Archive for September, 2021

Breaking Through the Noise: Creating Content That Connects

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Sarah Sain, CAE, Director of Content for Naylor Association Solutions, offers simple strategies to overcome common content struggles.

Content creation and distribution is a powerful means of driving traffic and increasing member engagement for associations. But for some association professionals, it can also be a great source of frustration.

In the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report, which surveyed nearly 500 leaders of North American trade associations, professional societies and association management companies, half of the respondents said they needed to improve their content strategy, and more than half felt that their content and communication department was understaffed.

“The amount of content and the possibilities for delivery platforms has grown exponentially in the past 10 years since we started the Benchmarking Report,” says Sarah Sain, CAE, Director of Content for Naylor Association Solutions. “All of these choices leave some associations feeling overwhelmed — you want to do a little bit of everything, but you only have a few staff members and you just can’t tackle everything.” But here’s the good news: You don’t have to.

The key to a successful content strategy is not doing everything on every platform, Sain notes. “It’s really about having an understanding of your members’ consumption habits, so that you can focus on the format and the communication vehicles that are going to have the most relevance for them.”

Sain says that savvy content marketers use a variety of methods to determine which platforms will have the most impact. “Utilizing member surveys, focus groups and looking at data like open rates of emails and newsletters can give a very clear picture of what your association responds to best. This way you can prevent your team—or yourself—from getting stretched too thin.”

The truth is that most associations produce a tremendous amount of content—sometimes without realizing it. “You can take one piece of content, such as a recorded webinar, and break it down in so many ways,” says Sain. “You can create multiple articles from the transcript, you can break out quotes for social media posts, you can use the audio as a podcast. There are many ways to expand your reach without having to start from scratch with each piece of content.”

And for small association teams, an untapped resource for content is members themselves. “Your member base is a wealth of knowledge that can help create articles and videos,” advises Sain. “And that not only provides great information, it really elevates that member, too, by showcasing them as a thought leader in the industry.”

Content touches every aspect of an association, and Sain has seen that successful communication teams remember everything they put out there has a specific goal. “If the goal is to increase registrations for an event, the content needs to go deeper than just saying ‘Here’s a link to sign up.’ It should explain what they are going to learn, who they will meet when they’re there, why their attendance matters—both for them professionally and for their association. Strong content provides that ‘why’ for members.”

In a world where there is so much information constantly coming at us from all directions, many associations feel like they are getting drowned out. Seven in 10 of respondents of the 2021 Association Communications Benchmarking Report believe members are “too busy” or “have too many competing options” to invest time with their content.

This is where Sain says associations need to remember who they are and what their mission is: “Even though there are competing options out there, the important thing for associations to remember is that they are a trusted source, and they should think of themselves that way. In a world where it’s hard for people to understand where to go to get accurate information, associations have to remember that they are that gold standard of reliable information for their members.”


Naylor Association Solutions provides innovative association tools and services for strengthening member engagement and increasing non-dues revenue. Our offerings include member communications, management of live and online meetings and events, online career centers, Association Management Software (AMS) and Member Data Platform (MDP), full-service association management and online learning. A strategic partner to professional and trade associations in the U.S. and Canada, Naylor serves more than 1,700 associations across 80+ industries. For more information, visit https://www.naylor.com.

 

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Money & Business Pro Tip: Build an Infrastructure for Virtual Volunteering

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More volunteers are showing up virtually—and the best way to help build your forces might be by leveraging messaging platforms your members already use.

Your volunteer management has likely changed a lot since the start of COVID-19. And so have your volunteers, who have come to embrace giving their services in virtual settings.

A recent Fidelity Charitable report found that 30 percent of survey respondents engaged in virtual volunteering during the pandemic, a sharp increase from 17 percent before the pandemic.

This increasing interest in virtual volunteering could be a major opportunity for your association—but only if you figure out ways to build an effective infrastructure that supports its volunteers. One place to start? Leverage your existing channels.

What’s the Strategy?

With virtual volunteering on the rise, the best way to get people on board is to take advantage of the communities you already have.

