|While the term evangelism is generally used in conjunction with religion, past evangelicals have proven to be exceedingly effective marketers. Case in point; Apostle Paul is considered by many to be the world’s most effective marketer.
Evangelism, simply put is the selling of an idea. In this article I’m going to focus on how paid association staff and executives can help their volunteer members to spread the association membership word to colleagues, competitors, and suppliers. And, why it is in the members’ best interest to make the effort. Yes, evangelism needs a little push in these uncertain economic times.
Be an Enabler.
Association staff members are in a unique position to be either an enabler or an encumbrance. The issues at stake might be of control—whose association is it? An issue might be of sharing the workload or areas of accountability? When your staff says, the members are not doing their job; you need to explore why and repair the situation.
When a potential member contacts the association office, is there a sense of urgency among the association staff to respond quickly and to also forward the inquiry to the volunteer membership director? If not, why not?
What about recognition? Something as simple as acknowledgement, perhaps in your newsletter, can go a long way to encourage your members to become membership evangelists. I want to be clear in the idea; I’m suggesting recognition, not incentive!
Give ‘em the Tools.
If one has only a hammer in their toolbox, then one will naturally see every problem as a nail. What do I mean by this? Believe it or not, legislative issues are not a member-only value. I have worked with too many associations that focus on legislative issues to their chagrin when it comes to delivering value to their members. Since a non-member also receives the same value from an association’s legislative efforts, the association has to offer quite a number of other services, products, access and assistance that holds a monetary value in the minds of members and prospective members.
Knowing the yearly sustainable real dollar value (line item by line item) that your members receive from their investment, and non-members are denied, is a fabulous tool for your membership recruitment evangelists. This helps both in the area of member retention and recruitment. Besides bringing them in, you’ve got to keep them engaged or you’ll lose them quick.
Build the Brand.
Your association is a brand, both in the minds of members and non-members. To members the brand has a particular meaning—most likely very positive. To the non-member what meaning does the brand hold? The brand must not have much of a meaning in the mind of the non-member or they would have joined in and already become a member. When a non-member states that membership is too expensive, what they are really saying is that they really no not see the value.
For your members to be effective evangelists, they must have a crystal clear meaning of the brand in their own minds before they can eloquently articulate the virtues of membership to the non-believers.
Brand means more than a logo, the look of your web site or the beauty of your headquarter office. Your association brand is the total collection of all that you are, do, and represent—including the current members that actively participate. What can you, the association executive, do to make your association a better and stronger brand in the minds of your industry participants and functionaries?
Show ‘em the Money.
I’ll never forget this particular Sunday afternoon when my older son and I visited our local Circuit City big box store to purchase a television for his bedroom. After we made our selection and paid the bill, the salesperson locked the sale indelibly in my mind. He spent a few minutes congratulating my son and I on our choice of television, and repeatedly assured us that we would enjoy that purchase for years to come. He cut buyer’s remorse off at the pass! If there was any chance that we might return our purchase—it disappeared instantly.
Show your evangelists the money. No, I don’t mean pay them for bringing colleagues, competitors or suppliers into your association—I am against membership recruitment incentive programs. Show them the money they save, or make, as a result of their membership.
Many years ago, in my days of outside sales, I learned a powerful lesson—if you don’t tell them, they don’t know you did it. In my seminars and consulting I call this documented value added. Simply put, when you do something for another— something that they consider being valuable to them—you had better tell them that you did it or in their mind, you never did.
Mr. or Ms. Executive Director, this statement is for you…every time you or one of your staff members helps an association member, take a moment to write and mail that member a note thanking them for the opportunity to serve. And, mention what you did for them.
As an example, “Dear Member, thank you for the opportunity to help you overcome your code challenge (or anything you did for them). It was heart warming to know that we at the National XYZ Association were able to overcome the $5,000 fine that the local municipality wanted to impose.”
Do this, and you are showing them the money, locking in their desire to remain a member, and will increase the likelihood that they will share the story with someone in your industry that is not yet a member of your association. Yes, membership evangelists do sometimes need a little push.
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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