Watch the Video to Learn How to Grow Your Association.
This webinar dives deep into how associations and societies can use membership benefits to grow memberships. The full transcript is also available to read below.
What is a Mission Statement?
What is your organization’s mission, and how can it impact the growth of your organization as a whole? How do you capture your mission in a single statement, and how can that statement spawn programs that will not only benefit your members but the governance and financial aspects of your organization as well?
To answer these questions, we’ll look at membership as it relates to your mission statement, and membership benefits (communications, career advancement, educational opportunities, and service programs). Keep in mind that associations are called many things. It may be a society. It may be a chamber. It may be a coalition, a league, a guild, a club. But for our purposes, they will all fall under the term associations.
What is an Association?
An association is something that can produce real dynamic change. It’s an exciting, organic, creation. But, at its heart, it is two or more people who share a common interest, belief, or passion, and realize that they’re not the only ones, so they invite others who have that interest to join them; they’ve formed an association. They realize they can learn from each other, and continue to develop systems and benefits such as educational programming that improve their shared interest despite the roadblocks they may run into.
There are an awful lot of associations out there, both nationally and internationally. In fact, the American Society of Association executives say there are 92,000 trade and professional associations in the United States alone. When you put this in terms of employee count, they total 1.6 million people.
Characteristics of a Powerful Mission Statement
So how do you connect these people to the missions of your association? First, look toward the mission statement. Consider the following characteristics of a powerful mission statement:
- It needs to be short, something that you can capture in a sentence or two.
- It should capture a vision, not sound like you’re writing a thesis.
- It should be memorable.
- It should resonate; your members should understand and remember it.
- It should be exciting and draw in new members.
What these things mean, is that when someone sees your mission statement it will produce a mental image that in turn tells people all about your organization and draws them in. Presumably, accomplishing your mission will make the world a better place, which also means your mission should be one that can never be wholly accomplished. It should be lofty, extremely challenging, and broad but not unadaptable. By the end of your statement, current and potential members should be able to feel the power of that goal. Once you are successful, you’ve reached the first step of member support and active mission advancement.
National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis
As an example for adaptability, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was founded in the late ‘30s and had a mission of eradicating polio. They funded a lot of research and were instrumental in the development of a cure for polio. In essence, they eventually accomplished its mission statement. However, there was more to their mission that they wanted to strive for, so they developed a new initiative – preventing birth defects. Today they are known as the March of Dimes.
As we look at the following examples of strong mission statements, keep the term ‘membership’ in mind. Review these mission statements as a newcomer to the organization, and envision how the dynamic and powerful statements can impact you as a potential member.
Communities in Schools
Communities in Schools addresses the national issue of kids dropping out of high school in the United States. They believe that the problem is more social than it is academic, and use their mission statement to demonstrate this.
Look at the language they use. “Surround students with a community of support” instantly brings a visual image of people coming together with a variety of services to support these students. The next part of their mission statement, “Empowering them to stay in school,” could have been softer. They could have said, “Support them in staying in school.” It could have been more powerful and said, “Make them stay in school.” But, what the organization wanted to do is to leave it up to the student to make the ultimate decision to stay in school, and organize the community to help them make a positive decision.
Also, their mission statement captures the vertical impact that graduating from high school has on achieving in post-graduate life. It presents a mission that they not only get students to the goal of graduation but also prepare them to do something after they’ve reached that goal. As a result, there are a lot of implications in their statement but it paints a clear picture of what their organization is all about. It’s an exciting mission and one that, if accomplished, would make the world a better place.
The American Red Cross is obviously a well-known organization, with a mission to “Prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”
In those words, there are indications of crucial programs developing as a part of the association’s mission. “Mobilizing the power of volunteers” indicates the initiative to recruit, educate, and implement volunteers. The reader instantly recognizes the organizational quality of the association. This brings us to “the generosity of donors.” We are now directed to the understanding that this association depends on fundraising, and the power of “alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies” presents a call to action, all in one statement.
American Association of Retired Persons
The next example is from AARP, an already famous organization, the American Association of Retired Persons.
The final three phrases of their mission statement, “information, advocacy, and service” give birth to a whole lot of programs. It is evident that education programming is needed in order to accomplish “enhancing the quality of life for all as we age”. Also keep in mind, if your mission statement speaks to advocacy, it becomes clear that there’s a need for powerful political action, and AARP certainly has that.
