Archive for August, 2021

Generation Z Wants to Know Your Mission—Are You Doing Enough to Highlight It

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A communications strategy that clearly defines your organization’s values and how you bring them to life can help young members connect with your association.

Even as members of Generation Z have little trust in institutions, they’re also optimistic about their ability to shape a better future. Sixty-two percent of Gen Z-ers say they have the potential to change the world, a figure that rose even amid the chaos of 2020.

Yet only 27 percent of employees strongly believe in their company’s values, and less than half strongly agree that they know what their organization stands for. One way associations can let Gen Z know that they have a partner in positive change is to highlight their missions and core values in their communications.

“You have to build a creative strategy on intention, purpose, and authenticity,” says Ellen Kim, founder and creative director of Graphek, an agency that works with associations and nonprofits to generate purpose-driven work. “We’ve asked ourselves, ‘What’s in it for me?’ as we think about what members want, but that question has shifted through the lens of Gen Z. Now the question we must ask ourselves is, ‘How does this impact everyone for the greater good?’”

Consider these tips from Kim to help your organization find opportunities to leverage its purpose using strong branding and communications.

Define Your Purpose and Involve Your Members

Before communicating your organization’s purpose, define and articulate your values so you can clearly communicate them to members. One way to broadcast your mission effectively is to show how members are a part of it.

Successful purpose-driven companies such as Lululemon see customers as more than buyers, said Bill Theofilou, senior managing director for Accenture Strategy, in a Forbes interview. They treat customers as stakeholders, take time to develop relationships with them, and involve them in future decisions.

In the same vein, associations should see members as more than people who pay dues. They’re also individuals who are important to the association and its values. Once Gen Z-ers see that their voices are heard, they’ll probably feel more connected to your organization’s mission.

“Invite them to be stakeholders and be part of the decision making,” Kim says.

Tell Member Stories

Communicating your organization’s mission or core values may seem inauthentic without tangible examples. And your values probably won’t mean much if they’re just sitting on your association’s website in a bulleted list. Instead, demonstrate how you’re implementing those values. Showing real-world instances of your association benefiting members and helping them enact positive change can prove to Gen Z that there’s meaning behind your maxims.

“[Gen Z] responds to branding and communication that leave an emotional imprint. Without the emotional imprint, your call to action is useless,” Kim says. “Actions speak louder than words. Use your digital platforms to get the word out.”

Meet Gen Z Members Where They Are

How you share those stories and messages is just as important as the messages themselves. If you want to show Gen Z what kind of organization you are, then you need to communicate in a way that engages them. Kim recommends social campaigns with targeted messaging, eye-catching visuals, and snackable content on platforms that are most popular among Gen Z, such as Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok.

“Be bold in your messaging. Get your communications team to understand the latest digital trends,” Kim says. “It’s refreshing to see more associations revisiting their social media outlets and being more intentional in building a social media strategy.”

This is the third entry in our three-part series about Generation Z. Part 1 is about this generation’s loss of trust in institutions (and what associations can do to earn trust); part 2 is about Gen Z and online communities.

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Membership Pro Tip: A Benefits Program That Puts Members First

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A benefits program tailored to member needs helps them improve their businesses—and their lives. The popular offering also saves members millions of dollars.

Looking for ways to deepen your value proposition and provide new services to increase member engagement? The National Association of Realtors’ REALTOR Benefits Program connects members with savings and exclusive offers on products and services from nearly three dozen companies.

For example, NAR recently partnered with Panorama Travel Solutions, which gives members access to competitive discounts, and they can also purchase discounted travel vouchers as closing gifts for clients.

How Does It Work?

NAR focuses on selecting business partners that bring in programs that members want and need. And they also make sure the offering and the pricing are all competitive, says Darren Hoffman, NAR’s director of customer experience. “Part of our responsibility is to really make sure we’re understanding the needs of our members,” he says.

To do that, NAR’s customer experience group collects feedback through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and digital feedback—including social media, NAR’s website, and online member communities—to understand what members are looking for from partners. They also go the extra mile and ask members what challenges they are facing, so they can find products that will help them be more successful and profitable, Hoffman says.

Why Is It Effective?

“One of our core values is to put members first, and this fills that need,” he says. “We’re always looking for ways to make them better with us than without us.” And that means understanding what their needs are, responding to them, and making sure what NAR is providing will improve their lives and businesses.

