A Member-Focused Value Proposition

By: Melynn Sight and Carol Weinrich Helse

Develop a strategy based on your members' wants and needs, and your association will deliver the most relevant suite of products and services to them, leading to higher membership numbers and greater engagement.

While most association board members think they know what association members want, there tends to be an unintentional disconnect between what the board members believe they know and what association members actually want. Volunteer leaders and executives tend to focus on membership benefits, not the value proposition. In doing so, the association loses an important opportunity to articulate what is really important to members and what will ensure that those dues checks keep coming.

Thinking about value from the outside in—starting with what members worry most about—will help leaders begin to think, plan for, talk about, deliver, and promote the most relevant portfolio of services.

What is a Value Proposition?

10 Steps to Develop and Launch a Value Proposition

1. Gain approval. When leadership considers this a strategic initiative, it will fuel the process from development through implementation.

2. Determine if you'll do the project yourself or if you'll hire a third party.

3. Do your research. Assemble a diverse task force of members to help plan with "the voice of the member" in mind.

4. Identify up to three important member audiences.

5. Determine the biggest concerns and needs of these three member audiences.

6. Create a draft of your value proposition based on how your association currently answers the biggest needs of these three segments.

7. Present drafts (or recommendations) to your board for approval. Finalize the value proposition and proof points that support it.

8. Develop a communications and launch plan for your value proposition. Use the value proposition in association marketing materials, on the website, and in your CEO's talking points. In other words, make it visible.

9. Execute on your value proposition. Consider how to incorporate the value proposition into strategic planning, committee work, and staff operations.

10. Survey and ask members for feedback to determine if you are making progress. Report measurements back to the board along the way.

A value proposition offers members a clear, sound rationale for joining, belonging, contributing, and taking advantage of what your association offers them—starting with what they think is valuable. It differentiates why a member chooses to belong to your organization, a competing organization, or none at all.

Developing a value proposition is a multi-step process that will aide in organizational planning and membership growth and loyalty. The outcome is a clear, direct claim that is relevant to your important audiences and represents what your association does well today. The written proposition is a statement that helps tell your story of relevance in a concise messaging platform that becomes the basis for all your association's communications.

What's Your Problem?

Early in the process, be clear about the reason why you need a value proposition in the first place. Some associations say they need one to unify their staff; others know how much they offer members but need a clear, simple way to articulate it. With the specific motivation for your work, you can keep your focus on the goal throughout the process.

Leaders are increasingly seeing value propositions as the most meaningful step toward building and sustaining association membership. A well-researched and crafted proposition guides strategic planning, staff communications, and gives a purposeful approach to committee work.

Recognizing your members' needs first and then purposefully feeding those needs into your association's strategic work can be a radical shift in thinking. This change in perspective can help organizations rethink how they plan, organize, and set goals.

Invest in the Process

A value-proposition project is not a simple one. Ideally it includes a task force composed of a diverse group of members who will devote a significant amount of time to the process. Task force members must clearly understand their role as well as the definition of a value proposition. The association's executive director should be involved in facilitating board awareness before, during, and after the project.

The most relevant value proposition projects begin with a member survey to uncover issues members worry most about, what members value, and how satisfied they are about the areas that are most important to them. Satisfaction with the wrong offerings is an unproductive way to run an association.

The value proposition process requires investment. Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, you must invest manpower, energy, and money to develop the proposition and collateral to communicate it. Then it takes energy and focus to communicate and sustain your claims if you want to affect change.

A Change in View

A clear, concise value proposition will change the way your association approaches its business. A credible value proposition forces you to evaluate your services and communications with members with a benchmark that is set by them. It also pushes you to make internal decisions from the members' point of view. This is a significant shift for many organizations and one that can create some meaningful dialog about current and new services. Are the services and activities that you offer today clearly ones that mean the most to your members? This can create conflict with programs that are sacred cows. Embrace the new view and overcome the conflict, and your value proposition will lead to stronger programs, more effective committee outcomes, and higher member satisfaction.

Now is the time to begin this process so that you'll have more members writing next year's membership checks.

Melynn Sight is president of nSight Marketing, Inc., and Carol Weinrich Helsel is owner of Pastiche Communications. Email: [email protected]; [email protected]

Melynn Sight and Carol Weinrich Helse