How to Build Heretics Into Association Governance (783 words)

(783 words)

In their book Frugal Innovation: How to Do More with Less, Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu show how global companies have accessed talent from developing nations, relying on their cunning and ingenuity to develop new products at high speed and low cost. This is heresy to most of the western world’s research and development departments.

Similarly, in his book Tribes, Seth Godin talks about the idea that managers settle and leaders disrupt. Let’s apply this to leadership at associations. Are many disrupters or frugal innovators? It’s possible. But “let’s get along” and “that’s how we’ve always done it” are strikingly powerful forces for today’s associations. Godin writes, “Our culture works hard to prevent change. We have long had systems and organizations and standards designed to dissuade people from challenging the status quo.” If that doesn’t describe so many of today’s associations, I don’t know what does.

In my experience, many associations want to become more relevant but either do not know how or have a stifling culture that values stodgy consistency over progress. That’s unfortunate, because heretics aren’t just bulls in the china shop. As Godin writes, “Heretics have a plan. They understand that changing the status quo is not only profitable but fun too.” Putting the ideas from Tribes and Frugal Innovation together got me thinking about the giant “mission-driven” associations like the American Medical Association; while specialty medical associations have steadily been rising in membership—for instance, the American College of Physicians nearly doubled its membership between 1995 and 2009, to 130,000—AMA has seen steady declines.

So, how do we embrace the heretics in our industry and organizations to help us grow, innovate, and become as relevant as possible, before they create new competing associations like the specialty medical associations did? Below are five tips.

Be Alert to Protectionism

Nonprofit governance is generally a hybrid of paid and volunteer leaders. Though this perhaps oversimplifies, I’ve found it to be true that the paid leaders have a more bureaucratic mindset while the volunteer leaders tend to be entrepreneurial. The two mindsets create healthy tension and generally guide the organization well.

The problem is when the volunteers and the paid leaders both have bureaucratic mindsets. Then, the organization tends to fear growth, improvement, or change. Also, when leaders are not confident in their ability to lead due to newness of tenure, knowledge, or skills, saying no to everything is much safer that saying maybe, let alone yes.

Know the Heretic Mindset

In order to successfully work with heretics, one must first understand their mindset. Some disrupt simply for the sake of disruption, but more often than not they want to drive positive change and growth. They see very different patterns and holes in your organization’s member value proposition and are in a hurry for improvement. They’re generally burning to make a difference and rarely are included in governing bodies because they’re seen as too difficult.

But, when you take the time to get into the heads of contrarians and see their perspective without the protectionism filters, you discover a world of new value propositions for your organization. Will it be easy to bring them into the fold? Not on your life. Fellow leaders that are in protectionism mode will only see threats, bullying, and coercion. It will be your job to help them see the potential for opportunity, innovation, and improvement.

Step Up Your Communication Skills

I recently served as the “voice of the heretic” at an ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo session, alongside Stacy Tetschner, FASAE, CAE, CEO of the National Speakers Association, who spoke as the voice for organizational principle. We lectured on our partnership failures and successes spanning a decade and a half. That kind of candor will be essential in attracting a variety of people, especially those heretics.

Listen, Engage, and Utilize

My involvement with NSA led to my helping create what I think of as a heretical party group, Cigar PEG, a charity fundraiser connected to the NSA’s annual conference. Over the years the NSA recognized that Cigar PEG was delivering high-level value by giving members one more reason to retain their membership and attend the annual convention. The party consistently draws 20 percent of the annual convention attendees, and NSA leadership, both paid and volunteer, realized that putting fewer roadblocks in front of it paid off.

Never Say Never

Had someone a decade ago said that we’d be co-presenting at the ASAE Annual Meeting, everyone in NSA would have laughed hysterically or found themselves in mortal fear. But spokespersons for the establishment and heretics came together to share that they too could build bridges with their heretics, contrarians, dissidents, disenfranchised, and malcontent members. So can you.

Riding the Member ROI Wave—Proving Real Dollar Member ROI for Consistent Growth (1292 words)

Member ROI Wave...Proving Real Dollar Member ROI for Consistent Growth

Ride the Member ROI Wave to Accelerated Organizational Growth

State associations, more than national associations, are riding the member ROI wave of accelerated member recruitment. They are proving the real-dollar return on investment (ROI) of membership in order to influence industry members into joining. These associations have realized that the “join because you should” died a long time ago. Today, the “prove to me that membership is a smart decision” has taken hold across North America and is indicating there will be no letup of this paradigm any time soon.

Still Hooked on Days Gone Bye

Unfortunately, far too many associations are still hooked on the opiate of the more senior members belonging to, and attending meetings “because they should,” regardless of the quality of events or ROI of membership. They are not riding the member ROI wave. Wake up! These lovely folks, in huge numbers, are retiring and/or passing away. In their place, are appearing a different breed of industry participant and joining because one should is about as foreign to them as your Grandfather’s Oldsmobile.

There are those that cling to the fading idea that associations must be mission driven, without concern for delivering member value. Some say that associations that deliver real-dollar member value are nothing more than buying clubs. Perhaps today’s Mission-Driven philosophy might be nothing more than an excuse for non-performance while Member-ROI-Centric demands that association staff and volunteer leaders perform at the highest levels possible in order to member ROI wave.

