Have you decided to re-visit and re-vitalize your sponsorship offers?

“We need to stay on top of the needs of our members and our sponsors.”

“Lately, we have been competing with many more organizations for sponsorship dollars.”

Sound familiar?

When creating and providing marketing material to assist in the engagement and nurturing process, consider the following:

Tangible vs. Intangible:  Companies have several opportunities annually to advertise (in print and online), appear at industry events, and other exposure opportunities. In many cases, there are more opportunities than there is money to spend.  In order to stand out from your competitors, distinguish yourself by:

  • When presenting a company with a sponsorship opportunity, talk about your members – more than just the statistics of your member base. Discuss the amount of member activity and the level of their engagement, and how that can impact your sponsor’s business.
  • Offer them to test the waters: invite them to an upcoming event so that they can see the benefits for themselves.

Devise and Showcase a Support Program:  You want your sponsors to get as much as they can out of the dollars they spend with your association.  To help them through the process, a simple support program can be created:

  • Find ways to grow your sponsors’ buy-in to your organization (other than events, advertising and social media opportunities). This can be done by conducting an intake interview of sorts.  By finding out what their strategic goals are, how involved they want to be, and other specialties that they have to offer can significantly increase the trust between the sponsor and the association.  You can demonstrate that you have their interests in mind.

Get Creative:  And get them as involved as possible:

  • Did you want to start a research project (or program)? Instead of just asking the sponsor to pay for it, ask them to also provide additional support.  One easy way is to request that they become part of the committee(s) involved. It will not only show your membership base that they are committed to the specific cause, it provides them with yet another opportunity to be present and face-to-face with your members, providing added value at the same time.
  • Make sure your offerings are customizable: How does the company conduct business?  How many staff/sales people do they have?  What is their sales process?  How does your association fit in with their strategic goals?  Prepare unique cover material (letters, emails, etc) that will showcase where and how you fit into their process.

If you can demonstrate additional value, corporations should be more willing to spend the time and the money to bring your organization to the next level.  What else are you doing to increase your corporate buy-in?

5 Ways to Engage Members

Many association executives pose the question “How do I engage my members in a meaningful way?”  The following are five ways that are relatively inexpensive and not overly time-consuming to start implementing now:

  • Maintain a blog: Every association should have a blog that addresses key issues, provides opinions, and offers expert advice for their industry.  Your communications department likely works diligently to put together a newsletter monthly that is distributed to your membership.  But only those on the distribution list have the opportunity to read it, and the majority is likely not reading every installment.  What if you took your content created for the newsletter and repurposed it for your blog?

    Need contributors?  Look to your members and other stakeholders.  They are experts too.  Need to give them extra incentive?  Get a few members to commit to submitting a monthly piece, and as a thank you, offset some of their membership fees.

  • Show off the stars: Start a member of the month (or, week) program.  Advise your community about what they have done to earn the spot (through their volunteerism or research for the industry for example).  Have a spot on your website home page that showcases the member; and link it back to your blog for a full article.  Get your members involved once the program is up and running by starting an nomination process
  • Educate them: On their time.  In many cases, the professional development programming is solely focused around a big conference.  Keeping programming for your conference is OK, but many of your members will not be able to attend.  Having regular webinars to help increase the chances of your members gaining their required credits, or just news regarding your industry, is a great way to keep them informed.

    It can also be a new potential source of revenue for the organization – making them available on demand for purchase by your community can drive revenue to your organizations bottom line.

  • Push the envelope: After inviting your community to join you online in either a public social media platform or private online community, start posting questions to get people talking.  It is a great way to get your network talking to each other, sharing ideas, opinions and articles of relevance.
  • Use video: Everyone likes watching videos, and you could incorporate this into your engagement strategy for many aspects within your organization.  Your conference delegates, exhibitors and sponsors could be on video talking about your events and why they are a wonderful way to network and educate, your Executive Director could have a monthly vlog that is only available in the members-only section of your website (or, on a private online community).

Engaging your members is the ultimate goal for associations today; get the creative juices flowing within your organization to take the necessary steps to engage them NOW and in the future.

Are You Retaining Your Members? Engagement Matters!

