The Preeminence of Mission for Membership Associations

It is very easy in life to replace the end with the means.  This happens when we focus our attention on best business practices, individual leaders, or our own projects as the goal instead of the mission of the organization that we serve.

That’s why a recent presentation by Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE, at the Association Chief Executives (ACE) Symposium this month serves as an important reminder for membership professionals. 

He made the point that “Membership is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is a feature of our volunteer--‐based ecosystem, not an actual benefit. We have membership because it is a way to marshal the economic and intellectual capital necessary to achieve the mission.”

Putting mission first with membership says that our efforts to recruit, engage, and retain members should have the overarching goal of helping our organization achieve the mission for which it was founded.  Ideally excellence in any business practice whether it is marketing, publishing, customer service or technology supports the mission.  But when this excellence becomes the goal in and of itself, it can actually deter mission. 

And this principle applies to for profit organizations as well as non-profits.  John Coleman, coauthor of the book, Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, shared this on the HBR Blog:  “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.”

But as we come to the end of the year, it might be helpful to step back and apply these thoughts on mission to our own lives.  Putting mission first can also empower our own personal effectiveness and fulfillment in life.  I know that it is easy for me to get off track and off mission and to let competing everyday demands take me away from what is important.

The late Stephen Covey maintained that “personal mission statements based on correct principles are like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives.”

So my wish for you as we come to the end of this year is not only success in achieving the mission of your organization, but that you will remember your personal mission and enjoy the year ahead in fulfilling your purpose.

2013 Membership Marketing Observations

At the end of the year, many bloggers present their trends for the year.  I am not going to be so bold, but I will share some observations of what I have seen and discussed with dozens of membership professionals over the past 12 months.
Let me combine these thoughts into five observations.

1.     Growth of Online Marketing: More and more marketing dollars are moving toward various forms of online advertising. The money is clearly coming out of print advertising and other channels.  Membership organizations are using Google Search and Content, Facebook and LinkedIn ads, Google Remarketing, and web ads to initiate a dialogue with a prospective member by gaining an email opt-in request to start and relationship with the organization.  These digital marketing methods are being adopted because they are track able, scalable, measurable and global.

2.     Squeezed Marketing Budgets: During this past year, I have seen some rather large associations cut budgets for membership recruitment.  At the same time, I have interacted with a number of moderate to small organizations who report surprisingly inadequate budgets to accomplish their membership goals. Money for marketing appears to be scarcer, so cost justification and marketing smarter are understandably more important than ever. 

3.     Growth of Data Analytics: Perhaps out of a need to market smarter, data analytics has taken a much more prominent position in membership marketing.  Good analytics can tell you who the best candidates are to recruit, who are most likely to renew, and what strategy will produce the best membership ROI.  The ability to track and analyze is more important than ever. 

4.     Senior Association Staff Transitions:  Over the past year, I have spoken with more senior association staff members that are either out of work or looking for new career opportunities.  Perhaps it is because of the tight budgets noted earlier or because they were remaining in a position until the economy began to improve.  Whatever the reason, there are some very talented association staff that are looking to move into new positions. 

5.     Average to Above Average Growth in Membership Counts: The combination of innovative new strategies like online marketing and data analytics and budget cuts has resulted in most organizations experiencing only average to above average outcomes in membership marketing.  The groups with above average growth have often also used aggressive pricing strategies to bring in new members.   But most organizations it appears have seen single digit growth or slight declines in their membership numbers this past year.
As I write this, I realize that in many ways, membership organizations reflect the economy as a whole with slow growth, a move to web and digital communications, and a sluggish job market.   In January, we will be launching our next Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey.  So it will be interesting to see if my small sampling of observations from this past year is accurate across a much broader audience.

What have you observed in your 2013 membership marketing experiences?  Please feel free to share your thoughts.