The Passive Experienced Member

The MCI Group recently released the American Engagement Index 2017 (the link takes you to a page where you can enter your contact information to get your own copy, and you really should). There’s lots of interesting information in there, but one thing jumped out at me (and Associations Now‘s Tim Ebner), in part because I’ve seen this issue in many of my clients:  disengaged (or, using Tim’s term, “passive”) experienced members.

I’m about to lay an “on the one hand” – “on the other hand” post on you.

On the one hand, maybe it’s OK that a given experienced member is “passive.” She’s probably pretty settled in her career at this point. She has the degrees and certifications she needs to be successful. She’s not jumping jobs every 18 months anymore. And even when she is changing jobs, she has an established, robust network she can turn to for leads and connections. Her kids may be getting older and their lives might be getting more complicated. She might be in a “sandwich” situation, taking care of elderly relatives as well. In short, it might not be about you.

On the other hand, it MIGHT be about you. One issue that comes up over and over in talking with my clients’ members (regardless of profession/industry or whether membership is individual or corporate/institutional) is lack of content that goes beyond the basics. Many (if not most) associations appear to lack programs, products, and services that can help mid-career members achieve their particular most important goals or solve their unique most pressing problems.

Which makes sense. It’s relatively easy to figure out what someone who’s fresh out of school or otherwise new to a given profession or industry is going to need – introduction to basic principles, help understanding how to translate training or a particular degree into the actual jobs in your industry, relationship and network building, soft skills development, your certification – and it’s relatively easy to create programs, products, and services that deliver those things, often using mostly (or only) unpaid volunteers.

It’s not nearly as simple to to do that for people who already know the 101 and 201 level stuff. Their needs will be more complex and individualized. You might actually have to pay some experts (either subject matter or instructional design or both). You might have to act more as a broker, helping those members find what they need outside your association, with the association vetting quality and perhaps negotiating for better rates for association member, rather than creating programs yourself. You might have to step into the role of host, creating a forum for them to share information and experiences with each other, rather than a content-provider (and you should probably rethink what you charge for those different types of experiences). It’s not an easy nut to crack.

So which is it? Should you look at your passive members and think: “No worries – they’re just busy”? Or is it time to panic? How do you what situation you’re in?

You have to ask them. And I don’t just mean via a survey, because the answer here is utterly individual – one member might just be really busy, but the next one might be dissatisfied and ready to walk away if the situation doesn’t improve, and the only way you’ll know which is which is to have genuine one-on-one conversations. That can be scary, because you might hear some negative feedback. But diagnosing the problem correctly is the first step to finding an effective cure.