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the center of interest or activity.
As in: “this generation has made the environment a focus of attention”

It’s 2017 and you may be as tempted as we are to make ambitious resolutions embarking on a New Year! Whether it’s internal goal-setting or a new board agenda, look no further than our favorite word of the season: focus. Read the definition above and think about the focus of your organization. What is the cornerstone, the nucleus, of your mission? If you can state the focus in one sentence, all the better!

Yet, like carrying your plate through the buffet line when your stomach is growling from hunger, sometimes associations (and their members, boards, and leadership) are prompted to sample everything on offer. This is distracting and will quickly drain resources, be it human or financial.

At the start of a New Year, resolve instead to focus on core strengths in the services you provide – in the raison d’etre of your organization. It’s an essential discipline that values “doing better” above “adding new.” And remember that associations are driven by member needs.

If you keep the members’ primary needs front of mind and identify how to improve on those services and programs with laser focus, your purpose will become crystal clear and the growth you desire will follow.

Here are four ways to get focused:

1. Fine-tune current services.

Are you focusing energy on services that enhance and grow membership? Identifying, communicating and delivering excellent primary services is the foundation of member retention and growth. This answers the ultimate question: “Is this group essential to me?” If that answer is “yes,” then you know you’re focusing precisely where you need to. If that answer is “no” or “maybe,” return to the core essentials and evaluate how they can be improved.

Here’s an example: If you have a valuable newsletter, improve on it. Add a new column, feature, or article series; change the graphics; or make it easier for members to access, read, or download. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, make the change in 2017. Focus on making all communications a must-read for your members. Members will welcome the improvements and value your association more.

2. Listen seriously to what your staff needs.

It is your staff’s responsibility to control expenses – labor being the biggest line item. Providing the tools they need can make a big impact on member service. They hear the issues and problems of your members every day, they are your biggest ear. Support their work and commitment by acting upon their needs.

Here’s an example: 
If staff recommends an upgrade to your Association Management System (AMS) to improve your membership database, strongly consider it. Keeping up to date with technology ensures your most valuable asset – member data – is housed securely and staff will save time with the automated tools that comprehensive AMS platforms provide. Most of all, members will appreciate easy-to-use tools such as online member directories and event registration forms.

3. Say good-bye to sacred cows.

Painful, yes. It begins with your and your organization’s leadership engaging in honest conversation about unproductive or hugely distracting initiatives. Your gut may already tell you which programs to retire. If not, financial analysis of a program’s cost should help.

Here’s an example: As part of the budgeting and planning process, with all emotion and nostalgia set aside, leadership can no longer ignore the true financial drain of a long-time program that consistently underperforms. Face the obvious and retire the program or plan its phase out. Replace it with more relevant and accessible member training or implement a fresh initiative to replace the stale one.

4. Nurture growth organically.

In today’s startup-minded world, when venture capital often funds little more than an idea, it’s tempting to follow the next, new, bright and shiny object (aka Apps! Viral video campaigns! New chapters!). We suggest you “go beta” instead of jumping in full force. Start with a pilot or one-time endeavor. Test it, evaluate it, survey it, check the metrics, and make adjustments.

Here’s an example: A few years ago, one of SBI’s clients launched a new education program with two webinars. The next year, they moved to four offerings; and since then, they’ve expanded to 10 webinars per year that are now an important revenue stream. Because the organization trialed webinars and evaluated member response, testing the waters, so to speak, it was well positioned to expand on that foundation in a fiscally sustainable way.

Pay attention to what you can improve, and make it better. Return to your core reason for existence and feed that. Doesn’t it make sense that if you improve delivery of your core services, you’ll attract and engage more members? Improve upon existing services, try out a new approach, and adequately fund the successful programs already in place. This kind of focus will position your association for a solid future.

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