#Ideas17: Two Sides of the Member Retention Coin

Your ability to retain members can be threatened by external competition and by implicit bias in your own programs, according to speakers at ASAE's Great Ideas Conference on Monday afternoon. They offered tips to avoid these pitfalls.

A pair of 2017 Great Ideas Conference sessions on Monday afternoon focused on the challenge of keeping your members from falling out of your grasp—but the sessions took different paths to get to that point.

We exist because we’re providing a service to a specific group of people. It gives us a competitive advantage.

The first looked at the threat posed by competition, which may not always come from the places you think it does.

“Really, a competitor is any organization, any person, for-profit or otherwise, that can provide the same benefits you do today,” said Sara Wood, an account executive for Management Solutions Plus, in her session, “Revealing Your Competitors.”

Often, competitors take the form of substitutes—for example, free YouTube clips that partly or fully replace the benefits of your paid webinars. But when the offering is more complex, like a multiday meeting, alternatives might struggle to compete. The half-hour session offered ideas on how to best communicate your organization’s benefits, including by highlighting the value your association can offer that a late-blooming competitor can’t.

“We exist because we’re providing a service to a specific group of people,” Wood said. “It gives us a competitive advantage; it gives us a huge advantage.”

Meanwhile, Ashley Uhl, a senior association manager at Meeting Expectations, pointed out that you can minimize competition if you turn it into a partnership—say, by bringing an influential blogger onto your payroll.

“Not only is it taking a competing force off the market, but it’s also creating a new member experience and a brilliant new direction for your organization,” she said.

Minimizing Bias, Reflecting Everyone

The afternoon offered more thought on member retention but from a completely different angle, considering the impact of implicit bias on an organization’s programs and membership.

In “Disrupting the Pipeline: Increase Member Retention Through Awards and Recognition,” Cynthia Simpson, chief business development officer at the Association for Women in Science, highlighted research on member recognition that AWIS conducted with a number of scientific societies.

“Awards are important as indicators of career success, especially for individuals who are venturing into a career and being recognized early on,” Simpson said.

The problem is that implicit bias often plays a role in the types of awards people receive, she said. AWIS found that in many organizations, women received awards for service and teaching, while men were recognized for research and scholarship. AWIS worked with the organizations to help them improve their approaches to giving awards.

Simpson noted that implicit bias, which often is revealed in language, can affect a wide range of association activities, including job notices, internal communications, and magazine articles. This problem can threaten the acquisition and retention of members from diverse backgrounds.

“This has a trickle-down effect,” she said. “In this case it affects awards and recognition, but it’s also important to look at it from other aspects, because this cuts across many components of an organization.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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