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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.