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Tools For Member Recruitment And Retention

In 1965, 75 percent of all physicians belonged to the American Medical Association. Today less than 25 percent do. This decline can be attributed to six major issues: technology, generational differences, value expectations, market structure, competition, and time constraints. In these challenging times, how can trade associations recruit and retain members?

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein

In 1965, 75 percent of all physicians belonged to the American Medical Association. Today less than 25 percent do. This decline can be attributed to six major issues: technologygenerational differencesvalue expectationsmarket structurecompetition, and time constraints. In these challenging times, how can trade associations recruit and retain members?

This question can be answered by outlining the realities that frame an individual’s decision to join (recruitment) and proven strategies for long-term sustainability (retention). James Dalton and Monica Dignam surveyed 16,944 association members, former members and nonmembers from 5,200 associations worldwide to produce The Decision to Join: How Individuals Determine Value and Why They Choose to Belong. Their research uncovered what factors influence an individual’s decision to join:

  • Expectations
  • Reputation
  • Levels of involvement
  • Generational differences
  • Career level
  • Employment setting
  • Gender

Built on the proven strategies of Jim Collins and published by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and The Center for Association Leadership, 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t highlights three themes (purpose, analysis, and action) and seven measures found in associations who maintained a consistent member/donor base throughout the entire fifteen-year study period:

  • Commitment to Purpose (a customer service culture, alignment of products and services with mission)
  • Commitment to Analysis and Feedback (data-driven strategies, dialogue and engagement, CEO as a broker of ideas)
  • Commitment to Action (organizational adaptability, alliance building)

The market is inundated with books, consultants, recommendations and opinions on trade associations. In my experience, The Decision to Join (2007) and 7 Measures of Success (2006) are two must-have books. Both proved especially useful in my role as Executive Director of the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association.

Other notable reads are Race for Relevance (2011), Road to Relevance (2013), The End of Membership as We Know It (2011) and The New Recruit (2007). The majority of noteworthy association literature comes from the American Society of Association Executives, which continually proves its worth as a provider of current, valuable information for association professionals.

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