Why Membership Categories Matter.

Your membership categories are not just an administrative classification. The labels you apply to your membership categories play a significant role in shaping member expectations, fostering inclusivity, and optimising the allocation of resources.

Labels create expectations.

Consider the implications of using the term “member” versus “supporter”. The former generally evokes a sense of personal benefits tied to a fee (eg: “What will I get in return for my money?”), while the latter creates the expectation that your fee will contribute towards advancing the association’s purpose (“I’m paying to support the cause.”). It’s important to select membership labels that align to purpose to ensure you are creating the right expectations with your members.

Intuitive labels help prospective members find their “Home”.

Counter-intuitive labels such as “affiliate” or “full member” don’t immediately allow a member to see which category is right for them without getting additional information.

They can also infer a bias – for example a “Full member” would be regarded as better than an “associate” member. When a member feels a bias against them, they can easily assume the association is not the best one for them to join.

Intuitive categories such as “student”, “retired”, and “10-20 staff” enable people to easily find where they fit. Intuitive membership categories are a great first step to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Labels aligned to market segments make it easy to personalise the membership experience.

By aligning categories with top-level market segments, associations can create offerings that resonate deeply with each group. For example, a category for “Owner/Operatos” could contain a focused mix of benefits that address their specific needs – as opposed to a “Over 50 staff” category that would have a different set of needs.

This strategy not only ensures targeted service delivery but also enables the association to focus limited resources where they can make the most impact for each market segment.

But what about the Constitution!

Constitutions often specify the membership categories an association offers. And, most of the time, associations use the labels in the constitution when promoting membership. Ideally, the constitution should be updated to reflect practice. However, if constitutional change isn’t possible, keep in mind that the words we use for marketing don’t have to be a carbon copy of what’s in the constitution. Using more appropriate terminology when marketing membership (while noting the constitution alignment where appropriate) can generate the same benefits. 

At SMS we specialise in helping associations to build sustainable membership programs. This includes support to ensure your membership categories are optimised. If you are looking for support to optimise your membership programs, please email belinda@smsonline.net.au and we can set up a time to speak further.

Importance vs Effectiveness Data: The Pathway to a Compelling Member Value Proposition

There has never been more competition for a share of your members attention or wallet. This makes it crucial for associations to deliver a personalised and compelling value proposition that creates a significant impact.

Achieving this goal requires a deep understanding of what members find important and how they perceive the association’s effectiveness in those areas. These two elements, though closely related, are distinct and carry significant implications for strategic planning and membership value.

Importance: What Matters to Members

The importance of a particular aspect of an association’s work reflects what members value most. It could be advocacy, education, networking opportunities, or any other core function. Understanding what is important to members helps in aligning the association’s goals with member needs and expectations.

Effectiveness: How Well Are We Doing It?

Effectiveness, on the other hand, is a measure of how well the association is performing in areas that members deem important. It’s not enough to focus on what matters to members; associations must also deliver on those expectations. Assessing effectiveness provides insights into areas where improvements may be needed, ensuring that resources are allocated where they will have the most impact.

The Benefits of Understanding Importance vs Effectiveness

There are many benefits to gaining an understand of these perspectives including:

  • Strategic Alignment: By understanding both importance and effectiveness, associations can create a roadmap that aligns with member priorities and ensures that efforts are directed towards areas that will yield the greatest satisfaction and engagement.
  • Resource Allocation: Knowing what members value and how well the association is delivering allows for more informed decisions about where to invest time, money, and effort. This ensures that resources are used efficiently and effectively.
  • Member Retention and Growth: Members are more likely to remain engaged and loyal when they see that the association not only understands what is important to them but also excels in those areas. This, in turn, can lead to growth in membership as satisfied members become advocates for the association.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly assessing both importance and effectiveness fosters a culture of continuous improvement. It encourages associations to keep a finger on the pulse of member needs and to adapt and innovate as those needs evolve. Effectiveness figures can be utilised to set measurable, time-specific KPIs.

