“Get Focused” was the theme of this year’s ASAE meeting held in Chicago, August 18-21. ASAE gives association executives an opportunity to leave their office issues and problems behind for a few days (or at least in theory) and “get focused” on making their associations better.
Given the large number of sessions offered at the ASAE meeting, it is often difficult to summarize the meeting in a few words, but it seemed that at least in the sessions I attended at this year’s meeting, the theme could have been “get focused on member value.” The theme of value began with the opening keynote speaker, former Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler. Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing company for those looking for outside funding for projects. According to Strickler, companies and organizations should not just focus on financial value and should not just pursue growth for growth’s sake. It’s that mentality that has led to the closing of many small businesses, the growth of chain stores and restaurants, stagnant wages, and the loss of opportunity (and creativity) for a whole generation of future entrepreneurs. He urged associations to ask three questions: Why do you exist? What is different about your organization? What will be success for you?
Providing value to members is key for associations, and therefore association executives should focus on that value. Most of the sessions I attended focused on providing value to members. “Key Metrics to Identify Member Loyalty” (presented by Pam Loeb and Peggy Smith) provided some up-to-date information on how member loyalty depends ultimately on providing member value. According to the presenters, “Engagement comes from exceeding expectations which means being relevant and providing value. “ Most of the presentation focused on a recent member loyalty study done by Community Brands (in fact, a free copy of the study is available for download on their site communitybrands.com). The researchers who conducted the study examined the top reason that members do not renew. The top three reasons are: became too costly (34%), association provides little value (26%), and changed industry or profession (19%). However, if you consider that when a members does not renew because of cost, it usually means that the “value” is not worth the cost. Therefore 60% of nonrenewals are related to the lack of value to the member. What do members value? According to the this study, the top benefits valued by members are: a code of ethics or common set of values and standards (55%), industry information (52%), representing their interests (47%), fueling growth (44%), advocacy (42%), and raising awareness (42%). The study also looks at what three groups of members (super members, rank and file, and value seekers) value the most in their membership, and look at generational differences among each of these segments. In short, the association needs to determine what members value and then focus on providing that to them.
Another session I attended likewise focused on value. The session entitled “Revitalizing Member Onboarding” presented by Nancy Burke, Robin Muthig, and Ashley Uhi also focused on communicating value to new members. According to the presenters, communicating value is only accomplished by “connecting, listening, and engaging.” Inundating the new member with emails about the benefits of membership often just overwhelms them. The major goal of an onboarding program should be to increase engagement of the member. The problem with most member onboarding is that the association either sends only one welcome letter or it sends large numbers of emails at once. Likewise, after the onboarding some associations are then unreachable or do the same onboarding process year after year without asking for feedback. To do an adequate job of onboarding, member segmentation is essential, the onboarding campaign should equate to drip marketing, the messages should be kept simple, and feedback should be sought. It is only then will the value of membership be properly communicated to new members.
The importance of value to members also was reinforced in a session I attended entitled “Achieving Innovation: The Forty-Year Old Startup.” The session was a stark reminder that doing things as they had always been done and ignoring changes affecting the members and/or an industry can result in disaster for an association. The Independent Book Publishers Association almost closed its doors and barely had enough money to operate for two weeks when the executive director and board took drastic action to resolve a number of issues. However, after doing that, one of the most important things it did was clarify its value proposition. Now the association is thriving.
Understanding the value that the member desires also means that the association executive is aware of economic megatrends. Rich Karlgaard, publisher and columnist at Forbes Magazine noted that understanding these trends can help associations succeed. For example, one megatrend is that digital technology is not slowing down but speeding up. In fact, it is estimated that 40% of the top 500 companies will fail in the next five years. Given that these businesses usually have a lot more resources than associations, what hope is there for associations? According to Karlgaard, businesses (and associations) must become adaptable by implementing these four practices: digital fluency, cultural clarity, human resources (investing in people), and team genius (getting the right size team). By doing this, a company or association can provide value to a customer or member.
Providing value to new members is not a new concept but is essentially at the heart of what membership organizations do. However, given all association executives have to deal with and the new challenges we face, we often get lose focus on what is most important – determining what the member values and providing that value to them. That message was loud and clear at this year’s ASAE meeting