Posts Tagged ‘associations

19
Aug
14

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?

29
Jul
14

Happy employees, big dollars

EmployEngagementI remember the first time a boss took me out to lunch for a job well done.

It was my first job out of college, and the editorial staff had just launched our newly designed magazine. As editor, I wrote and scrutinized thousands of words. I’m pretty sure the designer and I spent weeks staring at a computer screen and proofs.

I’m fairly certain the lunch wasn’t that amazing. But the conversation was. As a new college graduate, the praise tasted far better than the food. It wasn’t much, but at the end of the day, we felt appreciated and engaged in the success of the association.

The morale of the story: Engaged employees work harder and smarter. Happy, loyal employees are the backbone of a successful organization, or so it seems, according to a recent study by Gallup.

It found that companies with an average of 9.2 engaged employees compared to every one disengaged employee experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share than their competition. In addition, companies in the top 25 percent of Gallup’s database have significantly higher productivity, profitability and customer ratings and less turnover and absenteeism.

And it flows from the top down. The Gallup report found that managers are almost solely responsible for building employee engagement.

The problem: Only 22 percent of employees in the study indicated they felt engaged, with service employees feeling the least engaged.

So what’s the trick? According to Gallup: Measure the correct forms of engagement (emotional); hire the right managers, who should be expected to cultivate engagement among their employees; design day-to-day engagement opportunities, rather than build lofty goals; and find ways to connect with each employee.

It sounds easy, right? But it’s not. Managers need to be coached and encouraged to participate in professional development. Mentoring programs work well, according to those surveyed.

But what about associations?

Generally equipped with smaller staffs, it seems employee engagement should be easier to foster. That’s not always the case, as employees often juggle multiple responsibilities and wear several hats. Associations operate with less to do more, and sometimes, finding the time to foster engagement is tough.

thank-you“When it comes to recognition, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” wrote Tara Ericson, group vice president for Naylor, LLC, in the July 22 edition of Association Adviser. “I find the most success when I tailor the way I acknowledge employee achievement to how they want to be appreciated. Knowing your employees on an individual basis is the only way to know how to manage and recognize their accomplishments effectively.”

For example, Ericson creates a list of her employees’ favorite things – hobbies, restaurants and leisure activities – and refers to it when it’s time for recognition.

Also, she celebrates milestones – birthdays, marriages and births – and budgets for appropriate items.

“Sometimes, a reward isn’t justified, but your staff still deserves feedback,” Ericson said. “My rule of thumb is to say what’s on your mind. If a team member is performing well or not meeting expectations, I tell them immediately. Being direct and honest lets your team always know where they stand with you. It encourages better productivity and a more secure job culture by combating rumors and unjustified fears, and creates a constructive environment where coaching and open feedback are the norm.”

Ericson offers some other free or low-cost reward ideas:

  • Flex hours and telecommuting
  • Casual dress day
  • Public recognition
  • Reserved parking spots
  • Time off (leaving early, extended lunches, days off)
  • Happy Hours
  • Gift cards

At the end of the day, whether you have a large staff or a small staff, it’s important to remember that “an army of one” is a fallacy. Your association needs members, and your employees work to recruit and keep them.

As a manager or executive, remember that small gestures go a long way. So next time you’re craving a long lunch, or a lunch meeting at the golf course, ask your employees to join. You’ll do more than just foot the bill.

22
Jul
14

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

08
Jul
14

Six Ways to Intersect Publications and Education Events

This month’s blog post is by Kim Howard, CAE, an award-winning publisher and president of Write Communications, LLC. Write Communications works with association leaders to create mission-aligned content for every channel for measurable results. She is the immediate past president of Association Media & Publishing. Howard can contacted at kim@writecommunicationsllc.com.

Kim Howard

Kim Howard, president of Write Communications, LLC

Delivering content to your members is a cornerstone of not only your publication program, but also your education events. In a perfect world, all our members would attend our events. But because they don’t, how do we share that information while not reinventing the wheel? How do we help sell the value of our education events? How can we showcase the content in the best possible way before, during and after our programs? Here are some ideas.

