We’ve heard it before, and we’ll likely hear it again: Membership-based organizations are struggling. To survive, they will have to undergo a major upheaval. Social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, offer a venue for networking and knowledge sharing among like-minded people that were once exclusive to chapter meetings. Individuals can connect and engage on their own time, anytime. But this doesn’t mean the dismantlement of the model. It means re-evaluation.
The top-down perspective in associations isn’t about control, but about facilitation, focus and organization. Headquarters must continue to be the innovators in integrating these platforms to traditional efforts to facilitate the change the mission aims for.
Having spent the last two years working with this type of organization, battling a steadily declining (and aging) membership, I have worked to strategize ways of countering it. But one of the big problems is attracting younger members. Studies are finding younger generations (often referred to as Millennial, born roughly between 1982 and 1995) are not as interested as their predecessors were in affiliating with associations.
But since their beginnings, these types of organizations gave a sense of belonging and connectedness to tackle problems close to them. I wholeheartedly believe there still is a strong place for such organizations in today’s society. Here are a few tips to better prepare for the battle:
Improve your association’s value proposition.
ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership conducted a survey on people’s decisions to join associations, highlighting this key. What space are you filling in the world of associations? Be clear and concise about what your association can provide. Create a strong differential between you and your competitors and peers. Also, it is critical to be the first go-to resource. Be on the forefront of your topic and a catalyst for connecting insight, expertise and resources.
Tailor your offerings.
Don’t use blanket statements when addressing your targeted audience. Do your research. Make sure your programming fills a unique need and evolves with their needs. Provide the overall message, but tailor what you can provide in ways that most appeal to them.
Recognize the work of existing members.
Devise a recognition program for members. Giving awards to members for their professional accomplishments within the area of your non-profit organization is a great way to gain additional recognition in communities. It’s also encouraging for those recognized to continue doing great things and incentivizing for others to step it up.
Work your volunteers.
People need to recognize that they are still needed and their actions are relevant. Enthusiasm takes off with active involvement in activities; this could be event planning, writing, or presenting. Remind them that they are key to the overall success of the association.
Mobilize your volunteers.
You can only do so much networking over the internet. So continue to make a visible presence in the community. This could mean connecting with other organizations in the area to do a community-based volunteer work.
Embrace social media. Social media have changed the once-valued exclusivity that associations provided members, which forces us to look for innovated ways to amplify knowledge sharing for our organizations. Evaluate the role social media could play to support your network and promote member-only events or activities. [More information on how nonprofits can leverage social media.]
Remember, it’s most important to be open to new ideas. That said, are there any additional tips you can offer?
Merri Shaffer is a graduate student in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Georgetown University. Her work experience includes policy and communications work in the nonprofit sector. You can connect with Merri on Twitter.