How to Grow a Professional Association

bar_chart_biz_people1.jpg Over the years I have served on the Boards and Committees of several professional associations.  It’s great networking, and the meetings are usually great learning opportunities.  I often get asked to serve on the Membership Committee due to the nature of my ‘customer relationship’ work.  The challenge facing associations is often the same – how to grow and maintain financial stability.

With each association I typically go through a very basic exercise as a starting point for understanding the membership.  Keep in mind that most of the people that run these groups are volunteers, with limited resources, so I need to keep things simple.  Here are the steps I typically go through:

  1. Ask for a list of all current members and the data fields in the membership database.  This should have fields such as name, title, contact info, company, start date, renewal date, etc. 
  2. Next ask for monthly data that includes the total number of current members, past members, and new members. 
  3. Ask for a list of all past members, including contact info, start date, and end date of membership. 
  4. Ask for monthly meeting data such as number and names of members and guests at the last several monthly meetings. 

Next, my goal is to use this data to get a quick “pulse check” of the health of the membership, improve our retention rate, and grow the membership.  Here is how we will use the data I have requested:

  1. The current membership list will be used to calculate average tenure of the membership.  I will do the same with the list of all past members to see if we are currently losing long-term members or short-term members who may have signed up for a membership and then realized the organization is not for them.  If you have captured the reason why members don’t renew, consider yourself very lucky!
  2. The current membership list will then be sorted by renewal date.  This can be used to implement a variety of contact campaigns to alert members that their renewal is coming due, and to remind them of the value your association provides.
  3. The monthly data will allow you to see trends and calculate a churn rate.  Is your membership count increasing?  Is it coming from more new members, or fewer lost members? 
  4. The dropped member list can used if you have the appetite to undertake a “win-back” campaign.  Your organization may be re-branding itself or refining it’s direction.  Once this is done you can contact past members and invite them back.
  5. The breakdown of members/guests at meetings will help you understand the financial impact of a membership.  This will allow you to calculate the average number of meetings a member attends.  Using your cost/member/meeting you can see if you need to adjust membership fees.  You can also see what guests attend each meeting and suggest that a membership may be a better deal for them.

Once you nail your reporting needs, and measures of performance, you can get everyone on-board with growing your association and enjoying the benefits of all your hard work. 

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2 Responses

  1. Sounds to me like you’re measuring “member engagement”. Intentionally or not, you seem to hitting on some of the elements that might help the association determine which members are most engaged, like tenure, meeting participation, and velocity (rate of change in other measures).

    You should expand this list of member engagement factors, and get one of the associations you work with to test out the theory w/ some member research – i.e., see if the members’ self-reported levels of engagement w/ the association correlate with the behaviors and demographics (e.g., tenure) that you believe drive engagement.

    The result: You’ll be able to advise associations on what metrics they need to manage and change to drive engagement and an active, strong membership base.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Ron – I like your use of the term “member engagement.” It’s sometimes tricky, but always key to correlate metrics to behaviors/attitudes. One other factor that I have seen contribute to engagement is voting history (how often members vote on required issues). Since this is volunteer work for me and the Boards, I’ll see which ones are eager to take this further. If it gets to be really insightful, maybe I can turn this type of advice into a new industry-expertise. 🙂

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