Member ROI Centric

Associations that cling to obtuse missions as opposed to delivering high-level member value can imprudently spend the lion’s share of time and resources conducting activities—activities that serve the industry and all that are involved without holding membership. Where’s the value for those loyal members that annually render their dues payments? Many say that it is non-existent. It’s not always easy to be high-performing and deliver actual real-dollar value to members—value that the non-members do not receive. However, for staff and volunteer leaders that use “member ROI, member retention, and member recruitment” as one of their important considerations in decision making—across the organizational silos—these organizations are learning how to create and deliver member ROI. These organizations are enjoying consistent membership growth.

Today’s Forward-Thinking Associations

Progressive association staff and volunteer leaders of today are taking a different approach to member recruitment and retention—one that centers on member value and ROI. They are riding member ROI wave by focusing on how every decision affects member ROI. They are:

·        Seeing their organization through the eyes of the non-member to better understand why the non-members have not accepted the invitation of membership.

·        Promoting the benefits of membership features. They have learned how to explain the “what’s in it for me” to prospective members. They no longer rely on just a list of membership features and erroneously calling them benefits, they are riding the member ROI wave. Additionally, they have learned to differentiate between the features only accessible to an individual or company through membership and the activities they do that delivers benefit to all in the industry. They are learning how to sell through the window of member-only benefit and relying less on things their organization does that delivers benefit to all.

·        Proving beyond the shadow of doubt that membership in their organization is a good business, career, and financial decision by conducting qualitative research sessions to determine what their members believe is the actual, annual real-dollar ROI of each member-only, feature of membership is worth.

·        Discovering, identifying, and engaging their organization’s Member Recruitment Evangelists—the members that have been around for a while, are influential, and understand how a larger and stronger organization can deliver more value to members and their industry alike. And…arming these Member Recruitment Evangelists with an effective tool for influencing non-members into becoming paid members.

The Member ROI Wave Evangelists’ Tool

The trend is moving away from the traditional three-pound prospective member packages. Those packages of yesterday were really an effort to baffle with bulk rather than to dazzle with brilliance. Today, nobody will read a box or folder full of information—it was something like an association member recruitment data dump. Member Recruitment Evangelists and prospective members alike want something (hard-copy and electronic) compact, tightly written, and clearly explaining the “what’s in it for me” in real dollar members. They want to get an idea as the member ROI wave they can expect. The days of saying, “Membership is Priceless” are gone.

This trend of producing a compact tri-fold member recruitment brochure for the organization’s Member Recruitment Evangelists, and everyone else, has been embraced more by state associations than has national associations.

Some of the state and local associations that have produced the Member Recruitment Evangelists’ tool include:

·        Mechanical Contractors Association of South Carolina

·        Southern Illinois Builders Association

·        Associated Builders and Contractors Minnesota/North Dakota Chapter

·        American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado

·        American Council of Engineering Companies of Virginia

·        National Association of the Remodeling Industry Central Ohio Chapter

This tool succinctly communicates the “member-only” features of membership and how the membership-at-large values each feature in annual real-dollar numbers. The brochure also communicates the “what’s in it” for the individual, their company, and their industry. Not every prospect will care about all the features of membership that is offered to them. As such, Member Recruitment Evangelists have the ability to discover which features of membership matter to the prospect and then can help them to understand the ROI they can expect from using just those features. For a free template to help you produce your own “dazzle them with brilliance” member recruitment brochure, email your request to

Member ROI Wave Buying Motives

Selling guilt is like having only one tool in one’s toolbox. The days of people joining because they should, have vanished. With that said, selling guilt along with several important reasons to buy can still be effective, in some situations, for getting CEOs to sign up large numbers of their employees. This is something that some Member Recruitment Evangelists and others are discovering. The something else is buying motives.

The organizations that are riding the member ROI wave, are doing so by helping their members to couple the evangelists’ tool with the knowledge of buying motives is proving very effective. Association staff and volunteer leaders are starting to understand the difference between a feature of membership and how each of the various features make their members lives better—the benefit of the feature. They are moving toward great benefit copy writing for both electronic and print publishing to help current members and prospective members alike to better understanding of the “what’s in it for me” that the association offers.

Each feature of membership relates to one or more buying motives within the framework of non-member decisions to buy (join). The six basic member ROI wave buying motives are:

·        Profit/Gain

·        Fear of Loss

·        Avoidance of Pain

·        Comfort/Pleasure

·        Love/Affection

·        Pride/Prestige

As association staff members learn how to write benefit statements for each feature of (member-only) membership and do so through the window of one or more buying motives held within the minds of prospects—the power of the written word exponentially accelerates. How well an organization’s website communicates member value and ROI has an enormous effect on the organization’s member recruitment results.

Chief Staff Executives Getting Onboard

For years, many chief staff executives (CSE) truly believed that member recruitment was solely the responsibility of the membership department, and focused elsewhere. Today, many CSEs are riding the member ROI wave and realizing the critical nature of everyone in the organization being on-board for the organization’s quest for member recruitment. CSEs are working hard to breakdown the silo mentality of the boards of directors and the staff members—becoming member-ROI-centric and charging everyone with the simple question, “How will this action affect member retention, recruitment, and total delivered member ROI?” After all, Membership is Everybody’s Business. They are effectively riding the member ROI wave.

