Increase Membership

Ten Strategies for Membership Growth (912 words)

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Ten Strategies for Membership Growth

Membership Growth

Membership growth and member recruitment are not what they once were. Guilt is not much of a motivator in today’s world. In this new order of things, you the association or society executive must embrace the idea that member recruitment is no longer the exclusive responsibility of your membership department. Today, membership is everybody’s business. Yes, it is the business of all your staff, volunteer leaders and members at large. Everyone must pitch in.

In order to embrace this idea of membership being the responsibility of everyone, you will need to have implementation strategies in place to facilitate your new paradigm. Yes, life will be different for the CEO as this person must hold the mantle of responsibility to see that everyone embraces membership is everybody’s business to the fullest. Below are the ten strategies you must embrace…every day.

Strategy #1-The Will to Grow Strategy is book-ended with the will to change. What got your organization to where it is, most likely is not what will get you to the next level. This is where you scour your Bylaws, Policies & Procedures, and daily operation culture to discover hidden member value killers, resource wasters and anything that minimizes the ROI your organization delivers to members. Trust me, identifying is far easier than fixing, and fixing is what you must accomplish.

Strategy #2-The Build a Member-ROI-Centric Organization Strategy is built upon the foundation of the above. This is where embracing membership is everybody’s business is crucial. Every department in your organization must look upon itself anew to discover member value killers and make appropriate changes in their departments to better deliver improved member ROI. Sunset what’s not working and improve and/or increase what is working.

Strategy #3-The Grow Your Member Value Proposition Strategy is not as difficult as one might think. First to the qualitative research as outlined in The ROI of Membership—Today’s Missing Link for Explosive Growth to determine what your members believe is the current real-dollar ROI that your organization delivers to them. Now compare your organization to your competition. You do have competition if you look hard enough. Find what you do better than your competition that matters most to your members and start growing your member ROI from that point.

Strategy #4-The Member Retention Strategy is important and many organizations do not have a structured strategy in place for keeping members. Many believe that a membership turnstile in inevitable. Please…a modicum of energy in keeping your members pays off handsomely. First year members are most at risk and you will want to have a 12-month/12-touch system in place. You need a long-term system for all members and person in charge of the system. The system should consist of both staff and volunteer leader efforts. And, other departments can help. As an example, how about “Your membership has expired” belly bands on your magazine—printed or electronic? Other departments can help also.

Strategy #5-The Win Them Back Strategy is also something that many organizations have overlooked. Sure, you might send a reminder invoice or two but do you have a formal multi-touch system for regularly attempting to win back expired members. Recent and longer-term expired members should be on your target list. You need to do more than send a (passive) newsletter once a year; you need to engage expired members in a way that compels them to rejoin.

Strategy #6-The Member Recruitment Strategy is something that most organizations have in some form or another. Is it exclusively the membership department’s job to recruit…heck no…membership is everybody’s business. You just as much need member evangelists shouting from the rooftops about the ROI your organization delivers as you need an aggressive recruitment staff. You need to have your chapters involved and you need excellent member recruitment collateral materials that talk about the “what’s in it for me” and exceptional member ROI.

Strategy #7-The Components/Chapters Strategy can make or break an organization. Does the organization treat its chapters well? If not, why not? Think of chapter members acting as thousands of individual member recruitment evangelists…if only you give them a helping hand.

Strategy #8-The Alliance Strategy is where you find other organizations with whom your circles of interest overlap and you can develop mutually beneficial programs that deliver similar value to both organizations. I’ve been writing about successful alliances since the early 1990s and I’m here to tell you that it is both rewarding and difficult. Be certain to have your agreements in writing, even for the simplest partnering relationships. I’m not talking about vendor sponsorships but rather other associations or organizations where synergy can be developed.

Strategy #9-The Non-Dues Revenue Strategy might not be seen as part of member growth, but it is.   There has been a dramatic shift since the 1960s toward greater percentages of association and society operating budgets away from member dues in favor of increased non-dues revenue. You need money to develop high-value member products, services, events, and the like and member dues are not going to cover it. Additionally, you must offer the maximum, allowable by law, differential between member and non-member pricing to improve your member value proposition. Explore the possibilities.

Strategy #10-The Mosaic Strategy is all about how you put the above nine strategies into place. You cannot achieve any of the above in a vacuum so you will need to have your, let’s call it master plan in place. You as the CEO are the ultimate conductor or this orchestra called an association and it is you that must see that all parts, pieces, and departments are working collaboratively to achieve sustained membership growth within your association or society. Membership is everybody’s business.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Association Power Struggle

Power Struggle Among Paid Staff and Volunteer Leaders (858 words)

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Power Struggle between Paid Staff and Volunteer Leaders

Power Struggle

For a number of associations, power struggle is the primary core issue hampering membership growth. This revolves around the power struggle among volunteer leaders and paid staff desiring control of the organization. While I have worked hard with a number of organizations to help them shore-up symptoms, this pervasive challenge remains. I realize that paid staff could sometimes be the problem, but that is for another post.

I believe it is now the time for many organizations to honestly face this hampering core issue. Too many organizations have held a central belief that any non-(your industry, fill in the blank) person is simply not capable of understanding the industry issues and as such is incapable of effectively managing the organization. Today, such dismissal of professional association management personnel is a mistake. This is not a critical commentary but rather a (frequent) honest observation. Most hampering symptoms seem to emanate from this core issue.

