Are You Doing Affinity Products Wrong? Member Value Comes First

Affinity Products
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be For Affinity Products

Are affinity products for associations a thing of the past? Or rather part of a future that looks very different?

Membership organizations have always offered third-party products to their members. This usually means a discount, sometimes bearing the association brand. Affinity products have served essential roles. They provide value to members, giving them a reason to join and renew. They also serve as a critical source of non-dues revenue. Associations could count on affinity products to boost membership and income.

No longer. Across the board, the old affinity product model is no longer productive due to market forces beyond associations’ control. As a result, what worked in the past works no longer.

Yet there is a solid and clear path forward for organizations that are open to change. For example, they can shift their expectations for affinity products from revenue to favor of member value.

The Decline of Affinity Product Revenue

    • The affinity model is unwinding. Most associations have a basket of affinity products and services that contribute to neither revenue nor member value. But the leaders have re-evaluated their portfolios and eliminated products with low member value altogether. Instead, they now offer only high-member-value products regardless of revenue potential.
    • Maximize member value. Revitalization often takes the form of drastic pruning. A successful affinity program focuses instead on a small number of “signature” offerings. These are products and services uniquely aligned with your mission. Members don’t want you to have it all. They want something that only you can offer.
    • Marketers want a better deal. It is not that marketers aren’t interested in affinity product relationships, but they don’t want to pay for them the same way. The “products as revenue” model has given way to “products as member value,” which leads to more flexible deals to secure products members love. This means trading revenue for much better products. The new model is much more attractive to marketers. It opens up a range of offerings that would have been out of reach in the old-world royalty model.
    • Better offers pay for themselves. Discounts are often one of the very top reasons members join and renew. We see more member engagement by attracting more exciting partners and offers, translating directly into higher member renewal. Even a modest uptick in retention can more than financially justify a loss in royalty revenue.

Affinity Products As Member Value Strategy

Because shifting the affinity model increased revenue for business partners, they are willing to sweeter offers for members. Better offers with stronger consumer brands also elevate the association’s brand. 

Two elements are key to successfully transforming an affinity program:

    • The Right B2B Value Proposition. Organizations must find new sources of value for their commercial partners. Cooperative marketing programs, messaging to members in non-advertising channels, and exclusive access to data are all valuable in bringing new partners to the table.
    • Meeting Unmet Member Needs. For the new model to work, associations must be selective about the offers they include. Explore the products, services, and perks that would appeal most to members and the partner brands that best compliment your organization.

Affinity products are alive and well in organizations that have embraced a “member value first” mentality. Successful associations have collaborated with their partners to create a new win/win/win. The organization, the partner, and the members all benefit from putting member value first.

To learn more about these market trends and how leading associations are responding, see Nonprofit Disruption: 5 Choices for Nonprofits   and Going Back to the Basics in the Affinity Market.

Nonprofit Disruption: 5 Choices for Nonprofits

Nonprofit Disruption
Reading Time: 4 minutes

This article was originally published in FORUM Magazine as A Tale of Two Disruptions

The Truth About Nonprofit Disruption

Nonprofit disruption has been a topic of conversation for what seems like forever, but at what point does a disruption become the status quo for nonprofits?

We used to talk about disruptive technology. Now, we call them iPhones. Demographics are shifting, markets are globalizing, and social trends are reshaping our world. 

On top of all that, those dang Millennials disrupt everything they touch. We’ve been talking about them forever, too, but Millennials are now turning 35 and firmly entrenching themselves in all sectors of business and society. 

Disruptions surround us. We are immersed in the constant, rapid change of nonprofit disruption. The question is, “Which ones truly matter?” 

Not all change is disruptive, and not all disruptions change things. Humans are constantly looking for patterns and tend to find them, whether they are genuinely there or not. Unfortunately, not everything has a pattern. 

The following are two examples of nonprofit disruptions that upend our perceived patterns. 

A Disruptive Exit

Membership drives products, advertising, fundraising, and everything about membership as an ecosystem. The more people engage with the ecosystem, the better for membership and vice versa. If you disrupt one part of the system enough, the whole system gets disrupted. 

That’s what makes it so complex. 

For example, look at insurance. Many associations offer insurance, and it is often one of the top reasons to join. It is also one of the strongest predictors of renewal: Non-buyers renew at 70 percent, one product renews at 90 percent, and more than one renews at 95 percent or more. This is especially true with first-time members. 

Some of these relationships go back decades. Hundreds of millions of dollars of business are shoved off onto other carriers or left behind. What gives? For one, it’s a lot riskier than it used to be—a raft of new regulations in the last few years.

