When a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Most would say, Yes.” But when as association offers value to its members and the members do not take advantage; did the association deliver value? Many would say, “No.”
Gone are the days where professionals and business owners would simply belong to their association for networking opportunities. Today, more than ever before, it is crucial that trade and professional associations deliver high-level and usable value to their entire membership. I’m talking about the value that individual members want rather than the value that the leadership, knowing better, thinks they need.
Frequently, when association members are asked about the value they receive from their membership they stumble. How would you, as an executive director or volunteer leader, feel if all the members of your association said, “I’d be foolish not to belong to my industry’s association and attend its annual meeting”? You would feel fabulous!
Unfortunately, published in the November 2001 issue of Association Management magazine, there was an article about why members do not renew. The article stated that American Society of Association Executives’ research revealed the following reasons for association members not renewing:
• Business closed/merged:12%;
• Change of profession: 15%;
• Cannot determine:16%;
• Dues too high:17%;
• Not enough time to use member benefits:7%;
• Services no longer relevant:17%;
In my opinion, the only non-value issue is the business closing or change of profession. All the remaining reasons loudly say, “Not enough perceived value!” More than 73% of the non-renewing members said, “Not enough perceived value.î”
Today, there are basically two categories of association members: The first is the most desirable by many leaders. They will belong to their industry’s association and support it with attendance — no matter what. These “jewels” are dying off. The second is a more challenging type. They say, “I’ll come and play in your sandbox if you can show me that I will get more out of it through synergies and economies of scale than by not participating.” The latter, generally, are younger and many times have taken over the business from a parent. Their life is busy and they do not want to waste their time just networking.
Why are association executive directors and volunteer leadership not listening? Perhaps, it is because it’s generally easier to blame the member reduction problem on industry consolidation, an area of no control, rather than on lack of member perceived value, an area over which leadership does have control. Even with consolidations, if the involved parties really believed in the value of membership in their industry’s association, they would find the time and dollars for multiple executives and/or subsidiaries to hold membership.
Now that an enormous problem has been unearthed, let’s look at one possible solution: a process for helping members to determine the real dollar value of their association membership. This will help your members in having an emotional ownership in their membership. Additionally, this process will empower and encourage members to talk to non-members about membership in your association.
I discovered this process due to association member request. It is truly fulfilling to see people make a shift when they understand and work collectively to discover answers. I believe if you look at this with an open mind, you too, will absolutely want to take your association membership through this valuation process. While I have helped a number of associations with this process, I will detail my work with one such association.
Initially, ask the members what they get out of belonging to their association. Every item they mention, list on a flip chart or enter into PowerPoint with the image projected on a screen.
Next, after each item is listed, conduct a discussion on the real, honest and yearly sustainable dollar value they received through their association membership and attending their conference. This can be difficult, as people will argue incessantly about the numbers. Hang in there and gently force them to come to some kind of agreement on the value of each item listed.
When the group seems to have exhausted the line items, push them to explore further; many times more valuable items will be discovered. Below is an example of the association membership value that one group determined:
1. $1,000 for industry specific technical training offered twice a year.
2. $1,000 for business, management and marketing training twice a year.
3. $300 for monthly legislative updates.
4. $1,000 for coupons for goods and services offered by the national organization with national and regional membership.
5. $600 for legal seminars offered twice a year.
6. $200 networking value at semi-annual meetings.
7. $300 tax savings on income spent attending vacations (meetings).
8. $500 for mentoring opportunities available through meeting attendance.
9. $200 for product knowledge gained at meetings.
10. $200 for company credibility and image associated with membership.
11. $300 for education in accessing local publicity.
12. $200 for publicity and exposure through association membership.
Now ask the group how much it costs them to both belong to the association and attend the association’s annual or semiannual meetings. Put that number on the flip chart.
Next, add up the dollar amount of all the line items on the board and show the two numbers to the group. For the above-mentioned association, the cost of membership and attendance at the two semi-annual meetings was pegged at approximately $1,600. After less than an hour (session time expired), the group came up with membership value in real dollars at $5,800.
With numbers like the ones above, it is easy for one to justify the time and dollars necessary to take advantage of membership in their industry’s association. It is possible for your members to say, “I’d be foolish not to belong to my industry’s association and attend its annual meeting.”
The last thing is for the association leadership to produce a Member Value brochure; in which are listed the actual services and yearly sustainable real dollar values offered by the organization.
I believe one of the best ways for any association to grow its membership is through a membership participation process like the one I’ve outlined for you. This will help your current members to truly become active advocates for the association rather than just passive members. Realistically, not all members will do this, but many will. Give them the right tools, and people will amaze you with their results.
Ed Rigsbee, CSP is the author of PartnerShift, Developing Strategic Alliances and The Art of Partnering. Rigsbee has more than 1,000 published articles to his credit and is a regular keynote presenter at corporate and trade association conferences across North America. He can be reached at 800-839-1520 or [email protected]. For additional information and ideas, visit his Partnering University Web site at www.rigsbee.com.