One place to look is social media. By leveraging your existing audience, you can make your members aware of volunteer opportunities so that they can take part, no matter how big or how small the endeavor.

An effective strategy, says Addison Waters, a contributor to the Soapbox Engage blog, is to use your social media page to highlight successful volunteers.

“Use your social media pages to highlight your volunteers in action, along with their specific accomplishments,” Waters writes. “This can provide the reassurance that first-time volunteers need to make the leap and sign up for an opportunity.”

Your can also turn to your member email list or internal member community to recruit new volunteers.

Why Is It Effective?

Remote volunteering can prove a useful way to help complete important organizational tasks while also bringing additional value to members.

Wesley Carr, director of stakeholder engagement at the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, noted earlier this year that it was important to structure the group’s remote volunteer programs in a way that offered benefits to everyone.

“We are trying to focus on what is a meaningful experience to a volunteer,” Carr said. “We’re not starting with, ‘What can the volunteer do for us?’ but, ‘What can we do for them?’”

And by mixing it with platform-driven messaging, you can potentially add value through strategies such as offering increased volunteer recognition.

What’s the Potential?

Amplifying remote volunteering opportunities on your existing channels can boost your messaging, mentoring, and advocacy game.

The National Restaurant Association, for example, leaned on grassroots engagement during the early months of the pandemic to help promote its messaging in a tangible way that ensured restaurants got the support they needed from legislators.

“Battling COVID, especially in March, a lot of them happened to be in front of their computer because restaurants were closed, and so there was a little more time for advocacy,”  said Mike Whatley, vice president of state and local affairs for the National Restaurant Association, of the efforts last year.

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Improving Communication—and Culture—From a Distance

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Remote work can make it more difficult to share what your organization’s culture is. That calls for a more sophisticated approach to communication.

There’s a familiar line in the business world that says culture is “the way we do things around here.” Reading a couple of recent studies around leadership in the pandemic era, I think that line ought to be more specific: Culture is be the way we communicate how we do things around here.

Teams must be far more intentional with how and when they engage with one another.

In a remote or hybrid environment, the risks of being misunderstood or wrongly coordinated intensify. Zoom calls and email flatten everything to pixels, making it more difficult to discern what’s a high priority or not. That’s a point that’s made in State of Association Workplaces Post-Pandemic Survey [PDF], released last week by Achurch Consulting and Association Trends. Based on the responses of 354 association leaders and decision-makers surveyed last May, the study found that many associations are still uncomfortable when it comes to transitioning from in-person work.

One piece of evidence of that is the survey’s finding that 70 percent of respondents say they’re concerned that there are now “fewer opportunities for organic communication and relationships.” Similarly, 62 percent cited concerns about a “change in workplace culture/morale.”

These two issues, the study’s authors conclude, are connected. “In the remote environment, communication becomes exponentially more important, and teams must be far more intentional with how and when they engage with one another,” says the report. “With a myriad of new communication tools and seemingly 24/7 accessibility of remote teammates, it is all too easy to interrupt employees’ work time or invade their personal hours regularly and without awareness.”

Culture is made—or undone—in those interruptions and invasions. And moreover, a lack of intentionality can sow confusion about what needs to be prioritized. One valuable recommendation the report makes is to broaden the palette of communication tools that an organization uses. Email can make everything seem important (or not), so using IM tools like Slack for quick exchanges or Microsoft Teams for collaborations can help workers keep communications in the proper context.

But technological tools, of course, aren’t solutions in themselves. According to the report, leaders in general, and middle managers in particular, need better training on how to cultivate relationships with their employees and better convey which messages matter most. “Middle managers are the crux of communication and workflow within a team,” they write. “In the remote environment, their role becomes even more critical as the culture carriers of an organization.”

Training on those points have been spotty, according to the study: 56 percent of respondents say they’ve received training on communications in a remote-work environment, and only 36 percent on “social connectedness and culture.”

The unique circumstances of the pandemic have exacerbated these issues—not only is the work environment different now, so are the particular pressures organizations face in terms of meetings, education, and other ways of serving members. The problem is equally pronounced in the corporate world: A recent CEO survey by the leadership consulting firm EgonZehnder [PDF] found that “just 44 percent of CEOs said they were fully aligned with their teams, and even fewer said the same about their boards.”