Lastly, a terrific example of simplicity, the TED talks mission statement. This takes the checklist item of keeping it short to an incredible level. “Spreading ideas.” It captures exactly what they’re about, it’s memorable, exciting, and it drives the organization.
Getting the right mission statement can make your association come alive, and when it does, it’ll remain at the heart of all the things you and your members do to support the association as a whole. Not only that, but it will overhaul all membership recruitment efforts by telling people who you are, what you’re about, and inviting them to join. Imagine, anytime you come across a powerful mission, and it resonates, at most you are inspired to join and help accomplish that mission, at least you want to find out more. This is incredibly powerful in terms of driving your membership operation.
Mission Statement Affecting Membership
On the initial graphic, we see that there are four important aspects that your association’s mission should positively affect. In terms of governance, (i.e. all of the decisions made as part of your organization) any decision sitting before the council or executive body should be thought of in terms of mission advancement.
Benefits of Membership
Often times, an association can run into the mistake of thinking “what benefit programs can we develop that will increase membership?” instead of “If I do this, how is it going to advance the mission of the organization?” The former may sound like a plausible question, but instead, realize that by looking to advance your mission, you will develop a powerful stance that draws in membership on its own. Your members believe in the mission and are excited by the programs that stem from mission growth.
Your association’s finances should function in a similar way. As a crucial part of any association, it’s important to consider, “How can the dollars we have advance the mission of the organization?” Remember, by bringing all aspects of your association back to the core purpose of your mission, growth is inevitable.
What we want to focus on is how to establish a strong connection between your mission and the benefits of membership.
Communications and Connections
Communications and connections for your membership is the number one benefit that you can offer within your association. Most associations have a pre-established one-way communication system, and plenty spend a lot of time talking to their members. However, a key part of communications is the ability to listen to your members and invite them into all communications regarding mission advancement and the actions of the association. By connecting with your members, they have the opportunity to inform you of what they’re doing, and how it’s going to move the organization forward collectively.
The following figure is from an organization called Trip Builder Media. On their website are some interesting ideas for two-way communication.
One of the ideas listed is called ‘member match-making’. This feature allows members to learn about each other, and to communicate according to shared interests. The ability is made possible by having them complete a member profile upon joining the association, and is an easy way to initiate conversations amongst the membership.
Another strategy for member-to-member communication is developing a blind email process. Because unsolicited emails are often ignored, you can arrange a function where members can email each other through the association. With the association linked to the email, it is less likely to be ignored, and more likely to facilitate member engagement.
Review Communication Strategies
Remember, innovative options for member engagement and communication are everywhere, so it’s important to review your own offerings and take advantage of new opportunities. Do you provide discussion boards, hangout opportunities, or polling? These are just a few out of numerous communication tools, which we’ll cover in depth later on. Once you’ve begun reviewing your communication strategies along these terms, remember to think about taking advantage of organic communication opportunities as well.
For instance, where is your mission statement located on your association’s website? Do you use your website as a platform for quarterly reports on mission advancement, or new strategies for the coming months, years? Likewise, are your email communications centric to the mission? At your annual meeting, was the mission statement mentioned from the podium, printed visually, or discussed in front of an audience? Even board meetings present the opportunity to review how you have and will continue to advance toward your goal.
These organic opportunities are an invaluable source of connection for your members to the mission of your association.
Because email has become our go-to utensil for direct member contact, it should be a crucial part of your strategy. It is financially viable, and an immediate process. However, 269 billion emails are sent every day. There are 4.3 billion people who use email as a communications device, and the average office worker in America will receive 121 emails every 24 hours. How does that affect your association? In North America, only 34% of those emails are opened.
In order to ensure your correspondence is the one out of every three that is read, you must establish a personal relationship with every one of your members. Bring them into your mission, and make it known that each message is a direct part of realizing it.
New Member Engagement
Another key element of your communication strategy is welcoming and encouraging new members. Once a member has paid their dues, how quickly do they receive a welcome letter? Does the email welcome them as a “new member” or does it bother to mention them by name?
In the first 30 days, each new member should be actively involved in the association. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) are a great example for new member initiative. As you can see in the figure below, they use a three-step process for initiation.
