Active, engaged members remain the number one challenge for associations and professional societies. Why do so many nonprofits end up leaving them stranded? There are great strategies for assuring success in recruiting, retaining and engaging members if you’ll commit the time and resources to making it happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Are your members, customers, and stakeholders like wayward sports fans? Does membership ebb and flow with the perceived “wins and losses” created by your team? You get a legislative win and members flock to your door. Former White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” So solve a crisis for your profession, cure a disease, or defend against an egregious regulation, and you’re golden, right? Oddly enough, the answer probably is not so much. How could that be. Does success beget apathy or disengagement?
Is it fickleness when members drop membership, decline to donate, join or become a subscriber, or customer? Possibly, but probably not as much as you might think. There are radical shifts afoot in your marketplace and organizations that want to thrive will need to find their own unique ways to influence them.
If you’re leading a membership organization, members will almost universally tell you they seek networking, peer support, and learning opportunities. While those needs are real, the ability to fulfill them has now expanded far beyond the framework of your organization. In today’s marketplace, there is an abundant and growing collection of both informal and formal networks, on-line education from top schools, and support platforms available to everyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A smart phone delivers immediate conversations and idea sharing with friends and strangers across a global frontier. When your members want to know something about their industry or profession, they are far more likely to access Bing, Google, or Yahoo as they are to go to your organization’s website. Where are you in this new frontier? If you’re not in the top ten results for any of these search engines, you’re invisible.
If this notion has you yearning for the good old days of “Castle and Moat” strategies, I understand. In the membership model of yore, associations owned the Castle. If someone outside the Castle wanted knowledge or information, they had to become a “member” of the kingdom. When they did so, we lowered the bridge over the Moat and allowed them entrance to our “kingdom of knowledge”. And it was good. We were all doing well by doing good.
Funny thing, the “Castle and Moat” strategy is back. It’s back as a model of investing deployed by Warren Buffet and as a business strategy by Google. But it’s different. Nowadays, most of us willingly pay for access. Not for information alone, rather we subscribe to virtual tools, services, and access delivered from the “cloud” when we want it, how we want, and on whatever device is nearby. Subscription business models are the new iteration of “Castle and Moat” for associations, professional societies, and businesses.