Join Opening Keynote Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE for TSAE’s first annual Membership, Marketing, & Communications Conference on November 12-13 at the Courtyard by Marriott Austin Pflugerville & Pflugerville Conference Center. This day-and-a-half event is dedicated to those who work or are involved in the membership, marketing or communication areas of associations. Learn more at www.tsae.org/education-events/mmc.
By Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE
I often see associations make small changes in an attempt to fix big challenges. They adjust the price of membership when the core issue is a lack of value to members. They redesign their websites but don’t improve the accessibility and usability of content, which is often the cause of members’ frustrations. When associations see a stagnation or decline in membership dues, they talk about membership models and pricing, but without value, people won’t give their money or their time.
Where should organizations begin to address such a challenge? The first step in understanding members’ and customers’ needs is to dive deeper into specific situations or challenges they face in their daily work and to identify the resources they use to help solve problems
Are you having the same impact on your members as you did when you first created your programs, products and services (PPS)? Have members’ roles, influence, responsibilities and/or work situations been shifting in the past several years, and are they going to continue changing in the future? Many industries are facing significant changes, and associations are caught in the upheaval. The programs, products and services your association created may no longer solve your members’ problems if the problems themselves are changing. To address challenges and leverage opportunities in a changing landscape, associations need to foresee the future of the profession and/or industry even better than members and create or modify their PPS to prepare members for that future.
In my book Pivot Point, I outline several steps associations should take to adapt to members’ changing needs:
Identify emerging trends. What are the trends within your industry, and will those trends cause new challenges or alter existing challenges your members face? What opportunities should your members leverage to adapt to these trends?
Identify emerging challenges. Are members facing new challenges that didn’t exist a few years ago? For which problems are members most likely to seek solutions?
Track changes in behaviors. How are your members adapting to the trends you’ve observed? Do members prefer online or in-person formats for information, education and networking?
Identify gaps in the marketplace. Which problems are not being solved by your association or another provider?
Look for existing solutions. Is your association providing solutions but not delivering them at the point of need? Are other providers delivering solutions that better meet members’ needs?
Innovate. Is your association too afraid of failure to try new ideas? Too often, associations operate as if accountability precludes innovation. Associations should be transparent and should evaluate their efforts honestly, but there should also be room to experiment with new ideas, learn from mistakes and adapt rather just give up on a new idea just because it didn’t work in its first iteration.
These steps will help an association adapt to a changing environment, but there is another key element that often gets overlooked in discussions around an association’s portfolio of PPS: the overall impact on members and the association’s mission. ●
Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, is president and CEO of Avenue M Group (www.avenuem.org). This article is adapted from her book Pivot Point: Reshaping Your Business When It Matters Most (published in August 2018), which is available at www.asaecenter.org/bookstore. ASAE member and quantity-purchase discounts are available.