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Who needs members?

3 min read

The Victorian Chapter of Australian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) recently hosted an informative discussion about growing, keeping and servicing membership, which was lead by the President of AuSAE and CEO of the Mathematical Association of Victoria, Simon Pryor. Third Sector recently caught up with him for a recap of what was discussed.

Your association structure shapes the membership imperative
Mr Pryor observes that many in the association sector take it for granted that membership growth should be a given key performance indicator for managers.

“This needn’t be so. Consider the type of organisation you manage, its purpose and structure. Oftentimes, chasing membership can be distraction,” he says.

“It is a heck of a lot more important to keep members than to recruit new ones. High ‘churning’ or turnover rates are a bad sign.”

A further consideration is that an organisation dedicated to the provision of services has the option of providing those services in a competitive commercial environment rather than a more traditional ‘members only’ operation.

“That’s a whole new can of worms for the not-for-profit sector to consider. I’ve heard of associations choosing to divest themselves of membership because they believe that the commercial paradigm is better understood and supported by people in the industry they aim to serve.”

Valuing members – how much do you need them?
“Not enough association managers ask this question,” says Mr Pryor.

He proposes that a simple analysis of the association you run can help determine just how hard you and your board should work to generate more members and keep the ones the association already has.

He recommends using simple measures to determine just how many potential members there may be in the industry or profession your association serves.

The process of growing and keeping a membership base
Chasing and keeping members is a continual process, says Mr Pryor, and this means that as well as providing a great service or product, organisations also need to be planning, actioning, evaluating, reporting and reviewing processes and procedures for dealing with members and recruitment.

When organisations are looking at membership recruitment, Mr Pryor recommends they think about the following:

  • What are your lead generation opportunities?
  • Are you database-driven? If not, then you probably need to be.
  • What is the organisational culture like? Does everyone figure recruitment is something they can and should do?
  • Are you visible to prospective members? Are you interesting to them? Can they see the value in your offer?
  • How easy is it to ‘close the sale’ (become a member)?
  • Who does most of your recruitment? Traditionally one person or group is responsible for this, but at the MAV Mr Pryor says he has found that he needs to involve all staff and on occasions volunteers as well.

Retention of members is paramount for associations and will require considerable attention and a significant allocation of an association’s resources says Mr Pryor.

“To retain members, you need to have a membership relationship process. It is all about service, service, service, communicate, communicate, communicate,” he stresses.

“For a good retention rate, you need a good membership relationship process and the association must not only be great, but be seen to be great as well. Renewal must be easy, in your face and involve the anxiety of missing out, of no longer being part of the family.”

To be the best association you can be, Mr Pryor also says it is imperative that you really know your members. The MAV recently undertook a big survey of its members but Mr Pryor says he now favours smaller, more frequent surveys.

The last word
Mr Pryor said that his presentation to AuSAE in Victoria had been a distillation of common sense accrued over many years as an association executive.

“This isn’t rocket science and I think we have all attended sessions run by people like Steve Bowman, John Peacock, Belinda Busoli and Damien Smith where they stress similar messages,” says Mr Pryor.

So why say it again?

“Well, because people need to understand that your association’s membership efforts must be continual and as association managers we have a responsibility to help establish, maintain and monitor the process for keeping current members and growing the membership base.”

And as for the originality of these ideas? “Look, if anyone recognises something in what I say as one of their ideas or observations, it may well be because it is. I can make no great claims for originality here – but at least I can report upon what others have taught me, leavened with the experience gained through the practical application of their teaching.”

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