|When your members are actively engaged in your association or society, there are two important benefits to the organization. First is what usually comes to mind—member retention. Second, might not be so top of mind and that is member recruitment. When a member is enthusiastically engaged, he or she will aggressively talk about the organization to colleagues, suppliers and customers. There is no better source for member recruitment, which will have the follow-up member assimilation factor included, then member evangelists.
Fostering communities of reciprocity within your organization is the number one most important activity of association and society leaders and paid staff for encouraging high-level member engagement. However, there are frequently self-generated internal control issues that can easily squelch this kind of valuable participation. If a particular community is not, an association officially sanctioned and developed community, the leadership can all too easily consider the community a threat, menace, or danger to the organization’s traditional power structure. This is truly a disappointment to mature organizational value seekers.
There are no better organizational communities of reciprocity than the ones that are member founded. While these communities are all too frequently feared by the ensconced organizational leadership, they are nevertheless conduits of high member value. Dynamic individuals drive the creation of communities that they want, need, and desire.
If a contingent of your members want a particular community and develop it, they will value it and remain engaged as long as the community delivers value to them. It would only be a low-esteem, paranoid personality that would want to squelch this kind of community participation. Association leadership must embrace these emerging communities or chance the repercussion of member anger and drop-off.
Since these members generated communities deliver additional organizational value to members, association and society leaders really should be looking to put in place strategy and tactics that foster these communities rather than try to limit them. Frequently, geographical communities can evolve into formal “chapter” structure far quicker and more successfully than can or does organization developed structure.
As I mentioned earlier, control is one of the primary reasons that organizational leadership will squelch member generated communities in favor of official organization created communities. Organizational created communities are fine and can deliver high levels of value if created for the correct reasons; primarily to deliver additional value to members. If revenue generation is the primary organizational driver, the communities have a higher propensity for failure.
Organizational created communities must serve the needs of members rather than the needs of the organization. There also is the important challenge of relevance. Since member created communities are relevant to member needs, organizational created communities must do the same. The challenge with surveying members using an online system like Survey Monkey to determine wanted communities is that all to often members will state, give me this—and when created by the organization, the members never participate. This is because they have no skin in the game. Then association leaders surmise that members really do not want the communities.
Better, is for association leaders and staff to listen intently to off-handed remarks made by members during a variety of events and when enough members make a similar remark about a needed community—build that. This method is much more effective than the traditional leadership structure saying, “We need X, Y or Z” and then going out and building those communities without a champion.
Regarding a community that I personally built, even though the entrenched leadership of a particular association continually tried to kill the community; my good friend, W. Mitchell, frequently said to me, “The market decides.” With this in mind, the leadership could have and should have embraced a community being developed that gave scores of members an additional reason to attend the annual convention but fear of absolute control paralyzed any thoughts of collaboration, much less cooperation. Is this what you want?
A valuable hybrid approach will generally serve most organizations and their members well. This is where member generated communities are encouraged and assisted through a flexible support system put in place by the board of directors and administrated by the organization’s staff.
My urging to all association and society leaders, volunteer or paid, is to embrace communities of reciprocity that sprout within and around your organization. These communities should not be feared but rather embraced, nourished, and encouraged. The natural byproduct is additional perceived value your members will experience from membership in your organization, additional reasons to be engaged, and the organic development of member evangelists, singing the praises of your organization. Gosh, isn’t that so much better than animosity, distrust, and ambivalence?
Tag Archive for: Communities of Reciprocity
Your membership organization is most likely delivering quite a bit of value to the members. Unfortunately, very few of your members know about the real-dollar value. In reviewing, yet another, association magazine I’m reading a two-page article about this particular association in which the virtues are explained for the members. The sub-headlines are: education, a new inspection initiative, distributor best practices, and (of course) the annual convention. It was a great feel-good, warm, and fuzzy article about the association. However, to quote the 1970’s Wendy’s TV commercial campaign tagline, “Where’s the beef?”
Baby Boomer vs. Gen X&Y Members
God bless the baby boomers, they joined their trade association or professional society because they should. They believed in supporting the industry that provided them with a living. However, today the younger folks are saying, “I’ll come and play in your sandbox if you can prove to me that it is worth my time and money.” They want you to prove the ROI that you deliver—Bummer!
Back to the article; in the two pages, there was not a single mention of real-dollar ROI. While this is commonplace for an association “member benefit” article, it really does not have to be. Because of retirement and death, from this day forward, there will be less baby boomer members than the day before. But, will there be more Gen X & Y members? Perhaps there will be, yet only if you can prove the ROI.
Why Not State the ROI?
So why are associations not stating the member ROI that they deliver?
1. Unwilling to dedicate the time and money resources to determine the yearly sustainable real-dollar membership ROI. This is truly the number one reason.
2. Afraid that if they go through the process that they will fall short of member expectations.
3. Stuck in the 1970s mentality that industry stakeholders “should” join.
4. Still believe that the association is the one and only repository of industry-specific knowledge and education so those that “want what we have” must join.
5. Still believe that 12 magazines and an annual meeting each year is enough value for members to remain loyal.
6. The Board of Directors and the paid professional staff cannot agree on the strategic direction of the organization.
7. The individual members that make up the Board of Directors are engaged and see the value and they cannot fathom that other members cannot see the value of membership.
8. And the list goes on and on…
Morphing to Communities of Reciprocity
Twenty-first century associations that plan to survive will transcend from the 12 magazines and an annual meeting, 1970s model to vibrant communities of reciprocity for various member contingencies, thereby remaining relevant to all ages of membership. Recently, the Los Angeles County Bar Association created their “Dinosaur” group for the senior lawyer members. They charge a little extra and deliver special age and topic specific meetings for that community. What are you doing?
The current social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and (to some degree) Facebook offer very low cost methods of delivering community specific value to your members. For most associations, LinkedIn should be your number one choice. LinkedIn groups cost nothing but deliver amazing return. My recommendation is to keep your groups closed. The idea of letting everyone in is not a good idea in the area for reasons of control and ROI delivery.
Google Makes it Easy
Never before in the history of mankind has information been so available to the masses. Since it is now impossible for associations to be the exclusive holder of industry information, best practices, codes, etc; associations must prove their value to retain members and also to recruit members. The stakeholders in your industry can get much of the industry specific information that they need to succeed in business through a simple Google search of the topic—and they can do it almost anywhere with their Smartphone. Yes, the paradigm has shifted.
Today’s associations cannot rely on their old paradigms for member recruitment. The conversation from member to prospective member can no longer be, “You should join the association to support your industry and network at the convention.” Today the conversation must be, “Let me explain to you why it is a good business decision to join the association. The return on investment of time and money that most members receive is…”
I’m a baby boomer and I admit that I frequently morn many traditions that are no more. Gosh, today’s men even believe it is acceptable to wear their hats indoors—oh well, that’s progress. Kids think profanity is simply additional adjectives, adverbs and nouns that are necessary for their expression punctuation. And, the world is becoming far less provincial. Things change and so must associations. Feel-good is no longer good enough. For today’s associations to thrive; each and every one must continually prove the real-dollar ROI they deliver to their members.