Is Association Member Engagement About Selling Stuff?

Is Association Member Engagement About Selling Stuff? Imagine the discussion that took place when an association’s founders first convened. Did they say: “Let’s go hire some staff and ask them to sell us stuff.” Likely not at all. Why? Intuitively, founders understood that people seek out others who have a common interest, and become most engaged with those who express appreciation for their contributions. Ultimately, Association founders recognized they could achieve more powerful outcomes collectively than individually.

Defining Strategic Member Engagement

selling stuffIn the eBook ( ), Strategic Member Engagement is defined as “Creating unparalleled and sustainable value by bringing people together in ways that they find meaningful and practical, because they perceive an ability to impact something they desire, individually and collectively.”


Christopher E. Laxton, CAE, Executive Director, AMDA,,The Society for Post Acute and Long Term Care Medicine applies principles of Strategic Member Engagement to keep his organization focused on the mission and future positioning. Leveraging a strategic board and focusing on the needs of the average member, Laxton encourages his Board to keep their eyes focused on the mission:

Is Association Member Engagement About Selling Stuff?

At the majority of associations, member engagement takes a back seat to fighting fires and meeting budget expectations. Few association executives describe it as a “differentiating strategy”, a “growth accelerator”, or “game changer”.

There are early indicators including AMDA, and NIRI (National Investor Relations Institute), ( of new ways to think about member engagement. Executives Like Laxton, and NIRI President and CEO Jeff Morgan are demonstrating the direct linkages between their efforts, member outcomes, and their association’s business model.

The free eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives upon request at,, and

Will Engagement Change the Association Conversation?


Moving away from selling and testing satisfaction with Association “outputs” to engaging members in knowledge sharing and collaboration is crucial. The process begins with a highly engaged and strategically focused Board.

Association CEO Moves the Needle

Understanding the complexities and realities facing Associations Christopher E. Laxton, CAE, Executive Director, AMDA,,The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, uses a strategic board approach.

Driving Toward Member Outcomes

Associations really get into trouble when internal discussions infer “we know what’s best for our members.” When members don’t feel that they can impact something that they care about, they form their own coalitions, forums, and online communities outside of the association. Knowing these pitfalls; Laxton and other CEO’s utilize a strategic board focus to ground their organizations in member outcomes:

Focus on Members’ Success

Highly engaged and strategically focused Boards have a very high correlation to Association’s operating results. Organizations with upward trending 3 year operating results report strategic boards and their CEO’s have strategic conversations about the needs of average members.

Will Engagement Change the Association Conversation?

For Laxton, strategic member engagement is a potent resource that positions his Association for long term impact. Notably, the member outcome focus sets the stage for AMDA members to contribute and collaborate in developing new solutions to achieve their objectives.

Does Member Engagement drive the Association’s business model? Although just eighteen months in his tenure, Laxton reports 6 years of operating deficits were replaced with a 6 figure surplus.

The free eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives upon request at

Is Your Association Positioned for the Long Term?


How to engage members has evolved over time, driven by numerous factors as associations and their members navigate the rapids of economic, technological, and political turbulence. Associations experience wide swings between the good times and trying desperately to identify new sources of short term revenues and to be seen as relevant.

Today’s Members

Corporate and individual members view their participation with associations through a very different viewing lens than when they had relatively fewer go to sources for information and knowledge sharing. In a knowledge economy, it’s about having just in time sources that help members drive business and professional outcomes. And to really value the information, members must be actively engaged. This is the new norm.

Long Term Impact: Strategic Member Engagement

With today’s new norm, how does your Association differentiate itself from all of the alternative sources to which your members have access? How do you have the information tonight for the question they need to answer tomorrow morning? How do you create a differentiating “experience” that makes members think of you first before they conduct a Google or Bing search for other sources? And critically, how do you build a connected community that positions both your organization and your constituencies for long term success? These questions are at the core of today’s confusion about “member engagement”.

