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5 Steps For Continued Association Growth In A Changing Market

For most associations, 1946 to 2000 were standout years. With the active support of the baby boomers–the largest generation in American history–membership associations thrived. Yet, as the saying goes, what goes up must come down.

Since 2000, associations have experienced a barrage of challenges that have weakened their position in the marketplace. Financial decline. Demographic shifts. Technology. All have played a role in the altered business environments associations now face.

However, with the right vision and structure, your organization can evolve and realize its full potential again.

Here are 5 steps for how your association can flip its fortune:

Step 1: Find your focus

Why does your association exist? Define, with absolute clarity, your association’s reason for being and its niche. Don’t try to be everything to everyone–you’ll become diluted, lose value and shrink your membership. If you’re diligent about focus, your association will continue to be competitive, productive, and successful.

Step 2: Set significant goals

It’s easy to set short-term goals. What you need to do is set a stretch goal–something with significance. Meet with your leadership team and discuss where you want to take your association (think 5 years from now). Allow the team time to mull over this question until an established goal excites everyone. You want your team to be inspired. Mediocre goals are simply not worth the effort.

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Step 3: Make the most of marketing

If you want to sell more memberships, you’ve got to know who benefits from being a part of your association and the motives behind their membership. Only with that information can you then begin marketing. Marketing success relies on a 4-step process:

  1. Determine what differentiates you from the competition. Survey members and request feedback from your membership sales team. What do your current members like about your association? Why did they choose to join? Compile the answers, then use it to determine which three aspects of the association your members value most.

  2. Determine your guarantee. An example is Domino’s Pizza, which guarantees 30-minute delivery, or your order is free. Meet with your leadership team and list what you believe to be your members’ biggest frustrations, fears, and worries. List all possible guarantees you’d be willing to offer to put their concerns at ease.

  3. Identify your core benefits. What you offer is a critical selling tool. You must add value. Provide potential members ample information on what they will gain from these benefits and include member testimonials or measurable data (such as 60% of our members observed an increase in business”) whenever possible.

  4. Determine your target market. These are your ideal members, most likely to value membership in your association. Put a lot of thought into your target market and develop a list based on members’ characteristics: geography, industry, title, age range, etc. Then, develop a list of prospects within your target and start the relationship-building process.

Step 4: Troubleshooting

Here’s where you identify your association’s obstacles to growth. Do you need to introduce new technology or membership models? Should you target a younger audience? Whatever the case, your goal here is to eliminate negative influences and focus on your association’s potential.

Ask your team to identify obstacles the association will likely face to achieve its goals. List your challenges, then whittle it down to your top three. Discuss what the real problem is behind your challenges. If you have an aging membership or declining revenues, it’s for a reason. Pinpoint what they are and then discuss possible solutions for resolving those challenges.

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Step 5: Target your progress

After all the strategies, it’s time for plan implementation. Here’s how to implement a growth-oriented strategic plan:

  1. Set a 1-year goal. Meet with your team and determine the following goals for the association to achieve within the next year: a retention goal, a recruiting goal, a revenue goal, and a profit goal.

  2. Set priorities. Revisit your 5-year goal (step 2). Decide on 3 and 7 priorities that must be completed this year for your association to be on track with your 5-year goal.

  3. Set 90-day targets. Break the year into quarters with 90-day targets focused on implementing your priorities. Breaking down goals makes progress more manageable and possible.

We may be in a period that is the end of membership as we know it, but that doesn’t have to mean it’s the end of your association.

Now is the time to look at the best ways to flip your organization’s future and build a revenue-generation, membership-making machine.

This is an excerpt from Sarah Sladek‘s “The End of Membership As We Know It?” article in the January 2012 issue of Association News.


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