Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Build it & They Will Come is a Field of Dreams for Association Management

Many of us recall the popular movie Field of Dreams and two memorable lines:
• Build it and they will come.
• Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

Over the last few decades, I’ve watch many associations use the “build it and they will come” as an organizational and membership strategy.

The build it and they will come strategy assumes all members/prospects have the same needs.

Bull roar!

Whether you are a trade association (with companies as members), a professional society (with individual members) or a nonprofit foundation (with donors), all members, donors and prospects are different.
  • Professional societies might of, say, dentists would include big practices in small towns and small practices in big towns. They don’t have the same problems nor the same needs from their professional society.
  • Foundation donors include major donors, annual givers and seldom givers.
  • Trade association members include big and large companies, local and global companies.
Back in the 1980s, I was talking with a prospective member who said, “I want to join but I don’t want to get the weekly newsletter.” I mentioned this to our membership director who responded “all members get the weekly newsletter so he’ll need to get it.” I said “but he doesn’t want it and he won’t join if we send it to him.” The membership director responded “All members get the newsletter.” So, we lost a potential member because we could not tailor our services to the needs of our prospects.

We’ve been looking at retirement houses in Florida. What is frustrating is the limited number of options and nearly no options on the structural “shape” of the house. So, we have not purchased because we can’t find the “perfect house” ... something we were able to do 12 years ago when the builder gave us the opportunity to change layout and other features to suite our tastes.

So, what is an association management professional to do?

Here are three ideas for your consideration:
  • Know your audience (current and potential members) ... you should develop “buyer personas” for each of the different segments within your profession or industry. In her sessions on content management, Becky Rasmussen of AMR Management Services, has a great slide (above) depicting two Christmas Tree farmers and how different they are. 
  • Abandon the “one size fits all” membership philosophy. Consider a “membership of your choice” program that allows members and prospects to “buy” various member services/benefits that fit their needs.
  • Consider multiple “tracts” within your conferences ... designed to fill the very different needs of your different buyer personas.

So, what do you think?  Please share your ideas and practices here in the comment section.


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