With that level of disconnect, the need to properly communicate the importance of the work you do—and helping teams do the same—becomes all the more urgent.

What does your organization do to clarify communication remotely? Share your experiences in the comments.

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Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Member Dues

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Every association manages dues a little differently—and there’s much to learn from the perspective of other organizations. Check out some smart thinking in the archives.

It admittedly comes with the territory, but associations think a lot about member dues—how to collect them, how to increase them, and how to give members a break during tough times.

And the past year and a half has brought this thinking into sharp relief.

With that in mind, here are some noteworthy pieces from the archives that will get you thinking about how and when to raise your member dues:

‌Focus on Lowering Expenses Rather Than Raising Membership Dues. When members are financially stressed, raising dues can strain loyalty. This roundup offers ideas for one alternative—cutting expenses. Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of Avenue M Group, compares the process to managing your personal costs. “Keep your members and figure out other strategies to lower expenses, much as you would do with your own household budget,” she says.

Should You Increase Membership Dues? This piece takes on dues increases through the eyes of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, which has chosen not to raise dues during the pandemic. “Our first instinct when the pandemic hit was to take as much stress off institutions as we could to try and maintain as much retention as we could,” says Ashley Hodak Sullivan, NACUA’s director of membership and marketing.

Member Dues Installment Options Are a Win-Win. If your association has been thinking about installment options, read this piece highlighting the potential of that approach and noting its growth within the association sector. “It allows them a little bit of room to breathe,” says Melody Jordan-Carr, vice president of membership at the American Trucking Associations, a group that offers its members installment options.

Rules of Engagement: When to Offer Dues Waivers? Hardships happen—and not just during the pandemic. This piece discusses strategies associations can use for deciding when to offer hardship waivers to their members. “It’s up to the association and membership staff to kind of feel it out,” says John Lingerfelt, senior manager of membership at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

Avoid Sticker Shock With Gradual Dues Increases. It can be tempting to increase dues amid a shortfall, but doing it the wrong way can leave members feeling disappointed in you. This piece highlights the challenges the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology faced when it implemented a sudden 6 percent increase to its membership dues—leading to a cap on future dues increases.

 

 

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What You Need to Know About Adding a Vaccine Requirement for Your Events

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In the wake of federal mandates and high COVID-19 cases, more associations are considering imposing a vaccine requirement for in-person attendees. Here’s what you need to know about the legal considerations, verifying vaccination, and state bans.

ASAE will also require registrants to submit an Acknowledgment of Personal Responsibility Form upon registering for a meeting or event and to comply with any state or local mask mandates in place for indoor events until further notice.

ASAE is working on a technology solution that will enable meeting registrants to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination during the online registration process. The availability of that option will be communicated as soon as possible.

With increases in COVID-19 cases, full federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine, and new federal vaccine mandates covering employees, more associations are considering adding a vaccine mandate to their in-person events.

“The trend absolutely tends to be in favor of requiring proof of vaccination,” said Jeff Tenenbaum, managing partner of Tenenbaum Law Group and an attorney specializing in nonprofit law. “A lot of this is being driven from the ground up, from the attendees or prospective attendees, who say, ‘Look, we want to come, but we want to feel comfortable that you have a vaccine mandate, and we want you to require proof of vaccination.’”

Legal Obligations

Associations are within their legal rights to have a mandate.

“It is legally acceptable to require proof of vaccination as a precondition of conference attendance,” Tenenbaum said. “That being said, due to Title III of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, there is an obligation to make an exception when the event is being held in a place of public accommodation, and, specifically, a reasonable accommodation, for those that have a qualifying medical condition or disability that makes it risky or dangerous for them to get a COVID vaccination.”

However, this is something that is typically easy to accommodate. “What most associations are doing as the proposed reasonable accommodation is either allowing those individuals to present proof of a negative COVID test within either 48 or 72 hours prior to the start of the conference,” Tenenbaum said. “Or if the conference has a virtual component and people can participate virtually; that, in and of itself, has been offered up as a reasonable accommodation.”