  1. Go beyond an ad. Cross-promote your events in the publications that you have. When you have a regularly published magazine, your content, if it’s mission-aligned, will likely fall in line with topics discussed at your education events. Is your editorial calendar in line with broad issues that are discussed at your conferences? Are you covering your content through the applicable lens for your members? Many associations have membership that runs the gamut, from students to c-suite executives. While it’s difficult to serve them all in one publication or conference, you can successfully integrate your content to cater to the cross-section of members. I use the term education events loosely because this could mean an in-person conference, webinar or podcast, lunch and learn or brown bag, etc. Have staff, freelancers or volunteers cover the event and write an article about the topics and subsequent discussion during the event. This is an excellent way to generate content for your publication and showcase the discussion. It’s also a great way to showcase your volunteers. Many members covet a byline on your association’s blog or in your publication. Covering select sessions at your events drives home the message to those members who didn’t attend that the event’s content is something to hear first hand. Think of it as your indirect sales guy.
  1. Give sidebars new meaning. Sidebars help break up your content and add an element of information that otherwise may be awkward to include in the main story. You are likely housing your speaker’s content somewhere on your website and the subject will also pertain to something you’re covering in your publication. Remind your readers that the content is still there and provide access to it by showcasing it in a sidebar. You could have content available from a webinar, a whitepaper or a slide presentation from an annual conference session. Use it. You don’t have to showcase the entire resource—just use a link, headline and blurb. And don’t forget your association’s other resources such as whitepapers, reports, webinars, podcasts, blog posts and other nuggets of information that show your members they have access to solid industry or profession information.

published

  1. Ask speakers to convert their presentation into an article, or interview them. This approach works best if you have your editorial staff attend the selected sessions and figure out which ones will translate into content for your publication. It also helps to weed out the presenters who were less than stellar: You probably don’t want to showcase their content in your publication. And it’s unlikely their content would translate well in a new format. Add an editor’s note at the beginning or the end of the piece letting readers know the topic was first discussed at “XYZ” conference, webinar, etc. I have used this approach for years and our publications have received many excellent articles that we published.
  1. When you have a hot, timely topic of discussion, ask the speaker or panelists to write blog posts about the subject before the event. There is always some piece of relevant information that speakers wish they could include, but can’t because of time constraints or because it diverts from the subject a little too much for an event. Not only is this a good way to showcase the content, but also it creates buzz about your event and may even increase the numbers from last-minute registrations or day-pass registrants.
  1. Cross-promote your education event through Twitter. If you know that certain members are into social media, especially Twitter, and they have fast fingers, ask them which sessions they would consider covering for you. This approach works best live, but after the event, consider picking out the top five or 10 tweets from the meeting and using that information as a sidebar to post-event coverage. The great thing about this approach is that you are covering a session that may not be covered a traditional way. It’s yet another insight into the education content that your meetings and events offer.
  1. Additional ideas might include:
    1. Videos or other enhanced content in digital publications. Careful planning and scheduling can yield good video clips from members when they are onsite.
    2. Executive summaries of content, ideas or discussions to share with attendees/those who were unable to attend as resources rather than simply as informational articles. (Think of this as a note-taking service or perhaps even enhance these notes with new information to make them that much more useful).
    3. Leverage sample content/learning outcomes/ROI/testimonials in next year’s event marketing materials to make the promotion that much more compelling.
    4. Consider year-round opportunities to position your annual meeting vs. only the two to three months leading up to the conference; keep the conversations going.
    5. Consider repackaging content into an infographic or other visually interesting format to help members/attendees digest the information in a new way.

Even if you can’t implement all these ideas, pick one that you know will work with your membership and any internal constraints you may have. Starting small will be the first step to yielding better results for your educational events and content that you deliver to your members.

17
Jun
14

MOOCs: A myth for the masses? Not so much

MOOC infographic

An infographic by Online-PhD-Programs.org summarizing MOOCs.

Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOCs – seem to be all the rage. And why not, when learning is just a click away?

MOOCs are online classes that are available to anyone with a computer and/or Internet access. Some MOOCs are free, but others aren’t. It’s a bit confusing as MOOCs are still trying to find their place among social media, 24-7 access to news and a society that thrives on convenience.

It seems higher education has embraced MOOCs as a way to foster global education, but what about other industries?

According to Online-PhD-Programs.org, 4.7 million people participate in MOOCs through Coursera. But only 8 to 10 percent of those enrolled actually complete the class. So is it worth it?

It’s a constant source of debate, which may explain why associations have been reluctant to enter the MOOC market.

