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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.
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.
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.
My work in non-profit membership growth since the late 1980’s has revealed to me that if the member perception of value is paramount. What members (or prospective members) believe is all that matters.
Associations frequently do a good job of creating member value, but not such a good job of communicating that value in a way that matters to members. It is a particular skill set to be able to write influencing (sales) copy. Most association marketers write about the features of membership but forget to tell the member or prospect how those features will make their life better. (It is all about me :>) Everyone wants an exceptional return on their investment (ROI) of time and money, but how many association marketing and/or communication pieces clearly demonstrate that. (Not many.)
What many association executives do not understand for sustained membership growth is the “relationship bank“ issue. Making no, or few, deposits throughout the year equals bankruptcy–but at the end of the year association executives try to take a withdrawal (ask for renewal) when there’s nothing in the bank. Crazy, isn’t it? How can you expect to drink from an empty glass? Funny how some think they can.
Qualitative research, specifically the Member ROI Valuation Process reveals member perception of value…helping association staff and volunteer leaders to determine what products and services to sunset and what to keep. If something you do only benefits a very few, why are you spending resources in that area? Invest your organization’s resources (time and money) in things that benefit MOST of your members.
Build it and they will come is important for membership growth…but only if you build it correctly (member expectations) and do an excellent job of communicating why it is in their best interest to come (not the association’s best interest). In my book, Developing Strategic Alliances I when into great detail about relationship bank deposits. Key for this discussion is an understanding of what creates value for the other? If you develop something your members and/or prospects do not want–you get frustrated that they do not take advantage and they get frustrated because your are shouting from the rooftops about something in which they have no interest.
To earn my Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential, I had to understand the SPIE model: Scan, Plan, Implement, Evaluate and so do you. Scan what your market offers and what your customers (members) want. Then develop a plan to build it. Now build it. After you build it, review–did they really want it? Did you build it correctly? Did you market it correctly?
The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.
State associations, more than national associations, are riding the member ROI wave of accelerated member recruitment. They are proving the real-dollar return on investment (ROI) of membership in order to influence industry members into joining. These associations have realized that the “join because you should” died a long time ago. Today, the “prove to me that membership is a smart decision” has taken hold across North America and is indicating there will be no letup of this paradigm any time soon.
Still Hooked on Days Gone Bye
Unfortunately, far too many associations are still hooked on the opiate of the more senior members belonging to, and attending meetings “because they should,” regardless of the quality of events or ROI of membership. They are not riding the member ROI wave. Wake up! These lovely folks, in huge numbers, are retiring and/or passing away. In their place, are appearing a different breed of industry participant and joining because one should is about as foreign to them as your Grandfather’s Oldsmobile.
There are those that cling to the fading idea that associations must be mission driven, without concern for delivering member value. Some say that associations that deliver real-dollar member value are nothing more than buying clubs. Perhaps today’s Mission-Driven philosophy might be nothing more than an excuse for non-performance while Member-ROI-Centric demands that association staff and volunteer leaders perform at the highest levels possible in order to member ROI wave.
Member ROI Centric
Associations that cling to obtuse missions as opposed to delivering high-level member value can imprudently spend the lion’s share of time and resources conducting activities—activities that serve the industry and all that are involved without holding membership. Where’s the value for those loyal members that annually render their dues payments? Many say that it is non-existent. It’s not always easy to be high-performing and deliver actual real-dollar value to members—value that the non-members do not receive. However, for staff and volunteer leaders that use “member ROI, member retention, and member recruitment” as one of their important considerations in decision making—across the organizational silos—these organizations are learning how to create and deliver member ROI. These organizations are enjoying consistent membership growth.
Today’s Forward-Thinking Associations
Progressive association staff and volunteer leaders of today are taking a different approach to member recruitment and retention—one that centers on member value and ROI. They are riding member ROI wave by focusing on how every decision affects member ROI. They are:
· Seeing their organization through the eyes of the non-member to better understand why the non-members have not accepted the invitation of membership.
