Note: my good friend Joan Eisenstodt had asked for people to share our experiences as first-time attendees for her Fridays With Joan column for Meetings Today. I realized that some of my blog readers might not regularly read that column and that my story might be useful to you all, too, so here it is:
My first time at any association industry event was 17 years ago, at ASAE’s old m&t conference. I’d only been in the profession for a few years, and I didn’t know anyone outside the confines of my own association employer and the staff members of our three “sister” associations.
The conference was in town (I live in DC), and being my first one, I didn’t realize that I should clear my evening schedule for the receptions and parties that would take place in conjunction with the event.
So I went to sessions, sat in the back of the room all by myself, didn’t really talk to anyone, and scurried off at the end of the educational program each day to keep my evening commitments. In short, I was the attendee with no friends.
I did learn a lot, but I kind of missed the point of an in-person event: I didn’t expand my network at all.
I didn’t attend another large association conference for another two years. Back to m&t, and I still didn’t really know anyone outside my (still the same) employer and (still the same) “sister” associations.
But I’d learned two key things in the interim: one, keep my evenings free, and two, I was going to have to make the first move. Associations weren’t yet paying a lot of attention to the newbie experience, so I knew it was on me to create a better outcome, and I did.
This time, I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to look for the other person in each room who didn’t seem to have any friends, go over to her, and ask her a question about herself, which is the easiest way for introverts to get conversations with strangers going. That was the start of building the professional network that has sustained me for the past twenty years, through multiple job changes and launching Spark more than five years ago.
Joan asked the follow up question: “What do you think is the best way to not be lonely at a conference and/or what do you think conference organizers can do to lessen loneliness at conferences, especially for people who are new to an organization or company?”
My answer: “My favorite thing – when it works – is the ‘conference buddy/mentor’ idea. You have to match people up in advance and encourage them to communicate before the event, and then hold some sort of a meet up for your pairs right at the beginning of the event – the one I think works best is a pre-opening reception gathering, where the pairs can meet in person and the mentor is trained/instructed beforehand that her job is to bring the newbie with her into the opening reception with her and spend at least the first 30-60 minutes introducing the newbie to others.”
What have your experiences been when you’ve been a first-timer at an event? What has worked well for you in trying to find your niche? What has your association tried to help your first-timers fit in? What has – and hasn’t – worked well for you? Why?
Once members join, the next question becomes: How do you keep them? How do you build real relationships over time that deepen your commitment to each other and lead to long-term loyalty on both sides?
The answer is ladders of engagement.
I’ve already talked a little bit about ladders of engagement in the membership 101 series, in that earlier instance, specifically related to joining an association. But they’re also the key to retention, which is critical to the health of your association.
According to ASAE’s Benchmarking in Association Management: Membership and Components Policies and Procedures, the average association invests $20,000 a year on recruitment and $15,000 on retention. That means associations feel the need to spend less in both absolute and relative terms, given the number of members retained versus recruited each year. It’s cheaper and easier to keep an existing member than to get a new one.
As I discussed in the earlier post, retention starts even before people join, and you have to teach your prospects and new members what it means to be a member, help them navigate what association offers and how it benefits them, and set expectations right from the start.
The overall goal is engagement: engaged members renew, disengaged members don’t.
Associations tend to have an inward-facing understanding of engagement: “How can we get our members to do what we want them to do?”
The thing is, that’s backwards. Better questions include:
What do my members value?
What reward system can I build around that?
Hopefully, the next logical question in the sequence has already occurred to you:
How do I find out what my members value?
The answer is simple, but not necessarily easy: You ask them.
Remember: Asking people what they want is usually futile. To quote (possibly apocryphally) Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Ask them, instead, what goals they’re trying to accomplish and what problems vex them.
People associate to accomplish things in a group that they can’t individually. That’s where you come in, helping them achieve goals or solve problems they can’t all by themselves.
When you know that, you can begin constructing ladders that focus on your members’ most important goals and most pressing problems. You’ll go through that same process of deepening effort, cost, and/or commitment that you did when converting a lead to membership, only with better insight into what to offer along the way.
Let’s say you discover that a young professional member wants to build her network.
