Hidden in Plain Sight: Advocacy As a Key Driver of Member Value

Written by Tommy Goodwin on March 14, 2019

For years, technology has been disrupting the traditional portfolio of association member-value offerings. Long gone are the days when associations were a one-stop shop for all their members’ needs, from information and education to discounted products and services. That’s why associations large and small are spending countless hours (and dollars!) these days searching for the next big thing to attract and retain members.

But what if that missing silver bullet is right under their collective noses? For many associations, there is a deep, untapped driver of member value already in-house just waiting to be unleashed: their advocacy.

To be sure, advocacy is nothing new for most associations. Across the country and around the world, thousands of associations work tirelessly to advance their members’ interests before policymakers and regulators. But how many consciously connect those efforts back to membership recruitment and retention? Far, far fewer.

Why? For many associations, their government relations and advocacy team is a ninja rouge ops group doing… well, whatever it is they do with government. After all, as Ginger Graham famously observed years ago, “To many, government is like the weather – an inescapable, often unpleasant fact of life best left to its own mysterious devices.”

Perhaps so, but like that trusty weather app on your phone, help successfully navigating the ‘inescapable’ can be extremely valuable. And finding a way to circumvent and overcome the ‘mysterious’? Priceless. Well, that’s exactly what associations that are active in Washington, DC, Brussels, and beyond work to do on behalf of their members each and every day.

Too many fall short, however, in strategically communicating those advocacy efforts and hard-won victories back to their membership in a way that reinforces the value they provide. This is a missed opportunity, because not only is advocacy one of the top reasons people join associations, but advocacy and lobbying information remains among the most important topics for members once they have already joined.

How does this impact membership? Whether it’s selecting a new phone or choosing to renew an association membership, the seminal means-ends model of consumer judgment shows that the perceptions, expectations, and beliefs that drive decision-making have both rational and emotional components. Rational components can be replicated by others, but not emotional ones.

That’s why association advocacy—successfully executed and well-communicated—can be the bridge that moves the join or renew decision from a rational analysis of membership offerings and their perceived functional utility to an emotional one that taps into personal values in a way that reinforces relevance and drive future engagement.

After all, technology will continue to disrupt many current association offerings in the months and years ahead, but it can never disrupt the emotional power of a membership that believes “My association is fighting for me!” That’s the power of association advocacy… even if that power is hidden in plain sight.