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February 11, 2019

The Value Equation: 3 Key Areas of Association Success

What do we really mean when we talk about value?

The results of our 2018 Economic Impact on Assocations (EIA) Study gave us critical insights into predicted transformations related to value delivery, legacy programs, and membership models and structures. Embracing and leading such changes is a daunting task for any association. However, years of experience in this space have shown us that when you fully understand your association’s value, the process of change, growth and maintaining relevance all falls into place.

Recently we’ve heard from many organization executives concerned about what they perceived as a dues model problem. Many felt they were suffering from an awareness gap that resulted in stagnating membership growth or the ability to reach new generations and demographics. Several were eager to begin a total membership restructure.

But the truth is that there was an underlying issue they had yet to diagnose in their associations.

Overhauling the membership model and dues structure is a significant undertaking. There are implications across the organization from financial to operations, not to mention the politics and stakeholder management required to make a successful change. Before embarking on a change of this scale, it is critical to take a closer look within an organization. More often than not, an association’s performance challenge is rooted in its core value proposition.

We recommend focusing on three key areas so you can confirm if there is a dues model issue or if it’s something deeper:

  • Research
  • Membership Experience
  • Value Proposition

Research is your avenue to understanding the membership experience for each of your unique members. Member experience can vary widely depending on location, demographics, career level and so on. For example, the challenges of a member working in a small company may be different than those working in a large one. Analyzing their perspectives and needs can give you greater insight into what offerings they consider to be valuable. Research can be valuable not only to validate your assumptions about what members value but also to uncover insights you may not have known.

The goal of developing or updating a value proposition is to discover new information – to explore new territory that has recently gone overlooked. For instance, different types of members have different reasons for joining. What are those reasons? How do they experience their membership?

Membership Experience

As you can tell, this goes hand in hand with research. Board members and association leadership often have a skewed perspective of membership needs because of their high-level understanding of what the organization offers. They don’t have the same point of view as members who are relying on benefits for support and resources in their lives and careers.

By gathering solid data that represents each member, you can determine if there are segments you need to market specific benefits to or offer additional support to. For instance, if you have chapter services, are your services consistent across all chapters?

The value proposition should be based around the way members perceive value – what they value, how much they value it and, mostly importantly, why they value it. When you start by analyzing what your members need and why, the rest of the answers will be close behind. Then you can roll out or confirm that it’s time for a dues restructure.

Value Proposition

Lastly, get to the heart of the value proposition: change the conversation from cost to value.

This is a simple, but often overlooked concept – when there is value in something, we likely don’t hesitate to spend money on it. But when value is not overtly visible, then we are prone to complaining about the cost.

A critical piece of wisdom to keep in mind throughout each step is this: don’t assume you know everything about your members, or your organization’s value. An association’s overall value must be thoroughly dissected from multiple lenses to be understood.

Different members have different reasons for engaging, and not everyone defines “value” the same way. When organization leaders take a closer look at real feedback from their members and try to relate to their experiences, they have a better possibility of ensuring a value that is definable across all types of members.

We developed the illustration below to outline the questions to walk through and where to begin to assess what your unique needs – whether it’s more member research, value proposition development, a marketing strategy or a model change or adjustment – based on the current state of your association:

McKinley Advisors Member Value Flowchart

Focusing on the research, membership experience and value proposition can save you a great deal of resources and sharpen your focus on the most important factor of all: delivering your association’s value and impacting its audience and their worlds.

When association leaders and staff ask practical questions and change their points of view by gaining new perspectives, an association can quickly reach a path to a better-defined proposition that, as a result, resonates with their mission and boosts membership engagement and satisfaction.

At the end of the day, value is the backbone of your association. Without defining the living value of your organization, you can’t determine if you have a dues problem, nor how to resuscitate your dues model. Understand and nurture your association’s value and it will be enough to support your organization and its members.

Contact McKinley Advisors to define your value this year and download the 2018 EIA Study to explore more of our findings


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