Archive for the 'Membership' Category


The new association “normal”

John Graham

John Graham, president of ASAE

This month’s guest blog post is an interview with John Graham, ASAE president. Association Adviser conducted the interview and posted it on Aug. 18.

ASAE The Center for Association Leadership, which supports the interests of more than 22,000 association executives and industry partners representing 10,000 organizations worldwide, sat down with President John Graham about new membership models and game changers he sees happening for associations during the coming year.

Association Adviser: John, we’ve been talking about the “new normal” for a few years now. How do you think associations are handling the transition to the faster-paced, “what’s in it for me” demand from their members?

John Graham: Actually, it’s a huge opportunity vs. being a challenge for associations. But a lot of these tech advances are expensive. Many associations don’t have the resources in reserves, but you do have to make the investments. For instance, we’re a larger organization, and we invested about $5 million throughout the last three to four years in our website redesign. We had to take money out of reserves, not from the operating budget. That’s a big commitment in the future.

AA: You referenced ASAE’s hybrid membership model in your opening remarks at ASAE’s annual convention in Detroit. Can you tell us more about how it will work and how other types of new membership models are working for other associations?

JG: It’s going to work exactly like the small staff association model works for us now. If you look at small staffs, generally only the CEO (or executive director) is the member and [the] rest of the staff has to rely on the CEO to share what they learned [from ASAE]. Our new model lets [staff] who wouldn’t normally be members access the same information and resources as full members. That, coupled with our education loyalty program, gives us the opportunity to reach a much larger cohort of an organization’s staff.

AA: John, can you walk us through this new membership model?

JG: Sure. Membership will be based on how many staff members an organization has. So for the price of “X,” the CEO and/or directors will be regular members (including receipt of print member magazine) and all the other staff, if they opt-in, will be electronic members. They’ll have access to the same benefits, but will get the magazine electronically. I think many other associations will adopt hybrid and transactional membership models.

AA: What do you think the biggest membership communications challenges are for today’s association?

JG: There is so much information flowing to people from all different sources that it’s easy for your message to get things lost in the clutter. Even in simpler times it was hard to get your message through. What’s the old marketing rule — it takes seven touches to make your message resonate? Now there are so many other ways to reach people. I don’t [know] what the magic number of touches is today.

AA: Are any new channels particularly affecting the touchpoint equation?

JG: Mobile! It changes the dynamic of how people communicate. Associations used to drive information and content out [to members]. Mobile allows the individual to [proactively] seek the content they really want from the organization and not have it pushed to them. So your organization needs to be nimble and flexible enough to make it easy for the individual to seek content from you in a very efficient way.

AA: Now that members of Next Gen are starting to assume leadership roles, what are you seeing as the biggest differences between their management styles and those of older generations?

JG: What changes more from generation to generation is personal experience each generation had growing up. Every leader, regardless of age, seeks face-to-face interaction and interpersonal relationships. But, technology actually enables communication. The younger generation is much more comfortable with technology. It’s viewed more as a communication enabler as opposed to “something I have to learn how to do.” It’s part of their way of life.

AA: So we can expect more technology-based communication from the next generation of leaders?

JG: No. I don’t see it that way. It’s just that younger people have a much higher expectation for technology. Their management style is not that much different. People think every generation is different, but I just don’t see it. Some of the [perceived] differences have to do with the economy when young people came out of school. For kids coming out of school today, it’s a very different experience than it was for kids coming out of school 20 years ago. The other thing we see is that younger leaders put much more emphasis on work/life balance and are drawn to organizations that value work/life balance.

AA: What is the next “game changer” you see on the horizon?

JG: It’s still mobile. The use of mobile today is as much a game changer as the advent of the personal computer was 30 years ago.

AA: If a typical association team leader got an unexpected 50 percent increase in their annual budget, how do you think they would (or should) spend it?

JG: Two areas: technology and messaging platforms. In terms of tech, associations don’t need to be on the “bleeding edge,” but they should at least be on the cutting edge if they want to remain relevant with their members. In terms of messaging platforms, it’s critically important — especially for trade associations — to invest wisely in their messaging platforms. As they try to get the message out about their industries — from solar to petroleum to mining to beverages — messaging is a critical component of what you do and what members expect.