What’s the Benefit?

Members can feel secure knowing that NAR has carefully vetted the products and services and negotiated terms and rates especially for them. The partnership program is very popular. In 2019, 800,000 members took advantage of it, resulting in $74 million in savings for participants.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Is “Asynchronous” the Future of Meetings?

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The shift to virtual events has given rise to a meeting format where discussions aren’t held in real time. Here’s what asynchronous meetings can do for your organization and how some associations are incorporating asynchronous elements into their conferences.

With meeting planners around the globe coming to terms with the new state of meetings, asynchronous events are coming to the fore. The explosion of virtual and hybrid meetings this past year has given rise to this format, with some arguing asynchronous is the future of meetings.

If that’s true, association professionals need to get up to speed on what an asynchronous meeting or event is, what associations are doing with the format, and how it affects the attendee experience.

What Are Asynchronous Meetings?

Asynchronous communication refers to any exchange that doesn’t happen in real time—where there’s a lag between when a message is sent and when the person receiving it interprets it and potentially responds. Common examples are email chains, notes on project management platforms, or comment threads on message boards, where individuals are communicating without having a live discussion.

An asynchronous meeting or event follows that format: Instead of allotting a specific time for a live conversation or presentation, participants review materials, watch pre-recorded content, and answer prompts on their own time.

How Associations Are Using Asynchronous Meetings

Since the switch to virtual events, more associations have taken to the asynchronous format, turning in-person gatherings into virtual ones with on-demand content and offering more flexibility to now-dispersed audiences. The American Academy of Pediatrics put together an on-demand conference in 2020, which features a digital library of medical education videos. Those who register have 24/7 online access to the content, which they can view on their own time.

Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Western Social Science Association shifted its in-person conference to a virtual one and put together a website with submitted presentations. The conference allowed for “a virtual exchange of ideas, comments, and thoughts about the submitted presentations, without requiring the ‘attendees’ to be logged in at any specific day or time.”

A year later, the Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning held its first spring asynchronous conference, which featured pre-recorded presentations submitted by industry professionals. Each day of the five-day conference, presentations and discussion opportunities were posted to the association’s LinkedIn page.

The Impact of Asynchronous Meetings

The asynchronous format presents new opportunities:

  • Flexibility. Organizers don’t have to worry about finding a time that works for all attendees—a particularly challenging task when considering multiple time zones.
  • Easier participation. Without a live component, those who are uncomfortable speaking in front of large groups can more easily contribute to the conversation in an asynchronous format.
  • Deeper conversation. Attendees have more time to digest information presented to them and formulate ideas.
  • Convenience. Attendees can contribute on their own time, at their own pace.

But asynchronous also comes with its own challenges:

  • Decreased efficiency. Conversations about small tasks that take minutes in a live meeting could drag on. For example, creative collaborations—like a brainstorm session—might lose momentum in an asynchronous format, as these meetings often rely on quick bursts of communication as participants bounce ideas off of each other.
  • Lack of connection. While all virtual formats lack in-person connections, asynchronous events may exacerbate the sense of disconnection as registrants engage with the content on their own or participate in conversations that are not in real time.
  • Loss of spontaneity. Great ideas are sometimes born out of impromptu conversations that naturally develop during a live conversation. An asynchronous meeting is more limited in its agenda and opportunities to share with others..

So how can associations make the most out of an asynchronous meeting while mitigating its drawbacks? The format works best in certain situations, but in any case leaders can take a few steps to help things go smoothly.

Preparing for an Asynchronous Meeting

Given the disconnected nature of asynchronous communication, meeting organizers need to make sure attendees are on the same page. This requires significant prep work: Organizers should provide a detailed meeting agenda with talking points, conversation starters, and a clear explanation of what is expected from attendees.

To ensure timely participation, organizers should set a deadline for when attendees must review the meeting’s materials and add notes or answers to thought starters. Project management software, such as Basecamp or Trello, may help streamline the organization of an asynchronous meeting by keeping meeting materials, notes, and comments in one place.


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#ASAE2021 Game Changer: Curiosity Is Key

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Dr. Moogega Cooper—a real-life “Guardian of the Galaxy”—was the planetary protection lead of the famed NASA 2020 Mars mission. Making room for failure, staying curious, and celebrating diversity have all shaped her success as a leader.