You still start by offering something that’s, ideally, free (or included in the price of membership) that relates to that goal: say a networking brown bag lunch. Bonus points if there’s some sort of program, which doesn’t have to be terribly formal, that provides some content about how to build your network – tips like “Connecting on LinkedIn =/= building a professional network” or “Get to know people a little bit before asking for a job” or “Rather than flinging your cards at people like Mardi Gras throws, ask them for their cards.”
Assuming she attends, follow up by offering her something that involves a little more commitment, maybe a webinar that goes into more detail and maybe brings in an outside expert and thus costs something so you can pay said expert.
The next step might be to invite her to participate in your small group many-to-many less formal mentoring initiative.
The step after that might be to invite her to participate in your formal, structured one-on-one mentoring program.
When she finishes that formal program, you could ask her to present or write an article on her experiences for your association – or to be a greeter at your next brown bag, or to turn around and mentor someone herself, or join your task force that’s looking into technology mediated ways of extending your mentoring program to more people.
That’s one potential ladder. There are as many additional ladders as your members have goals and challenges.
When you flip your perspective from an internal focus on what the association wants to a member-centered way of viewing the world that puts the emphasis on helping people rather than pushing programs, products, and services, people will WANT to engage with you, because you’ll have become a vital partner in their success.
I’m excited to share that I’ll be speaking at Association Success’s inaugural SURGE virtual event, November 7-9.
Around the world, thousands of association professionals confront the same challenges. We all have insights to offer on how to grow, adjust, adapt and innovate.
SURGE 2017 is designed to bring all these challenges and voices together under one virtual roof to have a productive and meaningful conversation around innovation. SURGE 2017 participants will have exclusive access to sessions centered on transformative, forward-thinking solutions to the challenges we all encounter.
The sessions will be pre-recorded and played at set times in the Association Success platform. Meanwhile attendees will be able to communicate simultaneously with both each other and the speakers. We want to see what happens when we foster participation and knowledge-sharing amongst thousands of people, with each individual thinking and talking collaboratively.
My session, scheduled to run Thursday, November 9 from noon – 1 pm ET, will be on using lean startup methodology in the association industry and will feature my Innovate the Lean Way co-author Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, CIO at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) and Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director of Lean Impact.
But the adventure into collaborative innovation begins long before the event. Immediately upon registration, you can connect with likeminded individuals in the forum, contribute to the idea box, participate by answering a session-related question, and absorb expert insights on the blog.
The aim of SURGE 2017 is to spark collaborative innovation. Click here for more information or to reserve your free spot at the summit now!
Sure, we have boards of directors and bylaws and committee structures and membership structures and org charts and departmental structures and hierarchies and employee manuals and policies and procedures and AMSes and LMSes and CRM systems and CMSes and social media platforms galore, but when it comes down to it, we’re communities of people coming together to accomplish things we either couldn’t do at all, or couldn’t do as easily, alone. We’re here to help each other achieve our most important goals and solve our most pressing problems.
And there is no relationship with a person you don’t know.
How do you think your members feel when they get a letter or email addressed to “Dear Colleague”?
What message are you sending when you keep bombarding them with information about programs, products, or services they’ve told you they’re NOT interested in?
What are you telling them when you fail to let them know about programs, products, and services they’ve told you they ARE interested in?
You’ve basically put up a big. flashing sign that reads: “This association doesn’t know you at all, and doesn’t care about that fact, either.”
That is, as the kids say, not a good look.
Look, I know: personalization takes time, effort, and skill to do well. It’s much easier – and faster – to just send all the information about everything all the time to all those “Dear Colleagues.” You and your team have a million things on your plates, and it feels like drop-deadlines are hitting you every five minutes.
You still need to make the time and put in the effort to ask your members what they’re interested in, pay attention to and track what they respond to, create segments driven by both their self-reporting and their demonstrated behavior, and target your communications appropriately. And send them to “Elizabeth,” not “Dear Colleague.” And learn whether I prefer “Elizabeth” or “Liz” or “Beth” and get that right, too, every time.
There are a variety of tech tools that can help you with this. Some of them are built into your AMS. Some of them are built into your marketing automation and bulk emailing tools. Sometimes you need to dust off your Excel and mail merge skills.
