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  • 09 Apr 2021 6:09 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Two C-level executives share how their associations have embraced research to shape decisions and drive changes—and how their organizations and members have benefited or will benefit as a result.

    Data has always grounded association decision-making. But now it is moving beyond spreadsheets, trends, and projections, and into the realm of storytelling, where boards, staff, members, and communities can discover a bigger picture and respond to it. Here is a look at two of those stories.

    Using Data to Determine a Profession’s Future

    Like many organizations, The American Institute of Architects New York State developed its previous strategic plans by working with an instinctive board and facilitators. However, initial conversations around the 2021 strategic planning session took on a different tone.

    Moving through the first months of the pandemic, AIA New York State was questioning everything it did and how it did it, looking for answers to questions. The staff and leadership felt it was imperative to do an assessment of the educational, professional development, and legislative needs of the members that was based on data coming directly from the membership. They were committed to create a member survey to uncover those needs and to use the results as a basis for their new strategic plan. This commitment was not only philosophical but also carried a significant financial investment for the future.

    The group also knew it needed to work with an outside partner to get this work done. So, it developed an RFP that narrowed down the project and the results they were looking to achieve. After speaking with outside vendors, as well as academic institutions, Siena College Research Institute—which has a national reputation for its polling work—was selected.

    Using pre-planning questions as a starting point, AIA New York State worked with Siena to make sure they had the terminology correct and did a test survey to a sample group of members. They also limited the number of questions asked, forcing them to think strategically and keep in mind those questions that would help implement change and develop programming.

    After the test survey, the group rolled it out to the full membership of 9,000-plus in April 2020. While the association was concerned about response due to the pandemic and other factors, it ended up receiving 1,400 responses, providing a viable instrument to move ahead developing organizational direction and programming that members valued. As a result, the group went into its October strategic planning session armed with data that the board would use to determine an incredible future for the architecture profession in New York State.

    Tracking Young Members for the Future

    More than 114 years ago, students at the University of Maryland School of Dental Medicine started the Alpha Omega Dental Society (AO). Young leaders who advance through the membership while moving through their careers have shaped the culture and direction of the organization since 1907. Today, the membership includes 800-plus dental students from 30 North American, British, and Israeli chapters.

    Executive Director Heidi Weber, CAE, has monitored 200-plus dental school graduates every spring through an in-house tracking program that identifies where graduates are accepted or where they will practice and communicates with local chapters to ensure the connective tissue between the new resident, a new potential city, and the organization is intact through the transition to dental residency. Residencies usually last one year or up to five, making retaining the residents as members in this period between school and profession a top priority for both the organization and the board.

    Repurposing the data inspired the Residency Network Project, which connects dental students seeking more concentrated information about residency programs with current or resident AO members. Since residency is time, financial, and cultural investment, dental students want to learn more from individuals who have first-hand knowledge.

    This allows AO to show young members the value the organization provides during their educational career. In addition, chapters report an average 90 percent retention rate of resident members when they are connected to local chapters. The expanding story of AO fosters a culture where young members are networking and mentoring one another, which builds a data portfolio to share with the dental community.

    How to Develop Next-Level Data Visualization

    If your association is looking to become more adept at letting the data tell its tale and how it can apply to a given goal or objective, the DelCor Technology Solutions team recommends expanding your thinking and seeking opportunities to refresh your data set that may change the picture. For example, Strategic Consultants Gretchen Steenstra and Tobin Conley suggest adding unstructured data such as chat during virtual sessions to identify patterns that may lead to new or updated content. Or update member profile data, such as the infamous “area of interest,” based on behavior.

    By embracing data, associations will find themselves able to make better decisions that leads to higher member satisfaction and a stronger organizational culture and outcomes.

    April 6, 2021By: Georgi Ann Bailey, CAE and Heidi Weber, CAE

  • 09 Apr 2021 6:05 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Communicating with video adds a personal and authentic touch to member outreach.

    The value of video has increased significantly since everything went virtual one year ago. Video is a powerful medium because it boosts engagement, participation, value, and community, said Gather Voices CEO Michael Hoffman in a webinar on using video to boost member renewals.


    Hoffman recommends using video to amp up membership renewals on these platforms:

    Website. When your members spend more time on your association’s website viewing video content featuring their fellow members, their sense of community and belonging increases because they see themselves reflected in real people sharing their experiences, rather than brand messaging.

    Social media. Incorporating video into social media messaging creates deeper engagement and greater retention of content.

    Email. Email is the main tactic associations use to connect with members for renewal. Putting the word “video” in an email subject line can increase click-throughs by over 300 percent, which it did for the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.