Tagoras recently released a whitepaper on fringe trends, and MOOCs were included in the report. “Fringe” refers to the fact that based on Tagoras’ research, only 10 percent of participants have adopted burgeoning trends.

“MOOCs aren’t just disrupting how training is delivered; they are changing how companies interact with their employees and others on a much grander scale,” said Bryant Nielsen, founder of corporate training firm Your Training Edge.

Throughout the last few weeks, Nielsen has written about 13 megatrends of MOOCs. Perhaps most relevant to associations is lifelong learning.

“One of the biggest impacts MOOCs have had is to make education available to people of all ages,” Nielsen said. “As a result, lifelong learning has become one of the biggest trends in recent years: In their spare time, people who once might have flipped on the television are now booting up their computers to learn and accessing learning resources on their mobile devices whenever they have a few minutes of downtime. Companies can capitalize on this lifelong learning trend both by offering engaging courses to the public and by recognizing their employees’ independent learning endeavors.”

But how does an association know if a MOOC is a right fit?

The key is to decide what it wants to accomplish, Tagoras says.

online-educationThe massive nature of MOOCs makes them incredible marketing tools. A MOOC can establish an association as an expert in a topic or field, while also turning curious learners into members. But a word of caution: As with anything new, there’s risk. Associations are often leery about giving away their content for free, but that’s the name of the game when it comes to MOOCs.

The key to creating successful MOOCs, according to Tagoras, is to make content general – to appeal to the masses. While it’s a good idea to showcase your best experts, a MOOC may not be the best option for a specific professional development topic.

In addition, MOOCs probably aren’t going to generate revenue, at least not at first. So it’s best to think of a MOOC as a long-term investment. Rather than making money, an association can build upon a brand while creating ambassadors, who will eventually help recruit members.

Finally, associations need to remember that completion of a MOOC isn’t a sign of its success, Tagoras says. Instead, associations should focus on the takeaways participants get from a MOOC and on the importance of educating the masses.

“While only 6.6 percent of respondents offer MOOCs and only 4.6 percent more plan to begin offering MOOCs in the next year, according to the survey behind our 2014 Association Learning + Technology report, we’re excited about the massive models enabled by MOOCs and expect more associations to embrace it in the coming years, as they realize the ready-built audience of their profession or industry could benefit from a MOOC offering,” Tagoras says.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to MOOCs. You’ll continue to hear about them as more people embrace online learning, and as such, I’ll be doing a couple follow-up posts.

So if your organization offers a MOOC, please contact me. Or if you’re an expert on the subject, please reach out. Have you ever participated in a MOOC? Tell us about it.

13
May
14

Good data, good decisions

analyticsBig data equal big opportunity.

It sounds simple, but for most associations, it’s not.

Think about all the data your association has at its fingertips: demographics of your members, conference registrations, product sales, vendor buying habits.

It’s a goldmine, right? But chances are, it’s untapped.

Data are crucial to associations’ decision making, so if an association has “dirty data” (vs. quality data), that’s a problem, said Elizabeth Engel, CEO of Spark Consulting, who recently co-authored a whitepaper with Peter Houstle, CEO of Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC, on evidence-based decision making.

“Much like a successful exercise program, a sustainable data quality management program must become a deeply ingrained institutional habit shared by every member of your team,” Engel said. “Achieving a clean, unified dataset that captures your key data points is a critical first step to implementing the type of evidence-based decision-making that allows you to most effectively allocate your limited resources to advance your mission.”

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

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

So where does an association start? Engel suggests answering three key questions:

1. What’s your association’s baseline? What is it trying to achieve? Where and how large is the gap between the two? The answers should be strategic, measurable goals, such as growing membership by 80 percent.

2. What drives success for your association? These are your Key Performance Indicators, the process-related metrics that determine how well your association is doing. So a KPI related to membership growth might be the retention rate.

3. Who are your customers and what do they need from your association? In other words, what do your members need to make membership so valuable that they’ll renew?

For example, think about your last conference. How does your association determine its success? Perhaps your event had the largest turnout in history, but what if several of those registrations were complimentary? Or what if your attendees’ buying needs didn’t match your vendors’ selling needs?

Simply put: When it comes to data, quality trumps quantity.

By themselves, data are just numbers. But inside those numbers are patterns and trends, which sometimes aren’t easy to spot. That’s why there’s a plethora of data visualization tools, i.e. graphs and charts, to help associations analyze data. Engel and Houstle list several examples in their whitepaper.

