Survival of the Fittest: It’s Time to Rethink How Your Association Competes for Members

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Published work involves contributions from multiple staff members in copywriting and editorial roles, with possible integration of AI technology


Build it and they will come is a business model that no longer works for associations. Gone are the days when workers looked solely to the professional society for their industry as the go-to source for information, networking, and development opportunities. Why pay for a membership when they can get most of what they think they need from LinkedIn or the Internet? To survive, associations must rethink how they recruit and retain members.

It’s easy to blame Millennials for disrupting the model that’s worked well for so long. Millennials take the rap for the decline of many traditional cultural bedrocks like department stores, structured work environments, and brick-and-mortar banks, to name a few. To add insult to injury, according to Pew Research, this group is the largest living generation in the United States. Their influence on our society is undeniable.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see the common thread isn’t that Millennials are set on changing everything. Rather, it’s that they’ve embraced advances in technology that coincided with their transition to adulthood. When you’ve always had a world of information at your fingertips, your expectations for immediate access are set pretty high. Does your association have what it takes to compete for their attention?

Challenge Accepted

There’s some good news. Associations are still regarded as a trusted source. A Millennial conferencegoer at a recent industry event told us she likes attending association-sponsored events because she doesn’t “need to worry about the motivation behind what’s in the content.”

Bingo! The answer to engaging and motivating the next generation of members lies in showing them what your organization provides that they can’t get anywhere else. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to make it happen. But, to survive – or even better, thrive – it’s time to up your game and make some adjustments.

Making Connections

Convenience is what LinkedIn and other online information outlets have going for them. A few clicks and your screen is filled with options for industry updates, continuing education webinars, Twitter accounts, and other seemingly relevant resources.

What’s missing are the opportunities to make real, deep connections with other people in an industry, especially for new people just joining the profession. That’s where associations have the advantage. It’s time to showcase your expertise and deep industry knowledge in compelling ways. It’s time to stake your claim.

Member or Customer?

The first step is to examine how you think about your membership. Instead of looking at them as industry professionals who will automatically seek you out, it may be better to approach them as customers. That requires diving into member and prospect data to learn everything about them. What they do, what they want, what products they’re buying. You can bet that the corporate world is deeply focused on customer data.  There’s no reason that associations shouldn’t be thinking the same way. Customer data is what will allow you to tailor your association’s programs, services, and content to meet the desires of the customer segments in your membership. Even better, you’ll be able to customize outreach to members based on their interests or preferences for how they prefer to receive information from you.

Maybe you’ll discover mentorships are especially important to recent graduates. Can you provide introductions to more experienced members willing to help? Or, perhaps there is a segment that isn’t ready to commit to full membership but wants to attend a conference. How can you make it easy for them to participate?

Shifting priorities isn’t always easy. But, unless your association is willing to adapt, you risk becoming obsolete. Grab your chance now to stay at the top of the food chain.



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