10 tips to keep your association fighting fit

By Richard Gott posted Nov 05, 2017 01:07 PM


In this latest guest post Association Expert @Richard Gott looks at how associations are adapting their offerings to meet the needs of members today, and gives 10 practical tips to enable change.

Question: If you were able to completely rebuild your membership organisation (and its current systems and processes) from scratch, would it look the same as it does today?

I pitched that question to 10 association board members from a range of established associations based in the UK/Europe. All (without hesitation and a few with a knowing look) said no.

Many associations were set up decades ago, to meet the very different member needs of yesteryear.

Then, associations provided mostly intangible status-driven offerings. Benefits offered to members were physical (e.g. books/journals) rather than virtual, membership was exclusive (a club), rather than an inclusive community, and members were generally happy to ‘simply belong’.

Times have changed and we now have a big fight on our hands. We need to maintain relevance, meet higher member expectations, both online and offline, and deliver (tangible, measurable and positive) member-focused outcomes in a robust, structured and future-proof manner.

As my quick poll illustrated, many organisations understand the problem. Having spent more than 20 years working for leading membership organisations and associations, I believe associations have been held back for a mixture of reasons:

  • Unempowered senior management teams with low appetites for change
  • Operational consensus, driven via mechanisms that are geared-up for more strategic purposes
  • An aversion to risk in sometimes blame-driven cultures. i.e. Keep your head down.
  • A lack of understanding and insight into new technologies based on outdated knowledge and capability
  • Restrictive and sometimes unrealistic budgets

Appetite for change

It’s not all doom and gloom though: the association sector is starting to change.

The catalyst is a new generation of members with very different needs and expectations, which cannot be met by outdated legacy processes and systems. What’s more, external pressure from the forthcoming EU general data protection regulation (GDPR) is helping to focus our hearts and minds.

Members today demand instant value in return for membership and this needs to be delivered any time, in any place and on any device. There is an expectation of online self-service and personalised content aligned to their specific needs.

These demands have brought about a raft of inspirational digital transformation programmes, programmes to re-engineer member benefits, rebrands, re-naming and cultural and organisational change programmes. There has also been a marked shift towards improving member experience, engagement and journeys (online and offline).

This appetite for change is reflected in the number of membership organisations and associations that are searching for new digital platforms or CRM systems:

2015 – 3 in 10
2017 – 4 in 10

(From the Digital Excellence 2017 Research Summary Report)

As long as this increased appetite is fully aligned with appropriate budget and resource, forward thinking organisations will achieve ‘fit for the future’ status.

10 tips to stay fighting fit

Associations that are ‘fighting fit’ share the following 10 key traits:

  • They transition from annual to rolling membership subscription scheme types
  • They increase the uptake of flexible methods to opt out of membership-fee collection (including incentives)
  • They automate key membership subscription communications and emails
  • They adopt a CMS that generates dynamic content linked to online behaviour/interaction
  • They adopt of a more powerful industry-standard AMS
  • They unify systems and processes that streamline core functions and operations
  • They offer products and services in value-driven ‘packs’ (enabling wider cross and upsell)
  • They take a structured approach to online social networking/campaigns
  • They take a robust and structured approach to optimising member engagement
  • Staff are given clear, measurable & achievable targets, goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).

I hope that you enjoy reading this article and look forward to hearing your thoughts/feelings in the US.

1 comment



Nov 05, 2017 03:48 PM

Richard, thanks for sharing these thoughts and helping UK association professionals address those challenges.  Looking forward to connecting with you further here on HUG and through the MemberWise Community for organisation pros in Great Britain.