Just sending them a satisfaction survey (and getting a 25-30% response rate) is not going to work.  Those who respond to this are going to sit in one of two categories:  Those who are REALLY engaged (who are on the committees, volunteering, attending your events, recommending the organization to their colleagues), and those who are REALLY not (they have become dissatisfied with their membership for whatever reason, and this is their arena to say something about it).

Where you are missing the mark is with those members who sit on the fence – the ones who come to some of your events, who may respond to an occasional request for assistance, but who you never really hear from on a regular basis.

Based on my experiences, here are some tips that I have found useful:

Immediately After Joining:  Send them the collateral they should have.  I have found of late that it has become an ad-hoc process; some just send a welcome email and advise that the website has all of the information they need.

At the Two Week Mark:  Make a follow up welcome call.  Ask them questions about why they joined, and if they need help finding anything. The welcome calls I have made of late were very well received, and people thanked me for taking the time.

Check in at the 90-day Mark:  Use this as an opportunity to get a fresh perspective on the association – they may have suggestions on what to improve/add/remove as benefits or other offers.

At the Six-Month Mark:  Take a look at the members purchase history.  Are they making purchases on your research available, taking your professional development courses, attended a local networking event, or registered for your national conference?  Assess what the history is and follow up with them based on what you have found.

At the Nine-Month Mark:  Its getting close to renewal time, so it is the perfect time to start re-marketing to these individuals.  Send them the renewal material, and check-in to ensure it was received.

At the One-Year Mark:  Many of these contacts will likely renew.  Those who do without further intervention should be rewarded – recognize them in some way (on your website, in a newsletter, or do something fun and send them a certificate of appreciation).  Those who do not should be contacted right away, versus waiting to see if a late renewal will be coming in.

How are you currently maintaining a relationship with your members?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Take a Pulse Before Making Strategic Event Decisions

Have you ever felt that making a decision, any decision is better than not reacting?  Unfortunately, for associations at risk of their conference fading away, that’s often the temptation. Executives sense a problem, whether it is due to statistical figures showing that registration is declining, or that your choices of educational content and the presenters delivering the content were the wrong decision, it is tempting to do something, anything, to make the pain go away.

However, once you have started down this road, it is really difficult to turn the cart around and get back on track.
Planning and executing a conference takes a lot of time, effort and money.  If the delivery goes wrong, it can be really hard for an association to get the conference back on track to becoming successful.

Alternatively, if it was delivered successfully, and attendees were satisfied, it can be considered a good thing.  However; if your conference registration is declining, what difference will a successful conference make if there are too few people in attendance to notice?

Part of your strategy for enhancing your conference experience should be to take a pulse from your members.  Two surveys could be performed to uncover the necessary feedback to adjust your conference plans:

  • First, survey members who have attended one of your conferences in the last two years. What encouraged them to register?  Did the conference meet their expectations when it comes to content, timing and location?  What could the organization do differently to keep them coming back? What about conference and additional fees?
  • Second, survey members who have not attended your conferences in the last two years. What made them decide not to participate?  What conferences do they attend, and what makes them decide to attend another conference instead of yours?  What could the organization do differently to get these members to register?

To ensure that the feedback received can be used to help make these decisions, consider the following:

  1. Honesty: Be honest with yourself.  Recognition of what has brought you to this point, and what the feedback may portray is key to being ready to make changes.
  2. To ensure that you are asking the right questions, ask a professional to help you with developing the right line of questioning, and perhaps gather the responses.
  3. If you opt to create and gather responses internally, be prepared to ask an independent consultant to review the responses and make recommendations based on these responses.
  4. In addition to the independent assessment, create a team of people in various roles and responsibilities from your office to read through the results and make their own individual interpretations of the results.
  5. Be ready for discussions. There may be several interpretations of and recommendations based on the results – be ready to hear each person out to ensure that their view has been captured during the strategic process.

Your decisions matter, and that’s reason enough to avoid selective interpretation of critical research.

Stakeholder Engagement: Changing Your Sponsorship Program Offerings

Associations today offer current and potential sponsors the opportunity to showcase themselves to a niche market of contacts.  These members (or, potential buyers in your sponsor’s view) are highly targeted and qualified contacts – sponsors can demonstrate products, offer special packages, and be “front and center” by communicating with them in the manner that they choose in an environment that they are comfortable in.

