Healthier Association, Higher Membership Performance

How one association cured its ailing membership numbers with a multifront upgrade to its core systems and services.

When NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, found itself in decline, it took a cue from its members’ profession to get back on track.

“We [addiction professionals] work with treatment plans, and we are used to there being identifiable goals, symptoms, and results that we want to be able to work toward,” says Misti Storie, director of training and professional development at NAADAC. “And so the structure that we used here was to make a treatment plan for our organization: We know there are things that need to be addressed, and here’s how we know them. Here are the efforts that we’re going to start making, and here are the end results that we’re hoping to get to. And, here’s how we know we’ve done it. And the document that was created … was our roadmap.”

NAADAC’s major symptom circa April 2013 was declining membership, Storie says. Some of the causes were outdated communications methods, stale member and prospect data, and complacency in customer service. It all had to change. “We had to make a drastic shift, quickly,” she says.

NAADAC’s investment in technology upgrades shows the importance of having a healthy infrastructure to support your association’s work.

Barely six months later, NAADAC had upgraded its association management system (IMPak), redesigned its website—complete with responsive design and a new logo for the association—and moved to an email platform (Informz) that integrated with its AMS. “We couldn’t do it piecemeal. It would not have had the same effect,” says Storie. “So we just bit the bullet, dipped into our reserves, and secured the capital we needed to be able to make these changes quickly.”

The aggressive changes worked. By the end of April 2014, NAADAC had increased membership 48 percent from a year prior, from 6,600 to a seven-year high of 9,799. Storie says the upgrades allowed NAADAC to kick a lot of bad habits and build a lot of new, good ones. To name a few:

Managing data better. With the AMS upgrade, NAADAC committed itself to getting all of its data housed in one place and up to date. Storie said the organization had collected “thousands and thousands” of contacts that had never been added to the database. By getting it all in one place and validating the info, it increased its contact list by 72 percent, to about 31,000 valid email contacts.

Moving away from paper, in general. NAADAC replaced several paper-driven processes with online processes, tied directly into its AMS. Turnaround times on member joins and registrations has been cut down from as long as a week to no longer than a day. Everyone’s happier as a result. “We just tried to put as much electronic means into all of our systems and processes as possible and eliminate the amount of staff time that was needed in order to accomplish those processes. In turn, this increased our customer satisfaction, and it’s increased our staff satisfaction,” she says.

Beefing up renewal efforts. The new systems allowed NAADAC to establish a series of automated renewal notices and calls and dedicate a single staff member to manage all of it.

Adding membership status to every email. In NAADAC’s two email newsletters, the templates now include a box that dynamically lists the individual recipient’s membership expiration date or a “join now” link for nonmember recipients. “That link is the number-one most clicked link on any emails that we send at any time. No matter what the topic is, most people are clicking on that box. Just by sending our normal information out, this link is a constant membership recruitment tool that has increased our numbers exponentially without any extra staff time on our part,” Storie says.

Appealing to a diversifying audience. Cleaned-up data revealed just how many people were coming to NAADAC from related professions, such as social workers, physicians, psychiatrists, and employee assistance professionals. Now, Storie, says NAADAC is looking to get its education approved by related organizations such as the National Association of Social Workers.

Analyzing email engagement, both in aggregate and in detail. Better tracking on email opens and clicks helped Storie fill a high-revenue training course with a very niche appeal. She narrowed down her target list by tracking who clicked more than once on promotional emails about the course, analyzing those members’ interests and job titles, and eventually calling a list of 70 people to fill 20 spots. Tracking also showed when recipients were reading email on mobile devices the most and least, allowing NAADAC to align its email messaging accordingly. Its weekly news email—heavy on reading, but light on links—goes out when readers are more often on their mobile devices, but its weekly message about events and sales goes out when more readers are at their desks and can more easily click through to registration forms.

Incorporating continuing education credit as a key free member benefit. Another revelation of a consolidated database: Half the people attending NAADAC monthly webinars were nonmembers. Participant info hadn’t been linked between the webinar platform and the AMS before. Once it was, NAADAC saw an opportunity to burnish its benefits package with free CE hours for members. They can join for between $85 and $145 and get their required 40 CEs for free, or pay for them at about $12.50 per unit as a nonmember. The math has made membership more attractive, and now a lot of those nonmembers are joining and getting to experience all of NAADAC’s other benefits, as well.

Any of these improvements, on its own, might have generated a modest improvement in membership, but taken together it’s easy to see how a 48 percent increase in a year could be possible. It was a lot of work, but worthwhile, Storie says. “There were lots of 18-hour days and 70-hour weeks,” she says. And it will pay off for NAADAC’s members and, by extension, for patients. “If we don’t represent counselors in a way that keeps them informed of what is important and keeps them educated on the topics that are most evidence based, that will trickle down to patient care. … It had to be done for the sake of addiction treatment in the United States.”

Storie admits NAADAC’s situation last year wasn’t pretty, but you don’t have to be in the same place to take on the same kind of improvements. NAADAC’s investment in technology upgrades shows the importance of having a healthy infrastructure to support your association’s work. You don’t need every bell and whistle, but getting the fundamentals right—and data management, mobile-friendly websites, and integrated engagement tracking are, by now, no doubt fundamental—creates a cascade effect of increased efficiencies and opportunities. “It was so empowering to know what a group of people can do when enabled to do their jobs well. We just needed to get it all organized in a way that lets them have the resources and the knowledge to do it well,” Storie says. “And then it all just sort of fell into place after that.”

Has your association seen a boost in membership performance after investing in new systems or infrastructure? What changes would you most like to make to improve your organization’s health? 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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