It turns out that maintaining a childlike curiosity is a great way to prepare for a mission to Mars. Especially when it’s one with a rover called “Curiosity.” A lot of what happened on NASA’s 2020 Mars mission, which touched down on the red planet February 18, might not have occurred without innate curiosity about what it would look like to enter, descend, and land on Mars—and to imagine what it would take to get a helicopter to fly on another planet.

“It all ties back to letting that inner child run free,” says Dr. Moogega Cooper, lead planetary protection engineer for Mars 2020, and part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Cooper, a speaker at the 2021 ASAE Annual Meeting, will offer her insights on leadership during her Game Changer speech on August 17.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

It’s not always easy—or intuitive—to let an inner child run free. Something could break, malfunction, or just not go as planned, which is probably why a lot of organizations are risk-averse. “You don’t want to fail so much that your company goes under,” Cooper says. But on the JPL team, she has flourished in an atmosphere where ideas are incubated and grown. “There’s an infrastructure that allows for failure,” she says.

In the mission to Mars, the ideas the team brought to the table, as long as they didn’t take away from the mission objectives—looking for signs of past life and preparing for humans—were all part of findings that would do no harm to the primary mission, she says. “If it fails, it fails. Just don’t crash into our rover and affect the ability of what we are going to do,” she says.

So how do you keep that elusive inner child alive? “One big thing that does it is the company culture,” Cooper says. She credits JPL with providing a collegial atmosphere where people are allowed to have creative ideas and it’s OK to ask “dumb questions.” Working in a place that permits ideas to soar nurtures that inner child. Because organizations on the opposite end of the spectrum, she says, can have cultures that “kill that inner childlike curiosity.”

Cooper was not always curious about space—or math, or science. By her own admission, she was “horrible” at those subjects. But in fifth grade, she rented the first video of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. In that series, he broke down the most complicated astrophysics principles in a way a fifth-grader could understand. She had an epiphany and realized, “This is why science is so cool!”

Diversity Is an Advantage

She credits her own diverse background for shaping her appreciation for diversity and inclusion in a broader sense. Her father, born in 1925, is from Georgia and served in World War II. Her mother is from South Korea. For her Ph.D. dissertation defense, instead of bringing in cookies and coffee for the board, she decided to bring food from her own culture: Seoul food and soul food, she says.

In her current setting, having a diverse team with various backgrounds is an advantage because they not only bring what they learned in school, they also bring a unique perspective, based on all the different ways they were raised. “If you bring someone from a different culture and background who solves problems in a completely different way, now you have 10 ways to tackle a problem instead of the same-old, same-old,” she says.

It Pays to Persevere

The Curiosity rover found that not only were there persistent signs of water, but that the environment was also habitable and could have sustained life, if it did exist. Without the freedom of curiosity to set the stage for that, it would not have been possible to take samples and look for ancient signs of life. That curiosity allowed the team to think not only outside the box, but the stratosphere—and beyond. The perseverance and fearlessness paid off.

“This gets us intriguingly closer to possibly answering the big question,” Cooper says, “Are we alone in this universe?”

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Sponsored “In-Person Survival Kit” Welcomes Attendees Back to Event

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When the Ohio Society of Association Executives held its first in-person meeting in more than a year, a sponsor developed survival kits to include in all attendees’ swag bags. Attendees loved the kits, which provided recognition for the sponsor and nondues revenue for the association.

As associations start to welcome people back to face-to-face events, it’s important that they make attendees feel that their health and safety are a top priority. With that in mind, the Ohio Society of Association Executives was glad when a sponsor suggested including a “Welcome Back to In-Person Survival Kit” in attendees’ conference bags for its first in-person meeting since the pandemic.

“Folks loved it,” said Jarrod A. Clabaugh, CAE, president & CEO of OSAE. “It was a fun way for a vendor to remind people to enjoy themselves in a face-to-face opportunity without ignoring the concerns that people currently have about the pandemic and its variant.”

The kits included several items to help people returning an event—vitamins, acetaminophen, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids, and alcohol wipes—and were given to the 120 people who attended OSAE’s 2021 Annual Conference in July. The kit was the brainchild of Timothy McNichols, executive director of partnerships with LIG Solutions, a healthcare solutions company that purchased an event sponsorship that allowed them to put something in the conference bag.