Generating Importance vs Effectiveness Insights

A stakeholder survey is an indispensable tool for understanding what those in your target membership segments, – including current, past, and never members – find important and gauging how effective they perceive your association to be.

This broader approach ensures that the full spectrum of insights is gathered, reflecting the diverse needs and expectations of different market segments. When filtered correctly, the data can identify the distinct value sought by different segments and shed light on factors contributing to success or challenges.

Done correctly, your survey is more than just a data-gathering exercise, it is a strategic instrument that informs decision-making, enhances member engagement, and contributes to the continuous improvement of the association.

Conducting such a survey requires a strategic approach, focusing on three key areas:

  • Asking the Right Questions: Crafting questions that are relevant, clear, and unbiased is essential to eliciting meaningful responses. The questions should align with the association’s goals and the specific information needed from different stakeholder groups.
  • Promoting Effectively to Maximise Quality Responses: A well-planned promotional strategy ensures that the survey reaches as many targeted stakeholders as possible. Using various communication channels and engagement styles can encourage participation, leading to a more representative sample.
  • Interpreting the Data to Create Practical Insights: Beyond mere data collection, the analysis must be conducted in a manner that generates both actionable insights and practical recommendations.

Need help?

At SMS, we often help clients with this type of survey. This includes support to create a compelling survey, plan your survey marketing, and deliver practical results you can immediately apply. If you’d like more information on how we can assist, please email belinda@smsonline.net.au

Maximising Association Insurance Program Success

Well constructed insurance programs enable associations to deliver a valuable benefit to members while generating a strong revenue stream for their association. Here are a few steps associations can take to maximise the success of their insurance program: 

Understand the insurance needs of your membership.

Understand the needs and demographics of your membership to ensure that the insurance program is tailored to their specific needs. For example, an association for small business owners will need to offer different types of insurance coverage than an association for healthcare professionals.

Negotiate favourable a great deal for your members – and your association.

Work with insurance providers to negotiate favourable coverage and pricing for your members. Ensure you build in a revenue stream for the association on new and renewing policies, as well as appropriate marketing support.

Communicate the benefits to members.

The benefit of these programs isn’t just great pricing. Clearly communicate the benefits of the insurance program to members to ensure that they understand the value of the coverage and how it can protect them and their businesses. Use case studies and examples to illustrate the value of the coverage you are offering.

Monitor usage and satisfaction.

Regularly monitor usage and satisfaction with the insurance program to ensure that it is meeting the needs of the association and its members. This could include gathering feedback through surveys or focus groups.

Review and update coverage.

Regularly review and update coverage to ensure that it remains relevant and meets the evolving needs of the association and its members. This could include adding new coverage options or adjusting existing ones. It should also address emerging areas of interest, for example the emerging need for associations to have comprehensive cyber insurance.

Educate members.

Educate members on the importance of insurance and how to make the most of their coverage. This could include offering resources or training on topics such as filing claims or choosing the right coverage.

Speaking of great association insurance programs, Answers for Associations has partnered with KBI Insurance to create an awesome insurance package tailored specifically for Australian associations.  They offer excellent coverage at competitive rates on solutions including Directors & Officers, Employment Practices, Crime, Statutory Liability, and more. 

If you are interested in an insurance offering for your members – or reviewing the insurance coverage for your association – check out their website for more information.

Attracting and Retaining Younger Members

Younger members bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and the immense potential to shape the future of associations. Recognising and tapping into their potential isn’t just a choice, it’s a necessity for the ongoing vitality and sustainability of associations. However, younger members approach membership differently and require targeted strategies to engage them effectively and build enduring bonds. Here are some of the approaches currently being used:

Use social media and other digital platforms

Younger generations are heavily reliant on social media and other digital platforms for communication and information. By maintaining a strong online presence and using platforms your younger members are already using, you can reach out to and engage with younger members where they already spend a significant amount of their time.

Offer relevant benefits and opportunities

Younger members are often looking for professional development opportunities, networking events, and ways to get involved and make a difference. Associations can tailor their benefits and opportunities to the specific needs and interests of younger members, such as offering leadership training programs or organising volunteer projects.

