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.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.