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Member Engagement: Are You Doing All That You Can? (And Should?)

Arrow showing growth
Every association executive is constantly on the lookout for new, improved ways to build and sustain member engagement. (If they aren’t, they should be.) But the results of Greenfield Services’ 2012 Pulse Report show that only a few organizations are making best use of their most powerful engagement tools.

There’s no shortage of good intentions. Nearly two-thirds of associations (63.2%) cited member engagement as one of their top three priorities for the next year. But the research revealed that associations face a tough road if they hope to build a strong, enduring connection with a large share of their membership base.  The report shows low levels of volunteer commitment, along with low participation from members on social media networks and small levels of non-dues purchases.

The Pulse Report held a glimmer of good news for one type of association: About a quarter of organizations reported that at least three-quarters of their members were involved with certification programs, roughly the same proportion of respondents—27.2%—who said affiliation was mandatory for some or all of their members. That means mandatory certification is a good enough lifeline for associations that offer it, even though one-fifth of survey respondents said members joined their associations because they had to, not because they wanted to.

In an uncertain economy, nobody should second-guess a reliable source of membership and revenue, and there are very good reasons for the mandatory certifications that many professions require. But we’re only doing part of our job if people affiliate with their associations because they have no choice, not because it’s where they want to be. And that goes back to the community-building tools that most associations are still learning how to use.

  • With the right engagement and outreach strategy, members build their own networks and find their own ways to maximize the value they get back for their annual dues.
  • An effective social media program creates a steady flow of valuable news, information, and education, while creating pathways for members to pick the content that is most useful to them.
  • Associations already know that volunteering is a virtuous circle—the more actively members engage, the more likely they are to stay involved. By placing members themselves at the centre of your membership strategy, you can give them many more reasons to volunteer.

The 2012 Pulse Report showed that there’s a lot of work ahead for associations that want to re-envision and recreate their member relationships. But unless you’re delighted with your member engagement and revenue, this might be the right time to get started.


Top 12 Blogs of 2012

Gold medal in social media
I thought I would start to wrap up the year with my favorite blogs of 2012.  These bloggers engage the association community, inform, and suggest new ways for association executives to take a look at their current processes.  They offer tips and best practices on changing the landscape of associations for the future:

  1. Sarah Sladek’s blog “5 steps for continued association growth in a changing market”:  Passionate about changing demographics, Sarah blogs about what is affecting the association world in general.  This blog walks you through focusing on goals, and the steps to achieve the same status associations had with Baby Boomers as the primary membership base.
  2. I came across this blog by accident one day a few weeks ago, and love it!  Andrea Pellegrino’s “Engagement, Value, and Blaming the Member” post does not beat around the bush – it speaks directly to those who believe Engagement is the fix-all solution.  “Engagement does not drive value, value drives engagement.”  Demonstrating value to your members through various outreach and programs is the key to engaging your membership.
  3. Another blog I came across by accident, Shelly Alcorn, CAE blogged “Is Your Mission Bigger than What You Can Measure?” – which drives home the point that statistics, or “quantitative” metrics can only be used to a certain point in most organizations.  She believes that “qualitative” metrics need to be looked at more often.
  4. Jeff Hurt posted a two-part blog, focusing on learning styles & education opportunities – Part 1 focused on Learning from 1957-2004, and Part 2 focused on learning 2004-present day and the future.  Two key questions came out of this series that I believe are very important to take a look at:  what barriers exist that keep your education/learning opportunities from transitioning to newer models? And, how can organizations transition to being more learning-centric? 
  5. Jay S. Daughtry posted “The Greatest of Great Ideas in Less than 180 Seconds”.  Jay uses these 180 seconds of reading to showcase the top ideas, thoughts and feedback from the conferences he attends – this one being the ASAE Great Ideas Conference.
  6. Yes, I am repeating a few bloggers, but their content is worth it!  Sarah Sladek posted asking the question “Is your association’s culture helping or hurting member recruitment and retention?”, which addresses some red flags to look out for.
  7. Jamie Notter posted “Strategy Means Change” – when you are strategizing, prepare for change.  Need I say more?
  8. How could I have a top 12 list without including one of my own?!  I looked at the number of readers on each of my posts this year, and by far the most popular was “The World Is Changing.  Are Associations Falling Behind?” which was created as a result of our 2012 Pulse Report on Membership Marketing in Canada.
  9. Bernie Colterman’s “Social Marketing and Sponsorship Marketing – Are they really that far apart?”  discusses some trends that were discovered while attending an International Conference.
  10. Jeff Hurt (another blog I follow religiously, as you can see) published a post relating to Generational Differences and Conference Planning.  What barriers do generational differences have on traditional conference planning, and what are you doing to change it?
  11. The Association Management Blog posted a great reminder about mid-year – it is a great time to check in and review your goals and operation to make sure you are on track.  If you see a disconnect, it may be time to Tune-up Your Association.
  12. Affiniscape’s Blog posted a guest post from Shelley Alcorn, CAE earlier this year – talking about the END of Associations.  END meaning Education, Networking and Democracy.  Shelley’s belief is associations did not lose their relevance, they have lost their way.  Great post!

