For now, let’s agree to agree with the widely accepted notion that associations (with exceptions) are losing members more rapidly than ever before (2014 Member Engagement & Performance Survey, Advanced Solutions International). Facing declining dues revenue, an association director (and its board) can make decisions that fall squarely into the “screw-up” category.
For example, one reaction to falling membership is to just raise dues on remaining members. It makes sense on the surface. Why not raise dues? The organization needs more revenue, right? Yes, it does. And revenue comes from dues-paying members, right? Sure. So it’s easy. Jack up the dues and watch the revenue rise like a swelling ocean tide.
Until two-thirds of your members quit.
Which happened to one association we spoke with. Facing a decline in dues revenue, the association board decided the best solution was to triple member dues. So they did. And then watched in horror as the membership roll shrunk like your best all-cotton shirt in a hot dryer (it’s Metaphor Day at The IT Guys). The association lost almost 70% of its members.
Guess what. Years later, this organization still hasn’t fully recovered. A screw-up? Oh yeah. On an epic scale. For most organizations this would be game over; few organizations come back from this level of screw-up. Fortunately for this association, new, wiser governance has righted the ship and set course for a successful comeback. But it’s taking time.
Another opportunity to screw up while struggling to retain members is by adding more association services. That sounds reasonable. More services = more value, right? More value = satisfied members, yes? Satisfied members keep on paying dues. Problem solved. Everybody’s happy.
On the surface, that all seems like sound reasoning. Unless the added services are of dubious value. AKA, services nobody wants.
Adding a host of services whose real purpose is to bulk up the services portfolio, while failing to deliver any real benefit to members, dilutes the value of the entire portfolio. The organization ends up with a services portfolio so bloated by unwanted programs & services that those possessing real value are lost in the crowd.
Members tire of wasting time wading through them all. It takes too much effort to find a service or program they need and can use. So they give up trying. Ultimately, they give up on the organization. The entire exercise ends up exacerbating the membership problem, not fixing it. A screw-up? You got that right.
There you have it. A couple of reactions to shrinking membership rolls rich in screw-up opportunities. And that’s just a couple screw-up decisions. There are more.
So, is this an all bad news story? Is screwing-up inevitable? Does everyone screw-up when dealing with declining membership? No, no, and no. A number of organizations succeed in addressing the shrinking membership problem. In fact, they succeed in a big way.
In Part 3 we’ll look at how one of these associations has successfully dealt with the challenge of growing membership rolls when the trend is clearly running the other way.
Don’t screw up and miss it!