5 Tips to Position Your Association for Success in 2022

Debbie Willis Debbie Willis | January 4, 2022 at 3:13 PM

The new year is always a time to reflect on the past and to put the finishing touches on plans for the future.  ASI has worked with more than 4,000 association and non-profit global clients and we’ve observed up close what really works — the habits and best practices of some of the most successful associations in the world.  We’ve compiled the top five suggestions for 2022 and we’re sharing them as our holiday gift to you — so you can start your year off right. 

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1: Create a Digital Transformation Strategy 

So, what does an effective digital transformation plan look like for an association? Digital transformation is about the integration of digital technology into every facet of your organization. It streamlines and improves how your organization operates and delivers value to your members. An effective plan will require a commitment to continually experiment, question the status quo, and explore changes that might not necessarily be comfortable.

As you’re creating your strategy, you’ll want to consider every process in your organization, the business model your association currently employs, the technology you use (what’s working for you and what’s not), and — most critically — your corporate culture. 

But this digital transformation process doesn’t need to be scary — making a plan doesn’t require wiping the slate clean.  For many organizations, the first step is to look at ways to shed old processes, remove legacy technologies, and break down the data silos that simply don’t work for you any longer. 

When building your strategy, consider the following:

Start Slowly — But Start Now: Don’t put this off — it’s too important to your long-term success to move it to the bottom of the to-do list. Digital transformation is going to help you meet your organization-wide goals and you need to embrace it.

Create an “Innovation Group”: Build a diverse team of people with varying skill sets, different age groups, and experience levels who are free to think creatively — as well as critically. They must be willing to experiment, take chances, challenge the status quo, and not worry about failing because they understand the bigger picture. This team will look at your entire organization to identify areas for improvement and propose new ideas no one has yet considered.

Focus on Breaking Down Silos:  Data as well as department silos keep you from seamlessly serving your members and should be one of your highest priorities to eliminate. 

Follow all 5 Tips for a Successful 2022: If you follow the tips we’ve outlined in this blog, you’ll be well on your way to creating a highly effective digital transformation strategy.

ASI recently hosted a digital transformation webinar in conjunction with ReviewMyAMS that featured a panel of industry experts sharing best-practice advice along with client case studies you can use to help guide your planning. Watch the video recording here and be sure to check out next week’s blog for an in-depth look at this issue.

For many organizations, the first step is to look at ways to eliminate outdated processes, old technology, and data silos.

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2: Develop a Digital Member Value Proposition

COVID has forever changed how you support your members — nearly every service and resource you offer must now be provided digitally.  So it’s important to develop a digital value proposition that looks at how you’re embracing the new reality of Work from Home (WFH).

A well-crafted member value statement will:
  • Clearly articulate your target member/industry
  • Identify members’ key pain points
  • Explain why and how your organization uniquely understands and addresses these pain points
  • Highlight how you’re different than other similar organizations
  • Provide a concise statement of the benefits and services you deliver

A digital member value proposition addresses how your organization meets these objectives exclusively online. Here’s a quick overview on how to approach this:

Do an Audit of Your Digital Membership Offerings
This requires a review of your website, portals, virtual events, and processes. In particular, look at:

        • Joining/Onboarding: Can members complete the join process completely online and is onboarding material available to new members in real-time?
        • Industry Publications: Are instructional manuals, industry guides, tools, and resources available to access online (whether paid or complimentary) to avoid shipping to home offices?
        • Networking: Do you hold virtual committee meetings and regular virtual meetups to help members (especially newer ones) network?
        • Education: Can the accreditation/certification process be completed online?
        • Advocacy: Can your members stay informed on and easily get involved in your efforts?
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Create a Plan to Shift to a Digital Format
Once your audit is completed, you can review it with your team to better understand the areas that need to be addressed for maximum digital membership value. Work with your team to prioritize the areas that need to be addressed and then put a plan and schedule in place. It’s important to assign aggressive but achievable deadlines so that you and your members see progress as soon as possible.

Periodically Review Your Progress
This is an ongoing process — not a “one-and-done” exercise. Members’ needs are constantly shifting and expanding; you need to periodically assess how well your association is responding and be nimble enough to adapt. An Engagement Management System (EMS) that combines your website, member data, events, products, and educational offerings will be a significant help.

Learn More
Our friends at HubSpot have created free templates you can access here to walk you through the value proposition creation process — then you can make it your own by looking at the digital aspects.

Prioritize areas for improvement and assign aggressive — but achievable — deadlines so your members quickly see progress.

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3: Evaluate Your Onboarding Member Journey

Ensuring members start out on the right foot is one of the keys to retention. It’s important to engage them from the very beginning and foster a close relationship that lasts. While the onboarding steps may be obvious to you, it’s helpful to document and then review them step-by-step. Here are a few ideas to get started:

Document Your New-Member Journey

      • Identify each step in the journey, starting with the join process
      • Look at the flow of actions they take and the decisions they make to ensure you’re leveraging every touch point
      • Consider potential barriers and how to make the process easier for them
      • Provide opportunities for members to easily give feedback
      • Overcommunicate — especially in the beginning. You want them to begin relying on your association’s knowledge and resources more and more — so it becomes muscle memory.
      • Create a visual map: Once you’ve listed each step in the process, turn this into a visual. It’s easy to do and it’s an excellent tool for your staff.
      • Don’t forget: At least once a year, reexamine the entire process and make changes.