Days Gone Bye

There was a time when your organization’s leadership was composed of the most influential names in the industry. These captains of the industry had legions of secretarial staff to whom they could assign their volunteer leader responsibilities…and things would get done in a timely manner. Questions could be easily answered and decisions made. This capability made it logical that the organization’s volunteer leadership would hold power as they could direct implementation (by their employees). This void of days gone bye have clearly contributed to the power struggle that many non-profits experience.

Today’s Paradigm

Many volunteer leaders today do not have an army of clerical staff at their beck and call. If they have association work, they have to do it themselves. Couple today’s dynamic with yester-year’s idea that volunteer leaders are in charge (of everything) and what transpires is a continual and massive bottleneck.

Too many of today’s volunteer leaders rely on the excuses of “I have a job” or “I’m just a volunteer” for non-performance of their accepted duties. A symptom of this can be the lack of clear and concise volunteer leader job descriptions. And, most are not held accountable for their performance. I have seen it time and again where volunteer leaders will go “underground” for weeks at a time while important organizational business/duties need to be resolved—the bottleneck. It is completely understandable that people have to earn a living, and conversely perhaps your organization is tapping the wrong people on the shoulder to be leaders or needs to accept a new method of operation. This is a core cause of today’s non-profit power struggle.

Who has the Power?

Today’s non-profit volunteer leaders, especially those of baby boomer age, joined and matured within their association/society at the latter days of the bye gone era. They observed earlier leaders hold absolute power over the organization and to some degree, covet the same for themselves. That paradigm would be fine except for the key ingredient—the army of secretarial help that “got the job done” in the old days.  This by the way is not uncommon within mature societies/associations throughout the United States. For a new era, new “power and control” considerations must be adopted in order to minimize power struggle.

The Partnership

Volunteer leaders have approved the hiring of paid staff—some staff members are more association-professionally trained than others. Bylaws generally state something like, “The Executive Director shall be the administrative officer of XYZ functioning under the immediate direction of the President and the Executive Committee. The Executive Director shall have charge and direction of XYZ’s office and its employees and shall conduct the business of XYZ. It appears to me that there is a myriad of interpretations of the above within volunteer leadership ranks which adds to the confusion causing power struggle.

In benchmarking today’s more successful associations and societies, there is a partnership between the chief staff executive and the chief elected officer. Partnership is the key word. Each must understand their duties and execute accordingly—the CSE with his/her staff and the CEO with his/her volunteer leaders and membership at large. I frequently find this missing in organizations. Yet, this is to where many must evolve.

In today’s world of professional association/society management, the role of CSE is frequently given the title of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) because that is truly what the role necessitates.

What I unfortunately see too much of—is volunteer leaders (current and past) considering the paid staff as their minions—much like the clerical staff that the leaders of old once enjoyed. This should not be the case. Today’s association/society staff is more professional than those of years ago. Today’s staff has educational and certification opportunities that were not available to them just a few decades ago.  On the flip side—rarely do non-profit volunteer leaders take advantage of the plethora of association/society leadership and governance education available to them—they are too busy “at their day job” to dedicate the necessary time and energy. Again, this is simply an observation rather than a critical analysis.

However, this is necessary for organizational survival and hopefully success, to develop a respectful and effectively working partnership between volunteer leaders and staff.

Moving the Needle

In many organizations the Staff is positioned to help launch a successful member recruitment campaign, and what is needed is some horsepower behind the launch—which is only available from the volunteer leaders. The choice is in the domain of volunteer leaders, they can encourage or continue to corral. The power struggle must be resolved.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Free vs. Fee Speakers (927 words)

As an association executive, you are continually seeking great speakers. And frequently, your board of directors expects you to do this without a budget–or one so small that the task seems impossible. I assure you, it is possible.

When is it cheaper to hire a professional than it is to hire free speakers?

The answer that many meeting planners would instantly offer is, never. The other day, I had an eye-opening conversation with the executive director of an association based in the eastern part of North America. If you answered the opening question the same way, hopefully, this will open your eyes.

The executive director said to me, “Ed, I discovered it was cheaper to hire you to speak for two days at my meeting than pay the travel and lodging expenses of the four free speakers that I was thinking of using.” For a couple years now I have been conducting multi-day for single-fee programs, and still, his comment was truly an eye-opener for me.

In an effort to be accurate, I should share some additional details with you. First, the meeting venue is Maui, Hawaii and some of the free speakers would fly from eastern North America. Second, I offer multi-day programs eliminating the need for additional speakers.

Deliver Value vs. Fill the Void

Do the people responsible for particular meetings want to offer usable take-home value for the meeting attendees or do they simply want to fill a void? In my article titled, The Conference Conundrum (, I detailed several of the issues that sometimes create a fearful situation for volunteer association leaders in which they just want to both be “safe” and organize a meeting “on the cheap” rather than to address the attendee and member value issue.

Last spring, a meeting planner hired me to present at her national fall meeting. Since I live in the Greater Los Angeles area, she suggested that I might want to attend her coming Western Regional meeting that was to be held in Los Angeles.

I took her up on the offer and arrived early enough to hear the keynote speaker, a local college professor of marketing. Following the keynote, I said to the meeting planner, “I thought your members were in industrial…” She responded, “They are.” And then went into long discussion about how disappointed she was that the professor was so off-target for her group.

The Real Cost of Cheap

What percentage of the attendees from the above mentioned Western Regional meeting will rush to attend that same meeting the next year? What percentage will wonder if they again want to listen to an off-target college professor, who thinks he is addressing retailers but in reality is addressing industrial fabricators? How many potential following-year attendees did the professor lose for that meeting planner? Would this situation make your meeting appear to be shoddy or inferior?

