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Associations are human creations – by humans for humans. It is a simple thought but it is inherent in being a carbon-based land creature. We are driven to associate, it is our nature.

We at SBI marvel at the incredible range of associations and what they offer to their members. People are social… in every sense of the word. But just because people need to find others of similar interests, doesn’t mean that they willgo out and join an association. They have to believe that the association will meet their needs: intellectual, professional, social and the intangible need to belong. Associations have to provide a balance of tangibles and intangibles. They have to provide value to members.

We talk with association leaders frequently, and one of the most pressing issues we discuss is simply; “How can we get more members? How do we grow?” Prior to even determining how to grow membership and whether you are delivering value that your members need or want, a little self-examination is necessary. Here are a few questions that leadership can start with:

What are the most effective entry points to your association?
For many associations, it’s meetings and programming. Are you creating engaging networking experiences at your meetings and laying out the welcome mat to new and prospective members? What is the frequency of your programming? Are there year round opportunities to learn or network? We know that prospective members look at the calendar to determine if the association’s programming is worth their investment.  Challenge your program or education committee to develop a strong season of offerings – and to do so a year in advance.

Another obvious entry point is your website. Members are multi-tasking and easily distracted. Make sure there is a clear value proposition, “above the fold”, front page. If you haven’t refreshed your website in a few years, consider doing so, the  cost is minimal – and the return could be considerable.

Are members happy with their experience?
And we mean really, really, really happy. This is vital to the growth of any organization. Are members happy enough that they will champion your organization and convince others to join?

Great customer service is a start. From online to onsite registration, every touch should be professional and polished. Don’t scrimp on events. Invest in good speakers, AV, and food.  Work to create exciting, interactive experiences.  Make sure there is there are ways to network and meet other members. Build engagement. Your educational offerings should be in line with member needs; not only stay up to date with industry trends and resources, but to reinforce their commitment to the profession.  The goal of events is to educate, inspire and energize your attendees (and future members).

Are members plugged in to your organization’s mission and strategic plan?
Would your members say their association advocates for them?  Is the work you do understood by your members? If not, then look to e-blast content and the communications you deliver to promote your mission. Build a communication calendar and develop a series of articles specifically to discuss and realize your vision. Use these communications to reinforce where their investment is going and relate everything you do back to your organization’s core mission – whether it’s lobbying, training the next generation or recognizing those for lifetime achievement.

What is the association’s financial outlook (condition, position, status, strength)?
This is about fiscal health.  If an association’s finances are in order and cash reserves are great enough to plan two years ahead, then you are demonstrating safe and sane financial planning. When you have a strong balance sheet, it sends a message of confidence to members. If your reserves are robust, reinvest in the organization and your member’s biggest needs.

How strong is your association’s database?
This is like a strong financial position. Extensive and well organized data is the yesterday, today and tomorrow of an association. This information is critical to increasing membership. Review what you are tracking and develop reports that focus on retention. In particular, focus in on new members and ensure they renew after their first year. If your membership committee does nothing else but partner or buddy up with new members, you will take great steps in growing membership.

People tend to be impressed with the person that remembers their name after a long time of not seeing them. The database has to be the “person” who remembers names, dates, jobs, committees, events, payments and credits.

Providing membership value is paramount for member happiness and retention. For further reading, we recommend A Member-Focused Value Proposition