Membership

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

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May 16 @ 6:56 am 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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The Membership Tricks That Work Like Magic

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May 16 @ 6:56 am 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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A Recipe for Great Culture

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May 16 @ 6:56 am 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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Young People Aren’t Joiners … Or Are They?

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May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

“Young people today just aren’t joiners.” How many times have you heard someone make that statement? It’s often used in frustration, accusing young people of being unreliable and unwilling to follow in another generation’s footsteps. It’s easy to point fingers and blame ‘kids these days’, simplifying it down to a generational stereotype — a pre-existing condition which repels young people from joining any membership organization. ‘Young people aren’t joiners’ is a frequently used answer, which means it’s the easiest answer. But it’s not the right answer. It’s true the decision to join an organization is accompanied with more consideration and scrutiny than in years past. From employers to faith-based groups, service clubs, and professional associations, people no longer connect to organizations simply because it’s what they are expected to do. There is a myriad of reasons why this happened, all tied to major social shifts, including but not limited to shifts in education, parenting, technology, demographics, politics, and economics. The bottom line? How we engage in and build community has changed and continues to change. So has the concept of ROI – return on investment. In 1994, associations experienced their first encounters with noticeable membership decline. At the time, Gen X was entering the workforce and when they didn’t immediately transition into membership, they became the first generation of non-joiners, referred to as slackers and the ‘what’s in it for me generation’. Regrettably, not much has changed since then. Membership decline has sustained, and I still hear leaders blaming young people for the organization’s impending ruin. If young people aren’t joining, there’s a reason why. At the core of our being, all people want to belong. We all need and want to be in community with others – and we all want to join a community supportive of our needs and interests. My years of research prove young people are joiners. However, they are seeking new and different ways to engage, and many organizations have struggled…

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Tired businessman sitting near declining arrow

Is your Membership Declining?

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May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

In December 2020, Wild Apricot, a company that helps small membership organizations grow by providing tools and resources, released their 2020 Membership Growth Report. In this report, the group speaks to tactics and strategies to help organizations increase their memberships. They learned that 68% of organizations surveyed have had difficulty growing their membership; 25% did not grow at all; and 11% shrank. Wild Apricot turned to our expert, Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University, with several questions about their findings. Here are Sarah’s responses. ‘Why are so many membership organizations struggling to grow?’ I’ve been researching membership engagement trends for 20 years and the simple fact is, membership decline occurs when associations aren’t responsive to the needs, interests, and expectations of their members. When membership decline first made headlines, there was this widespread belief that people aren’t “joiners” anymore. The reality is, we’ve experienced numerous social disruptions in recent decades, and these disruptions have directly influenced shifts in buying behaviors, communication preferences, and values. How members engage in associations and what they want from their membership experiences has changed — and will continue to do so. Change is a constant now. Unfortunately, many associations have held steadfast to tradition, resisted change, and backburnered innovation. They forgot they were membership associations and stopped putting their members’ needs and interests first. ‘What do you think membership organizations need to do in 2021 and beyond to remain relevant?’ First and foremost, know what members need, want, and expect. To stay relevant and valuable, associations must understand their community’s needs and what behaviors and deliverables will drive future success. This requires surveying members and opening up channels for ongoing feedback and dialogue. I’d also urge associations to deploy a diversified membership strategy that relies on the introduction of new revenue streams, outreach to engage new audiences, and being intentional about bringing new voices and skillsets into the association’s decision-making roles. Going forward, it will be critical that associations serve the…

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How to Cultivate a Sense of Belonging

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May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

Early in my career, I was recruited to sit on a board of directors and asked to spearhead a priority initiative for the association. I was both humbled and ecstatic to take on such an influential role. Imagine my disappointment when I attended the first meeting and the initiative was tabled. During the next several meetings, I was informed the initiative would continue to be delayed. Suddenly, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. I felt like I didn’t belong. At some point, we all experience the feeling that we don’t belong. It’s a feeling we can all relate to, yet many organizations struggle to foster a sense of belonging among their members and employees. Belonging by definition means two things: ownership and a secure relationship: We feel ownership when we actively contribute and share our ideas and opinions; and We feel safe and secure when we’re listened to, respected, and encouraged. In the late 1990s, belonging began to dissipate. From workplaces to churches, service clubs to country clubs, associations, and non-profits, the same trend was observed: Young people were less likely to join/stay/engage/renew. In other words, young people were less likely to feel like they belonged. Why the sudden shift? And why have so many organizations struggled to re-engage young people? Society is hyper-aware and focused on inclusion right now, but simply including people is not enough.  I’ve spent a lot of time researching this trend in an effort to find the answers. The answer is quite complex, but here’s the condensed version: The shift in belonging is the direct result of significant social change. Young people are wary of forging connections and emotional ties. They seek positivity, security, and respect. They are careful about who and what they trust. Young people are less willing to wait for organizations to create a place for them to belong, and more likely to hold organizations accountable for their actions (or inaction). For far too…

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How to Deal with an Organization in Denial

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May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

