A Strategic Marketing and Membership Mindset

By: Samantha Whitehorne

How the National Business Officers Association takes advantage of its small staff size when it comes to marketing to its members.

Heading up one association department can be challenging, so imagine if your role was to be the lead marketing, membership, and database person. Sounds overwhelming, doesn't it? But for Steve Doran, it's just another day at the office.

From his post as senior director of marketing and membership for the National Business Officers Association (NBOA), Doran sees balancing multiple responsibilities as an advantage. "To me it's complete benefit to be in so many roles," he says. "It really does allow me to look at the integration of membership and marketing from a high-level strategic standpoint."

Doran breaks down marketing and membership like this: "Marketing to me means that people are already engaging in your organization and want to find out what else you have out there for them, whether that's meetings or a half-hour webinar. You don't have to sell them on who you are—but on your extra benefits and programs," he says. "Membership is convincing people to get involved in NBOA."

For example, when reaching out to nonmembers, NBOA starts by showing them why membership in the trade association should be important to them and highlights the organizations that are already members. "In a way, we hand-feed them and get them to see the benefits," he says. "Letting them know who our other members are helps us sell to them quite a bit, and that is a membership function. Once you cultivate the relationship, they join, and you know they will read what you send, it moves to the marketing function."

In his multiple roles, Doran is positioned well to transition members through these phases seamlessly and strategically. Add into the mix his role managing NBOA's database, which allows him to track participation and predict attendance, and he "can synthesize and analyze and see those patterns—a strategic piece I think every membership person should do."

But Doran says there's still the day-to-day stuff. "We have a number of meetings, which means on some days I have to create a brochure or send out an e-blast," he says. "But these smaller projects still allow me to be strategic on a smaller scale—and a marketer and membership person at the same time. Some of it can begin [as] a membership touch and then [become] a marketing touch or vice versa."

For example, each month Doran reminds members of one of NBOA's benefits. In one case, he wanted to draw attention to the document library on its website, so he put together a printed piece of all the titles in the library and how many times each was downloaded. One financial position statement was viewed by 800 people.

"Members looked at the document we sent and said, 'Wow, I should look at this,'" he says. "And you know what happened? Traffic skyrocketed in the library."

Doran realized that this same financial document could be a good recruitment tool. While nonmembers couldn't access it, they could talk about it, so he took the eight-page, double-sided position statement and mailed it to 1,000 prospects from what NBOA considers its "more-likely-to-join" group.

"That's where I think the utilization of multiple hats can work to your favor," he says. "Everything you have you need to look at as a recruitment or retention or acquisition opportunity. You have to look at what your membership is utilizing and what you're promoting to [them] because that's going to be what you're really promoting to your nonmembers as well."

For Doran, thinking strategically about marketing and membership is all about imagining what's possible.

"I always say the best way you can market or run a membership department is to pretend like you're interviewing. How many times have we told our future boss not what we did but what we want to do?" he says. "Figure out what you want to do versus what you can do, because that's how you're going to be the best membership and marketing person. Your grand ideas can be right-sized to where you are."

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]

Small-Staff Stats

Name: National Business Officers Association
Location: Washington, DC
Staff size: 10
Members: 975 independent K-12 schools
Budget: $3 million

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.