Membership is this interesting product that’s really the combination of stuff that’s happening around the organization.
The odd job of managing membership.
No one goes to college to get a degree in membership. So, who does all the membership work in associations?
A lot of different people, it turns out. Only 43 percent of associations have a full-time employee devoted to member recruitment and retention, according to ASAE research. In others, membership work is distributed among staff.
The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology is one such group. When its membership director left in 2014, it chose not to refill the role, instead hiring its first marketing manager, elevating its customer service position to a senior-level role, and placing membership strategy (and supervision of those positions) in the hands of its deputy executive director, Joanne Olson. While membership is clearly stated in their three job descriptions, no one at ARVO has a job title with “membership” in it.
“So far, we’ve never looked back,” Olson says. “We haven’t felt a lack because we were very careful to redistribute the processes.”
Even if it does have a formal membership department, staff all across an association play a role in shaping the member experience.
“Membership is this interesting product that’s really the combination of stuff that’s happening around the organization,” says Sara Miller, MBA, PMP, CAE, director of membership at the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses and author of a chapter titled “Membership Is a Team Sport” in Membership Essentials: Recruitment, Retention, Roles, Responsibilities, and Resources, 2nd Edition (Wiley/ASAE Management Press, 2016).
That means part of a membership professional’s job is to help other staff understand the value of membership and show them how it intersects with their roles. “Understanding their priorities and their goals helps you in the long run but also helps them see that you value their unique contributions,” says Miller.
The qualities associations seek in managing membership are broad and diverse. An analysis of membership job descriptions in 2013 showed some of the most common words included develop, marketing, communication, retention, lead, and strategic.
Membership may be the fundamental business model most associations are built upon, but it’s a complex discipline. It’s no surprise, then, that associations entrust it to multi-skilled professionals, multiple staff, or often both.