Has attendance dropped at your association meetings? Has your membership numbers contracted? If you honestly answer either of the above questions in the affirmative, you are not alone. Both association executives and their boards of directors are asking, “What do we do about our shrinking membership?”
Your membership and meeting attendance could be decreasing because of the economy, industry consolidations, 9/11 or perceived value. The only one of these reasons over which you have some control is the last on my list—value.
Over the last half-decade, many association executives and boards have been lured into complacency by the opiate, or narcotic, of good times and a strong business environment. Many companies started sending a greater number of employees to their industry meetings as a reward rather than as an educational experience. Now many of those companies are sending fewer people. Many associations have found their potential pool of members decreasing because of numerous industry consolidations, mergers or acquisitions. Many associations have forgotten about value.
Recently, for a regional association, I delivered a morning keynote presentation followed later that afternoon by facilitating an industry roundtable discussion. As I generally do when I facilitate a discussion, I asked the attendees to put on the flipchart what was most on their mind in reference to their industry. Then I asked them to weigh the importance of each of the items on the list. This group put their association membership on the top. This association had just a bit over 10% of the possible membership available to join. It was a problem because of the strength they would need for coming legislative issues.
I suggested to the attendees that there are basically two kinds of people that join associations and attend association meetings. First, like most of the people in the room that day, are the industry members that support their association regardless of the quality of the meeting or its location. Then there are the others, they generally expect to get more out of the association than they put into it. They expect that the synergy of the collaborative event will deliver a greater amount of value to them than they pay in dollars and time.
To bring back association backsliders from their disappearance and abandonment, it is time for every association executive and their board members to ask, “How do we deliver more value and how do we show the value we currently offer?” The first part of the question will be different for each association based on the specific needs of the players in their industry. The second part of the question was the subject of the roundtable discussion I mentioned earlier.
First I asked the cost of membership, and then I asked the attendees to tell me what their association did for them. As we listed on the flipchart the valuable services this association delivered to its members, I also asked them to assign realistic dollar values to each item. For this regional association, the cost of membership and attendance at the two semi-annual meetings was pegged at approximately $1,600. After less than an hour, the group came up with membership value in real dollars at $5,800. Had we have had more time; I believe the membership value number would have been higher.
I believe the best way for an association to grow its membership is through a one to one method; that is one current member bring in a new or lost member each year. Realistically, not all members will do this, but many will. Wouldn’t you like a 20%, 30% or more increase in membership, and revenues for your association? I suggested to the roundtable attendees that their association could produce anAssociation Value brochure and/or a Value PowerPoint presentation to help current members show other owners in their industry the value of association affiliation. This would help the current members to more easily articulate the reasons for their personal emotional ownership in their association. Give ‘em the right tools, and people will amaze you with their results.
As a primer for your own Member Recruitment Brochure (to prove that membership is a good business decision), listed below are the actual services and real-dollar values offered to me by the group:
- $1,000 for industry specific technical training offered twice a year.
- $1,000 for business, management and marketing training twice a year.
- $300 for monthly legislative updates.
- 1,000 for coupons for goods and services offered by the national organization with national and regional membership.
- $600 for legal seminars offered twice a year.
- $200 networking value at semi-annual meetings.
- $300 tax savings on income spent attending vacations (meetings).
- $500 for mentoring opportunities available through meeting attendance.
- $200 for product knowledge gained at meetings.
- $200 for company credibility and image associated with membership.
- $300 for education in accessing local publicity.
- $200 for publicity and exposure through association membership.
Perhaps you might argue with some of the specific dollar values listed above? That’s fine because you now have bought into the value idea, now you are just haggling over the actual amounts. If prospective association members or industry leaders, quibble over the actual value amounts—that’s great too, because they have also bought into the value idea. Any smart business leader can see that it makes good business sense to join their industry association and receive $5,800 worth of value for a small investment of $1,600.
Remember, your association has control over the amount of value offered to its membership. Perhaps your members, armed with the right recruitment tools, can help industry players that are non-members in perceiving a higher value in association membership? Give ‘em the right tools, and perhaps your members will amaze you too?
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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