I loved this post on the Acronym blog that listed Classic Association Blunders. I would add a few more classic association blunders to that list including:
- Focusing on recruiting new members when existing members are pouring out the back door.
- Getting great sponsors on board and then failing to proactively service them.
- Relying just on the opinions of the board rather than undertaking research when making decisions that require a true understanding of the opinions of the rank and file membership.
Tony Rossell has put up an interesting blog with the results of their research on what member incentives work best to encourage people to join. He's put forward his thoughts and there's been a few interesting comments in response. Well worth a read for the different perspectives. Click hear to read the article.
I found an article today talking about how membership numbers in social networking tools designed for business are exploding (The Best Way To Reach Decision Makers?. Business Social Networks!). The core benefit of many business and professional associations is networking. As a prolific user of LinkedIn myself I have to say that I find it a great networking tool. I've even started a Membership Group on LinkedIn that is growing steadily.
These social networking tools are changing the landscape for associations. But it doesn't mean the end of assocations. On the contrary these tools represent a fabulous tool for vastly expanding the reach of associations. Those associations who thrive will be the ones that can capitalise on this tool and still remain financially sustainable at the same time.
Facebook has just hit 250 million users -just three months after hitting 200 million users. This is one of the most fabulous examples of membership growth I know of. Here is an organisation that understood a need in the marketplace, developed a membership product that fulfilled that need and experienced enormous growth as a result. They went from 0 members in 2003 to 250 million members in 2009. Even better - they have a free membership structure that is supporting from other income sources that leverage off their strength in numbers. With vision the sky is the limit. How can you "Facebook" your membership?
Jamie Notter is giving away free copies of his book "Generational Diversity in the Workplace" in ebook format. It talks about the generational differences and how to apply them. If you are interested in differences in the generations it is well worth a read.
Today I read an interesting article called "Flirt Your Way To Influence". It talks about the idea of using flirting to build a mutually beneficial platonic relationships in business. This idea has even more merit within the membership environment. Effective member recruitment and retention is about building a long lasting relationship where the member feels they have a relationship with both the association and, hopefully, with the rest of the member community. If your members genuinely like you it makes the process of retaining them quite straightforward. After all, people like to do business and socialise with people they like. So a little platonic flirting - otherwise known as being friendly and engaging in order to build strong working relationships - can go a long way towards improving the effectiveness of your recruitment and retention efforts
There's been quite a bit of discussion online recently regarding grace periods on membership particularly around the question of how long you should continue to provide services after the membership lapses.
For many members, the decision to renew or not to renew has been made well before the renewal is sent out based on their experience with the association throughout the year. Renewals themselves are simply a referendum on member satisfaction.
However, the way in which you set up your renewal process can still have a significant impact on your retention rate. In particular, long grace periods can be problematic. If you continue to provide services to a member after their membership has lapsed it does you very few favours.
At the very minimum, you are conveying to a member that they can still get services even without paying. It rarely appears as a generous gesture. More often it comes across as the association being lax in keeping up to date with membership statuses. At worst, word gets around and members start rorting the system and lose respect the association in the process.
A well put together renewal process can abolish the need for all but a small grace period and effectively convey the perception of your organisation as a professional, proactive and efficient organisation.
First of all, it is necessary to give members ample opportunity to renew prior to their membership lapsing. Start sending renewal notices out about three months before the membership lapses. Give member as many opportunities to rejoin as possible before the expiry date.
For example, if a members' expiry date is June 30 the process would be:
February - Member details update - contact members to get their details update. This is particularly appropriate if your pricing model is based on information sourced by members. Provide an incentive to respond by the end of the month. 1 April — Renewal Notice - include an incentive to renew. You may want to put an explanatory note on the early renewals – such as “This renewal notice is a little early. By sending it out early we ensure that those who need to budget for the payment have ample time to do so. We do appreciate early payment as it assists us to budget for member services.” 1 May — Reminder Notice 1 June — Urgent Reminder Notice - including notice that service provision is about to cease. 30June - Membership expiry date
1 July — Friendly phone call to member to see what's happening and advise that service provision is about to cease. 15 July — Resigned Notice and cease provision of all services
Members who do not renew should not be deleted from your mailing list unless they are no longer a valid prospect for membership. All resigned members should go straight back into your prospect management process because they have become prospective members once again - although be sure to tag them so they can be treated differently.
Some of the most successful membership campaigns I've ever run have been into resigned member lists. A resigned member doesn't need to know about the history of the organisation, the total range of services or the type of events you run. All a resigned member needs to know is what's changed since they were members.