Associations should consider this an advantage, however; more often than not sponsor packages are put together in a “boxed lunch” fashion, and consideration for the sponsor and what they are looking to get out of this opportunity (their ROI) is not taken into account.

With budget cutbacks everywhere and many more organizations competing for the same amount of sponsor dollars, an association offering customized solutions would really stand out from the crowd.  Those within the marketing department of their association will have to be creative going forward in putting together a strategic plan for retaining and engaging new sponsors.

What steps can your organization take to attract and retain relevant sponsors for your members?

  • Assess the Profession: As an organization that is considered an industry expert, review the profession and the needs of those in the profession – determine which companies and what product(s) would make the lives of your member base more efficient daily.
  • Get feedback: What is it that your members need (or, are looking for that would make their lives easier)?  Ask them.  Prepare a quick membership survey, asking them for feedback on current sponsors (and their product offerings) to determine if what you currently have is the best match.  Then ask them what would make their lives (professional or personal) easier and find like-minded organizations to come on as sponsors.
  • Review at your current sponsors/affinity partners: Once your feedback is compiled and has been assessed, have a look at your current sponsors – are they still a fit?
  • Ask your sponsors what they need: Is there anything that your association could be doing to showcase your sponsors better to your members?  Determine the reason(s) they are partnering with you, and find out how this could be enhanced.  Come up with the solution that makes sense for them.
  • Seek out the right partners: Determine who would be the best fit for your association and your members.  Source out a list and create a stakeholder engagement program to draw attention to your organization, and provide them with material that backs up this claim.  Keep nurturing them, as they may not sign up right away, but keeping your organization in the spotlight could make the difference in their decision to partner with you in the future.

Have a success story to share?  Tell us why your sponsors partner with you, and what you do to keep them engaged with your membership and your association!

Is It Time to Re-Think Your Non-Member Approach?

How many emails do you receive from various organizations inviting you to an upcoming conference or event?  Have you ever purchased a list for marketing purposes?  Or, do you have a non-member list on file that you are marketing to?  When was the last time that list was tidied up?

I have been with Greenfield Services Inc. for about 12 years, and have held several different roles/job functions, leading up to full-ownership in November 2016.  Based on my goals or job role at the time, I would research various organizations that I may be interested in getting involved with; mainly because of a professional development and/or designation opportunity.

Because of my research, I now get emails all the time inviting me to one event or another.  I do not consider these emails spam because I did sign up for e-communication ages ago, when I was looking into these professional development opportunities.  I wanted to outline why I am not taking these invitations seriously:

It has been a few years, and while they are still trying to communicate with me, they have not bothered to call to find out if:

  1. I am still with the company
  2. I am still interested in their organization
  3. I am still in the role/job function I was in all those years ago.

And yet, I am still being asked to spend my money by attending their conference.

It is clear that they have not done their research in quite a while to determine who (if anyone) on their non-member list is still worth marketing to.

While it is relatively inexpensive to send a text-only email out to a list of contacts, what is the cost to the associations’ image and reputation?  It is the same feeling I get when I receive course catalogues offering me courses in Project Management, Employee Engagement, and other Operations functions.  Since these topics applied to my former roles, the company sending these to me is wasting a lot of money!   I do not even take them out of the plastic packaging anymore; I just toss them in the recycling bin.

Here are some best practices to keeping your non-members engagement, and your lists clean:

1.  Know the Statistics:  An estimated 30% of your data becomes obsolete each year (or more in some cases).  While this ratio is very dependent to the industry you work in, it is important to both recognize and understand that your profession has turnover – and just how much is important to know in order to ensure that your data is kept clean.

2.  Do your research:  Whether it is internet research to find if the person is still at the company, or if it is a call that needs to take place to update information, it needs to be done.  No matter what amount of money you are spending on marketing to your non-members, a lot of what is being allocated is being wasted if you cannot keep your list up to date.  At Greenfield, we recommend that this is done annually at a minimum, and that consistent budgets are planned each year to account for it.

