So, after we cull the clueless and the wishful thinkers from the organizational herd, we’re left with the last group; those who are willing to step outside their comfort zone to find the opportunities that invariably accompany change.
Think about it; how many markets are thriving today that didn’t even exist before the emergence of the Internet? Businesses in those markets were smart enough to see opportunities where others saw the end of the world as they knew it. And the smart ones were also nimble enough to take advantage of the opportunities they saw.
How does dealing with change play out in real life? In Part 1 we looked at a couple of responses to a real change in the association / nonprofit world; declining membership rolls and the resulting revenue hit to the organization.
One response is simply to raise dues on members. By 300% in one real-world example. The result? Members dropped like flies and the fiscal situation was worse than before. Talk about “unintended consequences”.
Another approach would be to pump up the services portfolio with minimally useful programs that ultimately dilute the value of the organization to its members. The result of this move? The complete opposite of the intent; members look elsewhere for clarity in programs and services and real value. Membership rolls continue to shrink.
So what do “smart” organizations do? They see the value of opportunities in change others can’t or won’t recognize. In other words, they don’t screw up.
Consider this. Instead of the shockwave of raising dues across the board, a smart association might revise its dues structure. For example, dues for newly formed or emerging members might be lower than those for long-established and more successful ones. This promotes membership adoption at an early growth stage when a business has the most need for programs and services an association might offer, but have little funds to allocate to association membership.
As the business thrives, gaining greater financial success, membership dues rise commensurately. A graduated dues structure encourages member retention. As a growing business derives value from association membership during this process, the association’s value to the business more than justifies the cost of membership. Even as that cost increases over time. Member loyalty is fostered and the continuing relationship is mutually beneficial.
But there’s a catch. This increase in perceived value by the member will only occur if it’s a reflection of the real value the association offers. So, instead of bloating its portfolio with dubious programs and services, a smart association might consider cutting its portfolio instead.
Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive. But by reducing its offering to members, a couple of things happen. First, because it’s not stuffed with window-dressing services and programs, the association’s portfolio is simply easier to digest; members can plainly see what the association offers and how those offerings are of real value.
And “real value” comes from services that are laser-focused on the essential needs of the membership at large. What’s more valuable to association members? A few, highly effective, dead-on target services that actually meet the needs of the membership without question? Or, to have a portfolio stuffed with a large number of less than effective programs that don’t really serve anyone very well? The answer is obvious if you think about it for even a minute.
Here’s the bottom line. The world is changing and it will never go back to “the way it was”. Association membership is dropping for a lot of reasons; changing demographics, market specialization, the flood of easily attained information in the age of the Internet. These just are a few reasons among a host of others. Yet smart associations are sailing into these headwinds of change with great success.
How do they do it? In Part 4, we’ll look at how EMDR International Association turned the status quo on its head and changed the way they had functioned for years. The result? EMDRIA faced the winds of change, realizing spectacular membership growth in a time of decline in the rest of the association market.