Marketing to former members is so successful that it should be planned into your renewal process. Consider adding in a process 6-8 months after the member has resigned where they receive a "We want you back" email or letter followed by a personal phone call. Of course, campaigns such as this will only be successful if they are not still on a grace period and receiving services like several associations I've recently come across!
Independent Sector has released a free workbook designed to assist boards to improve their governance called the Principles Workbook. It documents the principles of good governance is provided in an easy to read format. Click here to download your copy.
Want to understand what services your members want? Then don't ask the question "what services should our association provide?". The most common response to that question is either a blank look or "I don't know".
By asking that question you waste a valuable opportunity to discover what services your members really need.When undertaking membership research you need to find out what worries your members.
You need to discover those issues that keep them up at night and what problems are at the top of their priority list. Once you understand the challenges your members are facing you can then devise products and services that will assist your members to alleviate those problems. In this way you can ensure you are delivering real value.
You will also find that different segments of your membership are facing different challenges. So when you undertake research be sure to identify the segment specific challenges to enable you to tailor your membership value proposition.
If I were to offer you a 24 carat diamond ring for $5 what would you think? My guess is you would wonder what was wrong with it. Your members will do the same thing when you offer a quality product as a ridiculously low price.If you want to create a strong, sustainable association then you need to be generating income from as many sources as possible.
Consider revenue sources such as:
Training courses and workshops
Conferences and trade shows
Networking events and services
Third party programs (such as insurance deals that give your members a discount and you an income stream)
Online and hardcopy publications (including magazine advertising, directory listings, etc)
Advertising in your online and hardcopy publications
The key consideration when adding non-dues income streams is to ask the question – will this product or service help our members to be successful in their careers or businesses. If that link isn’t immediately obvious then you may wish to consider other services.Also, you need to leverage from each thing you do.
For example, if you run a conference you can generate income through delegate registrations, trade booths, sponsorship, sales of conference materials to those who didn’t attend, merchandise, sale of publications through a bookshop at the event, etc.
And don't forget to market your income producing products and services to non-members. It's a great way to get them engaged with your organisation with a view to becoming members. Of course, for any product or services being offered to non-members they should always be charged at a higher rate so they offer another opportunity to generate the surplus that enables you to deliver even higher levels of service!
I came across this interesting article on Association Puzzle that discusses how long an association should continue to provide services to members after their membership lapses. I would be really interested in other peoples' opinions on "How long is too long?".
If you want to decrease your marketing costs and increase the effectiveness of your membership marketing then it is worth taking a look at your membership statistics. A quick analysis of your growth and retention rates can give you an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your member recruitment and retention processes and enable you to take targeted action. I've written an article to give you an overview of the key statistics you need to know and how to work them out ... read more.
The Decision to Join research from the ASAE is well worth a read. For those who don't have time to read the entire report then click here to read a summary I've compiled. Everyone involved in membership should read this.
A popular way to generate income while also providing your members with a benefit are third party programs – such as discounts on motor vehicles, phone bills, etc. However there is a large variation in the success that organisations have had with these programs. Following are the four most common mistakes and how to avoid them:
Selecting inappropriate products –Some organisations are promoting far too many programs, under the mistaken belief that quantity of offerings will guarantee their success. If that were the case then those with the biggest programs and the most discounts would “win”. This isn’t what happens – quality will always win of quantity. Organisations with successful programs are those that have made a considered selection of a few quality products/services that they know will be of interest to their members.
Selecting inappropriate partners – Some organisations go with the first organisation that comes along. Successful organisations recognise that they are an equal partner in the arrangement and seek a partner who has a similar culture and who they know they can work well with. Your organisation has a powerful value proposition for the right partner – never underestimate how important your organisation could be in assisting your partner to achieve their corporate goals.
Creating unbalanced arrangements – In order for a program to be successful it must deliver a clear Win-Win-Win situation where you, your partner and your members all benefit from the arrangement. A clear and sustained delivery of value to all parties is integral to a successful long-term arrangement.
The organisation and the supplier don’t work together to achieve success – Some organisations sign the agreement, file it away and believe that their work is done. Getting an agreement is just the beginning. Great long term programs need an ongoing commitment to promoting the program and ensuring it works for all parties. This includes having pre-agreed update meetings throughout the term to pick up any issues and make sure that all parties are getting the outcomes they require.
Recently I've met with several organisations whose leaders believe that once a member has paid their membership fee all services should be free. This kind of outdated thinking can hold an association back from providing a high quality service to its members.