    Video enhances the platforms you are already using to increase click-throughs, engagement, and conversion. “Engagement is about creating something new and letting members be the star of the show,” Hoffman said.

    And it doesn’t have to be an expensive production. You can use inexpensive tools like Zoom recordings to build up your video library.  Authenticity is key. The most resonant videos are not highly produced, but simple segments featuring real people talking about their real experiences.


    When you ask a member to share their experience in a video, that person’s story becomes a powerful testimonial that will influence others. Just asking for it creates a different relationship between the member and the organization: It says, “We value you. We value your experience, and we want to know about it,” Hoffman said.


    Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now

  • 01 Apr 2021 5:55 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Whether you are a healthcare association or some other type of industry group or professional society, you need to protect its long-term viability by engaging young professionals and student members. A look at some ideas to enhance your current tactics.

    If your association has encountered challenges as a result of COVID-19, you are probably asking yourself how to ensure the long-term health and viability of the organization. Living in a pandemic, working remotely, and a lack of interaction with our stakeholders has precipitated a paradigm shift that has made it necessary for societies to address this question quickly.

    One immediate step your organization can take to protect its future is to implement a robust engagement program for students and new professionals with the goal of attracting and engaging the next generation of healthcare leaders and maintaining their involvement in your organization long term. Here are five tactics your organization can deploy today to disrupt or enhance your current offerings.

    1. Provide opportunities for your members to network. As newer generations continue to grow up in a progressively digital environment, “staying connected” has taken on an entirely new meaning. Therefore, providing these future leaders with engaging networking opportunities will be more imperative to an organization’s success than ever before.

    There are several ways your association can begin to build these networking opportunities, such as providing a robust chapter experience, offering networking opportunities during in-person and virtual events, developing online communities, and fostering engagement in existing communities where connections are already being made. You can also stimulate your next generation leaders’ participation in special interest groups or working groups and in specific hashtag discussions on social media. As an added networking benefit, you can encourage your highly engaged students or new professional members to serve as ambassadors for other groups within your organization so they grow their own networks in the process.

    One immediate step your organization can take to protect its future is to implement a robust engagement program for students and new professionals.

    2. Engage them early by providing volunteer leadership opportunities. When it comes to building a sense of connectivity to a society among next generation leaders, incorporating volunteer opportunities into the governance of your younger member groups is crucial. This can be accomplished by formalizing a robust leadership structure that includes a student chair, student advisor, chapter presidents, guidance for the chapter presidents from a regional lead, committees to help staff with executing various tasks (i.e., meeting planning, education, survey and evaluation, etc.), and ad hoc working groups.

    Outline an identifiable “ladder of engagement” that new members, and especially new professionals, can follow to become more engaged with your association. Common entry points for students and new professionals may include, but are not limited to, research grants, educational scholarships, discounted memberships, financial education, and free online microlearning modules. Depending on association structure and needs, multiple engagement paths may be defined, such as an education path or a leadership path.

    3. Tailor your educational content to the needs and interests of your next generation members. The rising generation of young professionals and students is in a unique position in their relationship with technology. As the first generation of true “digital natives,” their needs in terms of content delivery will likely vastly differ from other groups. The pandemic has served as a catalyst for moving those initiatives to the forefront for other groups within your organization, but younger members are already savvy at using digital platforms. Ensuring your association has a robust pipeline of content for younger members and an engaging vehicle for delivery will be crucial for capturing their attention.

    To be frank, the “digital revolution” that we are experiencing was inevitable. The general perception of chaos that has resulted from the world being forced online by COVID has tempered expectations of refinement and polish, which makes this the perfect opportunity to reevaluate your association’s systems, products, and services with an eye toward embracing the digital medium.

    4. Recognize next generation members for their contributions. Once you have next generation volunteers who are engaged in various groups within your organization, providing recognition for contributions is key in demonstrating the organization values and appreciates volunteers who go above and beyond. This recognition can occur in several forms: properly crediting volunteers for their work, ensuring that committee and workgroup rosters are up to date, giving research grant recipients the opportunity to present their findings to the association’s membership, and offering scholarships or other programs.

    5. Be a resource for your members’ career and personal development. According to Community Brands’ Member Engagement and Loyalty Study, career-development resources are consistently identified as a primary catalyst for why younger members decide to join an organization. Whether it is to gain mentorship from seasoned professionals, sharpen skills needed for the field, or identify employment opportunities, your organization should have resources to assist with each of these unique needs.

    Robust job boards, professional and leadership development, wellness and personal development, and financial-education resources are just a few of the ways associations are supplementing their regular programming to better support their student and young professional members.

