Associations are facing more challenges than ever before. Member expectations have changed – getting value for money is important. Add to that increased competition, both from rival associations and the glut of information available online for free, and it’s no wonder associations are worried about their membership levels.
It’s not all doom and gloom – associations that are willing to change with the times and rethink the way they do business are well placed to build a thriving member community. So how can your association navigate the new terrain of the modern association and gather an engaged membership along the way?
Rethink Your Value Proposition
Gone are the days when joining a trade association was a part and parcel of professional life. Nowadays, members need to know what they’re going to get in return for their dues. Harrison Coerver and Mary Buyers, authors of Road To Relevance and Race To Relevance, found that one of the most commonly heard phrases when members leave is “I don’t have time” – code for “I have better things to do with my time.” If you want to build a thriving community, you need to offer your members services and activities that are worth their time. Ask yourself if your offerings will:
- Make them enthusiastic?
- Improve their career?
- Fulfill their interests?
- Bring them enjoyment?
If you can’t answer “yes” to at least some of these questions, you’ll lose out to activities and organizations that can.
Know Your Members
There’s a saying that you can’t please all people all of the time. In their book, Road To Relevance, Coerver and Byers suggest that “in the quest to create a winning value proposition, the average association is trying to be too many things to too many people.” To avoid the danger of being a jack of all trades and master of none, your association needs to get really clear about one thing: your member market.
Association member markets are changing as the world of business changes. Look at all the ways the banking industry has changed in recent years, for example. To create a thriving association for the future, you need to understand the current state of your member market, and connect with your members to find out what they need from you and what their current concerns are.
You can connect online and off – both is better. Give your members ample opportunity to make their views known. The more you talk to your members, the clearer idea you’ll have of who you are reaching out to and how to appeal to them.
Streamline Your Organization and Services
To adapt to the changing face of modern associations, you need to take a good look at how your association operates from the top down. Or, Coerver and Byers warn, you could be facing “member loss, declining participation in programs and services, and decreases in nondues revenue.”
It’s time to overhaul how you do things and question whether traditional models are well placed to serve new generations of members and help you get by in an increasingly competitive world. A more streamlined organization means a more accessible program of services and products for your members.
Take a good look at how your members contribute to the running of your organization. Is your staff in touch with members’ concerns? Is it a collaborative effort? Modern association members don’t want to be talked at – they want to be heard.
Adapting to change can be a challenge for associations, but by rethinking how you reach out and what you offer, you can stand out from the competition and give your members reasons to stick with you.