Membership|Save the Associations

Old MacDonald Had a Farm…E-I-E-I-O….U?

December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

Many people who meet me are surprised to hear that I’m originally from Iowa. Those who know me closely can tell you that I’m…more of a city mouse than a country mouse. It’s true though! I was born and raised in Iowa, a state known for its rolling plains and cornfields. It’s also known for its farming industry, and as the leading producer of corn in the U.S., there is a lot of farmland. Growing up, we learned the nursery rhyme “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” early on, and like many other families, it has been passed down to each generation. As the lyrics go: Old MacDonald Had a Farm E-I-E-I-O Regardless of whether you grew up surrounded by farmland, you likely were taught this song too and how could you forget it? The lyrics are very easy to commit to memory. I’m not about to sing you a nursery rhyme, but when it comes to membership, those letters E, I, and O are actually very important. For my version of things, I’m also adapting it a bit by adding the letter “U.”  The EIOU acronym is one that I have developed after years of organizational and generational research. When working with associations, I use it to teach the four pillars of a successful, relevant, organization. Just like we memorized the nursery rhyme as children, I want you, as a leader, to commit this initialism to memory! E: Exclusive As we start to return back to in-person events, I’m hearing from several associations that program attendance is high. This is great news, but when I ask them about how membership is faring, I’m usually met with a pregnant pause. Many confess that membership is either stagnant or declining, and are at a loss as to why. I’ve discovered that one of the reasons this happens is because the boundaries have been blurred between what services and benefits members and non-members receive. In other words, their exclusivity…

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Dialing Into Your Member-Centric Mission

December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

Have you ever stopped and thought about how remarkable cell phones are? With so many new models emerging on the market, it’s easy to take for granted how much of an impact they’ve had on our lives. With this small, powerful tool, we have unlimited access to networks, information, and relationships – all in the palm of our hand. Technology continues to shape much of who we are as a society today, and your association is no exception. In the late 1990s, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were two Ph.D. students at Stanford, who began collaborating (in their garage!) on a new piece of technology after it appeared to Page in a dream. When they started telling others about their revolutionary idea for a “search engine,” they were mocked and often disregarded by corporate investors. Despite the lack of faith and support, they persevered. Three fundamental beliefs would drive Page and Brin as they began to expand their company: People want to do meaningful work. They want knowledge about what is happening in their environment. They want the opportunity to shape that environment.  For those of you familiar with this story, you know that Larry Page and Sergey Brin went on to found Google, pioneering the field of search engine optimization. Their invention would have a resounding impact on the workforce and pave the way for other tech companies. Today, Google is widely considered to be one of the happiest (and most productive) workplaces in the world. Following Google’s launch, corporate giants followed Google’s model, vowing to put their employees first. When we look back on these models today, they make sense, but we have struggled to adapt many of the practices to our membership organizations.  Many associations like to think that they put people first, but in actuality, they have lost sight of their membership mission. It’s time to ask yourself: is your organization truly member-focused? To answer this question, you may be searching for…

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Take A Chance On Your Members!

December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

My family loves board games. They are a great way to bring our family together and energize our competitive spirits. One of our frequent go-to’s is Monopoly, where strategy is key and the objective is to outsmart your opponents by acquiring the most valuable assets and properties. After years of playing Monopoly, I’ve come to the realization that there is a lot about this classic board game that applies to membership associations. You may not realize this, but associations actually used to be considered monopolies. They dominated the marketplace and didn’t have much competition, making it easy to attract and retain members. Back then, the value of being in an association was, well, being in the association. Belonging to a membership organization was a societal expectation, and for a while, that was sustainable. Over time, however, economic shifts and demographic changes began to negatively impact these organizations, causing membership to flatline. Much like in the game of Monopoly, it began to feel as though they were rolling bad dice – but it wasn’t because of luck or chance. It is not just a series of bad events that are plaguing associations – many have simply lost sight of their value proposition and relevance in today’s world. A value proposition is a targeted and concise promise or statement to your members and a cornerstone of your organization. The purposes of this message are threefold: It should clearly explain what your association will deliver.  It should communicate why members should join. It should describe what your members will experience or receive as a result of their membership (this is also referred to as their ROI or return on investment). For centuries (yes, centuries!), organizations offered the same simple value proposition: you will have access to our community by joining our association. Members could attend meetings, conferences, and exclusive events as part of their dues – and that was enough. Today, the rules of the game have changed, and…

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Hats Off to a Member-Focused Mission!