McNichols initially planned to buy items from a promotion company but couldn’t find what he wanted. “We looked at doing first-aid kits, but I didn’t find anything that got me excited,” McNichols said. “I started realizing that what I wanted to do didn’t exist. That’s where I came up with this idea of the Welcome Back to In-Person Survival Kit.”

McNichols, who has regularly attended OSAE events, said he had a good feel for the meeting and what he thought attendees would find fun. He called Clabaugh to see if OSAE would be amenable to such a kit, and once he got the go ahead, figured out how to build it.

(courtesy of Timothy McNichols)

A few Google searches let McNichols know he could buy in bulk the items he needed to create the kits, which he said ended up costing $1.53 each (not including the time he spent assembling them). “We wanted it to be slightly tongue in cheek, but at the same time useful stuff,” McNichols said. “We knew people hadn’t been doing this for 18 months, so Band-Aids in case you got blisters because you haven’t worn your dress shoes in a while. Antacids if you ate food you hadn’t eaten before—or hadn’t eaten in a long time. Those kinds of things.”

Benefits for Sponsors, Association

For associations considering a similar kit, there are several benefits to use as selling points for sponsors. For example, an unexpected change proved beneficial with the kit for OSAE. McNichols had originally wanted the kit to be smaller, but a pharmacy partner offered to provide full-sized bottles of acetaminophen and vitamin C, which required a bigger bag and allowed LIG to insert a large, branded cover page.

“We put that cover page in that promoted our program,” he said. “If I’d bought a promotional item, I couldn’t have done that and had that much exposure—that much real-estate—to put the messaging on.”

Because McNichols had ordered in bulk and put the kits together himself, he had extras that he brought with him to the meeting. Attendees would stop by his booth to chat and ask for more hand sanitizer or pain relievers, so from a sponsor perspective, the kit was a real win.

The kit was also a win from OSAE’s perspective, as it generated nondues revenue due to the sponsorship and it got attendees talking.

“People were really happy about it,” Clabaugh said. “You could hear different folks talking about the things—they had heat relief packets in there, antacid tablets, different things folks could use. There were other things in the swag bag, but this was really the only one that addressed some of the concerns around social protocols given the pandemic.”

Clabaugh noted that the kit also went over so well because it hit at the heart of what associations do. “We’re always busy as association professionals looking out for our members, and we forget to take care of ourselves,” he added. “This was a nice reminder that we have to take care of ourselves in order to help our members. This was a gentle nudge.”

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What Does Generation Z Look For in Online Communities?

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Young people want open discussion, inclusivity, and meaningful experiences. Use these tips to provide your young members with an online space that engages them.

It’s no surprise that the next generation of association members and professionals assumes they’ll be online a lot for their career development. But Generation Z is looking for a particular virtual experience: to be a part of a specialized online community that provides a sense of understanding and belonging.

These are qualities of online communities that Gen Z-ers and millennials are likelier to value than members of other generations, and the reason why some favor niche communities over general social platforms such as Facebook.

“What they’re really looking for is a way to meaningfully connect with the information, resources, and people that appeal to their core beliefs and values,” says Marjorie Anderson, community strategist and founder of Community by Association. “It’s about creating meaningful experiences that speak to something greater than just bringing people together.”

Consider these tips from Anderson to cultivate an online community that attracts and retains Gen Z members.

Create Meaningful Experiences

Gen Z-ers look for purpose and meaning in their online communities, and they want to connect through shared values. Your association’s online groups and message boards should focus on facilitating experiences that tap into your members’ core values and your organization’s mission.

What your online communities shouldn’t turn into are bulletin boards for your organization to post news and updates.

“Associations exist because there’s a mission—there’s something bigger at the heart of what they do,” Anderson says. “You need to inject that into the communities that you build in order for it to be meaningful to Gen Z. Otherwise, it’s just another place for you to throw information about your association at people.”

Having an online community strategy and community manager can help you create those experiences, such as scheduled discussion threads about topics that are important to members or virtual events centered on the community’s theme.

Let Member Voices Shine

Gen Z wants open discussions in which all group participants get to share their thoughts, and they look for organizations to value their opinions. That’s why community moderators should let members lead conversations, create new discussion threads, and express themselves. Gen Z is used to informal communication, so there should be room for humor, lighthearted conversations, and off-topic discussions.

