Associations

Strategies for Shifts: How Your Association Can Tackle Change

June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

June is in full swing which means school is out for the summer! I have two daughters in college, both of whom recently returned home from their respective schools after a long and successful year. While it’s wonderful having them back under our roof, our house seems to have expanded to accommodate all of their stuff. Our space has been hijacked by bins of clothes, piles of textbooks, stacks of boxes, and heaps of dorm room décor. At times, it can be overwhelming, but I know I will look back and miss these days in the not-so-distant future. Today, as I looked around at the excess of  “stuff” that surrounded me, I realized that membership associations are dealing with a similar situation. No, they’re not dealing with towers of physical belongings, but there is a lot of stuff that seems to be piling up – and it can be difficult to determine where to begin when it comes to tackling it all.  Since the outset of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve seen profound and unprecedented shifts take place in our society – specifically within the workforce, education, and membership associations. Remote work, hybrid gatherings, mask mandates, and contact tracing became buzzwords in our COVID lexicon – and we continue to see the lasting effects of these shifts today. Of course, many of these changes were unpredictable, but organizations were forced to pivot and adapt accordingly. As a leader, your approach to change (before, during, and after it occurs) is indicative of how successful your organization will be.  In my research as a consultant, I’ve discovered that organizations will take one of three approaches when it comes to change. Perhaps you remember reading about these approaches in a previous post. The Ostriches: Nearly 80% of associations fall within this category. Ostrich organizations tend to avoid change. They think that by ignoring it, it will simply go away. The Explosives: This group of changemakers isn’t effective because their…

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Steering Your Association Towards a Successful Future

June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

As a leader of your organization, you want to create a thriving membership community. The road to success, however, can often be riddled with unexpected bumps in the road and detours that can lead you away from your mission, ultimately resulting in membership decline and disengagement. Although it would be nice to have a map guiding you towards your end goal, they don’t always exist. In my work as a consultant, I’ve discovered three common roadblocks that can hinder an association’s growth – and how you can navigate past them smoothly.  Your Membership Approach is Antiquated I’ve worked with several associations that want to stay relevant to their members, but struggle to modernize. They cite past traditions and “ways of doing things” to inform current decisions and ultimately, perpetuate a cycle of outdated practices. Recently, I spoke with an organization leader who was in the process of updating chapter bylaws because they were experiencing a membership decline. They mentioned that reference was made to the telegram (yes, a telegram!) and that for certain events, members were to adhere to a strict dress code that required women to wear pantyhose. Clearly, this group needed to contemporize to better connect with their younger audience.  To be clear, I’m not trying to vilify traditions. They play an important role in the history of your association and are the cornerstones upon which your membership community was built upon. However, when traditions are interfering with member engagement, it’s time to revisit them and determine whether they are helping or hurting your association’s growth. We need to come to terms with this reality: we live in a world characterized by change and disruption – it’s time for your association to adapt! Your Association Has Limited Return on Investment A revolving door is the last thing your association wants, which is why it is crucial that you create a membership experience that your members continually reinvest in. Time and time again, I’ve seen…

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Cultivate Community For Your Members

June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

Our company is celebrating twenty years in business this month! Over the past two decades, we have had the opportunity to work with scores of membership organizations, and we are so grateful to play a role in their growth. When we launched our company, our mission was clear: help membership and trade associations engage and prepare for younger generations using the data generated from quantitative and qualitative research. Over the past two decades, I’ve discovered what makes an organization thrive – and struggle to survive. Regardless of the size or industry, a strong sense of community and belonging is at the forefront of any successful membership association. I initially began my company because of my negative experience working for a membership association. I was in my twenties, and from the outset,  I felt like an outsider. In other words, I didn’t feel like I belonged. The organization didn’t employ many other women, and many of my colleagues were older and resistant to change. As I looked around and took stock of the lack of diversity and innovation, I feared for the future of our company. However, when I expressed concern or new ideas, I was met with patronizing responses that essentially meant “there’s nothing to worry about here.” Unfortunately, this attitude continues to plague many of the organizations I work with today, but luckily, I’ve discovered the antidote: make your members feel like they belong.  In recent years, “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” have become buzzwords in the universal association lexicon. As a society, you’d think that our values, attitudes, and beliefs would have progressed compared to our ancestors, but as a whole, we still struggle to have an inclusive mindset when it comes to specific demographics. Of course, these ideals should be central to your organization’s mission, but what concerns me is the forgotten fourth buzzword: belonging. There is a key difference between inclusion and belonging, and associations need to take note. Belonging, by definition, means…

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Strengthen Your Membership Momentum

