6 Messages That Show How Little You Care About Your Members

By: Anna Caraveli

If you think what your association says is exactly what your members hear, think again.

Every association today wants to be seen as member centric, but no amount of craft or frequency in messaging alone can alter the true force that drives a member's decision to join or stay with your association: the member's perceived value of membership. To grow membership, today's association must address the gap between rhetoric and action: what an association tells itself it is doing and what members might actually be hearing, judging behavior rather than words.

If your priorities, services, and member communications are focused on what your association wants to accomplish, rather than your members' needs, it's time to refocus. And refocusing requires more than corrections in messaging. While communication is important, having a core truth to communicate—that your organization truly understands what its members need and want and values them as individuals—is even more important.

Consider these six examples of messages and ways of thinking a typical association uses to persuade members (or itself) of its value (or reasons for poor service) in the chart to the right. Then consider what your organization may be actually conveying through its actions.

When the association says: Members may hear:
We have wonderful programs and unparalleled content among our member benefits. We don't need to change or update our benefits; we just need to sell them better. We have a time-tested package of benefits that we need to push to sell. Members do not actually use or find value in all of these benefits, but with increased awareness of what we offer, they will see the value.
We just aren't communicating enough. Our system won't allow us to target our messaging to the individual. We need to contact members as often as possible and give them as much information as possible about how valuable our benefits are. Campaign success is more important than our members. We'll talk to members as if we don't know who they are. And to save costs, we'll make sure every message covers everything our association does rather than specific things an individual member is interested in (because we don't know what that is).
We are increasing staff productivity and correcting problems of slow turnaround and missed deadlines. We don't have time to give members personal service. That's why we worked so hard on those FAQs. Instead of connecting members to staff or calling members directly, we want members to find their own answers online.
We have worked hard on process improvement and have created new, efficient systems and guidelines. We are too focused on processes and committees to bother with individual members. It's not like members need that membership welcome kit right away. After all, they signed up for a year's membership. They're not going anywhere for 12 months.
We have a new strategic plan for increasing nondues revenue. The economy is bad, and we need to seize any opportunity to remedy shortfalls. We plan to ask members for more money right away. In fact, every time we communicate with members we will ask them to spend more. We won't ask for their opinion, tell them what we're doing with their dues, or thank them for their support unless we're also asking for money.
We are embarking on a major rebranding and marketing campaign to boost retention. We plan to focus on messaging, not on providing value. Our surveys show that members aren't aware of all the fabulous benefits we offer. If we can just find the right words, they'll see the value, even if they never did before.

Andrea Pellegrino is principal of The Maia Marketing Group, LLC, in Arlington, Virginia, and Anna Caraveli is managing partner at Connection Strategists in Alexandria, Virginia. Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Anna Caraveli

Anna Caraveli, managing partner of The Demand Networks, LLC, of Alexandria, Virginia, is author of The Demand Perspective: Leading from the Outside In.