Tenenbaum notes the federal Civil Rights Act, which does not apply to conference attendees, requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for employees with sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated. Some conferences are extending that exception to attendees as well.

“In the conference setting, while it’s not legally required, there seems to be a trend for a lot of associations with vaccine mandates to allow for both medical and religious exemptions,” he said.

How to Verify Vaccination

For many associations, checking for proof of vaccines may work fine for small events but prove challenging for larger ones. There are companies that can verify vaccination proof, and Tenenbaum recommends it, if it’s economically feasible.

“If you can afford to use companies such as Clear to verify the proof of vaccination, you should,” Tenenbaum said. “It’s so much safer, more reliable, and takes the burden off of your staff. Attendees can be pre-cleared, it will cut down lines for entry to the conference, and it can mitigate liability risk for the association.”

HIMSS, a medical association that held HIMSS21 Global Conference in August, had a vaccine requirement for its 20,000 attendees and used outside companies for verification. Anthony Maggiore, director of meeting services for HIMSS, spoke at PCMA’s recent Vaccine Spotlight webinar about the benefits of outsourcing this.

“It was important to us as an organization that we were not the keepers of any of our attendees’ or exhibitors’ health data or any of that information,” Maggiore said. “We wanted to make sure we had a third party doing all of the verification. I don’t think anyone wants that information housed within the association.”

Unfortunately, the increase in events requiring vaccination proof has made booking a verification company harder. Maggiore urged associations interested in implementing a vaccine requirement to prepare now.

“You need to start the conversations,” he said. “You need to start the RFP processes, so that you can get some suppliers lined up and make sure that you’re not going to be left empty-handed when it comes to trying to service your show, for whatever your right of entry requirements are going to be.”

Vaccination Proof Bans

One issue that continues to be a problem when it comes to COVID-19 protocols is that every state has different rules. Tenenbaum said five states—Florida, Texas, North Dakota, Iowa, and Alabama—ban businesses in the state from requiring proof of vaccination as a precondition of entering the business. However, you may still be able to require vaccination if your meeting is being held in one of those states.

“What we’ve seen is the hotel lawyers in these states seem to be advising their hotel clients that, while the hotel itself can’t require proof of vaccination as a precondition of walking into the hotel, an association that is holding a conference at the hotel or convention center in those states can impose that requirement because they are not the business,” Tenenbaum said. “They are just renting the space.”

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Five Keys to Starting a Successful DEI Program

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By emphasizing communication and making DEI a strategic priority, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy is learning how to better represent its members.

In 2017, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy decided to make a deeper investment in its DEI efforts. It hired a director of recruitment and diversity, and committed to increasing diversity within its membership and across its volunteer groups, including the board. “It was really apparent to us that our board was not reflecting our membership,” says Cindy Ziegler, AACP’s associate director of governance and executive office operations.

In the four years since then—and especially since the nationwide conversation about race that came to the fore last summer—AACP has learned a lot about what makes for a meaningful ongoing DEI effort. (Internally, AACP uses the term DEIA—for diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism.) Though it’s a work in progress, Ziegler shared five keys that have helped AACP along the way.

From a committee all the way up to the board, there should be diversity.

Build diversity into the strategic plan, and put a spotlight on it. AACP’s latest strategic plan, adopted earlier this year, makes DEI a key pillar. That was a direct result of conversations at the association’s annual leadership forum, where speakers argued that it was important to elevate DEI as its own priority. “We thought it would be great to weave [DEI] among all the priorities, but our volunteer leaders said it needs to be its own priority.”

Get outside assistance. Establishing a successful DEI effort involves sensitive conversations and close attention to interactions with staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders. For guidance, AACP became a signatory with CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a PricewaterhouseCoopers initiative to encourage and guide corporations and nonprofits in their DEI efforts. That introduced the association to best practices and a support system. “A lot of people don’t know what to do, and there’s just so much to do when you start,” Ziegler says.