“Compelling conversations is the single best way of creating concrete conversions… CONSISTENTLY!” –Ed Rigsbee

How to Increase Your Member ROI Quotient (658 words)

If your membership organization wants to grow, your member ROI quotient is important (return on investment)

Increase Your Member ROI Quotient

If your membership organization wants to grow, your member ROI quotient is important (return on investment).  Engage industry stakeholders through delivering honest and usable value. The universal thought that is whirling around in everyone’s mind is, “What’s in it for me?” Perception is reality; and today’s associations and societies must get real about the ROI. While most really do not know how much ROI they deliver, just delivering ROI is no longer good enough; today you have to prove high-level ROI to keep members and recruit new ones.

ROI delivery and increasing your member ROI quotient is both an art and a science. The science is adding up the numbers and disseminating the information. The art is in managing the member perception of value. You must prove to your industry that membership in your organization is a good business decision. To do this, you must manage your resources in a new way.

Stop Giving It Away to Grow Your Member ROI Quotient

This is huge, please take notice! There is an omnipresent erroneous belief among association professionals and volunteer leaders that, “If we give it away to non-members they will see the value and join.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. This idea is killing your member ROI quotient. When you give away, for example, your legislative updates, newsletters, and magazines, all you are really doing is reducing the value your members receive for their membership dollars and minimizing the motivation of non-members to join. Why should the non-member join? Look at all the value you are giving them for a zero investment. The cold hard truth is that if they haven’t joined by now, they’re not going to join.

Put a Price on It to Grow Your Member ROI Quotient

This will dramatically increase your member ROI. Anything that you make available to members should exhibit an honest “retail” price; everything from electronic newsletters to member lists to legislative updates—everything. To legitimize the price, offer those products, services, and access to non-members at the stated retail price. Don’t think outsiders will pay? Think again, and, regardless of if non-members purchase these items or not, you are stating the value (ROI) your members receive. Do not make the mistake of letting members just think it’s free.

Do your members call the headquarter office for advise when they get into a jam? Send them an invoice, zeroed out with an equal discount, just like any other professional service provider would do. This goes for other services the association provides “free of charge” for its members. Every single day of the week you have to remind your members of the real-dollar value they receive because of their membership in your organization. Keep the value fresh in their heads and they will remember when it is time to renew.

Grow Your Member ROI Quotient; What Else Do You Have to Sell?

There’s gold hidden in your organization’s dusty shelves and computer files. Look around your organization for items, services, and various methods of access that might be perceived by non-members highly valuable. Put a retail price on those items and services, and make them available to non-members at the retail price and to members at no charge or a greatly discounted price. The differential will add to your members’ perception of their yearly membership ROI.

The rub here might be that some of your board members still hold on to their antiquated belief that all of the above is sacred and proprietary information and thereby not to be disseminated. Come on, it’s the twenty-first century, let’s move on and provide as much ROI for your members as possible.

You ask your members to send you a check each year. And, each year when they write out that check they have to make a new decision to buy. Make it easy for your members to see that it is a good business decision to hold membership in your organization. Do this through higher ROI delivery and perception and guess what? They will become membership evangelists for your organization and convince their colleagues, many that you might never reach, to also join and partake of the plentiful ROI.


Member Value Verses Industry Value—What You Need to Know (562 words)

Member Value Verses Industry Value—What You Need to Know

Deliver High-Level Member Value-All They Hear is, “What’s in it for me?”

In member recruitment, member value is the primary driver that you must completely understand is “member-only” value. Trying to convince a person to pay money to join your organization to get what they are already getting is just nonsense.

Not to Get Lost in the Weeds

For over a decade, I have been talking to association executives about the idea of Member Value through the window of “member-only” value and I must say that it frequently seems like I’m talking to a brick wall. Here is the rub…most associations and societies are pretty darn good at their advocacy work. These organizations work hard to affect legislation in a way that delivers a positive result to their members. And, that positive result is also enjoyed by non-members operating in the industry as well. Unfortunately, most current membership surveys reveal that at most, 20% join for advocacy and legislative influence reasons. What about the other 80%?

Is this advocacy work important? You bet it is. Does it deliver perceived value to members? It sure does. The problem is that everyone, regardless of membership receives the benefits. Since everyone in the industry receives the benefits; is this advocacy result a “member-only” benefit? Absolutely not, and that’s the challenge facing today’s associations and societies.

Industry Value

Every activity your membership organization does that delivers value to all the stakeholders in your industry is simply put—industry value. This might include advocacy, Web Site content access, Social Media Group access, and weekly/monthly publications…just to name a few. Generally these value propositions are not sell-able; meaning that these value items will be a no-go in convincing non-members to join your organization. They are already enjoying these value benefits without holding membership in your organization. The tired and ineffective “support your industry” argument will most likely not work with these groups or individuals.

Member-Only Value

Member value just for the members and not the industry. The products, services, benefits, and discounts that your members receive by virtue of paying for their membership are the true “member-only” benefits that your organization delivers. These “member-only” benefits are going to be your organization’s unique selling proposition tools. While non-members do enjoy the industry value that your organization delivers, it is the “member-only” benefit package that will potentially motivate the non-member in your industry to cut a check to your organization. Sell the “member-only” benefits.

What Member Value Story Does Your Website Tell?

In developing your Website strategy, you must determine if your “member benefits” page is positioned primarily for member retention or for member recruitment. If it is primarily for member retention, then simply listing the features of membership and leading with your advocacy work…might be enough. However, if you want your “member benefits” page to help you in selling membership you must list the “industry benefit” last and lead with the “member-only” benefits your organization offers. To make your page more dynamic, learn the difference between features and benefits. Features are built into a product or service and the benefit is how a feature makes a person’s life better.

