September 18, 2013
In today’s economic environment, trade association leaders must constantly be challenging themselves to define the value provided by their organization to its members. In the past, many companies were satisfied with the status quo if it meant receiving an e-newsletter each month or attending the annual conference at a discounted rate. Today, companies are under more pressure to demonstrate return on investment, so your members are always looking for more bang for their buck.
If you’ve had the chance to talk up a prospect recently, odds are the question “what’s in it for me” surfaced during the conversation. Like everyone else in the marketplace, your members are consumers first – increasingly becoming more savvy and particular when it comes to services. Many expect to pay for what they use but not for services in which they see no direct benefit or do not fully understand. For that purpose they ask themselves a number of questions: are the services relevant to cover my needs? Is the association providing them at a competitive price or can I source those services elsewhere?
This trend means associations need to regularly review their value proposition. Not-for-profits should treat themselves as professional service providers. Like such providers they have to stay in tune with market opportunities and constantly seek to answer their members’ needs. But they have a competitive advantage: unlike customers, the members of an association are involved in defining the association’s services, fee structure and operations. They are the best source of information for re-thinking the association’s value proposition. Logical sources include your Board members and other active volunteers. But don’t forget to pay some special attention to your less vocal members too. In any association there are members that rarely participate in activities, yet are loyal and may be able to give you valuable insight if you’re willing to pull it out of them. Reaching out to them allows you to capture their thoughts and understand why their level of participation is low, while letting them know you value their support of the organization.
It’s critical that you continually assess your organization’s membership value. Today’s members are savvy consumers, seeking strong value and easy-to-point-to return on investment. Think of your organization as a business first and put yourself in the shoes of your members. What would it take for you to cut a check to renew your dues when that invoice arrives this year? Step back and challenge yourself, and your staff, to answer that question and you’re moving in the right direction.