Hiring for the Member-Centric Mindset

Associations need staff who will always put members first, but how do you identify those people to get them on board?

At the end of July, we discussed the question of whether experience in the membership department was important in the role of an association CEO. Most of you said it is, though some external signs suggest otherwise. Either way, that debate about membership-department experience also raises another question: What kind of experience or qualities make for a successful membership manager, and how do you identify them?

What do you look for on a resume that signals member-centric behavior and work experience?

In a blog post last week, Anna Caraveli, managing partner of The Demand Networks, LLC, suggests that this is a vital question to answer, because the member-centric mindset is so crucial to the success of any association:

Last week, when I sat with the senior leadership of an association admiring the new model we had developed for the organization, I was asked about what the first steps in execution might be. I started rattling off yet another list of steps I thought would catapult them into radical innovation. … Something was still missing, though, I thought. And then it struck me: People! I hadn’t thought of people as the make-or-break drivers of success. Were there employees with strong “people skills” that were capable of engaging, motivating, bringing together, and developing customers and communities? … Were there employees with market instincts that could identify and quickly seize emerging opportunities; decipher what “keeps customers up at night” … ? [emphasis original]

So, if we all agree that we want our association staff to put members first, then there’s no question that membership-department staff should be the model citizens for that mindset. Then it’s just a matter of getting the right people on the bus.

That’s much easier said than done, of course. What do you look for on a resume that signals member-centric behavior and work experience? What kind of questions can you ask in an interview to elicit indications that a candidate will constantly strive to understand and serve the member’s needs?

The “Core Competencies of an Association’s Membership Professional” [PDF] document developed by ASAE’s Membership Section Council gets to some of this, identifying a customer-service mentality among “essential skills,” though it doesn’t get into the details of how to identify it. Caraveli, at the end of her post, lists a few questions to assess this ability among your staff that are worth checking out. One in particular that I like: “When they have an opportunity to talk with and find out more about a member, what are they most likely to do?”

The need to identify this mindset calls to mind a question I posed last year about whether membership work is more art or science, which is why I like that Caraveli explained her realization about the need for member-centric staff in the context of rolling out new innovations at an association. The answer to the art-or-science question is, of course, both. You need staff with a keen understanding of members’ lives, and you also need staff who can craft an effective renewal letter. But it’s the people who can do both—who can listen to members describe their day-to-day work, see the opportunities for helping them with their challenges and needs, and translate that into scalable solutions or improvements to their ongoing work—that will be your true stars.

Finding or developing those member-focused stars is the challenge. I’m curious for your recommendations. When you’ve hired membership staff, what do you look for in terms of soft skills? How do you identify the member-first mindset in potential staff that will keep your association relevant and thriving? Please share in the comments.


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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