Tag Archive for: Member Engagement

Member Engagement — Does Your Association Do It? (1153 words)

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

The ROI of Membership

They are called the disenfranchised! Within a trade association or professional society’s membership; the disenfranchised are also referred to as the grumblers, the fringe, the disconnected, the malcontent, and the contrarians.

Warning: this article is bullet-hole riddled with clichés; however that was my disposition the day of writing. Nonetheless, this article is absolutely worth the read for all association and society paid staff and volunteer leaders.

In my professional association, many have classified me as one of the above. However about 10 years ago I did something about it and formed a community within the association that draws about 20% of the attendees to my annual event which is held in conjunction with the association’s convention. Now many of the association’s members also considered to be in my same disenfranchised category receive heightened value in their convention experience through my event. However, most associations do not have an “Ed” doing something for the outcast members. This is now the time for me to break my arm patting myself on the back.

Let’s talk about your association or society. How do you reel in the self-exiled members before they quit your organization? Below I have listed a few of the questions that I ask of boards of directors when facilitating strategic board planning retreats. Regardless of your position; paid staff or volunteer leader, asking the questions below at your next board meeting will cause an honest discussion around the topic of member engagement.

1. Do you know what really matters to the disconnected and have you attempted to deliver what they want?

Let’s face it, how can you deliver value, at any level, to a person if you have no idea as to what they consider to be valuable? I can’t tell you how many “happy sheet” surveys I’ve completed that asked the wrong questions; I believe for fear of hearing what people really think. What’s a happy sheet? A questionnaire that is written in such a way to elicit only one answer—yep, everything’s wonderful. As you know, when the ostrich’s head is in a hole, its rear is quite exposed—not the intended result. You can only improve the right things at the right time when you know what urgently needs to be fixed.

2. Are the disenfranchised members really grumbling contrarians or do they simply want different kinds of value—value that is not as easily delivered?

What do you do when you’ve picked all the low laying fruit—go away, or get a ladder? For many in association or society leadership, going the course is always the safe direction. However, to grow your organization, you must consider the needs of those that fall to the wake of the mainstream.

You are either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Many mature associations have had to merge with others that are involved in their industry. First, perhaps there shouldn’t have been multiple associations. But, I’m quite sure the genesis of the newer organization was out of discontentment from particular segments of the original organization’s membership. A new organization was formed and some time later dissolved, or the original organization met its demise. At the end of the day, to keep members engaged in an organization, they must receive value. The value might be that of, being valued or that of other more tangible issues—regardless, the value must be received.

3. Do you allow your organization’s Past President Good Ol’ Boys’ Club to be the organization’s puppet master?

Let me count the ways I’ve seen this, and let’s be clear on what really is, a puppet master. For this article, I define the puppet master as the person or persons behind the scene that pull the strings controlling the puppets. Am I calling your elected board members and paid staff puppets? I’ll just say this, if the shoe fits…

I realize this discussion will anger the good ol’ boys, but shouldn’t the elected board, in concert with the paid staff, run the organization? The insidiousness of this puppet master dynamic is that for many who want to make a difference, they would just as soon not make waves. And, for the single blade of grass, or member, that does try to rise above, the puppet master acts as a lawn mower and chops that blade, or member, down to the level of the rest. So why go through the trouble? Let the puppet masters pull the strings.

4. Are your board members continually seeking to deliver more perceived value to the organization’s members?

Wow, you mean improve? Sorry for being so cynical, it is just that I have worked with so many associations that are riddled with volunteer leaders that want the privileges and stature of a board member position but are unwilling to accept the same responsibility and perform their duties in a timely manner. Also I have seen plenty of paid staffers that are on cruise control, enjoying the comfortable ride. To continually deliver more member value means to get off cruise control and take some risks.

5. Why are you being so resistant to change?

What is it about this particular sacred cow that makes it so untouchable? This is the touchy question that gets many “doers and risk takers” chopped down to size and most aggravates the good ol’ boy puppet masters. Want an example? Try discontinuing your golf tournament—never you, mind that it has lost money the last five years in a row! Damn it! We’re not giving up the event! Now that’s settled!

The hard question for many trade associations or professional societies is this, are we trying to serve the members or are we trying to perpetuate the association’s legacy (the past president’s good ol’ boy club)? As a writer and professional speaker, I live in a glass house and will admit to being part of the good ol’ boys’ club in organizations of which I have once been a member. Fortunately, I realized when it was time for me to leave—I was just too stubborn to change.

An analogy I’ll draw; back in the days when I taught mostly sales training. I would tell a sales manager that they would have to fire that star sales person that left a wake of excrement behind and demoralized the rest of the sales force with his or her behavior. While they were the top sales person, they greatly damaged the sales department and the organization by their unacceptable behavior—that was being accepted. As such, this greatly flawed top performer became a heavily weighted ball and chain to the department and organization rather than a stabilizing anchor. At some point the sales manager was going to have to let go—in my opinion—the sooner the better. This opens a door for the rest of the organization to improve. It’s just hard to let go of what is comfortable—no matter the damage that’s being done.

Yes, the larger your membership, the better your organization can serve your industry. Might it make good sense to give up one member if you get ten in return?

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

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Member Engagement: Foster Communities of Reciprocity (776 words)

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.

Member Generated

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.

Organization Generated

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.

Organization Assisted

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?