A Bold Approach to Membership Aims for Growth, Recognition

Streamlining its offerings by sunsetting nonstarters and focusing on what really matters to its community is one association’s optimistic, long-game strategy for confronting a post-pandemic world.

When it comes to membership, there are times when it’s important to put a higher level of investment back into member benefits and resources. That time is now for Christina Lewellen, CAE, executive director of the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS), as the group emerges relatively unscathed from the pandemic.

Last year, when trying to create a 2021 budget in the midst of the pandemic, Lewellen used a green, yellow, red system to put a dollar figure on the anticipated member renewal rate. The system paid off, and ATLIS ended up six figures ahead of where the team thought they would be. “It feels like now is the perfect time to be aggressive about membership,” she said.

A low-cost data cleanup, a new online community, and a revamped print magazine are among the bold updates the group is tackling.

Low-Cost Data Cleanup

ATLIS is a young organization, which grew very fast and then hit a plateau. Lewellen, who took over as executive director two years ago, realized its contact list had grown stale and needed fresh names and a new context. First up? She brought in a paid intern to make sure the group’s data was clean because she knew when the organization emerged from the pandemic, communicating effectively with the community would be essential.

Lewellen trained the intern how to manage the database so she could make sure email addresses and contact information were correct. If there were bad addresses or bouncebacks, the intern went in and did the hard work of scrubbing the information.

“It wasn’t easy, it was tedious, and it took all summer to complete, but that was an investment I knew we had to make,” Lewellen said. “We don’t have an endless budget, but if you’re willing to invest the time, you’ll find a solution.”

Valuable Resources

During the pandemic, ATLIS started hosting town halls, which brought people together for opportunities to crowdsource solutions. Lewellen’s team realized they had tapped into an organic, fast-paced resource that members needed. At the same time, community platform provider Higher Logic came out with a pared-down, less expensive product that offered two online community discussion boards, which was the right fit for ATLIS.

Lewellen also revamped the organization’s print academic journal and transformed it into more of a trade publication, which she views as a vehicle for membership recruitment and retention.

The magazine will highlight people in the industry through profiles and photographs and will also feature a supplier directory. During the pandemic, Lewellen noticed that people were sharing supplier information on spreadsheets, so she saw an opportunity to create a new resource.

In addition, ATLIS plans to leverage the brand from the print magazine redesign and use the same name—Access Points—for the online community. “The idea is to keep the conversation going based on the thought leadership in the magazine and transition the conversation to a platform that is more sustainable coming out of the pandemic,” she said.

Here’s the surprise: Both the new print magazine and the online community are open to the public and are not member-only benefits. When the ATLIS community gets together, they tend to espouse the benefits of the organization, so the association decided to make the community boards open to the public to “let the community sing our praises for us,” Lewellen said. And when they click on links for more information, that will lead to resources that are behind the member wall.

“We have to be disciplined and make sure if we’re giving it away for free, there’s always a bridge to a paid ATLIS member benefit,” she said.

The bold changes are aligned with ATLIS’s successful emergence from the pandemic. “We can’t just bang our heads against the wall hoping for different outcomes with the same set of products,” Lewellen said. Playing the long game and really focusing on products and services that are making an impact on the community is a priority.

“We’re hammering it hard, making sure people are aware of who we are and that we’re growing,” she said.

(erhui1979/DigitalVision Vectors)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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