AA: John, there have been some great speakers and sessions here at ASAE this week. How can attendees put all the great tips and insights to use after the daily grind swallows them up?

JG: An excellent practice is to bring multiple staff to the meeting and make sure you don’t cluster. Network with different people and attend different sessions. Soon after you return to the office, get together and share what you learned — not only with those who were at the meeting, but with many others who couldn’t attend. And think about having more people join under the new membership model for next year [laughing].


Us vs. them

member_engagement_retentionWe hear it all the time: We live in a “me” society. Most of us, at some point, have asked, “What’s in this for me?

Associations aren’t any different. Think about it: How many associations want to boost revenue by hoping their members buy more? How many times have we wished we could just get more volunteers?

In other words, we ask, “How can we get our members to do what we want them to do?”

Newsflash: It’s not about us. It’s about them.

“Unfortunately, while we’ve been busily building and marketing the programs, products and services we think our audiences might like, the world has changed,” write Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CEO & chief strategist, Spark Consulting LLC, and Anna Caraveli, managing partner, The Demand Networks LLC, in their new whitepaper. “In 2015, customers are looking for more than a transaction; they’re looking for custom solutions that can be constructed only through authentic relationships of the type, duration and intensity they—not you—want.

Focusing on member engagement, Engel and Caraveli provide some guidance for associations to transform their thinking: Instead of defining engagement as what they value, associations should be asking how they can help their members accomplish their goals.

Here are some “what-ifs” for associations to consider:

  • What if, instead of membership and product sales, our goal was to enable members to achieve the outcomes that matter most to them?
  • What if, instead of looking inward to try to build the perfect product, we looked outward to our audiences, interacting with them to understand their needs and experiences?
  • What if, instead of viewing members as passive consumers of our benefits and programs, we worked with them as co-developers of the value our associations provide?
  • What if, we gave up control and encouraged our audiences to define the terms of their own involvement with us

And yes, sometimes this means competition.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

The key is to figure out how your association, better than other organizations, can truly engage members and potential members. Thanks to 24-7 access to information, simply being experts in a field won’t cut it anymore. Your members can find information anytime, anywhere, with a click of mouse.

So how do associations compete? They should use their networks to build engaging communities and to listen to their members’ collective voice to learn what really matters, the whitepaper suggests. Associations should ask: What do our members really want to succeed? What are the needs and issues we can help address?

“Adopting the outside-in approach to engagement means your sole goal is to create value for members,” Engel and Caraveli said. “Everything else (program categories, mix of benefits, organizational structure) can be questioned, transformed or even eliminated as long as doing so solves your audiences’ problems and creates value that engages them.”

Some tips:

  • Ask people to contribute. Don’t just create products, events and resources you think people want. Instead, engage your members’ skill sets. Ask them to help create value.
  • Work toward providing your members’ goals – not your own. Get rid of the things that aren’t working and instead focus on those that are. The most engaged members are those who feel you truly care about their personal and professional development.
  • Include everyone, from every department, in your engagement strategy. It shouldn’t just be the job of the membership department. This means breaking down internal silos. It’s important for everyone to work as a team, rather than people looking out for themselves. Sometimes this means getting rid of the fat.
  • Act – don’t just talk. If you ask for members’ feedback, truly mean it. Be willing to make suggested changes. Remember: It’s not about sales; it’s about your members’ success.

It’s not easy, and it may require an entire shift of focus. Simply put: Associations may have to dump the old and bring in the new.

Anna Caraveli

Anna Caraveli, managing partner, The Demand Networks, LLC

But it’s worth it.

“Properly understood, engagement is nothing more or less than the development of real relationships with our members and other audiences,” Engel and Careveli wrote. “Authentic relationships take time to develop, involve increasing commitment on both sides, require us continually to be learning more about each other and are focused on helping each other achieve important goals. Through the process of developing genuine relationships, associations become necessary partners in helping our audiences achieve their most important goals, and we achieve our goals—to be financially healthy, vital, growing, mission-driven organizations—as a result.”


