Sarah Sladek of XYZ University, an association consulting firm in Minneapolis has written a new book titled: The End of Membership As We Know It – Building the Fortune-Flipping, Must-Have Association of the Next Century. She writes that “the era when associations could count on members joining and renewing, even with a relatively unchanging menu of membership benefits, has passed. Membership is not dead ….but you need to change your thinking and your models to adapt to the way participation is changing as a result of the generational shifts in the workplace, social changes, and the technology-eased access to content and community.”
The book published through ASAE discusses how:
+ Niche marketing is the new competitive advantage.
+ Why organizational culture has an enormous impact on recruitment and retention.
+ What emerging member-prospects value and want.
+ Why and how to focus on member ROI instead of program ROI.
+ How to craft and deliver compelling benefits rather than features.
+ How to extend your reach.
+ Which emerging models are taking root and showing promise.
Membership and retention are the most important concerns for association executives in the coming years and a statistic highlighted by Sladek makes the next decade even more interesting. She mentions that currently 6% of association memberships are individuals 65 or older but in the next 10 years 32% of association members will be 65 years old or older.
You can account for this dramatic membership change in the next decade by such facts as association members are working longer into their 60’s because they desire to be vital elements of society while of course baby-boomers just won’t leave the stage while they can still can take a breath. Probably the major reason for postponing retirement is that with 401 Ks and Social Security falling off the side of a cliff, many will need to work later into their seventh decade of life just to make ends meet.
With the demographics of American Society changing very rapidly, it is vital for associations to prepare programs and services for a much more diverse membership base. It is not just gender and ethno-centric diversity that associations will be seeing in the near future but it will be a generational culture shift for associations in the years ahead. For associations to succeed and flourish they will need to attract a whole new generation of involved member-customers and the bait will be entirely different from what has worked in the past.
Generational experts have been telling us for years that the baby-boomers are nothing like the Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials and that it isn’t the age of the individual member in particular that is as important as the massive technological changes that have dramatically taken place to evolve our association world. The internet has changed associations and most of us would admit such evolvement has been for the better.
Association Leaders must determine what their member-customers needs and wants are and whether they can get them from any other source. They must then become the niche marketer for that member benefit. As Sladek articulates, it is important to focus on the member ROI instead of the program ROI. If the member-customer can’t see an individual ROI, they will not be participants. The value proposition of the association must focus on the individual member-customer and what they need and want. The era of being all things to all people is long gone – associations and their member-customers can no longer afford to play that all-inclusive game.
Though many associations will survive in the short run because of the aging population base and their continued involvement, it is without a doubt that new members need to be developed and directed into leadership roles. The worst thing any association can do is present a photo of aging members and leaders as their promotion page of the future. It isn’t any easy task but who ever said that attracting and retaining membership was a walk in the park?
If the changing environment isn’t exciting those who are association professionals or those who venture to be association professionals, then I guess nothing ever will. These are interesting times – rapid change, ailing economy, diverse community and threatening competition; all are factors in developing a new and responsive association footprint. Remember, if you don’t take the lead in redeveloping and reinvigorating your association, someone else will!
Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career. He is one of only 230 Associaiton executives worldwide who has been granted the prestigious designation of Fellow by the American Society of Association Executives since 1986. He currently is between positions and has written more than 75,000 words or 125 blog postings on the topics of job search, career transition and association management.
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