AARP invented the affinity insurance model in the 1950s to get insurance for retired teachers, and we’ve all been doing it pretty much the same way ever since. We let an insurance carrier use our brand and member list, and they do most of the work; we get paid a royalty, and our members like it. 

So, insurance is an excellent thing. It makes money, and it drives membership. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

In the last few years, most major insurance companies have either exited the affinity business or are headed for the door. Voya is out. AIG is out. Hartford dumped a massive chunk of business. AXA left the US life business. MetLife and Transamerica rolled it into their employer business, as did Assurant. Liberty Mutual stopped doing direct mail.

Some of these relationships go back decades. Hundreds of millions of dollars of business are shoved off onto other carriers or left behind. What gives? 

For one, it’s a lot riskier than it used to be. In the last few years, a raft of new regulations has made life a lot harder for insurers, and it’s made associations scarier to do business with. 

Of course, if you dig deep, the truth is it’s just not worth it for insurance companies anymore. Your list is not as valuable as it used to be. They can find your members for themselves, and they probably know more about them than you do because they’ve invested millions in data and analytics. 

Frankly, your brand isn’t what it used to be either. Research shows that 67% of consumers would buy insurance from Amazon or Google, never mind an insurance company, and never mind you. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is $60 billion of affinity insurance premiums out there. Carriers are not walking away from that. They are walking away from you — and going after it themselves. 

“Understanding how these nonprofit disruptions are affecting your organization is the first step in creating new patterns that will keep you ahead of the curve.”

A Disruptive Entry

Most associations have a handful of products or partnerships that drive their business. Content. Publishing. Advertising. Education. What if someone could disrupt every piece of that equation in one fell swoop? 

Much to the chagrin of organizations that have been around for decades, a six-year-old online startup has a 60 percent market share of one of the most prominent professions. As a result, it is now aggressively stealing business from dozens of leading associations. 

Worse yet, they’re getting away with it. 

Doximity launched in 2011 as the “LinkedIn for doctors.” Since then, they have grown to 600,000 members by building on groundbreaking partnerships and platforms that: 

    • Allow doctors to text and fax securely from their phone 
    • Form HIPPA-compliant online communities at will 
    • Deliver continuing education for free 
    • Rank and navigate residency programs and hospitals 
    • Curate hundreds of medical journal feeds for
    • you, as an individual
    • Provide authenticated medical credentials accepted almost everywhere
    • Deliver customized employment and referral opportunities for physicians and hiring managers 
    • Provide a comprehensive list of medical facilities and pharmacies nationwide they can speed dial

You could try to beat them on price point, except that membership is free. All members have to do is validate their profile because Doximity already has their data. 

The company currently has 180 employees, half of whom are developers, and a cool $80 million in funding. They’ve partnered with US News, Cleve- land Clinic, and others, and now they are expanding to include all licensed medical professionals. 

Nurses, dentists, pharmacists, social workers, physical therapists, chiropractors — anyone licensed by the state. This year alone, they’ve added 200,000 members. 

They, and other groups like them, are coming after parts of the core association value proposition with a radically different, never-before-seen model, and they are doing it at internet speed. 

What Can You Do To Solve It?

There are several different ways to address the coming nonprofit disruptions: 

    • Rest on your laurels – Rely on “safe” sources of income and assume they always will be. Also known as the “Ostrich Strategy.” 
    • If you can’t beat ‘em, join’em – find ways to partner with new entrants 
    • Circle the wagons – protect the core of value propositions that only you can provide
    • Outflank ’em – find holes in their offerings you can attack by doing it different or better 
    • Back to the drawing board – radically rethink what you do and how you deliver it 

There is no one correct answer, and none of them are easy, but understanding how these nonprofit disruptions affect your organization is the first step to creating new patterns that will keep you ahead of the curve. 

 

Want To Grow Your Association Membership? Let's Talk.

Want to know more? Ask us!

Three Ways to Grow Membership With Mission

Drive Membership
Reading Time: 3 minutes

How Can You Make Your Mission Drive Membership?

Associations are “mission first” in word and often in deed. Yet many lead less and less with their mission to revitalize their membership. Instead, enhancing member value and experience have been the guiding lights for association growth. Rightly so. We often reduce the mission to believing that “what’s in it for me” is the only key to nonprofit marketing success in membership messaging. Guided by research, many organizations have sought to imitate for-profit marketers. They promote “features and benefits” and enticing offers that often disappoint expectations and don’t drive membership.

