Put Your Money Where Your Metric Is

If recruitment, retention, and engagement are so important, why don't more associations tie staff compensation to them?

On the list of things that nearly all associations do, counting members is right at the top. Even at associations that don’t rely on membership dues for the bulk of their revenue, membership recruitment and retention are measured as signs of general health. So, you might expect that associations would be inclined to reward high performance in these vital statistics.

A look at data in the 2012 edition of Benchmarking in Association Management: Membership & Components Policies and Procedures, however, says otherwise:

The job of membership professionals isn’t a traditional sales job, but that doesn’t mean recruitment and retention couldn’t or shouldn’t be rewarded.

Only 14 percent of associations award bonuses or commissions to staff for member recruitment (10 percent for retention). Am I the only one wondering why those numbers are so low? What gives?

Perhaps associations carry an aversion to bonuses and commissions because they feel too corporate or too “sales-y.” The job of membership professionals isn’t a traditional sales job (though, in trade associations there may be more one-to-one hard selling, which would explain the higher prevalance of related bonuses), but that doesn’t mean recruitment and retention couldn’t or shouldn’t be rewarded. Dan Pink, at the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo, told associations that “we’re all in sales” now, anyway.

One could also argue that incentivizing membership numbers might lead an association astray from its mission. (In fact, I have made this argument myself, in the past.) But, as long as better membership numbers are a sign of an enhanced capacity for an association to pursue its mission, then I think they’d still be worth tying to staff compensation. I’d lean toward rewarding retention over recruitment (which is opposite of what the benchmarking data shows), to put more value on finding and keeping long-term members. And now that it’s getting easier and easier to measure member engagement, I might place more value on engagement than either recruitment or retention.

In recent weeks, Shelly Alcorn, CAE, and Eric Lanke, CAE, have suggested that associations need to find ways to measure their missions, not lesser performance metrics. I agree about measuring missions, but I still see value in measuring and rewarding membership performance, which is why I’m puzzled about the general absence of such a practice in associations. Rewarding high performance is a simple concept; rewarding nothing will get you the status quo.

If your association ties bonuses, commission, or compensation in general to membership performance, I’m interested to hear how it is structured. If not, why do you think associations tend to avoid it?


Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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