Jill Wagenblast, Director of Marketing & Planning, American Soybean Association writes about ASA’s experiences supporting the membership efforts of its state affiliates.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) is an individual membership organization for soybean farmers. There are 26 state soybean associations affiliated with ASA. As part of the affiliation, when individuals become members they are paying dues for a dual membership that includes ASA and their state soybean association. The size of the state affiliates is wide ranging, from the smallest at just over 50 members to the largest at nearly 3,800 members.
For years, ASA has provided benefits for members and incentive programs for individuals that become membership recruiters. In addition, ASA has had a rebate program in place for more than 10 years for states that achieve an annual numeric membership goal.
In the last year, with a goal to help state affiliates be more successful in the area of membership, ASA has focused new attention on providing more rewards that directly benefit the state organizations for their membership achievement efforts and program participation in a number of ways:
- ASA began quarterly state challenges for membership recruiting. Each quarter, the state with the highest overall numeric increase in membership wins $500 and the state with the highest overall percentage increase also wins $500. By providing opportunities for both numeric increases and percentage increases the smaller and mid-size states are not disadvantage compared to the larger state associations. Doing this quarterly provides opportunities for more states to win rewards.
- ASA is also holding an annual competition where the state with the highest overall numeric increase in membership and the state with the highest overall percentage increase over the 12 months of fiscal year 2013 will each win $1,000.
- With the help of new corporate support ASA has been able to offer a grant program for membership and marketing projects that serve to grow and engage members. State associations can apply for grants of up to $5,000. With this program ASA will be able to assist six to eight states in their membership activities annually.
- Finally, state associations can win rewards to benefit their organization by participating in an ASA competition that challenges the states to get as many members as possible to sign up for free for ASA’s new loyalty program that rewards members for purchases they make online. In this seven-month competition, state affiliates can win conference registrations, VISA/MasterCard gift cards, and gift cards for office supplies and electronics.
These kinds of activities reward achievement and participation by affiliates as a means to garner state interest, create positive energy and strengthen both the national association and affiliated state organizations. This produces a win for everyone.
In its January 2012, Associations Matter report, ASAE reported that the IRS recognized 92,331 trade and professional associations in 2010. That’s a lot of associations competing for resources and specifically for the many that overlap in industries or professions—members. Combine that with the general business wisdom that, when it comes to customers, “It’s Cheaper to Keep ‘Em” and the fact that baby boomers are leaving the workforce and their memberships behind creating an overall smaller member pool, and member loyalty becomes not just important, but essential.
Loyal members are more than “check-book members.” They automatically renew, buy more products over the life of their membership, and pass along the value of membership to their colleagues, championing your mission and selling the association for you. Loyalty starts with strong engagement and there are many ways to focus on increasing both:
- Plan fun member activities—these would be “relax, let-your-hair-down” activities with no other motives.
- Reward members for longevity, participation, purchases. (Stay tuned, more on this idea coming soon.)
- Say thank you—a simple bit of gratitude for their support goes a long way.
- Audit your programs and benefits to ensure you are delivering what members really value—listening is key!
- Implement a business rewards program like AchieveLinks—thousands of businesses across a breadth of industries have taken advantage of loyalty programs because they really work and associations need to exploit this tool as well.
So, how are you creating loyal members?
My eye on the future is always looking, always exploring, thinking about how are we doing and where is it all headed? I went back re-watched video interviews with association executives across many industries and many membership pools talking about the future for the industry. What I heard was all good. Were there challenges? Sure, but it was hopeful.
The future is something we all have the ability to shape. Here are three things making associations of value in the future:
- We all need to connect. We seek groups to help learn, grow, and gain support from. Associations fit how we as humans operate and interact. Humans are social creatures and associations help us find those with the same needs, issues, challenges, and careers. As professionals we search for others like us. No matter technology, no matter economy; association’s tap into something at the core of us being human.
