Trade associations and professional societies are wonderful industry or profession collaborations and deliver high value to their members. After a decade and a half, speaking at association and society conventions and board meetings, I can safely make the above statement. And I believe I can also safely say that most society and association staff and volunteer leadership do not have a clue as to the real dollar value their organization delivers to its members.
Are you an association volunteer leader? If so, tell me quickly the yearly sustainable real-dollar value you receive from your yearly investment of time and money? Can you do it? Most likely you cannot. If you are an association staff member, tell me the average yearly return on investment (ROI) your members receive. Can you do it? Most likely you cannot.
While associations and societies have traditionally created plenty of value for their members, they have done quite a poor job of demonstrating the value that they deliver. For years, it did not matter. Why? Through the 1980s, people still joined their trade association or professional society simply because it was the thing to do. Most of those wonderful people have either retired or died off.
Today, younger persons ask themselves, “What’s in it for me?” and unfortunately, organizations don’t have the answers. For several years now, I have been conducting my Member Value Process for associations and societies—they can answer my above questions of yearly sustainable real-dollar value received and ROI.
For about half a decade I have been talking to my association audiences about a 1999 study conducted by the American Society of Association Executives on why members do not retain their membership. My personal synthesizing of the data leads me to believe that over 75% of the members surveyed that did not renew their membership selected not to do so because they did not believe they were receiving enough value for their membership investment.
Association Member ROI
While no two associations are the same, I have listed below a few common line items of member benefits that should help you to have a better understanding as to the real-dollar amounts that organization members have assigned during my sessions. Remember, these“cumulative specific value information
” numbers are the yearly sustainable dollar-value amounts.
Training & Education
–Range: $500 to $4,000
Industry Specific Research, Regulatory & Code
–Range: $1,000 to $4,750
–Range: $200 to $10,000
Professional Recognition, Image & Credibility
–Range: $200 to $5,000
Telling your members what it is that you do for them is important. Telling them how much it is worth to them yearly is crucial for your success or that of any other trade association or professional society.
https://rigsbee.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/rigsbee_research_logo-300x112.jpg00Edrigsbeehttps://rigsbee.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/rigsbee_research_logo-300x112.jpgEdrigsbee2016-09-22 19:15:342023-01-31 01:51:08Associations Deliver Value, But They Don’t Know How Much (Word count 486)
Membership organizations absolutely deliver ROI (return on investment) to their members. What are you afraid of, is the question I frequently find myself asking non-profit organization governing board members. I have observed, over the years, an alarming propensity of board members being remiss in their fiduciary responsibility to their organizations. Fiduciary encompasses more than simply financial good sense; also trust, loyalty, and prudence are crucial elements. I’ll get into this in a bit.
Do you really believe that your member value proposition is so low that you are afraid to measure it, is frequently my follow up query. I am truly amazed at the levels of fear board members exhibit in the area of articulating the value their organization delivers to its members. Many have such a deep-seated fear of revealing the ROI truth—that the number would be so low, thereby giving current membership justification to abandon ship. In my experience, reality is almost always the exact opposite. Organizations do deliver great ROI; they just have no clue as to how to measure it.
At the Core of Member Recruitment and Retention
I have been using my proprietary version of the active qualitative research method for over a decade to help associations and societies prove to their members and prospective members that membership is a good decision. I can categorically state that I have never worked with an organization that failed to deliver more real-dollar value than they charged for membership.
Unfortunately, out-dated and erroneous thinking obfuscates board members’ ability to engage in fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to their organizations. What I mean by this is simply that board members of non-profit organizations are just as responsible to the members as they are to the organization. This means that some board members will find it uncomfortable (but it is absolutely necessary) to stretch their awareness and understanding of available organizational growth and management tools—like proving ROI.
