All Member-Based Organizations Are Not Alike, But Many Face the Same Issues

Not all member-based organizations are the same. Some have mandatory membership, while others have voluntary enrolment. Some have local markets as their focus, while others play on a provincial, national or even international level. Yet despite these strong differences in structure, strategic purpose and scope, almost all these organizations face similar issues.

We know this because Framework works extensively with member-based organizations, at local, provincial and national levels. Common among the many issues these organizations face are:

  • Doing More with less. Seldom do member-based organizations operate in an environment that is blessed with unlimited resources. The management of these organizations are continually expected to surpass the performance of the previous year, and have to do so with budgets that do not keep pace with inflation. The demands of the membership increase every year, but the members’ appetite to pay more each year is limited at best.
    Many member-based organizations are struggling economically today because of the impact of the economy on their members as well as the increased expectations of their members. This ever shifting value equation makes it difficult for member-based organizations to plan for cost certainty and sustainability. As members put increased pressure on their associations to not increase fees, even at the rate of inflation, associations struggle to improve, or even to maintain, their service levels.
  • Increased expectations. The members of most member-based organizations now have access to an incredible variety of information sources. New technologies have not only enabled members to better understand their own markets, but to better understand expectations of their own clients. Consequently, members frequently have continuously increasing expectations of their own professional organization. This places economic pressure on member-based organizations because there is also the expectation that fees will not increase.
  • Increased competition for professional development dollars. Typically professional member-based organizations do not compete with other organizations or companies for the core products and services that they deliver to their members. However, they do compete in many of the professional development services they provide their members, and these services are often significant revenue sources for their organizations. For example, an organization offering its members a marketing professional development course competes with everyone else offering marketing courses, including many new online offerings of top tier post secondary institutions. This makes being price and content competitive increasingly difficult to do on an economically sustainable basis.
  • Disenfranchised Membership. Increasingly, Framework is seeing associations who are looking for advice or research to combat a feeling of disenfranchisement, disengagement or dis-connection from their membership, despite the organization’s hard work in reaching out to its members. This is one of the larger issued faced by member-based organizations, particularly those with non-mandatory membership. Our research indicates that there are two principle causes of this disengagement: members stating that they feel that they are unimportant to the association, and members stating that the association does not understand their needs. As a result, needs based segmentation, and segmentation in general are critically important.
  • Generational Theory. Many member-based organizations are facing dramatically different member needs than those they faced even as recently as a decade ago. The Millennial Generation has far different needs and expectations than any of the preceding generations who are still in the workforce, most particularly the baby boom generation. As organizations struggle to motivate and retain employees, they are looking for resource support in this area. Not only might younger members’ needs be different but, they may want their needs met in different ways than in the past.
  • Shifting demographics. A little reported but significant shift in demographics is the increased number of female members over male members in many professional member-based organizations. This trend is beginning to be reported at universities where professional schools are experiencing increasingly disproportionate demographic trends. In both the United States and in Canada universities are reporting a cross-over with there now being more female students than make. In fact, some universities are now actively recruiting male students in order to bring men’s enrollment rates in line with those of women. This in turn has implications for member-based organizations as they continue to understand and meet the expectations of their members.
  • Staffing retention. Member-based organizations often struggle to retain their staff, as they are not able to offer competitive salary and wage rates.
  • Association professionals. Many professional member-based organizations recruit for their senior positions within their own profession as opposed to from within the association profession. For example, a dentist may be chosen to lead a provincial Dental Association. However, despite being accomplished in the dental profession, the individual may not have the management and leadership skills required to lead a professional member-based organization.

So, what can be done? The answer is relatively straight forward, and can be easy to implement with experienced advice:

  1. Research. Conduct annual or biannual member engagement research projects so that changing member expectations are measured and understood.
  2. Segmentation. Use segmentation strategies that have been informed by fulsome research, to ensure that not all members are treated, or communicated with, the same way.
  3. Receptivity. Understand where your members fall on the receptivity scale, so that resources are focused on those members who are receptive to new programs, services, and concepts.
  4. Real World Strategies. Implement a marketing and communication plan that is both strategic and tactical, and that is based on research.

Framework works extensively with member-based organizations and through this work we have determined that there are common issues that are faced by most member-based organizations, and that these issues present as challenges as they work towards their strategic objectives.

For more on developing research-grounded strategies please contact Alec Milne or John Galloway.