“Online communities don’t necessarily need to be all business. There’s absolutely an element of fun and a different voice that online communities take on because they’re more informal spaces,” Anderson says. “Let the member voice come through, not the association voice. It’s key that the people who are part of this community feel like their voices are heard.”

Moderate But Don’t Censor

Gen Z values inclusiveness, where all participants are comfortable contributing to the conversation. That’s why it’s important to have clear user guidelines that leave no room for intolerance, discrimination, or abuse. Community moderators can then allow disagreement and debate without letting the discussion become inappropriate.

“There have to be user guidelines around behavior,” Anderson says. “No profanity, respect people’s opinions, those types of things. That helps you build that community culture.”

That said, moderators shouldn’t shut down criticism or negative comments about their associations or industries. For example: A user posts a critique of how your association conducted its recent annual event. As long as the user isn’t blatantly violating user guidelines, you should keep these posts up and be willing to engage in conversation. This is where it’s key to have a trusted online community manager who can moderate discussions reasonably.

“That person who is going to help ensure that you know the user guidelines are in place, but aside from that, associations need to think of online communities as spaces for the people that the community is trying to serve, not as a place where they play gatekeeper,” Anderson says.

This is the second in our three-part series about Generation Z. Part 1 is about this generation’s loss of trust in institutions (and what associations can do to earn trust); stay tuned for part 3, about making your values known to younger members.

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Are You at Risk of a Ransomware Attack?

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The stakes are high for associations in regards to ransomware attacks—which have been rising in notoriety this year.

It’s hard to get away from ransomware these days—in no small part because of the outsize impact it can have on large organizations.

Beyond the direct repercussions for individual organizations, ransomware is an issue of diplomacy and has even affected the supply chain on more than one occasion.

Given the data that associations have about their members and the stored data that’s vital to their continuity, associations need to pay attention to ransomware, even if it seems like something that happens to other organizations.

It’s a question of risk. Derek Symer, a partner at AHT Insurance and director of its nonprofit practice, says that in addition to presenting a financial problem (experts recently estimated that the worldwide cost of ransomware will top $265 billion by 2031, from about $20 billion this year), ransomware could be a significant deterrent for members concerned about protecting their sensitive data.

“Think of your membership,” he says. “These folks may not want their individual or corporate names associated with an association. Associations could have proprietary information about their members, competitors, an industry, or trade secrets that are sensitive. All of these risks are on the table in a ransomware attack.”

And the best way to handle risk is to mitigate it.

The Problem With Simply Reacting

One thing you should not do when mitigating risk: wait.

Some people may have an instinct to tackle ransomware issues as they occur, but Symer stresses that the scope of ransomware’s potential toll can’t be underplayed. Victims face significant costs that are both tangible—the literal cost of additional security, data restoration, and infrastructure upgrades—and intangible.

“People may need to work around-the-clock without sleep, which can exact a significant emotional toll,” Symer warns. “Strategic initiatives may be put on hold, and overall a ransomware attack will be a huge time drain. If this comes at membership renewal time or heading into a virtual conference, it could be costly, time-consuming, or worse.”

The recommended course of action is straightforward: plan ahead and budget for an attack. With that in mind, Symer says budgetary concerns must also be front of mind when discussing ransomware. He recommends that associations “be very thoughtful and analytical” about managing cybersecurity risks. That might mean more frequent backups or infrastructure upgrades.

“This can include the costs and benefits of things like cyberinsurance premiums and deductibles, as well as the spend on self-insurance and IT security costs,” Symer says. “The budget is the budget, but how these various factors impact the budget will be carefully weighed.”

Small Team Considerations

Of course, not every association is large enough to have a technology team to manage its infrastructure in a way that can help avoid ransomware issues. Associations in that position can lean on an outside vendor to help manage their technology needs.

Symer notes, however, that even security vendors are having ransomware issues at this time, so it’s important that executives understand the issues at play.

“There’s no magic wand,” he says. ”Any executive or board member today, even without a formal IT background, should be able to understand IT fundamentals, ask questions, and get answers. How are we protected? Is our cyber coverage adequate? How does our security posture compare to our peers’? Senior leadership and the board must be engaged on this.”

Prepare Your Teams

Nobody wants to have to resolve a ransomware attack, but developing a strategy in advance will save time and money down the line. Consider going through an exercise to figure out how your organization would respond to an attack—including whether your organization would be willing or able to pay a ransom.