First, ‘Get Started’ which asks users to create a membership profile. Not only does this profile allow you to gather information about the new member, but also to use that information to help them connect with existing members. Immediately after establishing a profile, users are then invited to join in discussion boards and attend an event (programs, seminars) to get your ASAE membership on the calendar.
Second, the “Get Connected” links to social media in all forms. This way, members can use the technology they’re comfortable with to stay involved. Also provided, are tools to find research and publications, and resources for advocacy processes.
The ASAE also push people toward their Career Center and want to see them engaged and involved in that direction. This step makes it clear to new users that communication and connection is an immediate membership benefit.
Lastly, by following the link to “Get Involved”, members can explore current organizational efforts and opportunities. Volunteer, contribution, and advocacy options are available after a single click – and it’s yet another platform for reminding members why they joined in the first place.
Existing Member Engagement
Once your members are engaged, it is just as important to ensure communication continues. Avoid at all costs the scenario in which your membership renewal notice is the first thing they’ve seen since they paid their initial dues. Involved members are a result of knowing the association isn’t just there to get money from them.
How can you ensure member engagement reaches more than the executive committee? How do you get them involved so that they realize the value of your association?
A little like the tools in a household toolbox, each one serves a specific, yet vital, purpose. Your association’s communication toolbox should be quite an arsenal, each tool with a strategic role.
First, there’s your association website. This should be a place where your members and non-members can come learn about your organization. It’s a library that thrives on reliable content and consistently new information to keep them coming back.
Next, you have social media and newsletters. Though Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have become traditional tools, they remain essential for two-way communication. Similarly, newsletters are a chance to establish a consistent content distribution discipline. These are largely promotional, but are a great template for notifying members of new opportunities and are a dynamic option that can often be used to direct members to social media engagement as well.
Emails and Letters
Finally, there are emails and letters, often thought of as your action items. With blast emails, you’re telling the member, “It’s time to renew”, “Hurry and sign up for the annual meeting”, or “Please write your Congressman about this vital issue!” You are calling your members to action, all with one little tool.
By recognizing the potential of each of your communication tools, and using them wisely, you’ll set your association up for all of the benefits an effective communication system offers.
Career Advancement Benefits
Another important element of mission-focused membership benefits is career advancement opportunities. Advancing your member’s ability to further their careers and achieve higher professional standards in your field is going to directly impact the advancement of your mission. And, if by joining your association it is going to be easier for the member to stay informed, better themselves professionally and further their career path, then they aren’t going to think twice about joining.
The road to having a robust career advancement benefit starts with a small handful of opportunities. Not to mention, all of the following have powerful effects on member engagement as a whole:
- Network Encouragement
- Mentee Programs
- Job Boards
- Professional Skill Building
Are you encouraging professional connections and networking opportunities? The ability to communicate with professionals in your field has become a crucial part of finding your next job prospect.
Mentee programs can be as simple as inter-member communication. How can new members find veterans in your shared interest that are willing to provide insight into personal advancement? Take advantage of outside vendors such as LinkedIn, who has developed a new service that connects potential mentors and mentees.
Most all associations have a job board, but if it’s going to benefit your members it must remain current. As the go-to place in your organization for career advancement, all information must be consistently relevant and up to date.
Finally, what programs can you provide as a resource for credentials or professional endorsement in your field? Do you present opportunities with educational content and certification? This is a powerful tool for showing your members the value of your association in their own careers.
After establishing these opportunities continue the effort by endorsing member engagement, and present regional meetings and other gathering events as a place where networking can grow into a key element of your association’s mission. The strength of your connections from graduate, to new professional, to seasoned members is a backbone of retaining membership – and is cultivated by a robust offering of career advancement benefits.
What first comes to mind when someone lists educational opportunities as a benefit of membership is, “Oh! I have those, we have an annual meeting!” Unfortunately, with a single yearly meeting at about 20% membership attendance, it’s not enough.
Webinars, Podcasts, and YouTube
Webinar services, podcasts, and even association specific YouTube channels are great vehicles for educational content. Not only are there affordable (and sometimes free) webinar services out there, but with these kinds of tools, you can even involve your own members in the delivery of that education. Podcasts can be used to develop industry-specific educational platforms, and YouTube can be used as a lens for surveying your membership on what kind of content they’d like you to promote.
