How to Ensure Your Association Remains Relevant

By Carolyn Lagermasini, President/Founder, ACG

Much has been written about relevancy. A quick search of the Harvard Business Review archives comes back with over 200 results on this topic. The focus of most of these articles is on how businesses can remain and/or create relevance. But what about professional associations?

The simple truth for associations and professional organizations is that to be relevant you must deliver what your members want now while identifying what they will need two or more years from now.

As a volunteer, how do you help your association achieve relevance? You listen.

Surveys are the first tool most organizations default to when they want to know what members are thinking. However, making strategic decisions based on survey results can be dangerous. Industry norms indicate most customer surveys have a 10-15% response rate. For an association with 5000 members you might hear from enough of your membership to spot a trend. But what if your association has 1000 or fewer members? Should 10% of your membership really speak for the other 90%?

Primary sourced material is ideal, which means you need to get your volunteer leadership ready to make some phone calls! The power of a phone call to source what members really want is immeasurable. Even if the member you talk to is unable to offer new ideas for your organization, you have just engaged that person directly and they will remember your phone call when their membership renewal hits their inbox. You became relevant to them because you personally asked them what they care about. These phone calls aid in determining what themes and challenges are common among members and can help identify who is a leader in the industry. These conversations not only supply you with ideas, but they can increase your volunteer pipeline and succession plan for future leaders.

Advisory Committees are another excellent source for ideas in your hunt for relevance. However, these committees are usually stacked with past presidents, large sponsors, and industry consultants. These are the people who are the most engaged, ingrained and devoted to your association. They have a role in defining your relevance but not on the front line. First you need to build an Advisory Committee comprised of the top end users in your industry who are not members paired with companies who have chosen not to sponsor your association but who sponsor other similar associations. This group will quickly highlight what your organization needs to do to become relevant. In some cases, you might learn that you are relevant you just don’t communicate it very well.

After all of the listening and information gathering it comes down to your leadership to either reaffirm, or rewrite your membership value proposition. And then you need a strong marketing campaign to spread the word.

Sound easy? Share your story of creating relevance with us!

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