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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.

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

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 in place, your organization can evolve and realize its full potential once again. Here’s 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 there is an established goal that excites everyone. You want your team to be really inspired. Mediocre goals are simply not worth the effort.

Step 3: Make the most of marketing

If you want to sell more membership, you’ve got to know exactly who benefits from being a part of your association and their 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 really 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 the biggest frustrations, fears and worries of your members. 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 nenefits 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, the ones most likely to value a membership in your association. Put a lot of thought into your target market and develop a list based on members’ key 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 is likely to face on the road to achieving 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.

Step 5: Target your progress

After all the strategy, 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 retnetion goal, a recruiting goal, a revenue goal and a profit goal.
  2. Set priorities. Revisit your 5-year goal (step 2). Decide on between 3 and 7 priorities that must be completed this year in order 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 the implementation of your priorities. Breaking down goals makes progress more manageable and possible.

It may be that we are 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 the future of your organization and build a revenue-generation, membership-making machine.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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