Some of the best-performing associations are doubling down on their missions. They know that personal alignment with the mission creates feelings of belonging and influence, which drive membership in ways that no transaction can. It builds increased relevance and growth. Your mission is the one competitive advantage to drive membership for which there is no for-profit alternative.

Millennials are skeptical, with a very high bar for trusting a brand. They demand authenticity, consistency, and shared values. They want opportunities to participate.Brands that meet these requirements get rewarded with emotionally invested, long-term customers. Aspects of this mindset cross generations. A recent survey found that:

  • 78% of people want companies to address social justice issues
  • 87% of consumers would be willing to buy a product or service based on a company’s advocacy for a social issue
  • 76% said they would decline to do business with a company if it supported issues that conflicted with their beliefs.2

Your association can drive membership by recognizing the millennial mindset and adopting it in your marketing strategy.

Appeal to Self-Directed Consumers

It’s never been faster or easier to research products and brands before buying. Comparison shopping extends beyond price and reviews. It now includes corporate practices on a host of social issues. There are even apps developed to help consumers do exactly that.Good on You rates fashion brands’ impact on people, animals, and the environment. Good Guide scores over 200,000 products on health, environment, and social justice. The power to buy based on beliefs is at consumers’ fingertips.[3]

Self-direction also extends to charitable giving. In response to the 2016 flooding in Louisiana, GoFundMe users raised more than $11M through more than 6,000 flood-related campaigns. The Salvation Army only raised $4M, in contrast. These micro-campaigns were about individuals and families with compelling, relatable stories. They dovetail perfectly with the Millennial mindset.

Market your mission, then act on it. Doing so will prove to the self-directed consumers of today that your association is serious about their beliefs.

Leverage Technology to Drive Membership

Technology makes it possible to research purchases and choose causes with great specificity. It also allows consumers to shift allegiances immediately. Providing a consistently positive brand experience has never been more critical. The growing adoption of voice assistants forces businesses and nonprofits alike to figure out yet another way to connect. Google awarded $25M to a proposal to use AI to tackle some of the world’s most significant social, humanitarian, and environmental challenges. With moves like this, we can only expect the rate of change to increase.[4]

Connecting with members through the channels they use most will allow your association to more effectively highlight your mission and encourage members to be an active part of it.

Technology makes it possible to research purchases and choose causes with great specificity. It also allows consumers to shift allegiances immediately. Providing a consistently positive brand experience has never been more critical. The growing adoption of voice assistants forces businesses and nonprofits alike to figure out yet another way to connect. Google awarded $25M to a proposal to use AI to tackle some of the world’s most significant social, humanitarian, and environmental challenges. With moves like this, we can only expect the rate of change to increase.[4]

Connecting with members through the channels they use most will allow your association to more effectively highlight your mission and encourage members to be an active part of it.

Your mission — to advance a field, protect your people, and make the world better – is your most powerful platform to connect with members. It should be an emotional rallying point that inspires action and invites belonging. The best way to do that is to attune to the Millennial mindset. By highlighting real people and their stories, you put a human face on how you serve them. That lets members see themselves in your picture.

Association Success: 7 Ways to Thrive Not Just Survive

Association Success
Reading Time: 10 minutes

This report was originally published as Tacking Into the Headwinds of Association Growth

The Shifting Association Market

We heard it again and again from our clients at leading membership organizations. It was harder every year to reach association success.

Some knew the market was shifting around them. Some had thought they were immune. But instead, all felt the pressure on their numbers, which told them the way they had always done things was not working anymore. 

 But what exactly changed? Our team at Sequence Consulting devoted the past twelve months to answering that question: studying the research, having in-depth conversations with clients, and collaborating with other leading associations.

 This gave us an understanding of which market forces they were up against and, much more importantly, what they could do about it. We learned that some organizations have been victims across the membership landscape, and others have been victors of significant shifts in their environment. 

 This report is about what studying the headwinds can teach association leaders  and what you can learn from those who have tacked into them successfully. 

Table of Contents

We heard it again and again from our clients at leading membership organizations. It was harder every year to reach association success.

Some knew the market was shifting around them. Some had thought they were immune. But instead, all felt the pressure on their numbers, which told them the way they had always done things was not working anymore. 

 But what exactly changed? Our team at Sequence Consulting devoted the past twelve months to answering that question: studying the research, having in-depth conversations with clients, and collaborating with other leading associations.

 This gave us an understanding of which market forces they were up against and, much more importantly, what they could do about it. We learned that some organizations have been victims across the membership landscape, and others have been victors of significant shifts in their environment. 

