Get Young Members on the Fast Track to Engagement

At the American College of Cardiology, a program to get new graduates on the road to its "fellow" designation is one effort among many to enroll and engage members earlier in their careers.

If the top membership priority at your association is growth, you might look at an organization with a long history of 90 percent market share and wonder what they do all day. When you’ve grown nearly as much as you possibly can, do you just focus all your energy on those stragglers in the last 10 percent?

The American College of Cardiology is one such fortunate association. Amalea I. Hijar, associate director, member strategy, says ACC’s percentage of cardiologists and related cardiovascular professionals enrolled as members hovers in the “high 80s,” but it’s not without at least one consistent challenge: a dip in student members converting to full professional members immediately after completing their training fellowships. “We know they eventually come to us, but it’s a question of how long,” she says.

In 2012, just 1 percent of graduating student members applied for the FACC designation, but 31 percent did so in 2015.

So, for Hijar and ACC, membership efforts are focused on engagement, particularly getting early-career cardiologists on board and active sooner. In the past few years, Hijar says, ACC’s most successful tool in this regard is its FACC (Fellow of the ACC) designation.

FACC is an elevated member level that comes with no extra dues but requires an application, two letters of recommendation, and approval by a committee of peers. ACC says Fellows can use the designation to “signal to peers and patients their commitment to quality cardiovascular care.” Crucially, FACCs tend to engage and renew with ACC at a higher level, so it strives to get more members to apply.

Student members, known as fellows in training (FITs), may think fellowship in ACC is for more established professionals, so ACC created a program it calls “FIT to FACC” to counter that notion and encourage new graduates to apply immediately. Launched in 2013, the effort includes waiving the $150 application fee for graduating FITs who apply within six months of completing their training, and ACC sends packets to training directors and local chapter leaders with a guide for getting their FITs ready to apply for the FACC designation and template recommendation letters. Part of the communication campaign to FITs includes a message from ACC’s Early Career Professionals Section.

“That was the most opened and the most clicked-through email, the one from the chair of our early-career council,” Hijar says. “It was basically just him in his own words—we did just minor grammatical editing on it—saying why it’s important to him and why he became an FACC.”

So far, the program has been a success in getting more early-career members enrolled and active right away. In 2012, just 1 percent of graduating FITs applied for the FACC designation, but 31 percent did so in 2015.

FIT to FACC is just one effort among an array of tactics ACC has employed to engage its early-career members sooner. Some work better than others, Hijar says, but “innovation is always encouraged.”

For instance, when ACC adopted a new association management system in 2012, it replaced its aging system of mailed print rosters for gathering the names and contact information of new FITs at U.S. and Canadian cardiology training programs with an online form. Training coordinators simply enter students’ email addresses, and the FITs receive a message with a link to activate their free student membership.

The new system has made the process easier for everyone involved—”It’s definitely made the training coordinators happier, and we’ve got a lot less people calling ACC just asking, ‘Where’s my membership?'” Hijar says—but it also creates a simple, early touch point for FITs with ACC that they didn’t have before, by shifting the task of activating membership to the students themselves.

ACC has also tried to tackle the challenge of building a mentorship program. It created an online mentorship program in 2011 but struggled with technical implementation, Hijar says. Requirements like mentor/mentee matching, automated messaging, and feedback gathering were trickier than the organization anticipated, and now it is pausing to re-examine needs and consider alternative tech options. But Hijar says a mentorship program remains a goal because young members continue to ask for it.

“The members think that that’s one of the major values of the ACC, that they can get access to this huge network, especially for those members that aren’t in major cities, major hubs, big practices, or big universities. They want to be able to tap into that potential,” she says.

What efforts has your association found to get members enrolled and active earlier in their careers? Have you found ways to make joining and engaging less intimidating, or have you created new benefits to add value specifically for early-career professionals? Share your experience 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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