Trade associations and professional societies that primarily focus on legislative matters can run the risk of neglecting its membership. Does that mean that focusing on influencing politicians is a bad thing? Not as long as the organization’s members don’t get left behind. Unfortunately, this is just what happens, much too frequently.
Here is an important question, “Does your organization’s legislative activities create value for non-members?” You’ll most likely answer, “Yes they do.”
If so, what’s the benefit in membership? Where’s the motivation for a person or a company to continue giving the organization money when others receive basically the same benefits with no cost involved?
You might answer with, “Well, they need to support their industry.” I agree, however the drop-offs or non-joiners intensely disagree. And, they vote with their checkbooks.
Not long ago, an association in the Pacific Northwest hired me to conduct my Member Value ProcessTM at their annual meeting. While we determined that the association delivered acceptable value to its members, it was crystal clear to the board of directors that much of the work in which the association focused (legislative), benefited the industry as a whole and not just its membership.
Gosh, I hate it when people want to shoot the messenger rather than to listen to the message, but that’s the life of a consultant. As you guessed, the board was not happy with the findings—few really do enjoy looking into the mirror, let alone bringing it up close.
So, what’s the solution? The simple solution is to deliver more value to your members than to your industry. Granted, some non-members will always get value from the important legislative work in which associations participate; however, this needs to be minimized.
Here is the most important question that organizational staff can pose to the volunteer leadership, “What else can we offer to our members that costs us very little yet is perceived by members as being highly valuable to them?” You answer that question, and you’ve solved the age-old riddle!
As an example, the association mentioned above charged the non-members the same price to attend the annual meeting as the paid members—justifying this horrific action by saying that they needed more bodies to walk through their expo to satisfy their vendor/allied members. Hogwash I say. Honor your members by giving them a HUGH discount.
Another association gave members, and non-members the subscription to their newsletter at no charge. That’s okay for the members, but hellfire—make the non-members pay.
A third example is the association that sold its membership list to non-members for the same price as to its members. Let’s not go down the path of the ethics of selling membership lists but rather the ethics of treating your members so poorly.
I bet if the staff and volunteer leaders of your organization were to spend a single day brainstorming ideas on how to deliver more value to the membership, you would be amazed at what you’d discover.
My parting words are, “Please don’t whine about poor member retention or recruitment if you’ve never spent a day brainstorming how to deliver enough value to your members so they could justify the cost of their membership.
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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