Is your association having trouble keeping its members engaged? It could have something to do with the way you communicate.
According to Growth Zone’s 2018 Annual Association Survey Results, one of the top 3 reasons members do not renew with an association is a lack of interest and/or engagement. That’s right, your association could lose out on members simply based on the engagement you provide them.
But even with constant outreach, your communication strategy could be lacking.
Recently, Web Scribble had a chance to speak with David Patt, CAE and owner of Association Executive Management. As someone with experience filling Executive Director positions for many not-for-profit organizations, David knows a thing or two about ways to properly engage members.
And one way David suggests associations may be making a mistake? It’s within their communication strategy.
David speaks about communication in the same way someone would attend a college course. While there could be two of the exact same courses with the same material, the way that material delivered can affect the interest of its students. “It’s nothing wrong with the lecture, but moreover the lecturer,” David states.
So, if you’d like to get your association’s communication on the right track, let’s go over a few things you can look out for.
With some advice from David’s expertise, and some tips from our own handbook, we’ll show you a few red flags to look out for in your own communication strategy and how you can create a stronger bond with your members.
Don’t stress communication.
Getting those hardly-engaged members back in your association’s radar can be tricky. And while you may think the right strategy is to hit hard with communication, it actually could be damaging your relationship with members even further.
Yes, there is such a thing as overreaching when it comes to member communication. You can actually push your members further away if you aren’t using your communication channels properly.
“When it comes to communication, don’t stress it,” Says David. And he’s right- overstressing your outreach can drive members closer to the door, defeating your attempts to re-engage them.
So, what can be done about this? How can your association find a proper way to communicate without overwhelming hard-to-reach members?
To start, you can cut back on the volume of emails you send to members.
If your members aren’t responding to your emails, it may have to do with the frequency you send them. In fact, you may be creating email fatigue for members, stressing them out further. You don’t want your members’ inboxes to flood with messages from your association (in fact- it could get your messages sent straight to the spam folder.
Pace your email messages and be sure to keep track of who responds and opens your emails out of your email list. If your open rates are decreasing as each email campaign fires off, it may be time to give your members some email space.
However, this doesn’t mean shutting your association off from communication altogether.
Always be sure to give members a way to reach out to you. Think of this as the old saying, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Don’t bombard your members with messages and advice they don’t ask for. Allow them to come to you with their questions and struggles and you could build a stronger, more communicative relationship with them.
Make renewal a cut and dry process.
Renewal: It’s something all associations hope goes over smoothly. But for some associations, there may be some overthinking involved.
Just as you shouldn’t stress communication, you also should never oversell your renewal process. If you persistently persuade your members into their membership, they may become disinterested in the value you provide them.
David has seen renewal happen for many a not-for-profit organization. And with his experience, he claims that asking members to make a commitment they’ve already signed up for can become a bit redundant.
“You never want to as a person to consider renewing. Just send out a bill. Members already know what they’ve committed to.” David continues, “Send out a renewal with enough time to let them renew- no grace periods.” David claims this renewal method has helped him see an organization’s membership increase almost triple.
So, if your association is seeing decreases in renewal, it may be time to apply a cut and dry process to the way you send out reminders.
Consider not giving members the chance to think over their membership with a reminder letter or a grace period. Instead, opt for an up front approach by sending over a bill when renewal time comes. This could help you see an increase in the members you keep around for the upcoming seasons.
Overestimating your members can hurt.
Your members are smart, capable industry professionals. But if you don’t pay attention to what they know about your association, it could leave communication gaps that cause problems.
“Oftentimes, associations tend to assume members know everything about the association and overestimate their members knowledge,” David states. It’s clear that many organizations tend to have the problem of not communicating everything to members in a timely manner.
“It’s important to keep your ear to the ground and know your members,” David continues. “Associations are their lifeline.”
So, if you want to make sure your members are on the exact same page as your association every step of the journey, it’s important to provide the materials and resources they need.
When members first sign on, be sure to explain to them what goes on within your association. They should know how memberships work, when and how to renew that membership, and any other details that may help them get acclimated to their new relationship with your association.
Conversely, it may be a smart idea to include a list of frequently asked questions somewhere within your association’s website.
If there are inquiries that are constantly sent to your association’s email box, it could be a question that a vast majority of your members have. Compile a list of these questions, and share your answers to these questions somewhere that can be easily accessed by members and non-members alike.
Aren’t sure what your members want? Ask.
This may seem like a no brainer, but sometimes association’s can get so caught up with staying on top of trends that they lose sight of what their members are actually looking for.
In this case, there’s no better solution than to be up front with members and ask them exactly what they want to see from your association.
“The biggest problem associations can face is coming up with all different ideas for benefits instead of asking what members want. You’re there to help members achieve something, so you have to give members what they’re looking for,” says David.
When it comes to keeping on top of innovative trends and brand new fads, usually practicality is better than creativity. Be sure to give your members benefits they’ll actually use instead of “one size fits all” ideas that may go to waste on your membership.
In addition, you want to make sure you have the right balance of benefits for your members.
Although you may ask your members what they want in hopes to provide everything they need, you may find out that their answers differ. Everyone is going to want to see something different from your association. However, if you can find a perfect balance, you should be able to make everyone content.
With the experience David Patt has had with associations and organizations, he’s seen communication styles come and go. And with his advice, hopefully your association can create a communication strategy that keeps members interested in you association for the long run.