Feel the love

word-of-mouthA few months ago, I was looking for a kid-friendly, clean, affordable place at which my family and I could eat during a weekend getaway.

So the first thing I did? Turned to Yelp for customer reviews. I didn’t want marketing speak, but instead the pros and cons of dining experiences.

I did the same thing a few weeks later while looking for a hotel.

The point is: Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool. And it’s often overlooked.

But an e-book by WebLink spells it out for associations.

According to “3 Keys to More Referrals: Leverage Your Member Love,” engaging happy members can be a powerful member recruitment tool. Although research points to higher member conversation rates among those who’ve been referred, many associations are afraid to ask for a referral.

“When you are making your members happy with excellent customer service, it’s a perfect opportunity to ask if they know of anyone else who may have similar problems/needs that require excellent customer service,” the books says.

And although it seems logical that members want to refer others, the main reason they don’t is because no one asked, WebLink says. But when asking, make sure you offer a variety of options.

For example, some members may be comfortable submitting a testimonial, while others prefer to simply click on a rating (perhaps via your website). Or, if your association has a Facebook page, ask members to recommend you on Facebook. Simply provide them with a link to a web page, article or blog post, ask them to add a personal message and then share the link. And share their Facebook post on your page.

Of course, not all members will be willing to refer. To determine who is, conduct a survey, online or via telephone, the e-book suggests. Keep the survey short and collect contact information from those who take the survey.

question_mark_shutterstock_101783026The most essential question to ask: “On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being extremely likely, how likely are you to recommend our association to a friend or colleague?”

Next, WebLink recommends calculating your results. Those who offer a nine or 10 in response to the above question are those who are considered “loyal referrers,” while those who reply with zero to six may actually detract members. So, focus on your loyal and happy members.

“Keeping your association’s referrals growing relies on your commitment to continually improve your relationships with your members,” WebLink writes. “A good referral program is easy to understand, lets the member know what kind of people to refer, is worth the member’s time and makes the referral process quick and easy to complete.”

But all this is moot without using touchpoints effectively, WebLink says. Touchpoints are all the ways in which you engage members, from telephone interactions to email newsletters to social media. Make a list, and then figure out the appropriate messaging based on the method of engagement.

For example, take advantage of your members’ recommendations by placing them on your website. Choose a location on your website that requires members to make a decision or take action. Example: Place a testimonial on the membership application page near the membership pricing to reinforce the idea that association membership is worth the expense.

So, the next time you’re dealing with a satisfied member, whether at a conference or over the telephone, ask for a recommendation. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you just may find that your goal of increasing membership is attainable.


Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide

This month’s guest blog post is by Kent Agramonte, a marketing supervisor at Naylor. He has four years’ experience helping associations with member surveys and data. It was originally posted at AssociationAdviser.

Are you interested in submitting a guest post? Contact Kristen Parker at

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

When we discuss knowing who our members are, we sometimes speak in nebulous terms, such as “We need to find out what’s best for our members” or “How can we better serve our members?” We tend to put the how or what before the who.

Recently, I was talking to an association about some of the challenges it faced and the subject of who its members were was brought up. I was surprised that this particular association didn’t know exactly who its members were. Associations tend to put members into categorical groups as broad as “regular members,” which can lead to a lack of understanding of its members. To figure out what our members truly need from us, the first step is to find out who they are. But often, this key element of association management is overlooked.

Associations tend to commission studies of their industries as a whole. While that is a great way to gauge the overall health of the industries they represent, it may not gauge the health of your individual members’ businesses. An association-specific survey will help you directly gauge the health of your membership and future needs you must address.

