Sunday, July 29, 2012

Engaging Members Beyond the Board

Are you lucky enough to have a Board of Directors who are highly engaged? Does that engagement extend into the general membership? In other words, are your volunteers and your board the same people?

I ask these questions because I have worked at non profits where the Board is highly energized and engaged.  They have a passion, mission and vision for the future of the organization, which can be almost infectious.  A recent conversation I had with a client, they told me how excited and engaged their board was, but it's hard to bottle that enthusiasm and translate it into actionable items for both the board and the staff.  So how do we bridge the gap?

Here are some ideas that I have used in the past, in no particular order:

  1. Provide your Board members with a script to call 5 members a month and ask them to volunteer, attend an event, renew their dues, sponsor a program.  Realizing that the Board often times have full time jobs that don't relate to their duties for your association's board providing them with the tools that they need build the organization will help your association.
  2. Create an agenda for each Board meeting so that they can stay on topic and focused on improving the association.  At the start of each meeting agree that while we are all passionate about the association, in order to move the organization forward and stay relevant we need to focus. 
  3. Create a list of Board/Association priorities.  During your creative brainstorming sessions you may come up with a host of great ideas.  How does this new idea fit into the strategic plan? Is it relevant to your membership, will it provide them a benefit that they cannot get anyplace else?
  4.  Remember the mission.  At the end of the day, associations exist for one thing and one thing alone to serve their members needs.  By keeping this top-of-mind you will only help both your Board and your association. 
Got any ideas of your own that work? Feel free to share them here. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Associations Going Mobile

A few weeks ago I attended the ASAE Super Swap at their headquarters in Washington, DC where they combine 6 idea swaps into one day.  The location allows for many association professionals and their trusted partners to meet up and share ideas about various topics.  While all the idea swaps were beneficial one of them truly stood out.  

Associations Going Mobile: When To Use Mobile Apps to Engage Members/Attendees was hosted by Kevin Taylor, Account Executive, AlphaGraphics; John Mills, Web Content/Analytics/On-line Community Manager, Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute.  I have heard from many articles and other content that I have read via ASAE and others that associations are about 1 year behind the technology trends of the corporate world.  The majority of the session discussed what John's experience was going mobile with their conference and expo app.  With little notice or promotion of their new conference app, they had quick adoption.  This year they expect their results to be even greater, by launching the application earlier and providing people ways to interact before they get to the show.  

After three or so weeks, I am still thinking about this session because the technology is SO cool.  Imagine a world where your conference attendees don't have to carry around a full thick brochure of all the conference sessions, the map of the exhibit floor, and more.  Of course it comes with a cost, but you can offset this cost by selling sponsorship ads to your exhibitors.  This will help you recoup some of your initial investment, drive traffic to your exhibitors booth and provide a useful tool for your members to connect.  

Where is the future of association events? Maybe it's in mobile, but it just might be something that we have never heard of.  Either way, I am excited for the innovation ahead and seeing what other association professionals are up to, today, tomorrow and in the future. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Has Your Membership Done for Me Lately?

This question is something that comes up with nearly ever association or chamber partner we talk with.  Measuring the true value of what you are providing to your members is a difficult and sometimes daunting task.  The key to uncovering the answer to these questions is to:

Understand Your Unique Value Proposition
What do you provide that your competitors don’t? Don’t reach for the standard answers such as networking, education.  Are you sure they can’t get that information someplace else? With the creation of social media, there is a lot of “free” information out there.  You can uncover this via surveying your members and not just going to the usual suspects such as networking, lobbying, etc.  Your hunch might come true, but it’s great to back those hunches up with data.  Electronic surveys are the way to go, they eliminate paper, and survey tabulation.  Does your Association Management Software (AMS) provide you with the opportunity to survey your members? Use the tools you have available to find the data you need to back up those hunches.

Show Your Members The Value Your Organization Brings
Depending upon your AMS provider this can be accomplished by understanding what you should be asking your database.  With the Weblink Solution this can be accomplished at the click of a few buttons with reports on Member Activity, Member Referrals, just to name a few of our standard 230 reports we provide to our association and chamber partners.  Being able to uncover this information can help you prepare for those difficult conversations when it comes time for their dues renewal. 

