Relationship Advice for Associations to Take From Fundraisers

Associations should take some relationship advice from fundraising experts to boost their effectiveness in upping membership renewals and meeting attendance, according to a recent whitepaper.

All relationships require work, including those between associations and their members. Yet, associations could use some relationship advice now and again, especially since the “internet has democratized associating,” according to the recent whitepaper “Steal Like a Fundraiser: Innovations in Cause-Oriented Fundraising for Associations” [PDF].

“Like-minded people can now find each other, organize, and create solutions to their professional challenges without paying dues to an association,” according to Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, CEO of Spark Consulting LLC, and Sohini Baliga, director of communications at Taxpayers for Common Sense, who coauthored the whitepaper. “These self-organized groups may miss some of the benefits of formal organization … but there is a new competitive landscape that calls on association executives to change the way we relate to our audiences as well.”

Fundraisers and charitable organizations tend to be much better at building and maintaining relationships with their donors, according to the whitepaper, and associations would do well to take their cues from them. Here are a few ways associations can better nurture their relationships with members, which, in turn, will help make their other endeavors more effective:

Show your loyal members you value them. In the whitepaper, Engel and Baliga note that fundraisers treat donors differently. “Without a doubt, everyone who makes a donation should feel valued, appreciated, and thanked. But different levels of giving are a result of different kinds of relationships that carry different expectations and responsibilities on both sides.” For instance, a donor who texted a $25 donation might get a text-reply thank you, while a $250 donor might get a personal thank you letter, while a $1,000 donor might get a VIP ticket to a special event.

Just as there are different types of donors, there are different types of members. For instance, a member whose only involvement with an association is simply paying his or her dues should be treated differently than one who has been a dedicated volunteer throughout the years. “In membership associations, the tendency is to reward novelty rather than loyalty,” according to Engel and Baliga, but associations need to also think how they can increase their commitment to their loyal members, namely by talking with them “to learn what’s most meaningful to them and making sure they’re delivering it.”
Another way associations can follow the example of their fundraising counterparts in valuing their most loyal contributors is by being transparent about where funds are going, whether that’s member dues or conference dues. And if one of those loyal members fails to renew their membership or doesn’t register for the annual conference, the association should also take the time to personally inquire why. “You want to acknowledge the seriousness of that relationship,” Engel said. “Have somebody senior call them. If there’s somebody on staff with whom that person has had a personal connection over the years, have that staff member call them.”

Connect with members by using storytelling in your campaigns. While associations run campaigns to promote everything from professional development to new publications, Engel said they tend to be very transactional. For instance, “here’s what we’re offering, and here’s what you’ll get in return.” It can also be tempting to rely too much on a dry marketing automation message to remind members to renew their membership. “Marketing automation is great, and it does mean that at least the notices get out on time, and that’s important,” Engel said. “But don’t absolve yourself of the responsibility to the algorithms.”

Instead, associations can take a page from the fundraising experts by creating an emotional connection between their donors/members and the campaign through storytelling. Although there are other mechanics that go into a campaign—such as making it colorful, making it multichannel, making the “ask” clear,  and making the processes easy—telling a compelling story will go a long way to ensuring a successful campaign.

What unique ways have you used to nurture relationships with your members? Please leave your comments below.

(Topp_Yimgrimm/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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