· Promoting the benefits of membership features. They have learned how to explain the “what’s in it for me” to prospective members. They no longer rely on just a list of membership features and erroneously calling them benefits, they are riding the member ROI wave. Additionally, they have learned to differentiate between the features only accessible to an individual or company through membership and the activities they do that delivers benefit to all in the industry. They are learning how to sell through the window of member-only benefit and relying less on things their organization does that delivers benefit to all.
· Proving beyond the shadow of doubt that membership in their organization is a good business, career, and financial decision by conducting qualitative research sessions to determine what their members believe is the actual, annual real-dollar ROI of each member-only, feature of membership is worth.
· Discovering, identifying, and engaging their organization’s Member Recruitment Evangelists—the members that have been around for a while, are influential, and understand how a larger and stronger organization can deliver more value to members and their industry alike. And…arming these Member Recruitment Evangelists with an effective tool for influencing non-members into becoming paid members.
The Member ROI Wave Evangelists’ Tool
The trend is moving away from the traditional three-pound prospective member packages. Those packages of yesterday were really an effort to baffle with bulk rather than to dazzle with brilliance. Today, nobody will read a box or folder full of information—it was something like an association member recruitment data dump. Member Recruitment Evangelists and prospective members alike want something (hard-copy and electronic) compact, tightly written, and clearly explaining the “what’s in it for me” in real dollar members. They want to get an idea as the member ROI wave they can expect. The days of saying, “Membership is Priceless” are gone.
This trend of producing a compact tri-fold member recruitment brochure for the organization’s Member Recruitment Evangelists, and everyone else, has been embraced more by state associations than has national associations.
Some of the state and local associations that have produced the Member Recruitment Evangelists’ tool include:
· Mechanical Contractors Association of South Carolina
· Southern Illinois Builders Association
· Associated Builders and Contractors Minnesota/North Dakota Chapter
· American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado
· American Council of Engineering Companies of Virginia
· National Association of the Remodeling Industry Central Ohio Chapter
This tool succinctly communicates the “member-only” features of membership and how the membership-at-large values each feature in annual real-dollar numbers. The brochure also communicates the “what’s in it” for the individual, their company, and their industry. Not every prospect will care about all the features of membership that is offered to them. As such, Member Recruitment Evangelists have the ability to discover which features of membership matter to the prospect and then can help them to understand the ROI they can expect from using just those features. For a free template to help you produce your own “dazzle them with brilliance” member recruitment brochure, email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Member ROI Wave Buying Motives
Selling guilt is like having only one tool in one’s toolbox. The days of people joining because they should, have vanished. With that said, selling guilt along with several important reasons to buy can still be effective, in some situations, for getting CEOs to sign up large numbers of their employees. This is something that some Member Recruitment Evangelists and others are discovering. The something else is buying motives.
The organizations that are riding the member ROI wave, are doing so by helping their members to couple the evangelists’ tool with the knowledge of buying motives is proving very effective. Association staff and volunteer leaders are starting to understand the difference between a feature of membership and how each of the various features make their members lives better—the benefit of the feature. They are moving toward great benefit copy writing for both electronic and print publishing to help current members and prospective members alike to better understanding of the “what’s in it for me” that the association offers.
Each feature of membership relates to one or more buying motives within the framework of non-member decisions to buy (join). The six basic member ROI wave buying motives are:
· Fear of Loss
· Avoidance of Pain
As association staff members learn how to write benefit statements for each feature of (member-only) membership and do so through the window of one or more buying motives held within the minds of prospects—the power of the written word exponentially accelerates. How well an organization’s website communicates member value and ROI has an enormous effect on the organization’s member recruitment results.
Chief Staff Executives Getting Onboard
For years, many chief staff executives (CSE) truly believed that member recruitment was solely the responsibility of the membership department, and focused elsewhere. Today, many CSEs are riding the member ROI wave and realizing the critical nature of everyone in the organization being on-board for the organization’s quest for member recruitment. CSEs are working hard to breakdown the silo mentality of the boards of directors and the staff members—becoming member-ROI-centric and charging everyone with the simple question, “How will this action affect member retention, recruitment, and total delivered member ROI?” After all, Membership is Everybody’s Business. They are effectively riding the member ROI wave.
“Compelling conversations is the single best way of creating concrete conversions… CONSISTENTLY!” –Ed Rigsbee