How the Blockchain Association Handled an Explosion in Member Growth

The relatively new trade group, founded in 2018, saw a major leap in member company growth in the past year—thanks in part to having built a member base that’s highly engaged with real-time communication.

A new association can be a petri dish of innovation. And when those innovations meet with a hot sector, the result can be explosive growth that other associations can learn from.

Such is the case with the Blockchain Association, which was founded in 2018 as an umbrella organization for a growing field of technologies enabled by the blockchain, such as cryptocurrency and decentralized finance.

As new uses for the blockchain emerged, including nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse, new types of members were drawn to the organization. In just a year, the association went from 25 corporate members to 70, supported by a team that has increased to 13 employees. Considering that the association started with just one employee—the group’s executive director, Kristin Smith—that in and of itself is a radical change.

“We just had to become so much deeper on some of the policy issues and simultaneously build out so many relationships,” Smith said. “I feel like we’re constantly in a state of reorganization on even little things, like operationally, ‘How do we manage the database? Is this the right person to do that? How are we onboarding members?’”

Two strategies in particular have helped the association adapt to this rapid growth while continuing to build member value.

Meet Members Where They Are With Your Communication Strategy

When the organization was smaller, it took a high-touch approach to engagement, talking with each member multiple times a week to discuss important policy matters. The member growth made that untenable, at least at its previous level.

“Now we’ve moved down to monthly calls with members and our teams and their teams,” Smith said.

But the tactic of high-density communication still made sense for the association’s members—people who are used to high-frequency communication and collaboration tools such as Slack and Google Docs, and who are versed in making big decisions in real time.

“It’s also a very communicative industry, public-facing,” she added. “If you go to Twitter, a lot of people in the crypto space are active on Twitter.”

The association adapted its strategy to better match the real-time communication mode of their members, with the secure chat tool Signal coming to the fore.

“We have member companies; within those 70 member companies, we have about 600 people on our email lists that worked for those 70 companies,” Smith said. “Of those, we have about 200 people that are all part of one massive Signal chat.”

The tactic makes sense for members, who are used to real-time communication that’s well-suited for work that’s often tethered to the rapid-fire environment of Capitol Hill.

I think people—crypto in particular, but really in any industry—they kind of want to know what’s going on in real time.

Kristin Smith, executive director, Blockchain Association

“I think people—crypto in particular, but really in any industry—they kind of want to know what’s going on in real time,” Smith explained. “We have to look back at our phones for news updates all day long. If the trade association can be kind of a first source, it’s something that’s really valuable to people, and it’s worth the cost of dues to have that steady stream of information.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for More Support From Your Members

It’s an unusual approach to growth, but it worked out especially well for the Blockchain Association: The organization asked for more dues from its members.

Smith said that for the association to achieve its goals—particularly goals around advocacy beyond the federal level—it will eventually have to increase its size even further.

With that in mind, the association took a different route to boosting revenue: It simply asked, in a manner similar to Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want approach from back in the day. Surprisingly, it worked.

“We did not raise dues, but we gave people the option to pay more, and so far about 70 percent of our members have committed to voluntarily giving us more money than we otherwise would have asked for based on the way that the dues structure was set up,” Smith said.

Part of the reason the pitch was successful, Smith said, is that it gave member companies ownership over the process of growth. Some larger donors even offered matching funds for those who were willing to offer more to the association.

“They’ve been excited about their feeling of participating and being part of the process, and it’s in turn coming back to us and allowing us to build out the team,” she said.

(VectorWiz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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