Would your membership team be excited if they could automatically move student members into the next membership category?
It seems like such as easy task – made easier by clean member records. And it certainly is a task your AMS should handle with ease.
But isn’t the real focus on the student members? How do they feel when they get a renewal invoice for higher dues? Do they understand the value or do they balk at the higher fee and drop their membership?
The answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how much prep work you’ve done to alert your student members to their change in status and the corresponding dues increase. It depends on your ability to explain upgraded member benefits and the value members receive from their membership as they start their professional lives.
If you communicate well, you should be able to overcome member objections. But if you take the time to understand your members and discover how they think, you might gain new perspectives on how to engage members and provide the personal experience they want.
Our focus is shifting
We live in a world that caters to the individual. We want what we want – when we want it. And we’d like for it to be personal and designed just for us. It’s our challenge, as association executives, to meet those needs while remaining in budget and focusing on our mission. Easy, right?
Here are a few suggestions for tailoring your association to your members:
- Ask, ask, ask.
If you don’t know something, go to the experts – your members. You might develop an informal advisory group of members or suppliers you can turn to for information and advice. Or you can send surveys, conduct focus groups, or call members for a quick chat. You can be formal or informal. The style of the conversations will reflect your association. You can judge their effectiveness by the validation you receive or the hidden problems you uncover.
For example, if you’re losing members as students transition into full members, ask members and non-members why they continue their membership. Dig for the reasons they stay and the reasons they might leave. Armed with that information, you can develop ways to make the transition easier, find ways to collect missing information like new contact information, or demonstrate the association’s understanding of a difficult life transition.
Once you get started, you’ll want to know how member needs change as they move through their careers. The need for personalized learning, job opportunities, networking events, or credentialing programs changes as careers progress. You’ll want to be sure your member benefits meet those needs.
- Test, test, test.
Before your development team launches a new website, app, or other product, they conduct user experience (UX) testing. In fact, they might test many aspects of a website – from its organization to the ease with which a member can register for your annual meeting. As your technology team launches new products, they most likely will collect UX information. Make sure you understand what they discover. The more information you have about how your members interact with your organization, the better able you are to address emerging needs.
- Provide information through favorite communication channels.
We once laughed at the idea that we’d have a computer on every desk. Then we laughed at having a mobile phone with us everywhere we went. Now we are slow to answer phone calls and emails, but we love to text.
If the response to messages you send is less than you’d like, perhaps you’re sending through the wrong channel. Research has shown that we send more than five billion texts every day and that doesn’t count all the other types of messages we send. The astonishing thing is that we open 98 percent of them. We only look at emails 22 percent of the time and answer phone calls or respond to voice mail even less. We look at our phones at least 96 times a day – or once every 10 minutes.
Different communication channels have different uses with different audiences but trying new channels to reach your members may deliver positive results. Texting can be personal and immediate. Texting can be one part of a larger marketing campaign, or it can be a quick, easy way for members to ask questions and get an answer.
- Upgrade onboarding.
When a new member joins your association, you have the perfect opportunity to make a connection. Make any communication you send personal. Use the member’s name. Say thank you for joining, and send information about the association, any necessary login credentials, and directions for finding benefit information.
Connect them with a “buddy” who can show them the ropes and answer questions. Buddies can be very effective in helping new members navigate large annual meetings or trade shows. Students may particularly enjoy meeting members who are established in the profession.
Find out what information is helpful to new members before you restructure your onboarding program. Make sure you’re offering the things that make your members feel included and valued.
- Understand the profession.
Some associations require their CEO to be a member of the profession, but as an association executive, you are focused on leading a professional or trade organization. The skillset is quite different for a CAE than it is for an MD, CPA or other credentialed professional. That said, you and your staff need to know as much as possible about the industry your association represents.
Nowhere does that make more sense than in governmental affairs. It’s difficult to advocate a certain position on legislation unless you have knowledge of the issues.
Educating your staff, however, is an important step in serving your mission. Some medical associations, for example, arrange for staff members to shadow a member of the association for a day as part of new staff onboarding. Similarly, visits to construction sites, manufacturing facilities, or other workplaces can pay dividends as staff members work to understand the challenges and issues critical to your profession.
Your association is valuable because it brings professionals together to accomplish goals they can’t tackle alone. Each of your members is an individual and wants to be treated that way. Technology today allows you to communicate with your members in new ways but be careful not to discount the value of a conversation.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.