How A Circus Association Walks the Tightrope of Member Communication

With a range of member demographics spanning kids to adults, the American Youth Circus Organization decided to change how it tailors content toward its audience segments, which meant forming a whole new branch.

If you thought your association had it rough trying to address different generations, consider the American Youth Circus Organization, whose membership includes everyone from kids to, well, people of any age.

The variety in members was creating an identity crisis for the organization, which decided earlier this year to undergo a transformation. For one thing, its name wasn’t reflective of the large and growing swath of the circus community it served.

“AYCO has been around since 1998, and we’ve always been dedicated to supporting circus educators, but it’s never really been present in our name,” said Amy Cohen, AYCO’s executive director. “To support circus youth inherently means to support their educators, and, at the time when the organization started, the primary circus education that was being offered was for kids. In the past 15 years, that’s evolved into now this world of adults engaging with circus education as well.”

So, in January, the organization launched a new branch—the American Circus Educators Association (ACE)—to distinctly serve the needs of circus educators, including those who are not specifically working with kids.

“It was the type of thing that’s been rising to the surface on my mind and on the board’s mind, that this is the direction we need to go in if we are going to really serve the community,” Cohen said.

Now, while AYCO focuses on youth membership and their supporters (parents, friends, and enthusiasts), ACE focuses on educators and organizations. And while membership benefits are largely the same, the way information and content are packaged and presented is distinct between the two groups. For example, there are now two separate websites, two annual conferences (which rotate every other year), two newsletters, and a revamped magazine, American Circus Educators, specifically geared toward educators.

“It’s all dedicated to circus teachers, which is really different than before, when we were straddling this line” between youth and educators, Cohen said. “Now we’re able to talk to circus teachers about the issues that matter to them.”

Meanwhile, AYCO youth members receive a special newsletter specifically aimed at them, and they receive a quarterly swag box—similar to the idea behind Birchbox—that includes gifts like bracelets and stickers, Cohen said.

“Having these two different identities within this same vision means it’s so much easier to communicate with each party differently,” Cohen said. “Speaking in a voice to kids and teenagers is so much more gratifying when you can speak to them directly and not wonder how is an adult going to recognize what I’m saying. Like, ‘OMG, circus is awesome!’—is a 50-year-old circus teacher going to feel connected to that? Or similarly, if I start talking about the pedagogy of safety, is a teenager going to be down with that?”

Now the association can speak to all its members in a voice that resonates with them, Cohen said. “We just divided our program into these two categories for clarity.”

How does your association tailor its communications and content for a variety of audiences? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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