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Job #1: A Relentless Focus on Providing Value to Members

By: Philip Lesser, PhD, CAE , BOSTROM Corporation - Chicago
Source: Center Collection
From Bostrom Published: November 2005

Philip Lesser, Vice President of Bostrom Coporation, speaks to the benefits of outcome-based planning as a way of attracting and retaining members by demonstrating true member value.


Job #1: A Relentless Focus on Providing Value to Members

By Philip Lesser, PhD, CAE

Many experts agree that associations are facing a crisis in member confidence and support. The struggling economy, rising unemployment, and the increased competition for members' time and dollars are all robbing associations of membership renewals and dues revenue. "Time poverty" among volunteer leaders is also starving association boards of the volunteer talent they need to do their jobs. And instant access to information on the Internet is making members question why they need an association to stay current in their industry and/or profession.

Can associations survive dwindling dues revenues and reduced volunteer levels? Can they adapt quickly enough to meet the challenges they're facing?

While the current social and economic changes confronting associations are sobering, experts agree that a competent association executive and a strong board can provide the leadership that's needed to adapt to change and succeed in today's tougher economic environment.

Experienced association executives and boards understand the realities of the current economic and social environment. And that reality is…members are looking for benefits that add value to their businesses or practices, not merely a basket of products and services.

But how do boards orient their organizations to focus on the delivery of member benefits versus product and service features? The answer is through a process known as outcomes-based planning.

Outcomes-based planning calls for the board and staff to focus relentlessly on ways the organization can provide value to its members. They understand the difference between features of the organization and benefits to the member, and they know that value is only provided to members through benefits that enhance their business or practice. Consider the following comparison:

A. Your association's annual membership directory

B. Active participation in the association leads to business contacts that can result in new business opportunities

Can there be any question that members will renew their memberships in an association to receive the benefit offered in B as opposed to the opportunity to receive a copy of the member directory described in A? We don't think so.

And that's why most so-called strategic planning is unsuccessful and often ignored by associations: traditional planning is usually feature-based and "how to"-oriented, and not relevant to the ultimate goal of meeting members' needs. Classical planning elements are typically used in outcome-based planning, but they too need to be benefit-focused as opposed to feature-focused.

For example:

Mission              Statement of the value provided to members
Goals                Major benefits needed to achieve our mission
Objectives          Measurements of our goals (benefits)
Implementation   Specific ways we will achieve our goals (benefits) such as timelines, budgets, and operations

If being benefit-focused is the key to outcomes based thinking, then being measurement-focused is the key to successful planning. Good plans always include measurements of how the organization's member benefits will improve member businesses or practices. Again, we underscore the importanceof measuring member benefits versus measuring the number of activities, attendees, or new members added.

Figure 1 points out some of the qualities of an outcomes-based management style versus a more feature-oriented style.

Figure 1 - outcomes-based management

 Feature-Oriented  Outcomes-Based
 How To  Value Added
 Means  Ends
 Inputs  Outcomes
 Activity  Accomplishment
 Products/Services  Solutions to Problems
 Features (e.g., membership directory)  Benefits (e.g., new business opportunity)

Most associations don't pay attention to strategic planning because it is usually feature-based and, therefore, of little value in creating an understanding of how to attract and retain members to the organization. Outcomes-based planning, on the other hand, concentrates on understanding member needs and articulating what benefits the association has that respond to those needs and enhance the member's business.

This discussion is more than an academic excercise. An association's survival depends on maintaining and increasing revenue and volunteer levels. Yet, members are in control of the situation by choosing which association will be the recipient of their time and dollar investments.

Do you offer the best value for your members' investment or is another association about to steal it away? You might want to find out!

Philip Lesser is a Vice President of Bostrom Corporation.

230 East Ohio Street, Suite 400
Chicago, IL 60611-3265
Tel: 312-644-0828
Fax: 312-644-8557

1444 I Street NW, Suite 700
Washington DC 20005-6542
Tel: 202-216-9623
Fax: 202-216-9646

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  Victoria George , February 22, 2008
Outcome thinking has been used in businesses for years to achieve success. The value that the customer places on the service you give, is the reason he/she is there. Value determines the final bottom line of all income and growth of any organization.
I believe the challenge is in the thinking and restructuring of how the association operates. Most associations need to streamline and redevelop technological outreach to all of their consumers to stay ahead of the game. Value is in the direct application, process, and receiving of services to members, on a daily basis. Think of how you are reaching members with digital information and services, this is a good place to start. There are ways to deal with declining membership and revenue. In order to change and adapt to present times, associations need to be as technologically advanced as all other business in the market delivering information and knowledge to consumers.


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