    If you are not currently leveraging some of the strategies provided, or if you feel your association can do more to serve next generation members, consider these suggestions during your business planning process. Implementing these tactics will go a long way toward safeguarding your organization’s pipeline of future leaders.

    Bob Moore, Drew Register, and Amy Sherwood—members of ASAE’s Healthcare Community Advisory Committee—also contributed to this article.

  • 01 Apr 2021 5:38 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Instead of logging off right after an event ends, virtual attendees can take advantage of online tools, social media channels, and virtual conferencing features for networking.

    Virtual events have their advantages, but networking with other attendees is often a challenge. The physical separation means it’s common for virtual attendees to close their laptops and disconnect instead of attempting to re-create one of the biggest benefits of in-person gatherings: mingling with colleagues and striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to them.

    As an association professional, you’re probably eager to go back to in-person conferences—both for your organization’s attendees and for the events you’d like to attend for your own professional development. But Beth Surmont, CAE, CMP, vice president of event business strategy and design at 360 Live Media, offers a reminder that in-person networking isn’t always smooth sailing either.

    “With this year of virtual events, people have this magical view of in-person events where we were all happy and finding each other,” she says. “That was not true. [Networking] can be highly inefficient and largely serendipitous.”

    While it may seem more difficult to network effectively after a virtual event, there are still plenty of opportunities, Surmont says. She offers these tips for the next time you attend one—and they may inspire you to help your own attendees keep their connections going after your virtual events.


    A good virtual event organizer will make your life easier by leaving time after sessions for attendees to chat. Check the event calendar for any scheduled discussions or breakout rooms where a small group of attendees can speak with each other and share ideas. You can exchange contact information there so you’re able to get in touch again later.

    Does the virtual event platform have a chat feature? Don’t assume the conversation ends when a particular session does: Stay in the chat after a session comes to a close, as some event organizers will leave chats open. Surmont says this year’s SXSW worked that way—sessions that had already concluded were on demand and still had an active chat box a day later.

    “Most platforms, the way they work is that you have a page that has all the tools: the chat, Q&A, the poll, whatever they might be. And then it’s just the content that comes on and comes off,” Surmont says. “For the duration of the event being open—which might be three days or might be three months—those features are usually still turned on. But it depends on the platform.”

    Some virtual event platforms even have AI that makes automated recommendations on whom attendees should connect with based on shared interests or skills.


    Surmont advises being intentional about your networking efforts. So, just as you would for an in-person event, find out who’s attending and identify individuals you would like to connect with by checking out event pages on social media. Then you’ll know who to interact with in the chat and where to reach them on social media after the event.

    When the day’s proceedings close, be ready to spend time in the virtual lobby or exhibit hall. Another tip: Seek out event partners.

    “Partners are a wealth of information and experts at their jobs. They also know everybody,” Surmont says. “He or she could say, ‘Hey, do you know so-and-so?’ and introduce me to that person.”


    Head to social media and keep the conversation going by sharing your favorite part of the day’s event, a question you had about an interesting topic, or a photo showing off the virtual event platform. To connect with the right people, use an event-specific hashtag.

    If someone shares the same interests or makes an interesting point in the chat, look up that person on LinkedIn and send a message asking to connect. Making that first move can help keep you from feeling isolated at virtual events.

    “Otherwise, it’s the equivalent of going to an in-person event with a bag over your head or blinders on and never turning to talk to the person next to you,” Surmont says. “You get out of things what you put into them.”

    There might also be a post-event page on Facebook where attendees interact with each other. Better yet, you could create your own page that centers on the event’s theme and invite other attendees to join. On that page, you could have regularly scheduled conversations about the topic and build connections.

    “There are people on Facebook that I’ve never met that I send Christmas gifts to because we belong to the same group of people who listen to the same podcast, and we’ve created this supportive community,” Surmont says. “It’s that same kind of thinking—a place for like-minded people to go.”


    Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now

  • 26 Mar 2021 6:11 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Many associations are facing an ongoing challenge: a shrinking volunteer pool. However, in most cases, the volunteer pool isn’t actually shrinking — it’s that your organisation isn’t aligned with your volunteers’ needs. Reorient your way of thinking to view volunteer roles from a volunteer’s perspective. If your association is struggling to fill volunteer positions, it’s time to restructure and adapt — because it’s not your volunteers, it’s your organisation.

    The world is changing, and so are your members. It’s time to align with that shift.

    Why are you struggling to get volunteers?

