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Effective Associations: Make Yours Hit The Mark

I’ve spent a lot of time working with association leaders and I’ve come to know what works and what doesn’t in order to grow membership and sustain organizations. The effective associations of 10 years ago are not the same today. Today, members are fast-paced, driven and they want information and access to exclusive information now.

I’ve spent a lot of time working with association leaders and I’ve come to know what works and what doesn’t in order to grow membership and sustain organizations. The effective associations of 10 years ago are not the same today. Today, members are fast-paced, driven and they want information and access to exclusive information now.

How do you reach your members? How do you take what used to work as a way to sustain your organization and turn it into something members new and old still want?

The truth is, you don’t.

With your association’s mission in hand, now is the time to think about how you will stand out and what new, innovative member benefits you can provide in order to grow and sustain your organization in the new era of membership–of life–as we know it.

In order to be an effective association, you need to think about communication, customization, technology, talent development and your association’s significant value.

Communication and customization

It doesn’t matter if you are doing everything well if no one knows about it. Your association members need to hear from you and understand the value you provide. Show your members that you value you them and give them private access to events and information. Make your association’s members genuinely feel a part of your organization–don’t provide the same services and information to nonmembers. Make it exclusive.

Customize your members’ experience and understand that communication is a two-way street. Encourage your members to provide feedback and talk with you. Use surveys, social media, focus groups or events as ways to communicate with your membership and listen to what they need.

Get hip to technology

Change happens. That’s life. And right now, shifts in technology and the way we communicate are big changes for associations. Work with it. Think about your current membership and those who will sustain your organization for the coming decades. Gen X and Gen Y want action. They want value. They want to know what’s in it for them. And they’re using technology to scope you out and figure out if you’re worth their time.

Use technology–social media, online communities, blogs, updated websites–or you will lose your chance with Gen X and Gen Y. This generation will simply disengage. Even if the majority of your membership is of Boomer age (and I can argue that these members are still using technology as well), think about your future. You won’t move forward if you don’t embrace the technology that will push you there.

Strong leadership and membership involvement

Effective associations find ways to brainstorm with staff and members to move to the next level; to grow membership. Create a developing leaders group, a community where current members and prospective members can participate in discussions that have an impact on the future of your association. Give your members ownership. Show your next generation of leaders that you support their quest for continued growth and learning. Provide the space for members to develop their talents.

Association committees provide learning opportunities for members and also help keep your executive team and Board focused on association goals and strategic planning. Create focused committees with clearly defined objectives and encourage your new members and young members to participate on committees. Get them involved right away so they can see the value and remain engaged. Gen Y can bring innovative ideas and new perspectives to your committees. Develop your association’s future leaders.

Know your value

The most effective organizations are innovators. They add value to members by going above and beyond what members could find elsewhere. Networking is NOT your association’s value proposition. What tangible item can you give to your members that no one else can give? What makes your association stand out? What brings members back for more?

Effective associations don’t happen over night; you need to work at it. And it’s not business as usual. Now is the time to be big. To be bold. To go where no association has gone before. Now is the time for change.

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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