Monday, January 9, 2012

Two Key Questions for Associations & Nonprofits: Who do you serve? Who do you want to serve?

I’m volunteering with a small association that seems to be “dying.” Membership, meeting attendance and revenue all have declined in four of the last five years.

In some preliminary discussions, some have asked whether the historical name of the organization has become a barrier to getting new, younger professionals to join the organization.

As I wrote back on December 19, current board members have outlined why they are a member and what they value from the association.

Of course, potential members don’t serve on the board and therefore don’t have a voice in the discussions.

Which brings me around to the two key questions regarding association management:
1) Who do you serve?
2) Who do you want to serve?

As Boomers begin to retire and Millenials emerge as the largest generation in the workforce, these become fundamental questions of association management.

Managing our organizations the same old way won’t cut it during this transition of generations. In “The End of Membership As we Know It,” Sarah Sladek has done a great job in framing the challenges and providing suggested solutions.

As association executives, we may want to steal a page from content marketers such as Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute. Joe and others stress the importance of developing clearly defined “personas” of your target audiences.

Many in association management mistakenly assume all members and prospects are alike. After all, they are all in the same industry or profession.

But, we are mistaken!

Members and prospects are not the same. And, don’t have the same interests, wants and needs nor value the same things from a membership in their trade association or professional society.

That’s what I am now trying to share with the organization I am trying to help turnaround. 


There are at least four major distinctions among their members and prospects that influence what they want and what the association should offer:
  • Differences in geographic scope: local, statewide, regional, national, international
  • Differences in organization size: small, mid, large, mega
  • Differences in job functions: CEO, marketing/PR; finance; HR; professional development, etc.
  • Differences in demographics: age, gender, ethnicity, career (early entry to pre-retirement), etc.
Where members and prospects “fall” within these major categories greatly influences what value they discover (or don’t find) from your association’s offerings.

Providing one standard set of benefits/services to all members makes member recruitment and retention difficult. That’s what this small association is doing and that is a major reason that they have been slowly dying.

We’re working on developing four or five personas within this organization’s prospects. Next step will be developing programs and services that meet the needs of each of those personas.

If your association or nonprofit is struggling with membership, you may want to explore identifying the various personas within your prospect list.

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