Save The Associations

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

May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

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…

Read More

NextGen: Ready Or Not, Here They Come!

May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

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…

Read More

Help Your Hive Thrive

May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

Spring is officially in full swing, and with the turning of the seasons comes new growth and…bees! As the flowers bloom, bees swarm in to pollinate them, carrying that precious nectar back to their hives to be converted to honey. This whole process really is a “win-win-win” scenario for all parties involved when you think about it. The flowers benefit, the hive thrives, and consumers get that delicious honey. This “pollination process” applies to your membership organization as well. You want the best for your association, which is why you build a board of influential leaders, plan dynamic programs, and put meaningful initiatives into action! You want to gather something genuinely exceptional and bring it to more people so they can all benefit. Unfortunately, many organizations are fearful of pollinating. They help their communities behind the scenes, opting to avoid “unnecessary” attention or recognition. I was recently at a dinner with the CEO of an organization who shared with me that his association helped rebuild a sports stadium that had encountered funding issues. Without the help of his association, the initiative would never have come to fruition. When I asked how this economic development boosted momentum for the organization, he responded, “Our members didn’t know about it.” They didn’t know about it?! Surely he was mistaken. I probed further. He went on to tell me that the association worked behind the scenes as a silent partner to avoid hurt feelings and publicity. He didn’t realize that while the association’s partnership benefited the community, it held little value to the members who were unaware of its existence. When no one knows about the accomplishments within your organization, no one benefits.  Much like a hive, your organization needs to attract strength, power, and success – and share it! Whenever I speak at strategy retreats, I like to conduct a “Legends Exercise,” where participants identify good things happening within the association that not everyone may know about. This activity…

Read More

Is Your Board in a Downtrend? Bend!

May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

Before you read any further, I’d like you to picture a rubber band and a ruler – an odd request, I know, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this. Maybe you have both of these items on hand in a desk drawer, a junk drawer, or in your garage, but for now, envision them. In terms of their functions, one binds things together while the other serves as a measurement tool. Believe it or not, rulers and rubber bands have quite a bit in common with your organization – specifically when it comes to your board of directors.  To understand why we need to go back in history. During the Industrial Era, business leaders made two key realizations that would shape industries for centuries to come. First, if they could get workers to produce more goods faster, they’d yield a more substantial profit – simple enough. Second, they realized that employing workers with more experience within a respective industry could boost profitability and productivity. Back then, that mentality was effective, but today, given the constant innovation and disruption that continues to define the 21st century, is that the best model for your organization? What once worked in a previous era is no longer relevant. It’s time to consider whether your board of directors is repeating history and perpetuating this dated model. I’ve worked with several organizations where I’ve likened the board of directors to a ruler. Similar to a ruler, they are inflexible and are measured – measured in their risk-taking and their approach to change. Their every move is calculated, and they slowly, methodically take their time to make things happen within your association. Their thinking is too linear; they believe that members need to start at the bottom, working their way up the ladder to earn leadership positions. They tend to hold their board seats for extended periods and are rigid about tradition. This type of long-arch thinking no longer applies to modern…

