Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Your Association: Crucial facts on why members don't want your programs

Today I had the same conversation I've had a million times in my career: about the importance or need to increase attendance at meetings. A chapter is concerned because holiday party attendance, charitable donations and education program attendance are declining. They're going to discuss how to increase attendance (being categorized as involvement) -- which is a different conversation than discussing either adjusting expectations or finding alternatives.

My biased view on this topic is because I personally belong to many organizations because I support what they stand for, get value from membership, or both. My membership or decision to join is not based on attending holiday parties, membership/networking meetings, or donating to all causes they might be involved with. I already go to many functions, attend lots of professional development programs, and give considerable amounts to various charitable and political groups.

I don't want my happiness or perceived member value to be judged on whether or not I show up at programs.

So I understand when some members in my own organization believe we're really valuable even if they don't ever want to attend meetings/programs. Organizations can use these among barometers to show if meeting member needs:
1. Do they renew;
2. Do they tell you they're unhappy.

If I have extra hours there are already many wanting that time. Organizations need to understand their members first to twentieth priorities any given day (or given month, or given year) may not include a lunch meeting with a random speaker that takes both time and money. Location, cost, time, value of speakers can influence - but for some there is nothing that will influence attendance. Accept it.

If members renew, chances are good you're doing something right. People have busy lives and involved in tremendous number of things - sometimes the best way to show appreciation for their membership is to let them enjoy it without telling them they're doing something wrong by not showing up.

My thoughts:
1. Participation can mean answering surveys or joining in online discussions/meetings. It can also mean they read your magazine and then implement a new idea or make a change as a result.
2. Education can mean members like what's included in electronic communications or web - or what do politically and with legal issues. Everyone doesn't want every class scheduled. If competition for education, free alternatives or those not requiring travel may win the customer.
3. Charitable activity is personal -- some want to donate time, some donate money, some want to focus on specific charitable purposes. Don't underestimate how many already give to many groups.

They aren't lousy members when making other decisions about time or money - people prioritize. Provide range of ways to be involved without minimizing importance of electronic participation. If relying on non-dues revenue, rethink why you can't sell dues level on own merits, or evaluate what it really takes to secure non-dues revenue.

The future success of organizations must include counting success other ways than chairs that are filled at programs or volume of non-dues revenue. Maybe you're already successful by your membership's standards .... and counting the wrong things?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a very thoughtful and dead-on column, Cindy. "Showing up" and "Filling Seats" are the old ways of judging involvement and success.

What this means as AE's is also important: it means we have to make new ways of participating available to members. It means we have to school the leadership in thinking along the lines. And, most importantly, it means a whole new skill set for us as AEs...we need to know and understand and be able to utilize all the techniques and skills that these concepts entail.

Thanks for these thoughts.