At the core of any membership organization is the criticality of proving that membership is a good personal or business decision—based on the organization’s stated mission. Most membership organizations, especially trade associations and professional societies deliver far more real-dollar value than they realize—but unfortunately rely on the fictitious MasterCard commercial phrase, believing that membership is: PRICELESS. FYI; membership is not priceless, unless of course it is free. Priceless sold to the Baby Boomers, but does not sell to the GenY stakeholders in your industry. The GenY crowd only buys ROI.
Let’s Talk Real Measurement
I applaud organizations in which staff members have gone through the soft research process of comparing member benefits value to what might be available in the marketplace or by other organizations. However there is a problem with this process. It is a simple problem. People believe that which they help to create. If staff did it alone, the research numbers are generally a no-sale, or fail to pass the all-important “smell test.” Staff-driven is an excellent first step but it does fall short of being an effective member recruitment tool.
When a reasonable sampling of members are facilitated through the active qualitative research method for determining what they believe to be the yearly sustainable real-dollar ROI of membership, the organization and its members can tout—our members have told us…
As an example, after three years and six qualitative research sessions, the American Society for Quality can confidently state that their members have told them that for every dollar invested in membership, members get over $50 back in real-dollar value. Can your organization make such a claim?
Selling Membership—Whose Job is it?
Membership is everybody’s business, not just the members, not just the staff, but member recruitment must be a partnership among both. Each group inherently has several advantages and disadvantages in their quest to recruit new members. As an example, members can access colleague prospects far easier and faster than can staff, conversely staff generally has more dedicated resources and tends to me more consistent in selling membership. However, when there is a cooperative effort, a partnership, among staff, board of directors, and members, the machine is literally unstoppable. Neither group can successfully go it alone.
Fiduciary Responsibility to Help the Organization Grow
I cannot tell you how many times an executive director has called me after attending one of my member ROI workshops and stated that they could not get their board to agree to doing, or budgeting for, the ROI research project they desired to launch. Was it that the executive director was awful at selling the value of determining the real-dollar ROI that the organization delivers? Or, might it have been that the board members were so petrified that if they measured the member ROI they wouldn’t make the grade?
Either way, the board members individually, have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization they govern to seek out and engage the available cost-effective tools to help and allow their organization to grow and prosper, thereby serving the organization’s stated mission. It saddens me, inadvertently as may be, how many board members shirk this responsibility of loyalty to their organization.
Release the Fear; It Doesn’t Become You
I believe that every membership organization should go through the process of determining the yearly sustainable real-dollar value it delivers to members. The next natural step might be to explore possibilities, strategies, and tactics for increasing the real-dollar value of membership. Do this because it helps in the long-term growth effort, but do not overlook the important immediate step of creating new tools to support the efforts of staff and members in their endeavors to evangelize and recruit new members.
My recommended tool is a simple, single-sheet, tri-fold brochure that lists the real-dollar value and various benefits (not features) of membership to the different membership stakeholder categories (vendors, allied, related professions, customers). The propensity of information gained through an active qualitative research method will be the core of this brochure. You want a tool that will dazzle your prospects with brilliance rather than to baffle them with bulk—the pounds of paper you mail out that they will never read. I believe in this tool at such a high-level that I will give you my brochure template at no charge, just email your request to email@example.com.
Discovering the Real-Dollar Value of Your Association Membership
Grow your organization by proving membership is a good business, financial, and career decision. Gone are the days where professionals and business owners would simply belong to their association because their should or for “networking” opportunities; that was a Baby Boomer paradigm. Today, more than ever before and forced by younger generations, it is crucial that trade and professional associations deliver high-level and usable value to their entire membership. I’m talking about the real-dollar value that individual members now demand rather than the value that the leadership thinks they need.
Frequently, when I’ve asked association members about the value they receive from their membership they stumble. How would you, as an executive director or volunteer leader, feel if all the members of your association said, “I’d be foolish NOT to belong to my industry’s association and attend its annual meeting?” You would feel fabulous!