Foster a sense of community

Younger members are often drawn to organisations that have a strong sense of community and connection. Associations can foster this sense of community by promoting collaboration and interaction among members, both online and in-person. This could include organising social events, starting discussion groups or committees, and encouraging members to get involved in the decision-making process.

Use technology to enhance the member experience

Younger members are used to accessing information and services digitally and expect a seamless, tech-savvy experience. Associations can meet these expectations by offering online resources, such as webinars and e-learning courses, and by implementing convenient technologies such as mobile apps and online payment systems.

Provide personalised communication

Younger members value personalised communication and appreciate being recognised for their individual contributions and achievements. Associations can use email marketing and other communication tools to provide personalised services, messaging and recognition to younger members.

Promote diversity and inclusivity

Younger members are often attracted to organisations that promote diversity and inclusivity. Associations can demonstrate their commitment to these values by actively recruiting and supporting members from underrepresented groups and by promoting a welcoming and inclusive culture.

Stay current and relevant

Younger members want to be part of an organisation that is current, relevant, and forward-thinking. Associations can stay relevant by keeping up with industry trends and emerging technologies and by regularly seeking out new opportunities and partnerships.

If you are looking for support to maximise the success of your membership program, please email belinda@smsonline.net.au. I would be happy to discuss how I can assist in more detail.

Leverage Your Components to Improve Member Engagement

In the vibrant world of associations, the term “components” is used to denote the various subgroups that exist within an association. These may take the form of branches, specific interest groups, or communities of practice.

There are four types of components that can coexist within a single association. Each type is designed to help different members realise the unique value they seek from the association.

Not all types of components are relevant to every association, and it often becomes a strategic choice to determine which ones align best with the association’s goals and its members’ needs.

Let’s delve into the four main types of components:

  1. Regional Components: These refer to parts of an association grounded in specific geographic areas. Structured often as chapters, branches, or divisions within a larger national or international association, these components cater to regional interests and needs while maintaining cohesion and unity at the national or international level. For example, a national teachers’ association might have state branches, each focusing on issues pertinent to teachers in that state. An emerging trend is the increased use of digital tools to foster connection and collaboration within these components, breaking down geographical boundaries and enhancing regional activities.
  2. Demographic Components: These components cater to the specific needs or interests of a subgroup within the association, based on shared characteristics, interests, or demographics such as gender, race, or age. For example, within a large engineering association, there might be a group specifically for women engineers. This subgroup offers a platform to address unique challenges, share experiences, and advocate for issues relevant to the subgroup within the larger professional community. Recently, there’s been a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion, leading to a rise in these demographic-focused components.
  3. Expertise-Based Components: Focusing on specific technical or professional areas within a broader field, these components cater to the diverse specialisations in a profession. For example, a medical association might have groups for cardiologists, neurologists, paediatricians, etc. These groups enable a deep focus on specialised areas, encouraging the sharing of advanced knowledge, best practices, and advocacy for issues specific to those technical areas. In response to the rapid pace of industry-specific developments, these components are becoming more dynamic and adaptive, frequently evolving to accommodate emerging trends and new areas of expertise.
  4. Operational Components: These components fulfill specific purposes or roles within the association. They are instrumental in carrying out the core functions of the association. For example, the Board is typically responsible for oversight and strategic direction. Committees may be set up to handle specific tasks such as advocacy, policy, governance, finance, etc. These groups collaborate to ensure the association operates effectively and achieves its mission and goals. An ongoing trend is the growing importance of transparency and member engagement in these operational components, as members seek greater involvement in the governance and strategic planning of their associations.

A strong component strategic is key to driving the strength and versatility of an association, making it capable of addressing a broad array of member needs and industry challenges.

Identifying which components best align with your association’s purpose is key to driving strong member engagement, positive member experiences, and sustainable success for your association.

At SMS we specialise in helping associations to build sustainable membership programs. This includes support to ensure your membership model and component strategy is aligned to your purpose. If you are looking for support to optimise your membership programs, please contact us to set up a time to speak further.

