membership organizations

Your Next Mission: A Value Proposition!

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May 16 @ 6:57 am CDT

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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Why I started a campaign to save the associations – and why you should care

May 16 @ 6:57 am CDT

It was a cold day. Snow flurries were swirling in the air. Our hands and faces were red and raw from the cold, and we wondered for a moment whether we should just call the whole thing off. It was 2017 and membership decline was experiencing a downward trend — especially among younger generations. Associations everywhere were questioning their value propositions, relevance, and futures, and some were taking considerable hits in revenue or forced to close their doors. Our firm had long researched membership engagement behaviors and trends and I’d spent the past decade consulting with association leaders on the values of younger generations and what they expected from a membership experience. Our clients were able to turn the tide and achieve growth, but many associations were still struggling. Emboldened to help the associations struggling to engage the next generation of members and ‘save’ them from continued decline, we decided to ramp up our efforts. Outdoors on a very cold day in 2017, our team filmed a video titled Save the Associations, encouraging associations to be intentional about their outreach to young generations. In the years that followed, the effort gained momentum. We released an ebook under the same title featuring case studies and best practices, and launched a Save the Associations web show featuring interviews with association executives. All the while, the challenges associations were facing were becoming increasingly difficult. Political conflict, social change, workforce shifts, and advancements in technology were challenging associations and their members in unprecedented ways. Here and now — exactly three years after our team filmed that video — a global pandemic has forced the world to shelter-in-place and work-from-home and associations have been catapulted into a crisis response situation. Whether they are representing front-line workers, organizing efforts to help their communities, recovering from revenues lost to event cancellations, or trying to adapt to a remote and technology-reliant workplace — every association in every country has been disrupted. Our team quickly…

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Tired businessman sitting near declining arrow

Is your Membership Declining?

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May 16 @ 6:57 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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Empowering Association Chapters: A strategy to energize younger generations

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May 16 @ 6:57 am CDT

Associated General Contractors of America – Save the Associations Vol. 11 In the Summer of 2018, we explored what it means for an association to empower young professionals with the Associated General Contractors of Washington. We also spoke to their national counterpart – the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) – about what it means to empower association chapters. National Issues, Local Solutions “Like many industries, the construction industry is very much affected by a shortage of skilled workers,” shared Christi Beatty, Vice President of Chapter Support Services at AGC. “We are not expecting that to change anytime soon.” Starting over 20 years ago, AGC committed to attracting and retaining young talent through a variety of efforts. Their most successful initiative was empowering their chapters to be creative and take risks when designing events and programs for young professionals. “Our chapters are doing a lot of the meaningful groundwork for change,” said Beatty. “By creating events and networking opportunities that appeal to young professionals, our chapters have energized the younger generation, and they’re getting involved in the work of the chapters.” We saw how this empowerment led to the Washington chapter’s success in engaging young professionals on task forces, committees, and at annual events. Beatty shared examples of two other chapters that are thinking outside the box to recruit young talent. The Colorado Chapter of AGC received a government grant for technical education programs after they brought to light the reality of the workforce shortage. The Nevada Chapter of AGC is helping build a magnet school for middle school students interested in the trades. The chapter is helping with the physical building and providing support to the program.   Similarities Across Chapters While each chapter has its own programming and events, Beatty shared that many of the young professional programs across the country are focused on similar ideas. Networking – Young professionals want to network with each other and with senior members at the association. Soft Skills…

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