Is Your Association Positioned for the Long Term?

positionedStrategic Member Engagement is really about long term, sustainable strategies to enhance your organization’s long term health. It is not about short term band aids. Strategic member engagement has huge implications for your competitive positioning and business model. In fact, for some associations, it can be a game-changing accelerator to your growth strategy.

The free eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives upon request at

eBook: How Associations Magnify Impact & Drive Long Term Value

long term value This eBook highlights key research findings highlighting how Strategic Member Engagement drives operating results. Vertical Leap Consulting, icimo, LLC, and Potomac Core Consulting provide a definitive framework to assist Associations drive impact and long term value with an eBook, “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement.”

The newly released eBook provides Association Executives with core concepts and 9 key principles driving strategic member engagement. These capabilities and alignment with member “up-at-night” issues are key elements of the eBook.

Growth Accelerator

“Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” reinforces that strategic member engagement is not about touchy-feely member interface, short term sales strategies, or administering tracking reports. Instead, says Vertical Leap Consulting’s President & Founder Steve Lane,, “It is a game-changing accelerator of Professional Society and Trade Association growth and positioning strategies.”

Power of Member Segmentation

Technology and data analytics also play a powerful role in the Strategic Member Engagement Process. According to Bryce Gartner, Founder and CEO of icimo, LLC,, “the power of segmentation provides limitless opportunities for Associations in how they engage members to drive value, and to understand the impact of each segment on their organization’s business model.”

Return on Member Engagement

“Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” provides a path to “member connectedness.” Organizations determined to increase their relevance in a hyper competitive Association environment will see “go to market capabilities” throughout notes Potomac Core President,,  Dan Varroney.  

eBook: How Associations Magnify Impact & Drive Long Term Value

This e-book incorporates results of The Strategic Member Engagement Survey conducted in October & November 2013 . The survey, which polled 307 executives of national/international trade associations and professional societies, is packed with valuable information.

“Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is now available for all Association Executives upon request at, and

Association Members Care About Outcomes

What happens when members don’t feel that they can impact something that they care about? They form their own coalitions, new Associations, and their own on-line communities. Since members care about “outcomes” for themselves, their organizations, their constituencies, and customers, the conversation will need to be changed. Strategic member engagement begins when Associations redirect the discussion from “outputs” to member “outcomes”.

outcomesThe process of moving from Association “outputs” to member “outcomes” begins with a highly engaged and strategically focused Board. It sets a considerably different context for strategic dialogue between the senior staff and board. This approach requires that Associations have sufficient insights into the external and operational challenges and opportunities of members; segment by segment.

Focus Volunteer Leaders on Member Success

High level boards that approach member outcomes as a convergence point accelerate an Association’s impact. At NIRI, , the National Investor Relations Institute, the board is all about strategy and outcomes, says Jeff Morgan, FASAE, CAE, President & CEO.

Board focus on the needs of the average member. Partnership with staff and conversations related to where the Investor Relations Profession connects NIRI to “member outcomes.”

“Outcomes” Trump “Outputs.” Providing a certification program at a crucial time in the Investor Relations profession makes NIRI that much more relevant to its global membership.

Association Members Care About Outcomes

outcomesOther CEO’s employ a similar approach. Christopher E. Laxton, CAE, Executive Director, AMDA,,The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, believes time focused on cultivating strategic boards is well spent. From his perspective, every minute that Association CEO’s invests in the Board can help deliver increased engagement and revenue growth.

Highly engaged & strategically focused Boards have a high correlation to Association operating results as noted in February 2014.

Additional information on Strategic Member Engagement and our eBook are available at no cost at

Durability: Association Strategic Member Engagement

Durability: Association Strategic Member Engagement. In a dynamic and rapidly changing global economy, Associations face competition and unpredictable business cycles. Rather than leverage short term sales cycles, some organizations are instead leveraging a longer term value added approach.

durabilityStrategic Member Engagement is an important resource helping Associations develop long term strategy and effective competitive positioning. For Jeff Morgan, President & CEO of NIRI (National Investor Relations Institute), building for the long term means “durability.” His focus is to consistently position his organization as a strategic ally and a more essential member resource.

