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The World is Changing. Are Associations Falling Behind?

Time for change construction sign
When you’re scrambling to keep up with demands that are already overwhelming your to-do list, it’s tempting to put new ideas on hold, just long enough to catch your breath. And we know that Canadian associations have been buffeted by a tough economy, changing technologies, and new expectations from members who are drawn from more diverse generations than ever before.

But results of Greenfield Services’ 2012 Pulse Report suggested that too many associations are missing the moment for innovations that will delight their members, boost member retention, and set the stage for future growth.

In their responses to the survey, participants cited traditional association priorities—membership growth, member participation, and higher visibility—as their top three measures of success. But while membership growth was a leading priority for 63.9% of the group, only 12.2% translated that interest into a focus on renewal rates. It’s hard to see how organizations will meet one priority without the other:

It should almost always be easier to retain a satisfied member than to identify and attract a new recruit.
For associations with a limited pool of defined prospects, there’s nowhere to go to replace prospective members who decide not to affiliate.

When the survey focused in on associations’ membership goals for the next year, participants listed the familiar top three—member recruitment, retention, and engagement. But fewer than half saw it as a top priority to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) members receive from the associations. Only about one-quarter placed strong emphasis on new product or service offerings, and two-thirds of respondents’ associations invested less than 10% of their operating budgets in membership marketing.

Even assuming (since it’s probably true) that everyone is doing the best they can with the resources at their disposal, this is still a troubling picture for the association sector. If organizations don’t consistently emphasize member retention, demonstrate ROI, and entice members with exciting, innovative services, they’ll end up chasing themselves in circles: as membership declines and resources shrink, they’ll have even less time and space for strategies that will help them grow and thrive.

The Pulse Report: Member Connection is the Golden Thread

Statistics with Heart
Over the next few weeks, you’ll be hearing about The Pulse Report, a survey of Canadian associations that Greenfield Services will be releasing at the Canadian Society of Association Executives’ 2012 National Conference and Showcase, November 1-3 in Ottawa.

We’ve worked hard on the survey over the last several months, and I can’t tell you how much we’re looking forward to sharing the results with you.

We realized earlier this year that Greenfield was perfectly positioned to conduct a study on the state of Canadian associations. We know the sector well, and our infrastructure and systems make it easy for us to invite participants to a survey, then follow up by phone. We also knew this was the right time to ask associations some probing questions, to find out how they were coping and changing in a business environment shaped by a tough economy, new technologies, the rise of social media, and profound generational change.

The survey reached 147 respondents, 44.2% of them executive directors or CEOs, 43.5% in national organizations, and 68% in associations operating with 10 or fewer staff. The response rate wasn’t quite high enough to make the results statistically valid across the sector, but the Pulse Report still gave us strong indications that Canadian associations:

Scramble to cope with revenue generation, limited funding, and insufficient staffing to meet their objectives
See the need to increase revenues without raising membership dues
Value member recruitment and retention, but may not be using the latest member engagement tools to seal the deal
Often report low levels of volunteer involvement, social media participation, and non-dues purchases.

The common theme? Member connection is the golden thread that can hold members close to their associations—and when that thread unravels, nobody wins.

Stay tuned for a series of blog posts on the detailed findings in the Pulse Report. And if you’re in Ottawa November 2, drop by our booth at the CSAE Showcase to let us know how the results apply to your organization.

Effective associations: Make yours hit the mark

This guest post was provided by Sarah Sladek of XYZ University.  Sarah is an expert on demographic shifts, talent turnover, and generation gaps. She is the founder of XYZ University and author of three ground-breaking books. She launched the nation’s first business conference focused on bridging talent and leaderships gaps in the workforce and became a sought-after speaker and consultant to organizations nationwide. Her goal is to help organizations remain relevant to future generations.

I've spent a lot of time working with association leaders and I've come to know what works and what doesn't in order to grow membership and sustain organizations. The effective associations of 10 years ago are not the same today. Today, members are fast-paced, driven and they want information and access to exclusive information now.

How do you reach your members? How do you take what used to work as a way to sustain your organization and turn it into something members new and old still want?

The truth is, you don’t.

Hitting your target
With your association’s mission in hand, now is the time to think about how you will stand out and what new, innovative member benefits you can provide in order to grow and sustain your organization in the new era of membership–of life–as we know it.

In order to be an effective association, you need to think about communication, customization, technology, talent development and your association’s significant value.

Communication and customization

It doesn't matter if you are doing everything well if no one knows about it. Your association members need to hear from you and understand the value you provide. Show your members that you value you them and give them private access to events and information. Make your association’s members genuinely feel a part of your organization–don’t provide the same services and information to nonmembers. Make it exclusive.

Customize your members’ experience and understand that communication is a two-way street. Encourage your members to provide feedback and talk with you. Use surveys, social media, focus groups or events as ways to communicate with your membership and listen to what they need.

