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Membership Retention - How Does Your Organization Measure Up?

The old business adage that it is easier to keep a customer than to get a new one applies to the world of member-based associations in that it is easier to keep a member than to get a new one.  Your members are your organizations’ reason for being – are you keeping them happy?  While our last blog focused on ways to attract new members, this one will touch on ways to keep the members you have.


Does your organization track its membership retention rate?  The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) reports that the average renewal rate is 83% for member-based associations.  How does your association measure up?   ASAE provides the following formula for measuring member retention:

Total Number of Members Today – 12 Months of New Members/Total Number of Members in Previous Years = Renewal Rate

The first year of membership is often referred to as the conversion year, since this is the time when a new member is most likely not to renew.  They may have decided to try the association out, or perhaps they joined through an incentive program, however if the value is not there for them they are unlikely to renew.

So, how do you weather the conversion year?  Two words - engagement and communication.

ASAE provides some interesting statistics that help to emphasize the importance that membership engagement has on retention:

  • Members who attended a membership meeting in the past year were 19% more likely to renew
  • Members who attended four or more meetings were 30% more likely to renew
  • Members who placed a product order in the past year were 28% more likely to renew


Are you providing regular opportunities for your membership to get together?  If not, look to incorporate this in, as face-to-face is the best way to engage your members.  Are you reaching out to your members to involve them in the various volunteer opportunities your organization may have available?  In a study done by Statistics Canada in 2010, 45% of respondents indicated that they didn’t volunteer because no one had asked them to do so.  So, ask away….what better way to get your members more entrenched with your organization then by making them an active part of the team.

Which leads to our second point – communication.  Ensure that your members know what is going on within the organization.  Remind them time and time again why they joined your organization, and of the value that your association brings.  Make sure that this communication goes two ways though – reach out to your membership on a regular basis through surveys and polls to ensure that you are in fact meeting their needs and to identify new growth areas for the organization.

Keep your members engaged, keep them informed, and keep them involved in regular two-way conversation, and you can look forward to a long, happy, healthy relationship.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=14


Policy Development....Gulp....

I delivered a board governance workshop this past weekend, and as per usual when I came to the module on policy development, I sensed fear in the eyes of the participating board members.  What is it about policy development that sends people into a tailspin?


As part of the easing-in process for this workshop module on policy development, I ask the board to come up with a list of reasons on why it is a good idea to have policies.  The group is always able to identify a solid list of reasons why associations should have written policies:

  • Promotes consistency in organization’s actions
  • Directs future activities of the board and staff
  • Ensure that actions tie back to the organizational mission
  • Allows the board to delegate authority while maintaining control
  • Provides proper guidelines for decision-making while reducing the opportunity for bias
  • Clarifies the boards’ governing style
  • Efficiency – reduces repeat conversations
  • Outlines clear expectations
  • Proactive rather than reactive

Inevitably though, despite the many pros to policies as noted above, this is an area with which many organizations struggle.  Why is that?

For starters, policy development can seem like a daunting process.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There are many great tools out there to help organizations with getting a start on a policy manual.  Need to develop a travel policy?  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Pick one of the many existing sample travel policies available online, and make it your own.  Get your staff, committee members and those board members most in the know in any one particular area involved in the process.  As a board, identify the highest priority policies – this will vary from organization to organization, although as a rule policies around financial management, board governance and programs tend to be most critical.

Take care not to confuse procedure with policy: a policy is a pre-determined course of action, whereas the procedure documents how the policy will be carried out.  As part of the policy development process, identify the process for policy approval and incorporate a regular review of policy (a policy on policy-making, if you will).  Policies can be amended at the board level, unlike bylaw changes which require membership approval, so don’t get bogged down in trying to develop the perfect policy that will stand the test of time – no policy is set in stone, and policies can be changed to adapt to changing business environments.

Beginning the process of policy development will force your board to operate at a governance level – where your board members’ time and focus is best served.     

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=12


What am I agreeing to?

How can you ensure that you get volunteers with the coveted skill set that your organization is lacking?  And how can your organization ensure that the time and energy of your valued volunteers is being best utilized?  It all starts at the beginning – with a well-crafted volunteer position description. 