3 Strategies Accelerating Engagement

It’s essential to understand how an association is currently impacting member objectives. This requires securing actionable data about member perceptions of their environmental and operational challenges. Through this process Associations obtain actionable data, understand member “up at night” issues, and assess culture to formulate products and services to address member outcomes.

NIRI  utilizes three strategies to accelerate Member Engagement:

 Actionable Data. Conducts impact surveys to understand its Association’s impact on key member outcomes.

“Up at Night” Issues. By member segment, learns desired future member outcomes and provides solutions matching these outcomes.

Culture. Over a six year time frame, NIRI transitioned its’ culture from a “me/you” focus to a “we” focused highly engaged solutions community.

Durability and Metrics

Morgan reports accelerated member engagement in key segments,  6% operating revenue growth, annual conference attendance 15%  higher than 2013, and 20% international membership growth.

Durability: Association Strategic Member Engagement.

Strategic Member Engagement is not about short term revenue growth, it’s about Long Term Association Strategy & Competitive Positioning. Through NIRI’s experience and our research ,we’re learning just how much of a driver strategic member engagement is for an association’s business model.

Additional information on Strategic Member Engagement and our eBook are available at no cost at


Getting Association Members to Stay

membersGetting Association Members to Stay. A lot of factors drive renewals, but what factors determine a decision to resign a membership? It might be perceptions of insufficient value, insufficient connection to business/personal objectives, or possibly an insufficient opportunity to have an impact. In other situations, members may not want bundled packages and they joined for a discount. In a knowledge based environment, Associations are challenged to find innovative approaches for members to contribute, have the ability to experience close peer interactions, and to also feel valued as a contributor.

Why Members Leave

In our survey of Strategic Member Engagement (, we asked executives to rate the frequency at which members leave for 11 potential reasons. Included in the top reasons that members leave are:

  • Insufficient connection to their business/professional objectives
  • Insufficient perceived value (ROI)
  • Joined only for a one-time purchase discount (e.g. meeting registration)

Three Key Building Blocks

Members feel more “connected” to those groups who value their knowledge contributions.  In addition, members especially most value those things in which they participate.

Building Blocks to Accelerate Strategic Member Engagement:

  1. Contribution.  Members see their opportunity to impact something they care about. Associations who provide these opportunities can move behaviors from being a “Recipient” of information to a “Knowledge Contributor.”
  2. Collaboration. Through ongoing community reinforcement, members experience increased value in what they perceive a “highly engaged solutions community.”
  3. Connectedness. As more contribution and collaboration “connectedness” to the association occurs, the Association moves from “casual priority” to “personal priority.”

Each building block helps reinforce why an executive should maintain their Association membership.

Getting Association Members to Stay

Accelerating strategic member engagement is really about creating opportunities and “experiences” to both contribute knowledge and feel valued; something that members don’t always find elsewhere.

Complete survey results and more information on Strategic Member Engagement is available at at


Is Your Association Focused on Member Outcomes?

member outcomesIs Your Association Focused on Member Outcomes? Members look to their Associations to deliver outcomes that address business and professional challenges. Organizations who are outcome driven effectively transition their focus away from selling and testing products and services to engaging members in things they care most about. The process begins with a highly engaged and strategically focused board. Their capability to understand and strategize about the needs of the average member can change the member engagement and operating performance dynamics of an Association.

External Focus Rules

Identify data that defines member external and operational challenges. Associations can utilize a host of platforms to secure this information including: member impact surveys, focus groups, social media, in person interviews, or other online community dialogue.

Member Impact

With many different alternatives available such as coalitions, new Associations, and online communities, it’s more important than ever to align strategies and execution to support member outcomes. If members determine their Association is not providing sufficient enough impact, they will go somewhere else.