Supplier companies love to send their representatives/salespeople to speak at conventions, as it is free publicity—even if they have to pay their own way. Sometimes the meeting attendees are lucky in that the supplier’s speaker will be motivating while offering usable content. Sometimes they are not so lucky, especially when the supplier’s speaker does not take the time (like the college professor mentioned above) to either understand the needs of the audience or plan an honest presentation. Too often attendees only get a sixty-minute commercial. After a sixty-minute commercial, what percentage of attendees will break down the doors to attend the following year?

What percentage of your other suppliers would also be outraged? How excited will they be the following year to belly up to the table and again pay more than their fair share for the meeting? Fair Share? Yes, suppliers always pay more than regular members. Associations justify the higher charge since they “get business” there.

Could the above combination of situations cost you 10 percent of your attendees the following year? And again cost you another 10% of the reduced number the year after that? And what about the following year? Could this be the reason for the downward spiral many associations are currently facing?

Saving with Professionals

Professional speakers live and die on their reputation. Please do not confuse celebrity speakers with professional speakers. Celebrity speakers get paid gobs of money to speak at a meeting, not because of their eloquence, but because of the average person’s desire to be in the same room with them—to experience them live. Their job is exclusively to attract people to the meeting. When I talk about professional speakers, I’m talking about the people that earn the lion’s share of their income from speaking at meetings or conducting trainings and their related books, tapes, etc. These are the people who generally interview and research the issues and needs of their audiences and tailor or customize their proven material for each unique audience. These people are experts in their field or experienced sorry tellers or humorists.

These are also the people your attendees expect at their meeting. These are the speakers that deliver solid take-home content while also creating a motivating environment. They have to be exciting, motivating and funny—or they don’t eat!

Keeping in mind all that has been mentioned above, why in the world would you settle for a free speaker? Especially, when that choice could be the most expensive. Don’t your meeting attendees deserve the value they expect?

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

To Get the Best Deal, Understand What Speakers Want (1430 words)

Sure, you want the best possible speaker for whatever your budget might be. A dynamic or informative speaker generally is a stellar investment in the success of your meeting. But, sometimes your budget is not enough for the speaker you want. What’s the solution? Hire a less expensive speaker—squeeze the speaker you want for a better price—think beyond conventional wisdom?

Thinking beyond conventional wisdom might look like, limiting the number of speakers at your meeting. It is always less expensive to have a single speaker do several sessions than to have several speakers present a single session each. Not that every speaker is capable of presenting multiple sessions, however because of the multiple travel and hotel rooms cost, sometimes it is even cheaper to hire a speaker to deliver multiple programs than to have several non-paid speakers participate in your meeting. Even if these unpaid speakers drive in, thereby eliminating their airline travel expense, they will still want a free hotel room for the conference and free registration. Perhaps they were going to come anyway? You would have then received their conference registration dollars. Sometimes the true cost of non-paid speakers is staggeringly hidden.

Let’s explore the difference between a professional speaker presenting the same program multiple times vs. presenting multiple programs. The big difference for the speaker is preparation time—including: research, handout development and PowerPoint preparation. Unfortunately, few meeting planners take this key time issue into consideration. Speakers are selling both their knowledge and their time. The latter is finite, so the more you consume, the more you should expect to pay. In paying for a speaker’s time, you have to consider presentation time, travel time and preparation time. Unless of course you want a canned speech, then the preparation time is not an issue. Before you jump on the cost savings of a canned speech, remember that today, few attendees will tolerate a canned speech.

This idea of a single speaker presenting multiple presentations for a single fee is growing in the world of professional speakers but is counter to standard operating procedures for most speaker bureaus. If you like this idea, you might have to abandon the ease in speaker selection that you have enjoyed when working with bureaus.

The Bureau Conundrum

Speaker Bureaus provide a valuable outsource service for meeting planners that are time squeezed. A planner can contact a bureau, give their budget and the bureau will take it from there. For planners that have to fill a large number of conference session slots and do not have sufficient staff—bureaus can be their solution. Yet, there are many more speakers that are under or non-represented by speakers’ bureaus, than there are speakers that they recommend. Most bureaus only have a small corral of speakers that they can easily sell and therefore will generally recommend them first. Many of the underrepresented speakers are quite good and are a tremendous value.

Another component to consider is that some bureaus serve two masters. What I mean can be illustrated by a recent conversation I had with a planner from a very large biotechnology manufacturer at a meeting industry trends summit. We were chatting at the event’s evening cocktail party and the planner was bemoaning about a request for a speaker that she submitted to a very large East Coast speaker bureau. The planner went on to tell me that the information sheets for the speakers that this particular bureau sent her, had no relationship to her submitted speaker request. The planner was upset that the bureau didn’t pay heed to what she requested. I explained to the planner about that particular bureau specialized in speaker exclusives—meaning that the bureau was the only place through which a particular speaker could be booked. As such, the bureau would recommend their exclusive speakers first, and if none were selected, would then recommend other speakers—even when a non-exclusive speaker would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, this trend is spreading through the speaker bureau industry.

For most speakers, speaker bureaus are but one of the many channels by which they go to market. Speaker bureaus need to be viewed as one would view any distributor or sales agency. If two-step distribution serves your needs, and there are a number of reasons that it might, then by all means select that method.

