The Healthcare Financial Management Association is moving to an all-inclusive membership model in an effort to revive its slumping dues revenue.
It used to be HFMA members paid for a basic membership but then had to pay hundreds of dollars more for its various certifications. Now, a $425 membership fee—$90 more than it was previously—gets members access to the HFMA’s certifications, online education, forums, newsletters and digital products—services that used to cost extra.
“We think of it as the Netflix of associations,” said HFMA CEO Joseph Fifer.
For people who get the certifications, it’ll be a big shift. The Certified Healthcare Financial Professional credential, for example, used to cost between $700 and $845 in program fees. Now, that’s included with the $425 membership fee.
Like other healthcare associations, HFMA has struggled in recent years with declining revenue from membership dues, a crucial determinant of its bottom line. In fiscal 2018, its dues revenue declined 8.2% year over year to $7.4 million—28% of its nearly $26 million in total revenue that year. In 2017, dues revenue had dropped 9.5% over the prior year.
In addition to slumping membership dues revenue, HFMA is also struggling with declining revenue from its publications. Publications revenue plummeted by $1 million between 2016 and 2017, the latest year for which tax information is publicly available. The organization drew about $3.6 million in publications revenue in 2017, compared with $4.6 million in 2016. Fifer mentioned the issue in his keynote speech at the organization’s annual conference in Orlando, promising improved content that’s more relevant to members.
He's confident the overall changes will turn that slumping revenue trend around.
“It’s going to go up,” he said. “That’s part of the plan. If we focus on the consumer experience and simplify things and make it more enjoyable, we’re going to see more members.”
Here’s the caveat: The new membership rate does not include access to in-person educational events, such as the HFMA’s annual conference, admission to which costs members $1,325 this year. Annual conference attendees can earn up to 21.5 continuing professional education credits, which certified public accountants need to maintain their credentials.
Organizations typically don’t make money on certifications themselves. Rather, the money is in selling the educational programs necessary to gain those certifications, said John Graham, CEO of the American Society of Association Executives, a trade group for associations.
“If double the amount of people become certified, those individuals will have to take the association’s education programs to continue to maintain their certification,” Graham said. “I’m assuming there is a cost to engage in those education programs.”
Under the new model, HFMA members who have paid $425 will have access to all education and programming necessary to receive and maintain their certification at no additional cost.
In any case, the HFMA’s model is certainly unusual in the association world, which has been moving in the opposite direction in recent years. As younger people join associations, the trend has been toward buffet-like membership models that allow people to pick and choose what they want to pay for.
Graham said he’s not aware of any associations that offer free certification, and it could prove to be a successful way to grow membership. Certifications from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives typically cost $625. The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society charges members between $150 and $325 for new certifications. Non-members pay between $245 and $410.
“It’s a very interesting model,” Graham said. “I think they’re trying to increase their value proposition, and it may very well work for them.”
Before the HFMA switched to its new membership model, member Christine Haggin said she didn’t typically pursue the association’s certifications because the cost of doing so was comparable to getting them elsewhere. As chief financial officer of the 40-physician Clarkston (Mich.) Medical Group, Haggin is required to maintain certification as a CPA.
The all-inclusive model is a motivating factor for Haggin to keep her HFMA membership going, she said. And getting certification through the HFMA holds the added benefit of finance educational material that’s specific to her work in healthcare.
“This helps me differentiate in my mind HFMA as an organization that is providing me with a service that I really have a very difficult time finding elsewhere for that value,” she said.
The HFMA has also freshened up its website, including the addition of a personalized section where it will post content based on members’ stated areas of interest.
The association is also launching a social media-type feature where members with mutual interests or disciplines can connect online—think LinkedIn or Facebook, Fifer said.
“This is about experience, community, drawing people together of like mind,” Fifer said. “Why not have groups of endurance athletes that are HFMA members?”