Leveraging your current membership renewal rates is the key to sustainable growth; discover three strategies to help you focus on your core members.
How Can I Improve My Association’s Performance?
Try these 8 strategies — some you can start today! — to optimize your member engagement and acquisition efforts to better prepare for challenges ahead.
That’s the million-dollar question for any association professional these days. Everyone wants to see improvement but steering that course can be a little daunting. So, let’s step back for a moment and ask another question:
How do you define association performance?
Every organization measures its perception of success somewhat differently. It could be any one or combination of the following:
- New member acquisitions
- Member retention and engagement
- Product sales
- Non-dues revenue generation
- Overall number of members
- Annual budget growth
- Operational efficiencies
There are a number of ways you can improve your overall association performance — these are typically operational in nature and are more long-term. Others can be implemented quickly and can start making an impact almost immediately. Below, we’ve outlined 8 strategies — 4 long-term and 4 short-term — that we’ve observed in the most successful associations worldwide. These are the strategies that are used to infuse new energy and shake things up a bit. Let’s take a look.
1. Start Your Association’s Digital Transformation. Now.
While this is a longer-term objective that has many layers, it’s something you can at least begin at any time. Your digital strategy can start quite easily — by simply looking at what your association was created to accomplish, and then examining whether there is a better way of doing that.
Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into every corner of your association. It’s designed to:
- Improve and streamline how your association operates
- Increase the value you deliver to members
- Examine your business processes and corporate culture
- Encourage you to challenge conventional wisdom
If you’re just beginning to explore your digital strategy, it’s okay. You don’t have to conquer the world in one afternoon. But it’s important to get started. The global pandemic left many organizations unprepared and we don’t know when we’ll face the next big challenge.
Here are a few tips to get started on your journey:
- Create an Innovation Team with a diverse group of individuals from around your organization
- Outdated processes that just don’t work for you
- Legacy technology that’s holding you back
- Data silos that prevent a 360° view of your members
- Try to look at everything you do with fresh eyes to see how it can be improved
Looking for more in-depth guidance? Download our complimentary whitepaper: 3 Critical Steps to Digitally Transform Your Association.
2. Choose Association Software That Supports Your Goals.
One of the most important aspects of an effective digital transformation strategy is assessing whether your current member management system can support your digital objectives. If it can’t, finding a new system, such as an Engagement Management System — will be one of your first priorities. There are many considerations when starting a new system search but there are 5 over-arching characteristics to look for:
- Purpose-built for associations with the specific functionality you need baked right in
- Easy to use, giving staff the ability to access the information they need without relying on IT
- Capable of managing all of your data in one place — providing a single source of truth and a 360° view of your association members with no data silos
- Cloud-based so it can be accessed by staff, members, and volunteers from anywhere on any device.
- Integrated with your website so you can provide a personalized web experience for your members.
It’s essential that your association software supports your efforts to:
- Monitor every member interaction
- Easily generate reports and personalized dashboards
- Access and analyze data in real time
- Discover emerging trends
3. Analyze Your Data — It’s Trying to Tell You Something.
You may have heard about the advantages of becoming a “Learning Organization” — this is an association that is dedicated to advancing its missions by continually learning from all interactions with its members. Every association should strive for this and it’s not as complicated as it might sound. By continually collecting and reviewing data on your members, you can learn a great deal, such as:
- What motivates them
- Which issues they care about
- How they like to communicate with you and their colleagues
- What their plans are for the future
If your association software allows you to monitor and track all interactions — from the initial join, to onboarding activities, to product sales, to event attendance, and beyond — you have a gold mine of information at your fingertips that can aid in making informed business decisions about the benefits, programs, and resources you offer in the coming years.
If you’d like to explore the benefits of becoming a learning organization, download our complimentary book: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Operational Performance.
4. Make Sure Your Business Strategy Drives Your Technology Decisions
If selecting a new association software system is part of your digital transformation plans, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when you’re starting your process. Over the years, we’ve worked with thousands of association clients worldwide and we’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn from them. We’ve identified the following 4 best practices that are consistently used by the most successful organizations:
- The business strategy drives technology decision making
- Data is accurate, up-to-to date, and easily accessible
- The organization is constantly learning from member and staff interactions
- The website is the business system and vice versa
You’ll want to keep these 4 elements top-of-mind as you begin your software selection journey. Your business strategy and digital transformation plan should drive the technology decisions you make — not the other way around. If you keep your organizational goals at the forefront, the entire process will become clearer and easier — and you’ll reach the level of performance you’re striving for.
For more best-practice advice, check out our ebook: The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Operational Performance.
Shorter-Term Strategies to Try Right Now
5. Boost Non-Dues Revenue with a Year-Round Mobile App
While many associations use a mobile app for annual conferences and other special events, not all associations are taking advantage of the significant rewards they can reap from having a year-round mobile app. This should be an integral part of your overall communications strategy.
