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Creating Value for Members

Meredith Low provided this guest post.  She is a management consultant, focusing on helping organizations and companies understand how, when, and where to grow in the context of fast-changing environments. Her work with associations includes leading strategic and tactical planning, performing assessments to position conferences and meetings for growth and durability, and assessing the needs of members and other stakeholders. 

When’s the last time you talked with other association professionals about how to create value for members? 

A few weeks back, I was at a CSAE Trillium Table Topics event, where we got the chance for facilitated discussions in small groups, and one very interesting topic was “creating value for members,” facilitated by Chris Larsen of the Human Resources Professionals Association, with a great group of people from across the association spectrum.

The discussion uncovered a few ideas which I thought were worth sharing – and one overarching theme. The ideas first:

  • Make sure you’re thinking of members’ emotional interests:
    • Credential programs can really help members get feelings of value from others they deal with (their employers, or customers), and can lead to them feeling supported by the association.
    • Save members time and make them feel capable by curating content for them – this can be as simple as someone pulling the most relevant stories from a news-feed and repackaging it out to the membership in the form of an email. 
  • Having said that, you also want to appeal to their rational side. One way to do this is to quantify the value of a credential, e.g. by comparing salaries of credentialed vs. non-credentialed professionals.*
  • Create loyalty by sticking with members through employment changes: 
    • Consider a reduced dues strategy if your members might be on leave or out of work, to retain them through changes in employment status. 
    • Are there ways that out-of-work members can support other members in the meantime? One example was a hotline to provide advice. What could work in your association?
    • Run a job board open only to members. 

Hands-down, though, the most significant theme that emerged – and it’s certainly not a new one – was to talk to your members and prospects. Early. Often. Repeatedly. In as many ways as you can manage.

Many people around the table had suggestions and stories that related to insights they got from telephone campaigns or interview research, which they would not have been able to get any other way. Even an annual survey is best augmented with direct purposeful conversation, by adding qualitative interview research, in order to hone in on the priorities, needs, and interests of both members and prospects.

Be open to the idea that these discussion are not going to tell you what the topic of your next course should be; but rather, could lead you in a whole new direction. There are a million ideas about what members might value. Make sure you have an idea of what your members do and would value, and take a creative approach to creating and delivering it to them.

* The quant geek in me can’t help but note that are going to be a whole bunch of confounding issues in this kind of data; for instance, being committed to the industry and profession, being dedicated and capable enough to achieve the credential, etc., all might contribute to the higher salaries. So use this kind of data with care, and don’t exaggerate the claims, for fear of losing your credibility, particularly in a quant-oriented environment.