Drive Member Value

Begin with a deliberate focus on member “outcomes” and then:

  • Leverage the board, focus on member success
  • Have strategic board discussions about helping members achieve objectives
  • Come to grips with the Association’s capacity to drive member “outcomes”
  • Engage members, help them contribute & collaborate in developing new solutions to achieve their objectives

Is Your Association Focused on Member Outcomes?

Is this in effective approach? The Strategic Member Engagement Survey results ( reports a highly engaged and strategic board makes a difference. Associations who report a “Very High” degree of board understanding and strategizing about average member needs report “upward” 3 year business trends in: Member Retention, Annual Operating Revenue, Paid Registrations at Primary Annual Meeting, and Timely Membership Renewals.

member outcomes

New Engagement Opportunity for Associations?

New Engagement Opportunity for Associations? Global Competition, political turmoil, and the digital economy are creating new opportunities for Associations and Professional Societies. Some organizations are leveraging external challenges to partner with their members to help them achieve business and professional outcomes. This type of “shared outcome” approach can help Associations move the conversation away from “what do I get for my dues?”

A Highly Engaged Solution Community

ACCA, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America,, works through ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) to develop industry standards for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and building performance. They collaborate with members, engage experienced small business owners, and consistently recognize volunteer thought leadership contributions in their standards setting process.

The organization’s engagement practices help reinforce a “we” focused & a “highly engaged solution community.” Recognition of Air Conditioning Contractor Expert Contributions throughout the process in a target member segment also increases member “connectivity” to the Association.

engagement opportunityPaul Stalknecht, ACCA President & CEO, says the Standards Program is “effective because it’s driven and led by accomplished small business owners.” He emphasizes that their standards setting initiative has influenced how the organization structures their offerings to Air Conditioning Contractors across multiple platforms.

New Engagement Opportunity for Associations?

A “shared outcome” focus similar to ACCA’s will motivate more members to contribute and be connected if they believe that the outcomes they care most about will be achieved. The Association reports upward trends in retention, annual operating revenue, and fee for service offerings.

Organizations who most often reported ( upward 3 year business trends were the ones who reported an understanding of member “up at night” issues and then engaging members in becoming active on those needs.

For a free copy of the “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” eBook, request your copy at

engagement opportunity


Association Member Viewing Lens

Strategic Member Engagement: The Association Member Viewing Lens Nowadays, Executives no longer make membership decisions per se, they make business decisions. The lens in which these decisions are evaluated and made is all about business, professional, and personal outcomes. Associations who align their offerings do so by first understanding member “up at night” issues.

“We”  Focused Community

viewing lensFor Tino Mantella, President & CEO, the Technology Association of Georgia,, listening and reinforcing their engaged solution community is a consistent mantra. Annual membership surveys, focus groups, market studies, and dedicated relationship resources provide Mantella, his senior team, and their Board of Directors with connectivity to member “up at night” issues. (

TAG also emphasizes collaboration throughout its community and rewards, welcomes, and recognizes “thought leadership” contributions among its 34 different Special Interest Groups.

Test: Is the Association a Highly Engaged Solution Community?

Entrepreneurs, a key TAG membership segment, wanted the organization to help achieve enactment of a $100 million investment fund to assist early growth stage firms. Working as part of a broader business coalition, TAG marshaled its resources. The legislation achieved final passage in the Georgia State Legislature on March 28, 2013. (

Data Drives Alignment With The Association Member Viewing Lens

Mantella says “we think about all the ways we listen, learn, and respond to our members.” In 2014 member retention stands at 98% with annual corporate membership growth at 35%.

Strategic Member Engagement: The Association Member Viewing Lens

Associations who regularly conduct member impact surveys (not merely satisfaction surveys) fare better. The survey of 307 Association Executives conducted by Potomac Core Consulting, Vertical Leap Consulting, and icimo, shows that organizations who conduct annual member impact surveys with annual revenue perform 15% higher over a 3 year period than those who do not.

For complete survey results and the “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” eBook, sign up at

viewing lens