Written by Anne Mazile – Manager, Marketing
As a young professional in today’s workforce, I always enjoy hearing about my colleagues’ experiences. Whether they’ve been in the workforce for 25 months or 25 years, hearing others talk about their past adventures is always fascinating. Changes in technology, work-life balance and work culture are just a few of the important shifts in offices around the world.
Attitudes about membership associations have also changed. In the past, joining an association was a no brainer. At times, joining an association was the only way to get access to valuable resources and networking opportunities. These days, connecting electronically is often cheaper than the traditional face to face conversation. Also, finding industry information has never been easier. All you need is an electronic device with an internet connection to access the latest news.
Why should young professionals join associations? Simply put, why not?
- Information Resource. Membership associations are still a great resource for information. Associations are a great starting point to get industry perspective and insights. The content provided by associations are curated to cater to you and your industry. Researching information online might be more accessible today but time is everything. Let the association do the legwork for you!
- Professional Development. Associations also offer numerous opportunities to perfect your skills. Young professionals can gain new skills that can help them excel in current and future jobs.
- Networking Opportunities. Make connections and grow your network! Networking opportunities are still a big part of many associations’ member value. Mentorship programs are also a great benefit.
Tips for joining an association:
- Ask for financial assistance. Associations are a great resource. But, financially, they may not be accessible to everyone. Paying for a membership out of pocket can be an hindrance to joining an association. Ask your employer if they would consider paying for your membership for your professional development. In the end, they’ll also benefit from your engagement.
- Pick the membership that works for you. Many times, associations offer varying levels of membership. Make sure to pick the category that fits you best. You want to get the best value for your membership.
- Get involved. Paying for a membership is one thing. Using the resources is another. Researching and evaluating the available opportunities may be a big undertaking at first but, over time, the tools you use may offset the cost of your membership.
Joining an association may be considered to be old hat by some but I would encourage others to look into associations that cater not only to their professional life but personal as well. Find resources that aid your professional and personal life outside of your bubble! Ideas that work for one group may work for yours. I always want to learn new life hacks and time management tips! The old adage that there’s an association for everything still rings true today. Find the hat that fits – it’s out there!
You know that you’re offering great value to your members but are your directors and staff clear on what it is? Are they all on the same page, singing the same tune? Or do they get flustered when they are asked to explain your association’s value to a non-member?
Your MVP is the bedrock of your association and it deserves special attention.
- Is your MVP clearly articulated and compelling? Your MVP is not a list of member services. It is a statement of highly relevant value expressed from the perspective of the member. It answers the WIIFM question.
- Can your directors and staff all state the MVP in their own words and give real-life examples?
Your MVP is a meal. It’s a combination of comfort (carbohydrates), critical resources (protein) and freshness (vegetables). Here’s the recipe.
Carbohydrates (Comfort): This element of member value is about belonging. Your members feel part of the bigger picture. They share common issues and needs and they connect with other members who “get it.” They recognize we’re all in this together. That sense of belonging = COMFORT.
Protein (Critical resources): This element of member value is about the resources that members receive. It may be stakeholder relations, up-to-the-minute information, or connections that increase business. This is the “meat” of your MVP. Engaged members use your resources for the benefit of their career and/or their business.
Vegetables (Freshness): This element of member value is about mixing it up and keeping your events and programs new, changing and exciting. Be brave and change at least one thing each year. If you keep serving the same meal your members will get bored. Take a chance on something new!
There are three key elements to defining, using and delivering on your MVP.
- Take the time and effort to develop a compelling MVP.
- Train, train and retrain your directors and staff so they can confidently state the MVP in their own words and give real-life examples of how the association has helped individual members. Encourage your directors to add a personal note that describes how the association helps them specifically.
- Keep your MVP delivery fresh and interesting. Don’t get stuck in a rut
Want some help with your MVP? Find out more.
Change is critical. It’s also risky. There are 4 inescapable facts to keep in mind.
- We cannot succeed without regular, meaningful change
- Some changes will fail
- Some changes will fail at first but become successful over time
- There will always be a vocal contingent of opposition
There are some changes that are simply essential. You have to do them on an ongoing basis.