The conventional marketing message espoused my most bureaus is that for speaker X, you’ll pay the same price through us as you would booking speaker X direct. That is a nice ideal that frequently may be true. Yet, in a supply chain where a distributor or manufacturer’s representative sales agency receives 25 to 30 percent, the reality is generally not quite the ideal. There was a reason behind Sam Walton championing the idea of Wal-Mart working directly with manufacturers, thereby eliminating the distributors. This was a necessary strategy in order for him to continually deliver low prices to his Wal-Mart customers.

Go Direct?

If you should select to work directly with a speaker, the price you will assuredly pay is time. Time both in your search and selection process as will as time working with the speaker on meeting logistics. If this route is best for you, there are a number of advantages that could make your time investment a profitable one. Some of the benefits to you could be, no lost communication through an intermediary, better negotiation possibilities (the Sam Walton dynamic) and the speaker offering programming ideas and insight that most likely would have never been transmitted through a third party.

Searching for a speaker directly has never been easier. To start, there are a number if Internet search engines that will do a magnificent job in searching for a speaker by topic or keyword. Remember to look past the first search page because that is most likely where you are going to find the speaker bargains. A great source to aid your search is the Web Site of the National Speakers Association (NSA).

National Speakers Association

NSA is an alternative method for finding speakers. NSA has an open online search capability that anyone can access at It is true that only members of NSA are listed, which does limit your possibilities just a bit, but nonetheless you will find that the NSA Web Site a valuable source in your search for the right speaker. NSA offers its members a certification called Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). While the CSP designation does not guarantee a speaker’s success at your meeting, the process through which a speaker goes to receive a CSP designation is not an easy one. The CSP is a good indicator that the speaker is truly a professional.

Approaching the Speaker

Never approach a speaker, out of the gate, by asking if they negotiate their fees! What the speaker hears is, “I’m calling to ask you for a discount and offer nothing in return.” That’s a turn-off in anybody’s book. Besides, everything in life is a negotiation—just assume that they will. A better approach is to first talk with the speaker about what you want—engage them in conversation. After they have affirmed that they can deliver what you want, then move into the “we have a budget issue” phase. Do this by first suggesting some of the things your organization can do for the speaker to create extra value for them. Also ask the speaker what creates value in their life. Perhaps you have value to offer a speaker that you had never realized? What do you have that costs you very little but delivers high value to professional speakers?

Keynote Vs. Breakout

Believe it or not, more speakers will be willing to talk to you about your budget challenges when you are talking general session (meaning that there is no other session competing at the same time) vs. breakout or concurrent sessions. The reason for this is exposure and product selling capability. If a speaker is going to fly across the country to speak at a meeting, which do you think is more valuable to the speaker—speaking to 40 people, or 400? Naturally, it is the 400. More people that could potentially recommend the speaker for future events and more product will surely be sold to 400 people than to 40—but, rarely do planners think about this.

In making your decision about how to acquire your next speaker, I hope the above has stimulated your thinking beyond conventional wisdom. Additionally, for more ideas on how to save money at your next meeting, please visit

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

The Conference Conundrum (879 words)

In uncertain economic times, the question of how to deliver value, true ROI, to your conference attendees while still keeping the cost under control is truly…a conundrum. Determining what activities conference attendees want is like shooting in the dark. And, to add to the difficulty, the generational issues are now just that, an issue. Younger people want “Extreme” or interactive meetings while the baby boomers, who are the senior executives want golf and a slower paced meeting. All of this can be quite elusive in your effort to attract them.

What do today’s conference attendees want?

First, explore the basic types that attend conferences, especially when travel is required. The old paradigm conference attendee is a bit like the good ol’ boy—attending his industry meeting regardless of the time of year, location or quality of the meeting. He just wants to meet with his buddies, network a bit, golf and drink. The conference is his well earned get-away.

Then there is the new paradigm attendee, both men and women. They are younger, have families and have the attitude that they will participate if they see the capability for synergy. Golf and partying is not their motivation, but rather the desire to obtain new strategies, tactics and the skills necessary to improve their business. They only want to rendezvous with value.

Toward which group is your attendees titling?

Has the ratio been changing over the last few years? I bet it has been changing, but perhaps nobody noticed? Then there is the paid verses volunteer leadership element with which you must be attentive. This becomes crucial when a volunteer leader from a small company follows one from a large company.

My observation in over a decade of interviewing volunteer association leaders and speaking at association meetings is that generally (but not always) a leader from a large company tends to be more strategic in their thinking and those from smaller companies tend to be more tactical. While both are necessary, tactics without strategy is like traveling to a far-away land without a map—who knows where you’ll end up?

One tactic for reducing costs that a number of associations have recently engaged is that of inviting suppliers to present educational sessions rather than hiring experts, authors and /or professional speakers. Industry presenters usually manage to wrap their presentation around a sales pitch for their product. An important point that is rarely broached in the above mentioned tactic is what effect does inviting one company to present have on other supplier companies?

Since suppliers, or allied members as they are sometimes called, generally pay a disproportionately larger amount to attend a conference than other members, they want value too. Forcing a number of suppliers to endure a competitor’s veiled sales presentation can be considered cruel and unusual punishment. And they never forget. By the way, while I have your attention, just what are you doing to show your suppliers that they are appreciated? Hopefully not having sessions during their expo time? Hopefully doing more than just saying, “Thank you.”

What does create value for today’s conference attendees?

