Membership Musings From ASAE13

The best and brightest in association thought leaders shared their bold ideas on association membership at ASAE's 2013 Annual Meeting. Here are four standouts.

Attendees at ASAE’s 2013 Annual Meeting & Expo are heading home today after three days of learning and knowledge exchange. If they’re like me, they have a swarm of ideas whizzing around in their brains, ready to be put into action back at the office.

I sought out several membership-related Learning Labs at the conference. Looking back over my notes, I keep coming back to four bold declarations of ways today’s association membership practices may need to evolve:

Community managers shouldn’t be content to let members merely lurk.

There’s no value in a lurker. In “The 7 Deadly Sins of Private Online Communities,” Ben Martin, CAE, chief engagement officer of Online Community Results, said he doesn’t count lurkers—people who might log in to an online community regularly but don’t participate in discussions—in any measurement of a community’s value or sustainability. Martin says every community member should get involved and that community managers shouldn’t be content to let members merely lurk.

He got some significant disagreement from audience members, and even his own co-presenter, but Martin stressed that driving visible activity is crucial to the success of an online community. “You want to demonstrate that there’s activity in your community, because people want to be involved with active stuff,” he said. Lurkers are invisible, and it’s difficult if not impossible to measure what value their logins deliver back to the association.

Microvolunteers are vital but associations are managing them inefficiently. ASAE’s 2008 study The Decision to Volunteer highlighted the power of small, ad hoc volunteer roles for association members. It’s an idea that many associations embrace, but the traditional methods of recruiting, managing, and recognizing volunteers don’t scale well to the volume of microvolunteers (lots of members each taking on small roles).

Katie Paffhouse, CAE, senior manager, divisions and community at the Institute of Food Technologists and member of ASAE’s Component Relations Section Council, shared data from a survey of 93 associations on their volunteer-management habits. In recruiting microvolunteers, 80 percent of associations use direct staff-to-volunteer recruiment, and 64 percent use volunteer-to-volunteer recruitment.

That kind of direct communication is of course valuable, but it simply can’t be sustained if an association wants to capitalize on the power of microvolunteering, Paffhouse said. Associations must find efficient uses of technology to manage ad hoc volunteers, such as online postings of volunteer-opportunities or open volunteer pools that members can sign up for in advance.

Engagement has become the solution du jour. Across the association community, there’s a common refrain that more member engagement will solve all of our problems, said Tony Rossell, senior VP at Marketing General Inc.

But not every problem is an engagement problem, he said. It’s easy to see a low renewal rate, poor nondues revenue, or low meeting attendance as problems that could be solved just by encouraging members to become more engaged. But, for instance, what if you’ve offered discounts on memberships that have attracted too many of the wrong kinds of members, people who aren’t true fits for your target market and aren’t inclined to engage? That’s a recruitment problem, not engagement.

Rossell admitted that early in his career he was a “one-tool guy” who always suggested recruiting more members would solve all membership problems. Today he believes in a membership lifecycle that comprises awareness, recruitment, engagement, renewal, and reinstatement, but he sees an overemphasis on engagement in the industry today. Look no further than this search results page on this very site for evidence that his observation might be right.

Know your vital membership data by member segment. Not all types of members join, engage, and renew in the same way, said Belinda Moore, managing director of the Australasian Society of Association Executives, in her Learning Lab “Will Current Membership Models Take Us Into the Future?” She asked audience members (about 100) if they knew their association’s overall renewal rates. Most raised their hands. Then she asked how many knew the renewal rates broken down by important member segments such as age, job type, or service usage. Only a few kept their hands raised.

At that point, Moore made one of those “if this is the only thing you take from me today” statements and urged associations to get to know their renewal rates and other membership vitals (recruitment, engagement, etc.) for each of their important segments. “It enables your membership marketing decisions to be much better informed,” she said.

The great thing about a conference is everyone gets a unique set of takeaways that’s important to them, based on the ideas and thoughts that stand out the most. These four stood out to me, and I’d like to explore them more in this space in the future. Are any of these ideas new to you? Or, if you were at the Annual Meeting, what membership lessons were the most important for you?

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

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!