    Associations typically rely heavily on volunteers to help fulfill their mission. In recent years, recruiting volunteers has become more difficult due to a number of factors, including:

    • Lack of volunteer time. With professionals juggling work, family and other commitments, time is a notable barrier to volunteer commitment, especially for long-term roles of one to two years of service. During the pandemic, many volunteers have stepped back as other family and business needs take priority.
    • Lack of perceived value drivers and engagement. The volunteer experience needs to be about value for your volunteers, not just for your organization. Many times, that value isn’t clear or compelling enough to overcome the time constraint issue.
    • Lack of organizational adaptability. Often, the association staff know that they need to change the volunteer experience, but volunteer leadership is resistant to that transition. What used to work may not work anymore.

    What can help?

    It’s time to revamp the volunteer experience. The nature of volunteerism has changed. Your association needs to change with it. Start from the standpoint of what your volunteers need and want to get out of their experience — not what you need from your volunteers. Define the value and communicate it to your volunteers.

    We’ve found some key strategies to add value:

    Leverage technology and put processes in place to support volunteers.

    Better technology, automation and processes make for a more seamless volunteer experience. Your volunteers should be contributing their expertise at a high level. Provide as much automation and support as possible to limit tedious tasks and lighten their load. An extreme example would be a chapter treasurer manually tallying finances, rather than having access to a centrally-provided reporting system.

    Provide a welcoming environment and effective onboarding.

    We’ve heard that volunteers sometimes feel like they aren’t part of the larger plan or feel excluded. Take steps to ensure they are welcomed and feel valued during onboarding and beyond. Ensure that the onboarding process is inclusive and creates an environment for all to thrive, preparing them for success.

    Define expectations and time commitment.

    Give volunteers options for different levels of commitment and outline clear expectations of outcomes. In many cases, volunteers are given direction on what their specific duties are — but not on the goals they are meant to achieve. Clarity is important. For example, the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) online Volunteer Town Square provides a list of opportunities along with role descriptions and expected time commitment.

    Make value drivers clear.

    What are the needs of your volunteers? It is critical for potential volunteers to understand how they will benefit from volunteering. Is it through connections? Having a voice in the direction of the organization? Gaining leadership opportunities to enhance their career? Make your case for how volunteering will benefit your volunteers. If you are unsure of what their needs are, do the research to find out. Research can be critical to moving beyond the individual opinions of senior volunteer leaders. See below for more on research in this area.

    Make it meaningful.

    This falls under value drivers, but it’s worth reiterating. To help overcome time pressures, it has to be worthwhile. Let volunteers know how they are making a difference. If their service doesn’t make a difference, consider ending that opportunity to free up capacity for meaningful options.

    Provide opportunities to connect.

    Volunteers are often hoping to network and make peer-to-peer connections with like-minded professionals at their level — for example, CEOs with CEOS, or marketers with marketers. Offer connection opportunities beyond their volunteer responsibilities. For example, organize a volunteer luncheon at an annual meeting to provide valuable interaction in an unstructured environment. In a virtual world, a similar experience could be created with lunch ordered individually and breakout rooms for small groups.

    Provide recognition — and even perks.

    Professional recognition is always welcome. Perks are too, especially for students or young professionals. For example, Salesforce is launching Salesforce Loyalty Management, a tool for organizations to create their own loyalty program. An association could potentially use that tool to track and link volunteer hours to perks such as conference upgrades, an “insider” session with a prominent keynote speaker, or early access to new releases. This kind of program might be critical in increasing student member engagement, which is a key factor in retaining them through the typically high-attrition transition from student to full member.

    Data and Benchmarking

    Data and benchmarking are the keys to making informed decisions. The right data could help you understand your volunteers’ needs, as well as get a baseline on who your volunteers are. Identifying and benchmarking key performance indicators will allow this program to improve year over year.

    What do volunteers want?

    We’ve employed qualitative interviews and surveys for our clients to discover what volunteers want from their experience, and how volunteers feel about their current experience. This can ensure you are providing the offerings that are truly important. Our research often leads to important pivots or adjustments to previously-held beliefs on volunteer and member needs. Some associations integrate regular evaluations of the volunteer experience, asking questions such as:

    • How was your experience?
    • Was it fulfilling?
    • How can we do better?

    Who is actually volunteering?

    Who is volunteering is just as important as why they are volunteering. Benchmarking and dashboards are important to track growth in DEI initiatives for volunteerism and membership. Representative volunteerism is crucial in creating a welcoming environment. Does your volunteer community represent your organizations’ membership base? This can inform diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) initiatives and provide important insights.