Promote the Member-Only Benefits

In order to help your members and staff to do a better job of member recruitment, help them to understand the differentiation of the above elements. Their efforts will be far more successful if they focus on what is available only through membership and de-emphasize the industry value. If you really want the see their efforts successful, also give them the most powerful tool of all—knowing what the member-only, member-determined, yearly-sustainable, real-dollar return on investment (ROI) number is. That magic number will be their number one member recruitment tool.


Knowledge Management Should be a Member-Only Benefit (785 words)

Knowledge, through Effective Knowledge Management is an Important Feature of Membership that delivers high-value

Knowledge, through Effective Knowledge Management

The acquisition of industry or profession knowledge, today called Knowledge Management, has been and will continue to be, a primary driver for individuals and companies to hold membership in your member-ROI-centric organization. Efficient and effective knowledge management, (how your organization develops, archives, and makes specific knowledge available to members), should be a member-only benefit.

Most non-profit organizations will define their knowledge management activities and resources as keeping tract of, and making easily available, industry or profession knowledge. This typically includes:

  • Policies, standards, and guidelines
  • Best practices
  • Trade press/scholarly journal articles
  • News releases
  • Other industry/profession specific documents
  • Expert opinion
  • Availability of, and access to, subject matter experts
  • Peer review committees
  • Research
  • Surveys*
  • Safety and occupational issues
  • Knowledge sources created by staff
  • Collective industry/profession stakeholder knowledge

Chances are that a large segment of your members are not aware of the knowledge resources you make available to them. This is a sad situation because so much of the potential member perceived, return on investment (ROI), can be demonstrated in this line-item member benefit. However, this is also an amazing opportunity to accelerate your member awareness efforts. There is also an even stronger chance that non-member industry stakeholders are also bankrupt in the awareness of this benefit—or are they?

Determine Real-Dollar Value of Knowledge Management

The true real-dollar member benefit from your organization’s knowledge management practice must be calculated by members based upon:

  • Total knowledge availability
  • Member awareness of available knowledge management
  • Uniqueness of proprietary knowledge management
  • Ease and speed of access to specific knowledge
  • Resource acquisition time saving in hourly measurement

While many of the above elements of calculation might at first glance appear to be nebulous, nevertheless, all can be measured. Proprietary knowledge can be valuated in real-dollars by the cost of acquisition through non-member benefit (outside) sources and/or the cost to the member’s organization of not having access to the knowledge.

The ease and speed of access should be valuated yearly, based on the time savings in hours, calculating the member’s hourly compensation or that of their clerical assistant. Multiplying the yearly hours saved by your member’s (total) hourly compensation is an exercise that is quite revealing—you’ll be amazed at the number. While it is true that much knowledge is currently accessible through public knowledge management systems like Google, the length of time that it might take one to do the search, read through the numerous sites, and aggregate the needed knowledge could be daunting and very time consuming.

Unintended ROI Killer

If your organization makes industry knowledge management available to non-members, my bet is that you are metaphorically shooting yourself in the foot every day. If non-member, industry stakeholders, can access anything more than “industry headlines” through your web site or from headquarter staff—why in the world would they invest in membership?

Your organization must put a high value on your knowledge management activities, reserving all but the most basic “industry headlines” for members to access through password protected, members-only sections, at your web site. Headquarter staff must also be instructed in the fine art of only giving away a “taste” of knowledge—not the whole meal.

While I continually hear from association and society leaders, the worn out justification of giving knowledge away so non-members MIGHT see the value of membership and join, you and I both know that if they have not joined by now—they’re never going to join. Rather, these industry parasites are going to continue to bleed you dry if you allow them to do so.  Sorry, parasites might seem like a strong word, however if you think about it—it’s appropriate.

Quit Giving Knowledge Management Away

When your organization allows non-members to access your knowledge for free, the clear message you are giving to non-members is that you really do not value your knowledge or your knowledge management systems and processes. So why should they pay for membership? Also, the clear message you are sending to your (paying) members is that there is no membership ROI for this line-item. Why no ROI? It’s simple; since you are giving it away free to non-members, your current members could relinquish their membership and still acquire the knowledge management if they wanted it.

Measure It

Your organization delivers yearly sustainable real-dollar value to members in several areas; I call them line-items. By encouraging your members to measure each value proposition line-item (user generated content), they can easily see for themselves, through real-dollar ROI, why membership in your organization is a good business decision. Your members will believe and support what they help create, and hopefully become member recruitment evangelists for your organization—convincing the industry “parasites” to make a new decision, and join.

*Association/Society generated surveys inherently are subject to legal antitrust scrutiny. Registration of intent with the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice can mitigate some liability. Conforming to the National Cooperative Research and Protection Act, in methodology and intent is advisable. An excellent resource is the Association Law Handbook, by Jerald Jacobs, published by ASAE; 2007.

Shift Your Culture to that of Recruitment Evangelism (744 words)

Shift Your Culture to that of Member Recruitment Evangelism

Member Recruitment Evangelism

Recruitment Evangelism, is it possible? You’ve heard it before, “You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” This has never before been truer in the world of trade associations and professional societies.  Too frequently, what your baby boomer aged members want is not consistent with what today’s recent college graduates desire. What’s an association executive to do?