Read More

Dialing Into Your Member-Centric Mission

May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

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…

Read More

The Membership Tricks That Work Like Magic

, ,
May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

We’ve all witnessed a magic trick at one point or another in our lives. Whether it’s a card trick, a rabbit being pulled out of a hat, or a disappearing act, all of these illusions are meant to do just that – create the “illusion” or mirage of something real. If you had your own magic wand, what type of magic would you cast upon your association? Would it be an increase in membership, a boost in revenue, or enhanced value for your stakeholders? Believe it or not, you can accomplish all of this (and more!) with a few key changes to your membership approach – no trickery or magic necessary. Many organizations think they understand why members join their community, but nine times out of ten, they’ve got it wrong. When someone joins your association, it’s not for the networking or programming opportunities, the advocacy you provide, or perks you offer. Rather, people are joining your association because they believe you can help them solve a problem they personally identify with. No matter what type of organization you are (professional, trade, community, or social), your target audience will be driven to your doorstep if they think that you hold the solutions to the challenges they face. To understand the problems you should be solving, its best to begin by understanding what kinds of problems your members are currently dealing with. The most powerful piece of advice I can share with you is this: what is happening within your membership is reflective of what’s happening in the workforce. Many associations fail to recognize this, and are suffering the consequences in the form of disengaged and declining membership. The good news is that there are solutions that can help reverse this trend. In order to understand how we got here, we must go back in time. Membership decline was a phenomena first reported in the mid-late 1990’s at a time when workforce decline was also happening simultaneously.…

Read More

Convincing NextGen Members to Binge on Your Organization

,
May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

Take a moment to think about your favorite television show. What genre does it fall under? What is it about the show that keeps drawing you back for just one more episode? I’d like you to also consider how you watch the show. Perhaps you record it, or maybe you stream it through a virtual platform. Growing up, MTV was the thing to watch. Not only was it on 24/7, but it offered programming that aligned closely with my interests and was readily available for viewing, which kept me tuning in for more.  MTV came onto the scene in 1981, during a major social and cultural shift that would impact generations for decades to come. This channel was part of a much larger development: broadcast cable TV.  The launch of broadcast cable television in the early 1980s ushered in a new era of unprecedented customization and globalization. Suddenly, channels were tailored to a viewer’s interests, and network ratings dictated when and how often a show was aired. Live news coverage from across the world began to flood into the homes of anyone who owned a television set, exposing them to current events taking place on a global scale. It may sound unusual, but the dawn of cable television and your membership association share more in common than you may realize.  Research shows that brain development has evolved over the past several decades and it is no coincidence that television has played a role. Today’s younger generations are visual learners who have been conditioned to crave information that is easily accessible, on-demand, and instantaneous. I like to refer to it as an “edutainment” mentality. Your NextGen members want the same type of experience when it comes to their membership – one where opportunities and choices are readily available and at their fingertips. Over the course of my career, I’ve uncovered several misconceptions that pertain to membership organizations. One of the most shocking sentiments I’ve heard regularly is…

Read More

Take A Chance On Your Members!

May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

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…

Read More

A Recipe for Great Culture

, , ,
May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

A great recipe is one that uses quality ingredients, is made with special care, and loved by all who are gathered to try it. It may be an unusual metaphor, but the culture within your organization isn’t much different from a spectacular dish that draws everyone to the table. What if I were to tell you that there is a secret recipe for fostering a truly great culture that will attract more members? Furthermore, what if the ingredients are already at your fingertips?  Culture contributes to the feeling that people get whenever they interact with your organization. Members want to feel positive and secure within the organization and to be inspired by its leaders. They want to feel driven to contribute and participate. You have to make sure all association stakeholders are working together as a team, towards a common good.   I once heard the expression, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and it wasn’t until years ago, when I was working for an organization in crisis, that I finally understood what it meant. Within a three-year timespan, we had experienced a 75% turnover rate amongst employees and worked under three different executives. These disruptions resulted in confusion, chaos, and ultimately, discontentment. Board members were disengaged and lacked a presence within the organization. This lack of leadership will directly contribute to conflict within the membership. Strategies were developed to address these problems, but ultimately, the same issues kept surfacing.   Looking back now, I’ve come to realize that although an association can have a beautiful, robust strategy, it will backfire if a positive culture is not the norm. In other words, negative culture will consume an organization, regardless of the strategies that are intended to strengthen it.   The quality of an association’s culture directly correlates with the efficacy of its leadership and the collaborative efforts of its stakeholders. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered several organizations in crisis. I’ve also learned that the recipe for a thriving culture…

Read More

Hats Off to a Member-Focused Mission!

,
May 16 @ 7:11 am CDT

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…

Read More