    Take the steps you can

    Don’t get bogged down in an all-or-nothing approach. Institutional change takes time, but individual managers and volunteer leaders can start to enact change. A manager at any level of the organization can make volunteers’ experiences more efficient and meaningful with small steps. Start with one-on-one dialog with your volunteers and a survey after every engagement ends. Talk about value and what would help them. If you are providing a great volunteer experience in your committee, word will get out.

    With an informed approach, associations can align with volunteers’ needs effectively, thereby advancing both volunteers’ goals and organizational objectives.

    C. David Gammel, FASAE, CAE and Kristi Donovan, M.S., CAE

  • 26 Mar 2021 6:07 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    “Why isn’t my membership growing?” We hear this question often in our consulting with associations.  When we investigate the concern, a consistent theme emerges. In most instances, the root of the problem comes down to issues with the membership recruitment program.

    That is why in the book, Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission, Tony Rossell explores the impediments holding back associations’ membership.  Here are the most consistent challenges we find in developing a successful membership recruitment program.

    • Abandonment of Membership Recruitment – Perhaps the most significant problem holding back membership for associations is not consistently asking prospective members to join. An association may believe that they can grow their membership by merely increasing retention rates and that recruitment is too expensive or challenging. In reality, one of the best predictors of overall membership growth is a thriving recruitment effort.  Years of benchmarking data show a correlation between new member input and overall membership growth.

    • Excessive Planning – A good plan is needed to grow membership. A plan includes defining your value proposition, identifying target markets, and developing a schedule and goals. However, many associations spend so much time developing a plan to answer every objection and contingency that they delay selling memberships.  They end up with a book-sized document that is out-of-date when and if ever implemented. Instead, consider a “ready, fire, aim” philosophy and do something now.

    • Inadequate Special Offers – Membership is a push product. It is sold, not sought.  A prospect can likely join 24/7 on your website.  So, an incentive is needed to get someone to join now.  The fear is a special offer like a new member discount will lead to a less committed member.  But test after test by many associations demonstrates that a strong offer both in the near-term and long-term benefits membership growth.  For example, companies run sales promotions not because they like giving away money but because it grows the number of customers and their revenue.

    • Overreliance on a Single Channel – Many associations have been damaged by relying on a single tactic to bring in new members. Those groups that depended on an annual meeting to attract members each year were hurt by pandemic caused cancellations. Others that were reliant on email acquisition efforts have burned out their email lists through overuse.  The solution is to develop a marketing portfolio using an omnichannel strategy that uses a variety of methods like mail, phone, social media, paid digital ads, and sales efforts to get potential members.

    • Insufficient Frequency of Contact – Once and done is not an effective marketing strategy. Membership recruitment requires ongoing and consistent outreach.  Growing associations maintain digital ads throughout the year, consistently call members every month when they lapse, send out regular invitations to join, and build their prospect database with new content offers. 

    • Lack of Testing – When carefully measured, even well-run recruitment efforts show dramatic variance between their best list, offer, and message. So, structuring statistically valid tests can determine what is working and what is not successful.  Some test outcomes impact results – even with minor changes -- by well over 100 percent. Without a testing strategy, a recruitment program will substantially underperform.

    • Neglecting a Call to Action – The first questions someone asks when getting a promotion is “what is it?” and “what am I being asked to do?”. Fortunately, marketers are typically very good at describing the benefits of membership.  But they often fail at telling the prospect what to do with the information.  Defining a Call to Action (CAT) needs to be the starting point in planning a promotion.  Start creating your promotion with the action you want your prospective member to do or the place where you want the prospect to go to join and work backward.

    If membership growth is a goal for your association and you can identify with any of these missteps, there is help.  Membership Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission shares insights on the strategies and tactics that have helped many organizations trigger rapid and sustained growth. Use this link to learn more or purchase your copy.


    Marketing General Incorporated

  • 12 Mar 2021 4:38 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Associations had to adapt quickly over the last year, and learned some invaluable strategies along the way.

    As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic and the shift to virtual, many associations have taken time to reflect on living and learning through this historic time. It’s these lessons that cleverly inform how to best plan ahead. In 2020, it often felt like there was little time to sit back and relax—the industry was undergoing a radical shift, and everyone had to scramble to master new skills and develop a roadmap.

    Now, they have roadmaps. They’ve nailed (or at least grown comfortable with) being productive in pixels. Personify, the leading technology provider for associations, spoke to several association professionals to meditate on a trying year and focus on the best ways to move forward on a journey ahead.


    Associations quickly pivoted from massive in-person events to virtual gatherings last year. And it wasn’t just annual events, but also educational courses, smaller-scale conferences, board meetings, member meetings, and more. Associations should continue to show up virtually for members and staff to project that “we’re still here,” said Jerome Bruce, the director of meetings and exhibits for the Association of Government Accountants.