But if you want your members to put in the time, energy, commitment, and money to continue and deepen their relationships with you, you owe them the same courtesy.
In case you missed it, ASAE’s Collaborate forum (member login required) has recently been hosting a robust discussion of how associations are helping their members and the local community in Houston and southwest Louisiana respond to Hurricane Harvey. With Houston and Louisiana still drying – and digging – out and Hurricane Irma about to strike Florida, I wanted to summarize some good practices that have emerged.
Dues Relief. How this would work will vary based on your association’s dues structure and also how generous you can afford to be (driven by how many members are affected and how large a percentage of your overall revenue is comprised of membership dues), but many associations are extending expiration dates for members in the affected region. Some are doing it automatically, while some are doing it only upon request. Personally, I think automatic is preferable – while people are trying to salvage what they can from their flooded homes and businesses, they don’t need to worry about having to call their membership association to ask for a favor.
Suppressing Marketing Campaigns. Likewise, whether it’s recruitment, renewal, conference, new publication, professional development series, or whatever, many associations are suppressing addresses from the affected regions so they are not targeted by marketing campaigns for the time being. Again, your members don’t need to be worrying about your shiny new webinar series right now.
Have a Space/Need a Space. Some associations are hosting a forum where local members who have spare office space – or even spare bedrooms – can offer them to other local members. This might not work for every association – your members would need to be comfortable with this level of intimacy with each other – but for those who are, this would be a highly valuable service. For manufacturing associations, this could even include donating production capacity to affected members.
Industry/Profession-Specific Fundraising. This can come in many forms. Some associations are planning offer scholarships to events that will be taking place within the next few months to members in the affected areas. Some have launched GoFundMe campaigns to help members cope with uninsured losses. Some are organizing and matching member donations to nonprofit relief agencies (a good practice there is to focus on groups that are both local and already on the ground, like the local food bank or animal rescue organization). Some are focusing on helping members replace destroyed equipment or supplies, such as for teachers who pay out of pocket for many of their classroom supplies and may not be able to replace them on their own right now or firefighters whose handheld radios may have been destroyed.
One organization has tasked volunteers with calling every single member in the affected area (admittedly, it’s fewer than 100) and asking each of them if they need help. Anyone who answers “yes” is getting a check for $1000 immediately and automatically, no (additional) questions asked. While this is not something every organization can afford to do, I would encourage you to think big. It will generate positive feeling and member loyalty within your community and will provide a halo effect for your organization and potentially your entire profession or industry.
Public Service. For organizations whose members serve the public (like doctors, teachers, psychologists), many are providing materials to help their members help the community cope with the aftermath of and losses created by the hurricane. Some have also created materials for the affected communities themselves, like materials for parents to help their children cope.
A good friend of mine recently returned to the 9-to-5 office world after several years of freelancing while her kids were small, and she asked me if I had any advice about being a better boss, since she’s managing a team for the first time in several years.
And with Labor Day fast approaching, and having recently had the pleasure of a delightful lunch with the woman who taught me much of this, now seemed a good time to share what I learned from my first, best boss in my association career.
Treat people equitably (which is not the same thing as equally).
Praise in public, correct in private.
Adapt your style to your team’s personalities to the greatest degree possible.
Take an appropriate level of interest in them as people – you’re not their best friend, but they’re also not robots.
Be wildly generous in sharing credit.
Protect your team. Shit ALWAYS stops with you – it NEVER rolls downhill onto your people.
Set clear expectations and manage at the minimum your people need to achieve them. Don’t micromanage.
Don’t ask your people to do something you wouldn’t do.
Make sure they have authority commensurate with their responsibilities.
Find out what they’re interested in learning and seek opportunities for them to learn it.
And if you can’t remember all that, just remember this one thing:
Don’t be a jerk.
Happy last weekend of summer, y’all!
Image found here (and you should click the link, because it contains some good advice, too).
Association membership professionals, particularly in the last several years, talk about engagement A LOT.
We want our members to be more engaged.
We want to measure engagement.
We want to score engagement.
We want to reward engagement.
We want to inspire our members’ competitive spirit to increase their engagement to be higher than the next member.