June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

During the pandemic, virtual exercise programs became immensely popular, and from time to time, I’ll throw on my sneakers and press play. The other day, I decided to do an at-home workout and opted to try something new, looking up a cardio program on YouTube. As I got started, I felt energized (and proud of myself!) to be practicing some fitness self-care, getting my day started on a positive note. However, I noticed that the instructor was starting to pause, taking frequent breaks to catch their breath halfway through the class. Suddenly, they weren’t exercising anymore and instead were just directing me on what to do from the other side of the screen. I began to think to myself, aren’t you supposed to be motivating ME? Aren’t you the expert? Suddenly, I started second-guessing myself and whether I’d be able to complete the workout. If it was so hard for the instructor, it must be really challenging for me! Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this type of “give-up” mentality in many of the associations I consult with. Whether from a missed engagement opportunity or volunteer overload, these pull-back, pessimistic attitudes can be contagious and rapidly infiltrate your membership culture like a virus. If you have board members or other stakeholders who talk negatively about your association, it’s likely to ward off any prospects from approaching your organization. They’ll become hesitant about volunteering for your Board of Directors and committees and, eventually, even joining your community. Negative energy within your association can lead to skepticism and membership decline. Conversely, I’ve also seen that positivity can be just as contagious as negative attitudes. As an association executive, it is your job to conduct regular “temperature checks” –  gauging how your members feel about your organization, its mission, and their role within the overall system. You are the ambassador of your community, and part of that job description entails exuding positivity. As a leader, the attitudes and beliefs you demonstrate are…

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It’s Time for Your Association to Leave the Past…in the Past!

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June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

I was going through family photos the other day and came across several pictures of my grandmother. She embodied glamour and never failed to attend social events (even baseball games!) without her pearls. I can remember her always looking put together and polished – the epitome of class. As I perused through the albums, I found more snapshots of her and my ancestors, all of whom were dressed in their finest ensembles for social outings. Times have changed, and today, my two daughters joke that I don’t truly understand what it means to be “casual.” Perhaps I’m more influenced by the previous generations of women in my family than I realized. Still, there is something I love about vintage finds and the era of glamour that my grandmother and her mother were raised in. For me, the past evokes a sense of nostalgia and curiosity about what it would be like to live during another time period.  I have an immense appreciation for trends. As a generational researcher and futurist, I am always looking at trends and how they impact societies’ attitudes and behaviors. It’s probably why I am also fascinated by fashion. Clothing provides a lens into what is happening at any given time, and I’ve found that people’s attire typically reflects current events. For example, the high fashion of the Gilded Age had its roots in both the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. Society emerged from wartimes with a desire for consumption and luxury. Following WWI, clothes were designed to be less restrictive, formal, and more practical as gender roles shifted. Current events and fashion always went hand in hand. That being said, I’m not here to talk to you about the latest fashion movements! Trends play an essential role in our society, and your organization is no exception. It is vital that your association pay attention to trends because you are either ahead of the curve or behind it.  In my work as…

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Help Your Hive Thrive

June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

Spring is officially in full swing, and with the turning of the seasons comes new growth and…bees! As the flowers bloom, bees swarm in to pollinate them, carrying that precious nectar back to their hives to be converted to honey. This whole process really is a “win-win-win” scenario for all parties involved when you think about it. The flowers benefit, the hive thrives, and consumers get that delicious honey. This “pollination process” applies to your membership organization as well. You want the best for your association, which is why you build a board of influential leaders, plan dynamic programs, and put meaningful initiatives into action! You want to gather something genuinely exceptional and bring it to more people so they can all benefit. Unfortunately, many organizations are fearful of pollinating. They help their communities behind the scenes, opting to avoid “unnecessary” attention or recognition. I was recently at a dinner with the CEO of an organization who shared with me that his association helped rebuild a sports stadium that had encountered funding issues. Without the help of his association, the initiative would never have come to fruition. When I asked how this economic development boosted momentum for the organization, he responded, “Our members didn’t know about it.” They didn’t know about it?! Surely he was mistaken. I probed further. He went on to tell me that the association worked behind the scenes as a silent partner to avoid hurt feelings and publicity. He didn’t realize that while the association’s partnership benefited the community, it held little value to the members who were unaware of its existence. When no one knows about the accomplishments within your organization, no one benefits.  Much like a hive, your organization needs to attract strength, power, and success – and share it! Whenever I speak at strategy retreats, I like to conduct a “Legends Exercise,” where participants identify good things happening within the association that not everyone may know about. This activity…

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Is Your Board in a Downtrend? Bend!

June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

Before you read any further, I’d like you to picture a rubber band and a ruler – an odd request, I know, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this. Maybe you have both of these items on hand in a desk drawer, a junk drawer, or in your garage, but for now, envision them. In terms of their functions, one binds things together while the other serves as a measurement tool. Believe it or not, rulers and rubber bands have quite a bit in common with your organization – specifically when it comes to your board of directors.  To understand why we need to go back in history. During the Industrial Era, business leaders made two key realizations that would shape industries for centuries to come. First, if they could get workers to produce more goods faster, they’d yield a more substantial profit – simple enough. Second, they realized that employing workers with more experience within a respective industry could boost profitability and productivity. Back then, that mentality was effective, but today, given the constant innovation and disruption that continues to define the 21st century, is that the best model for your organization? What once worked in a previous era is no longer relevant. It’s time to consider whether your board of directors is repeating history and perpetuating this dated model. I’ve worked with several organizations where I’ve likened the board of directors to a ruler. Similar to a ruler, they are inflexible and are measured – measured in their risk-taking and their approach to change. Their every move is calculated, and they slowly, methodically take their time to make things happen within your association. Their thinking is too linear; they believe that members need to start at the bottom, working their way up the ladder to earn leadership positions. They tend to hold their board seats for extended periods and are rigid about tradition. This type of long-arch thinking no longer applies to modern…