Introduce DEI efforts throughout the leadership pipeline. In 2017, AACP created a Leadership Development Pipeline Taskforce to address diversity challenges, and one of its mandates is that “each nominating committee was making a conscious effort around leadership development from the beginning—from a committee all the way up to the board, there should be diversity,” Ziegler says. And that means paying attention to a wide range of characteristics. The association’s leadership diversity declaration addresses the importance of “inviting, encouraging, slating, and appointing people who bring different viewpoints afforded by their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, physical abilities, geography, disciplinary expertise, rank, institutional classification, and many other attributes.”

Create forums for conversation. AACP is creating a dedicated internal DEI forum online, but considers it just as important to have these discussions in person. In January, it hosted the first Mississippi Inclusion Institute, a two-day event host at the University of Mississippi focused on DEI matters in pharmacy education and practice. “It’s one thing to be invited, it’s another thing to be asked to dance,” Ziegler says. “We don’t want to just invite people in and say, ‘OK, now we’ve included you.’ We’re trying to have activities where people do feel really included.”

Build on successes. This year, Ziegler says, AACP will seat its most diverse board ever. The proportion of underrepresented minorities in pharmacy education is growing. Nearly three dozen volunteers have signed on for the association’s DEIA Advisory Panel to determine next steps. And it’s been sharing its experiences with other associations working on DEI. “Organically, we’ve become a framework for other associations—many CEOs have reached out, asking about what we’re doing,” Ziegler says. “We’re certainly not the best, but we like the way ours is happening.”

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Five Ways to Improve Your Virtual Body Language

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Body language can take time to perfect even in the best of settings—and virtual settings aren’t always that. With that in mind, here are five strategies for ensuring that you’re making your point on camera.

Arms crossed. A wandering gaze. A focus on your phone rather than on the person speaking. These are just some of the ways that bad body language can undermine a face-to-face conversation.

Talking to someone in a virtual setting isn’t exactly the same, but it does involve many of the same cues, according to communications coach Ann Timmons. She says many people think they’ll be more comfortable at home than they are in the boardroom—and that expectation might create a false sense of security in their presentation skills.

“There’s that real disconnect that I think throws people off because they expect to be more comfortable than they are,” Timmons says.

But as with in-person presenting, practice makes perfect. Here are some of Timmons’ suggestions for improving your body language in virtual settings:

  1. Consider the frame. When you’re presenting in person, you don’t have to think about what’s in the frame. But when presenting remotely, what falls within the frame can affect the way others interpret your body language. If you do a lot of hand gesturing, Timmons suggests being aware of how these movements look in the frame. “You need to be aware that if you’re gesturing, you want to be in the frame, so you have to practice this,” she says. She adds that hand gestures may feel most natural near the top of your chest, but this position can look unnatural on camera. Instead, she suggests positioning your gestures closer to the sides of your face. “It feels unnatural but looks really natural.”
  2. Look at the camera, not the screen. One big challenge many people have in remote meetings is that it’s impossible to maintain eye contact—webcams are positioned above the screen, so when you’re looking at someone as you would in a face-to-face conversation, your gaze appears downward to that person. Timmons suggests training yourself to look at the camera instead of someone’s face. “I tell my clients when you are speaking, look in the camera, and then wait for a response,” she says. “Look at the person. You need to do a fair amount of both of those.”
  3. Embrace verbal check-ins. Timmons says some speakers may fret that they can’t “read” their audience in a virtual setting, but she points out that we aren’t superstars at reading reactions correctly even in person.Timmons suggests that presenters check in verbally with the audience every once in a while to make sure they’re still following. “I think Zoom is making us more aware of that, for which I am very grateful,” Timmons says of the face-reading issue, adding that she hopes it transitions to in-person settings as well.
  4. Get in touch with your body. Many people may face a bit of nervousness during important calls, which can affect their body language. “Everybody feels nervous; it’s part of the human condition,” she says. “It’s perfectly normal, but there are strategies to mitigate that.” Timmons coaches people to breathe more carefully as they focus on building their confidence. Even the classic advice to breathe deeply when nervous can help.
  5. Watch out for bad habits. A lot of people (this writer included) have a tendency to speak too fast when they’re on camera, leading to an increase in filler words. Or perhaps you have a bad body-language tendency you want to break. Timmons says that being consciously aware of these habits is key to erasing them. “It’s not even like an itch you have to scratch,” she says. “You can literally say to yourself, ‘I’m not gonna say “like”!’ It takes a while to break it, but, again, practice over time.” She adds that these habits are often the result of nervous energy, so taking time to breathe and slow down can help. “Speaking is a physical activity, and so you need to train your body how to react, how to get in that position,” she says.

