The Future of Associations Is All About Connecting Members to One Another

Wesley Carr discusses bringing members together—and then getting out of the way.

There is one critical thing that all association professionals might not realize: Your association doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to your members.

So says Wesley Carr, director of stakeholder engagement for the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS). “Some people sneer at this, but the truth is that we are in the people business,” Carr says. “And facilitating connections and engagement between our members makes them better at what they do—and in turn makes our association stronger.”

Over the past 16 years, Carr has seen a simple correlation: “The more engaged your membership is, the higher your renewal rate is going to be.” While most associations make a big marketing push for renewals once a year, Carr believes that members are making up their minds way before that final registration link gets sent out. “The 11 months leading up to renewal time, that is when that decision is made. What has gone on for the past year informs the answer to the question: ‘Is this membership valuable enough to my career to continue?’”

For Carr and his team, the key to great engagement is offering continual opportunities for members to connect and contribute, and, as he says, feel like the association belongs to them.

“About 95 percent of the content that we produce comes from volunteers, so we utilize Higher Logic, which is a community and communications platform, to promote opportunities for volunteers to contribute,” he explains. “Through the volunteer offering, my department is able to manage the recruitment, training, and onboarding of volunteers for all of our different departments. That way we can make sure that our chapters continue to provide engagement opportunities for the regulatory affairs profession.”

When the pandemic hit, Carr says that the association worried about a drop-off in renewals and new memberships. “In tough times, a membership in an association is often the first thing on the chopping block,” he notes. “So to increase the value of our membership, our chapters started conducting free webcasts. To encourage people to participate, our speakers would post on Higher Logic community boards, and we sent out registration emails. We saw an incredible level of engagement amongst our members—some of whom hadn’t engaged with us in years.”

Another big initiative the association launched was a revamping of its member profiles, which had twofold benefits. “We enlisted 200-300 volunteers to help with this process, which helped us sort out and better understand the demographics of our membership. But it also helped the volunteers and the members reconnect with RAPS in a meaningful way. We sent out thank-you emails to all who participated and really drove home the message that this is for you and by you. This organization is yours.”

The message is clearly hitting home. In member surveys, the top benefits routinely include the Higher Logic-powered online community. “They love that they can hop online and instantly connect with 30,000 expert members around the world,” says Carr.

“I think that the ability to learn from other professionals with different perspectives is really what association management is all about right now,” says Carr. “Not too long ago, associations were the only place you could go for information. But now, with Facebook and the internet in general, there is so much information out there. So it becomes more about the people and empowering professionals to help one another, learn from one another, and teach one another. Those are the types of connections our technology allows us to make.”

Higher Logic, the industry-leading, human-focused engagement platform, delivers powerful online communities and communication tools to engage members at every stage of their journey. Higher Logic provides a robust engagement platform and strategic services with over a decade of experience in building personalized and scalable community engagement programs. We serve more than 3,000 customers, representing over 350,000 online communities with greater than 200 million users in more than 42 countries worldwide.