I participated in a webinar hosted by VolunteerMatch earlier today, “Writing Accurate and Useful Position Descriptions” which emphasized the importance of this critical activity.  At a minimum, a good volunteer position description should include the following:

  • Position title
  • Description of reporting relationships (who do they report to?  who reports to them?)
  • Description of role
  • Primary responsibilities
  • Secondary responsibilities
  • Skills and experience required
  • Time commitment
  • Specific deliverables, if applicable

If your organization does not already have a good set of volunteer position descriptions, get your volunteers involved in writing their own descriptions.  This could be an eye-opener – you may find that the position expectations of the volunteer differ from that of the board.  Tie the role back to the organizational mission – show how the responsibilities of this position fit in big-picture and what the impacts are to the association. 

Key to providing a valuable volunteer experience is to be respectful of volunteer time – this can be accomplished by ensuring that the required skill set for a chosen role is identified.  This in effect creates a career path within your organization and allows a volunteer to maximize their growth as well as providing a realistic snapshot of position expectations.  Your volunteer needs to know what they are agreeing to.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=11


$10 million is the new hefty price tag for unsolicited email blasts!!

Under Bill C-28, anti-spamming legislation which will likely come into effect in second quarter 2012, an organization can be fined up to $10 million for transgressions to the act – which translates to 10 million reasons to ensure your organization is in compliance.  For member-based associations, this legislation will impact who is appropriate to be included on your email distribution lists (which will involve database housekeeping and likely additional development) as well as ensuring that specific parameters around email communiques are met. 


The latter is simple enough to adhere to.  Email correspondence (and text messages – this legislation also applies to this form of electronic communication) will be required to identify the sender as well as who the message is being sent out on behalf of.  Subject lines must accurately reflect the message content and full sender contact information (including postal address) must be included in all emails.

The former, however, will require a bit more planning to ensure compliance – particularly for those organizations who reach out to former members or event registrants as part of their standard sales marketing efforts (whether it may be for potential membership sales or promotion of upcoming events).  There are two types of consent to consider under this legislation: express and implied.  In order to obtain express consent (which is the level of consent all organizations should be striving to obtain from their stakeholders) a documented positive confirmation (an ‘opt-in’) is required.  Procurement of this express consent will give your organization free reign to email the individual on your full range of products and services.  Implied consent is a limited consent recognized for two years as derived from an existing business relationship.  For example, Joe Brown purchases a publication or an event registration from your organization – this implied consent will now be in effect for two years from the date of purchase, thereby giving your organization two years to be legally allowed to email Joe Brown in regards to other products and services relating to your organization (assuming that during that period he has not requested an unsubscribe – in which case emails to Joe Brown must cease within 10 business days of his request).  Data management systems will need to be enhanced to recognize these new date allowances.

Although there will definitely be some work involved for organizations to ensure they are in compliance with C-28, this is also an excellent opportunity to reach out to these individuals as you strive to obtain the coveted express consent.  Tell them why they want to be on your list for email blasts.  Tell them about why they should continue to receive your email communiques.  Tell them about the advantages your organization provides and how they will benefit from being kept in the loop.  Furthermore, if your organization is not currently engaging in social media, now is the time!  Posting information on your LinkedIn or Facebook page is not considered spamming, and as more organizations start to move away from the traditional email marketing model I predict we will see an increase of activity in the social media world (I also predict we may see a slight increase in direct mail marketing for anyone taking bets).

There are much better ways for your organization to spend $10 million, so ensure that you are in the know.  Further details on C-28 can be found at http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ecic-ceac.nsf/eng/h_gv00567.html.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=10


Do you have gender diversity on your board?