    Associations should also crunch the numbers and listen to their members, paving the way for a more data-driven and strategic future. Data metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) illuminate what events and sessions are worth continuing to invest in during the coming year of virtual and hybrid events. Member feedback provides qualitative insight into what may or may not be working.

    “The most valuable lesson that I learned in 2020 is to stop and listen to the members regarding their needs,” Molly Hamill, the manager of exhibit sales at the Global Association for the Attractions Industry (IAAPA), said. “They can come up with ideas [to address them] that you probably didn’t think of yet.”


    Your members want to hear from you. Personify’s research found that associations tended to overestimate how much digital content to send to members, but that one in three wanted to receive something weekly or more. The sweet spot: weekly to monthly, with 81 percent wanting that frequency of communication from their associations.

    And associations shouldn’t shy away from the reality of the current climate—inform members about how they are continuing to adapt in the midst of the pandemic, how they are keeping members safe, in the know, and—most importantly—engaged. Chris Lyons, the associate executive director at the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), cited strategies such as video chat breakout rooms, question-and-answer sessions, virtual photo booths, and gamified session features. With a cautiously optimistic view of what lies ahead, transparency and engagement will be pivotal as you slowly transition back into a hybrid and in-person world.

    “We now know that virtual is a band-aid, a temporary thing right now,” Bruce said. “We need to keep the value of face-to-face [events] current and sustainable, so we have to perform a balancing act. We don’t want people to get so comfortable with virtual that they won’t be excited about face-to-face events. [This year represents] a challenge for us to make sure that face-to-face doesn’t die.”


    To keep people engaged and prevent “Zoom fatigue,” associations also need the right online platforms and services. That’s probably why, according to Personify’s research, nearly half of association professionals spent more on tech in 2020, specifically on community software, virtual event software, and member self-service tools.

    The key is to adopt services that can streamline most of your association’s needs within one platform. Examples include an association management system that can centralize data, integrate e-commerce needs, and manage web orders along with an online community that can drive engagement before, during and after virtual events.

    In what Mike Hiskey, director of IT at the American Water Works Association, characterizes as our “virtual everything” world, you want to invest in tech platforms that can streamline your needs and check as many boxes as possible. “We’ve got a good rubric set up to figure out what the right tool is to meet the needs of a particular event, but we are looking forward to consolidating that stack,” Hiskey said.


    Throughout this journey, teams reach across different departments to tackle issues with an interdisciplinary approach. Teamwork is essential—you don’t want one person playing point guard for everything, and no one has to figure out a new skill or strategy in a vacuum.

    It’s that transparency and generosity among association staff professionals that make the difference between burning out and thriving as they push forward.

    “Seeing people collaborate in new ways has made me proud to be part of this association world, and I’m looking forward to continuing to see people share,” Erica Holland, the assistant executive director at the Society of Interventional Radiology, said. “So I’m glad you guys are putting together this series of articles, and I’m sure we’re all going to learn a lot from it.”

    That’s why Personify is committed to partnering with associations to support long-term growth in their organizations. “Many of the trends that have emerged over the past year will affect how associations recruit, engage and deliver value to their members now and in a post-pandemic world,” Erin Sullivan, director of marketing at Personify said. This is supported by Personify’s research, which found that 85% of attendees want virtual and hybrid options in the future, even when it’s safe to resume in-person events.

    Finding the right strategy and toolbox is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach, but professionals agree that future success requires keeping your eyes and ears open to what members and staff want and need. And that’ll require a solid foundation of open communication, reliable digital platforms and teamwork along the journey ahead.

    Personify - Tabea Damm 9 March

  • 04 Mar 2021 5:29 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    A compelling value proposition demonstrates the unique benefits an association has to offer, how it can help members find the solutions they need most, and why choosing to be part of the community will benefit them. Here are six examples.

    Will people renew their memberships this year? It’s hard to predict. So much has changed that will affect people’s decision to join or renew with their professional association in 2021. Added to that, associations often lack the most basic tool to foster the acquisition, retention, growth, and engagement of their customer base: a well-defined value proposition. When asked “why should I join?” associations tend to make two critical mistakes in answering: They list a litany of services and products they offer, and they define value from their internal perspective—basically rehashing their mission. So, if a well-defined value proposition isn’t a long list of benefits or a one-sided marketing slogan, what is it? And why is it important to have one?
    “Value” is defined as the benefits and solutions people can expect from joining, while “proposition” captures the commitment of the organization to deliver on its promise. Value propositions are unique to each organization, must be carefully crafted as part of a broader strategy, and should be periodically revised to remain relevant.