We want to be able to show our boards an ever rising curve of engagement in our quarterly (or annual) graphic dashboard of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
But what are we actually talking about when we deploy this (over?) used term?
Ultimately, associations exist because a group of people with shared interests banded together to accomplish something they either couldn’t do at all individually, or at least couldn’t do as efficiently or effectively.
That requires relationship-building, both between the association and each member and between the members themselves.
We have a lot of new technologies at our fingertips these days, and that’s a good thing. Many of our member interactions are now mediated by technology, which allows us to do more tracking and more automation, and that’s a good thing too.
The temptation, though, is to get wound around the axel of technology and being able to track and score and assign points and automate workflows and make pretty pie charts and bar graphs and LOSE SIGHT OF THE PEOPLE.
Your members are REAL PEOPLE.
Your staff members are REAL PEOPLE.
Your volunteers are REAL PEOPLE.
I’m not saying that you need to invite them to your bachelorette party or show up at their Labor Day cookout, but it’s OK to be a real person in your interactions with them and to encourage them to be real with each other.
Part of that involves understanding your – and your association’s – place in their lives. You’re not their spouse, or their kids, or their best friend, or their job, or their faith community, or their totally absorbing avocation hobby.
Therein lies the danger in constantly pushing for more engagement so that graphic for your board looks good. Your members probably don’t want to be your best friend. You’re probably more like the friend they meet for coffee a few times a year when they need something specific or have something specific to share. And that needs to be OK with you.
I’m not saying don’t ever offer options for a deeper relationship. People’s lives and careers go through stages. At some points, they need more from you – like when they’re new to the profession or changing jobs. At some points, other things in their lives are more important – like when they’ve just had a kid or decided to earn a graduate degree. At some points, they’re eager to contribute – like when they’re looking for a mentor or protege, or ready to write for your blog or speak at your conference. Your association needs to be sensitive to those cycles and ready to meet your members where they are with what – and only what – they need from you at that time and place.
Still not convinced that that ever rising engagement curve isn’t necessarily always good? Let me put it this way: what if every single one of your members wanted to do absolutely every single thing your association offers to them? They all wanted to write for your blog and speak at your events and participate in your mentoring program and earn your certification and serve on your board and, and, and. There’s no way your association could accommodate every single member being maximally engaged.
Rather than constantly pushing for more, more, more and counting your organization as a failure if all the lines aren’t constantly going up, up, up, focus on discovering what your members’ most pressing problems and most important goals are, creating solutions for the ones that are reasonably within your capacity to provide at a price they’re willing to pay (remembering that “cost” isn’t just money), and becoming a (not THE ONLY) vital partner in their success.
Today marks five years since I launched Spark Consulting. As I look back on the past five years, I have much to be grateful for. Leading that list is all the people who’ve contributed to the success of this Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
First, I have to thank all my wonderful clients. Spark would not exist without each and every one of you. I particularly want to thank the American Chemical Society, my very first client, for being willing to take a risk on hiring the new kid in town, and Ross Simons for making the connection between a brand-new consultant and her first lead. Over the years, many of my clients have referred me to their colleagues and/or hired me again for additional projects. I can’t express how grateful I am for their confidence in me and my work.
Back in late 2011, I was working for the Children’s Hospitals Association. I’d been there for a few years and was starting to think about my next move. At the time, I was thinking it would be my first CEO position, leading a small association. I’d been in the biz for 14 years at that point, had my CAE and an MA, had worked in a wide variety of functional areas in association management leading a variety of different types and sizes of teams, and had even served as an acting CEO for a small association. I started applying for those types of positions, despite the fact that when I mentioned I was looking for my next gig, the nearly universal response was, “So you’re launching your own consulting business, right?” I want to thank Shira Harrington (Purposeful Hire) for being the one who helped me understand that being a consultant would be a better path for me.
Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, and Jamie Notter came over to my house on a cold winter afternoon and helped me figure out what I wanted to call this new consulting business, how I wanted to frame the work I wanted to do, how brand Spark and myself, and brainstormed my clever URL (in which a discussion about “GetMeJamieNotter” led to “GetMeSpark”).
