Toolkits are a proven way to address member challenges, but not all toolkits are created equal. One expert shares tips for creating toolkits that best meet members’ needs.
Toolkits are one of the best ways to deliver value to your members by showing them how to make good use of the programs, products, and services your association offers—whether the purpose is to raise awareness of a new campaign, describe a benefit, or teach an important skill or process. But a lot can go wrong in producing a toolkit.
Your project team can get sidetracked or delayed. Or worse, your toolkit might not meet members’ needs and instead it sits on the shelf collecting dust.
Amalea Hijar has more than a decade of experience developing and writing member toolkits for associations. She’s worked on them for the American Staffing Association and the American College of Cardiology, and in her current role as program director for growth at Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, she’s thinking about how toolkits can better serve industry partners.
She also recently wrote an e-book about how toolkits can serve to enhance component relations. In her experience, the best toolkits deliver on a basic member challenge.
“A good toolkit, regardless of the size or scope, addresses a serious membership issue,” Hijar says. “With a toolkit, you’re basically saying to the member, ‘Here is a way to help you solve your problem.’”
Hijar has learned some valuable lessons that can be easily applied to your next toolkit. She suggests approaching the process through a four-step plan.
Step 1: Talk to Members to Identify the Challenge
Toolkits can be designed for a specific set of members or membership needs, but the most effective toolkits always start with member input on the problem. That means listening to members and asking them what the association can do better.
Hijar starts every toolkit by interviewing members to identify common challenges and interests. Those conversations have helped her identify specific topics, including a toolkit on workplace safety and another for early-career members.
“You need to develop toolkits that speak directly to a subset of members,” Hijar says, “because nobody is going to use your toolkit if you are solving a problem that doesn’t actually exist.”
Step 2: Include Members in the Development Process
After you have identified a member challenge, Hijar says you can tap highly engaged members to assist with content development. Keep in mind that you’ll need volunteers who can commit to a project that typically takes about three months to complete.
“You need to be thoughtful about time and make sure you’re including people who are passionate and care about the issue too,” Hijar says. “One way that I like to do that is by being upfront with the member and mapping out a three-month timeline to complete project.”
The first meeting with your project team can help to outline the parameters of the content development process. In her e-book, Hijar suggests three key objectives for that meeting:
- Identify each person’s areas of expertise and passion.
- Brainstorm the mission and vision for the toolkit.
- Agree on a timeline to complete the project.
Step 3: Refine Your Toolkit with Micro-Volunteers
Of course, not all of your volunteers will be able to dedicate three months to developing a member toolkit, and that’s OK.
A lot of your engaged members may be better suited to assist with small project tasks. For instance, Hijar says local chapters or individual members can be tapped to provide models and samples of work that can be easily incorporated into the toolkit.
“Maybe you’re pulling together a media toolkit, and your chapter has a great template for creating press releases. Make sure to use it,” Hijar says. “Peer examples also have the added benefit of making the toolkit approachable.”
Hijar also recommends scouting out a group of micro-volunteers—those who can devote just a few hours to the project—to try out the toolkit before it’s widely distributed. This informal user testing will help to identify content gaps or other problems, and the content development team can then further refine the toolkit.
Step 4: Evaluate and Review Toolkit Use
Publishing your toolkit may feel like the last step, but Hijar says it’s really only the beginning. The content development team should continue to review the toolkit as it’s being used. She recommends having at least two team meetings where the project can be evaluated based on user feedback.
Tracking downloads and surveying those who downloaded the toolkit can also tell you a lot about how the document is being accessed and used. Most associations forget that a successful toolkit needs periodic updates, as well as a member-focused distribution strategy that includes a variety of content-specific formats.
The standard format that most associations use is a digital .pdf, Hijar says, which works in some distribution channels but isn’t well suited for accessing the toolkit from a mobile device.
“A good toolkit can be shared in a variety of formats—on social media, across email, or even handed from one member to the next,” she says. “You need to think about making it accessible and you can decide what formats work best, based off member feedback.”