 This report is about what studying the headwinds can teach association leaders and what you can learn from those who have tacked into them successfully. 

Market Pressures On Association Succeses

When we think of headwinds, we think of slow and halting progress against forces beyond our control. Today, membership organizations’ headwinds come in many forms: increasing consumer demands to get anything they want “on-demand,”; huge shifts in the data economy and everything it touches, and pressure from every angle on the affinity marketing model. 

 These headwinds have been building for some time. But unfortunately, the effects are rippling through the association world – putting downward pressure on membership, lowering advertising, royalty, and other revenue sources, and impacting the dashboard metrics of most organizations. Faced with these inexorable realities, organizations have chosen a wide range of responses, from defensive and incremental to innovative and bold. 

 These headwinds will not abate. Laggard organizations have fallen further behind, and many will continue to do so. Moreover, the accelerating rate of change will quite likely prove too much for some large, long-standing organizations that have been too slow to adapt, and they will be forced to merge or find other ways to exit the market. 

 Meanwhile, winners who embraced these changes keep winning, sticking to their association success formulas while adapting to the new realities. 

High Expectations Of The On-Demand Economy

Consumers expect immediate and easy access to whatever content, product, and services they want. Moreover, they expect access to be free or part of a low-cost, subscription-based service that offers highly unique and relevant value. Examples of hugely successful on-demand-type services include discounts, travel, insurance, content, and others. 

 In short, the paradigm of membership, in general, is less appealing because it is less well-aligned to the daily experiences and ensuing preferences of today’s consumers, especially those who are younger. This is not to say membership is dead. However, the bar for thriving membership is higher. Organizations must come to grips with the increased competition and consumer loyalty around even their most tried and true core offerings, including their mission-based work. 

 Options on causes to support are merely one example of the “on-demand” economy that has upended consumer expectations across the spectrum of modern life, including the core business of membership organizations. The gap between winners and losers will be measured by their ability to adapt to these new realities. 

On Demand Discounts

On-demand discounts. Honey has been downloaded over 5M times and can automatically apply codes from more than 21,000 stores during the check-out process. Users, of whom 67% are Millennials, have saved $170M+ this year. In addition to ad revenue, 

Honey earns a small commission on every coupon code used. The secret to Honey’s success is fulfilling consumers’ need for confidence that they’re getting the best price before completing their transaction. The resulting increase in completed sales is a huge benefit to retailers.

 On-demand insurance. Slice provides on-demand insurance for home-sharing. The homeowner can buy customized levels of coverage just for the term the home will be rented. Other providers offer “microinsurance” for high-value items like phones and computers. 

These new insurance companies are targeting Millennials and have taken pains to simplify and streamline the application process so coverage can be purchased in minutes through a mobile device.

On Demand Insurance

The Exploding Data Economy

The most tectonic shift facing membership organizations is the meteoric rise of the new data economy. Some say that “data is the new oil.” It is the fuel that powers nearly every aspect of the world we now live in. However, it is also a vast, complex, largely untapped, highly fragmented, and impossible to control resource for which the world has an insatiable appetite. New data sources come online every day, and a multi-layered industry to extract, refine, and distribute data has grown exponentially. 

In the past, organizations were able to capitalize on their exclusive access to their members and prospects to drive their recruitment efforts, create communication channels to drive advertising revenue, and monetize their list through royalty agreements. In essence, as “owners” of an exclusive and valuable audience, membership organizations were in the driver’s seat in offering access to them, giving birth to an entire industry in affinity marketing. 

 This role as privileged gatekeeper has been progressively eclipsed by the realities of today’s data economy. The sheer wealth of consumer data, widely available, allows marketers to target the consumers they want in many ways. These marketers, who in the past would have eagerly signed up for royalty agreements for access to a member list, can now find, understand, and target those same consumers themselves and do so more cost-effectively.

The Eroding Affinity Model

Many major insurance carriers that were once mainstays of the affinity industry have exited the industry or significantly reduced their involvement. Seeking to streamline their own operations, minimize their regulatory exposure, and maximize their marketing ROI, they have re-organized and re-invested in ways that have left their affinity relationships behind, oftentimes after decades in business together. 

 The affinity market of just a few years ago represented $60B in annual premium. Insurers are not abandoning this outsized opportunity, but they are increasingly abandoning the model, which formerly provided great value in terms of unique access to marketable groups of strong buyers. As the calculus has changed, so have insurers’ approaches to the market and their affinity partnerships. 