Many attendees, especially those at national meetings, are looking to be recharged. They need and want both the motivation and tools for doing battle in the trenches for another year. What percentage of motivation verses skills? Regardless of what I have been told by meeting planners, over the years I have learned that in both general sessions and concurrent sessions alike, the scales tilt more toward motivation. This is something that a non-professional speaker can rarely deliver.

For a meeting organizer, the rendezvous with value challenge can be enormous. You say, “How in the world can I deliver all the value my diverse group of attendees demands and needs in a time of diminished registrations?” Your answer is in numbers. Just how many of your attendees demand that costly golf outing? Is it a large number or just a few that are quite vocal in their personal demands? Must you have an open bar reception? If so, cut the hours in half.

A great question to ask oneself is that of memory—what will your attendees remember? Will they remember their fourth free whiskey at the reception? Or, will they remember that the speaker from XYZ Company spent the entire hour talking about their own company’s capabilities? What will stick in your attendees’ minds that will urge them to return to the conference the next year? If they are old paradigm; they’ll just come again no matter what. But, for the new paradigm attendees, you must help them to rendezvous with value.

Currently, suppliers to the meetings industry are offering generous discounts; including hotels, resorts, airlines and also professional speakers. This is simply because of supply and demand. If you truly want to deliver value to your attendees, take advantage of the times and give them more than a free whiskey by which to remember their conference. This may take an additional effort in helping your volunteer leaders to understand the value, and, they themselves may be the ones that need the inspiration and motivation the most.

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

The Lost Art of Social Contact (828 Words)

Technology enhanced meetings can be a wonderful thing when the technology drives attendee engagement and learning enablement. Doing more with less and increasing the attendees’ return on registration, travel, and lodging investment (ROI) serves everyone. However, when technology becomes the controller and the audience becomes the controlled, the value of technology quickly diminishes.

Why We Meet

My research has exposed the fact that networking first and education second, are the primary reasons for live meeting attendance. Additionally this research, conducted across a wide assortment of trade associations and professional societies, has revealed the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of networking to be worth just over $4,000 in reference to annual membership. Yet, the conventional wisdom among meetings industry publications is that the networking-capable number of attendees is decreasing. This could offer possible proof that the art of social contact is disappearing.

Technology Down-Side

The drawbacks of technology can be many. Of the simplest meeting technology is PowerPoint. Unfortunately, this helpful software also enables monotone and boring presentations. It is easy for a presenter to get caught up in unsocial behavior; reading their bullet points and forgetting to engage the audience through voice modulation, story telling, and audience participation. This mechanical kind of presentation loses social contact

Risk Avoidance

From the perspective of audience members, technology driven meetings and presentations can easily facilitate risk avoidance by eliminating the need for live social contact. The use of Twitter and Twitter based application software during a live meeting can be a useful novelty however this also allows audience members to avoid expressing and defending a particular position or perspective on an issue. Much of the technology for meetings allows for anonymous participation, which is not always a good thing because it also minimizes social contact.

Technology Advantage

Meeting organizers that incorporate social networking prior to meetings can help their attendees to make live connections at meetings. Twitter postings, Facebook pages and groups, and LinkedIn groups offer planners free cyber social contact enablement conduits. Meeting software, such as Certain Software, offers planners amazing integration—elements from RFPs to attendee registration to creative flexibility in developing pre-meeting special interest groups are available.

Strategies for Re-Socialization

For meeting planners that truly desire to help their meeting attendees receive the maximum ROI from their attendance, consider facilitating quality social contact pre-meeting, throughout the meeting, and post-meeting.

  • Set up a Twitter account for your meeting. Send an email invitation to constituents asking them to become followers. Then tweet weekly with new information about the meeting.
  • Set up a meeting group at either Facebook or LinkedIn. Email invitations asking constituents to join the group. About six months before the meeting, start posting discussion questions weekly designed to elicit discussion among members. Closer in, start posting individual notices about each specific activity. Just before the meeting invite all the “cyber” buddies to an “organization hosted” pre-meeting live networking gathering.
  • Add to attendee badges some sort of (attendee approved) interesting information about that attendee that will cause others to ask questions.
  • Ask EVERY presenter, including the keynoter, to add an element of networking driven audience participation to their program. While this is generally much easier for professional speakers to achieve, it is perfectly acceptable to expect “invited” industry speakers to comply. Inexperienced presenters can always employ the “round table” question discussion, regardless of the room setup.
  • At the first night cocktail welcoming event, employ a networking game. The best are the games where everyone gets a sheet with a list of questions that they have to get the answers from other attendees. One answer per attendee please. If you have GREAT door prizes, most everyone will participate.
  • Be reasonable about the meeting schedule. This is the area most susceptible to planner sabotage of networking possibilities. Breaks between sessions, depending on the distance attendees must walk, need to be closer to 30 minutes than the typical 5-15 minutes.
  • Buffet meals will cause much more networking possibilities than will “served or platted” meals.
  • For served-meal events, try assigned seating. There are a number of “seating formulas” that will work, yet the important element is a diversity of meal mates at each table. Sure it is a bit of work, but this causes quite a bit of interaction among attendees from trying to find their seat to meal discussions.
  • Many organizations use the buddy/mentor system very successfully. This is where every first time attendee is assigned a buddy/mentor. The buddy/mentor is responsible to take this new person around to all his or her social networks and effectively guide the person through the meeting maze. Also the buddy/mentor does some post-meeting follow up to see that the first-timer actually implements new skills learned at the meeting.
  • Post meeting interaction can be easily facilitated through the social networking activities mentioned above. The most effective will be centered on discussions and activities encouraging implementation of the new skills learned and follow up with new persons met.

