Thursday, June 27, 2013

Defining "Membership Growth"

In the past few weeks I have had a number of conversations with some good friends and colleagues where they used the phrase “membership growth” but in each case their definition differed.  Essential for any association, and almost always a key factor in their strategic plan, a clear understanding of what you mean by “membership growth” is needed to truly measure if the efforts you are making match the results you seek – so here are a few definitions that may apply to what you are trying to do:

Traditional Definitions

      New Member Count Increase – You have succeeded in attracting new members to your organization – congratulations!  Key to this growth is an understanding of WHY they joined – a particular product?  A connection with a component?  A fellow professional encouraging them to do so?  Their employer requiring membership?  Tracking the reason for joining will let you hone your recruitment techniques to connect with the right professionals in the right way.

        Specific Segment Count Increase – In my world this has recently been that our count of global members has grown as opposed to domestic.  Depending on the focus of your organization, these could be segmented by geography, experience in industry (student, young professional, retired, etc), investment in organization (prospect, customer, custom member, full member), etc. 

       Increase in Renewal Numbers – Your organization is retaining a higher percentage of members, resulting in month over month/year over year longer affiliation with your organization.   Particularly when calculating the lifetime value of a member, the longer their affiliation the bigger bottom line return your association will see.
        Total Member Count Increase – Most often the addition of numbers 1+3 above – and also most often the bottom line the Board wants to see.  This is an increase in the total count of members affiliated with your organization.

Less Traditional Definitions

       Member Engagement – Are more members taking advantage of the value engagement opportunities that you present?  Are they getting more involved?  Is there an increase in conference attendance, resource utilization and feedback on your current offerings?  Perhaps an increase in member engagement means greater dialogue – members commenting of private and public social media platforms, participating in surveys and research or achieving your certifications.  Any of these factors could be considered membership growth.

     Volunteer Participation – Though I have only heard it used this way once or twice, an increase in the number of volunteers and/or growth in the tasks they accomplish may indicate a growth in membership as well.  Particularly for organizations where there is a strong reliance on volunteer efforts for membership drives and localized value and programming, this may be a key factor in the expansion of the association.

If your organization has a definition of membership growth I have missed, please add it to the comments below.

At different moments, with varying stakeholders, the definition you intend for my ‘membership growth’ may not be the same one that others are picturing.  While in general ‘membership growth’ is a yay factor, it is key to know what you are celebrating!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Satisfaction vs. Happiness

Surveys fill and often overfill our lives.  As we look to improve the services and resources that we offer our members, and in turn increase their engagement with our organizations, we too turn to these tools to evaluate how we are doing and what changes we need to make.  Of any of these, few are as uniform as our member satisfaction surveys.  They can include the basic “Is your membership fitting your needs” to a long listing of individual products that are touched by member pricing and benefits and evaluation therein.  Thinking about these surveys I wonder…

Is satisfaction the same as happiness?

When we ask our members and customers about our products, satisfaction seems to be the right gauge.  They made a purchase, used one of our products – did it meet their expectations?  Would they recommend it?   What modification would they like to see?  Next to tracking purchase/usage this can be one of the most effective tools we have to measure how effective each product is.

Membership is an animal of a different color.  Though sold on a website, membership is not a product as much as it is a relationship between the member, the organization and the community.  I find it hard to believe when a member is thinking about renewing that their ultimate decision is based on whether or not they were ‘satisfied’ with their membership.  To me, that sounds like – did you have enough line items in your list of benefits?

The value of membership comes down to relationships and engagement.  Did they participate?  Did they take action?  In short, did they feel like they ‘belonged’ and grew from that belonging? 

Following this philosophy, the question of membership renewal becomes less cerebral and more emotional.  While a satisfied member may renew, a happy member will.

Generating happiness is harder in some ways – we essentially have to say, how is what we are creating AWESOME?  How do we ensure that our tools and resources evolve from independent silos to connected experiences that leave our members smiling?  That they walk away on such a high that they can’t wait for their next taste, and with their happiness they want to pay it forward and get others involved? 

If we incorporate easy and logical into access, interweave community sharing and connection into usage and recognition and reward into completion, everything from conferences to certifications will become happiness generators.  And if our members find a place where their money buys them both the knowledge and network access they need combined with an emotional high, the question of membership renewal will be much easier to answer with a positive response.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Get Rid of the Volunteer Cliff

Associations need volunteers.  We rely on our volunteers for strategic insight, strategy and direction.  Our volunteers become our subject matter experts, serving as guides and gurus for one another under the association framework.  Through our volunteers we benefit from local or specialized groups and programming.  For every organization there is a path of growth and recognition, however formal, that a volunteer travels.  Their journey may start from handing out name badges, and in a number of years they may end up on the Board of Directors.   These paths are neither constant nor pre-established, but they exist and we rely on them to drive our organizations forward just as much as we look to the bottom line on the financial returns to be ever growing.

