5 Elements Every Association Needs to OWN in 2017

WOW! What a year 2016 has been! There was so much excitement and emotion in so many areas of people’s lives. Individuals and businesses in this country have their eyes wide open, looking for any organization that can give them H.O.P.E. for their life to be meaningful, stress free, and prosperous in the future.

Now that the dust has settled with the election, people can get back to work and make choices for their profession, career, or companies that will vault them into the future. The question for your organization is, “Can your organization be that body of H.O.P.E. in your industry that people latch onto and say, 'You have what I want...take me into the future.'”

The H.O.P.E. I speak of is what I feel everyone in any industry is looking to tap into. H.O.P.E is a long-standing acronym that I came up with for 4-characteristics that people are looking for in an association. It is an association with:

  • Hell of an Attitude

  • Optimism

  • Passion

  • Energy

The combination of these 4-characteristics inspire people everyday that the future is going to be OK, and it’s going to be OK because our association is here to fight for your cause or business model. Together we will win the future. As Russell Crowe stated in The Gladiator, just before chaos broke out in the Roman arena, “Whatever comes out of these gates, we have a better chance of survival if we work together. We stay together, we survive.”

The same holds true for every industry in America. The industries that work together will create an environment where their members can thrive in productivity, profitability, and quality of life. By members thriving, it will create an excitement for others to join, to get engaged in programs, and volunteer to be a part of something greater than themselves.

For this to happen, it is crucial that every association have 5-elements in 2017; ensuring that they draw their industry closer, and be seen by them as the H.O.P.E. that can create the difference in people's lives, productivity, profits, and quality of life. The following are those 5-elements I feel every association will need to thrive in 2017 and beyond:

#1: Know Members Friction, Anxiety, and Stress

Every business model has some level of friction, anxiety, and stress in the areas of operations and commerce. It is this friction, anxiety, and stress that leaves any industry open to “Uberization” happening as it did in the taxi industry. Associations who can identify the friction, anxiety, and stress in their industry's business model will learn the areas where they can drive the highest value to their members. Find the solutions to your industry’s friction, anxiety, and stress, and you will find the golden hand-cuffs to membership and engagement in non-dues revenue.

#2: Clear and Focused Value Proposition

Once you have identified the friction, anxiety, and stress, you now have the opportunity to build a value proposition that is laser-focused on providing solutions to those problems. To be successful in 2017, associations will need to move away from the traditional, grandiose, strategic plans that have many elements that mean nothing to the day-to-day success of a member, but rather provide a “Value Proposition Strategy” that hits at the heart of member’s every day success. This plan should contain a “power statement”, surrounded by 3-6 core elements that are solutions for your member’s friction, anxiety, and stress. Your value proposition should be a visual that can easily fit onto any business card as a presentation for “Why Belong.” This visual should be able to be clearly communicated by your Board and staff. I’ve included two examples from Value Proposition Strategy sessions that I facilitated in 2016:

#3: Streamlined Communication Strategy

All members give and receive data in different ways. Many associations are trying to force electronic and digital formats onto members who really prefer print. Most associations only have a 30% success rate of members opening their eNews, so why would you force digital? This means you are missing the mark with 70% of your members hearing the message of your value proposition with every electronic communication sent. It is very important, in my opinion, that associations do it all, including: print, concise/consolidated weekly eNews, social media, and video. We are just a 3.5 person staffed association, with members in 40 states and 6 countries, and given that we are doing it, I know it can be done. All of your communications should be designed at providing content that is meaningful to your members, and connects the dots of your value to your members. You should be driving content that hits on the friction, anxiety, and stress in their business models. Don't try and force everyone into the cheapest cost media. Have a goal to have 100% of your members always seeing your message in whatever way is most comfortable for them.

#4: Leverage Technology & Video to Grow Without More People

As it becomes harder and harder to find good, qualified people to work, it is important for associations to have an effective technology strategy, combined with video for all areas of operations and member communications. Whether it is online learning, data management, financial benchmarking, communications, or meeting management, associations should seek to do as much as possible with technology if you are to maximize your growth and member service opportunities. Video will play a huge role as it will become an associations #1 training and communications tool. As you look to expand services, always ask yourself 3 questions:

- What is desirable to members?

- What is viable in the marketplace?

- What is possible with technology?

#5 Plan to Engage Gen X...Build Awareness with Millennials

For the last few years, everyone has been writing so much about the Millennials and how they

are not "joiners". How if they don’t join, no one is going to be there to replace the Baby Boomers who are beginning to retire. What people don’t understand is the demographic storm that we are currently in. As of this year, the oldest Baby Boomers are turning 72 and oldest Millennials are turning 32. There are 78 million Baby Boomers, and over 100 million Millennials. With over 28 million more Millennials than Baby Boomers, the opportunity is very bright for the future. However, you have 8-10 years before Millennials begin to join associations in mass. The reason Millennials are not joining is because many don’t have the discretionary income to join associations while in their twenties...Baby Boomers didn’t join in their twenties either. It wasn’t until Baby Boomers hit their thirties that they realized the importance of associations and had the money to join. Similarly, Millennials will join in mass over the next ten years, and those associations who have great value and offer an incredible member experience will be poised for this new growth. If associations are to see growth sooner, rather than later, it is imperative that you engage Gen X...now. They are 32-52, and are currently your leadership and members. However, there are 15% fewer Gen X’ers than Baby Boomers; meaning you have to recruit a higher number of them just to maintain your association numbers as Boomers retire. Knowing there are 15% fewer people in your pool of potential members today, and a record number of potential members coming in the future, it is imperative that you engage Gen X and build awareness with Millenials. If you only put emphasis on Millennials, you will lose Gen X's and have an uphill battle in the next 10 years as Millennials just begin to join. Get to know Gen X's now, and get ready for Millennials in the future.

If you and your association want to maximize your value and growth opportunities now and in the future, I encourage you to sit down with your team to discuss these five elements, and how you feel you rate on a scale from 1-10 in performance in each area. Design a plan, execute it with excellence in each area, and prepare to dominate the market.

Your members and industry deserve that type of tenacity in this ever changing economy.

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