Members want us to solve problems that they can’t solve for themselves – Greg Melia, Director of Membership for ASAE at MASAE’s 2015 mid-year conference
Of course he is right. This is the essence of an association. It’s actually the essence of all successful organizations for-profit and non-profit. We solve the problems that nag our members, problems that no one else cared to solve or could solve.
It sounds simple doesn’t it? The trouble is, many associations are losing members because they are no longer solving problems that members can’t solve for themselves. Professionals can connect to each other via LinkedIn. Industry articles are published for free on the Internet. Even vendors are conducting industry benchmarking surveys much like the ones we publish and they are hosting conferences too.
Focus on What We Do
Associations have this-is-what-an-association-is-itis. Associations have members, an annual conference, a directory and some kind of publication. Associations also may conduct benchmark surveys, lobby, train, certify or mentor. This is what associations do. Sometimes we get so focused on the narrow scope of what we do we forget the flip side, which is what do our members really need? What problems are confronting them today? What issues are they facing now? What trends are coming in the near future that worries them the most?
We all tend to focus on what we do not always the problem at hand. The trick is to start thinking of members first. We need to understand them better, talk them more, learn what they care about and what they are afraid of and take every opportunity to put ourselves in their shoes.
Reaching for the Wrong Thing
Sometimes associations hear about the latest trend in technology, a way others are raising funds with sponsorships or in isolation they ideate an innovative benefit. We hope the new offering will save us. The problem is we’re focused on the wrong thing. We’re focused on launching a product to bring revenue into the association, the problem is this may not be a product our members find of value.
In a panic associations may try to solve the wrong problem. They focus even more on what is best for the association and not on what is best for members. We see this priority flip in association marketing, innovation and strategy all the time.
Members will readily tell us if there is a value problem with the core offering. They will even tell us what problems they need to have solved (which are the building blocks for our innovations of the future). We just have to ask them.
Afraid to Start
There are lots of reasons to defend the status quo and most of them boil down to being afraid to start. How long will it take? How much money will we spend? How much of my time will I have to devote to this? What if it fails? This is difficult stuff. Not starting is the biggest barrier for most organizations. There’s no sure fire way to overcome this but here are a few ideas:
- Take some risk out of the process by making member insight driven decisions.
- Start with small innovation projects and changes, practice, fail, win and then take on bigger innovation projects and changes.
- Surround ourselves with association peers that are not only hoping to survive but are intent on thriving. We can learn from each other, share best practices and support each other.
The concept sounds so simple. Solve problems for members that they can’t solve for themselves. In reality I realize that for most associations this means going back into startup mode. I know first hand that startup mode is uncomfortable, uncertain and risky. Startup mode is also energizing, offers amazing learning and is rewarding.
Let’s find a problem for members that they can’t solve themselves and solve it for them.