Arundati Dandapani is the chief editor of MRIA-ARIM, Canada’s association for research insights professionals and founder of Generation1.ca in Toronto.
Associations need a membership strategy for recruitment, retention, and engagement. Whether you’re updating your strategy or creating a new one from scratch, seven questions can help you focus on membership growth.
It’s tough to survive as an association in any economic landscape—good or bad. Even in a robust economy, associations face many challenges, which is why it’s important to have a membership strategy that guides growth.
Globally, associations operate in an environment of constant social change, instability, and fragmentation. So, when it’s time to re-examine your membership strategy, you’ll need to analyze the disruptive forces that may be affecting your members. Here are seven critical questions to ask during the development of a long-term membership strategy to ensure you’re able to continue to meet members’ needs.
What is your “value story?” Members are usually united by an interest, profession, or industry, and yet associations have many different types of members that identify with practitioner, demographic, geographic, or generational groups. Smart associations not only focus on the value that membership delivers—the “value proposition”—but also talk to member segments in unique and personal ways.
How are you joining member constituents on their aspirational journeys and meeting them where they are in life? Associations are poised for success if they communicate “value stories” that speak to individualized problem-solving and innovation at scale.
Are you helping the next generation of members? Are you giving young members a path to jobs, networking, awards and recognition, and leadership opportunities? Associations need to strike the right relationships with academic institutions and community partners to support the progress of new and diverse professionals. Association leaders should include and empower the next generation of members.
Associations are poised for success if they communicate “value stories” that speak to problem-solving and innovation.
Is technology intuitive and easy to use? Many associations have bulky technology systems that detract from the member experience. Reflect on questions like: Are we using technology effectively to solve members’ problems? What are we doing to keep up with tech trends? And what partnerships are we building to leverage technology innovation? Interactive content, virtual enhancements, plugins or discussions, and event registrations on user friendly yet secure social and payment platforms are some ways to secure member trust.
Are we doing enough to foster collaboration? Associations that are steadfastly building coalitions and partnerships also know how to share and pool resources effectively, saving members time and money. In 2020, consider whether other organizations and the media can help your members succeed. If so, explore ways to form alliances rather than work in a vacuum or against the competition.
Are you forging real and lasting relationships? The language we speak shapes the narrative of membership and can determine whether a member stays or goes. Free your communications of sales pitches, understand what matters to members who attend in-person events, and find new pathways to engage members in face-to-face dialogue. These steps will add variety to member engagements and enable you to act in more human ways, helping to cement loyalty, trust, and longer-lasting relationships.
Are you member-centric? Visionary association leaders remain focused on creating new member value—benefits and services aligned with members’ needs. A disciplined member-centric association may find that it needs to sunset products, programs, or services that haven’t worked for years, and its leaders will engage members in conversations to create better outcomes.
Are we stuck in nonsupportive structures? Association leaders must be nimble and future-ready. This includes being willing to take on a healthy amount of risk in order to develop innovative solutions to common member problems. For example, the temptation to be a “sincere” brand versus an “exciting” one can be at odds with the motivations of a change-starved membership. Always engage in the appropriate research methods to understand what’s driving member needs, and what will allow associations to create supportive systems that help their members thrive.