Membership

How to Cultivate a Sense of Belonging

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October 23 @ 7:01 pm 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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October 23 @ 7:01 pm 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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gen z, generation z,

How Cancel Culture Will Change Your Organization

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October 23 @ 7:01 pm 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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October 23 @ 7:01 pm 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

October 23 @ 7:01 pm 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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Should your association consider adding a Gen Z membership tier?

October 23 @ 7:01 pm CDT

With a recession, a pandemic, and a tough job market, some associations are looking to target Generation Z with new member offerings. It can work if you prioritize their engagement, Sarah says in this interview with Associations Now.  

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The End of Membership As We Know It

October 23 @ 7:01 pm CDT

  This year marks the 10th anniversary of the writing of my best-selling book, The End of Membership As We Know It. As ominous as it sounds to say we’re at “the end” of membership, there is no denying we’re at the end of an era. Especially now. There was a resurgence in purchases and interest in The End this past year, as associations once again contemplated their futures. Change has been increasingly difficult to ignore, accelerating in economies, technology, demographics, workforces, industries, and governments the world over. These changes, both the small and the significant, influence our skillsets, values, and behaviors. Over time, these changes influence how we communicate, define success, and make purchasing decisions. But just because we’re at “the end” of membership as we know it doesn’t mean we’re at the end of your association. This isn’t a finish line. As challenging as this time may be for your organization, I would urge you to approach the coming year as an opportunity; an opportunity to innovate and build a future-focused community poised to prosper and grow for generations to come. In fact, this is more than an opportunity. It’s a responsibility. Your association wasn’t founded to host events, maintain status quo, or uphold traditions. Rather, associations were founded to serve the needs and interests of the members, engage and represent a community, and provide value, relevance, leadership, and vision. The year 2021 is an opportunity to fulfill that mission and responsibility. In 2002, I founded a future-focused consulting firm to help organizations engage younger generations, prepare for the future, and stay relevant and competitive. Since then, our company has expanded and so has our audience. We’ve reached leaders in more than 36 countries who have sought our expertise in how to sustain during an era of disruption. I am incredibly grateful for those who have been on this journey with us since “the end” arrived and committed themselves to innovation, relevance, and finding a new path forward.…

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Membership Diversification: THE strategy for growth

October 23 @ 7:01 pm CDT

There has never been a more critical time to develop a diversified membership strategy.   What the heck is a diversified membership strategy and why do you need one? Diversification is a strategy designed to foster relevance via new deliverables and expansion into new markets. According to our research, when social change occurs, it influences value shifts, which ultimately influence what members need, want, and expect from their membership experience.   To stay relevant and valuable, associations need to understand their community’s needs and what behaviors and deliverables will drive future success.   How do you know if your association is using the right strategy? Here’s how to tell: Struggling to engage the participation of younger generations Largest percentage of revenue is generated by events Board of directors is not a visual representation of the community the association represents Leadership roles are reserved only for those people with considerable experience and credentials Value proposition is unclear Tradition and hierarchy The association’s mission isn’t considered “must have” or critical to the betterment of an important purpose, cause, or call to action Engaged, multi-generational membership Revenue streams are diversified with largest percentage from membership All decision-making entities feature a cross-section of people with varying backgrounds, skills, experiences Systems in place to actively engage the participation of new people and new ideas Clear value and return on investment Innovation and collaboration Members consider the mission and a membership in the association valuable, relevant, necessary, and important Creating diversified membership strategies is our firm’s area of expertise. Contact us for more information and get ready to grow membership!

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Membership growth in a time of crisis

October 23 @ 7:01 pm CDT

How to measure your association’s value Research shows membership is more likely to grow in times of crisis. This is because people are seeking solutions that a membership would typically provide. So if your organization is struggling to engage and retain members or drive revenues in this pandemic, it’s likely because the membership strategy isn’t showing the value. Value is measured in two key areas: emotion and return on investment. When a membership is valuable, it’s because the membership helps to solve an immediate need and provides a sense of community and belonging. When a membership is valuable, its deliverables aren’t easily accessible to those who aren’t members and it’s a ‘must-have’, meaning that members rarely, if ever, question whether to continue their involvement. Unfortunately, many associations have strayed from their member-centric missions, investing more resources into event planning, large-scale campaigns, and decisions which diluted value and placed non-members and members on a level playing field. As a result, many associations are observing decline right now instead of momentum and growth. This statement, made by an association executive I was recently speaking to, sums up the migration away from membership perfectly. He said: “Membership is only the membership director’s job. No one else here needs to be thinking about that.” Make no mistake about it. If you work for a membership association, membership is your job. It is, in fact, the responsibility of anyone who represents and interacts with the members on the association’s behalf. Another example of the migration away from membership: I recently polled an audience of association executives and the vast majority reported 40% of their annual revenues come from live events. These associations had backburnered membership to focus on producing bigger events in fancier venues. I know this is the rule and not the exception, because data indicates membership totals have been declining and the average age of members has been aging for the past two decades. The fact is, most membership organizations have simply lost their way. Member disengagement and decline didn’t occur due to a lack of smart, ambitious, dedicated, or inspired people. We didn’t suddenly morph into a society of ‘non-joiners’. Disengagement happened because…

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Focus on what matters

October 23 @ 7:01 pm CDT

Strategies to rely on in a time of crisis   The pandemic, like every crisis, is unfolding over an arc of time. Beginning, middle, end. What was, is, and will be.   For nearly two decades, I’ve researched and observed organizations in crisis situations. What I’ve learned is that while crisis requires executives to both lead and manage effectively, most crisis situations are over-managed and under-led.   Addressing the urgent needs of the present is the work of management. You need to make immediate choices and allocate resources. The pace is fast, and actions are decisive.   Leading, by contrast, involves guiding people to the best possible eventual outcome over this arc of time. It’s thinking about who and what is likely to come next and readying the organization for the future. That means seeing beyond the immediate threat to anticipate the next several obstacles.   This is where our organization lives – helping organizations plan for their futures and strategize not just for short-term success, but success that will sustain for the next several years.   However, the majority of organizations (research indicates 80 percent) get stuck in survival mode, managing the immediate response and never thinking about the future. Here’s how to get unstuck:   Step Away from the Day-to-Day The human brain is programmed to narrow its focus in the face of a threat which empowers leaders to make important, immediate decisions. But if you stay in ‘fight or flight’ mode for too long, innovation, collaboration, and visioning become non-existent. It’s critical to get a bird’s eye view of the situation.   Ways to accomplish this: engage in conversation with your community; set aside time to contemplate the future; educate yourself on trends; clearly identify where you want the organization to be positioned at the end of the crisis.   Trust and Support Managing a crisis is thrilling. Adrenaline spikes as decisions are made and actions are taken. You feel fulfilled by providing value and having…

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