Associations Must Either Partner or Perish (1059 Words)

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Associations Must Partner or Perish

The reason for any professional or trade association to exist is for the purpose of synergistic and mutual improvement of the persons and organizations involved is a particular industry or profession. I believe an association to be a gathering of people with similar interests and goals. This gathering must be a multi-faceted partnering alliance between members (including associate or supplier members), officers and paid staff.

In every association with which I currently hold membership or have held membership, I’ve have experienced a class structure. While I believe this class structure is generally unintentional, it is none-the-less destructive and at cross-purposes to the associations’ stated mission. The officers usually make policy and the rules for all to follow. The staff works hard to serve the officers, more so than the membership. This is because they believe, or have the perception, that they hold their jobs at the pleasure of the board of directors. While operational staff generally works under, and is hired by, an executive director or executive vice president, the staff people see their jobs as being at risk when they inform board members on things the board members do not want to hear.

Elected officers try to do their best to run the association so it will best serve the membership, but they must also run their own business. Some of the challenges that frequently occur are:

o    Individuals seeing the world through his or her own filter or paradigm. This can cause people to only see what they want or to only see the world through their situation. If one selects to participate as an association leader, this is a luxury one cannot afford.

o    The ability officers have to pork barrel can drive a wedge through any industry, especially between the buyers and sellers in the industry. The association must create value for all dues paying members, regardless of their status.

o    Elitism, planned or inadvertently occurring. This is the most insidious of value dismantlers. While it is human nature for offers that select to donate an unusually huge number of hours to socialize with one another at meetings and events, there still is a responsibility for officers to individually reach out to the general membership. Additionally, those same people that donate the hours sometimes feel entitled. Entitled to what you may ask? The list is limitless; from questionable association resource spending to policy making that only serves the selected few.

o    Participation burnout of officers is common. People that care about the success of their association and industry as a whole, can acquire the Savior Complex, thinking that the entire industry will stop if they don’t do it all. Then they get bitter about the time they feel obligated to donate.

o    Personal ownership disassembling synergistic results. When certain “entitled” people believe they own the association more than others, based on their personal standards of participation and history with the association, they can unknowingly push others away.

Over the past decade I have been helping organizations to see the world through the window of others. The system I offer is that of Total Organizational Partnering System (TOPS). Many associations in which I have come in contact have or could benefit from TOPS. The decision to adopt the multi-faceted partnering model is not always easy. It is unfortunate that many associations are encumbered with persons flexing their personal and sometimes hidden agendas.

Is it possible in association life to have cooperation? Absolutely, I see it frequently. Working with others for a mutually beneficial solution is what should be at the foundation of any association. Partnering is the redeemer necessary to successfully carry an association to new heights of success in serving its industry.

Today, many associations are faced with the fallout of consolidations within their industry; both regular members and associate or allied supplier members. In some situations, in order to survive and serve their membership, even associations have found it necessary to merge. There will always be the members that support their association, regardless of the value they believe they receive. And, there will always be the people in an industry that do not believe it is worth their time or money to belong to their industry association.

What every association (staff, boards and members) must explore is the middle mass. These are the industry players that will only belong to, and participate in, their industry association if they believe they can get more out than they put in. This is possible through collaborative synergies developed through TOPS. Association leaders must partner with this critical mass in order to have the number and financial support to do the work necessary to keep their industry alive, healthy and growing.

Never allow the situation to develop in which members or potential members say, “I want to be part of the system. I want a piece of the pie, but I don’t believe it’s possible.” Be cautious not to treat less participative members as second-class citizens. I know there is some truth to this because I, myself, have felt like a second-class association member in times past. Was I really a second-class member or was it just in my mind? Since my perception is my only reality, what do you think? Does it matter what others think? No, because my perception is my reality, and it is for your members too.

Members, retained and new alike, are the lifeblood of any association. If you are an officer and keep that in mind daily, your association will not only survive but it will prosper. Listed below, are ten of my partnering principles that I believe association officers, staff and members need to adopt.

Ten Partnering Principles

  1. Partnering means learning the needs, wants and desires of others.
  2. Partnering builds confidence and trust.
  3. Do not take too long to act, as there are others that may beat you to creating valuable partnerships.
  4. Partnering strengthens your image and defines your culture.
  5. You must deposit into the Relationship Bank before you may take a withdrawal.
  6. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising available, and you must earn it.
  7. People have short positive but long negative memories.
  8. Partnering allows for immediate feedback. Ask, “How are we doing?”
  9. Partnering creates an environment of possibilities.
  10. Partnering is a subtle and successful form of marketing.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Can You? Will You? An Association’s Journey (908 words)

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Association Success through Member ROI

It’s hard to watch something die a slow agonizing death, including an association. Over the last decade I have presented at the meetings of scores of associations. Because I highly customize my presentations, I have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of association board members as well as rank-and-file members. My observations—as in any industry, some do well some plow along and some disappear.

One association, for which I presented three years in a row, I also found myself working with four different executive directors in that same time period. Consistent leadership is one of the critical success factors in any business, and an association—while perhaps a non-profit—an association is still a business.

This same association found its conference attendance dropping to the point that there were almost two associate (vendor) members for every (buying) member in attendance. The suppliers had been threatening for several years to discontinue their support if the trend did not turn around. The regular members didn’t listen. They just continued to see their conference as a subsidized vacation and social gathering. The vendors finally pulled the plug—early last year, this association planned not to hold a meeting this year.

