How many times have you heard committee members try to maintain the status quo with this statement? The problem with struggling associations these days, though, is that the status quo is stagnant – what used to work simply doesn’t work as well anymore. Members of associations everywhere are rethinking their return on investment, questioning everything from dues to monthly meetings. What used to work even five years ago no longer works today to bring in new members or please anyone except the most loyal members (probably the same traditionalists I’m referring to).

What is your association doing differently than five years ago?

We’ve all heard the famous saying attributed to Einstein:

“the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

Associations that are relying on doing things the same way they’ve always done them are definitely not facing the reality of our new culture. Members no longer simply renew dues and attend monthly meetings because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s the norm in a particular industry.  Every dollar and hour spent with an association is measured these days against the value it brings.

If you aren’t delivering new value, you are in danger of bleeding out members.

You can’t blame the economy anymore

People join and participate in associations these days because they are looking for new ways to engage, network, and drive new business opportunities.

What is your association doing to serve these needs differently?

You’re not just competing with other associations that serve the same audience – you’re competing with the association you used to be a few years ago. If you haven’t evolved, you’re standing still. If you’re standing still, the rest of the world surely is passing you by. You can’t blame the economy anymore – if you’re not retaining or increasing your membership base as the economy recovers, then your current and former members are telling you in no uncertain terms that you’re not providing the value they need.

What can you do about it?

How about forming an Innovation Committee, comprised of current and prospective (and possibly even former) members? Mix in different generations and professions to get a strong representational group that is truly reflective of the association you want to be going forward (NOT the one you have been in the past). Task the committee with revisiting every aspect of the association, with nothing being off-limits.

Why not involve the entire membership with a social media campaign or an anonymous poll? Find out from as many people as possible what they want and need, don’t just rely on input from the longest-standing members who traditionally form an association board.

Whatever your method of triage, you’ve got to find out what matters most going forward. Forget traditions that no longer serve your members or help you grow. You simply can’t afford to do the same thing again and again and expect different results – trust Albert Einstein, I’m sure he belonged to an association or two.


If your organization is struggling, now is the time for action. Register for our newly developed courses specifically designed to help membership organizations more effectively engage and retain members.