- Loyalty is not a one size fits all kimono. When looking at each and every member of an association, the reality is not one member is exactly like the other. History, experiences, training, location, and career paths make everyone different – even within a very focused industry or member group. Expecting everyone to see the same value, at the same time is like trying to get everyone in NYC to hop on one foot at one moment in time. Not only impossible but why? Same with association members – loyalty to members and visa versa will ebb and flow with the member’s stage of profession, personal life as will the associations based on leadership and industry challenges.
- Cut through it all. The amount of data and content I need, receive and digest seems to grow weekly. Same hours every day but more to read, review, and search; my brain hurts just thinking about it all. Associations are an oasis in the desert of demands. They help use drill down what we need, when we need it, and in most cases the way we need it. As the title wave of information grows so will the need for a filter – associations.
While hope is not a strategy, nor pessimism a guarantee of the outcome of anything; plan, evolve, be realistic, and find the best in people and the situation. The future for associations is strong, why? People are people, that’s why.
I was thinking about membership the other day. I was thinking about ways to grow the value of association member value, so I turned to the video we produced at the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting. I heard an association executive share her insight on her association members engagement: she said 90 percent are not engaged, nine percent are very engaged, and one percent is uber engaged.
This seems like the norm in most groups, a very real and true breakdown of engagement.
Maybe the question should be not who is engaged, but at what level are members engaged? Can being engaged not all the time be OK? What about being engaged in different things from conferences, events, and training? What about the idea of going where the member is and giving them value or support there vs. where ever the association is or wants people?
Years ago I worked at a great company, Air Products & Chemicals (yes I sold air). The founder, Lenard Pool, had come up with an idea in the 1940’s that changed his fortunes 1000-fold. His idea was to build mobile air separation plants that could be taken right next to a client’s plant (steel foundries and manufacturing sites needing millions of tons of liquid oxygen or other gases). He put his whole business and personal savings on the line. In doing so, he built a tonnage air separation plant that could move by train anywhere. He went where his clients needed what he had to sell. He flipped the model and went at it differently.
Maybe the 90 percent would be active at some level, engaged to some degree, if they were given micro-activities or things that are not normally in the mix (like a twitter party on Fridays? Or programs like AchieveLinks where they earn while they shop and its all thanks to the association?) Maybe its time to flip the model and do things differently.
The challenge in membership retention might not be in the numbers, it might be in the questions we ask and the way we look at engagement.
Different results require different actions. Different actions require different strategies.
On Friday April 5th I was able to attend the workshop put on by Experient and ACI for association executives, hosting author Mary Byers, Road To Relevance . It was a well-attended event with a lot of good interaction by association leaders. It was also great to be working with our sister company, Experient.
Mary started out the talk with the statement: “There are now more people on earth that have access to a mobile phone than have access to a toothbrush” – making the point that things have and are changing quickly. No debating change in associations – it is real, it is here, and must be looked at.
- It’s the questions you ask that are key. Asking the same questions gets the same answers. Ask new questions. That is a very powerful thought.
- Who really is your competition? Other associations – most likely not. Other media avenues (like LinkedIn/ social media?) and/or partners that offer free training to see to members and/or virtual associations? Garner the ability to look beyond the obvious and see the bigger.
- Focus resources. Don’t try and spread things so far that nothing gains traction. She used the analogy of the landing at Normandy on D-Day- more resources then ever before or since then in history were focused on less than 20 miles of beach.
Then an interesting side conversation started. Mary said that Apple was successful because it changed over the years, now focusing on mobile technology and entertainment. A member of the audience disagreed and said that what has made Apple successful was innovation; listing the stores, the hardware, iTunes, and so on.
During this mini – debate I was taken back to what Michael Dell said about Apple it in 1997 – “When asked what he’d do with Apple if he were in Jobs’ shoes, Dell said: What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”
I think the point on Apple was missed. Apple stayed relevant to the world we live in, helping actually shape it. Something we can all learn from.