Change your organization’s culture to that of Recruitment Evangelism. Help your long-term members to see the wisdom behind diversity and inclusion, especially in the generational area. Help them not to fear the young upstarts. Help your current members to see the value to them personally in your organization reaching critical membership mass industry market share.

Recruitment Evangelism, What’s In It For the Baby Boomers?

  1. Legacy; as the senior members of your organization see retirement closer than farther—thoughts emerge about leaving footprints. Help them to see the need for their life’s work to matter and to continue.
  2. Making a difference; when senior members mentor younger members, both win. The senior member gets the satisfaction on moving from simply being successful to living significantly. While the junior member accelerates their industry learning curves through accessing the senior member’s lifetime knowledge bank.
  3. Legislative power; your senior members have strong opinions on their industry and the role government plays in enabling or inhibiting commerce. The more members (market share), the greater the voice your organization will have locally, regionally, and nationally.
  4. More programs; with more members comes more money to focus on the specific needs of various contingency groups represented by your organization—and hopefully some of the new programs developed will be focused on the needs of senior members.
  5. Successful succession planning; many of your senior members plan to turn their business over to a child or children. Leaving behind, a strong and thriving association to assist bolsters their confidence in the next generation of company leadership and governance.

Three Conduits for Recruitment Evangelism

  1. Direct selling is the most expedient method for member recruitment but with it comes a price; time and treasure. Direct selling can be done in person and this method is the most effective but not the most efficient. Direct selling can also be done over the telephone which is very efficient but not as effective. For successful direct selling, employing professional sales persons is generally the only sustainable method. You can do telethons but the downside there is ineffective member assimilation follow up.
  2. Direct marketing, hard copy via the postal service or electronic via the Internet can be marginally effective however extremely expensive.
  3. Word-of-mouth, member-get-a-member is the best of all approaches because the cost is minimal, the human power is extensive, and the prospect is sold and assimilated effectively.

Recruitment Evangelism, Nurturing Your Evangelists

  1. Give your enfranchised members the correct tools that spell out, in no uncertain terms, the yearly sustainable real-dollar return on investment (ROI) on member-only benefits. This will help them to prove to prospects and colleagues that membership in your organization is a good business decision.
  2. Give your recruitment evangelists the organizational structure and support (ie committee opportunities, Sr./Jr. Mentoring programs, YPO programs) to help them effectively assimilate new members. When members join and stay, it’s a win for your recruiters.
  3. Give them some public recognition for their efforts at your annual meeting or some other appropriate event.

Understand the Circular Member Lifecycle

  1. Recruitment; the member joins the organization.
  2. Assimilation; the member starts to participate and feel welcomed.
  3. Engagement; the member starts to actively participate on their own without the prodding of their mentor or recruiter.
  4. Retention; the member is fully enfranchised in the organization and has been for several years.
  5. Evangelist; the member is so thrilled with his or her long-term experience that they want to spread the good news about the member-only benefits of participation in their organization and urge others into membership.
  6. Recruitment; it all starts again, see step number one.

For Recruitment Evangelism to become a reality, at the core of your culture shift needs to be an understanding of the real-dollar ROI your organization delivers. This is the basis for recruiting the younger generations that are dealing with working spouses, high-level involvement with their children, and the knowledge that they can seek industry knowledge quite effectively through the Internet. Your organization might consider abandoning its sacred cow activities in favor of developing communities of reciprocity for members of all ages. Prove to current and new members alike that holding membership in your organization is a good business decision.


Are Your Meetings a Feature of Membership? (903 words)

Develop Member-Only Activities at your Meetings to prove the value of membership

Meetings as a Feature of Membership

Meetings Feature Membership, what does it mean? Here is the bitter pill…if non-members can attend…your meetings are not a feature of membership. However, the discount on registration and member-only events are.

Nearly every membership organization can further its mission more effectively, with more members. More members generally translate to larger meetings. To recruit more members, especially Millennials, there must be an outstanding perceived return on investment (ROI) offered.

Contemporary membership research, surveys, and reports all indicate that many membership organizations are challenged with trying to justify why one should join their ranks. There is the good old admonishment, “Join to support your industry.” This has become increasingly ineffective.  Let’s not forget the old standby, ”We have great networking.” Perhaps your organization has progressed to a more contemporary “We have great live and online communities”?

Yet, something is still missing…a truly compelling reason to join. What’s an association executive or director of membership to do? How to make your meetings a feature of membership?

Accelerate Your Action

In order to grow your membership and member meeting attendance, perhaps it is time to push against conventional wisdom and look in a new direction? Consider the inaccuracy that most of what is offered up by membership organizations as “member benefits” are in fact, features—perhaps features of membership. For an organization’s services, activities, or other things to be considered “features of membership” said services or activities must be available only to members. You must make some aspect of your meetings a feature of membership.

Industry benefit activities are those things, like advocacy, that create great value for everyone in the industry—not just the members. These activities are great customer service accomplishments for the longer-term members that care about them. However, they are quite ineffective in recruiting new members—because they receive the value without having to become a member.

Show Me the Money

While advocacy generally is not a feature of membership, a legislative update…distributed only to members clearly is a membership feature which will save the member time, money, and avoidance of regulatory pain…all buying motives. These buying motives are the actual benefit…the things that make your members’ lives better…the things that will motivate non-members to join like meetings feature membership. Like the above mentioned feature of membership, discount on meeting registration, saving money is the benefit and not the meeting.