Get hip to technology

Change happens. That’s life. And right now, shifts in technology and the way we communicate are big changes for associations. Work with it. Think about your current membership and those who will sustain your organization for the coming decades. Gen X and Gen Y want action. They want value. They want to know what’s in it for them. And they’re using technology to scope you out and figure out if you’re worth their time.

Use technology–social media, online communities, blogs, updated websites–or you will lose your chance with Gen X and Gen Y. This generation will simply disengage. Even if the majority of your membership is of Boomer age (and I can argue that these members are still using technology as well), think about your future. You won’t move forward if you don’t embrace the technology that will push you there.

Strong leadership and membership involvement

Effective associations find ways to brainstorm with staff and members to move to the next level; to grow membership. Create a developing leaders group, a community where current members and prospective members can participate in discussions that have an impact on the future of your association. Give your members ownership. Show your next generation of leaders that you support their quest for continued growth and learning. Provide the space for members to develop their talents.

Association committees provide learning opportunities for members and also help keep your executive team and Board focused on association goals and strategic planning. Create focused committees with clearly defined objectives and encourage your new members and young members to participate on committees. Get them involved right away so they can see the value and remain engaged. Gen Y can bring innovative ideas and new perspectives to your committees. Develop your association’s future leaders.

Know your value

The most effective organizations are innovators. They add value to members by going above and beyond what members could find elsewhere. Networking is NOT your association’s value proposition. What tangible item can you give to your members that no one else can give? What makes your association stand out? What brings members back for more?

Effective associations don’t happen over night; you need to work at it. And it’s not business as usual. Now is the time to be big. To be bold. To go where no association has gone before. Now is the time for change.

Want to Boost Member Engagement? Launch an Online Community – Part 2

This two part guest post was provided by Annette Balgord, Vice President at Equation Technologies.  Equation assists associations to implement Social CRM, private online communities, and association management systems (AMS).  Annette is on the CSAE Trillium Chapter Communications Committee and a board member at Information Technology Alliance.  You can visit Equation Technologies at the Avectra Booth (# 178) at the CSAE National Conference & Showcase this November in Ottawa.

Connecting with People
Groups, Reputation Scoring and Member Matching:  Foundation of Peer-to-Peer Online Collaboration

Three areas that contribute to robust online collaboration are groups, reputation scoring, and member matching.

Online collaboration provides a virtual meeting place for groups working on behalf of the association.  Group projects may include event planning committees, communication committees, member outreach, and so on.

Groups are defined segments of your community with an online space to conduct focused discussions and projects, house resources relevant to the group project, distribute surveys and announcements, and plan events.  Online collaboration tools allow you the option of making the space public for all to see or to have a variety of privacy permissions to limit the visibility of online group activity.

Groups can be managed by staff or by a member leader according to your preference.  Because information is online, it reduces inbox clutter and is readily accessible to group members whenever it is convenient for them to log in.

Reputation scoring
Who are the members who are the most active, connected and engaged?  Reputation scoring is one way your association management system can help you gather information about member engagement levels.  What are the actionable items you’d like to track and encourage among your members?  And which are the most important actions that contribute to a more energized online community?

Assign points to actions such as completing one’s member profile; answering a survey question; sharing resources; starting an online discussion; replying to an online inquiry, etc.  You can use the point value to decide which actions are the most important to fostering the online member experience.

Member matching
Easily aligning members is another benefit of online collaboration.  Through your association management solution or online community platform, you should be able to map a series of questions, responses and criteria that allows you to segment and match members.  For example, for a networking focus, set up questions such as “Would you like to be a mentor?” to match with “Would you like to be mentored?”, coupled with questions on interest and specialties to create a specific relationship between members.

A more meaningful member experience is facilitated because you can route information most relevant to the member based on their interests.

Ottawa-Gatineau CSAE Partners with Greenfield Services for Social Media Management

Social Media World Image
We are pleased to officially announce that the Ottawa Gatineau Chapter of the Canadian Society of Association Executives (OG-CSAE) has selected Greenfield Services Inc. as their strategic partner for Social Media Management, effective Monday, October 1st.

Greenfield Services will research and gather feedback from members, committees and CSAE National to produce social media guidelines, policies and procedures.  These documents will be shared with various committee members and volunteers of the chapter.

Greenfield will also manage the chapter’s social media posts and interactions, ensuring that the chapter remains positioned as the “go-to” source for association management news and best practices in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.  This will include sharing of relevant content, starting and maintaining discussions with members, prospective members, and the community at-large, and the promotion of professional development and events.

The team will be led by Meagan Rockett, Director of Client Solutions, who sits on the Membership Committee and the Communications Committee of the Chapter.  Meagan also participates in the newly developed Mentorship Program.

Greenfield Services President and Chief Strategist Doreen Ashton Wagner stated, “We look forward to this partnership, helping the CSAE Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter demonstrate the effectiveness of social media for event promotion and member engagement.

For more information on the program, please contact Meagan Rockett at 613-288-4517,, or @rockettm on Twitter.