By Asif Ahmed, Manager at Zzeem
Zzeem recently hosted an European-Canadian summit to exchange views on how associations and Association Management Companies (AMCs) operate across Canada and abroad. The 10-member delegation represented various Dutch associations and AMCs. There seemed to be a lot of similarities and differences between Europe and Canada not only in the way associations are run but also in what members perceive as value.
Current research demonstrates that networking is the major reason why people become members of an association in North America. Similarly, it stands true for the Dutch too. One member of the delegation noted that “an opportunity to meet peers and socialize” is the reason why people join an association and go to events. It’s the member to member interaction that everyone is looking for whether it be in Europe or North America. The other similarity that I observed was the fact that their members are looking for smaller, more intimate events where there are more opportunities to talk to the attendees as opposed to the big conferences with umpteen education sessions where people are busy trying to catch the next session.
One of the associations in the Netherlands has had huge success in achieving record attendance at their events by making them free for members to attend. The story doesn’t end there. They have gone a step further by penalizing the no-shows. Yes you read it right! They charge 30 Euros (CAN $45) as they consider it to be disrespectful to register and not show up at the event.
In The Netherlands, they have incorporated XDP which stands for Xperience Design Project.
The next generation of conferences are evolving as multidisciplinary, experiential marketing platforms to better personalize the learning and networking options for attendees. They’re also a hell of a lot more fun.
— Greg Oates
This is fairly a new phenomenon for the North American market. So what is XDP? It is an event built specifically for leaders who plan, design, execute, and support association events and want to:
- Attract and invite the right people to their events
- Create positive experiences for the audience before, during, and after the event
- Keep attendees engaged and, most importantly, coming back
Young Professionals Network (YPN) is yet another growing trend that all parties are experiencing with respect to the structure of their associations. The Europeans have made great strides to empower the younger members by letting them have their own Board and budget for events, which is laudable. However, the challenge they’re facing is the transition for the young professionals to move over to engagement in the ‘regular’ association (for a lack of a better word) once they have crossed 40.
At the end of the day, it was a very meaningful exchange and my regret is that we didn’t get a chance to record the audio of the conversation. Nonetheless, I am happy that they left with some sweet memories – of the mutual learning and the Timbits that we ordered.
Your association does great work? Does everybody know what you’ve accomplished? Or do you sometimes feel like nobody is listening?
You’ve probably informed your members, but did they read your communications? Did it sink in?
Your members are so busy struggling to keep up with their day-to-day tasks they have little time left to read and digest your association’s communications.
In order to get your message into the minds and hearts of your members, prospective members, and stakeholders, you need to get your message out through multiple media and multiple messages. Remember that you’re competing with everything else that lands on their desktop. So focus on your options.
- Multiple Communications Channels
- Member-only communications. In these communications, you give members information that no one else receives. What do you need to know, to stay one step ahead of non-members? The typical media for these communications are member email and private social media groups.
- Public communications. In these communications you give a “teaser” that informs readers of your activities with limited detail; encouraging non-members to join the association to get the rest of the information. The media for these communications are social media post and public groups.
- Using Government Relations
- Publish a government relations report on a regular schedule. Give your members inside information that they need to know to prepare for the future. Both good news and bad news about the results of your government relations activities are valuable. If the wind is blowing in a negative direction you can give your members a competitive advantage by ensuring that they are the first to know. Repeat the highlights in your regular member communications with a link back to the latest report.
- Using Earned Media
- Successful earned media is public media exposure that results from your successful efforts to create content that (a) provides journalists with a story that is sufficiently intriguing to their audience to get published and (b) segues effectively to your association’s messaging and increases your visibility. For more information on successful earned media read our blog on Using Earned media to Increase Your Association’s Visibility.
A friend of mine has a dog that needs to lose weight. The vet recommended a simple strategy that guarantees weight loss. Just feed your pet the same meal day in, day out, he said. It doesn’t matter how good the meal is, over time it will become so boring that the dog will get no pleasure from it and he will reduce his consumption.
Membership organizations often put their members on the same diet. The result is reduced member engagement and ultimately a drop in membership.
If we keep feeding our members the same meal, no matter how excellent, they will look for variety elsewhere – and we will lose them.
So how do we keep our professional education programs fresh and interesting for our members?
We know from working with our clients, that most association leaders do not see professional development programs as events. An event is something that is engaging and entertaining. A professional development seminar is something we do because it’s good for us.
Most associations see an invisible line between an event and an educational seminar.
This is a mistake. If we focus on making learning more of an event there is a subtle but important shift in focus. Treat your learning program as a series of events.
The only thing that must be predictable is that you are providing value. The way you do it, should be a creative process that is constantly evolving.
So here are three tips to keep your professional education programs fresh:
1. Make it fun.
- Choose speakers and trainers who are adept at engaging their audience.
2. Make it interactive.
- Make sure that the learners have an opportunity to interact with the speaker and the other learners.
3. Try something new.
- Add a new networking game to get your members outside of their cliques
- Bring in a speaker with a controversial view
- Change the order of the agenda
- Change the time of day
- Change the venue