Getting started

So where do we start? The first step in a successful membership survey is to establish its goal. If you are trying to figure out your members’ overall business health, it is important to look at three key factors:

  1. Demographics. Questions that ask about member titles, where they fall in the chain of command and whether they are the ultimate decision-makers for their organizations can help you find out how influential your members are and the influence your association has within your industry.
  2. Economic factors. How much do your members spend on products and services each year? Do they expect their business to expand or shrink in the next 12 months? What is their organization’s revenue? These questions can help you find out the economic health of your members and will act as a benchmark for growth in future surveys.
  3. Member needs. Ask your members questions about what they need or want from your association. For instance:
    • What issues are you and your company most concerned about?
    • Is our association doing enough to focus on legislative issues that affect your business?
    • What can we do to bring additional value to you, our member?

By asking these questions, we can begin to paint a picture of what your members are going through and the state of their businesses. This information is also key to generating non-dues revenue because it is vital information for any advertiser, sponsor or strategic partner that wants to reach your members.

surveySurvey build and deployment

The second step in any successful survey is building and sending the survey. There are several free and low-cost survey tools that can help you generate basic surveys online. For example, SurveyMonkey offers a free, easy-to-use, basic version of its survey tool. Survey Gizmo is a low-cost alternative and offers a free trial. For more advanced metrics, try Qualtrics.

Once you enter your questions into the survey tool, test the survey on yourself and make sure all question logic flows the way you intended.

When you are 100 percent confident that your survey is ready to be sent out, you may want to test it on a small sample of potential respondents before sending to your full distribution list. That’s called a pilot. It’s a good way to tighten up the wording or answer choices that may end up confusing respondents.

Most online survey tools will allow you to include a link to the survey in your member outreach efforts. Our suggestion is to email this link to potential respondents or include it in an e-newsletter to your members. If you do not have a way to mass email your members, MailChimp is a commercially available tool that is free to anyone with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.

Once sent, keep your survey open for at least two weeks (but not forever) and send an update email at the beginning of the second week to remind members to take the survey if they have not already done so. If you are worried about not getting enough responses to your survey, you should offer some type of incentive to take the survey. Gift cards go a long way to helping you get responses.

recruitmentanalyticsFrom data collection to analysis

After two or three weeks, it is typically time to start looking at the results. Remember that you only need about a 10 percent response rate to make your survey statistically viable. For example, if you send your survey to 1,000 members (this is your sample size) and 100 members take the survey, than you can statistically project the results to your entire membership.

So, if 75 percent of respondents in a statistically generalizable sample are CEOs, then it would be safe to say that 75 percent of your members are CEOs. If you don’t meet the 10 percent threshold, then your results are still viable as “non-scientific” insight into your membership base. No, you cannot generalize to your entire association, but the small result pool will give you the overall pulse of members.

Once you have taken a look at the results, make sure to turn them into ratios if possible. For example, if 63 percent of your members say they are concerned about tax legislation, then it is better to say nearly two out of three members are concerned about tax legislation. Expressing numbers as ratios gives a human face to your members and allows people to better visualize results. Most people can picture two out of three people in their head, but a concept like 63 percent is harder to imagine.

Results like the ones in your survey are interesting to you, your members, potential non-dues revenue generating advertisers and the industry as a whole. So it is a good idea to share them with as many people as you can. An easy way to accomplish this is to create an infographic with short bullets that details the findings of your survey. This infographic shouldn’t be much longer than a page and should be emailed to members, industry stakeholders and included in your official communications pieces as much as possible.

Surveys generally only retain their validity for about two years. So plan to send out member surveys every other year to make sure you will always have the most up-to-date information about your members.


Good research, with good information, adds value to your association, your association’s communications and your members. When members see that you are making a concerted effort to understand more about them and their concerns, the more benefit they see in being a member of your association. Learning about your members helps you learn more about your association’s goals and the direction in which your association should be heading while helping you recruit potential members and associate members. The brain always knows what the body is doing, but when it comes to association management, sometimes the brain needs a road map.


Take advantage of the benefits gap

health-care-benefitsA friend of mine was lamenting the other day that soon she’ll have fewer health care benefits. Looking to cut costs, her employer switched health care plans and decided to eliminate some “frills.” But the kicker: She’ll be paying more.

Unfortunately, as businesses continue to recover from the recent economic downturn, and now with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, this scenario will probably become more common.

