Solving the membership challenge can be a tough nut to crack. Associations must blend together the three-part formula: attract new members with a cutting-edge value proposition; retain existing members through reinforcing your value proposition; and maintain, improve and enhance the value proposition as an organization in the marketplace. This difficulty compounds at the local level or chapter level, where the personnel resources are limited or run by volunteers. What’s the secret to adequately addressing each area, without losing sight of the others? How can a volunteer board or a small staff attract and retain members? Find the right organizations to partner with!
Sometimes business-thinking leads to an association breakthrough. At NAIFA Greater Washington, we have found success working collaboratively with tertiary organizations to grow our market presence, improve our visibility and provide increased value to our members. The idea stemmed from the business development strategy our successful members use to grow their practices: find the right strategic partners to generate referrals and grow your brand. We felt the declining national membership trends at a local level and wanted to do everything we could to turn the tide.
As a volunteer board with limited staff resources, we recognized the need to work smarter, not just harder. I had enjoyed success growing my professional practice by joining local chambers and other professional membership groups, and I thought, “Why not invite those groups to the table and see what synergies might exist with our local association?”
We approached several local professional associations whose members slightly overlapped with our membership footprint, but who were not considered competitors. We also approached a few local chambers of commerce that I had good working relationships with and that had active, thriving and growing memberships themselves. We asked them to consider opportunities for partnership and were surprised by their positive responses.
Here are some of our most fruitful strategies:
- We arrange an in-kind trade for booth space at our signature annual events. We offer partner organizations space at our single day expo in exchange for the same from them at theirs and then extend a discount code to their members to attend our event. We agree to cross-promote events through email blasts and on social media, significantly boosting our visibility while providing value to our members who might benefit from these partner organizations. We virtually double our marketing team from the combined efforts of our partner organizations. Our associations’ brand has grown, and we attracted a new members through the partnership.
- We host jointly sponsored events. Our members are financial professionals, so we approached a local CPA association to host a joint membership event to bring our members together to learn, connect and grow. We’ve designed these collaborative learning events so the attendees walk away with valuable information to improve their practices, alongside the benefit of networking with potential strategic partners. We have taken the collaborative event approach to several diversity partners, working with a Hispanic Chamber and an LGBT Chamber to build our members’ understanding of these markets while growing our membership presence.
The groups were open to collaborating, especially on known signature events as opposed to something brand new and unproven.
Consider these factors when selecting groups for partnerships:
- Approach groups you have existing relationships with at a leadership level, or with key active members who can make good introductions.
- Look for groups that compliment your members professionally
- Look for groups whose membership is sustained or growing, instead of declining
- Look for groups who host annual events of similar size and scope to yours.
This model has yielded solid results for us with minimal effort. The reality for membership organizations remains the same: we are all trying to reach new members while improving our value propositions, and we don’t have to do it alone!