Why Associations Should Embrace Marketing Automation

As an association, it’s crucial to stay competitive and relevant in today’s fast-paced digital landscape. One way to do this is through the use of marketing automation. Marketing automation refers to the use of software and technology to streamline, automate, and measure marketing tasks and workflows.

Save time and resources

Marketing automation allows you to automate repetitive tasks, freeing up time and resources to focus on more strategic, high-impact activities. For example, using a marketing automation platform, you can set up an automated email campaign to send a series of welcome emails to new members, without having to manually send each email individually.

Improve lead generation and conversion

By providing personalised content and experiences, marketing automation can help to generate and nurture leads, leading to increased conversions. For example, you can use marketing automation to segment your audience based on their interests and behaviour, and then send targeted emails or ads with relevant content that speaks to their specific needs.

Increase engagement and retention

Marketing automation can help to build relationships with members and keep them engaged through targeted, timely communications. For example, you can use marketing automation to send automated birthday or anniversary emails to members, showing that you value their membership and helping to foster a sense of community.

Enhance data management and analysis

Marketing automation enables you to collect and analyse data from various sources, giving you a more comprehensive view of your audience and allowing you to make informed decisions. For example, you can use marketing automation to track how members interact with your website and emails, and then use that data to optimise your marketing efforts and better understand your audience.

Streamline workflows

Marketing automation allows you to streamline workflows and improve efficiency by automating tasks such as email marketing, social media posting, and lead nurturing. For example, you can use marketing automation to schedule social media posts in advance, ensuring that you have a consistent presence without having to manually post updates each day.

Boost ROI

By automating tasks and targeting the right people with the right messages, marketing automation can help to drive more qualified leads and increase ROI. For example, you can use marketing automation to create targeted landing pages and forms that are tailored to specific audience segments, increasing the likelihood that they will convert into members or customers.

Stay ahead of the competition

By leveraging the latest technology and marketing best practices, associations that embrace marketing automation will be well positioned to stay ahead of the competition. For example, you can use marketing automation to A/B test different subject lines or email templates, helping you to identify what works best and staying ahead of the curve in terms of email marketing best practices.

If you are looking to enhance your marketing automation, I recommend reaching out to MemberBoat. MemberBoat specialises in supporting professional associations and membership organisations with all their marketing efforts, and can provide cutting-edge marketing solutions for your membership. Find out more here.

Strategies for Cultivating a Strong and Supportive Association Community

In the association sector, cultivating a sense of community among members is critical for building strong relationships, encouraging engagement and loyalty, and achieving organisational goals. Here are some of the ways successful associations are making it happen:

Facilitate communication and collaboration among members

One of the ways associations can cultivate a sense of community is by facilitating communication and collaboration among members. This can include providing online forums or discussion groups, hosting regular webinars or conference calls, and facilitating in-person networking events. For example, a professional association might host a monthly virtual roundtable discussion on a specific topic of interest to its members, or an industry association might host an annual conference that brings members together in person.

Encourage member involvement and participation

Another way associations can cultivate a sense of community is by encouraging member involvement and participation. This can include providing opportunities for members to volunteer their time and expertise, or to take on leadership roles within the organisation. For example, a trade association might encourage members to participate in committees or task forces that help to shape the direction of the organisation, or a hobbyist association might provide opportunities for members to lead workshops or presentations at annual events.

Foster a sense of belonging

Associations can also cultivate a sense of community by fostering a sense of belonging among members. This can include creating a welcoming and inclusive culture, recognising and celebrating member achievements, and providing opportunities for members to connect and socialise. For example, a sports association might host a member appreciation night at a local game, or an alumni association might hold a reunion event for former members.

Promote a shared sense of purpose

A shared sense of purpose is another important factor in cultivating a sense of community. Associations can promote a shared sense of purpose by clearly communicating their mission and vision, and by providing opportunities for members to contribute to the organisation’s work. For example, an environmental association might provide opportunities for members to participate in conservation projects or advocacy efforts, or a healthcare association might offer opportunities for members to contribute to research or education initiatives.