The primary focus for most associations is to feed the pool of volunteers.  As organizations expand there is an ever enlarging demand to fulfill the number of responsibilities to make everything run.  Recruiting new volunteers, avoiding volunteer burnout, creating a volunteer acceleration curve – these are all primary foci of associations.  Yet, instead of creating a volunteer path I believe too often we create a volunteer cliff.
A volunteer has given to you organization – they have climbed the proverbial volunteer ladder and reached the pinnacle – be it the association BOD or their own local chapter presidency – I ask, what next?  Too often we make the assumption that there are lifetime diehards who are so committed to the association that without a next step they will find their own next step of involvement.  I believe this is taking for granted one of our most valuable resources.

We all know volunteers basically work a part time job in the time they commit to our organizations – for no pay.  If we can not help them realize what options they have to continue that volunteer growth, then we risk losing their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the very things that make our associations great.  So they have been Chair of the BOD – even Past Chair – what next?  Do you have a suggested path they should follow?  Options for how they can continue to contribute that are portrayed in a manner that does not seem to be a step backwards?

I believe this is one of our neglected groups of volunteers – the PVIPS (Post VIP’s) – they have had the limelight, influenced the direction of the organization – locally or globally – and have been ‘put out to pasture.’  If you do not have specific ways they can stay involved, then the assumption that they will is false.   Here are just a few options:

1.       Mentorship: for next gen leaders, for those entering the profession, for forming ‘clubs’ of past presidents, vp’s, treasurers, etc – how can these leaders take their hands-on knowledge and serve as mentors to those that come next and beyond
      Advisorships: Rather than mentoring a person, what if these leaders still had the option to submit feedback on the strategic direction and initiatives of the organization?  The BOD would have a knowledgeable source to rely upon for perspective.
      Implementation:  Neither the BOD nor the staff can do everything – and we should not expect them to do so.  After identifying strategic initiatives and creating task forces, etc – what if these leaders stepped into roles of direction and implementation – something nature to their past leadership experience

Of course there are more options – but in whatever path(s) you establish, to forget about your FIBS (Former Important Big Shots as used in my org – yes, they have ribbons) is to let go of one of your most valuable resources.  Our long standing volunteers deserve thanks, recognition, and assistance in understanding how they can continue to contribute and lead.  That path divination is in many ways up to us.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Pluto of the Galaxy

I am on my way home from my association's spring conference where I had the chance to catch up with a number of dedicated volunteers.  In the midst of checking in and offering words of appreciation I came across one hard working volunteer who was not her usual happy self.   As we had a cup of coffee and she caught me up, she said one of those phrases that paints such a perfect picture of emotion and relationships that it had to be shared.

For some time she had been spearheading the committee to create education through webinars for her members.  Though an officer of the local board, she felt like there was an 'inside clique' among some of the other leaders.  It wasn't that she wanted to be part of the 'clique' - but she felt like her input on strategy and direction was not considered equally - that in trying to contribute to the organization she loved, despite her hard work, her voice was not being heard.  In short:

"I feel like I am the Pluto of the galaxy."

Now whether she meant that she was the smallest planet, furthest from the sun and often forgotten, or that she was even no longer considered a planet (which still just seems wrong to me) - either way, it is a feeling of isolation and lack of importance.  Not every volunteer can be President - not every one should be - but every volunteer should feel valued.  Every volunteer should be a strategic partner.  Every volunteer should have a voice that is part of the conversation - after all, it is by their hands that the work gets done.

As for my volunteer above - I am sure that if another group came along that made her feel less like Pluto and more like the Sun that she would shift her own focus to where her input was valued.  It would be a loss to the board, the membership and the organization.  As we look at how we help advise our volunteer leadership, how we work on volunteer recognition, we have to remember that if we don't make our volunteers feel out of this world, someone else will.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Great Marketing is NOT More Email

I am amazed daily at the number of emails that find their way into my inbox - reminders for events I never said I would attend, mock-personalized messages telling me what products/services/education I need though the sender has no clue who I am, 4-5 pages of single-space copy with a call to action that is near impossible to find - and that is just before 9am.  In the age of twitter and pinterest, of free video calls and meetings, marketing has to shift from full-frontal blast to dialogue.  Focusing on three core-areas for most associations, here are a few ways we could really start to connect value in not only what we say to our customers, but in what they can share with one another - let's call them the three C's:

1. Conferences

A call for sessions, a brief description in the program-at-a-glance, evaluations after each class - gargle, rinse, repeat.  There is so much more we can do for our speakers, for our attendees, for the association:

- Once we know what sessions a conference will have, ask each speaker to write a paragraph or two sharing an insight of what they will teach with a few open ended questions
- Create a messaging calendar so that each week a different one of these messages appears on the association's blog/website/social media page.  Utilize a format when professionals can respond to the questions, and then to one another.  Ask the speaker to check this page periodically to respond to follow up questions that come from readers.
- In the online session guide/program-at-a-glance, hyperlink each session to its individual conversation as an expansion of a description of what the attendee will learn.

