In my previous blog post, I question whether or not the membership model is dying. After pondering further, I wonder why many of the association professionals I’ve met are unaware of associations that support their own functional areas—or if they do, why they don’t understand the value of joining. One would expect all association professionals belong to their relevant professional organization(s). You would expect other leaders in the industry encourage their employees to join and be involved. Yet, after working with more than 100 organizations throughout my career, I can confirm that this is not the case.
“In 2011, the American Sociological Association reported the decline in active memberships in civic groups, fraternal organizations, and other local associations is greater than the increase in checkbook memberships.” This and other research validates a decline in membership. Yet, what are associations doing about it?
The question of “why join” has changed. Traditional reasons people joined professional associations include:
- Professional development
- Public policy influence
- Leadership development
So, what has changed?
- More people work out of town and have longer work days.
- More people are self-employed, so time out of the office is a loss of billable time.
- The workforce is more transient.
- Young people are attending school and working at the same time.
- Gen Y & X are better at work/life balance.
- There are more avenues for socializing and connecting.
- Professional and leadership development can be achieved through online resources and through vendors in every industry; vendors are providing educational resources for little or no cost and even providing continuing education.
- Networking is easily accomplished through alternative channels. Sites such as Meetup provide opportunities to quickly connect with professionals similar to you.
Membership is a big obligation. It demands time away from the office, dues, travel, volunteer commitment and more. So, why join?
It is more important than ever to truly understand your members and customers. My consulting company conducts membership surveys for associations. However, I believe associations must go much further in understanding their members’ needs. They must:
- Gather feedback. Have staff ask members what you can provide to help them personally and professionally.
- Understand how your members work. Are they at a desk, walking around a hospital, on a construction site, in their cars, and what is their free time during the day?
- Study your first-time members at your annual meeting. What is their experience? Are they greeted? Can they register easily? Can they find where they need to be?
- Understand how your members are truly experiencing your organization. What is the customers’ journey both online and offline?
- Create a culture of customer service. Train, retrain and create expectations around service and the member experience.
What is your association doing to be relevant in these fast moving times? How are you retaining members? Please share your experiences as a member of an organization or as someone serving the industry.