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
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.
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:
- Use Google Alerts or a similar service to inform you of stories that you can piggy-back onto and segue to your messaging.
- Be prepared to repond as soon as a headline breaks. In order to do this you need to be well-prepared.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Ask yourself: Why do we want media coverage? What do we hope to accomplish?
- Who are we trying to speak to and what do we want them to do?
- Write the story. What will make an interesting read for your audience? (refer to #2, above)
- 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.
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.
I 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.
A recent survey1 of Canadian membership associations showed that only one third of chief executives were confident that all of their directors could clearly articulate the association’s Member Value Proposition (MVP).
From a strategic perspective this is a problem! If your leaders can’t state your MVP, how can they be effective ambassadors for membership?
Be aware, your MVP is not a laundry list of member services. It is a statement that describes the pain or desire that the organization solves for its members – in language that speaks from the perspective of the member. It helps to define the value of the association in terms of how it addresses member needs.
Here’s an example of the difference between the typical list of services you see on an association’s website and a member value proposition statement.
This is a list of services for Association XYZ.
“Association XYX provides these member benefits:
- Training and certification for the CRE designation
- Networking at regional events and the national conference
- Advocacy at Queen’s Park”
In this list of services, the association is speaking from its own perspective; “This is what we do. Aren’t we awesome”.
In contrast, this is an MVP statement:
“Membership in Association XYZ gives you:
- Training and certification to increase your skills, confidence, professional credentials and compensation.
- Networking and support to increase your connections and achieve your career goals.
- Employer relations advocacy to help your employer recognize the value and worth of your professional role on the team.”
In the MVP statement the services are articulated in terms of why those services matter to the member.
A clearly articulated MVP allows the board and the management team to prioritize strategic objectives and move the association forward in ways that resonate with members and stakeholders. Find out more about your MVP.
A strong MVP is also one of the 8 elements of the High Performance Membership OrganizationTM.
1 Contact us for a copy of the survey results (email@example.com)
I was speaking with a board director of one of my favourite clients yesterday and he was troubled by the lack of member engagement at his association. I asked him, “what is your member value proposition?” He responded that he knows they provide value but he’s not sure how to describe it. He told me that they get lots of non members out to events but they can’t seem to covert them to membership.
He told me that association staff and directors “freeze” when they’re asked, “why should I join?” This is a huge problem with a simple solution. There are only 2 steps.
- Take the time to understand and articulate your MVP (member value proposition) in a way that answers, “what’s in it for me?” for the member. Find out more about your MVP http://www.zzeem.com/MemberRecruitment.aspx.
- Train, rehearse, train. Drill that MVP into every staffer and director, repeatedly. Each staffer and director is an ambassador and they must be able to answer the WIIFM question in their sleep.
Like any other product or service, the value of membership is no more or less than the value the individual member attributes to it. How much does he or she “need” the membership, what money will it put in their pocket, what emotional value does membership provide (or substitute Maslow’s Hierarchy here) and how much can they afford to pay?
Ultimately you value your membership just like any business would value a product or service.
Answer these questions.
- Who are you selling to?
- What is the member value proposition to that type of member?
- Can the member value proposition be quantified? For example what is the member discount on events and how many are there?
- What are the competing opportunities for membership services? Are there other associations who compete with you for members? If so, what do they provide and what do they charge for membership?
- How much can a prospective member afford to pay?
Here are some things to consider:
- Your member value proposition is not a laundry list of what the organization does. It is a succinct, compelling description of the value of membership to the member. The value proposition of your organization is what makes your existing members renew each year and brings new members in the door.
- What is the credibility and visibility of your organization? If it is a well-established, trusted and highly credible institution it’s worth more than membership in an organization that no one has heard of. That’s why you pay more for a degree from Harvard than for one from the University of West Quackenbush.
- What is the visibility of your member services? If your organization does a great job of marketing the value of the membership then it’s “worth” more.
- What is the quantifiable value of the services provided by membership? Do members receive a significant discount on events and other services? Do you provide professional education or certification? If so, what is the value of the education?
Remember it all starts with your member value proposition. This is the bedrock of the sustainability of your organization and many organizations cannot articulate it. Last year, our annual survey of membership organizations told us that less than a third of organizations surveyed were highly confident that all of their board members could clearly state their value proposition to a prospective member.
Find out more about how to articulate your member value proposition www.zzeem.com/MemberRecruitment.aspx