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Good Reads You Might Have Missed: Member Onboarding

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Member onboarding doesn’t look quite the same as it did a few years ago, but it’s still important to get it right. Check out a few insights from our archives.

As anyone who has ever gone on a job interview can tell you, first impressions matter—and the member onboarding process is your association’s first impression.

With that in mind, you want to think strategically to ensure that the onboarding process sets the stage for keeping members engaged and happy over the long haul. Here are a few pieces from our archives that offer advice on how to do just that:

Six Ideas for Upgrading Member Onboarding. From messaging tips to suggestions for personalization, this article gathers ideas for onboarding. One such idea? Drop the member packet in favor of drip-marketing campaigns over email.

Six Ways to Make New-Member Digital Onboarding a Success. How has the pandemic changed onboarding? Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, hosts webinars for new members that introduce them to the association and bring a personal touch to a virtual connection. “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she says.

Small-Scale Ways to Improve Member Onboarding. This piece, by Ashley Uhl, CAE, of Association Think, argues that onboarding is really a form of member retention, just at the beginning of the process. “Individuals do not typically join to be passive members,” she says. “They are ready to get involved and get the most out of their purchase, so your onboarding program should be ready to engage them immediately.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Member Onboarding. An association might understand the importance of a good onboarding program and double down on its efforts, but there’s a risk of hitting folks with too much at once, says consultant Scott Oser. “Pace your onboarding communications so that members receive information in digestible chunks,” he says. “If you don’t engage them in a way that they can handle, you risk overwhelming them, which will ultimately lead them to ignore or block your attempts to communicate.”

First-Year Renewal Issues? Tweak Your Onboarding Strategy. Based on research from GrowthZone, this piece makes the case that a poor onboarding strategy can keep members from renewing early on. “It’s extremely important that new members understand the value you bring to their lives,” says the company’s Amy Gitchell.

 

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Membership Pro Tip: Talk to Members Like Humans, Not Widgets

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Sparking better member engagement is all about talking like real people do in everyday life. Conversations are not one-sided—they are a give and take—a concept that is often absent in member communications. Here’s how to do better.

Communicating with members like we do with people in the real world sounds easy. But something gets lost in translation when we write emails, even when we try to make them more personal by using a person’s first name in the salutation.

You can personalize emails in any system, but “it’s not personal, it’s a mail merge,” says Dave Will, cofounder and CEO of PropFuel, a conversational engagement platform. “The way you make something personal is by creating a way for somebody to interact with you.”

How Does It Work?

When you ask a question, listen to what the person says, and then take action. You won’t know what kind of action to take unless you hear what they have to say. “That’s how humans interact,” he says. “But we don’t treat our members like that.” The idea is to spark a conversation.

The way to engage members is to start with a question—not a rhetorical question—but something like: “Your membership expired 30 days ago. Are you planning to renew?” If the answer is no, find out why not. If the answer is yes, then find out why they haven’t renewed yet and give them the link to renew.

Why Is It Effective?

“You’re talking to members with a human approach to conversation and engagement, you’re not using a digital approach,” Will says. It’s replicating the way people talk to each other rather than having a more transactional correspondence. “If you make it more like what you would say to someone in everyday conversation, then you’re more likely to get a response,” he says. “Stop thinking like a broadcast system and start thinking like a human.”

What’s the Benefit?

Members are getting an individualized experience with the association. If you ask them a dozen questions over the course of a year, every member will take their own journey through their member experience based on how they answered questions about what’s important to them. Some might be focused on getting professional certification, while others might want to get a better job.