When I was starting out, I was fortunate to be invited to join a Mastermind Group that served as my kitchen cabinet, pushed me to define my goals, and helped me think through how to overcome the barriers to achieving them. Leslie White, Peggy Hoffman, Shira Harrington, KiKi L’Italien, and Sohini Baliga kept me on the right path during those critical first two years.
One of the most useful things I learned studying for the CAE 14 years ago was to know what you are – and aren’t – good at, and make sure to surround yourself with great people who know and can do what you can’t. I’ve been fortunate to work with four outstanding vendors on the tasks I can’t do for myself: Bean Creative for my website, ImagePrep for all my graphic design needs, Andrew Mirsky (Mirsky Law Group) for all my contracts and other legal needs, and Moran & Company for bookkeeping, accounting, and tax advice and planning.
My original career goal, back in college, was to be a university professor. I’ve always loved research and writing, particularly long-form essays. One of the most personally and professionally fulfilling things I’ve been able to do since launching Spark is the Spark collaborative white paper series. I now have the freedom to research and write, diving into topics that interest me and that I think are important for our industry.
I’ve been fortunate to work with a host of fantastic contributors for the nine existing monographs: Jeff De Cagna, George Breeden, Tom Lehman, Jamie Notter, Leslie White, Peggy Hoffman, Peter Houstle, Anna Caraveli, Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, Shelly Alcorn, Polly Siobhan Karpowicz, Tracy Petrillo, Sherry Marts, Joe Gerstandt, Jess Pettitt, and Joan Eisenstodt.
I also want to thank the many association executives who were willing to share the stories of their organizations’ work, struggles, and triumphs in the case studies that illustrate many of the concepts the white papers discuss.
Thanks also go to Alison Dixon (Image Prep), who’s done all the beautiful layout and graphic work on the white papers, and to copy editors Ed Lamb and Joe Rominiecki, who’ve done their level best to save me from my typos and grammatical errors.
The association consulting community more broadly has also served as a tremendous source of inspiration, help, and advice over the years. Many association consultants have generously given of their time and expertise to answer my questions, point me in the direction of resources I need, or just generally help me to buck up when things aren’t going as I’d like them to with the business. We may be competitors, at least on occasion, but we are a community and we help each other out, and that’s priceless.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have to thank my spouse, Jim. When I came home from that fateful lunch with Shira nearly six years ago, I was nervous. As far as he knew, the plan was to land a CEO position, with the attendant salary, benefits, and security. I knew I was about to announce that I might want to throw all that over in favor of the risk, excitement, and uncertainty of launching my own business. This change in direction would have a dramatic effect on him and his life as well, and I didn’t know how he’d respond.
When I told him what had happened over lunch and what I was thinking, he responded: “I think that’s a great idea. I think you’d be a terrific solo consultant. You should definitely do that.”
“Well damn,” I thought. “If he’s that confident, what in the hell am I so worried about?”
Five years later, here we are. It’s been a thrilling, challenging, amazing, terrifying journey so far. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.
Did you miss the July 12 webinar my Include Is a Verb co-author Sherry Marts and I presented for the Wild Apricot Experts series on living your talk on D+I? Never fear! The recording is now available:
Sherry and I got to as many questions as we could in the sidebar chat during the webinar, but as usual, we missed a few, so we’re answering them below:
Question: When holding a free public event, do you post a code of conduct? We have kid friendly “Core Values,” and I wonder if posting that would promote a safer environment.
EWE (addressed during the chat):It might not cover every situation you might want to try to address, but it certainly can’t hurt.
SM (more complete answer):Yes, definitely. Something short and simple, along the lines of:
[Organization] is committed to ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for all participants at [event]. We expect all participants at [event] to abide by this Code of Conduct in all venues at [event], including ancillary events and official and unofficial social gatherings.
Exercise consideration and respect in your speech and actions.
Refrain from demeaning, discriminatory, or harassing behavior and speech.
Be mindful of your surroundings and of your fellow participants.
Alert community leaders if you notice a dangerous situation, someone in distress, or violations of this Code of Conduct, even if they seem inconsequential.