Provide resources and support to members

Associations can also cultivate a sense of community by providing resources and support to members. This can include access to information and expertise, as well as practical support such as discounts on products and services. For example, a professional association might offer members access to a members-only online library or provide discounts on continuing education courses, or an industry association might offer discounted rates on industry-specific software or tools.

Create a welcoming and inclusive environment

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment is another key factor in cultivating a sense of community. This can include initiatives to be more inclusive and diverse, and being mindful of the needs and preferences of all members. For example, an association might have a diversity and inclusion committee that works to ensure that all members feel welcome and included or might provide accommodations such as sign language interpretation at events for members who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Recognise and celebrate member achievements

Finally, associations can cultivate a sense of community by recognising and celebrating member achievements. This can include publicly acknowledging member contributions, awarding awards or accolades, or recognising milestones such as anniversaries or retirements. For example, an association might hold an annual awards ceremony to recognise outstanding member achievements or might create a member hall of fame to honour long-time members.

If you are looking for support to maximise the success of your membership program we can assist. Email Belinda Moore for more information.

Increasing Online Community Engagement in Your Association

An online community can be a valuable resource for associations, providing a platform for members to connect, collaborate, and engage with the organisation. Here are seven ways to build a successful online community for your association:

Clearly define the purpose and goals of the community.

Before launching an online community, it’s important to define its purpose and goals. This could include creating a space for members to share resources and knowledge, fostering a sense of community and connection, or providing a platform for members to engage with the association and its leadership.

Invite and onboard new members.

Invite members to join the community and provide a clear onboarding process to help them get started. This could include an orientation video or tutorial, a welcome message or guide, and an introduction to the community’s guidelines and expectations.

Encourage participation.

Encourage members to actively participate in the community by posting content, asking questions, and engaging with others. This could include hosting weekly discussion topics, hosting live events or webinars, or providing incentives for participation such as prizes or recognition.

Moderate and manage the community.

It’s important to have a team in place to moderate and manage the community, including enforcing guidelines and addressing any issues that may arise. This can help create a safe and welcoming environment for all members.

Foster a sense of community.

Encourage a sense of community by promoting social connections and creating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. This could include hosting virtual social events or providing opportunities for members to connect with each other based on shared interests or professional goals.

Keep the content fresh and relevant.

Keep the community active and engaged by regularly posting new content and updating existing content to ensure it remains relevant and useful. This could include sharing industry news and updates, hosting expert guest speakers, or highlighting member achievements and success stories.

Engage with members.

Make sure to regularly engage with members and respond to their questions and feedback. This can help build trust and strengthen the relationship between the association and its members.

By following these seven steps, you can build a successful online community for your association. From clearly defining the purpose and goals of the community to fostering a sense of community and keeping the content fresh and relevant, there are many ways to create an engaging and valuable online space for your members.

If you would like an online community for your association, take a look at Trybz. Trybz in an online community platform specifically designed for associations. To see it in action, check out the  Answers for Associations online community for association professionals.

The Key Elements of An Association Membership Model

Associations have played a significant role in connecting people for thousands of years. From hunter-gatherer societies to modern professional organisations, associations have taken many forms and have had a profound impact on society. In recent years, rapid changes in technology, economics, and culture have necessitated a transformation in the way associations operate, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated this shift.

One of the most fundamental changes many associations are considering is their membership model. An association membership model is the foundation of an organisation, underpinning all aspects of its operations. It is essential that this model is the result of careful consideration and aligns with the purpose and goals of the association. The includes consideration of the following elements:

Association Purpose

An association is a group of people who come together to achieve a shared goal. Its primary function is to work towards this goal, rather than to attract and retain members. A clear and defined purpose is essential for guiding the actions and decisions of the association, as well as for measuring success and navigating through changes. To ensure that the association is aligned and motivated towards its purpose, it is important to define its vision, mission, and values. The vision is the desired outcome or impact that the association hopes to achieve. The mission describes the actions and services that the association provides to achieve its vision. The purpose is the reason behind these actions and serves as the driving force for the association. The values are the core beliefs that guide and motivate the association and its members.