Don't be ashamed about generating revenue for your organisation. Not-for-profit does not mean "for-loss" … or “for-break-even”. A more correct term would be "for-surplus" as a surplus is necessary for any organisation to remain sustainable and have reserves to put towards extra-ordinary activities when necessary. By generating a surplus you can provide an even better level of service to your members.
When a member joins your organisation that are making an investment - whether a business owner making an investment in the success of their business or an individual investing in the success of their career. And they expect a return on that investment. They expect your organisation to be able to provide them with a one stop shop for the products and services they need to be able to achieve that success.
Their membership fee gives them access to a basic level of products and services. As a member they can add extra products and services as needed to assist them to be successful. The association funds these extra products and services through the extra fees charged to deliver that service. This system is much fairer as members who don't wish to access those products and services aren't subsidising those who do want them.
Sure, there are some instances where providing a free service is appropriate - there will always be exceptions to every rule. But, generally speaking, running free events and providing free services for members who are in a position to be able to afford market rates devalues your offering.
I've long maintained that the real value of membership is intangiable (see my article "Articulating the value of membership"). Today I came across this article on Mariner Management & Marketing called "What's luck got to do with it" that gives some great examples of that intangiable value. If organisations could better articulate this value then they would have a lot more members.
I wrote an article recently on "Articulating the value of membership" ...
It's often the same sad story. Some poor sucker asks "What are the benefits of membership". The association representative takes a deep breath and rattles out ... "We have a magazine, a website, an email bulletin, a conference, training and ... blah blah blah" WHO CARES!Those things by themselves mean pretty much nothing. They are just a bunch of features thrown together. Frankly, when it comes to hearing about the benefits of membership I need more information. I'm not making a donation to the organisation. I'm making an investment and I expect to see a return. That's why I join an association ... read more.
I thought this was an interesting look at how a nonprofit who had never used social media before managed to achieve some great success. A good step by step case study reproduced on Mark Buzan's blog. Click here to read the article.
Brian Birch made an interesting post on the Acronym blog about how assocation management is about supporting members rather than selling membership. I thought he made some really interesting points. Click here to read the article.
I thought this article by Zelda Tupicoff on how Restaurant and Catering Victoria and StreetSmart Australia came together to raise money for a good cause was a fabulous example of how associations and charities working together can really make a difference. Click here to read the article.
Peggy Hoffman makes an interesting distinction between community and social networks. There is the interesting observation in the article that "community is the what and social networking is the how". Click here to read the full article.
The Romance Writers Association of America has a problem - the members are revolting. The associations' failure to move with the times has hurt them badly. This is a warning sign for any associations that think that they can continue to do just the things that worked 10 years ago. Click here to read the article.
Last month we were running an event in Sydney and, after confirming with the venue that the exits were secured, headed off to lunch. On our return I was dismayed to find that my briefcase (containing about $10,000 worth of equipment including a new laptop) had been stolen as the venue staff had forgotten to lock the fire exit. It was a bit of a disaster as we lost quite a lot of data (I'm now a convert to the practice of religiously doing backups!). A couple of days later I related the story to a fellow delegate at the IMEX conference in Frankfurt who said that would have been preferrable to her last event where the keynote speaker died (of natural causes) at the venue the morning of the conference. Wow ... I'd prefer a theft of all the laptops to something like that!However, it make me think that there are probably quite a lot of funny, weird and wonderful stories about the various disasters that happen at events sitting out there just waiting to be told. If you'd like to share your story please use the comments section below to tell us your story.
Tony Rossell has posted an interesting blog with his plan of action were he ever fortunate enough to walk into an association and implement a membership program regardless of history, tradition or politics. I like it. Click here to read what he says.
Pro Bono ran an article talking about how the Fundraising Institute of Australia are closing their Melbourne office. It's a shame to see FIA closing their Melbourne office. What concerned me about this article was the following statement: "the absorption of member services roles into existing roles within the events, professional standards and administration areas of the organisation" If membership is a key income area it needs focus. If someone's primary role is running events, processing or administering standards those roles will always get priority - particularly over member sales. Who wants to risk rejection when you can be busy doing something you are comfortable doing.
This was very interesting. The association seeks to provide a better conference by getting drug companies as sponsors. Some members boycott as they have concerns about pharmaceutical company sponsorship. It puts the poor association in a really tough position. Personally, I think the boycotting members should understand that, whether the drug companies sponsor or not, it will still be up them whether or not they choose to use the drug. Read the full article here. What do you think? There has been some discussion about this already on the Membership Solutions LinkedIn Group. Click here to read what's been said.