IF YOU ARE BEING HARASSED, NOTICE THAT SOMEONE ELSE IS BEING HARASSED, OR HAVE ANY OTHER CONCERNS, CONTACT [NAME] AT [CONTACT INFORMATION]. [Alternatively: PLEASE CONTACT A MEMBER OF THE [organization] STAFF IMMEDIATELY. Staff can be identified by [clothing, name badges, or other way to ID staff]. All reports are confidential.
Question: One thing to consider – while harassment is most frequently men harassing women, using language that presumes that may make men or nonbinary people uncomfortable coming forward. Also, gender isn’t binary – language like ‘men and women’ can make nonbinary people feel invisible / excluded.
SM: Yes, all of that is true. However, it becomes really awkward and clumsy to try to address all possible combinations of target/harasser each time one is talking about a harassment situation. And harassment is about 85-90% men harassing women, so that ends up being the simplest way to present it. When I do longer (i.e. two-four hours) workshops, I do talk about other harassment scenarios, gender identity, etc.
And, frankly, when it comes to talking about this stuff, I really am not concerned about making sure the men present are comfortable. I’d prefer it if they were just a wee bit uncomfortable.
EWE: While using gender-neutral language is overall a good practice, as Sherry points out, meeting harassment is largely a gendered problem. In my view, it’s a case where obscuring the role of gender is not only not helpful to solving the problem, it actively works against our ability to address it.
Question: Is it considered patronizing to seek diversity by offering to pay that board member’s financial obligation? Or do you change the obligation to “give or get” a specific amount?
(Seeing as we’re writing for an association crowd here, a bit of explanation might be in order. In fundraising organizations, it’s common for board service to come with a financial obligation. Each board member is required to contribute a certain (usually significant) amount of money to the organization each year of her board service. This obviously restricts your pool of candidates, which can make diversifying your board difficult. Blue Avocado has a good piece that explains this conundrum in more detail.)
EWE: Yes, finding alternate ways for your board members to meet their financial obligation is important to board diversity. The “give or get” method is one way of doing that (in which your board member either needs to GIVE the amount specified herself or GET other donor/s to give that amount). You can also think about non-financial ways a board member could make significant contributions to the health of the organization, for instance, by putting in significant time nurturing relationships with major donors, by providing services or goods the organization needs, etc.
SM: Yes, it is worth considering whether it is a barrier to diversifying your Board membership. Ask:
Why do we have this obligation?
What strategic goal does this serve?
What else could serve this goal without putting a financial burden on Board members?
I know some organizations expect Board members to pay their own travel to meetings. One organization I worked with changed that to offer to reimburse Board members for travel, and those who could afford to pay it could submit their reimbursement form and indicate that they did not want to be paid back, and that this was an “in-kind” donation to the organization. It worked well, no one (other than the admin and accounting staff) knew who paid and who was paid for.
I have heard of the “give or get” policy that requires Board members to either donate or solicit donations. Again, if there is an amount specified that could be a barrier to participation. If it is as “give or get, within your means” with the actual amount determined by each Board member, that could go a long way to lowering the barrier. The Board could also establishe a policy for waiving the “give or get” requirement, and ask staff to implement it, so that individual Board members don’t know who gives, how much is given, and who gets a waiver. I know some funders look for “100% participation” by Board members (i.e. everyone has donated or solicited a donation), but they don’t ask amounts, so if a Board member gives $1.00 that counts.
The bottom line is that IF the organization is truly committed to D&I, THEN they may have to alter their expectations/requirements of Board members, outside of the legal and fiduciary duties (i.e. yes, they have to show up for and contribute to discussions at meetings, pay attention to financials, and serve on committees and do all the other functions of a Board member). They may have to do some budget re-arranging to reach their D&I goals.
Finally, there is one question that has come up frequently with regards to this whole process: Is it appropriate for two white women to even be talking about diversity and inclusion, much less profiting off doing so?
First, let me address the “profiting” bit. No profit. In fact, cost. All the Spark whitepapers are freely offered to the nonprofit community (I don’t even ask for contact information to put people on a mailing list to download them). No one pays me and my various contributors for our contributions (no sponsors or anything). In fact, most of my co-authors have been, like me, sole practitioner (or small business) consultants, so the time that we put into creating these resources is an opportunity cost, consuming what could otherwise be billable time invested in clients. Additionally, we pay out of pocket for copy editing and layout. And we give our time freely to do things to promote the whitepapers like guest blogging, article writing, and webinars.