Motivating the Meetings Feature of Membership

Consider grabbing the opportunity to drive more value, more member ROI, for members at your meeting. There is currently much discussion in the meetings industry about “meeting ROI” but very little about “member ROI.” What the members get in exchange for their annual dues should be important to any association executive. To effectively increase “member ROI” at any of your meetings, consider including in your scheduled offering a number of “member-only” educational, networking, and/or social sessions. You will find this most effective at times when multiple activities are taking place at the meeting so there will be something for non-members to do. And, remember to develop some specific member-only education or activities for your long-term members. They need more than simply a place to see their friends once a year.

As you now know, it is only the registration discount that is the true meetings feature of membership. Add to this feature some member-only activities and those activities also become features of membership. You will greatly increase the total perceived member ROI (member-only). You will be offering your current members more compelling reasons to attend your meetings and to retain their membership. For the non-members, this is like the take-away close—a powerful reason for the non-member to join your organization.

Influence the Decision to Join

There is no advantage in vague or fuzzy-bunny “member value proposition” marketing without meetings feature membership. In order to grow your membership base, which will increase your opportunity to influence more members to attend your meetings; it is crucial that your organization clearly communicate its member value proposition in the area of Meetings Feature Membership. A reasonably easy and inexpensive way to achieve this goal is to calculate the member-perceived real-dollar value of each “member-only” feature of membership. Communicating your organization’s real-dollar member ROI via your website and other marketing channels, both printed and electronic, will go a long way to telling your value proposition story and influencing the decision to join.

Meetings Feature MembershipGive ‘em What They Want

There is the question of which segment(s) you will get the best “bang for your buck” in influencing both membership and meeting attendance? Generally it will be those people that are newer to the industry. They truly have the most to gain from membership. To influence this segment, you have to communicate how it is in their best interest to participate with your organization. During recruitment, is not the time for talking to these younger people about all the great value the organization delivers to the industry. There will be plenty of time for that after they have engaged in your organization and will better understand the value.

Now is the time to communicate the great value that your organization delivers to its members—the ROI of membership based on each member-only feature, especially Meetings Feature Membership. It is your job to help them understand the real-dollar value of each of these features of membership that your organization offers. This will hopefully include a number of new “member-only” activities at your upcoming meetings.

Mission Driven Associations; Are they Dying? (1043 words)

Mission Driven Over Member-ROI-Centric Organizations Might be Spending too much Time Looking Backwards

Mission Driven Over Member-ROI-Centric Organizations Might be Spending too much Time Looking Backwards

Mission Driven Associations, is that the magic elixir? There seems to be a continual “old guard/new guard” debate as to the purpose of associations. This might mean paid staff, volunteer leaders, or rank and file members. The old guard position is generally, people in the industry or profession need to join the organization to serve and give back—our job is to advocate for the industry/profession. The new guard position seems to be, to prove our relevance in the industry and today’s marketplace; we need to demonstrate a stellar member value proposition.

Erroneous Beliefs of Mission Driven Associations

Just for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the new guard is more in touch with their peers than the old Mission Driven Associations guard. Continuing on this line of thinking, how in the world will the old guard effectively recruit new members—those beyond the age of baby boomers? How will the “join because you should” sales presentation influence the up and coming business leaders that associations so dearly need in order to survive and prosper? Perhaps conventional wisdom has become stale? If so, how will the mindset of the old guard transition to that of those they are trying to influence? Might the term “mission driven organization” simply be code for “we are not going to evolve” regardless of what the marketplace is telling us?

The Distinction

It seems very difficult for the old guard to understand the difference between “industry benefit” activities and “member-only” services. When a Mission Driven Associations membership organization embarks on activities that serve both members and non-members—those activities cease to be considered “member-only” benefit. That does not necessarily mean that the activities are bad or should be discontinued—it simply means those activities deliver benefit to all. As such, the activities or services are not true “features of membership,” as one does not have to hold membership to gain the benefit. The old guard tends to hold onto these “all industry benefit” activities and expects the new guard to value these activities the way the old guard has.

New Era Benefit

The tendency of the new guard business leader or professional that might consider membership in their industry/professional organization is to seek honest value in return for their investment of time and money. Since many were raised with computers and used to finding much of the information they seek via a quick Google search on their mobile device (not the desktop computer), the paradigm has clearly shifted— in many cases, to the blind eye of the old guard. The new guard expects and demands, beyond Mission Driven Associations, this reasonable return—something far beyond the old, “join because you should.”  With this in mind, there is an exceptional opportunity for today’s membership organizations to experience explosive growth through calculating and communicating the return on investment (ROI) of membership—and doing it in actual-dollar numbers. Within this opportunity is the need for organizations to take a very hard look at what resources are being used for the entire industry and what are being invested into member-only activities, services, and products. These progressive organizations are sometimes misguidedly referred to as “retail” associations—meaning that they only “sell” to their members.

Walking the Tight-Rope

Many Mission Driven Associations are struggling with the need for “old guard” activities that generally tend to satisfy the long-term member. Fair enough, that is an honest member retention challenge. Organizations should never ignore the wishes of their long-term members, however those wished should be overlaid with both cost-benefit analyses and the desires of the new guard members. It can be difficult for organizations to sunset ineffective or costly activities that are championed by long-term respected members. Yet, this is the charge of the board of directors from a strategic perspective and of the staff from an operational perspective. While there is nothing wrong with an organization touting their “industry benefit” successes, these successes rarely influence non-members to join the organization.