What are your thoughts on offering free membership and then having the member pay for services as and when they require them? There is quite a lot of discussion in membership circles about the idea of providing free membership with the member then paying for additional services. Has your organisation tried this? Do you think this model has a place in the future structures of member based organisations? We've already had a fair bit of discussion on our LinkedIn Group. Any other thoughts?
For industry bodies and professional associations using membership as a tool to generate revenue, provide an “opt in” customer base for products and to give it a stronger voice when lobbying is a logical step. For charities and other public benefit organisations it is somewhat different. Membership is just one of many tools that can be used to both generate revenue and to gather a database of people interested in supporting your organisation. If you are thinking of a membership structure for your organisation then you may like to consider the following:
Use appropriate language - If you need members to contribute funds, time or other resources to the cause consider calling them “supporters” rather than “members”. When you use the term “member” it creates the perception that the member will be receiving a personal benefit. If this is not the case then consider using the term “supporter” which more clearly defines their role within your organisation.
Consider the return from the investment – Membership is an expensive and time consuming tool, but it can reap substantial rewards when structured correctly. Sit down and work out the objectives you wish to achieve (eg: to generate funds, to build a database of potential donors and volunteers, etc). Identify all potential tools that could be used to achieve those objectives and the investment that each requires. In some cases membership may not be the most effective tool. But in others, especially where implemented correctly, it can work beautifully.
Ensure you have the appropriate back-end support – You can greatly reduce the pressure that a membership structure puts on time and resources by implementing appropriate back-end support. The benefits of a good database that is fully integrated with your website cannot be underestimated. It will greatly reduce the staff time required to manage the database, increase your accuracy and provide you with information to more closely target your messages and generate greater returns from your marketing dollar. If you do decide to invest in a good database then it is essential that you take the time to ensure that it is implemented correctly. After all, a poor database implemented well will outperform a fantastic database implemented poorly.
SMS specialises in sponsorship development and training, membership development and training, strategic planning and meeting facilitation. As part of this work they regularly undertake in-house training and speaking. Through their consultancy work they assist organisation with turnarounds, governance overhauls, research, strategic planning and general trouble shooting. You can read testimonials from clients and event delegates on the SMS website. Join the Membership Solutions LinkedIn group to interact with others in the industry.
About Belinda Busoli and Julian Moore
Belinda Moore (formerly Belinda Busoli) is a membership specialist who has assisted hundreds of not-for-profit organisations through Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America with their membership challenges.
Belinda is a professional speaker who specialises in training, motivating and up-skilling boards, staff and volunteers to improve membership performance. Known for her enthusiastic style, Belinda presents frequently for not-for-profit organisations. Belinda arrives on the platform armed with an array of topics relating to membership. Revealing insights from personal and professional experiences, she ensures that participants walk away with practical ideas and information that can immediately be applied.
Belinda is the author of the Membership Machine, Australia’s foremost guide to member recruitment and retention.
Belinda produces the monthly "The Income Generator" e-bulletin goes to over 12,000 associations, charities and other nonprofits every month.
Julian Moore is a sponsorship and business development specialist. Until 2008 he was based in Westminster at AVA Ltd where he worked as the Development Manager for a number of different nonprofit organisations including associations, chambers of commerce and sporting clubs.
His role was to assist each client to raise their profile, maximise their revenue streams and increase their surplus. Julian is keen to share his enormous success in this arena with others to enable them to achieve the same level of success for their organisations.
Julian is an engaging speaker who brings a wealth of personal experience to his presentations. He ensures that attendeses walk away with concrete tools, ideas and skills that will assist them to successfully generate funds for their organisations.
Belinda and Julian work together at Strategic Membership Solutions. They had heard about each others' successes via the association grapevine and were keen to meet in person. They were both attending the same conference in Barcelona so they arranged meet for a cup of coffee.
It was love at first sight and many hours later they were still talking over the same cup of coffee (now somewhat colder). After returning to her hotel room later that day Belinda called her mother and told her "I've met the man I'm going to marry". Luckily for them both she didn't tell Julian about that until after they were engaged!
Shortly after Julian moved to Australia and the rest is history. They both passionately love the work they do in the sector almost as much as they love each other - so working together was a foregone conclusion.
They were married in April 2010 and are now expecting their first child together in October. They live in "wedded bliss" in Brisbane with their three dogs ... as well as a large collection of lorikeets, kookaburras and other assorted native birds who have taken up residence in the backyard.