Review and Ask for Feedback

      • Once you’ve created your list and visual map, step back and consider different types of members (younger/older, rookies/old guard, introverts/extroverts) and how they will likely navigate the path to see where there may be areas for improvement.
      • Invite some of your most active members to review the path and provide feedback. (Don’t forget to reward them for their feedback in a way that’s meaningful to them. Not sure what’s meaningful? Ask them!)

Consider Other Ideas

      • Create a member journey map that goes from onboarding through the various stages of membership and even includes how former members are treated.
      • Develop a mentor program in which volunteer members agree to help initiate new members and ensure their participation in networking events and professional development initiatives.
      • Invite members to provide testimonials about the value they’ve received from your association. Try to secure quotes or video vignettes from different types of members so that a potential member can see themselves in one of the testimonials.

Speaking of testimonials, visit ASI’s client success stories section to learn best practices from your association peers — and get some additional tips on how to craft effective testimonials.

Create a visual map with all the onboarding steps members take — it’s an excellent management tool you’ll refer back to again and again.

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4: Offer an Engaging Web Experience for Members

As part of your digital transformation — and in navigating the ongoing global pandemic and its impact on your day-to-day operations — you’re undoubtedly looking at how well your website functions for members. To ensure a truly engaging experience, you need to start with the premise that your website is your business system and vice versa. To support your efforts, you need cloud-based association management software (ideally an Engagement Management System) that ensures your website and your database are one and the same to provide a seamless, personalized experience for your members.

Here are a few ways to optimize your site:

Make Retention Your Goal: While It’s tempting to concentrate on attracting new members, keeping your existing members happy, engaged, and coming back for more will help ensure your organization’s long-term viability. It costs far more to attract a new member than retain one.

Enable Self-Service: Have you enabled self-service everywhere or are there still pockets that require staff intervention? Look closely at how you can remove the barriers that are impeding self-service.

Deliver on Mobile-Friendly Options: Mobile devices are the special preference of younger members and prospects, so it’s essential that you develop full mobile device capabilities to ensure your association management software can be accessed from anywhere on any device.

Offer Personalization: With a cloud-based Engagement Management System, your website and association management software are the same — thereby ensuring any change to the member record is immediately reflected in personalized web views that synch with their interests, membership status, and recent engagement. Younger members will expect this — and younger members are the lifeblood of any organization.

Ask for feedback: Ask some of your most active members to provide feedback on the member experience (MX) and how it can be improved.

Whether you’re just thinking of updating your website or are considering a new Engagement Management System, our clients’ award-winning websites can provide a treasure-trove of member engagement inspiration. Check them out here.

Cultivate a personalized member experience — younger members will expect this and they’re the future of your association.

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5: Focus on Becoming a Learning Organization

A “Learning Organization” is an association that’s committed to gaining as much knowledge from its members and staff as possible. These associations create an environment where they can learn from all interactions — and they continuously encourage and incentivize all stakeholders to participate in it.

As an association leader, you understand this level of learning advances your goal of becoming the primary source of information for your constituents. The key to success within any organization is to devote energy and resolve to learning. But becoming a Learning Organization takes focus and commitment to the process — and many elements must be aligned.

To achieve your goal, you’ll need a purpose-built, cloud-based Engagement Management System designed just for associations. It needs to provide a single source of truth. It’s one database, one complete, up-to-date historical member record that tracks all interactions and gives you complete confidence in the integrity of your data.

You can glean an incredible amount of information from your members — from your website, events, product sales, advocacy initiatives, and more. But, you need association management software that will help you gather this intelligence in real-time, identify emerging trends, and use the information to make educated, timely decisions.

ASI’s co-founders wrote the book on this. You’ll want to read “The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Organizational Performance: How to Make Sure Your Business Strategy Drives Your Technology Investments” by Bob Alves and Don Robertson. This book is filled with practical advice you can use now to build a successful Learning Organization.

The key to success within any organization is to devote energy and resolve to learning from everything you do.

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Take Aways

We hope you’ll keep these 5 tips in mind to start your year off right:

  1. Create a digital transformation strategy
  2. Develop a digital member value proposition
  3. Evaluate your onboarding member journey
  4. Offer an engaging web experience for members
  5. Become a learning organization

You can begin slowly but please start your journey now. If you have questions or need advice on how to proceed, contact us to get more information, see a demo, attend a webcast, or speak to one of our Performance Improvement Leaders.

We hope you have an incredibly successful 2022!

Tags: Association, Association Performance, Digital Transformation, Member Retention