The Answer for Mission Driven Associations

Member ROI is a compelling argument for the decision to join, even in Mission Driven Associations. Today’s successful membership organizations are going to great lengths to calculate and communicate the ROI of membership. This return is what will influence new guard non-members into making the decision to join. This clearly does not mean that organizations must abandon their stated mission to become “retail” organizations. What it means is that membership organizations must understand the needs, wants, and desires of the new guard in order to influence the decision to join. Smart organizations are writing better “sales copy” for their websites and marketing materials focusing more on the benefits and less on features. Organizations are learning to “sell” (okay to say recruit if it makes you feel better) based on new guard non-member buying motives. Learn to write benefit-driven sales copy through the window of non-member buying motives and your organization will be unstoppable.

Dazzle ‘em with Brilliance

Thankfully, the days of mailing out 10-pound member recruitment packages have faded like the Oldsmobile. However, the idea still lingers on in some dark corners of the association world. Some organizations have not yet abandoned the “baffle with bulk” when it comes to member recruitment. The conventional wisdom of “send ‘em all we have” is still alive in many organizations. Honestly, do you really believe the prospective member has the time or desire to wade through all that paper to glean the valuable reasons that might compel membership? I’m here to tell you that they will not! Get better and tighter with your sales message. Drill down to the core, “here’s what’s in it for you” from membership in your organization. Dazzle prospective members with tight and effective benefit copy. Dazzle them with real-dollar ROI of membership numbers. It is simply not that hard—it just takes thought. Build a simple and to the point, new member recruitment brochure. Check out the video below. For my “how to on a single sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper” template and samples, email your request to

Title Question

Are mission driven associations and societies dying? They are surviving. As more old guard staff and volunteer leaders are accepting new guard thinking, or retiring, these mission-driven organizations are finding new ways to serve their mission and their paid members simultaneously—these organizations are thriving. The key is this, recruit members (selling) with your features of membership (member-only) and retain members (customer service) with all your activities, even those that are industry benefit.

The Membership Value Myth (1050 words)

Overcome the Membership Value Myth

The Membership Value Myth

The Membership Value Myth; you’ve heard it time and time again. Membership in our organization is priceless. Oh really? You mean like the MasterCard commercial where another person figuratively ends up with egg on their face?

When someone says that membership in their organization is priceless, what they are really saying is, “I have absolutely no idea of the monetary value I receive from my membership dollars.” What they are saying is that they see their membership as an expense rather than an investment. They are perpetuating the Membership Value Myth and that is a huge problem. If your organization’s members see their membership as an expense, during tough times membership is one of the first things to go.

Monetizing the Membership Value Myth

Because the majority of North American trade associations and professional societies have not gone through process of determining the actual yearly real-dollar value delivered, their members are yearly forced to justify the annual membership dues expense for themselves. This puts many organizations in the precarious positioning stature of being a mere commodity and the Membership Value Myth continues.

There are two basic ways to determine real-dollar member value: staff determined or member determined. In the staff determined model, the staff creates arbitrary numbers derived from industry research comparisons and staff perceptions of what services and products should be worth, or the value from obtaining these at member discounted prices. In my experience, I have found staff driven numbers to be a far cry from the reality their members’ experience and perspective.

Member driven value numbers, since they are self-created, are believable to most—even non-member industry stakeholders. Organizations that employ facilitation in sessions where their members, not staff, determine the actual value—they receive from each and every one of the organization’s activities, products, and services—enjoy more honest and believable numbers. These organizations are not reliant on the erroneous and troublesome phrase: membership is priceless. Therefore they can bust the Membership Value Myth.

Member Value verses Industry Value

Too many associations and societies emphasize and position their direct mail and electronic marketing efforts with—all the valuable work they do for the industry in the area of advocacy and influencing the legislative process—as important reasons to join. There it is again, the Membership Value Myth. This is not a bad for member retention and is almost completely ineffective for member recruitment. Why is it ineffective for member recruitment you ask? This is because industry stakeholders generally get all the value without holding membership. They are getting the milk without buying the cow.

Does it make sense to ask someone to pay for something they are already getting at no cost to themselves or to their company? Well, that is precisely what many of North America ’s associations and societies are trying to do. The old Baby Boomer model of “you should join to support your industry” is dead. Let it go, and move on. What the generations that follow the Baby Boomers want to hear you say is, “Let me prove to you that membership in our organization is a good business decision.”

To eliminate the Membership Value Myth by proving that membership is a good business decision, you have to separate the member-only benefits from the industry stakeholder benefits. In most cases, all of an organization’s advocacy and legislative work falls into the category of (free) industry stakeholder benefits. As stated earlier, this work is good for member retention; it is frequently a no-sale for member recruitment.

Overcome the Membership Value Myth

Member-only benefits are what your members should measure to determine the real-dollar value of their membership. As you would expect, member-only benefits are the activities, products, and services (and discounts) that are only available to persons or companies through holding membership in your organization. As an example, while your legislative work is generally an industry stakeholder benefit, in contrast your legislative update is a member-only benefit—that is of course, if you do not freely distribute this to non-members. If you do, stop doing that NOW! If you offer your legislative update to non-members at a higher price than to members, the deferential in price is the member-only benefit.

Part of the real-dollar value of your legislative update is figured by the amount of time it would take a member, or their clerical staff, to amass the information critical to their business or profession that you provide. If it would take the member 20 hours a year to find and access the information that you spoon feed them, then part of the real-dollar value is 20 times the hourly income of the member or their staff person. This is not just their paycheck number but the real cost per hour the company pays for that person to be there, including benefits cost and workstation/office space costs.

