Giveaways and Gimmicks Are Short-Lived Solutions—Strong Membership Initiatives Begin With the Basics

From VIP clubs to fancy swag and tiered pricing, the tactics to win members’ hearts are only limited by imagination. When the economy, technology, or social disruption, like the pandemic, threatens to come between us and our reason for being, a little panic is understandable. But before you load on the giveaways and short-lived solutions, make sure that the fundamentals for a strong membership initiative are in place.

Put Technology First

In the era of Match.com, lots of relationships start online. The communication between your association and its members is no exception. More often than not, your website is the venue for your first date. If that initial impression involves multiple clicks through a disappointing dialogue, you’re off to a bumpy start. From day one, through member onboarding and beyond, a seamless digital experience will lead to meaningful engagement.

As members explore what you have to offer, you’ll score points by showing how quickly you catch on to exactly what they are looking for. This is where your AMS, LMS, and other platforms become indispensable aids in knowing who you are trying to impress and what it will take to grab their attention and keep it.

Get Compulsive About Data

Sharon Rice, .orgSource Managing Director of Business Strategy, is a data evangelist. She constantly reminds our clients about the wealth of information they are collecting and urges them to use this invaluable resource effectively. “Web analytics, and other applications, increase your ability to explore browsing and buying behavior and to investigate the market response to various strategies,” Rice advises.

“Data makes engagement with members a two-way street. When members enter information into the organization’s software and connect on discussion forums, these interactions provide first-hand commentary that can be used to hone networking and educational offerings.

“Data can drive the business of association management, increasing the sophistication of operations and the acumen of staff. By understanding that power, associations can create processes that bring objectivity, knowledge, and nuance to decision-making.”

Use Analytics To Tame Disruption

In disruptive markets, data is your rock.

In disruptive markets, data is your rock. You can put member engagement strategies to the test by raising or lowering prices; investigate cross-selling and upselling and assess the impact of segmentation and augmentation. Careful analysis of the output can reveal how to create services that maximize revenue.

Associations seeking a broader membership base can explore scenarios for international or internal expansion or discover how to monetize proprietary information. Most importantly, marketing automation adds the dimension of customization. There is the opportunity to provide individually curated content designed to meet highly specific needs.

Greg Fine, Executive Vice President and CEO, CCIM Institute, was one of many leaders my business partner, Kevin Ordonez, and I interviewed for our book Association 4.0: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption. Fine explained the pivotal role that data plays in his organization like this. “Commercial real estate is data-driven. Quantifying the underlying value of a property, whether you’re buying or selling, is fundamental to our business. We make sure that our education and content reflects the latest trends in information processing. Our for-profit subsidiary, CCIM Technologies, packages the analytic tools that members currently use, allowing the small shops to compete with multinational firms.”

Mining this critical resource only happens if you have people on staff to do the work. If your AMS and LMS software does not include user-friendly analytics, purchase one of the many reporting packages available and train your team to use it. This investment could punch your ticket to a growing membership initiative.

Look Beyond Numbers

In the digital marketplace, a strong technology infrastructure is essential to achieve your organization’s potential for member engagement. Once those systems and processes are in place, start looking beyond the numbers.

Well before the pandemic, the National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council’s members were experiencing disruption on multiple levels. Gail Rutkowski, Executive Director, sees member engagement as an area where a low-tech approach can be highly successful.

You can’t underestimate the importance of customer service and personalization

“You cannot underestimate the importance of customer service and personalization,” Rutkowski observes. “People will ignore emails and voicemail . . . but if you can connect with them on the phone, that makes a difference. I call and talk with two to five members each week. Many are people whom I’ve never spoken with before. I’ve been able to get them involved and to agree to help us through these phone conversations, more than through any other strategy. I personally help them register for events and participate.

“Members often quickly recall the activity that made them realize the value of the association. For many, that exact moment was their first NASSTRAC conference,” Rutkowski says. “They met people like themselves who were struggling with similar challenges . . . And, they realized they are not alone.”

Fine is another advocate for the personal touch. He advised, “Word of mouth is CCIM’s most effective recruitment tool. The organization is exploring new strategies for boosting interpersonal impact. If we could realize a one to two percent increase in our candidate pool each year, then in 10 years, attrition from retirements will no longer be an issue.”

With in-person experiences on hold, this advice isn’t as easy to follow. But if you or membership staffers are willing to carve out a little time, you can find ways to connect with constituents.  Consider scheduling short Zoom chats with random individuals. I guarantee you’ll surprise and impress someone by taking a moment to personally solicit their opinions and focus on their needs. Especially now when we’re all craving a little special attention.

Cultivate Community

Associations center around people and purpose. A mission that inspires passion is another fundamental piece of the engagement puzzle. Don’t get lost in the promotional weeds. Remember what is most important about the profession you represent and keep that front and center in all your communications.

Nancy MacRae, Executive Director of the Emergency Nurses Association, explained how a shared commitment to excellence establishes loyalty and energizes members. “Emergency nurses can get education in a variety of formats,” MacRae notes. “So why come to us? It is about having a community of experts . . . Only another colleague can walk in our members’ shoes. We provide the opportunity for them to share and get support from others, and know that they are receiving best in class education and research . . . We need to keep nourishing that sense of community. Burnout is huge in this profession. One way we can help is to make sure that our members are sharing their experiences. They are able to go further, harder, and longer with the group’s support behind them.”

MacRae understands exactly what drives her organization. If you are uncertain where the passion lies among your constituents, take action to discover that heartbeat. Then, center strategy around keeping it vibrant and strong.

Take a Deeper Dive

When you nurture each of these fundamental areas, the creativity, innovation, and initiatives that increase member engagement will naturally follow.

 .orgCommunity, our education and networking organization, is seeking to learn more about how associations are strengthening membership programs. We’ll be hosting a weekly Think Tank for members to share ideas on this topic. Add your voice! We’d love to hear your opinion.

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Read the complete interviews with Greg Fine, Gail Rutkowski, and Nancy MacRae in our book, Association 4.0: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption.