New Member Onboarding (Part 2)

How’s your first-year member retention rate? Not that great? You’re not alone. First year retention is a challenge for most associations, maybe because they spend much more money on acquiring new members than on guiding them into the association. Last week I suggested several onboarding ideas, beginning with the application and welcome touches. The next touch: orientation.

New approaches to orientation

Many associations still run orientations the way the Pennsylvania School Boards Association used to: “We talked at new members — the ‘It’s all about us’ approach.”

Turn the focus around and make the new member reception (more appealing than ‘orientation’) about them. Hold it before an event to encourage participation. Allow plenty of discussion time. Ask veteran members to learn more about the new members, answer questions, show them around the website and advise them on membership paths.

Invite new vendor members to a marketing workshop where a veteran member panel explains how to market and develop business within the association. Send tips on association networking and relationship-building to all new vendor members.

Please read the rest of this post about new member onboarding at the Avectra blog.

association new member onboarding orientation membership
Photo by Global X/Flickr

New Member Onboarding (Part 1)

There’s a restaurant saying, “turn ‘em and burn ‘em.” Get customers in the seats and back out the doors as quickly as possible. Although turning tables helps the cash register, you risk alienating customers if they think you’re only interested in their money, not their dining experience.

I thought of “turn ‘em and burn em” recently when I read this in MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report: for every dollar spent on recruitment, associations spend only 27 cents on new member onboarding and engagement. Why is so little dedicated to new members, the ones most at risk for not renewing?

Do you know how it feels to be a new member? Think about the first time you joined a gym. Like new association members, you had membership expectations and goals. Membership would be good for you, but only if you made it part of your life.

Like successful gyms, we should make it easy for members to fit this new habit (membership) into their lives. If they see early results, they’ll be motivated to keep coming back.

Please read the rest of this post about new member onboarding at the Avectra blog.

associations new member onboarding association orientation retention
Photo by Ms. Phoenix (Flickr)

Microvolunteering: More Opportunities for Member Engagement

“I wish I could, but I don’t have the time.”

Are you hearing that more frequently? As life becomes more complex, members have more options for spending their time and, consequently, more demands on their time. Juggling their work, family, and social lives with association service isn’t as easy as it used to be. The traditional membership experience—volunteering for committee and board service—requires a commitment of time and energy that many are no longer able or willing to give.

“The younger generation will change the dynamic of the membership and volunteer experience,” predicts Jill Eckert McCall, director of the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education and past chair of the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section. “We want to engage and serve in ways that are very different than generations before us. We don’t just give lip service to work-life balance; we actually go out and get it.”

Bar associations have the opportunity to provide an alternative volunteer path for those of all ages who want to get involved, give back, and have a meaningful membership experience, but on their own terms.

Read the rest of my article about microvolunteering at the American Bar Association’s Bar Leader magazine website.

association volunteering ad hoc microvolunteering episodic
Photo by Tim Pierce (Flickr)

Game Thinking: An Epic Win for Associations

I hear you. “Games, yes! It’s about time we looked at games.”

And I hear you too. “Games? You can’t be serious. Not at my association.”

Full disclosure, I’m not a gamer, so this is all a bit foreign to me too. I first started paying attention to games two years ago at a TEDx conference where I heard an IBM game designer talk about using games for training and education. Ever since I’ve been intrigued by the idea that game thinking can help associations deliver a better experience.

I’m not the only one. Game dynamics was the topic of last week’s #assnchat.

It’s tempting to dismiss any consideration of games by saying members are serious professionals and wouldn’t go for those shenanigans, but they do.

Games are the most downloaded apps. 72% of households play computer or video games. The average gamer is 37 years old. 42% of gamers are women. 55% of gamers play on their phone or hand-held device.

Here’s what I’m wondering: how can we leverage the principles of game design to make the membership experience or professional development journey more meaningful, or encourage online community participation?

Please read the rest of this post at the Avectra blog.

The Magical Experience of Flash Mobs

If Mitchell of Modern Family dances in a flash mob, they must already be passé, right?

associations membership experience

Hells no! I’m still a sucker for a really good flash mob, especially the artsy ones, and I know I’m not alone. This food court performance of the Hallelujah Chorus still makes my eyes water. You want more?

Why are flash mobs so powerful? My latest theory is they bring us into the right now — this present moment. The present, strangely enough, isn’t a place we always hang out, unless we’re advanced yogis. We’re more likely reworking the past or speculating about the future. We live in the present when we’re in the ‘zone’ or caught up in the ‘flow’, for example, while writing a blog post, chopping vegetables, painting, climbing a rock wall or experiencing a great work of art.

Flash mobs take us by surprise and let us share exuberance together. Is it some communal Dionysian urge? Who knows, but it’s joyful. We’re knocked out of our routine, thrown a bit off balance. “Wait, what the heck is going on here? Who are these people? Why are they doing that?” And then, “Wow, this is pretty awesome.” You’d have to be a lost soul or curmudgeon to not smile a bit inside when you see a flash mob happening around you.

Even the Knight Foundation, usually focused on promoting journalism, can’t resist the allure of the flash mob. They’re sponsoring Random Acts of Culture in the communities where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers. They “strongly believe in the potential of the arts to engage residents, and bring a community together. Hearing Handel, or seeing the tango in an unexpected place provides a deeply felt reminder of how the classics can enrich our lives.” It’s part of their effort to encourage folks to regularly enjoy a concert, visit a gallery or see a dance performance by giving them a taste of that goodness.

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m going to somehow bring this discussion back around to associations. What possibly could be the connection? Well, there is the fun flash mob we did last year (some of us without any rehearsing, ahem) on the trade show floor at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Association Executives. But that’s not where I’m going.

Here’s my question. Maybe the Knight Foundation is on the right track, and flash mobs expose folks to great art and get them thinking that they might actually like the symphony, ballet or opera. They give them a taste of what that experience is like. It’s all about the experience!!

Compare an arts experience to a typical association membership experience:

  • a one-way mailbox relationship
  • a semi-productive committee meeting
  • an educational session or conference that provided a few handouts but nothing permanently imprinted in the attendee’s brain
  • an endless trade show floor of needy vendors

Count me out; I’ll be at the opera.

Can a mix of face-to-face and online community participation make the association experience better by offering more opportunities for sharing and learning, conversations and relationship building? Can a more innovative approach to education make that experience better? Do your members depart from an association experience, whether it’s online or in real life, with a glow on their faces and, even better, in their brains?

Yes, we need to focus on the value or ROI that members get with their association membership. But perhaps we should also focus on their experience – that’s an intangible benefit that we shouldn’t overlook.

You’ve Got to Read This: January 4, 2011

I took a break during the holidays to enjoy time with my family and friends. I didn’t read much online but caught a few outstanding blog posts and conversations, particularly Joe Flower’s post and resulting comments about his decision to not renew his ASAE membership and a follow-up post by Maddie Grant. I’ll go into this topic further in my post this week at SmartBlog Insights.

The Blizzard of 2010 hit Massachusetts last week while I was visiting my family. My hometown got a foot and a half of snow so I spent several hours shoveling. Newark NJ mayor Cory Booker also spent many hours with his shovel and mobile Twitter application. Amanda Hite wrote about his tweets to constituents throughout the storm — a “new standard for politicians.”

I didn’t make official resolutions this year (yet) but I’m thinking about changes I want to make in my life: make my health a bigger daily priority instead of taking it for granted; and make more time to think, read books and nurture my creative side. I discovered some of Virginia Woolf’s resolutions, thanks to a tweet from Ayse. I especially like, “to fill my brain with remote books & habits.” What a cool glimpse into her head.

The Virginia Woolf tweet trail led me to Tracy Seeley sharing the LA Times’ list of the literary resolutions of 37 writers and readers. Here’s one I’ll steal for myself, “To converse more with my books. To write in the margins.” There are even more entertaining resolutions in the list. Do you know of any other historical or literary icon’s resolutions? I’m sure I could google this but rather hear about your favorites.

I bet many of you have at least thought about fitness or wellness in the last few days. “This year I’ll exercise at least 30 minutes a day,” or “This year I’ll get out into nature more.” If this sounds familiar, and if you live in North Carolina, you’ll love Joe Miller’s blog, Get Going NC. He writes about hiking, running, cycling and other fitness and wellness topics.

This is the best thing I’ve read lately on writing blog posts. Carol Tice gives 40 simple writing tweaks for better blog posts. Bookmark it and keep going back to it; I just did.

Ali Luke shares several good ideas on ProBlogger on how to improve your writing by getting outside the blogging bubble. Perhaps you’ll find some fodder there for New Year’s resolutions?

It’s Love a Lurker Day

Today, March 19 is Love a Lurker Day. Yes! I love lurkers! Many thanks to Kiki L’Italien who way back in December came up with the idea for Love a Lurker Day.

Anyone who blogs loves their readers. We love you truly deeply and ardently, those of you we know about and those we only know about because of blog stats. I know you’re out there. I love it when you comment because you make me think or just make me happy. And even if you don’t comment, I’m still happy you visited. You chose to come here and read. That’s really cool, and I am very grateful.

According to Forrester Research’s latest data, 70% of online adults are Spectators, aka Lurkers. When you think about your members, most of them are lurkers or “mailbox members.” They don’t actively participate or volunteer in any way. In ASAE’s Decision to Join we learn that those who don’t volunteer are much less likely to recommend membership than those who are involved, even those involved in an ad-hoc (or episodic) way — an hour here, an hour there. Why? When they stop lurking and start participating they have an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, use their skills or talents and belong to a community. That is the benefit of volunteering that we don’t always talk about, maybe because it’s too “woo woo.”

flickr: Theresa_Thompson

Most of us bloggers started out as lurkers. I was a lurker for a long long time. You could say that I wasn’t so much an Early Adopter as an Early Lurker. Way back in the 90’s I first discovered the web, courtesy of a Brazilian colleague at the World Bank who showed me this really cool thing called Mosaic. Then I discovered newsgroups, remember those? That’s where I got recipes and beer and restaurant recommendations for several trips to Europe. I was a lurker there.

In the early 2000’s I discovered Readerville, an online community for, yes, readers. Again, I was a lurker even though it was a really active community that provided me tons of good book recommendations. Newsgroups and Readerville — they were social media, way back then. Later I started reading blogs, again, as a lurker. I kept reading about this Twitter thing, thanks to my tweeps who attended ASAE’s San Diego meeting in 2008. Finally I created a Twitter profile and slowly came out of lurking mode.

I remember always thinking, what if what I say isn’t important, or it’s too shallow or even wrong. Then I realized many twitter users, none I knew personally of course, were offensive and obnoxious, so I couldn’t be any worse than that! I started participating in LinkedIn group discussions, then commenting on blogs, then tweeting more. One day last spring I took the biggest step and started this blog.

I write because I love the act of writing — finding just the right word or phrase, seeing the disheveled thoughts in my head somehow find clarity on my laptop screen. But I also write because I want to share, to help, to stimulate and to maybe spark a good thought in someone else’s head. I write because I want to be a positive giving part of the community that I found and love here online.

You’re part of that community too, whether you peep up or not. You might decide one day to stop lurking and write a comment or start tweeting, or you may keep on lurking. Either way, it’s okay. Your visits keep me going.

Thank you lurkers! Your presence always makes me smile. Cheers!

A Community Model

My friend Mary Nations shared a video recently that really captured me. She included it in a post about an innovative program at the Southside Regional Jail in Emporia, VA. When you watch the video, you’ll see a program that deserves to be in all correctional institutions. You’ll also see an example of the benefits that a community can bring to its members and to its host institution. There are two versions of the Community Model video created by the Center for Therapeutic Justice5 minutes and 20 minutes.

What’s going on in the Community Model? Do you see similarities to association membership, maybe not membership as you know it now, but membership as it could be?

  • These prisoners volunteered to join this community. They’re ready for change.
  • They’re bettering themselves – growing and evolving. These are life-changing experiences.
  • They support each other while learning together.
  • They listen to each other.
  • They come from diverse backgrounds and often have differing viewpoints, but they deal with it. Everyone has a voice.
  • They relish being part of something positive. They’re watching their community get stronger because of their own efforts.
  • They sometimes fail, but they accept that. They learn from their failures and figure out their own solutions.
  • The senior members mentor the newer members. They help each other work out issues.
  • Members, not staff, are the leaders and group facilitators.
  • They’re a “self-regulating community that supports the growth of its members and makes a positive impact on the institution.”

This is a community of growth that provides a meaningful experience and value to its members — a model not only for jails and prisons, but also for associations.

Our associations provide a platform for the growth of meaningful communities. Some of our members already work together to further the mission of our organizations – to help make changes in society or in the legislature, to provide educational opportunities or to help each others’ businesses thrive.

Think about the benefits of being part of a vibrant community:

  • Satisfaction from helping others or serving an industry
  • Stretching one’s skills – managing projects, public speaking, recruiting, mentoring, building teams, delegating, writing, teaching, running meetings
  • Widening one’s networks and developing new relationships, both personal and professional
  • Belonging to something good

How many of our members truly feel they’re part of a meaningful community and derive value from the community that they can’t find elsewhere? Is it only those who serve on committees or the board? Those who are in the leadership clique? Those who can meet face-to-face? How can we help all our members grow and participate in their own communities – online, face-to-face or both?

Think about communities in your life that you cherish, perhaps it’s a mastermind group, church community, social media club, coffee group or book club. What makes it so meaningful to you? Let’s become community gardeners – providing the rich soil and nourishment that will help our member communities take root and grow.

The long version of the video ends with this quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted.” We all know this. It’s time to experiment with new ways of associating, building community, working together, leading together. New ways of associating have the potential to not only benefit our members but also to give meaning and value to association membership.

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