What’s the lesson we can take from this example? I believe there are several.

Lesson Number 1: Free lunch…where?

Lunch is not free forever. Sure, your industry vendors will support and subsidize meetings for their customers, but only if there is something in it for them. Exposure does not put meat on the table. When the associate members of an association no longer believe they are receiving a reasonable return for their investment of time and money, they will discontinue their support.

Lesson Number 2: Do you know what’s really going on?

If you make like an ostrich and always keep your head in the sand, you will surely lose your rear end. Both the governing board and regular members are equally responsible for the success of an association. If you are a regular member, you cannot maintain the attitude of, the board will handle it. The governing board cannot perform magic; make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. They can only offer leadership and direction. If the membership at large is too lazy, comfortable or complacent, the board can only do so much.

Lesson Number 3: Fish or cut bait.

Associate, or supplier, members must either fish or cut bait. If a supplier member company is not receiving value from participation, they must first ask about their own responsibility. Ask, “How can we better work the show?” How can we better capitalize on the opportunities?” and “How can we help this association to improve?” After this has been done and the results are still unacceptable, shut up or cut bait. Too often suppliers will complain year after year about the quality of a conference but do nothing. It is like crying wolf, after enough complaining, nobody listens. Actions speak more loudly than words.

Lesson Number 4: Create value for members.

An organization must create enough value for those involved in it for the organization to sustain itself, let alone thrive. Everyone’s afraid to ask, “Does this association still serve?” If not, fix it or kill it. Penetrating deeper into the idea, the realization that an association is nothing more than its members must be brought to the surface. As such, how often does the governing board query its individual members as to the value they are currently receiving from their membership?

Lesson Number 5: Old Farts R Us is not the formula for success.

Every association must accept that there is a turnstile of membership. Some become disenchanted and leave, some go out of business and some die. This is the reality of any association. Additionally, industry players that have reached their golden years generally have already made it, become successful, want to spend time with their grandchildren or perhaps sipping a margarita in Cancun rather than building an industry. What are you doing each year, month, week and day to persuade non-member industry players to come and play in your sandbox?

Lesson Number 6: It’s all about the people.

Association members can do wonderful things in building their association if given the proper tools. Build outrageously successful relationships wherever you can. For governing board members: First, find the best executive director and staff possible, pay them well and develop incentives that will motivate them to stay put. Then develop tools to help your members at large to share with their industry colleagues the value in belonging to your association and keep asking questions in the form of member surveys. More association value articles. For the members at large, if you catch yourself whining—quit it! You have the power and opportunity to ask, “What can I do to help grow my association, and industry?” You also have the power and opportunity to ask yourself, “What will I do to help my association and industry grow?”

Trade and professional associations in America, when run well, deliver to its membership huge synergies. This is done through economies of scale and other mechanisms. At an association conference roundtable session that I recently facilitated, we discovered that the association asked approximately $1,600 in cash and two semi-annual trips in time of its members. In return, that association delivered just under $5,000 in documented value for the member’s investment. What’s your association’s value proposition?

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Poor treatment

Meeting Sponsor or Strategic Partner? (657 words)

What’s Your Treatment Paradigm?

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Successful Sponsor Strategy

Some associations treat their supplier members like lepers while others consider their associate members to be potential strategic partners. How do you approach this dilemma? The paradigm for some associations is that of continually figuring out how to squeeze the last possible dime out of their suppliers while others seek long-term partnership.

In the meetings industry publications you’ll read about how to generate more profit from your meetings; mostly by selling more exposure opportunities to your supplier members. This by the way is a good thing as long as you keep the two way value proposition in mind.

Two Way Value

The topic I rarely see in the meetings industry publications is that of delivering value to your associate members. Sure, there is a passing quotation here and there about driving value for sponsors. But, how do you do it?

When considering the value your sponsors seek; keep in mind the number one rule. Understand that their greatest desire is to increase their sales volume. Why else would they be there? To build a better industry; okay, if you say so. Please, get real; while every supplier would like to see higher levels of professionalism and effectiveness in the supply chain and in the industry in general; their number one desire is to increase sales.

What Can Associations Do Differently?

If you want your suppliers to willingly deliver their cash to your association coffers, you must treat them like strategic partners and not lepers. How would it look in your mind’s eye if your paid staff and volunteer leaders treated your suppliers with the respect that they deserve?

  • Give them a seat at the table; meaning that one board member position should always be reserved for an associate member.
  • Conduct supplier focus groups with the only intent to better understand the specific value line items that they desire as opposed to squeezing them for more money.
  • Offer year-long strategic sponsorship opportunities, perhaps at various investment levels so all suppliers have the opportunity to play.
  • Increase your conference/expo functionally member attendance. I’ll never forget traveling to the Pacific Northwest to speak at a meetings industry association chapter meeting. While I was paid to present at this meeting, I could not help feeling sorry for the suppliers in attendance. At this particular meeting, there were 4 planner members and 25 suppliers; is there anything wrong with this picture? Suppliers want to network with people that can buy from them, not their competitors.
  • Keep your suppliers, association members or not, informed. I’m intimately familiar with an association that recently demonstrated by deed, not word, that suppliers were on the bottom rung of the ladder of importance. For this association’s convention being held in a large-city market they managed to strike an incredible deal on room rates for the convention hotel but were unable to secure a large enough room block to accommodate everyone. This association informed their members, but not their suppliers when the room reservations opened. The result, suppliers then had to seek more expensive rooms at other nearby hotels of they wanted to exhibit at the convention.

