Connecting the Dots: Communicating Association Strategy to Your Members

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Over the past several years, our team has conducted member research studies for more than 55 associations.  Because we have done so many, we are not just able to give our clients information on how they are doing but benchmarks about how they stack up against other similar organizations.

It’s probably not a surprise to you that our data shows one of the major influencers of member satisfaction (and an area that many associations struggle with) is members’ sense that they influence the agenda of their association. The average rating across all of the associations we have worked with is just 63% and if we look at just professional associations, the average drops to 58% - clearly this is an area many associations need to work on.

This was the case at a planning session I was part of earlier this month. When we looked at the research, we found that the association was performing at a similar level to other organizations, overall; however:

  • The association scored below-average in members’ sense that they drove the agenda, even though the organization conducted a member survey and engages actively and regularly in a number of member outreach and engagement activities;
  • The data also suggested that members were not highly aware of what the association leadership was doing; and,
  • Members clearly expressed a desire for more information about the association’s strategic activities

In cases like these, one of the key underlying issues is often communication.  Most associations seek member feedback. Many take this feedback into account in their planning activities….but if this information doesn’t get back to members, all that hard work will have been for nothing.

The challenge is that strategic planning can be messy...unfortunately it is also a subject that causes some people to yawn and others to run for the hills.  This is probably because too many members who ask about their association’s strategic activities are directed to a brick-sized annual report or other similar document posted on the association website.

This in mind, there are a number of effective ways to communicate your association’s strategy as an ongoing means to keep members in the loop about what is happening and how their needs and priorities drive the agenda. With a little creativity and alignment, these can be distributed using any and all of your communications vehicles, from direct mail, eblasts and newsletters to social media. The keys are to communicate regularly, keep it short and sweet…and to craft messaging so that members are excited as the leadership team about rolling up their sleeves to make the strategy happen. Here are a few examples:

  1. The One-Page Strategic Plan: The one-page strategic plan enables anyone to see at-a-glance who you are, what you do, what your priorities are and how this is shaped by the needs of your members and other key stakeholders. Whether it is an infographic, hierarchical chart or spreadsheet, making it clear how member feedback has been incorporated is critical
  2. The Member Communiqué: Following any initiative that involves seeking member feedback and/or significant planning, it can be extremely effective to craft a succinct member communication that tells members that you sought their feedback and that shows them how you used their feedback to drive your planning process
  3. Updates and Report Cards: Reporting back to members on a regular basis on how you are doing relative to the goals you set is an important piece when it comes to bringing members into the loop and keeping the leadership and staff accountable for their performance in executing the plan
  4. Tooting Your Own Horn: All of the association’s activities should be aligned with the strategic plan and the leadership should not hesitate to toot the association’s horn about this at every opportunity. Whether it is a casual conversation with a member, tweeting out updates on your progress across different initiatives, or having someone present a 30-second summary when kicking off an education or networking event, the message should demonstrate how members are driving the agenda and communicate how the association is progressing relative to the goals it has set

Would you like more information on this topic? In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting some tools and templates you can use in your own association or other not-for-profit.  Please consider subscribing for updates using the widget at the bottom of this site so that you don’t miss out!