Secondly, yes, we are both white. But as Sherry has pointed out, when you’re part of the in-group you stand a better chance of getting other in-groupers to listen to you, e.g. when men call out other men on their harassment, or white people call out other white people on their racism. (Joe Gerstandt, one of our contributors, makes this point in his work as well.)
Also, of course, the two co-authors aren’t the only people who worked on this project. We had a total of 12 contributors. Of those:
Five are people of color
Five are LGBT people
Three are adherents of minority religions
Two are people with disabilities
One is a veteran
And, not to miss the thing staring us in the face, eight are women
It’s important to be aware of the places where we’re each privileged, and to work to use that privilege to be and create the change we want to see in the world. Or, as Sherry put it: “We did this as a way to contribute to co-creating the kind of world we want to live in.”
When last we left the Membership 101 series, you had just gotten a new member and were busy finding out why she joined so you could focus your marketing and communications efforts around those 2-3 things that matter most to her.
Now that she’s here, you need to welcome her. She knew enough to join, but she doesn’t know what it means to be a member of your association. It’s your job to orient her, help her navigate what the association offers and how it can help her with achieving those important goals and solving those pressing problems, and continue the process of building that ladder of engagement relationship with her.
By “welcome her,” I don’t mean “drop a huge folder of sheets of paper on her desk.” That’s just going to get tossed – well, hopefully, recycled. But if you dump everything on her all at once, it’s overwhelming and she won’t know where to start.
There is a better way:
Make it personal. Someone who’s not on staff (i.e. another member, aka one of her peers) needs to call her or drop her an email welcoming her and sharing some insight from a member perspective on what membership means and offers. (This, by the way, presents a GREAT opportunity to engage ad hoc/micro-volunteers.)
Get her started right. What’s the first most important thing she needs to know right away? That should be the SOLE focus of the first communication from staff (well, other than the confirmation of her membership, of course). Related to that…
Don’t drop everything on her all at once. What does your “welcome to Association XYZ” communication look like? Is it a long list of “member benefits” (too often presented as features and from the association’s perspective) that she’s supposed to plow through? Try introducing one thing at a time with concrete examples of how other members use it, explaining why they like it in their words (testimonials, examples, case studies).
Benefits not features. “Association XYZ produces the leading annual conference in our field…”? No. “Earn free continuing education credits when you come to our annual conference. We’re excited to feature speakers and topics like:…” Yes!
Don’t ask her for more money – at least not right away. She just joined – the first thing she hears from you shouldn’t be “now spend MORE with us on our book/webinar/conference/whatever.” She’s still figuring out if her initial investment is going to be worthwhile. Don’t try to get her to sink more money in before she’s even sussed that out. It’s just rude.
Ask about her. What’s the main reason she joined? You need to know that so you can focus on delivering it to her, and then remind her that you did deliver it when it comes time to renew. What are her most important professional goals for the year? What are the biggest challenges she’s facing? What do you offer that can help her achieve those goals and resolve those challenges? Introduce those things to her first.
Pay attention. As you’re doing your drip campaign introducing benefits, what does she respond to? Did she ignore your email about your new book but click immediately on a link to a webinar? That gives you some valuable information about what she might be interested in. Oh: and don’t just assume “she likes webinars and hates books.” Maybe it was the topic of the book versus the topic of the webinar. That’s something else you should try to find out.
Stay in touch. You’re trying to develop a relationship here, one that you want to last over the long term. You don’t do that by ignoring the other party for a year (or, worse, bombarding her with tone-deaf marketing messages about things she’s not interested in), and then asking her for more money. You need to stay in touch on a personal and non-financial basis throughout the year. Ask her how things are going. Check in to see if she has questions. Remind her of what’s included in her membership. Get volunteers to reach out. You know, actually develop an actual relationship as if you’re an actual person and so is she. Then, when that renewal invoice does arrive, her decision will be an easy one, and you’ll have a successful renewal.