Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

The Reluctant Board of Directors (1037 words)

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 ed@rigsbee.com.