3.  Take the Leap:  People are more willing to provide you with what you need if you offer them something in return.  For example, if the association I referenced above had offered the feedback and information I was looking for in the first place, or if after they had put me on their non-member communication list, tried to connect with me every so often to ensure that I still belong on that list, I would be more likely to have told them by now that I have completely changed roles and as a result am no longer interested.  I may have even given them the name of my replacement.

If you are looking to improve your numbers – whether it is for courses, conferences or membership – you need to know who you are marketing to.  This truly start with both understanding the scope of your list and its disadvantages.  Have a look at the last time you actively reached out to your non-member list.

You may be spending more dollars than you think – keeping your list clean is the best way to go.  From there, you can truly assess the real costs associated to you strategic marketing plan.

Creating Impact for your Members

Associations have a unique opportunity to drive impact your members lives (both personally and professionally).  Those that provide impact do the following:

  • Provide a meaningful change in their lives (whether it is offering material to help them professionally, or saving them time)
  • Allowing your members to view your product/service offerings both efficiently and effectively

The idea is to impact their productivity (or, as business owners themselves in many cases), their profitability.

Associations that create impact for their members:

  • Understand the unique challenges on their members
  • Provide unique/new opportunities to their membership as value-add’s of being a member of the association
  • Tailor programs to make them very relevant to the industry

It’s about becoming the industry expert – the “one stop shop” for the industry to find the information the member is seeking – that is what will keep them with you.  If your association wants to create impact, you must have a strategy in place first for it to be successful.  Identify what make your association different from the others in your industry.  Ensure that at every touch point (whether it is your newsletter, phone call, conference), you are re-enforcing this message.

Where do you start?

Every association has committees – start with them.  They are likely some of your most engaged members, and will want to ensure the continued success of the association.  Discuss with them your goals, and get them on board to help re-enforce the message. They are peers to your membership, and as such, the message delivered will likely be received better and heard more.

This process is not easy.  You have to be creative and get everyone on board with the message if you are going to be successful at it.  Research and communication to create the right message is key, so be prepared to invest the time upfront.  Outline who is accountable to deliver the message, prepare a success plan and track results.

Being a successful association today is more than a vision/mission statement – it is delivering clear value to your members through your product and service offerings – which cannot be found anywhere else.

What’s Your Point?

Whether you are trying to recruit an employee, or a member to your association, you likely have a lot to say in a short amount of time.  You need to have a relevant “elevator pitch” that does not sound canned, or like you are reading a brochure.  And, it needs to be consistent across various methods; whether it is online, or whether you are speaking to someone by phone, face to face, etc.

To start, I freely admit that I consider myself borderline Gen X/Gen Y.  This is based on a variety of opinions on the cut-off year, and how I find my preferences align with general assumptions based on the generational definitions.  When I am researching an organization, what I find on the About Us section of the website is what staff has become accustomed to repeating in other methods.  To be successful these days, I think that you need to be strategic about the message you are putting out there, in any form:

  • Websites that have an About Us page that starts with “ABC opened its doors in 1913…” or some far off year where I cannot even imagine what the world was like tend to bore me, and I will not take the time to read through all of the clutter to get at the meat of the information I require to make an educated decision.

    I don’t care if you have been around for 100 years – I want to know why you are relevant today.

    However, that doesn’t mean that others don’t or shouldn’t care; they may be looking for an organization that is historically significant in changing the industry.

    In this case, I recommend re-evaluating the way you are positioning your website, and segment the information into categories.  For example, your About Us page may say that you are an industry leader in ABC profession, which has consistently provided value to employees/members by… adding point form so that it is easy to read.  Your history can then be made accessible by hyper-linking to another page on your site (for example, “To read more about our history, click here).

  • By Phone/Face-to-Face: Prospects take the time they want to take with your website, and the time per page can be anywhere between 15 seconds to 10 minutes, depending on the information you provide and how it captures their interest. But you do not have long to generate interest.  Try going with a one-sentance pitch. Put it out there and wait to see what happens.

    Depending on their reaction, you may want to continue by following up with a question before jumping in with your point form reasons for why you are experts/thought leaders in your industry.  Have you ever asked them why they are looking into your company for employment?  Why they have attended this event as a non-member?  Why they downloaded your whitepaper on that topic?  Getting their answer can help you determine which items in your value proposition and benefits would appeal to them, and make them want to learn more.