This approach gives the speaker a venue to hear what questions attendees have on their given topic, allows attendees to start forming a knowledge community that will be able to largely meet in person at your conference - and most importantly gives the association dynamic marketing that encourages those participating in the conversation to attend.  The best part?  Every part of this is professional-created - the association simply has to create the conversation structure and connections.

2. Certifications

Most association approved certifications follow a format of covering a number of core competencies/domains that summarize the foundation of the industry.  Most professionals who choose to become certified enter into the process with expertise in some domains, some familiarity with others, and perhaps only the most basic of understanding of the rest.  Review courses, education, study groups - associations and their components often find ways to help those that want to become certified learn the information that they need.  Many will pair certification-takers with study buddy's who will support each other through the test taking process until that happy day when the letter comes in the mail - you are certified!  Here is your certificate!  Here is your pin!  You get a new ribbon at conference!

And that is about it.  Just to be clear - you have a professional that has spent time, often months, bringing their own expertise to the forefront, closely tied to your organization, and becoming a better student and teacher all at once.  And once they pass - then what?  How are we leveraging these new knowledge experts to have them share that fresh-experience with those who will follow?   For their own journey, how do we ask them which were the areas where, in spite of passing, they could use more information and experience - and then connect them with those opportunities?

In those we are certifying for our profession, we are not only creating better professionals - but also potential knowledge-based advocates on the importance of getting certified, the journey to get there, and how the association invests in their journey before, during and after certification.  Empowering our members to be lifelong learners means reinforcing their achievements as a student, serving as a guide for their ongoing education, and most importantly providing opportunities for them to give back.  You want marketing for your certification, the prep-courses and everything that goes with it?  Get a professional to stand up to say, "I did this, I am better at what I do because of, and you should too.  Let me show you how."  

3. Component Leaders

Geographic chapters, industry specific councils, professional local sections - call them what you will but for many of your members the smaller, sub-set group that they belong to within your association is often where they get top value.  Our volunteer leaders in these communities can be our grass roots welcome wagon - a portal of entry for new professionals/members, a key connection point to the goals of the organization as a whole, and a scouting team for diamond-in-the-rough future leaders.  The potential is there for all of it - but it takes proactive positioning to maximize the power of local leadership.

- We want our component's strategy to be intertwined with that of the overall organization.  How are we sharing the vision of the association with our local leaders?  How are we facilitating the translation of that global vision to what part the local community contributes, and how that contribution is a win-win?  The association's strategy is usually written in consultation with association professionals who bring a background and expertise in association visioning that is a unique skill set.  Most of our components are solely volunteer led - meaning we expect professionals in the field of their unique industry to be able to create similar association-structured visions without having the skilled experts to assist.  Whether it is training sessions, guides and worksheets, webinars or consultations - we have to do more.

- Most members join your association with a single point of entry that defines their awareness - be it a conference, a chapter, the certification, etc.  How do you orient them to the rest of your value proposition, and the opportunities that await if they would only take the next step?  You local leader is a key answer to this question.  If they are knowledge keepers on the association as a whole - on what you provide and the value it holds, then in every conversation, in every program they can personally recommend further involvement for any member.  A passionate, association-aware volunteer is potentially our strongest marketing tool - but we have to invest in their understanding of what we do and what it can in turn do for their colleagues if we want them to tell the story.

- Marketing is not only messaging for today - but also is creating the thoughts of tomorrow.  There is no better way to do this than to nurture the skill and commitment of your future leaders as soon as possible.  Those that have a passion or skill for volunteering will find a place to fulfill that need - there is no shortage of opportunities.  How are you structuring your component connections so that they see the possible paths of volunteer leadership that exist for their visionaries?  By getting these volunteers in early, they will become lifelong marketing superstars for your organization - literally living the narrative of how your association helps a professional to be better at what they do.  Every time they tell that story, you will see membership rise, products sell, and new volunteers raise their hand.  It is a long term investment - but a worthwhile one.


Emails are not going anywhere - neither are expectations that because we put it on our webpage or in a newsletter everyone should know about it.  That is where we were yesterday, and in some ways where we are today.  Tomorrow?  Marketing is about dialogue and relationship building.  It is less about choosing the right font and more about investing in the right spokespeople.  Our organizations are stronger because of those who vocally support and contribute to our mission and vision - if you have a professional screaming from the rooftops that your organization rocks - what better marketing could you desire?