Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Have the Golden Hand Cuffs on Association Members

For years, back in the 50's through the 90's, individuals and organizations were members of associations to "just belong."  It was a must.  Nowhere else could you access new products, information, key industry data and a vast network of people to help you succeed in your industry.

Associations had a built-in set of "golden handcuffs" for value because the internet did not exist as it does today.   They were the only real place to access new product launches, information and networks of people.

Then a life changing event happened for associations, in the 1990's, AOL and Google became the information highway for everyone.  Now everything was different...information was at the fingertips of anyone who had a computer.   Over the last 20+ years, the internet has taken over an area that was once so vital to associations..."Information and Data".

The 800 hot-line to the association offices is no longer needed to get critical updates on legislation and industry news.  With a couple of key strokes and Google, you can have over a billion pages at your fingertips to filter through.

Hold on!  Did I just say a BILLION?  Yes, and sometimes more...  Now why would someone possibly waste half a day, if not possibly an entire day, sorting through what is right, wrong or even legitimate? BECAUSE IT'S FREE!  That is a major problem for associations.  Information is now free and at everyone's finger tips.  The question now arises as to, "If information is so available and free, then why are associations concentrating on that for member value?"

In order to understand the answer to this question, you need to understand the types of benefits and their relationship to member value.  Here are the three types of benefits any association can offer:
  1. Those things your members can get for free without you (adds zero value to the association)
  2. Those things you are going to do whether I'm a member or not (adds some value to the association)
  3. Those things you do for your members they can't do themselves effectively (maximizes association value)
You see, any association that has most of its efforts going into #1 & #2 are typically struggling to find a connection with their members...especially the younger generation.  Things like an informative newsletter, government relations, insurance programs, etc. aren't adding any value because these are areas that were once a "lock" for associations, but are no longer.

However, associations that put 100% of their focus on identifying #3, DOING THINGS FOR YOUR MEMBERS THAT THEY CAN'T DO THEMSELVES EFFECTIVELY, will rule the day in the future!  This takes a little effort to understand your members' businesses better than they calls for surveying your members to understand what they feel their biggest problems and challenges requires you to LISTEN to them, and then ACT on what they say.

Remember, in the world of associations, innovation isn't developing the next big mobile app or device.  It's simply creating solutions that solve your member's problems and challenges.  If you do that, they will trust you, know that you care for them, and you will have great relevance in the life of their business.

I take my own association for example:  Seven years ago we chose to put all of our focus on #3 above, and we began listening to our members with the intent of restructuring our strategic plan to reflect what they said were their areas of challenge.  We came away with the following areas of focus:

  1. 24/7 Online Training
  2. Effective Face to Face Networking Conferences
  3. High Energy Leadership Training Relevant to the Younger Generation
  4. Financial Benchmarking and Forecasting
  5. Online Member Matching for Networking
  6. Tools to Help Members Reduce Findings in Their Accreditation Audits

You see, our members could decide to do any one of these for themselves, but it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars to do it, and it would take them away from running their business everyday.  These 7-things aren't just a Google search and goes way beyond that!

Since our Association put its focus on these 6 areas in 2006, the Association has grown over 18% in annual dues revenue, 28% in per member revenue, and 840% in net worth...with the largest economic downturn in our history.

Do we have a set of "golden handcuffs"?  YES, because the 6 areas noted above are crucial to the success of any company within our industry, and they can't get it anywhere else, nor can they do it themselves effectively.

When an association gets back to the basics of why they exist:

1) Organize themselves
2) Coordinate their efforts
3) Leverage the costs over many
4) Build trust as a group
5) Do things together they can't do themselves effectively

...they will begin to see member value, engagement, and loyalty start to grow to levels they never thought possible.

No matter what the size of your your association, if you want to maximize member value, engagement and loyalty, check out my half-day Association Innovation Think Tank by CLICKING HERE.

It is helping association boards/staff find their way to higher levels of excellence for their members and industry.


  1. Tom,

    Thanks for the brilliant post. It is literally a blueprint for association success. I'll share it with my team today.

    Anthony Demangone, COO
    National Association of Federal Credit Unions

  2. Thanks for the comment Anthony. Its a message and philosophy I'm trying to get the association community to realize. Have a great week.

  3. I had a search through the link, but believe it or not I am really unsure of what would work for us.


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