Associations will double the level of engagement because members will engage more. “They’re going to sign up for more things, renew faster, and take more action because they’re actually engaged in a conversation as opposed to deleting an email,” Will says.

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

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Content Is King When Competing for Sponsors

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The pandemic’s impact on businesses has led to higher competition for sponsorship money. Being able to offer sponsors content placement and provide performance data can help associations win coveted sponsorship dollars, experts say.

The pandemic’s lingering economic effects continue to have associations looking for nondues revenue in every spot possible. One area that organizations look to is sponsorship. While event sponsorship was always big, the pandemic has left that more nebulous. In order to stand out in today’s environment, two experts suggest looking at ways to provide sponsors a platform for their content and then showing them how much members engage with that content to stand out.

Bruce Rosenthal, a corporate partnership strategic advisor, said competition for sponsor dollars is fierce in today’s environment.

“When we look at any trade or profession, there are numerous associations in that space, so companies have numerous choices—both national and the state affiliates,” Rosenthal said. “There are so many associations competing for the same sponsorship dollars.”

Rosenthal noted that sponsors also are using social media and their own webinars to reach potential customers, meaning associations are competing with internal marketing for dollars as well. Rosenthal and Jeff Schottland, CEO of digital content solutions firm Lead Marvels, contend that associations can stand out as good sponsorship candidates by highlighting sponsor-written content and thought leadership.

“One way the association can rise above is to think more about how to offer digital content marketing and thought leadership strategies that corporate sponsors and advertisers are demanding,” Schottland said. “[Sponsors and advertisers] want to be the thought leader, and they want to receive leads. It would benefit associations to think: How can we develop these solutions to remain competitive?”

Knowledge Hub Can Share Content

Rosenthal and Schottland point to the launch of the American Public Transportation Association’s Knowledge Hub, as an example of a way a site can feature sponsored content on a variety of topics.

When it comes to allowing sponsors to include content, associations sometimes worry the content won’t be appropriate for their members or will be useless sales pitches. While that is a valid concern, Schottland and Rosenthal note that there should be multiple layers and filters to make sure content is vetted. When that’s the case, sponsored content can provide valuable insight for members that they wouldn’t otherwise get.

“There is so much going on now with COVID, with globalization, with diversity and equity issues, it is difficult for associations to provide all the content,” Rosenthal said. “A lot of what we’re talking about is not just to meet the needs of sponsor companies, but to meet the needs of members. [Associations] need more information on more topics, and [they] often don’t have the bandwidth, the staff, or the money to produce all that content.”

Schottland notes that including a content hub on an association’s website not only has an advantage for the sponsor but also for the organization. “[Members] are not going to another website to find that information they need,” he said. “They are turning to the association as the one-stop shop.”

If an organization isn’t keen on content from sponsors, Schottland said corporate partners can also sponsor research or other thought leadership produced by association staff.

“Do it in a collaborative approach,” he said. “Here is the association white paper, e-book, report, or survey results in partnership or sponsored by ABC vendor. They can position themselves, the association, as the thought leader but also generate some sponsorship dollars.”

Data Matters

In addition to allowing partners to sponsor content, it is key to provide metrics about how that content is performing. Schottland said metrics to include are time spent on site, page views, leads, and conversion rate. The conversion rate is how many people who visit the page where the content is download the content. So, if a 100 people visit the page and 50 download the content, that’s a 50 percent conversion rate.

Data helps the sponsor know if their content is connecting well with members or if they need to do something different. The overall picture of content performance is useful to the association. “They are seeing what content is resonating, what the topic of that content is, and can use that market intelligence to shape their next event or next product,” Schottland said.

Rosenthal noted these metrics are what companies typically get when they sponsor for-profit endeavors, and associations can compete better if they offer that same info. “If the association provided all the metrics as well as for-profits, I think these companies would go to the association,” Rosenthal said. “They really value the affinity with the association.”

What are some ways your organization interacts with sponsors to stand out and show value? Share in the comments.

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