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December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

As an organizational leader, you are likely wearing way too many hats. One minute you are attending a board meeting, the next, you’re reviewing bylaws and approving event proposals. It’s a reality many association executives face – being pulled in multiple directions because there is always something demanding attention. The role of executive extends far beyond “leader” and includes responsibilities such as committees, community initiatives, campaigns, conferences, etc. – the list goes on! But what if there was a way to take off a few hats and get back to the mission at hand?  Oftentimes, associations are doing so much that they lose sight of their mission and end up going down paths that don’t impact the growth of the organization. You wouldn’t expect to walk into a hospital and learn that they know nothing about medicine, or walk into a bank and discover they know nothing about finances. The same goes for your organization – you don’t want prospective members learning that your association doesn’t truly know its member base and their interests. That would surely be a quick way to deter them from joining your ranks. Prioritizing members should be the central focus of your organization.   We all have an innate drive to do something bigger and better, but success is really in the small details…in finding the hat with the perfect fit. If you are consumed by tasks or initiatives that don’t serve members and instead are focusing on things that dilute your value proposition, you are putting your organization at risk. And we all know that membership growth and retention directly correlate to our organization’s success. What does finding the hat with the perfect fit mean?  …Realizing that big-picture and unfocused ideas can be distracting  …Narrowing your focus toward membership value (that ties back to your mission!)  …Recognizing you might be engaging in antiquated programs and initiatives that need to be revamped, or even abandoned. They might have been around forever but can…

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Target Your Market

December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

My daughter is passionate about books. My husband and I also love to read, but she is the true bookworm in our family, devouring whatever she can get her hands on. Whenever we go to bookstores or libraries, she will leave with a stack of books that gets added to the piles and piles she’s already acquired at home. I always wonder whether she will read all of them, and inevitably, she does.  When working with associations, I often liken the stacks of books my daughter balances on those outings to their “target market.” A target market is an audience that an association is trying to reach and serve. In this metaphor, each additional target market that an organization adds to its repertoire makes it more difficult to manage and do its job effectively.   Years ago, I worked with an association struggling with membership growth and engagement. When I asked their leader to define their target market, he listed ten – yes, ten – groups of people they were trying to serve. Members and stakeholders alike felt overwhelmed, confused and were leaving the organization at an unprecedented rate. Similar to a pile of books, the more markets your association carries, the heavier the burden.  A target market is about honing in on a very specific audience and focusing on quality over quantity. Rather than being “everything to everyone,” they focus on attracting a specific demographic that will extend the organization’s lifespan.   Throughout my career, I’ve seen two common mistakes made in how associations approach and define their target market:  They cast too wide of a net. I’ve worked with several associations that believe that growing membership means contacting as many people as possible in hopes that they will join. When your target market is too broad, you risk diluting your deliverables. Narrowing your focus allows you to better serve your members. They, in turn, will feel they are getting a valuable return on their investment. They…

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Your Next Mission: A Value Proposition!

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December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

Years ago, I attended a conference for one of the associations I was working with. While waiting for the speaker to begin their presentation, I overheard the woman next to me having a heated conversation on the phone. At one point, she blurted out, “Don’t they understand that without our organization, they wouldn’t have anyone advocating for them? What would they do without us?!” My curiosity was piqued, and I quickly learned that she worked for an association that helped set food safety standards, and she was frustrated about legislation impacting her industry. Her background was fascinating, but what most intrigued me was her passion and urgency.   That encounter marked a notable shift in my mindset and prompted me to ask one question about the organizations I was involved with: What would happen if they didn’t exist?  For many organizations, this thought hasn’t entered their minds. Still, I’ve found that thinking this way invites meaningful discussions and forces leaders to reevaluate how they are engaging with their members. In other words, it drives them to think about the story they are sharing with members and whether it is being communicated with passion and relevance. The story you want to share with your members is your “value proposition.” And it needs to matter to them.  A value proposition is a targeted and concise promise or statement to your members and a cornerstone of your organization. The purposes of this message are threefold:  It should clearly explain what your association will deliver.   It should communicate why members should join.  It should describe what your members will experience or benefit from their membership.  Unfortunately, many associations make the mistake of creating a value proposition tailored to the masses – not their specific membership interest. Their statements are too broad or ambiguous and frequently will confuse prospective and active members, leading them to look elsewhere and join other organizations. In my experience, there are two common mistakes that associations…

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Your Niche Is Your Pitch

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December 4 @ 12:54 pm CST

With the NFL playoffs just around the corner and the Superbowl only weeks away, football fans are more energized than ever, eagerly anticipating how their respective teams will perform and whether they will take home that coveted championship title. My family supports the Minnesota Vikings, but I was part of a Chicago Bears household growing up. Not a football fan? Maybe there is another sport or team you support. Sports teams provide us with electrifying energy, excitement, and a sense of belonging.     We all want to be part of a winning team.    I want you to think about the following scenario: what if your favorite team added other skill sets to its repertoire? For example, if the Bears or Vikings suddenly announced they were also going to play baseball, volleyball, or some other sport in addition to football, they likely wouldn’t have the same value to their fans. We support specific teams because we consider them the best at their craft, not because they do it all.    Membership associations aren’t much different. Your members will typically join your organization because you provide something others don’t.     That one thing that sets you apart from the rest is your “niche” and is the secret to long-term, sustainable success.    Unfortunately, when challenges arise, many associations tend to overcompensate by trying to be accessible and available to everyone by offering too many services. This reaction leads to confusion, frustration, and burnout amongst your board and members alike. Associations in these situations quickly lose focus of their niche and, ultimately, their purpose. What many organizations don’t realize is that there is money to be found in niches. By carving out an area of expertise and being the ‘go-to’ resource, you will attract more members, and thus, more funds.   In today’s marketplace, your organization needs to offer access to something of incredible value to eliminate your competition. To help find your niche and maintain it, I recommend regularly…

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