Listen to Your Members
Listen to your members, because they are the reason that your organization exists.  Sure, it seems basic but listening to a member who has a concern, no matter how big or small will go a long way in retaining them for more than your initial term.  This listening doesn’t just have to happen at conferences, you can uncover what they think about your educational programs, and other services by participating in the various social media such ask:  LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.  By doing a quick search on topics that relate to your organization whether it be a chamber or an association allows you to know what the “chatter” is in these arenas.  It can be accomplished by spending 1 -2 hours per week, or even more if you have an intern or staff member managing this aspect of your chamber or association.  Understanding what’s out there will help you engage members and spark them into action.   

Stay Relevant
In the book, Race for Relevance- 5 Radical Changes for Associations written by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE they point out what has changed about associations.  They talk about targeting your membership so that you can really understand what is important to them, along with fighting the status quo.  It’s a great read, and Sarah Sladek writes more about how membership is changing in her book The End of Membership As We Know It: Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century.  She was also a recent keynote speaker at the ASAE’s Marketing Membership & Communications Conference where she talked about the changes that our society as a whole have weathered including but not limited to: the .com bust, the 911 attacks, and the Baby Boomer’s impending daily retirement numbers.   Her presentation was thoughtful and gave the audience a lot to think about.  What is your association or chamber doing to stay relevant?

Make sure that you have the right tools in place for managing the relationship with your members.  If your association didn’t exist what would happen? You might be surprised at the answer.  Keep your finger on the pulse of your members with your Association Management Software (AMS) system.  It can provide numerous ways to measure engagement and help you demonstrate what YOUR association or chamber has done for their members. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'll Be There For You!

These five words you swear to your members.  When they breathe, you want to be the air for them - or at the very least the one place they go when they need to know about your association's industry.  Did you just head bang? I thought about it when I was writing it, if that makes you feel better. 

Our members are our life blood, but what if we can't be there for them when they need us.  Is this a failure upon our part? As a communications scholar/student we frequently say that it's actually healthy for a couple in a romantic relationship to maintain other relationships outside of that couple.  So where I am going with this? Members are looking for diverse information that may not be your area of expertise.  How can you keep them from going to other places?

Keeping up with the trends for your members is just one part of your day-to-day job duties.   You do this so your members don't have to look elsewhere for this type of information.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Only you and your members can decide. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The"Perfect: Organization

When talking to potential association clients, I often ask them what do you think would make your organization "perfect?" They often struggle with their answer, as if they haven't had the time to even ponder what "perfect" would be like.  When I worked at small association, I can tell you to make my organization perfect I would have liked:
  • Additional organizational buy-in from senior leadership.  
  • A way to track members engagement through an actual membership database.
  • A bigger budget. 
My wish list may not be different from some of my clients, but the truth is that each organization is different.  The problem with many associations is that they have done things a certain way for so long and they are reluctant to change.  This was the case with my previous non-profit (trade) association, the president was from the industry.  The key thing that we were missing out on, is not a unique problem to associations -- engaging the younger generation of members.  Each suggestion that wasn't a print ad, press release, or direct mail campaign was met with a great deal of resistance.  If something isn't working do you keep doing it? At this association, yes was the answer.

We've heard it a million times, with the economic crisis members are changing roles more frequently.  Tenure at a company is decreasing and when people move it's hard to keep track of them on something like a Microsoft Access or Excel "database."  Believe it or not, unless your trained to create and manage databases out of Access they probably won't do what you want them to.  There are many databases out there on the market, the key question you have to ask is "how much database do we need?" The company I currently work for creates a relational database so you keep track of their employment history, but more importantly their relationship with your association.  If I had only had a database, maybe things would be different? The association I worked for no longer exists and merged with another to stay relevant. 

As an association we often dream of what we could do if we only had the budget, and this is a curse, but it's also a blessing.  Why? You learn to be creative on limited dollars, so that if/when you do have more budget, you spend it wisely

If you really think about it.  What would you like to happen to make your association perfect?