What’s the future of the membership card?

Our specialist membership director Garry Ford on the future of membership cards.

The future of membership cards

Last year, in February, I asked what the future held for membership cards. At the time of writing, none of us were to know the radical global shift that was awaiting us. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated our adoption of digital solutions, replacing physical processes with digital ones much more quickly than we anticipated.

Many membership organisations were moving to app-based membership cards before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has accelerated this change. Amongst the suite of on-demand, digital services that member organisations have adopted, digital membership cards are on the rise. The benefits of this, particularly in a post-Covid environment, are obvious. Digital membership cards are fast; a member can receive their card within minutes of signing up, and, with the rise of home-based work, they can receive it wherever they are. As well as this, digital cards are always with you, eliminating the need to carry a separate piece of collateral to enjoy your member benefits.

At the beginning of the pandemic, fears of covid transmission through posted items meant that many organisations chose to reduce what they posted to the absolute minimum. We now know that this is not a way that the virus spreads, and that posting materials to members poses little to no risk, but this did force a lot of organisations to quickly rethink sending physical items to members. This is not the only factor which has had an impact on the physical membership card. Concerns about the environment, unnecessary use of materials and a new, younger generation of members who expect green issues to be a default concern have also caused member organisations to examine the role of the membership card.

In our webinar with MemberWise, Maximising member engagement in a post covid era, we asked attendees “If you could fast forward two years from today can you see your organisation still using membership cards?” Our attendees said overwhelmingly “no.” 81% said they can’t see their organisation providing membership cards. Both the impact of covid and environmental concerns are at play here: 98% of the participants polled said that environmental concerns were of at least some importance to their member.

All of this seems to call the future of membership cards into question, and suggest the total adoption of an app-based solution. However, it’s not quite that simple.

While many organisations are moving away from an annual membership card, our webinar panel acknowledged that many members still want tangible proof of belonging to an organisation. Membership, especially for members in professional associations, is proof of knowledge and expertise, and a physical card can be a point of pride. In some cases, members are being sent a digital/passbook card but are then making contact with their organisation and asking for a physical card. They’re proud of the organisation and what it represents, and still want that physical proof of being a member.

For this reason, many organisations, such as The Royal College of Midwives and The British Psychological Society are adopting ‘cards for life’ – undated cards that only need to be replaced if the card is lost or damaged. This allows the member to retain the tangible, physical evidence of their membership but avoids sending out thousands of new cards every year unneccesarily.

For organisations who want to retain the physical membership card in this way, we offer two more eco-friendly options. Biodegradable plastic cards, made from a plastic that’s 57% sea salt and 43% crude oil, are far less dependent on oil than any other plastics. The PVC in the card is produced with an additive that makes it degrade in organic compost. The additive accelerates the degradation of treated plastics in microbe rich environments, such as a biologically active landfill. It attracts microbes to the product, allowing them to colonise on the surface of the plastic. Once the microbes have colonised on the plastic, they secrete acids that break down the polymer chain.

Another environmentally-friendly alternative which avoids plastic altogether is our paper-based card, which is 100% recyclable, biodegradable and responsibly manufactured. This is a board-based product made of highly compressed paper with a high-quality finish, retaining the premium feel of a plastic card. The CIPR have adopted our paper-based cards for their physical membership cards.

Environmentally-friendly cards have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and your members will likely have difficulty telling the difference between traditional plastic cards and eco-friendly options. As a result, you may want to make sure your messaging reflects this. Let your members know that their new card is printed with the environment in mind, so they know that environmental concerns are as important to your organisation as it is to them.

In the future, a more measured approach is likely to be adopted for the membership card. Organisations will be weighing up the actual benefits of sending their members a physical card and taking a more mixed approach.

Whatever your strategy is with membership cards, we’re here to help. As experts in membership cards and on-boarding packs, our years of experience and consultancy-led approach mean we can help you pick the best options for your members. You can learn more at our membership portal, or by dropping us a message below.