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10 Steps to an Associate Membership Makeover

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, October 2010 Intelligence

By: Aaron D. Wolowiec, CAE

Summary: How the Health Care Association of Michigan association revitalized its associate membership program.

In 2007, the Health Care Association of Michigan, a statewide trade association representing Michigan nursing and rehabilitation communities, initiated a complete review of its associate membership program to seek ways to enhance member value and create a comprehensive marketing tool for recruiting new associate members.

As a result of this review, HCAM's Membership Committee recommended that the associate membership program undergo a complete restructuring. Following nine months of discussion and collaboration, a tiered associate membership structure emerged. Today, this very successful program provides all long-term care vendors—from small start-up companies to large, well-established corporations—an opportunity to partner with HCAM in a way that meets their individual business needs. View a sample of HCAM's membership brochure here.

These 10 steps guided the HCAM Membership Committee through our membership program redesign:

1. Identify the need. Through direct or indirect member feedback or your association's internal commitment to continuous quality improvement, the first step in redesigning any program is to scan the environment and identify a need for change.

2. Establish a committee. Once the need has been identified and supported at both the staff and board levels, form a committee of all relevant stakeholders. Be sure to include those who will be most affected by the change.

3. Evaluate the current program. Be open and honest. What works? What doesn't? What opportunities exist to add value? Carefully consider the engagement of current members across the association, both in terms of time and financial support.

4. Research alternative options. Your members are likely involved in many other organizations. Ask them to share their experiences as members of these groups. Also, reach out to the association community for additional perspectives.

5. Draft a new program. Armed with good information, begin to draft a new membership program. Incorporate lessons learned and committee member feedback. Be patient and expect to produce a number of redrafts. This step can easily take several months.

6. Solicit member feedback. When a final draft is ready, share it with all current members. Be transparent about the reasons for initiating the redesign. This is your one chance to secure member support. Be prepared to answer questions and be open to feedback.

7. Finalize a marketing tool. Incorporate solutions to member concerns into the final version of the membership program. Additionally, spend some quality time and resources crafting a professional marketing tool as well as an effective new-member recruitment process.

8. Launch the program. Gather contact information for as many prospective members as possible and distribute your marketing tool widely. Respond promptly to all inquiries.

9. Educate, educate, educate. Despite all your attempts to inform current members about the program redesign and the new, improved services you're offering, some members may be unaware or unsupportive of the changes. Be prepared to mitigate pushback.

10. Evaluate program success. The new program should be thoroughly reviewed within the first year of launch. Which products and services were used? Which were not? What other opportunities exist for improvement? Make appropriate adjustments to the program with committee support.

Today, vendor support of HCAM is at an all-time high, both in terms of relationships and the association's bottom line. Likewise, the new Associate Partnership Program—a very important and deliberate change in name that better reflects the commitment between HCAM and its members—has begun to sell itself.

But this program didn't grow spontaneously overnight, and neither will yours. Be patient. Gain support from key stakeholders early in the process. Don't be discouraged by a lack of membership growth in the first year. And, above all, only consider a membership program redesign if it's for the right reasons.

Aaron D. Wolowiec, CAE, MSA, CMP, is director of education and associate partnerships at the Health Care Association of Michigan, a Diversity Executive Leadership Program scholar, and chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee. Email: aaronwolowiec@hcam.org

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