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The Membership Tricks That Work Like Magic

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June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

We’ve all witnessed a magic trick at one point or another in our lives. Whether it’s a card trick, a rabbit being pulled out of a hat, or a disappearing act, all of these illusions are meant to do just that – create the “illusion” or mirage of something real. If you had your own magic wand, what type of magic would you cast upon your association? Would it be an increase in membership, a boost in revenue, or enhanced value for your stakeholders? Believe it or not, you can accomplish all of this (and more!) with a few key changes to your membership approach – no trickery or magic necessary. Many organizations think they understand why members join their community, but nine times out of ten, they’ve got it wrong. When someone joins your association, it’s not for the networking or programming opportunities, the advocacy you provide, or perks you offer. Rather, people are joining your association because they believe you can help them solve a problem they personally identify with. No matter what type of organization you are (professional, trade, community, or social), your target audience will be driven to your doorstep if they think that you hold the solutions to the challenges they face. To understand the problems you should be solving, its best to begin by understanding what kinds of problems your members are currently dealing with. The most powerful piece of advice I can share with you is this: what is happening within your membership is reflective of what’s happening in the workforce. Many associations fail to recognize this, and are suffering the consequences in the form of disengaged and declining membership. The good news is that there are solutions that can help reverse this trend. In order to understand how we got here, we must go back in time. Membership decline was a phenomena first reported in the mid-late 1990’s at a time when workforce decline was also happening simultaneously.…

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Convincing NextGen Members to Binge on Your Organization

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June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

Take a moment to think about your favorite television show. What genre does it fall under? What is it about the show that keeps drawing you back for just one more episode? I’d like you to also consider how you watch the show. Perhaps you record it, or maybe you stream it through a virtual platform. Growing up, MTV was the thing to watch. Not only was it on 24/7, but it offered programming that aligned closely with my interests and was readily available for viewing, which kept me tuning in for more.  MTV came onto the scene in 1981, during a major social and cultural shift that would impact generations for decades to come. This channel was part of a much larger development: broadcast cable TV.  The launch of broadcast cable television in the early 1980s ushered in a new era of unprecedented customization and globalization. Suddenly, channels were tailored to a viewer’s interests, and network ratings dictated when and how often a show was aired. Live news coverage from across the world began to flood into the homes of anyone who owned a television set, exposing them to current events taking place on a global scale. It may sound unusual, but the dawn of cable television and your membership association share more in common than you may realize.  Research shows that brain development has evolved over the past several decades and it is no coincidence that television has played a role. Today’s younger generations are visual learners who have been conditioned to crave information that is easily accessible, on-demand, and instantaneous. I like to refer to it as an “edutainment” mentality. Your NextGen members want the same type of experience when it comes to their membership – one where opportunities and choices are readily available and at their fingertips. Over the course of my career, I’ve uncovered several misconceptions that pertain to membership organizations. One of the most shocking sentiments I’ve heard regularly is…

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A Recipe for Great Culture

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June 30 @ 5:50 pm CDT

A great recipe is one that uses quality ingredients, is made with special care, and loved by all who are gathered to try it. It may be an unusual metaphor, but the culture within your organization isn’t much different from a spectacular dish that draws everyone to the table. What if I were to tell you that there is a secret recipe for fostering a truly great culture that will attract more members? Furthermore, what if the ingredients are already at your fingertips?  Culture contributes to the feeling that people get whenever they interact with your organization. Members want to feel positive and secure within the organization and to be inspired by its leaders. They want to feel driven to contribute and participate. You have to make sure all association stakeholders are working together as a team, towards a common good.   I once heard the expression, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and it wasn’t until years ago, when I was working for an organization in crisis, that I finally understood what it meant. Within a three-year timespan, we had experienced a 75% turnover rate amongst employees and worked under three different executives. These disruptions resulted in confusion, chaos, and ultimately, discontentment. Board members were disengaged and lacked a presence within the organization. This lack of leadership will directly contribute to conflict within the membership. Strategies were developed to address these problems, but ultimately, the same issues kept surfacing.   Looking back now, I’ve come to realize that although an association can have a beautiful, robust strategy, it will backfire if a positive culture is not the norm. In other words, negative culture will consume an organization, regardless of the strategies that are intended to strengthen it.   The quality of an association’s culture directly correlates with the efficacy of its leadership and the collaborative efforts of its stakeholders. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered several organizations in crisis. I’ve also learned that the recipe for a thriving culture…

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