In a recent presentation I gave on “Marketing Tools of Engagement for Associations,” the topic of CRM (customer relationship management) came up. It’s not unusual for associations to experience problems with CRM systems based on limited resources or access to updated software. Another complication stems from organizational silos where different departments work with different data bases that they protect with a strong sense of proprietary ownership. Whatever the situation with CRM software, understand that it affects member engagement.
So the real issue is whether the association is member-focused or systems-focused. Here’s an example of the latter type. I recently spoke with several business owners and executives who are long-term members of a professional association. They were quite proud of their history of membership involvement and lamented how member recognition has fallen through the cracks. One 25+ year member shared finding a special 15th anniversary certificate in the office files, the last such recognition sent by the association. Another member actually called her association to ask how it missed acknowledging her 30th year anniversary and was sent a certificate in response to her call. With member engagement a hot topic these days, you’d think an association would want to recognize such members as part of its membership retention efforts.
Sadly, I learned the association is unable to effectively recognize long-term members due to its membership data base. It relies on the member’s inception date, and the association’s problem with the system is that a person could have joined 15 years ago, but might technically have only been a member for 12 years because the person dropped out for a few years and then rejoined. As a result, long-term members are not routinely recognized; however, the association will send an anniversary certificate if a member asks.
This organization has decided to forgo the opportunity to acknowledge and reinforce long-term members, because it might recognize some folks who don’t deserve it. It’s clearly a “systems-focused” rather than a “member-focused” association, and any declines in membership are blamed on the economy.
Member retention by inertia is NOT an effective member engagement strategy!
Here are several short- and long-term suggestions for becoming more member-focused:
- “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” – G.B. Stern. Don’t make members “request” recognition – this really isn’t recognition at all, just “proof.” It’s also irritating to members if they have to prompt their association to recognize it. If the system is bad, fix the system or find ways to work around it. For example, randomly pick a date and recognize everyone who is a member on that date – even if that person hasn’t consistently been a member for five, ten or 20+ years, it’s likely s/he will appreciate the recognition.
- Take a critical look at your membership retention numbers. Most turnover occurs in the first few years of membership – is this the situation in your association? Can you segment turnover by length of membership to see where any other drop-off occurs?
- Seriously discuss how important members are to your association. In addition to being able to answer what “member value” you provide, also consider the value that members bring you in terms of brand strength and revenue.
- Make member engagement – all activities encompassing the member life cycle from recruitment to retention – a strategic and intentional focus of your association. It should be an ongoing agenda item in your staff meetings, board meetings, and strategic planning sessions.