“A tabletop ‘war room’ exercise with a ransomware scenario is a great mechanism to give you the proactive chance to think through exactly how you would respond if the worst case presents itself,” Symer says.

He also recommends that associations review their insurance policies, which probably already offer access to information on phishing, security awareness, and password education.

“Many folks need to better understand what free resources are available, tucked into insurance policies they are already paying for,” he says.

Symer emphasizes the importance of employees sounding the alarm on issues that could lead to a ransomware attack—and says that training people to spot the signs of an invasion is critical.

“Employees are truly the last line of defense,” he says. “Like in soccer, a strong back line will keep the ball safely away from the goal. If employees are educated and trained in common phishing attack vectors, basic security awareness trends, your whole organization will be safer and better off.”


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Membership Pro Tip: Help Members Generate New Business Leads

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A new benefit provides a streamlined search tool for members to showcase their expertise and generate new business leads, delivering added value.

Looking to offer a new benefit to help members find leads and get new business? The Public Relations Society of America created one with the help of a member.

PRSA had a basic search tool to help people find PR firms and experts that needed an upgrade, so staff reached out to Simon Locke, founder of CommunicationsMatch, a search and services technology platform, and partnered with him on the tool.

How Does It Work?

The new search tool, Find A Firm, helps potential clients identify PR firms that are PRSA members and shortlist public relations agencies, professionals, and service providers with expertise that matches their needs.

Potential clients can review detailed profiles, which include leader bios, recommendations, and thought leadership. The technology allows them to reach out directly, or use the built-in RFP tools to streamline the process of hiring a firm or a professional. It also offers a simple five-question search tool and the ability to find agencies by zip code or city.

“This disciplined, streamlined search process leads to better outcomes, helps clients identify agencies they may not otherwise know about, and makes it easy to request proposals,” says Jay Starr, PRSA’s senior vice president of membership.

Why Is It Effective?

“The new search tool was built by communicators for communicators,” Starr says, and is specifically designed to help companies through the search process for agencies, consultants, freelancers, and service providers. The tools reflect client priorities when looking for partners—industry and communications capabilities, location, size, diversity, client experience, and designations.

PRSA has more than 18,000 members who provide an array of communications and public relations services. Helping people find these experienced practitioners and generating new business leads is a way for PRSA to deliver added value to its membership.

What’s the Benefit?

Communications proficiency is in high demand because of the pandemic and the addition of Find A Firm to PRSA’s portfolio of exclusive member benefits is providing more opportunities for members to showcase their expertise.

“This is a great tool to source qualified new business leads from companies that have done their research and are genuinely interested in working with PRSA members,” Starr says.

Do you have a membership pro tip? Please share in the comments or send me an email.

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Could the Pandemic Offer an Opportunity to Optimize Your Chapters?

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Last year, the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society found a sudden interest in its local chapter meetings at a global level—and it’s leading to questions about whether its chapter model should be more topic-based. Your association might want to ask the same question.

The pandemic highlighted some fascinating surprises about the potential for how associations could function.

One such lesson: When the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) put its chapter events online in a free virtual format, the organization found a sudden surge of interest in those chapter events—which now could draw interest globally based on its topic rather than being simply geographically oriented. According to RAPS’ director of stakeholder engagement, Wesley Carr, this interest was something of a happy accident resulting from going virtual, as the organization was really aiming to build value for its existing members during a difficult time.

“We saw hundreds of people,” Carr says. “On some webcasts, it was over 500 people. These folks were from different parts of the world.”

As the pandemic shifted and the association changed to a nominal paid model for these virtual events, the number of attendees has gone down—but attendance and engagement are still higher than they were before the pandemic. The global interest in local chapters has led to some serious discussions about whether chapters should be structured around subject matter rather than simply around location.

“The pandemic, obviously, has forced us to change our strategy and our focus in a lot of ways. So we’re trying to identify ways to provide those opportunities for people to connect with one another,” Carr says. “However, what we’ve seen through this pandemic through the virtual world is that connecting them around regions is not necessary.”

