Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Strategic Planning: Issue Driven vs Member Engagement

When your next strategic planning retreat takes place, will your board's focus revolve around being "issue driven" or "maximizing member engagement." If yours is like most associations, it will be "issue driven."  Typically, boards spend countless hours researching, surveying each other, discussing and looking at what the key issues are within their industry with no considerations to how they impact member engagement. They come up with what their five key initiatives for the coming year, put them in a nice printed document, and over the course of the year write updates and take pictures of how awesome those five initiatives are progressing.  Yet many of these associations still have a retention problem. Many members aren't intimately familiar with the strategic plan and think that is something only privy to the board.  Hence, they are "not engaged."

Are many of the initiatives taken on by your board and their strategic plan important?  YES.  But many of the initiatives are not as important day-to-day for many members of an association.  They do nothing to draw in and "engage" members into the emotions of the association.  Members continue to be just "dues paying" members and not "believers."

I'm a big believer that strategic planning should start with member engagement, not the issues of the year.  Think about this question:  "Would you rather have 20% of your members who fully understand and believe in your strategic plan, or would you rather have 80% of your members fully engaged in programs that connect them into the energy of the association?"

If you look down the benefits list of many associations, past coming to the annual conference or government advocacy, they have little to offer their members.  What do members, who don't like to attend meetings or have a distaste for the political process, have as value in an association where these are the two overriding benefits?
Are you an association that has so much focus on intangible benefits, that members can't really see the true value of your association?

I'm a big believer that it is critical for an association to have as much, or more, value for members who don't attend meetings and don't like the political process, as those that do.  Why?  BECAUSE THEY MAKE UP THE MAJORITY OF YOUR MEMBERS.

I recall sitting in a board meeting for an association that I was a volunteer for.  One of the staff members gave a report on the membership committee's latest conference call.  Having only a few people on the call, they began to talk openly about the list of people who were late on their dues.  The Chair of the Membership Committee stated on the call to the staffer, "We are really struggling with these calls.  If anyone doesn't come to annual conference, we don't know what to tell them as to why they should renew their membership."  WHAT?

Is your association in this space of "perceived" value, or lack of value past your annual conference?  ...Or do you have a value proposition that is tangible and drives member engagement so members feel and touch your value every day, week, and month?

I would challenge every association to look at your value proposition and ask yourself, "If we had no meetings and did not participate in government advocacy, what is the real value to our members?"

If you have little value, your association is always at risk of low retention and churning members to replace those that leave.  You sell membership hard, sell a lot of intangibles, and once they are in and realize that you have little tangible value, they leave.  This is a problem for revenues, volunteers and the strength of the association.

Our association is highly "member engagement" driven in our strategic plan, and have been since 2006.  The numbers are incredible!  Since 2006, we have had a steady 13% increase in membership, our per member revenue is up 33%, our non-dues revenue is up 133% on an annual basis, and our net worth has grown over 1,000%.  All because we put most of our focus on programs and services that deliver direct and tangible benefits to our members.

Hear me out on this.  When your net worth grows a 1,000%, your Board has the financial resources, and incredible flexibility to take risk on issues important to your membership. You see, when members are engaged, it creates the strength to drive issues important to your association.  However, if you drive issues, it doesn't drive member engagement.

As you approach your Fall leadership retreat with your Board, think about approaching your plan from a perspective of, "What programs or services could we do to engage 80% of our members in something that would be meaningful to their career or company?" If you do that successfully, you will see engagement, loyalty and retention go to levels you could only wish for.

Do what our board did in 2006... Take the Association Revolution Challenge, an intense full day strategy session that puts member engagement at the center of the mission.