Why Does It Matter?

Business is about results, not excuses. If your association wants suppliers and associate members to play the sponsor game at higher levels, and who doesn’t? You had better play the game to win. Winning means developing long-term strategic sponsor relationships. The better in business your suppliers do, the more money they have to give your association in sponsorship dollars. And the way to help them do better is to pay attention to their needs and treat them with the respect they deserve.

In the final analysis, functionary members of an association or society have to pay one way or another. Members either must pay the real cost, without sponsor subsidies, or pay in actions by creating the correct environment for sponsor participation. The choice is on the table.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Sacred Cows in an Economic Downturn (1043 words)

What better time to grind up sacred cows into hamburger than during an economic downturn? Why; because the sacred cow protectors in your organization are experiencing lowered resistance when times are not so good. It is much more difficult for them defend their pet projects, products, and services that have reached their sunset when placed under the tight economic microscope.

Sacred Cow Defenders

Upper level decision makers pay especially close attention to questionable activities in an economic downturn, organizational restructuring, or during a merger. If you have even a faint indication that you might be a sacred cow protector, this is the time to realize that everyone will be attacking your pet sacred cow. Ask yourself if this cow is worth your career or might it be time to let go?

To help you work through the process of either defending or letting go, consider the following:

  • Why should this cow continue?
  • Who cares most about this cow?
  • Why do they protect it?
  • Which market or stakeholder segments does the cow still serve?
  • Is this cow still profitable?
  • Is this cow worth the organizational resources necessary to sustain it?
  • Has this cow reached its sunset?

Cow Grinders

This is the moment for which you’ve been waiting—to rid your organization of that outdated, resource sucking albatross that has, in your opinion, been dragging everyone down. While this is a good time to bring out the meat grinder, you’d better be smart about your actions. This is not the time to pretend you are a bull in a china shop but rather take a methodical approach to getting that cow into the grinder.

First, you must remain aware of the fact that most sacred cow protectors have their identify and self-worth complexly entwined with the cow that they protect so ferociously—a bit like a momma bear protecting her cub. And you do not want to get between them.

Broaching the Subject

How do you help an iron-clad mind to open up? Perhaps oil and leverage will do the trick?

  • The oil relates to the idea of slipperiness verses friction. Their iron-clad mind is the friction and you become the oil that helps movement. Your job is to help the protector see that there might be new or better ideas, products and services that might possibly, maybe, perhaps serve the market or stakeholders better than the currently protected cow.
  • Leverage relates to an outside object or force that allows ease of movement for heavy or stuck objects. Needless to say, the stuck or heavy object is the cow protector. The outside force could be higher authority or replacement product/service. Higher authority needs no explanation. Replacement however is formidable subject. Where or what could the cow protector use as an alternate crutch for channeling their passion? Figure that out and you have both oil and leverage available to help you, to help the protector move toward something better.

Grinding Cows in For Profit Organizations

  • We’ve always done it, our customers expect it, and so we should continue to do it. This is an area that can be overcome by numbers, metrics or measurements. It is difficult for a person or department to defend something that can be proven to no longer be performing.
  • The “not invented here” attitude can be a challenge when offering alternatives to the cow you want to grind. Leading the cow protectors to their own discovery of a replacement generally works well. The price you, the cow grinder, must be willing to pay is to relinquish an ego boost and the credit for being the cow grinder.
  • Sacred cow profitability always decreases with commoditization. For most things there is a season. Even sacred cows that are only approaching their sunset must be examined closely. The challenge is in letting too many old cows run the pasture. If in your organization there are a number of cows that are nearing their end of usefulness, all your organizations resources are being allotted to refreshing and keeping alive old cows rather than allowing innovation and discovery of new and profitable, non-commodity products and services to take their place. You can swim with the sharks in highly competitive regions or head for the open waters of innovation and creativity.

Grinding Cows in Non-Profit Organizations

  • Long-term equity is bestowed upon those that have participated through volunteerism for years. These folks also enjoy chronological credibility. Going up against this cronyism is wrought with landmines, especially for the younger, innovative, and excited members. The most critical challenge that faces non-profits today is honoring members with this long-term equity while simultaneously defending the emergence of youthful exuberance. Can they both co-exist—I believe so.
  • Changing member needs and desires compounds the above conundrum. This is an area where paid non-profit staff and the volunteer leadership must work toward mutually beneficial programs, services and long-term strategic plans to gradually turn the page to a new era. The need for this phenomenon generally occurs every decade or two. As an example, many organizations are now discovering that the sacred cow golf tournament that has always taken place before the convention can no longer sustain itself financially. The old timers defend it with all the oomph and gusto they can muster but the newer functionaries in the industry could really care less. Perhaps the tournament’s sunset has arrived?
  • Non-profits must be keenly aware of the current and emerging competition from non-traditional sectors. There might be products or services your organization has provided to its members since the dawning of time. And, there might now be for-profit companies that provide the same, or better, products or services faster, cheaper, and offering more choice than your non-profit could ever achieve. Might it be time to grind that cow?

So what’s a reasonable person to do? If you are a cow protector, be certain it is worth protecting. If you are a cow grinder, be sure that cow’s sunset has arrived. Grinding cows simply for pleasure or self-adulation is not an acceptable reason to flick the switch and start the grinder. The magic for your organization is for the leaders to have the wisdom in understanding and recognizing the difference.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.