I have one important question to ask you. How much more could your organization do for its members if the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of membership was known?
My work with associations and societies has revealed that today, there are less and less “industry supporters” and more and more “value seekers” in the market place. Value seekers need more than the good feeling that they have supported their industry on order to join and retain membership in an association or society.
In attempting to deal with the dilemma that has caused the above question to be so crucially important for the survival of today’s associations and societies, we must first digress. Especially evident in mature industries are the number of Baby Boomer aged supporters. Many joined at the urging of their fathers who were also in the business. Your Baby Boomer supporters grew up in a world where Dad took care of revenue generation and Mom took care of everything else. Dads then had much more leisure time away from the family available to them than the Dads of today.
The sacred cow activities, services, and products that your organization offers to its members are relics of the past world order. Older members surly recognize that these are losing propositions for the organization but are also their connection to the past. This connection creates value for some, yet rarely for enough to justify the loss to your organization. Resources are squandered to serve just a very few. Those same resources could be, and should be, invested in other programs that deliver a high return on investment (ROI) for a greater number of members.
The Value Seekers
Many of your prospective members are currently in their 20s and 30s, married, and have a spouse that also works. These folks have less, away from the family leisure time, and want to make the most of the time they have. Frequently, association and society meetings and activities have recreation or leisure elements built into the event—a draw for the Baby Boomers but not so much for their younger counterparts. These younger folks are much more computer and electronic communication savvy than their seniors and can find the industry specific training they need (which has been the decades old stalwart of associations) elsewhere.
The Advocacy Trap
While nobody will argue that traditionally associations and societies have done phenomenal work in the area of affecting legislation. This is one of the great benefits of large numbers collaborating for a common good. Additionally, nobody will argue that almost every player in a particular industry reaps the benefit of an organization’s advocacy efforts—regardless of their membership, or lack there of. The problem that has emerged for associations and societies is that the industry supporters, many of the Baby Boomers, are retiring. The “supporters” belonged to their trade association or society for a very different reason; to support their industry. The younger “value seekers” want something different, they want a return on their time and dollar investment. Since advocacy creates value for all, there is no actual return on investment because everyone gets the value regardless of membership.
Associations and societies of today must show ROI in order to retain and recruit members. Organizations that have traditionally relied on their advocacy work to show value are finding themselves coming up short in today’s ROI column. Currently, your challenge is to create programs, activities, trainings, services, and anything else that deliver actual ROI for the dues their members pay. While many associations already do a pretty darn good job in this area, they also tend to do an awful job in measuring and communicating that ROI value to their current members and prospective members.
The Member Value Process
Valuating the ROI on your various programs, services, and activities requires both art and science. There are a number of formulas (the science) for determining ROI and they are all based on having real-dollar numbers. What I believe to be the most honest way of determining the real-dollar value of any program, service or activity is to ask your members. This needs to be done in a live session facilitated by a non-partial third party (the art). Association staff and volunteer leaders have high-value determination agendas that generally hamstring the truth. Using audience feedback technology takes away risk by allowing anonymity. I want members to support, fight for, and stand by their valuation numbers, not to just offer random amounts.
When You Need Help
I have made a number of articles and other resources on this subject available to you at no charge; just visithttp://www.rigsbee.com/association.htm and help yourself. I am now going to make a statement that to many, will likely sound quite self serving on my part. Conducting an honest member valuation process takes a skilled facilitator—you just cannot grab someone off the street to do the job. Please, please, please do not blow it with a lousy facilitator. And yes, the next potentially self-serving statement is this. I created the process, have been conducting the process for over a decade, and am darn good at it. If you do not hire me, at least hire someone as good as me. It is worth the expense to do this right.
Now You’ve Got an ROI Number
What now? Once you can honestly tell current members and prospective members how much they will get back for each dollar they invest in membership, you need to shout if from the roof tops. This information should be included in renewal notices, articles in your magazine or newsletter, on your web site, and everywhere possible. This is what the younger people in your industry need to hear. They need to hear why it is a good business decision to join your organization and pay their dues—year after year. They need to know what’s in it for them.
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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