Is Career Stage the Key to Member Acquisition?

The American Nurses Association is a big-tent organization that has seen new-member growth for several consecutive years—largely due to a new framework that groups members into smaller segments defined by their career stage. Here’s how it works.

At the American Nurses Association, new-member acquisition is growing by leaps and bounds.

“It’s been in the high single-digit to low double-digit growth territory for the last five or six years,” says Steve Fox, ANA’s vice president of membership and constituent relations.
That’s an impressive feat, considering that ANA competes with hundreds of specialty nursing associations for the 4 million or so nurses who are registered in the United States.

What’s a primary reason for their success? A new framework of thinking about membership, not as a one-size-fits-all bundle of standard benefits but as a set of narrowly defined products and services geared toward members at various stages of their careers.

“Before, ANA had a very bad habit of appealing to only a narrow slice of membership that was older and better educated,” Fox says. “But over the last few years, we’ve been very good at getting the full representation of nurses, including younger nurses, new nurses, and staff nurses.”

ANA breaks down its big tent into three primary segments: early-career nurses (those in practice for one to four years), up-and-comers (nurses who are five to 14 years into their careers), and nursing leaders (nurses in leadership and tenured positions). A lot of the organization’s growth in new-member acquisition is being fueled by early-career nurses.

“We’re building a real value proposition up for this target,” says Membership Director Carol Cohen.

The early years are typically the most stressful period in a nursing career. “Not only are they hitting the job market for the first time, but they are also up against extreme challenges like violence, bullying, and staffing constraints,” Fox says. “We see it as our goal to offer them early-career support.”

To do this, ANA targets professional development and learning content to the segment. A recent webinar on bullying attracted more than 10,000 early-career members.

ANA also has a dedicated members-only community forum, where early-career nurses can engage one-on-one, as well as several on-demand services, like student loan refinancing and travel discounts. Cohen says a tuition discount program is also in the works.

“What we’ve found is that [the early-career stage] is a prime time to engage nurses,” Cohen says. “So, hopefully, we can keep them throughout their career, even if they decide to layer on with a specialty area and another association.”

For other organizations that might explore this engagement model, Cohen cautions against a common mistake: confusing career stage with age group. This is not, she emphasizes, a millennial strategy.

“We really are taking a career-stage approach as opposed to just an age or generational focus,” she says. “That’s because millennials might be in either the early-career or up-and-coming stage . . . [and] nursing can be a second profession, so some new nurses may be 50.”

By staying focused on early-career professionals (regardless of age) and their unique needs, ANA is applying new thinking to products and services, developing offerings like a member app that might be a better tool for on-the-go nurses who primarily stay connected through a smartphone.

“When you start to look through the eyes of segments, you start to evaluate what is it that they really want and how you can easily reach them,” Fox says. “A segment mindset can drive change and lead you to a new way of thinking.”

(Radachynskyi/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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