Reflections on Three Years of Blogging About Membership

While it’s time for me to say goodbye to ASAE and Associations Now, before I go, let’s reflect on the power of human connections and how associations can use these relationships as a force for good.

I have some bittersweet news to share with you today: This will be my final Membership blog post for Associations Now. Next week, I’m transitioning into an exciting new role as the communications director for the American Forest & Paper Association.

After interviewing some inspiring association leaders for the last three years, I figured it was finally time to take a chance and apply what I’ve learned at ASAE.

First, I need to thank my Associations Now family—Julie, Sam, Ashwin, Rasheeda, Ernie, Mark, and the countless other contributors, including many of you, who are the primary sources of great ideas that strengthen and inspire the association community.

Associations that seek to build ‘more human humans’ within their membership ranks will achieve longer-term success, and I believe, serve as a force for good in the world.

What a privilege this job has been. During my time here, I’ve interviewed countless association professionals, and I now consider many of you as close friends. I also traveled to the Middle East, met an NBA superstar, and reported from a hurricane command center—a big deal for a kid who always wanted to be a meteorologist.

But what really excited me about this job, and maybe the thing I’ll miss the most, are the stories of associations making changes in big and small ways to improve the member experience.

What I’ve learned is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for membership growth, but what I see many organizations doing, especially right now, is doubling down on human connections that bring people closer together.

If you’ve read ASAE’s ForesightWorks research, you might label this member engagement strategy as an attempt to foster “more human humans.”

What does that mean? In light of rapidly evolving technologies, such as artificial intelligence and workforce automation that are already disrupting associations, there are essential human capacities—to listen, empathize, think, and collaborate—that will continue to drive member engagement forward.

Associations that seek to build “more human humans” within their membership ranks will achieve longer-term success, and I believe, serve as a force for good in the world.

Before I leave you, I want to remind readers of a few central tenants of the member experience.

Identify member multipliers. When I started this job in November 2016, I invoked the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” principle as inspiration for associations seeking to build a member engagement strategy. I still believe every association has influential members, who frequently sit on the sidelines, but who also have the potential to be multipliers to other people, ideas, partnerships, and innovative projects.

It takes a new style of engagement to get inactive members active. Take for instance, a member hackathon event or conference designed and led by young people. These event concepts might break the mold of an annual meeting and increase member buy-in and collaboration.

Give thanks and listen. Never forget the power of gratitude and listening. Saying thanks is not only good manners, but it’s also physically rewarding and a fun way to grab members’ attention. I love the many examples from associations that think creatively around expressing thanks or listening to members’ concerns. It might be in the form of a gratitude book or the gift of in-person conversation—or even a platform where members can ask the CEO anything

Be respectful of people’s time and attention. Time is the ultimate currency of our lives, so if you’re going to ask someone to fill out a form, attend an event, or read an article, it better be worth their time. Always be thinking of people as busy five-minute members, and don’t forget about web design and usability principles, audience-centric content strategies, and omnichannel marketing to help grab their attention.

Take a stance. I probably don’t need to remind you that we live in extreme times of division predicated on fear, distrust, and uncertainty. Associations represent people with diverse interests, political leanings, and cultural values, but I believe they can unite people by acting boldly to address the world’s greatest challenges.

In the spring issue of Associations Now (due out in April), we’ll feature the American Planning Association, which deepened its policy stance on climate change after the United States announced its withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement last year.

Knowing when to act and speaking truth to power are responsibilities all associations must take seriously if they want to remain relevant and retain members now and into the future.

Especially today, on the day of the Industry Celebration of Life for ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, I am reminded by his words that serve as both a reminder and challenge:

“Associations have a huge responsibility to the world. We understand that our stakeholders extend beyond just the members and volunteers we represent, to the communities in which we live and work and the far regions of the world where some innovation or standard we perpetuate helps improve someone’s quality of life.”

Thanks again for reading, and I hope you stay in touch!

(baona/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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