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Steering Your Association Towards a Successful Future

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They cite past traditions and “ways of doing things” to inform current decisions and ultimately, perpetuate a cycle of outdated practices.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 organizations pour their time, energy, and resources solely into programming and it almost always backfires. Conferences, workshops, and other educational programs are important, but I want to remind you that you’re not an event planner – you’re an association that should offer a robust experience with attractive member benefits. 

Membership yields a significant portion of your revenue, and if people start seeing that they can attend programs “a la carte,” you’re left with what I like to call a “skim milk organization.” Members don’t just pay dues; they volunteer, attend events, and spread the word about your organization. They are your most valuable asset, and as such, should experience a ROI that prompts them to return to your doorstep year after year.

If programming becomes the only return on investment people experience when they come to your organization, it is as if they are getting a glass of milk instead of the whole cow.  

You’ve Begun to Nickel and Dime Your Members

We all know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens’ irritable protagonist known initially for his avarice and greed, but eventually realizes there is more to life than wealth. Associations struggling to retain members can quickly adopt what I like to call a “Scrooge mentality,” where they start charging their members for everything, including programs, events, and extra benefits – all on top of their membership dues!

Any time I’ve witnessed an organization employ these tactics, a negative domino effect ensues. Members are left feeling taken advantage of and rapidly become disengaged. Furthermore, they are likely to spread their pessimism about your organization. Your members have invested time, energy, and money into your association and expect a return on investment that leaves them feeling like a valued part of your community. 

So, are you ready to get your association back on course and headed towards a successful future? Perhaps you’ve been sidetracked from your original route by one of these three roadblocks. Luckily, there is a solution to each. With a mission-focused, member-centric approach and the right mindset, you can stay on track and build a lasting legacy for your organization. If you’re ready to dive deep into updating your organization, reach out to us to start developing an action plan.

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