    Value propositions are unique to each organisation, must be carefully crafted as part of a broader strategy, and should be periodically revised to remain relevant.
    What makes a good value proposition? Here are some examples.  

    Demonstrate added value. Members and customers are attracted to organizations that bring them tangible added value and make their jobs easier, better, and more productive. At the Institute of Internal Auditors, the value proposition clearly spells out the added value of belonging: “Membership Means More: Connect More, Know More, Save More.” The services and benefits the organization offers are consistently grouped into these three categories to demonstrate the additional value of belonging.

    Focus on member needs. Members are more likely to join if an organization offers a product or service that fulfills their actual needs. A value proposition is best based on feedback from members—from surveys, for example—that clearly prioritizes their top needs. The International Franchise Association communicates value with a clear member-needs focus: “Gain visibility and build your business with an IFA membership. Together we will improve your profits and professional future by empowering you with access to practical resources and a strong community of professional peers.”

    Clarify unique benefits. What distinguishes your association from the competition? What makes you unique? When an association is the recognized authority or representative of a trade or profession at a local, national, or international level, it’s vital to highlight this as a unique value. At Meeting Professionals International, this unique position is made clear in the statement that “MPI is the voice of professionals around the world, advocating for the industry and its significant economic impact.”
    Establish a partnership. Demonstrate value by being a partner in your members’ journey.  The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors tells members, “Together we can take on anything. … By joining NAIFA, we become your partner, elevating your performance while providing a greater purpose to your professional work. We help you advance your career. We protect your industry. We enhance your credibility.”

    Be exclusively inclusive. This may seem a contradiction in terms, but associations must learn to be exclusively inclusive. Advancing diversity and inclusion is key to ensure associations thrive, gain insights, and stay relevant. Offering access to a diverse community of peers who share common interests and passion for a profession, trade, or cause is a sound value proposition. It’s even more powerful when a member testifies to the value of belonging to the community. In a brief video, a member of the International Coaching Federation explains that ICF is a “wonderful community to be part of … a place where any coach can come and spread their coaching wings.”

    When communicating value, it’s equally important to differentiate the exclusiveness of belonging by making it clear which benefits are members-only. The Risk Management Society used an effective visual of a side-by-side comparison table during its recruitment and retention process that shows differences in product accessibility and price. A strong value proposition should include what is exclusively accessible to members, by tiers, or to those who pay a premium.

    Deliver on a promise. Finally, value should be articulated in terms of the commitment, the expectation, and the promise the association offers. What outcome can your members expect? What results can your organization help them achieve? It’s best to craft a unique value proposition from scratch, but here is a simple model to help you get started:

    Our member value promise:
    [Association name]
    Helps [who/audience/profession]
    To [achieve results/solve problems]
    With [services/products]

    In 2021, it will be essential to spell out your value proposition, make it visible on your public-facing forums, and use it consistently in recruitment and retention campaigns. And after all the transformative events of the past year, be sure to review your value proposition and update it if necessary to ensure that it reflects the current reality, even if your organization’s core value proposition remains unchanged.

    Sylvia Gonner, CAE

    Sylvia Gonner, CAE, is CEO of CultureWiz LLC.

  • 04 Mar 2021 5:20 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Associations can use a year’s experience mastering the virtual world to excel in future endeavors.

    Erica Holland says she’s been pleased to see the transparency of association professionals in sharing their experiences—both positive and negative—dealing with the pandemic.

    “Seeing people collaborate in new ways has made me proud to be a part of this association world,” said Holland, the assistant executive director at the Society of Interventional Radiology.

    She said the biggest lesson she learned last year from an organizational perspective is to be “nimble and willing to experiment and try things” because there wasn’t a road map for 2020. And since Holland’s association works with medical specialists, during the early stages of the pandemic information was flying at her members “at breakneck speed.”

    And so, it was exceedingly important for SIR to get its members the most relevant and pertinent information to allow them to continue their work while also understanding how the pandemic affected it. That’s still important.

    Ensuring you keep your members in the know is a significant factor in planning for the year ahead. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle—below are insights from Holland on how 2021 is all about building on the template you created in 2020 and leveling up.


    That’s what Holland said, adding that this didn’t just apply to getting COVID resources to their members—they designed web-based solutions to help them curate that information quickly—but also to other types of clinical education.

    She said there was a “real appetite for information,” so they learned how to quickly deliver webinar programs that in pre-COVID times might have taken months but that now are put together in just weeks.