Potential Benefits of Going Topic-Based

While the association is reviewing its options, leaders have discussed this as a potential path forward for the organization as its chapter model shows real value for new types of members. Among the ideas that have emerged for topic-based chapters:

Making room for less prominent regions. Carr says some parts of the world may not be able to support a standalone chapter of RAPS. But the pandemic has offered those countries—he cites New Zealand as an example—an opportunity to connect with members in other parts of the world. If the association reverted to its previous model, he says, New Zealand-based members would lose the access they gained during the pandemic. But a lasting shift to a topic-based model could help bring that value to New Zealand and other parts of the world. “Now, they could do programs that are accessible by everybody, or they could participate in the programs that are being offered by headquarters as well as other chapters,” Carr says. “So they are excited now because they’ve been able to connect, when they haven’t been for several years.”

Narrowing in on regional interests. No matter the model RAPS chooses, Carr says it is still focused on in-person networking as a bedrock element of chapter meetings. One approach could be to pinpoint localities that might specialize in different aspects of regulatory affairs, presenting a way to bring in elements of a topic-based approach to existing regional chapters. This offers the potential to create new types of in-person chapter events based on topic, Carr explains. “We want to capture the face-to-face networking connection component, but do it under an umbrella of topics that people are already leaning towards,” he says.

What Other Associations Can Learn

Carr admits this can be a lot for associations to consider, especially as the virtual environment has shifted so much around audience expectations.

“For the most part, all organizations are providing some form of virtual activity,” Carr says. “But because we have the world we’ve lived in the last year and a half, we have been able to expose our content to members that never engaged with us—and frankly, some nonmembers that never engaged with us—because we have so many more virtual offerings. And so it’s tough to put that genie back in the bottle.”

But thinking about chapter organization in new ways could help solve a natural problem that can emerge with regional chapters, he says: “The content tended to lean towards whoever’s on the leadership team at that time.”

In the future, building stronger member engagement might be more than a game of location. It could be a game of relevance.

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Data Accurately Guides a Membership Model Update

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It’s not enough to think you know what your members want in a new membership model. Sometimes it takes a deeper dive to reveal what’s working and what’s not, which makes the path to increased value and better benefits clearer.

It turns out data really does tell the story. That was true for the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) when a member needs assessment asked members whether the current member structure was working for them. The survey revealed that the one-size-fits-all model was working for the majority of ENA’s members, but there were demographic groups that expressed an interest in alternative models.

Pricing for Younger Members

For example, members who were newer to the emergency nursing profession—“emerging professionals,” which ENA defines as having five years or less experience—and its under-30 group had a significant interest in a graduated dues model because those groups are more recently out of school and earlier in their careers.

Nearly 50 percent of ENA’s membership is under age 40. “That’s definitely something we want to take under advisement and look into given our membership skews younger organically because of the nature of emergency nursing,” said Matthew Hessler, CAE, ENA’s director of member engagement. The profession has a higher burnout rate than other nursing specialties due to the stresses of the job.

The data also showed that no matter what age the nurses were, an overwhelming majority were paying for their own education and their own dues. ENA noticed that shift after its 2018 survey, which revealed that more hospitals are not paying for continuing education. Eighty percent of its members across all demographics are paying their own way, which means ENA staff has to take that into account when they price products and membership.

Is It Value or Cost?

ENA worked with a consultant on the needs assessment and added a couple of branches at the end of the survey both for membership and educational products. A certain portion of the membership got a question specifically about member structure and pricing. They used the Van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Model to gauge pricing sensitivity.

“The real goal was to understand if we have a membership value problem or a membership cost problem, which informs how we would make the decision on the model,” Hessler said.

They found that their pricing falls right between the bargain and expensive pricing points. “We didn’t see pricing as an issue,” Hessler said. “We do see the value of our membership as an issue, and that’s where we’re focused in terms of professional development and using the survey data to identify opportunities for new benefits.”

Data Over Instincts

Throughout the membership model process, Hessler said he came to several conclusions based on assumptions, which the data caused him to reset. “You need to go with your data and what your members are telling you, even if your instincts inform you something else.” He said it’s important to take that member feedback and implement it, but it’s also essential to have the right internal people involved in the process.

ENA has several emergency nurses on staff. “I want to make sure when we get to the point of presenting concepts and changes, we bring those folks into the room,” he said. “We want to make sure we have their input and buy-in and hear their concerns because they’re as close to our members as we can get.”

The process is ongoing. They are still refining tweaks and recommendations to the membership model and identifying value pieces they know they need to work on and prioritizing those based on the data, which is where the needs assessment has been so valuable. “That will definitely help us as we move forward,” Hessler said.

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