As much as businesses would love to provide full coverage for all their employees and their families, some just can’t. In addition, many employers are no longer offering optional benefits, such as life and accident insurance.

And that’s where your association should step in, according to a new whitepaper by Genius Ave.

Associations can easily grow their memberships by offering voluntary benefits, which are traditionally benefits that employers offer as all-employee-paid options. In fact, offering such benefits may be the most effective method for increasing non-dues revenue.

“The impact of offering voluntary benefits to your members is two-fold,” the authors wrote. “First, providing members with access to valuable benefits and savings opportunities can greatly improve the perceived value of their membership, help increase their engagement and boost retention rates. Second, it can drive non-dues revenue for your organization through commissions or revenue sharing with benefit providers. And obviously, the more benefits you provide, the greater the opportunity for engagement and revenue.”

Experts argue the voluntary benefit market will continue to grow, so now is the time to jump on board, Genius Ave. said.

Examples of voluntary benefits include critical illness, identity theft protection, accident coverage, preventive care/wellness screenings, supplemental medical coverage, legal assistance and, yes, pet health.

Perhaps one of the most popular options is discount programs. According to the report, only 24 percent of associations provide discount programs for their members. But who doesn’t love a discount? Good discount programs include gym memberships, prescription drugs, office supplies and pet products.

So how does an association decide what to provide? Ask your members. Conduct a survey and collect data about what members truly want. It’s important, Genius Ave. says, to offer diversity. Make sure you offer a range of options to meet the social and economic demographics of your membership.

Health Benefits-315*304And it’s best to partner with one company that can provide a multitude of options, rather than scoping the industry for multiple providers. Once all that has been established, communication and marketing are musts.

“Overall, individuals feel that the most important attributes of voluntary benefits are ‘cost’ and the fact that these benefits are ‘guaranteed issue’ – or available without underwriting,” the authors wrote. “Members will also value that you have carefully vetted offerings for value and reliability and that they are able to leverage your organization’s buying power for affordable rates. Your communications should carefully reinforce these attributes while promoting the specific emotional benefits of each product in terms of an individual’s key interests and desires: convenience, security, exclusivity, good health and peace of mind.”

When communicating with your members, it’s best to use multiple channels, especially to reach younger audiences. So try social media, email and text messages.

It seems like a lot, so start small. Perhaps start by providing life insurance. Or maybe solicit your community to form partnerships with local businesses. (Cross advertising works incredibly well.)

I’d like to learn more about voluntary benefits so I can help spread the world. So tell me: What does your association offer? What seems to be the most popular?


Association membership is on the rise

association-membership-recruitmentI love my Barnes and Noble membership. Last Christmas, I saved nearly $100 because I was a member. I also love my World Market membership because, well, I enjoy the wine discounts.

And then, there’s my Public Relations Society of America membership, which provides professional development, networking opportunities and member-only must-haves for public relations junkies like me.

Simply put: Membership has its perks.

So that must be why associations are experiencing a steady increase in memberships.

Marketing General Inc. recently released the results of its annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, in which 53 percent of associations reported membership growth throughout the last year.

An unprecedented 865 associations responded to the survey, reporting on things such as membership recruitment and renewal, social media usage and marketing budgets.

“The purpose of this study continues to be the development of meaningful benchmarks by which the leadership of individual membership and trade associations can evaluate their own membership marketing strategies and tactics,” MGI wrote.

Associations representing nonprofit companies, health care and professional services experienced the largest membership growth. As for membership recruitment tools, email and world-of-mouth continue to be the most effective, but this year’s results revealed that direct mail is quickly gaining steam.

But membership renewals seem to present separate challenges. Membership may be growing, but data seem to suggest new members – not renewals – account for that.

For a while, association members blamed shrinking budgets and a poor economy for not renewing memberships. Now, the economy is slowly on an uptick, so association leaders believe lack of engagement with members is the reason for stagnant or decreasing membership renewals. Second: If membership ROI isn’t evident, it’s on the chopping block.

