven’t paid. If you do this, word will spread and other members will conveniently forget to renew in a timely manner knowing they will still be able to participate in membership.
A firm reminder to a member who tries to take advantage of member benefits outside of their membership is much more palatable than a past due collections notice for membership.
Which side is your chamber on? Auto-renewing and thus members are “late” when they don’t pay or do you simply send reminders, cutting them off at a certain number of days past their anniversary?
A fascinating discussion occurred on the Facebook page. Check it out.
Guest post by Christina Green
Image via Flickr by neotint