What’s the best way to capture (and keep) their attention?  Engage them with information that interests them.  It doesn’t have to be too time consuming, well planned marketing & communication plans combined with appropriate automation rules should take you most of the way through the process.

Increase Member ROI

The reasons that people are becoming members continuously change.  People are no longer joining associations because it is the right thing to do.  Now, people are willing to become members of associations, but they are demanding a solid return on their investment (ROI).

And because ROI is so important, associations must do a better job demonstrating outcomes vs. features of your association.

When promoting membership:

  • Avoid catch-phrases like networking. Yes, it is an important thing to many, but advertising it like your association is the only place someone can network no longer works – with so many competitors (both like-minded associations and online communities) – this is something that can be done anywhere and anytime.
  • Avoid talking about your history. Yes, again it is important for people to know that you have been industry leaders for 100+ years, but the next generation of membership does not care as much about where you have been – they will care about where you are going instead.
  • Mission statements are important – as it can quickly define what your organization is all about. But potential new members are going to look for feedback from other members – which is why testimonials can be so powerful.
  • Create the right marketing material – ask questions like “How does our association make a difference in our members lives?” “What would happen if we didn’t exist?”  – find out why members are joining and create communication demonstrating what they value to showcase to other potential recruits.
  • Demonstrate how you understand their needs, now and in the future. Ask questions like “What do our members need now?”, “What do they need next year? In three years? In 5 years?” and What are we doing to provide it to them now and in the future?”

How do you figure this out?  Ask your members.  Creating a simple survey can really ensure that you have the statistics and the feedback that is needed to make the right assessment and develop the right materials.

Segmentation Recommendations from an Association Member

I belong to a few membership-based organizations, and nothing frustrates me more than getting too many emails from them.  Often, they are about information, products or services that I am not interested in, or their timing between departments is way off, and I end up getting multiple emails in one day.

I am sure that I am not the only one who finds this difficult to take – and at times, I find myself shutting off, and not even opening their emails.  What’s sad is that I am likely missing information that I should know, and want to know, all because it has become too much.

The idea of segmenting your membership is not new – and I am sure that there are several organizations that do it well.  Here are a few examples/recommendations of possible segmentation methods that may help streamline your communications:

  • Determine the types of communication you send first. Make a list with the entire department of the types of information you are putting out there, and who within your membership would be interested in it.
  • Corporate memberships: Those who offer corporate membership should know who within the company should be getting your information, and their job titles.  If they are in the C-level suite, they may not be interested in the same information you would send to a marketing contact, a research specialist, a product designer, etc.
  • Offer industry & supplier memberships? Segment them.  Suppliers may care about governance issues – but they may not.  Best to find out.
  • Events, Products or Services? Make sure that I am interested in getting information before sending me the email.
  • For organizations that offer special programs or information to select portions of your membership, do not send information to your entire database. Those who cannot access it, or will not qualify will only get frustrated that they are getting excluded.

There is several ways to segment your members.  A best practice is not to assume, get them to tell you.  Here are a few ways to help gather the information.

  • Send a communication, other than an email, advising that your organization is in the process of segmenting membership in order to provide effective, streamlined communication. In this communication, tell them to expect an email inviting them to provide their preferences.
  • Next step? Send the email.  Prepare a landing page with all of their options, and ask them to select the categories that best suit their needs. Make sure that the information transfers easily to your CRM.
  • Did you not get responses from everyone? Follow up with a phone campaign to get their preferences captured over the phone.

Yes, it is almost impossible to get everyone’s preferences this way.  You can also incorporate the landing page into your online membership renewal process.  Make it a mandatory page that they have to fill out in order to renew membership.

Armed with this information, go back to your list of communications, and come up with a calendar of emails – knowing that there may be times when an unplanned email has to go out, but rarely.  Ensure that you are selective in the number of emails your members are getting from you daily/weekly.

All of this effort should increase member satisfaction, engagement, and email open and click through rates.  After all, keeping them happy will give you a better chance to keep them renewing, right?