A year ago, President Trump was under fire by experts and pundits for being in denial about the seriousness of the pandemic. In the early weeks, the President referred to the virus as a hoax, refused to issue a federal stay at home order, and hesitated to fully utilize the Defense Production Act. Unfortunately, leadership denial isn’t exclusive to presidents or pandemics. Henry Ford’s denial ended up costing the company a whopping $250 million. Model T sales were declining, yet Ford dismissed the figures because he suspected rivals of manipulating them. One of his top executives warned him of the dire situation and Ford fired him. When he finally decided to make a new car, Ford shut down production for months and the company lost its lead in the market. Denial is a prominent problem among leaders, and it can lead to serious consequences. I was thinking about the power of denial recently while facilitating a meeting with a company’s leadership team. Even after presenting data to indicate irreversible decline unless the company changed course, the team struggled to see the problem. Their conversation immediately turned to a quick fix, which was the equivalent of throwing a rock into a raging ocean. Solution aversion is a powerful barrier to organizational change. Research indicates the majority of leaders rely on the ‘ostrich’ response to change, denying or ignoring the need to change until something forces a response. A popular meme, which features a cartoon dog surrounded by flames, captures this sentiment perfectly. The caption says: This is fine. There’s brain science and social science involved in our responses to change, but the bottom line is this: When the path to a solution seems too overwhelming or difficult, we prefer to avoid it. From backburnering a diet to avoiding a tough conversation, the struggle is one we can all relate to in our personal lives. Likewise, in the workplace leaders will downplay the importance of investing in a…

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How Cancel Culture Will Change Your Organization

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May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

Given the opportunity to time travel, would you choose to visit the past or the future? I was participating in a virtual happy hour when this question popped up. Some experienced professionals jumped in, sharing moments in history they wanted to visit. The conversation was bubbly; people were happily caught up in their imaginations of what it would be like to experience a bygone era. Then a student from Georgetown University spoke up, and just like that, the mood shifted. “I want to visit the future”, she said. “I want to visit the future to see how much damage has been done by the actions of our society today.” Gen Z (1996-2009) are the teens and early 20-somethings who have become largely renowned for holding up the mirror to society, forcing us all to take a closer look. Under  their watch, the concept of cancel culture has been trending for most of the past year, which has become a polarizing topic of debate. Regardless of age or experience, feeling ignored drives  people to disengage, quit, protest, and cancel. The process of ‘canceling’ usually goes like this: A public figure or organization does or says something offensive. A public backlash, often fueled by political views and social media, ensues. Then there’s call to take away their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts or disciplinary action. Cancel culture has been referred to as a mob mentality, encouraging lawlessness, censorship, and the erasing of history. It’s also been referred to as a long overdue way of holding people accountable for propagating racist and sexist ideas, toxic behaviors, and making unethical, immoral decisions without any regard for others. Although it started as more of a political debate, cancel culture has now moved into the arena of generational debate. In 2019, the OK boomer meme and videos were an attempt by Gen Z to ‘cancel’ the generations that came before them. OK boomer was meant to be cutting and dismissive; a snarky…

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Why They Quit: How To Retain Young Talent

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May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

As vaccines are being distributed, there is hope the worst of the pandemic is nearing an end. But if research is any indication, another kind of crisis may just be heating up. As SHRM defines it, a “turnover tsunami” is brewing, with more than half of employees surveyed planning to look for a new job this year. Employers were experiencing high rates of turnover prior to the pandemic. In fact, voluntary turnover had been steadily rising since 2010, and was cited as a chief global concern by both the UN and World Economic Forum. When the pandemic hit, quit rates reached their lowest level in nine years – and now they’re bouncing back. Just this week, I’ve heard from three executives lamenting the loss of young talent. The fact remains that professionals under the age of 39 account for more than half of all voluntary separations. Why? Increased employee turnover is the outcome of a shift in workforce needs and values, and it’s a shift that is here to stay. This is a topic I’ve researched a great detail and the answer is quite complex. In brief, here are two reasons why young professionals are three times more likely than other generations to quit: Inclusion We’re observing an ever-widening gap between twentieth century managed organizations and twenty-first century raised workers. Young professionals don’t understand the management processes and hierarchies common throughout the past century. These generations have only known a world powered by innovation, collaboration, globalization, instant gratification, knowledge, acceptance, and access. They struggle to comprehend why decisions can’t be made on the fly, why they can’t have a seat at the decision-making table, and why it’s always been done ‘that way.’ Stability Millennials came of age during the Great Recession-the worst economic decline our country had experienced in 70 years. Gen Z has come of age during the most disruptive         decade in history. These experiences have shaped the career trajectories of young professionals in more…

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The best incentive for membership growth

May 16 @ 6:56 am CDT

I’ve been asked this question many times in the past few months and my response is always the same: Incentives don’t work. During pandemic, associations focused on being accessible and supportive. When the going got tough, members appreciated access to free professional development courses and dues extensions. This was important and necessary. Members needed support, and associations provided it. Incentives can be meaningful, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they will generate membership growth. Don’t confuse culture with collateral. Prospects will rarely make the jump to join solely to take advantage of a special offer or perk. These strategies tend to be short-sited and ineffective. Why? Because there are only two ways to influence a person’s behavior: manipulation and inspiration. Manipulation works for a nanosecond, while inspiration leads to a more meaningful, long-lasting relationship. Getting free stuff is awesome! But the commitment to a purposeful culture is considerably more effective at generating growth. Consider the story of the consultant tasked with increasing the profitability of an auto mechanic franchise. She visited the company’s locations and interviewed employees and customers. A few months later she sat down with the executives and said: ‘Want to increase sales? It’s simple. Improve your waiting rooms.’ The executives were upset. They were expecting to receive revolutionary marketing and customer acquisition strategies guaranteed to drive increased profitability. But the research revealed dark, dirty waiting rooms and unfriendly customer service. After one visit, most customers didn’t return. Until this obstacle was cleared, revenue growth would prove difficult, if not impossible. What’s in your association’s waiting room? In other words, what’s the membership experience really like? If you want to drive membership growth, now is the time to take a closer look. In the aftermath of the pandemic, organizations of all types and sizes will be vying for attention. Fueled by a ‘life is short’ perspective, the market won’t settle for experiences that feel negative, inadequate, or irrelevant. Now, more than ever, people need to feel aligned to a mission and they want to feel included in that mission. Exceptional, inspiring membership experiences drive growth. Forget the incentives and focus on what really matters.

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