Category Archives: Member Value Proposition

Failing Fast, Hard and Often – How to use strategic risk strategies to succeed

FailChange is critical. It’s also risky. There are 4 inescapable facts to keep in mind.

  1. We cannot succeed without regular, meaningful change
  2. Some changes will fail
  3. Some changes will fail at first but become successful over time
  4. 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.

Events

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.

Member Programs

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.

Membership

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

  1. Communicate increases well in advance
  2. Use association leaders as advocates
  3. Keep increases regular, to keep them small

Tips for Member Categories

  1. Keep it simple: No more than 3 categories
  2. Do market research in advance: Where is there potential confusion? Who will be impacted?
  3. Get feedback
  4. 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?

  1. 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.
  1. Keep communication open. Don’t hide from the opposition. Keep the lines of communication positive and open and build relationships on common ground.
  2. Nothing works better than success. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every successful change weakens the opposition to change.
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Filed under Event Planning, Association, Association Management Issues, Member Engagement, Association Management, High Performance Organization, Successful Conferences, Member Value Proposition, Issues Management

Performance Metrics for Associations – Are You Driving Blind?

CautionWe’re way behind but we’re getting better.

Our sector is way behind the for-profit world, but we’re getting better. We know from our annual survey of Canadian membership associations, that the vast majority of Canadian associations do not track and manage the basic metrics of their business. Until recently, even the concept of managing a membership organization as a business was a foreign concept. However, this is starting to change.

Most Canadian associations are now on board with the fact that they are running a business, and that they must operate as a business to be sustainable. Some Canadian associations are starting to track the most basic performance metrics such as the new member attraction rate and the member retention rate. But we have some distance to go. One of the biggest impediments is weak membership database software (or worse, Excel spreadsheets!) that do not record the data that is needed to calculate the performance metrics.

Why does it matter?

Metrics tell us where we are now. Tracking them over time tells us where we are headed. Are we moving forward? Are we on a sustainable path? Without this information we are driving blind.

The basics – what must we track?

We need to track metrics in four areas:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Strategic objectives
  3. Member value
  4. Financial status

Sustainability; the key metrics

  1. New member attraction rate. This tells you how well you’re doing in terms of bringing new members on board. This should be at least 10%. If it’s not, you need to have a retention rate of more than 90% just to keep membership at the current level.
  2. Current member retention rate. This tells you how well you’re doing in terms of holding on to your existing members. This should be at least 90%. If it’s not, you need to have a new member attraction rate of more than 10% just to keep membership at the current level.
  3. Member satisfaction rate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this needs to be at least 85% to keep the membership organization sustainable. You need a regular member survey to assess this. To keep it simple, consider asking this one question as part of the renewal process.

Strategic objectives; the key metrics

Our annual survey of Canadian membership associations tells us that almost all associations have a documented strategic plan. This has improved dramatically over the past 5 years and that’s great. Now we need to ensure we track our progress. This is the metric we need to track.

  1. Milestones status

Your strategic plan should show multi-year (3-5 year) objectives with milestones, and dates, that your association must hit in order to be on track to achieve your strategic objectives. At every board meeting, or at least quarterly, report on where you are in meeting these milestones.

Member value; the key metrics

  1. Member Engagement in association programs. You’re investing precious resources to deliver member value. This includes events, professional development initiatives, knowledge products, member-only discount offerings and other member services. How many members are engaged in taking advantage of these services? This is what you need to track.
    • Set targets for member engagement in each program and track them year-over-year.
  2. Government/stakeholder relations. For many associations, this service is the heart of the member value proposition. Track your impact. What have you accomplished against the base case of what would have happened if you were not doing anything? Your impact is not only whether or not you’ve achieved you GR/SR objectives, but what has/has not happened as a result of your efforts. You may not have accomplished your objectives (yet), but you have at least ensured that the dial has not moved backward. What value has been achieved? Even if decision-makers have not chosen to heed your counsel, your members are aware of what they need to do to prepare themselves for coming events. This is what you need to track.
    • % of members on GR/SR committees. How engaged are your members in the volunteer work your staff needs to support your GR/SR program?
    • Open rate on GR/SR information bulletins. Do your members care? Are they listening?
    • Meeting requests/call-ins. How often do decision-makers contact your association for input?
    • Influence/progress against base case. What would have happened if your association was not engaged with decision-makers?

Financial reporting; the key metrics

  1. Balance Sheet. How many months of operating expenses are covered by your net surplus? Report on this separately by both liquid and illiquid assets. Your net surplus should cover at least 12 months of operating expenses.
  2. Income statement. For each monthly statement, show where you are against budget and against last year at the same time.