To determine the yearly real-dollar value a member receives from their dues, have your members, in a facilitation process, go through each member-only benefit to determine their personal value, coming to a reasonable group consensus. Add all the numbers and divide by the member cost—you will then have a membership ROI (return on investment) number. It takes a skilled facilitator to correctly draw the numbers from members and is rarely successful when the process is lead by a staff member. This is because staff members have personal agendas in specific programs or silo areas or the organization.

Priceless as the Core of the Membership Value Myth

Using the lexicon of North America , when I hear members or staff stating that membership or a specific benefit is priceless, I think, “Where’s the beef?” In the area of member-only value, relying on the word priceless to describe an activity, product or service is for the weak, lazy, and uninformed. Relying on priceless is a 1990s paradigm that died in the early 2000s. The membership value myth is clearly that of trying to sell to non-members that which the industry stakeholders already receive at no cost. The member recruitment paradigm of today is to prove to non-members the real-dollar value in member-only benefits that is available to them only from membership in your organization. The Membership Value Myth busting paradigm of today is to prove to non-members that membership in your organization is a good business decision.

If you would like help in proving that membership in your organization is a good business decision, I’m happy to supply you, at no charge, with my “dazzle them with brilliance, rather than baffle them with bulk” member recruitment brochure template. Email your request to and put “template request” in the subject box.

The ROI Missing Link (815 words)

ROI Missing Link is Solved through Qualitative Research, Specifically the Rigsbee Member ROI Valuation Process

The ROI Missing Link

Is there really an ROI Missing Link? Absolutely! Meeting ROI and Member ROI are two completely different issues; however for associations and societies they are quite related. Recently, I have sat in on ROI webinars and read a number of articles on meeting ROI. Most of the work that I have experienced has been around particular formulas. The math is the easy part.

What’s Missing

The ROI Missing Link element is the valuation methodology; most do not get into much detail here—I’ve asked. This is the important and more difficult part. Assigning real-dollar numbers to elements seems to be where much of the available ROI information falls short.

Meetings without Members & the ROI Missing Link

The primary challenge that associations and societies are experiencing is membership hemorrhaging. The reason for this is perceived value, or lack there of. Few organizations have been successful in their effort to determine the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of membership, hence the ROI Missing Link. Without an honest number there is no way to determine a truthful ROI of their membership dollar and time investment. It is difficult to have meetings without members.

ROI Missing Link Facilitated Process

For over a decade I have been teaching membership organizations a simple but honest method to determine the yearly sustainable real-dollar value that members receive from their membership investment. The method is simple—I ask them. In a real-time live environment, asking members what the various services that their organization delivers yields truthful answers.

Why Not Use Technology?

The reason I do not believe in technology for this process is because the technology removes risk. I want members to own their valuation answers. I’m not looking for an average of blind numbers but rather a face-to-face discussion on the actual real-dollar value received from any particular organization delivered line item benefit.

The ROI Missing Link

The ROI Missing Link includes all the hoopla around meeting ROI as it’s the membership ROI. Without members there is no meeting. Sure meeting ROI is a great number to have, however it is such a small part of the total equation. The meeting ROI math has no honest meaning without the total equation. Today, members of membership organizations are looking at the total value proposition of membership, not just the meeting ROI.

Membership ROI

To discover the honest membership ROI that your organization delivers, you will want to conduct a facilitated session with a reasonable representation of your membership; demographics, psycho-graphics, etc. Through this process, the ROI Missing Link will be completed. The executive director, any paid staff member, or volunteer officer CANNOT be the facilitator, period!

  1. First be clear on the idea that this is art and science. As such, you are only attempting to get “ball park” numbers. You cannot drill down to the last nickel. Also determine if you want to include the annual meeting value. If only a small percentage of your members attend the annual meeting, leave that value and cost out of the steps below.
  2. Using a flip pad or electronic imaging, first ask attendees what benefits the organization offers and add each to the list (without any dollar value).
  3. After the attendees are done offering the benefits, move into the valuation process. Take one item at a time, saving networking for last, and discuss the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of the item. Complete agreement is not necessary. If the majority say the number is X, then go with X.
  4. This same process must be completed for every item mentioned. And guess what? Some items will be valuated at zero. No worries about the zeros, however those should be placed on the agenda for the next board of directors meeting. Also, the facilitator must keep things moving and not allow any one person to grandstand—too much.
  5. If the value is something that non-members in the industry also receive, you unfortunately have to value the item as zero. Not that the item (like advocacy) is of no value, since non-members also receive the value, it cannot be listed in the “member” ROI column.
  6. If an item is offered to non-members, then the difference between member and non-member price is the valuation number. Again, we are trying to determine the honest ROI of paying dues every year.
  7. When all items have been valuated, add the total value and divide by the cost of membership for an X times ROI. I realize that some others use a different formula, and that’s fine. Use any formula you want. The end result is: for “$Y” in your yearly membership investment, you get “? x $Y in return” and the ultimate question is this…Is it a good business decision to belong to Y Association or Society?

Does it Work?

Yes! I have been working with associations and societies for over a decade, helping them to determine their yearly sustainable real-dollar membership investment ROI. It is this number that delivers the gold. It is this number that will help members to both recruit new members and remain members themselves.