Sunday, July 29, 2012

Using Stories and Member Perceptions to Shape Your Association’s Strategic Planning Process

Guest Post by Jim Schnurbusch, founder of OrgStory 

You’re a board member of an association and you’ve been asked to describe the benefits members receive and why your association would be attractive to those for which it’s intended. 

You can respond to that question, can’t you? Of course you can – you certainly know what you think would be the pat answers (if you’re in trouble you can always go to your association’s web site to find copy points) – probably something like, “great education and networking resource, terrific lunch meetings” – sound familiar? 
But how do you know – really know – how to answer these questions? How do you know – really know – that what your association shares on its website really addresses the questions? In this day and age where associations of all types are being challenged to find relevancy, membership value that enhances retention and organizational benefits that enhance recruitment, your association has to stop referring to “what it’s always said and does” and find out what members and prospects want it to be. 

The St. Louis Society of Association Executives (SLSAE), using an outside facilitator, tackled this issue through a unique process called “StoryCrafting” which uses stories and members perceptions to shape not just messaging, but the entire strategic plan. Rather than continue to “tell” what it thought were the reasons members stayed and prospects came, SLSAE started by listening and asking members about value and prospects about what they wanted from the association. 

What SLSAE discovered was that the aspects of member value the board and “elder statesman” of the organization found most appealing weren’t appealing to newer members or the association’s prospects. SLSAE also discovered it needed to reposition and reformat its approach to meetings and content to be relevant to today’s association leaders. 

Through this discovery, SLSAE is in the midst of a total “relaunch” of the association – including mission, vision, name and every element of its brand reflected in every aspect of its overall marketing efforts including programs, dues and communications. 

While it’s not “rocket science,” your association can do the same thing to make certain it is relevant and provides value to its membership – and, is attractive to its prospects. 

Start with board and leadership perspectives to provide a benchmark. Then, go listen and ask membership and prospects. What you’re certain to find out is that there are “gaps” (sometimes significant) between what your association provides and what members want. 

And, after their first answer, keep asking “What else?” 

Sustainable, future success for your association comes from addressing the wants. 

Jim Schnurbusch is founder of OrgStory which engages with nonprofits to help them discover, define, develop and deliver the right stories that lead to the right outcomes which often include increased membership, the creation of earned revenue paths and greater financial support, clarity of communications, stronger programs, heightened visibility or simply, an enhanced understanding and reputation of an organization.

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