In the study, the majority of associations reported a two- to three-month grace period for membership benefits once memberships expire.

bar graphAlso in the report, associations indicated communicating membership value is the No. 1 challenge, while cost remains an obstacle.

Other interesting takeaways:

  • Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most popular social media platforms (in that order), with Twitter experiencing the biggest boom in usage. Most associations reported their communications staff manages social media accounts.
  • On average, associations send their members about four emails per week.
  • A slight decrease from last year, 56 percent of associations said they increase dues as needed, with 27 percent planning to increase dues this year.
  • Branding and marketing are becoming more important, as 32 percent of associations have increased budget line items for such expenses.
  • Associations with membership growth also saw increases in attendance for tradeshow/conferences and professional development offerings; volunteerism; non-dues revenue; and certifications.
  • Associations with a renewal rate of less than 80 percent are less likely to experience a decline in membership.
  • Most association leaders believe networking is the top reason for joining an association.
  • To improve member engagement, 65 percent of associations have made changes to their websites.
  • About half of associations offer a student membership.

At the end of the report is a Words of Wisdom section, in which survey respondents shared their thoughts and ideas on issues, challenges and lessons they’ve learned as association professionals.

For example, one of the associations indicated it has expanded mentoring programs by 600 percent and has introduced a Visa Reward Card whereby members who have not attended an event in the past year receive cash rewards for doing so. As a result, event attendance is up 38 percent, while non-member event attendance is up 11 percent.

“Don’t just join an association; take full advantage of what we have to offer,” another association leader wrote. “When you come to us for help or resources and can’t find what you’re looking for, let us know so that we can keep improving. We want to be a true partner in your professional success, but we struggle with knowing what it is you need.”

So, where does your association fit into the membership equation? Has it experienced membership growth?

Take a look at the MGI report and see where your association stacks up.














Is your association a global guru in the making?

Global businessFrom membership to events to publications, associations provide critical services to nearly all industries and professions – not just at home, but around the world.

As industries boost their globalization efforts, associations seem to be following suit, according to a new report, “Achieving Global Growth,” by American Society of Association Executives.

But what differentiates a successful global association from a not-so-successful one? Commitment. Strategy. Good business acumen. Cultural appreciation. Just to name a few things.

The ASAE Foundation and MCI Group, a global network of 50-plus offices providing market development services and conference management, just launched a multi-year, multi-phase research project to better understand U.S. associations’ global strategies and international engagement. In the end, a series of whitepapers and other resources will equip association members with tools to “go global.”

As the first byproduct of the initiative, the newly released report focuses on U.S. associations’ business activities with countries outside North America. One of the key findings: The most successful global associations have a strong commitment to internationalization, with a clearly defined and executed global strategy.

Specifically, the study found associations with successful global operations:

  • Recognize that international business operations are important to their financial health
  • Introduce products to international markets frequently
  • Conduct international meetings, conferences and face-to-face training
  • Develop strategic global partnerships
  • Invest in emerging international markets, rather than those that might be most popular or English speaking
  • Establish global offices or locations

The study also found those associations that successfully engage worldwide have higher membership growth and more non-dues revenue than those that don’t.

In addition, 60 percent said they have staff dedicated to international operations.

An interesting finding: Associations that reported growth in product sales from outside North America are more likely to have board members who reside outside North America. On the contrary, those who restrict board membership to North America have flat membership growth.

All associations (globally engaged and non-globally engaged) reported China will offer the largest potential for globalization throughout the next few years. But successful global associations also recognize potential in Brazil and India, and plan to target those markets.

“Proactive associations are those that reach out to non-U.S. members and customers to better understand their needs, promote the membership or products that are uniquely useful to them, lower barriers to engagement and consumption, give local leadership responsibility and reward or recognize participation.

“The case should be made to find ways to get into [identified emerging] markets now so as to build brand awareness, cultivate demand, build partnerships and improve service delivery capacity,” the report states. “Doing so now may actually be less expensive than waiting, when costs will be higher, negotiating for favorable terms harder and competition is more intense.”

So what do you think? Do you agree with the report’s findings? Is globalization in your association’s future?

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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