Any other favorites that you did not see here?  Submit your feedback below.  Have a great holiday, and I look forward to an engaging 2013!


Five Ways for Small Associations to Reach Critical Mass

Hands counting to five
The last few years have been challenging for most non-profit organizations. But in many ways, the smallest associations have had the toughest road.

These are the organizations that lack the staff and resources to mount the consistent, relentless membership programs that will bring them the next wave of resources to build and maintain critical mass. It’s a Catch-22 that is familiar to too many of the associations that participated in Greenfield Services’ 2012 Pulse Report.
A large proportion of survey participants were scrambling to cope with serious limitations in financial and human resources.

  • More than two in five respondents (42.2%) identified limited funding as one of their top three concerns, and one-third (32%) listed limited staffing.
  • Associations with annual budgets under $1.0 million accounted for 56.5% of survey respondents, but 72.5% of the group that listed limited funding as a top concern.  
  • Associations with five or fewer staff constituted 47.6% of the survey group, but 59.7% of the respondents with funding concerns.
  • Nearly half of survey respondents (47.1%) reported that their organizations had no membership marketing plans in place.

It’s a well-worn platitude that you have to spend money to make money—and the platitude is cold comfort when money is limited. But now the good news: targeted membership strategies that build communities and relationships can be a good deal more affordable than an all-out advertising blitz. And by generating fierce loyalty among new recruits and established members alike, they can boost retention rates and build a foundation for a more stable organization.

Here are five tips to get started:

  1. Identify, understand, and micro-target the specific audiences that have the most to gain by joining your association. You might need a different set of facts and arguments to catch each group’s attention, sign them up, and keep them engaged.
  2. Get your audience’s permission to communicate. The law may require it, but even if it doesn’t, why would you waste resources and generate ill will by sending repeat messages to people who don’t want to hear from you?
  3. Keep the messages flowing, before and after they sign up. Marketing theory says it takes eight to 10 touchpoints to reach a target audience with a message that requires a decision and action, but the 2012 Pulse Report found that only 8.5% of associations followed up seven to 10 times as members’ renewal deadlines approached.
  4. Vary the format and sourcing of your membership messages. A single touchpoint might be an email, a phone call, a text message, a direct mail letter or post card, a survey, a contest, a magazine ad, or social media messages, and you can alternate the contact members receive from staff, board members, volunteers, or other opinion leaders.
  5. Maximize your use of social media to build communities, establish your organization as a thought leader, and keep tabs on the issues that are most important to different audience segments.

These community-based strategies take more thought and planning than a single, one-size-fits-all marketing campaign. But they can be surprisingly affordable—and, more important in the long run, they work. If you haven’t been building critical mass with the same old approach to membership development and retention, maybe it’s time to shift gears.