member engagement

Modernizing Your Mentality: Advocacy and Superheroes

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December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

A common motif in pop culture today is that of the superhero. Growing up, comic books were coveted by my peers, and today, many of those stories have been adapted into books, TV shows, and films. In recent years, the Marvel Universe and DC Comics have produced countless films whose storylines center around heroes. These characters have abilities beyond those of ordinary people and use those powers to enact positive change. They are the ultimate advocates for a cause. When it comes to your association, who are the heroes at the center of your story? It may come as a surprise, your NextGen members can be your greatest superpower. They have the potential to be your most powerful advocates by garnering support for the causes most important to your organization.   Much of my work centers around young people. In my work with Gen X and Gen Zers via think tanks, surveys, focus groups, and interviews, a “hero mentality” presents itself consistently. Young people today believe that they have a personal responsibility to make meaningful change and an impact on the world. This hasn’t always been the case – so what’s changed? Thanks to 24/7 news coverage and the advent of social media, young people are highly aware of the world’s injustices. If you work with (or are currently raising) adolescents, you likely know that the childhood experience has been forever changed by technology and the constant access to information it provides. The last two decades have been some of the most disruptive in our nation’s history. Those who grew up in this era experienced a host of radical changes, including an economic recession, the war on terror, climate change, a pandemic, and human rights issues – to name a few. As a result, they’ve become global thinkers and are well educated about the issues we are facing. They feel compelled and inspired to influence positive change. In recent years, we’ve seen more young people than ever…

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Elevate And Appreciate: Creating The Perfect Membership Experience

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December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

I recently returned from a long overdue vacation to Hawaii that had been planned for almost two years (thank you, pandemic!). If you’ve never been, I cannot recommend it enough. The views, the culture, and the endless list of attractions make it an experience like no other. We had the opportunity to sample amazing cuisine, walk along pristine beaches, and even swim with sea turtles! Perhaps the most memorable experience, though, was when we first arrived and, upon disembarking our plane, were greeted with a warm “Aloha!” and fresh flower lei. This traditional Hawaiian welcome makes you feel instantly excited for what lies ahead and that you’ve truly arrived in paradise. What can we learn from this type of experience when it comes to associations? Have you ever considered what the experience is like for those who show up at your association’s door? Whether it’s a social event, a conference, a professional development program, or even your website, the experiences your organization provides can leave your members (and prospects!) eager to get involved…or looking elsewhere. Now, more than ever, the ways in which your association presents itself, its brand, and how it values members are integral in getting them to invest (and reinvest) their time, money, and energy into your community. I frequently hear leaders lament the fact that their membership base is flatlining or declining – or that they are struggling to attract younger generations of members. When I’ve dug deeper, I’ve almost always found that the member experience is the root cause of the problem for one of two reasons: The membership experience is chaotic and disorganized. The association’s mission is complicated. Too many services are being offered, or member benefits are unclear, making it confusing for prospects and current members to understand what they are actually getting out of their membership. The membership experience is antiquated. The association may lack a social media presence or is using outdated platforms to communicate information with…

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Acing Your Association’s Succession Plan

December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

For as long as I can remember, tennis has been one of my favorite sports. I played from an early age and eventually taught lessons during my summers off in high school. For some, the long hot days, sore muscles, and constant running back and forth may have been exhausting. For me, it was an invigorating activity that required strategy, skill, and patience. Today, I still get just as energized when a tennis match is on TV, and on weekends, I still love to pick up my racquet and head to the courts. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that a comparison can be drawn between tennis theory and membership theory. When I first started researching membership engagement trends in the early 2000s, I observed that older generations (mainly Baby Boomers) valued membership strongly, having been raised to believe that belonging to an association was a key stepping stone in the journey to adulthood. Many Boomers I studied shared a similar experience: start your career, join an industry organization, and earn your seat at the table by continuously investing in your membership. It seems like a recipe for success, right? …Maybe not. At the same time, our research suggested that younger generations were less inclined to join membership organizations. Interest in membership was waning, but why? The turn of the 21st century ushered in major social, economic, and political shifts in our society. Coupled with significant technological advancements, a rapidly changing world swayed young people’s interests, including what they wanted out our their membership experience. The broader data we gathered presented a shocking trend: across the board, 20% of members (younger members) were pushing their associations to rethink and modernize their membership models. They were posing the following questions to their associations: When was the last time you reviewed your membership demographics?How current is your value proposition?What am I going to get out of my membership if I join your association? These questions prompted…

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Strategies for Shifts: How Your Association Can Tackle Change

December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

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

December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

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

December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

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

December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

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

December 4 @ 6:20 am 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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NextGen: Ready Or Not, Here They Come!

December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

Are you a millennial? In my work as a generational researcher, I’ve found there are two ways people typically react when faced with this question. If they are a millennial, they tend to reluctantly admit it as if they are embarrassed. If they aren’t, they emphatically exclaim, “No, thank goodness!” Both negative responses fascinate me because they are indicative of society’s attitudes towards this demographic. So, what was your response? Whether you’re a millennial or not, your organization’s future depends upon younger generations, so it’s time to adapt! Millennials, or “Generation Y,” were born between 1981 and 1996. When they came of age, it was during an era of technological advancement and disruption. They are the largest generation in history (in addition to being the most researched), having been influenced by major economic and cultural events, including the 2008 financial crisis, the war on terror, and the dot com bubble – to name a few.  They grew up with unprecedented access to information – most of which was at their fingertips – and, as a result, are highly educated consumers and communicators. Their life experience is one that has been characterized by globalization, customization, and instant gratification. In short, Millennials are unique in many ways, and reaching them will require new and unique approaches that many associations have not yet mastered, let alone thought about. “Unique” is often synonymous with “misunderstood.” Millennials are often the most misunderstood and criticized generation in history because they have ushered in an era of broad-scale change and innovation. When you think about it, Generation Y is the personification of change.  Let’s face it – change is uncomfortable. It pushes us, stretches us, and as a society, we’ve never been good at welcoming new ideas from younger generations. As the saying goes, “Kids these days…” – you fill in the blank. It’s a sentiment we hear with each passing generation that usually ends with: “…they’re lazy!” “…they’re entitled!” “…they’re difficult to…

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

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December 4 @ 6:20 am CST

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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