Next Steps

  1. Figure out how to collect the data you need to report and track these metrics.
  2. Establish a regular reporting format and schedule to keep your management team and board informed.

Want more information and the details of how to calculate your performance metrics? Check out our webinar on this topic.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Benchmark Survey, Member Value Proposition, Sponsor Value Proposition

Association Trends – What’s Happening in Europe?

Dutch DelegationBy 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.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Governance, High Performance Organization, Leadership, Member Education, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition, Volunteer Engagement

Are You a Good Host? Or do you leave members to figure it out on their own?

WelcomeAssociations 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Create a new member onboarding process. Ensure they receive extra attention in the first 12 months to get them engaged.
  3. 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

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Filed under Association Management Issues, High Performance Organization, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition

Using Earned Media to Increase Your Association’s Visibility

pic-media-strategySuccessful 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.

How do you “earn” media exposure? It’s free but it’s not cheap. It’s not cheap because it takes constant vigilance and creative thinking to develop stories that are both media-worthy and effectively communicate your messaging. This requires the effort of staff members or external consultants.

Here are 3 tips:

  1. Use Google Alerts or a similar service to inform you of stories that you can piggy-back onto and segue to your messaging.
  2. Be prepared to repond as soon as a headline breaks. In order to do this you need to be well-prepared.
    1. Develop your top key messages first. What information do you need to communicate? e.g. The province needs more social workers or, we need to reduce the barriers to cross-border trade.
    2. Develop language that will provide a segue from likely headlines to your messaging. For example, let’s say that your key message is that Manitoba residents would be better off if the province had more social workers. The headlines most likely to provide a natural segue to this message would be “bad news” stories in which an individual falls through the cracks in the system and suffers a negative outcome.
    3. Contact the journalist who wrote the story and offer one of your trained spokespeople as a commentator. Ensure they’re well briefed before you get a call back!

A typical segue to use for all stories of this type might contain these 3 elements:

  • “We’re so sorry to hear that <this unfortunate event> took place on <date> at <location>.
  • “Unfortunately this might have been avoided. We have so few social workers in <the relevant system/location>, their case loads are far beyond acceptable levels. Unless the situation changes, unfortunate events like this are likely to continue to occur.
  • “Fortunately, the solution is both simple and cost-effective. Studies show that social workers actually save the province money <insert data>. By increasing the ratio of social workers to case files by xx% we could avoid an estimated <xxx tragic situation description> each year.…and so on.

Let me leave you with 4 steps to success from Warren Weeks of Weeks Media

  1. Ask yourself: Why do we want media coverage? What do we hope to accomplish?
  2. Who are we trying to speak to and what do we want them to do?
  3. Write the story. What will make an interesting read for your audience? (refer to #2, above)
  4. Which journalists should you pitch the story to? Do your research. Look at what they’ve published and ensure their audience is a fit with your target audiences.

Read our blog on visibility for more on this topic.

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Filed under Association Management, Association Management Issues, Member Value Proposition

Does Your Association Need More Visibility? Here are 3 Tips.

pic-convert-social-media-trafficYour 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.

  1. Multiple Communications Channels
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  2. Using Government Relations
    1. 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.
  3. Using Earned Media
    1. 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.

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Filed under Association Management, Association Management Issues, Member Education, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition

Millennial Engagement. Boomers need to let go.

Millennial EngagementI recently worked with an association that had a board comprised primarily of “boomer” directors. Recognizing the importance to diversify the board, they actively recruited younger board members. Unfortunately, when push gave to shove, these newcomers were not given leadership opportunities and the board continued to function as it had before.  In turn, the younger directors became disenchanted with both the board and worse, the association.

Each generation brings unique strengths and qualities that an association can take advantage of to achieve strategic initiatives and ensure sustainability. The younger generation will lead the future; the older generation provides a historic perspective and experience. Instead of focusing on bridging generation gaps; think of it more as an alignment.

These are suggestions from our experience, on how to work with multi-generational volunteers, members and staff:

  • Allow both boomers and millennials to manage programming for their own cohorts
  • Older team members must delegate meaningful authority to younger colleagues
  • Ensure both groups are focused on the same goals and governed by some policies, but let them both choose “how”
  • Track each group’s progress against objectives

While each generation has different needs, values, attitudes, perspectives and styles, it is smart practice to have young and older people work together. Collectively – they are an unstoppable team.

Remember that the first step in member engagement is articulating and communicating your member value proposition (MVP). It may be different for each of your boomer and millennial cohorts.

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