Do you have gender diversity on your board?    The Financial Post Women in Business issue was released yesterday.  This issue recognizes Canada’s top 100 female business minds from private, public and nonprofit sectors.  Among the female rah rah-ness, there was some very interesting information in this issue:

  • Norway, Spain and France have quotas in place for female board participation on corporate boards; 96% of Canadian CEO’s oppose bringing this same model to Canada
  • The Association of British Insurers issued a report in September which encouraged gender balance on boards stating that women “appear to be better at explicitly identifying criteria for measuring and monitoring the implementation of corporate strategy as compared with all-male boards” and “boards with better gender balance pay more attention to audit, risk oversight and control”
  • Further to this last comment, hedge funds run by female investment managers returned an annual average of 3.2% more than male-led funds (9% and 5.8% repectively)
  • 15% of Canadian board seats are held by women
  • Walmart, love it or hate it, is quite engaged in empowering their female staff  - there is a strong emphasis on building female leaders, which is evident in the fact that half of the leadership team (including the CEO and President and CIO) is female
  • More women than men are earning MBA’s, however these same women start, on average their first post-MBA job making US$4600 less than their male counterparts (this wage gap widens to US$31,258 mid-career)

I enjoyed reading about these inspiring women, and was particularly impressed by the career diversity represented – the list includes professionals, entrepreneurs, corporate directors, future leaders.  The best quote of the issue came from Gale Blank, CIO of Walmart Canada: “I’m putting on my epitaph ‘Don’t do a half-ass job’.  I was a waitress for many years, but I was a good waitress.”

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=9


What is your board's biggest challenge?

What is your board’s biggest challenge?  Spent yesterday morning in a CentrePoint workshop on ‘The New World of Volunteer Boards’, and had some interesting discussions with the group around what issues have arisen on their boards in the last five years.  Their comments seemed to mirror my own observations over the last five years.  First and foremost is an increase in member demands on volunteer board members – this coupled with increased career and family demands on those same volunteers has led to constrained resources across the board.  Board recruitment was also identified as a pervasive issue – identifying ways to attract those volunteers that will fill in any skill set gaps on your board.  And of course, once you have those board members in place, how do you keep them engaged?  This is particularly challenging when you have cross-generational  board members who may be looking for different things out of their volunteer experience.  Other concerns the group noted included:

  • Mission drift    
  • Board members with personal agendas
  • Increased competition from other associations
  • Poor governance structures
  • Prolonged decision making process

With increasing demands for accountability and transparency on nonprofit boards, strong board leadership is now more important than ever.  I look forward to providing recommendations for how to tackle these, and other common organizational issues, in future postings.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=8

Tags: A+, Volunteer

Volunteer Recognition - A Few Simple Ideas

For my first ever (yikes!) blog posting, I wanted to write about something near and dear to my heart – volunteer recognition. I have been privileged throughout my career to have worked with a number of tremendous volunteers – busy individuals who constantly astound me with how they manage to find times in their lives to contribute to their industries through meaningful board and committee participation.


I firmly believe that every nonprofit organization should have a well-articulated volunteer recognition program, since it is important to properly recognize these individuals – without them the organization would not be able to function, and furthermore these volunteers can end up becoming your organization’s most vocal and visible ambassadors.

Volunteer recognition does not need to be an onerous, expensive proposition.  There are a number of ways to recognize your board and committee members, even for those organizations on a tight budget.  A few no-cost suggestions:

  • Recognize them at an association event – this does not necessarily mean that they be invited to attend the event at no cost, but if you notice that they are registered to attend, make a point of asking them to stand and be recognized at the event
  • Give a recommendation to your volunteers on their LinkedIn profile, outlining specifically how their volunteerism was of value to the organization
  • Your organization likely has a variety of communication mediums at its disposal – website, newsletter, annual reports – use these tools as forums for giving your volunteers some recognition through volunteer profiles
  • A letter to their boss outlining the value their employee has provided to the association….who wouldn’t like their boss to get a glowing recommendation about them?
  • A simple thank you card can go a long to making someone feel appreciated
  • Have a wall of fame – a well-used hallway or area in your office building where pictures of volunteers can be hung
  • Also good for the wall of fame….implement an annual volunteer of the year award

This is just a smattering of simple, free ways to recognize your volunteers.  Ultimately, the best service you can provide to your volunteers is to have clear job descriptions for their role, including well-defined expectations and accounting of time requirements, provision of the opportunity for contribution, and efficient use of and respect of their time.

What has worked within your organization as far as volunteer recognition?

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=7


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