I’m just a little late to the party, but I’ll be devoting the next 3 (edited 12/23 to add: nope, FOUR) Tuesdays to musing about questions from the awesome list at Acronym in honor of Big Idea Month.
So what if EVERY staff member had to talk to members on a regular basis?
Despite the existence of the idea “Membership is Everyone’s Business,” too often, it’s really not. Membership retention, for most organizations, is the business of the membership department. If retention goes down, the membership staff gets blamed, even if the reason people are leaving is because, for instance, the receptionist is rude. Or they hate the monthly magazine. Or they’ve decided to focus their energies on their local chapters. Or they’re organizing online. Or the annual meeting’s too expensive. Or whatever.
(And, while we’re on it, why are we always so concerned with affixing blame? It’s pointless. It stifles innovation, because people think “cover your ass” not “come up with and try amazing new idea.” And it wastes time and mental energy that would be better spent FIXING the PROBLEM. But I digress…)
I was hired for my first association job as Director of Member Services and Technology not because I knew anything about associations or management, but because I was from the profession, and the executive director figured I’d empathize with the members. And she was right. And that was great, as far as it went. Which was to one staff person. Not far enough, by a long shot.
We all talk about the idea that we exist to serve members, meet their needs, etc. But most of us have no freakin’ clue what those things are. We do annual satisfaction surveys and listen to and repeat conventional wisdom and swear that we’ve been doing this long enough to know every little thing about our members, their industry or profession, and what’s best for them.
You know the easiest way to find out what people want and need? Ask them. And not in some “1-5/very dissatisfied-very satisfied” BS survey, either.
“Hi there,. This is Elizabeth calling from NACHRI. If you have a few minutes to chat, I’d love to find out what’s going on in your children’s hospital and general area, and if you have any questions or comments about what’s we’re up to here at NACHRI.”
What do you get? Information, sure, but also connection. Community. A source of new ideas. The feeling that the association cares about me. Early warning of problems that might be cropping up, whether in your industry, or related to your association.
And, more importantly, it’s unfiltered. This is not meant to imply ill intent to your CEO or membership staff (the only people who commonly have contact with members). But everyone filters information they receive through their own mental maps. And someone with a different map might interpret the same data differently.
How would your association benefit from deep understanding of your members, their needs and wants, and industry or profession spread widely across the entire organization? What could you do with that? Would your members think different about the association when the renewal notices show up or when they arrive at your annual meeting if they felt connected not only to other members through the agency of the association, but to the association itself through contact with staff?