Through case studies, anecdotes, and data, veteran association expert Tony Rossell paints a detailed picture of the resilience and necessity of associations, now more than ever.
Mark Twain famously quipped when his obituary was erroneously published, “The report of my death is greatly exaggerated.” A new book, Membership Recruitment, references that quote as a parallel for the dire predictions about the end of associations and makes a compelling case otherwise, highlighting their vital role and the central force powering their missions and growth: membership.
The author, Tony Rossell, senior vice president at Marketing General Incorporated (MGI), began the book before the pandemic, but he says his respect and appreciation for associations grew even more when he saw them in action as the COVID-19 crisis surged.
One example: The American Nurses Association responded quickly to nurses’ needs and developed on-demand COVID-19 webinars free to all nurses—not just members. ANA had 190,000 people attending its webinars around the world last year.
“It was literally saving people’s lives,” Rossell said. “It really brought home to me that associations are doing incredible work.” And his commitment to sharing the impact of associations became even stronger. “There’s power in membership,” he said.
Rossell points to years’ worth of data published by MGI showing a correlation between successful membership recruitment and overall organizational growth. Each new member who joins an association creates a compounding effect, he said. They bring in recurring dues revenue and generate more nondues revenue than other customers. Members drive the mission, enhance networking, support advocacy, and generate content. In short, he said, “they build community.”
The value of membership is exemplified in the for-profit world, with companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Costco using the membership model successfully to drive revenue and growth. In the book, Rossell narrows in on Harley Davidson, which established the Harley Owners Group to connect its customers. Like an association, HOG charges membership dues and has automatic credit card renewals, a magazine, a newsletter, chapters, meetings, and 1 million members around the world.
“If membership doesn’t work,” Rossell said, “then there are a lot of companies going in the wrong direction.”
The Road Ahead
Despite the challenges of the past year—and the ones that are likely ahead—Rossell predicts the overall trend for associations is positive. People are going to come away from the ordeal of last year and recognize that they need community and their association to advocate for their profession or industry.
“There’s a real opportunity for membership growth in 2021,” he said. But “you don’t renew yourself to growth, you recruit yourself to growth.”
That requires strong and consistent messaging. In response to the challenges they have faced staying in touch with members and prospects, associations have been expanding their communication channels, Rossell said. They are still calling, mailing, and emailing renewal notices, and texting is on the rise. He predicts text messaging will “explode” as a channel in the next couple of years as a way for associations to send quick calls to action, such as reminders to renew.
“I believe in the essentialness of the association world and their mission to make an impact on the world,” Rossell said. His new book is a testament to that conviction.