Unfortunately, that’s infrequently the case. In an issue of Association Management magazine, there was an article about why membersdo not renew. The article stated that American Society of Association Executives’ research revealed the following reasons for association members not renewing:
Change of profession-15%
Dues too high-17%
Not enough time to use member benefits-7%
Services no longer relevant-17%
In my opinion, the only “non-value” issue is the business closing or change of profession. All the remaining reasons loudly say, “Not enough perceived value!” Over 73% of the non-renewing members said, “Not enough perceived value.”
Two Categories of Association Members
Today, there are basically two categories of association members: The first is the most desirable by many leaders. They will belong to their industry’s association and support it with attendance—no matter what. These “jewels” are dying off. The second is a more challenging type. They say, “I’ll come and play in your sandbox if you can show me that I will get more out of it through synergies and economies of scale than by not participating.” The latter, generally are younger and many times have taken over the business from a parent. Their life is busy and they do not want to waste their time just “networking”.
Why are association executive directors and volunteer leadership not listening? Perhaps, it is because it’s generally easier to blame the member reduction problem on industry consolidation, an area of no control, rather than on lack of member perceived value, an area over which leadership does have control. Even with consolidations, if the involved parties really believed in the value of membership in their industry’s association, they would find the time and dollars for multiple executives, and or subsidiaries to hold membership.
Now that an enormous problem has been unearthed, let’s look at one possible solution: A process for helping members to determine the real dollar value of their association membership. This will help your members in having an emotional ownership in their membership. Additionally, this process will empower and encourage members to talk to non-members about membership in your association.
Association Member ROI
I discovered this process due to association member request. It is truly fulfilling to see people make a shift when they understand and work collectively to discover answers. I believe if you look at this with an open mind, you too, will absolutely want to take your association membership through this valuation process. While I have helped a number of associations with this process, I will detail my work with one such association.
Initially, ask the members what they get out of belonging to their association. Every item they mention, list on a flip chart or enter into PowerPoint with the image projected on a screen.
Next, after each item is listed, conduct a discussion on the real, honest and yearly sustainable dollar value they received through their association membership and attending their conference. This can be difficult, as people will argue incessantly about the numbers. Hang in there and gently force them to come to some kind of agreement on the value of each item listed.
When the group seems to have exhausted the line items, push them to explore further, many times more valuable items will be discovered. Below is an example of the association membership value that one group determined:
$1,000 for industry specific technical training offered twice a year.
$1,000 for business, management and marketing training twice a year.
$300 for monthly legislative updates.
$1,000 for coupons for goods and services offered by the national organization with national and regional membership.
$600 for legal seminars offered twice a year.
$200 networking value at semi-annual meetings.
$300 tax savings on income spent attending vacations (meetings).
$500 for mentoring opportunities available through meeting attendance.
$200 for product knowledge gained at meetings.
$200 for company credibility and image associated with membership.
$300 for education in accessing local publicity.
$200 for publicity and exposure through association membership.
Now ask the group how much it costs them to both belong to the association and attend the association’s annual or semi-annual meetings. Put that number on the flip chart.
Next, add up the dollar amount of all the line items on the board and show the two numbers to the group. For the above-mentioned association, the cost of membership and attendance at the two semi-annual meetings was pegged at approximately $1,600. After less than an hour (session time expired), the group came up with membership value in real dollars at $5,800.
With numbers like the ones above, it is easy for one to justify the time and dollars necessary to take advantage of membership in their industry’s association. It is possible for your members to say, “I’d be foolish NOT to belong to my industry’s association and attend its annual meeting?”
The last thing is for the association leadership to produce a Member Value brochure; in which are listed the actual services and yearly sustainable real dollar values offered by the organization.
I believe one of the best ways for any association to grow its membership is through a membership participation process like the one I’ve outlined for you. This will help your current members to truly become active advocates for the association rather than just passive members. Realistically, not all members will do this, but many will. Give them the right tools, and people will amaze you with their results.
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