Engagement is essential for long-term member retention and a year-round mobile app is an excellent way to bolster this. The app is a quick and efficient way to get time-sensitive information out to your members — and to hear back from them on important issues.
Your mobile app can be a central location for everything — content, engagement, collaboration, and events. These features give members a reason to regularly log in.
Leverage Two-Way Communication
With a website or email, you’re communicating to the member but with an app, members are communicating back to you — and to each other. A quick survey or poll in the app gives you invaluable information you can use to better support your membership.
Give Your Members More Control
With Push Notifications, members control the types of notifications they receive from you — so they only get the news and alerts they want. This is an excellent medium to let them know about late-breaking news, important event updates, cancellations, schedule changes, etc. They get the information quickly without having to do anything and, in turn, become more reliant on your organization for the news they need. This can only help at renewal time.
Increase Non-Dues Revenue Streams
You may already generate advertising revenue from your website and mobile app, such as through banner ads, splash screens on start-up, and other advertising. But with a year-round app, you can empower your industry partners to sponsor content. This is a great way to provide members with valuable information about the latest goods and services on the market that can make their jobs easier, and it increases your partners’ visibility within your membership base.
6. Step-Up Your Association’s Onboarding Game
If ensuring member retention is one of your top performance metrics, it’s imperative to implement a strong onboarding strategy that quickly pulls new members in and keeps them coming back. But we’ve found that onboarding sometimes gets forgotten after a few months — when it really should be a 12- to 15-month process. Here are some ideas to keep in mind to ensure your new members get off on the right foot:
Document the New-Member Journey
- Identify each step in the journey and create a visual map
- Study the actions your members take to ensure you’re maximizing your interactions
- Remove potential barriers to make the process easier
- Reevaluate the process each year and modify as necessary
Ask for Your Members’ Feedback
- Communicate regularly with members, especially in the beginning
- Ask about communication preferences and honor them
- Solicit feedback on programs, benefits, resources, networking, etc., so new members feel valued and included
- Reward members for feedback and engagement (recognition, discounts, prime volunteer spots, etc.)
Offer the Guidance of Mentors
- Invite established members to reach out to new members and engage them
- Hold special first-time member gatherings at your major events and introduce members based on personas
- Start online forums for new members that are monitored and encouraged by established members who aspire to leadership roles in the future
For more tips on how to engage your members in the early stages, see our recent post: Is Your Member Onboarding Journey Magical or Miserable?
7. Compile Detailed Member Personas
Creating member personas can have a huge impact on your association’s ability to engage and retain members. It’s one of the most effective methods to improve your retention rates. If you truly understand your members — and they feel they’re understood — you can galvanize their participation in your organization for years to come.
So, what is a member persona? Personas are representations of members with specific characteristics, such as:
- Behaviorial patterns
A persona is the entire personality of certain members, not just demographic details. You want to dig deeper to understand not only what your members do, but why they do it. You’ll want to build a reservoir of information you can use to tailor your communications, resources, and member benefits. In particular, you’ll want to capture their:
- Reasons for joining
- Pain points
- Specific interests
- Career goals
Maintaining member personas is an ongoing process — they should be regularly updated as new information and characteristics emerge from your data.
8. Create Your Association’s Formal Engagement Plan
Member engagement is the epicenter of everything you do and every decision you make. Improving, enhancing, and expanding engagement should always be a high priority.
By creating a formal engagement plan, you can help increase:
- Retention rates
- Event attendance (annual conferences and virtual events)
- Website traffic
- Online community participation
Your plan doesn’t need to be complex. You can start simply and then expand as you go along. Here are some steps to start you in the right direction:
Planning & Goal setting
- Ensure you have a system that can measure member engagement
- Establish a benchmark for where you’re starting from
- Determine the metrics you’ll track — use measurements that are meaningful to your particular organization
- Set attainable goals: You want your team to stretch but not break; choose goals that are aggressive but still do-able
- Appoint an Engagement Committee that tracks and reports on progress — retention is everyone’s job and all departments should be invested, not just the Membership Department
- Broadcast the goals and keep members apprised of your progress: They have a personal stake in your success, so share it with them as well
- Celebrate your victories — even the small ones
The organizational strategies will take longer to implement but will have a far-reaching impact on your overall association performance. Make sure to:
- Create a Digital Transformation Strategy
- Let your business strategy drive your technology decisions
- Confirm your association software can support your goals
- Learn from every interaction with your members
And don’t forget the things you can do now to start boosting your association’s performance in specific areas, including:
- Implement a year-round mobile app to increase non-dues revenue
- Improve your onboarding process to ensure new-member renewals
- Design member personas to increase event attendance and member satisfaction
- Build out your engagement plan to ensure retention rates
To drill down further on long- and short-term strategies, be sure to download our book, The Association Exec’s Guide to Improving Operational Performance.