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The New Era Of Member Recruitment: Listening And Adaptation

Fighting for members. It is a common theme that every association is facing in this day and age. Having had a 26 year career in the association industry, I can tell you that finding members is really not a new a subject to the industry.

Fighting for members. It is a common theme that every association is facing in this day and age. Having had a 26 year career in the association industry, I can tell you that finding members is really not a new a subject to the industry.

What is different is how we find them and how we try to identify what our members look like and what they want.

I left the industry for eight years in 2003 to start my own business. When I entered back into the industry in 2011, it appeared that some things were drastically different and some things hadn’t changed for the last 100 years.

Baby Boomers verses Generations X & Y

Most of my career dealt with the Baby Boomers. It wasn’t until about 1998 that I could see the shift within the leadership with the younger generation coming up through the ranks. The Baby Boomers where on every committee, giving of time was not an issue, having the same venue of events for the past 100 years was the norm and association involvement was a priority.

The next generation had different ideas.

The new generation wanted more leadership roles, but less time to commit, no formal affairs, more family events. They wanted instant communication, short phone conversations if at all – email was the preferred method of communication (texting wasn’t invented yet) and more hands on involvement. And now, these generations are the future of our associations.

Associations must adapt; not the other way around.

Target for new blood

If your organization doesn’t have a student chapter program, make it a priority. Students are hungry for knowledge. Classroom education is great but no substitute for the hands on education.

Each year, the construction association I was a part of had a 3-day mock competition that involved four groups of 10 to 12 students each. The groups was assigned a project they had to bid. Each group was assigned a contractor mentor to help them with the process. At the end of the three days, each group presented the project to a panel of judges and awards were given to the winners.

The students learned how to communicate with their peers, obtained knowledge they would never have received in a class room, met potential employers and learned how to present a project. It was also a great learning experience for our seasoned members because they were able to see how different the younger generation approached a project with new methods.

Our contractors had a tremendous pool of candidates to select from as future employees; the students had advantage over other candidates and the association had new blood coming in to the leadership. This is just one example of how a student chapter program can work for your association as a new member recruitment tool.

Are you listening to your members?

In my humble opinion, that is one of the hardest tasks in the association industry and sometimes the one that is overlooked. Listening to the needs of your members is a sure-fire way to keep them engaged and renewing. Think about the following:

  1. Once you have recruited new members are you listening to what they want from the association?

  2. How is the best way to communicate, quantify and benchmark your results?

  3. Does one member carry more power than other members? That’s a mind field!

Over the two decades that I was employed in the industry, getting members to speak up was always a difficult task. We would spend months sending out surveys, manually tabulating results, trying to figure out a system to rate the best ideas; who liked what idea the best and how to implement the ideas into the strategic plan.

Four to six months would pass before completion of this project and the ideas were already stale or obsolete. Associations are perceived as cutting edge in their industry; information has to be relevant and timely.

You know you need to talk with your members and listen to what they’re saying, so how can you do this easily and efficiently?

I recently launched MembersSpeak, a software system originally developed for Fortune 500 companies. The Innovation Engine of MembersSpeak allows you to hear what your members are saying, rate and score answers automatically. No more wasting time and energy trying to do things manually and being able to have results instantly instead of months later.

The point is, you must do something revolutionary to get into the minds of your members. What your association did 5, 10 or 25 years ago isn’t going to work anymore. Ask them what they want and deliver.

Members are out there

The members are out there, how we search and capture them is the million dollar question. With the rapid change of technology it is hard to keep up with the newest trends. Social media is the buzz of the industry this year; what’s in store for us next year?

There are numerous books out there pointing you in the right direction such as Sarah Sladek’s book The End of Membership As We Know It and another book I read that had great insight about changing associations behavior by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, “Race For Relevance”.

The point: It’s not business as usual anymore. We need to be creative in the ways to we market, look for and keep new members for our associations.


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