Go Deeper with Member Storytelling

Meet Ken Dunham, the association exec who literally wrote the book on his members. In many ways, associations can leverage the power of storytelling to unearth history, encourage conversation, and get to know your members at a much deeper level.

Too often, associations go looking for members willing to “tell us your story.” As membership blogger Joe Rominiecki once wrote in this space, this attempt at engagement usually falls flat because it puts the onus on the member to do the work, and as we’ve noted before, member engagement is a two-way street.

But storytelling that dives a little deeper can drive results, as the West Coast Lumber and Building Materials Association recently proved with the publication of The Legacy of Lumber, a new 98-page book that tells the stories of members who have been with the organization throughout its 100-year history.

The project was spearheaded by two authors/editors, WCLBMA Executive Director Ken Dunham and Kathleen Beasley, a contract writer, who together weaved a tale of interesting facets of the lumber industry from colonial times to the present.

Fun fact: The term “lumber” comes from early American colonists who wanted to stick it to the British crown, declaring control over the colonies’ timber resources and the right to tax production, Dunham says. The book pulls together details of the industry’s history and member stories had never been told before.

“We know darn well that this association goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, but all the records were pretty sketchy,” he says. “This project gave me a chance to get to know members’ stories in a way that I wouldn’t have known any other way.”

Thanks to member support and buy-in, Dunham says the book quickly became a passion project. He also has a knack for storytelling—before becoming an association executive, he owned an advertising and public affairs firm and was a television news director and on-air personality.

To engage members in the research, Dunham did more than “tell us your story” outreach. In an online questionnaire, he asked members to detail company history and, if possible, to share primary-source documents, including photos. That request helped him to gather about 60 different stories, which served as the basis for the book.

“It doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to have realistic expectations for your members and the project,” Dunham says.

A Menu of Media

Yes, writing a book takes time—for WCLBMA, about two years from brainstorming to first printing. But a book is just one way to engage members in storytelling. If you’re faced with a time crunch, a tool like Storify can curate membership stories that are already being shared on social media.

You can take it a step further with podcasting, which sounds complicated, but it can be easier than you think and a sound investment if you have the right people behind the mic. And my colleague Ernie Smith explored the potential of audiobooks in a recent Tech Blog post as yet another way to share stories audibly.

Finally, if you can get your hands on the right video equipment and enlist a few dedicated volunteers, it’s possible to quickly launch a video blog series on a shoestring budget [ASAE member login required].

Regardless of the medium, every storytelling project should be rooted in member engagement and defined outcomes, Dunham says.

“I started by asking members to get involved and collect and share stories,” he says. “For any project, start with your purpose and be upfront about expectations—know who it’s for and the market it will eventually serve.”

What types of storytelling projects are you considering? Have you found ways to get members to engage in storytelling? Share your comments in the thread below.

(mactrunk/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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