Don’t keep serving the same meal. No matter how good it is, people will tire of it. Even if your event is awesome in every way, it will die if you don’t keep it fresh. Also, don’t forget to keep your event price current. Make sure you know your costs and that your price at least ensures break-even.
Keep ahead of the curve. The content, format and delivery of your member programs must continuously position your association as the leader in your sector. Take a chance on radical new ideas for content. Borrow ideas that are working in other industries and professions.
Member Discount Partners
These are the companies you partner with to deliver their services to your members at a special member price. Are your partners working with you to deliver great value to your members? Or not? It’s better to have one great partner that values their relationship with you than many who deliver sporadic, inattentive service to your members. If a member is disappointed with their first call to a partner, they’re not likely to continue down the list. They’ll just assume the whole program is of no value.
As your industry or profession evolves, it’s important to ensure your membership categories are keeping up with the changes in your sector. Are they still relevant or do they need revisions? It’s also critical to increase member prices on a regular basis. Remember, your costs go up every year. If membership prices do not go up by at least the cost of living each year, you’ll be forced to make a large price increase down the road.
Tips for Pricing
- Communicate increases well in advance
- Use association leaders as advocates
- Keep increases regular, to keep them small
Tips for Member Categories
- Keep it simple: No more than 3 categories
- Do market research in advance: Where is there potential confusion? Who will be impacted?
- Get feedback
- Communicate, communicate, remind
Managing the Opposition
There will always be opposition to change and often the most vocal opponents are long-term, highly influential members. Sometimes they fear losing the comfort of a known quantity. Sometimes they resent the dismantling of a program or event that they helped initiate years ago. How do you deal with the opponents?
- Bring them inside the tent. Invite them to be on a task force or committee that’s driving change. If they feel they have input to the future, they are more likely to want to be part of it.
- Keep communication open. Don’t hide from the opposition. Keep the lines of communication positive and open and build relationships on common ground.
- Nothing works better than success. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every successful change weakens the opposition to change.
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.
Associations spend a lot of energy trying to attract members, engage volunteers and recruit directors and staff. But what do you do once you have captured them? Do you make them feel welcome and valued at events? Are you a good “host” or do you leave members to figure it out on their own?
Onboarding is an essential, yet often overlooked, part of association management. It is critical to ensure immediate engagement and ensure members are familiar with the resources and opportunities offered and to feel that they fit within the organization. Otherwise, you risk losing their support before the first year is over.
Turn the focus onto them by anticipating their expectations, needs and wants and help them to fulfill these:
- Identify and articulate the Member Value Proposition (MVP). Ensure leaders understand the MVP of the association, and can easily state how the association addresses member needs.
- Create a new member onboarding process. Ensure they receive extra attention in the first 12 months to get them engaged.
- Director, volunteer and staff training. Ensure that your association leaders are trained to be good hosts at events. This means “working the room” at association events, introducing members to each other and make everyone feel valued and welcome.
The time and effort spent on the front end being a good host and designing good onboarding processes will pay off immediately and contribute to your sustainability and success.
Find out more about your MVP.
A strong MVP is also one of the 8 elements of the High Performance Membership OrganizationTM
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.
Every successful High Performance Membership Organization™ CEO knows the importance of tracking metrics. At a minimum, associations must be tracking:
- Member attraction
- Member retention
- Member satisfaction
- Member engagement
Metrics are critical to evaluating association sustainability. The data sets certain benchmarks and allows the association to track its progress. Well designed metrics demonstrate where an association has been – ideally spanning a minimum of three years of comparable data, where it is heading and where things are working well or need improvement based on pre-determine targets. Effective metrics guide strategy, direction and decision making; provide focus and drive performance and future initiatives.
Whether is designing membership reports or surveys, the data collected should be meaningful and manageable – more is not better. When designing metrics, work backwards – asking what you want to achieve from the data. Metrics should be standardized and reliable –providing relevant, timely and consistent information. Many organizations are good at collecting data – but it is equally important to make time to review, analyse and plan accordingly. Good decisions are based on information and metrics are a valuable tool for association leaders.