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Associations Scramble to Do More with Less

For the second year in a row, research by Greenfield Services shows that Canadian associations are scrambling to build strong, effective organizations without the resources to do the job.

That means they’re living out an axiom that we forget at our peril:

Beyond a certain point, you don’t do more with less. You do less with less.

Greenfield’s 2013 Pulse Report painted a stark statistical picture of the day-to-day struggle facing too many organizations. The research showed that:

  • The majority of associations with 2,000 or more members “were trying to deliver exceptional service on budgets of $5 million or less,” and one-third of them with 10 or fewer staff. 
  • Two-thirds of associations with fewer than 250 members (67.7%) were operating with five or fewer staff, and more than four-fifths with 250 to 750 members (81.6%) had 10 or fewer staff.
  • Between 2012 and 2013, difficulties meeting members’ specific needs and insufficient staffing became even more prominent as the biggest member engagement challenges facing Canadian associations. 
  • Between 30% and 40% of respondents expressed concern about their associations’ lack of strategy, budget, or member-driven research to support broader member engagement.

It all adds up to “a necessary fiscal prudence that might still be starving organizations of the resources they would need to attract larger memberships,” the report stated.

The Cost of Saving Money

Every organization should operate as efficiently as it can. But after years of scraping by on the barest possible budgets, many Canadian associations are scraped raw. They’re so lean that they can’t afford to invest in the educational programming or member engagement strategies that will help them thrive, rather than just surviving.

And after a while, a bad habit becomes a vicious circle: substandard outreach erodes member engagement, so that retention rates drop or remain stagnant…just in time to drag down next year’s programming budget.
The cost of saving money is crystal clear in the responses to the Pulse Report survey. Two-thirds of associations see membership growth and retention as a top priority, and nearly half want to boost their revenue, visibility, and member participation. But fewer than half identified the ability to demonstrate member ROI as a top priority—indicating that they either lack the strategic focus to deliver on members’ needs, or just can’t afford to get the job done.

The ‘Insurmountable Dilemma’

For the second year in a row, a question about membership retention strategies showed that associations weren’t doing nearly enough to open year-round conversations with their members and make a strong case for them to renew.

“With traditional funding sources drying up and established membership models shifting, it’s no surprise to find Canadian associations in search of more revenue,” the Pulse Report noted. “But with the Internet creating multiple new opportunities for professional development, networking, recognition, and any of the other benefits that associations have traditionally offered, associations will only attract and retain members by offering superior levels of service and engagement.

“For many associations, this may create an insurmountable dilemma: as long as current resources are insufficient to fund quality programming, that programming will fail to draw enough member participation and revenues to support a more robust, responsive organization.”

Greenfield Services Inc. released the 2013 Pulse Report at the National Conference of the Canadian Society of Association Executives, September 18-20, 2013 in Winnipeg. Contact us today to receive your own copy by email.