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What Does a Member-Centric Association Look Like?

As an association leader, you have a lot on your plate. A key part of your role is to manage the budget, initiate impactful projects that are cost-effective, and execute your Board’s strategy. But in the midst of these day-to-day pressures, aren’t you forgetting something? 

Members don’t see budgets, and event venue contracts. They also don’t see filing deadlines, new legislation, or board briefing books. What they do see, is whether you truly understand their needs, and can solve their most pressing problems. To achieve this goal, your association needs to be laser-focussed on your members. In other words – a member-centric association. Read on to learn how to shift your focus from your association to your members, and how digital transformation can help.

This is the second blog in our Digital Transformation Blog Series. If you missed our first blog, The Evolution of Digital Transformation for Associations, click here to go back and catch-up! And if you just can’t wait to get the full scoop, download our Digital Transformation for Associations e-book NOW!

Solving Member Problems

Running an association requires a huge amount of administration, data management, event planning and more. Members don’t see your association’s hard work that happens behind the scenes. But they do see the results, such as easy, online membership renewals, engaging annual conventions, and vital networking opportunities. 

But driving all of this is a fundamental belief system. And if you really want to engage your existing members and attract new ones, you must understand one key thing.

Members really don’t care about the association. They only care about how the association can solve their problems.

Historically, solving problems is where associations have provided the most value to their members. But these days, associations aren’t the only game in town. You may find yourself competing with low-cost or even free services provided by private companies. Members looking for the most up-to-date information in their field and professional learning opportunities can find much of this online. And when it comes to helping new graduates find employment or helping established professionals build their networks, online platforms like LinkedIn can effectively replace association services. 

How can associations stand apart from these non-association competitors? By leveraging member information and relationships that your competitors don’t have, to solve member problems.

Different Generations Have Different Member Needs

It’s important to remember that ‘member needs’ are not the same. By definition, all your members have one thing in common: belonging to a certain profession. But that doesn’t mean that you can come up with one list of member needs that will satisfy all your members. 

Think about the diversity of your membership. You may have hundreds or thousands of members who are part of the same professional community yet have vastly different experiences of how they practice in that field. This diversity is a key opportunity for your association to identify the needs of different subsets of your members, learn of their problems, and how to best solve them.

One challenge that workplaces across the globe are grappling with, is how to foster effective, intergenerational workplace collaboration. For associations, that means paying attention to differing motivations to join, problems to be solved, and ways of providing professional development opportunities.

Generation X members for example, are more likely to see the long-term value that their association offers and appreciate the “respect” that their long-standing membership gives them. After all, they may have had decades of benefitting from your association’s services. Not too long ago it was simply standard procedure to join your professional association without a second thought. 

But what about prospective younger members and millennials? Evidence suggests that they are not as likely to be ‘joiners’ the way the older generation was. According to Association Leadership Magazine, millennials represent 50% of the workforce and that will rise to 75% in 2025. But they only represent 19% of association membership. As the author notes, “They approach the workplace with “What’s in it for me?” and want more out of life and they believe they can get it.”

They will come in, get what they want, and leave. To compete against free and win – especially with this younger generation – requires a laser focus on their needs: not on running the organization itself.

How Digital Transformation Helps Build Community

As the above diagram shows, engagement is a hierarchy that goes from non-members to the Association as a whole, to engagement within specific communities of interest. Unfortunately, we see many associations making a dangerous assumption: association equals community

From your perspective, it’s easy to make this mistake. When your staff and colleagues spend their days serving your membership, it can feel like a community to you. But do your members feel this way too? The truth is association only equals community when you have targeted resources designed to achieve this goal. Competing in the marketplace of ideas (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what you’re doing) means content, initiatives, and technology to help each ‘target’ move through this hierarchy of engagement.

So, what does this have to do with digital transformation? The diagram below illustrates the association from the member’s perspective. Digital transformation is simply a question of mapping systems, functionality, and processes to make the member experience as seamless and as valuable as possible. It involves reviewing each box and each connecting line, and asking the question how might we? Only then should you build your digital transformation architecture.

As you can see, one of the key boxes in our model is Community. Is this the case in your version of this model? Or is a community just naturally “assumed”, without assigning accountability or budget?

Here is just one example of what an effective member engagement pathway could look like. A new graduate joins the association to find a job in her field and connect with colleagues. Eager to get involved, she volunteers for a Government Relations Committee. During her time on the committee, she meets a senior colleague who agrees to be her virtual mentor. Through that mentorship she is virtually introduced to other colleagues who may be hiring. She gets an email from the association about their annual convention, and while there, she gets to meet some of these colleagues in person, and network with industry stakeholders on the tradeshow floor. By the end of the convention, she has 2 job interviews lined up, and has met several colleagues who could continue to support her professional development.

Member-centric associations are no longer optional. For your association to remain relevant to your diverse membership and stay resilient through change, digital transformation is essential. In this blog, we have shared some strategies to laser-focus on member needs, and the role that digital transformation can play. Don’t miss our next blog, where we cover key elements of digital transformation infrastructure, and how they work together to make the member experience as seamless and valuable as possible. 

If you want to see the whole picture NOW, download our e-book, Digital Transformation for Associations! Divided into 10 sections for easy reading, consider it your ‘start here’ digital transformation guide.