As a leading Association Management Company (AMC) we are often asked by prospective association client partners and volunteer leaders of associations, “What is the key to making an association successful?”. They, understandably, want a ‘silver bullet’ or ‘easy button’ answer – something they can easily implement to make their association successful.
The answer is easy. Unfortunately, the implementation is complicated. The key to association success can be found in one word – Members.
Associations that are most successful over long periods of time have figured out how to engage their members continuously.
So, if you agree with my premise, the next logical question is “How do you engage members continuously?”. That’s the complicated part. There isn’t a simple methodology that works for all associations because each association and even each member within each association is different. Members have different reasons for being members; they have different goals; they have different interests.
Associations used to be able to engage all or most of their members around a single issue impacting most or all members. (Often government legislation or regulation helps with this). However, these days with member interests being so diverse, one issue doesn’t necessarily make as great an impact as it used to.
These days, associations need to understand the interests and needs of their members, much the way a retailer understands their customers. Associations need to collect data on their members and the interactions each member has with the association and then deliver products and services that meet the member needs. But doing just this isn’t enough. This doesn’t create real engagement with members.
In addition, associations need to create opportunities for their members to interact with each other and the association based on their interests and needs. The interactions can be through large events, small meetings, online groups, committees, and more. These interactions must be expertly planned and coordinated by the association and they must allow the members to contribute to and derive value from the content or create knowledge shared during these interactions.
Members are the lifeblood of associations. Without members, even with a good and noble purpose, associations do not exist. However, over time we may begin seeing a shift in how associations are organized around their “members” – this shift is one more reason it’s so important for associations to be engaging their members now.
One possible shift could be that associations will cease to have “members” as we know them now. People and companies won’t pay annual dues to be a “member” of an association and then pay additional (though perhaps discounted) fees for certain engagements with the association. Instead, people and companies will pay for what they want or need.
By figuring out ways to truly engage “members” today, associations will be successful today and their success will be sustainable regardless of what changes the membership model for associations encounters over time.