    Over the last year, they developed the framework for their association’s now all-virtual world as they went along. Now, with that roadmap in place…


    The transition from in-person to virtual work has served as a catalyst for what many of us have come to know as “Zoom fatigue.” Holland says that over the last year, experimenting and building out SIR’s roadmap, her team learned what engagement can look like in this digital ecosystem.

    That meant answering questions like: How do you keep your online meetings fresh and relevant? How do you provide the right amount of pre-recorded content? Holland found balancing pre-recorded segments with live moderation and discussion worked best. She said it created a structure that wouldn’t spiral out of control timing-wise but still let people communicate with each other in real-time.

    Associations also now have a better sense of financial commitments and expectations for navigating this new world—which types of investments yield more positive results. You know what is truly valuable to your members. And you know which resource-intensive activities aren’t so valuable and can be scrapped. As Holland pointed out, associations have had a year of experience to assess these things.

    “I think seeing members continue to renew even during difficult and uncertain times reassured us that we were doing the right things,” Holland said. “And they see the value of their participation, which was a real positive during a difficult year.”


    Internally, it’s also been quite a transformative year for learning how to deliver content and communicate as, essentially, a pixelated head. That includes everything from conducting everyday business to educational webinars and committee meetings.

    “Everyone had to become masters of new trades,” Holland said. “Some of the tools we are using today were just completely alien and unknown to us [a year ago].”

    Holland’s association has adopted a 100-percent telework model, and they rely heavily on their Association Management Software: Personify. Through this crisis, they maintained all of their member communications and leveraged features like auto-renewals, accounts payable and receivable. “It really minimized anyone’s need to go into our physical office space.”

    SIR also integrated their online community with Personify to let members communicate amongst themselves in discussions and forums. While the traffic on these types of forums has always been high and discussions quite vigorous, it’s been a feature that members really needed in this socially sequestered time.

    It’s more important now than ever for associations to give members access to one another, “to share their experiences and ideas in a time that is very socially isolating for many people,” Holland said.

    It’s also important to approach this transitory period with an inventive mindset.


    SIR’s members, interventional radiologists, are by nature on the cutting-edge of medicine and tech-savvy. They have “a willingness and appetite to pilot and trial new programs,” Holland pointed out.

    That spirit allowed for honest feedback, an innovative attitude and staff working together to deliver an improved and imaginative journey ahead.

    “I think that carried us through beautifully,” Holland said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, none of us are, but we are well-positioned in 2021 based on what we learned last year.”

    This series by Personify is intended to serve as a guidepost for associations that are reacting to fundamental market shifts and proactively building a better future for their organizations

  • 18 Feb 2021 8:20 AM | Brett Jeffery (Administrator)

    Your organisation’s employees and members can contribute a lot to one another’s professional development. Here’s how to make that happen.

    Professionals have many educational resources at their fingertips. But when they need to learn something new, they are more likely to ask their colleagues for recommendations than they are to search the internet.

    Professionals crave peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and they can be highly effective. This type of learning can also break down barriers by encouraging connection among people who otherwise wouldn’t cross paths. And during the pandemic, when loneliness and isolation are common, a peer-to-peer learning program offers a way for employees or members to interact regularly with one another and establish community.

    If you’re ready to tap into expertise already within your organization, consider these strategies as you implement peer-to-peer learning for your staff team or members.


    You may not have the time or organizational resources to create a robust employee learning program with a clear curriculum. However, setting up a dedicated channel for peer-to-peer learning on your workplace collaboration platform (Slack or Teams, for example) can encourage casual knowledge-sharing that employees can contribute to on their own time. To stimulate regular conversation, you might designate a “conversation starter” who drops prompts into the chat every so often. Messaging channels have worked as educational tools before—some universities have used them to facilitate distance learning initiatives.

    If you want employees to continue the conversation with professionals beyond your organization, take to social media and start a conversation with a prompt about a specific topic and a hashtag to go along with it.


    For more pointed one-on-one learning experiences, establish a mentorship program—something that is particularly helpful during the pandemic—in which senior employees take young professionals under their wing to help them develop. By pairing a junior employee with a more experienced one, your young professionals have an internal resource to turn to in bolstering their professional development.


    Members are also looking to learn informally from each other at association events. For example, the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges did away with experts and keynote speakers for its California Great Teachers Seminar. Instead, it started operating on the principle that its members—all teachers, after all—are experts in sharing knowledge.

    This approach works particularly well for an organization of educators, but every association is rife with experts in their fields. One way to shift future events to be more focused on peer learning is the fishbowl method, developed by Adrian Segar of Conferences That Work, designed to facilitate more discussion.

    MICHAEL HICKEY - Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now.

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