With such tools, associations can:

  • Plot members by region and overlay income demographics from the U.S. Census
  • Identify the most frequent sources of volunteers
  • Spot trends in member participation
  • Compare attendee profiles across event types
  • Detect common exit points in website visits across various member demographics

Take the Entomological Society of America (yes, bugs). Students comprised 30 percent of its membership, and as such, the association had been focusing on recruiting and retaining students.

But upon analysis, ESA discovered a large membership drop off after graduation. After analyzing membership data, it concluded that focusing efforts on student retention wasn’t paying off. So ESA revamped its membership efforts to retain all members, especially regular professionals, who bring in more revenue.

ESA’s new membership model is just one example of effective data mining. The whitepaper lists several others, such as ASAE deciding to stop one of its print publications.

Tell us, how does your association use data?

29
Apr
14

Why ‘giving back’ isn’t what you need from volunteers

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, contributing editor, Associations Now

This month’s guest blog post is by Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now. It was originally printed on April 28, so it’s hot off the press. This is a topic that seems to intrigue our readers, so thanks to Mark for sharing it with us!

As a reminder, if you’re interested in submitting a guest post for our blog, please contact Kristen Parker at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

 

Having volunteers is great, but you need more than people who are looking for a sense of purpose. Are you setting the right standards for them?

What’s your volunteer problem?

The answer is likely different for every association. Too few people raising their hand, or too many. Gaps in the places where you really need help. Lack of engagement, or lack of the kind of engagement you need to get important work done. Regardless of the problem, large or small, it pretty much goes without saying that you have one. (If not, drop me a line and let me know how you’re pulling it off.)

Associations need to emphasize what it is they need done ahead of the personal satisfaction volunteers may get out of the experience.

Last week, Taproot Foundation founder Aaron Hurst pointed to an underlying issue in volunteering that speaks to the problems associations may struggle with: In an essay for the New York Times, he wrote that many volunteers are doing so because they lack a sense of purpose in their own work. On the surface this doesn’t seem like a problem — we like people who want a sense of purpose, right?

Except that a volunteer’s need for “purpose” may not jive with the task you need done. You can be awash in volunteers who aren’t filling gaps but still require care and feeding from staff. As one nonprofit executive told Hurst, “If I get another volunteer I’m going to go out of business.”

VolunteerphotoThe “I want to do good” or “I want to find a purpose” instinct is likely more pronounced in the charitable nonprofit world than at associations. But the same issues are at play in both communities. According to ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer survey, the leading motivation for volunteers at associations is “values” — that is, the sense of doing good. Similarly, the most common source of satisfaction among association volunteers is “giving back to their professional field.”

Hurst’s concern is that such motivations may speak to people being unsatisfied in their jobs — and bringing that dissatisfaction to a nonprofit. “We cannot meet this demand [for meaning at work] by looking to ‘causes’ as the primary driver in our careers and place the burden on nonprofits to fulfill this need,” he writes.

From the board to task forces and subcommittees, engaged volunteers who do valuable work will only show up if you — that is, the association’s leadership — set a standard for what engagement and valuable work is. Short of paying volunteers, associations need to emphasize what it is they need done ahead of the personal satisfaction volunteers may get out of the experience. This isn’t an either/or proposition. But both parts of it are necessary, and when they’re in sync, an association can get an engaged group of people doing important things.

There are signs that associations are moving away from the committee-based form of volunteering, filled with busywork, that may make volunteers feel like they’ve “given back” but do only so much for the organization. Associations that craft ad hoc-style opportunities will attract people who want to work on a particular issue that captures their interests and helps the association too. And micro-volunteering opportunities can help give volunteers a sense of ownership while ensuring that the association is getting practical things done.

I don’t think Hurst was trying to be a killjoy in the nonprofit community by saying that many people who volunteer shouldn’t — or that they’d be better off trying to get that sense of meaning at their day jobs. But he raises the important point that successful volunteer recruitment involves more than just filling seats with people who have certain qualifications. It’s about setting a tone of doing productive work and establishing clear expectations. It’s a good thing to have people knocking on your door saying they want to “give back.” But make clear to them what it is you expect them to give.

How has your association encouraged top-notch volunteers to take part?

 




meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

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