I’m distressed. I receive about a dozen meetings industry and association related magazines each month. With interest, I read about “meeting ROI” and “strategic meetings management” but…what I DO NOT read about is “member ROI” and that distresses me. While there are scores of fabulous trade associations and professional societies serving both North Americans and the international community, I cannot help but sometimes wonder what has gone wrong with so many USA based trade associations?
Being an Association Executive is Not Easy
Let’s face it, to be a successful association executive, one has to be quite an adept politician—not that it’s a bad thing—it’s just that not every leader is also a great politician. In leading a trade association or professional society, business skills are not enough. Dealing with the various personalities that span an organization’s membership is quite another thing. Oh yes, did I mention the egos? Perhaps that focus is what draws too much attention form the most important task at hand? No, it is not the executive keeping his or her job; it is delivering honest sustainable value to the organization’s membership. That is what sustains an organization.
Association Membership Abandonment
It has been quite a while, and a few name changes, since the American Society of Association Executives published an exit survey on why members do not rejoin their association or society. My interpretation of the survey is that 73% said that they did not rejoin because of the lack of receiving (perceived) reasonable return on their investment—the ROI just wasn’t good enough.
Member ROI Group at Linkedin
I administer a special interest group at www.Linkedin.com for association executives and staff. The group is so named, “Member ROI for Associations & Societies.” I frequently ask questions to bring forth responses from the group members. A question I posted about staff commissions and member incentives for member recruitment has received quite a bit of banter. Below is a comment from one of the group members that is very revealing:
“In my 20 years working for a dozen associations have I[‘ve] seen incentives for membership recruitment in practice…at least until recently.
An association that I am familiar with pays a bonus to its CEO based on financial results. As far as I know, there are no other performance indicators factored into the mix to determine rewards (i.e. member satisfaction, member engagement, program results), just the bottom line.
As a result, a great deal of energy has gone into recruiting non-industry members because their membership fees are the highest, and securing as many sponsorship dollars for the annual conference (which is suffering from dwindling attendance). But no additional effort has gone into retaining the core membership categories (industry practitioners) and their numbers are dropping by 5 – 10% each year. So, while the bottom line may look like its holding its own, membership attrition is on the rise.
The point is, the CEO is more focused on getting as many dollars in the door to the detriment of the members and association programs and services.”
What Do You Think?
Do you think this person’s comments are sour grapes, or might the comments be too on-target for many to swallow? Sometimes truth can be quite a bitter pill. I believe the exceedingly difficult question that not enough of today’s association executives are asking is this: Are we delivering true and reasonable ROI to our members or are we simply perpetuating a broken association?
Here is the question that every member is asking of their association or society: And I get what for my membership dollars besides this monthly magazine, newsletter, or eZine?
Remember this. If you charge your members extra for something, it is not a value added item, only the price differential compared to what non-members pay would apply to the member’s ROI. This might be worth considering before you charge your loyal dues-paying members for the next webinar or white paper—just a thought.
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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