Association Type and Structure

The type and structure of association will influence the membership model. There are various types of associations that can be classified based on their goals and objective such as philanthropic foundations, environmental and animal protection organisations, hospitals and health services, social services, religious groups, international aid organisations, educational institutions, cultural and recreational clubs, advocacy and political organisations, business and professional associations, and labour unions. Within each of these categories, there are subcategories that further classify the association based on specific characteristics. The structure of an association, whether it is a single entity operating nationally or internationally, or a federation of independent organisations, will also impact the development of its membership model.

Who the Association Serves

It is important to identify the specific individuals and businesses that an association should focus on serving and engaging with, rather than simply attempting to attract as many members as possible. A clear understanding of the purpose of the association can help to clarify which groups are most important and should be prioritised.

There are five types of stakeholders that an association may interact with: those it exists to serve, those it engages with to further its purpose, customers who purchase its products and services, those who are targeted as part of a specific campaign, and vendors who provide products and services to the association’s community (stakeholders will fit into only one of these groups).

To determine whether an association is serving or engaging with a particular group, it is helpful to consider whether members of that group should have a governing role in the association. If the answer is “yes” that group is more likely to fall into the cohort of members you serve.

How the Association Serves

It is important for associations to carefully consider their activities and prioritise those that will have the greatest impact on achieving their purpose. This can help to avoid wasting resources on activities that are not aligned with the current goals of the organisation. There are five main ways in which associations can serve their stakeholders: representing the interests of the group to external parties, mobilising people or organisations to take action towards a specific objective, providing products, services, and other resources to assist stakeholders in achieving their own goals, creating opportunities for participation and excellence, and fostering a sense of community and connection among members. The choice of functions that an association undertakes can have a significant impact on all aspects of the organisation, and it is important to make these decisions intentionally rather than simply continuing with activities that have been conducted in the past. 

How the Association engages with stakeholders.

An association’s engagement model outlines the way it communicates and engages with its members and stakeholders. To effectively develop this model, it is important to understand the current and ideal methods of engagement delivery and the gap between the two. This includes considering the type of engagement tools being used, such as traditional, modern, or online methods, as well as the association’s ability to effectively utilise these tools, ranging from developing to advanced. It is at this state that an association would consider the role of chapters, special interest groups, and components in achieving the purpose of the association.

How to make the model financially sustainable

The association’s financial sustainability is critical to its long-term success. The full range of revenue streams, of which membership is only one, should be carefully considered to ensure they align with the other elements of the membership model. Factors that will impact this decision include current reliance on membership fees, cost of delivering the membership program, whether fees are appropriate for all membership categories, current capacity to execute the ideal state revenue streams, and resources available for change.

A final note – the difference between a membership fee and a membership category review.

It is important to note there are two main types of membership reviews: membership model reviews and membership category reviews. A membership category review involves finding a better way to structure existing membership categories to offer value to different market segments, while a membership model review involves examining the entire membership model to ensure it aligns with the association’s purpose and meets the needs of its members.

Undertaking a membership model review can be a complex process, but it is essential for the long-term success and sustainability of an association. By adapting to changing circumstances and staying relevant, associations can continue to make a meaningful impact on society.

If you are looking for support to maximise the success of your membership program we can assist. Email Belinda Moore for more information.

JOURNAL: Associations Evolve: 2023 & Beyond Journal Released

We are excited to announce the release of Associations Evolve: 2023 & Beyond Journal, a compilation of articles from over 50 association thought leaders from around the globe.

This journal offers a unique perspective on the future of associations and the role they will play in shaping industries and communities. From innovative ideas for growth and sustainability to strategies for adapting to changing environments, the articles in this journal provide valuable insights and inspiration for association professionals.

As the association landscape continues to evolve, it is important for professionals to stay informed and stay ahead of the curve. The Associations Evolve: 2023 & Beyond Journal is a must-read for anyone looking to drive positive change and impact within their organisation. Get your copy today and join the conversation on the future of associations.