Don’t forget, electronic and printed publications are a great place to capture lists of opportunity and educational events. Field trips, regional meetings, and any other gathering is an opportunity to host, or at least inform your members of, educational opportunities throughout the year. Not only are these a benefit for your members, but they are a resource everyone in your association should be comfortable using.
The figure above is a great example of education programming from two perspectives. The American Counseling Association created this to give a multitude of opportunities to their member, utilizing technology but not relying on it exclusively. Perhaps even more importantly, every educational opportunity they provide relates directly back to the association’s mission.
By taking advantage of these benefits, your members directly impact the integrity of the association, and continue to value their involvement. Therefore, by auditing your current strategy and committing to the integration of substantial benefits, you are actively investing in your members as well as the association itself.
The first type of program you can provide is ‘Direct Service’. Not only do these kinds of activities or events advance your mission, but they are a component that your members can get excited about, and immediately involved in.
Second is ‘Advocacy’. If you already have an advocacy program, make sure you have an established vetting process for the issues you’re advocating, and that several people are involved. Ensure that you’re effective by providing your members with the proper avenues, an understanding of the message you wish to advocate, and a clear list of intended recipients. Also, communicate with your members after the issue has closed. Find out how you did on the issue, and share that information with your members.
As an example of advocacy, review the following figure from the Human Rights Watch.
On the left, under ‘Take Action’ you can see an advocacy issue directly linked to their mission of investigating and exposing human rights violations – forced labor. By choosing the story you can see that they completed an investigation, presented it on their website, and provided an immediate link on how to take action. This makes for a resilient service program, because not only have they found an issue for advocacy, but they’ve educated their members and outlined a path for people to get directly involved.
Lastly, consider financial pools as a service program. If you don’t already, consider creating a fund that members can donate to that’s dedicated to advancing your mission. These can be awards programs, scholarship funds, or any other fund that is used as a resource to directly impacting the mission.
When you develop a powerful mission that’s captured by a memorable mission statement, backed by strong membership (educational programming, certification, communication), and nurtured by effective and beneficial programs (networking, mentorship, service programs), all sorts of positive things happen. Your association can not only advance toward its collective mission, it can spawn an entire network of advancement that makes the world a better place.
Questions and Answers
“I am an officer for a small, non-profit association. We have a mission statement but it probably is in need of a tune-up. Where should we start?”
If you’re looking at tuning things up that’s a great idea. Consider conducting a real in depth retreat. The idea of sitting down and taking a look at your mission statement is a thorough process. Ask yourselves, “Is this still relevant today? Is this the direction of our organization? Review from there. A new mission statement is certainly not something that’s not going to be produced in a vacuum. You need to invite your leadership in and take an extensive look at capturing a new statement that will be dynamic enough to lead your organization. Then, promote it. Your members should get as excited about the new mission as your executive committee does when they build it.
“What membership benefits are becoming out of date and which ones are on the rise in terms of popularity?”
At this time there’s a rise in technology-based benefits. There are constant developments and inventions in technology that change our world, it’s great if you can utilize them as much as possible, e.g. using a lot of video. Educational content that links in video, is a powerful tool for communication in and out of your association.
A benefit that’s waning would be board service. This ties back to efficient governance, if you take a look at how big your board is, how effective they are as compared to the resources it takes to maintain. Jeff Bezos of Amazon has a two-pizza rule on meetings in that, if everyone in the room can’t get filled up on two pizzas, there are too many people in the room for that meeting. Try and get away from committees that require all-day meetings to get things done.
“How do I determine which member benefits are right for my association?”
Serve your members, and ensure effective two-way communication. Use this to find out why they’re joining, and why they value the association. For some, its career advancement, but the only way to find this out is to have the conversation, or even survey them. Pick up the phone and call a handful, find out what they think is working.
Another resource is to talk to your association manager, whether that’s with Allen Press or another company. These professionals spend five days a week researching associations, understanding trends, and talking to members. They likely have some great insight on what works, what’s not working and maybe some member benefits that the competition isn’t taking advantage of.
Need help growing your association? Our association management services range from consultation to full implementation plans for increasing memberships and organizing conferences.
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