Over the past decade I’ve worked for a number of leading associations in a variety of senior management roles. Many were good places to work; some weren’t so; but only a couple were what I would genuinely class as ‘great’.
This got me thinking – What if I could capture what I believe truly makes associations ‘great’?
Here’s my attempt at capturing the first 6 of 12 differentiators that I believe make a REAL difference:
1 – Great Associations Drive Change and Development From the Very Top
The likelihood of success is heightened when a senior and inspirational leader (Officer/Council Member/Trustee Board Member) champions a process from start to finish. Regular operational updates from managers to the Senior Management Team are a regular occurrence as this ensures no surprises. All staff involved in the process have complete buy in and understand what, where, when, why, how and who.
Action: Trial this approach with one project you are about to launch and see the difference it makes!
2 – Great Associations Get Rid of Dead Wood
If change or development is being stifled by new or existing members of staff who won’t deliver/change (after being provided with clear instruction, appropriate training, comprehensive support and an opportunity to review/improve) then great associations let them to go. They try not to draw out the process and either performance manage or completely restructure.
Action: Consider where change or development is needed and do something about it today!
3 – Great Associations Pay and Play Fair
Paying below the market rate will not attract or retain a high enough calibre of staff (a tell tale sign is high staff turnover and constant unrest). Great associations regularly benchmark similar vacancies being advertised within the sector and if increased salaries are not an option they consider other means of reward. E.g. Flexi-time, reward scheme, critical cover, private health care and/or more generous holidays.
Action: Review how you pay/reward staff and ask yourself ‘Does it really cut it?’
4 – Great Associations Recognise Selling Membership Isn’t Like Selling Cars
They are not blinded by the notion of bringing in senior staff from the commercial world. They employ true professionals (from inside and outside the sector) who have a clear understanding of what long term member focused value, engagement and vision looks like, and are able to deliver a clear plan on how to get there. Great associations aren’t hoodwinked by ‘showmen or women’ who are only able to muster short term and low impact transactional ‘quick wins’ that will only please the few. We’ve all seen or experienced this – Shudder…
Action: Consider a review of your membership value proposition and check it has ‘real teeth’!
5 – Great Associations Deliver Positive Outcomes whilst Good Associations Supply Multiple Outputs
The good will promote a ‘big bag of tricks’ to members when it comes to marketing member benefits (ordinarily via a comprehensive membership guide full of words). This won’t wash with Generation X, Y, Z and beyond. It’s positive and career progression/business focused outcomes they’re after, not just a ‘sense of belonging’.
Action: Evaluate your member benefit marketing and establish if they actually make a real difference to the professional or personal lives of your members’. Consider which of the following positive outcomes you are actually delivering and then include talking-heads/case studies into your materials to evidence this.
- Save Time
- Save Money
- Cut Cost
- Add Competitive Advantage
- Improve Efficiency
- Increase Profit
- Feel Good
6 – Great Associations Have Two ears and One Mouth
They listen twice as much as they broadcast – The sector is transitioning from a one way broadcast relationship with members to an ongoing engaged/value driven conversation/experience, particularly when online social media is harnessed effectively. The trick is to actively listen, act and review achievements/lessons learned.
If members feel listened to they are far more likely to engage. If not there is a risk they’ll either turn off, switch (if possible), rebel, or complain. This outcome may have a negative impact on member retention and engagement too.
Consider: How do you listen to members? It can involve surveys, focus groups, online social discussion monitoring, committee feedback and informal/formal feedback from critical friends.
This is the first of two articles on transitioning from good to great. What do you think to these themes? What would be your key differentiator? Have your say below!
This article was written by Membership Sector Thought Leader and Influencer, Richard Gott.
Rich is Founder and Chair of the MemberWise Network, a free to join network of over 3,800 senior association and membership professionals. He ‘walks the talk’ as Interim Director of Membership Relations at the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych).
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