Insurgent Threats To Membership

While membership organizations and their marketing partners have been questioning their models, insurgent organizations have been reinventing them without them. For-profit start-ups which have mastered the new data and digital realities have been able to quickly steal significant shares from larger membership organizations that cannot yet compete on this new playing field. 

At the same time, smaller, more nimble, not-for-profits have successfully undermined larger, “umbrella” organizations through a relentless focus on understanding their key segments and delivering them strong unique value. 

New Insurgents

Doximity, a for-profit, online startup focused on physicians, raised $85 million in venture funding and amassed more than one million physician members in six years. Their membership now includes 70% of all US physicians, 90% of fourth-year medical students, and nearly half of all nurse practitioners and PAs. 

Their revenue model, which has been cash-flow positive for some time, is based on the free membership and no advertising, monetizing the membership by selling access to recruiters. 

Member value is delivered through simple but powerful digital tools that doctors need and use every day and high-profile partnerships, including US News and World Report’s Hospital Rankings. 

One key to their meteoric growth is their mastery of the market data, which includes data on every US physician before they ever become a member.

Faced with the inevitable reality of these challenges, organizations have taken a variety of new directions, ranging from incremental and defensive to radical and innovative. 

The Dying Royalty Model

As the royalty model erodes, organizations of all sizes are forced to rethink their product portfolios. Once reliable passive income sources, their product suites have been devalued by the exit of their traditional royalty partners and an absence of new partners interested in the “standard” affinity marketing arrangement. 

This leaves many holding products and services that do not contribute much revenue and that members do not value. Retrenchment takes the form of drastic pruning, leaving only those “signature” offerings that are uniquely aligned with their mission and have commercially competitive advantages. 

In other cases, the model of “products as revenue” has given way to “products as member value,” which leads to new, highly flexible commercial arrangements to secure products members love first and foremost, sometimes with minimal or even no revenue attached at all. 

 Several prominent associations have dramatically reduced their product portfolio. They have eliminated products with low engagement and weak member value. Instead, they have consolidated their royalty streams around high-value, highly unique products with high revenue—for example, profession-specific insurance products. 

In place of their old, unproductive royalty relationships, they have launched new marketing relationships akin to sponsorships. Providers with high-value products for members can promote them through a  straightforward marketing relationship — exclusive access to highly responsive marketing channels for a negotiated fee. 

The primary driver is delivering member value, to the end of acquisition and renewal, with revenue a secondary consideration. This model is far more comfortable and attractive to most modern marketers, which opens up a whole new range of potential relationships and offerings that would have been out of reach in a traditional royalty model. 

New Directions for Association Success

Faced with the inevitable reality of these challenges, organizations have taken a variety of new directions, ranging from incremental and defensive to radical and innovative. 

Seeking Growth Globally

Organizations that have reached saturation in their markets, or are faced with insurmountable competitive pressures here in the US, have turned to international markets for new audiences, including members and subscribers, buyers, event attendees, and others. Membership models in these countries are often less mature and competition less intense than at home. 

In addition, US-based organizations often have considerable advantages in their intellectual property and access to American networks and resources. Far from a panacea, disparities in buying power and business methods require adaptability and will. Still, strategically patient and determined organizations have succeeded in offsetting pressures here at home by advancing into untapped markets abroad. 

Img Globe Association Success

One prominent engineering association, like many organizations, saw its value proposition erode due to the confluence of market forces, particularly pressure on their publishing business. 

However, unlike many organizations, they recognized and reacted to the trends early, in their case, by shifting focus to international markets in search of growth. As early as 1995, they began investing in marketing operations internationally, leading with publishing, technical standards, and events, which drove membership. 

Taking a long view allowed them to enjoy sustained and diversified growth. Fully 1/3 of all of their business, including membership, is international, where they have seen a predominance of their development while the US market has mainly remained saturated and flat. 

“The bar for association success is higher and organizations must come to grips with the increased competition and consumer loyalty around even their most tried and true core offerings, including their mission-based work.” 

Buying Growth With Acquisitions

Some organizations that have money to invest but lack the internal resources to develop critical new capabilities have chosen to buy them instead. These organizations seek out and acquire capabilities that complement the mission and elevate the organization’s position but would be impossible or impractical to build themselves. Not for the faint of heart, acquisition and integration are complex and fraught with risk. But wisely done, small purchases of niche players with unique assets or intellectual property can transform an organization’s profile and give it a real competitive advantage by cementing its hold on uniquely valuable spaces in the market and often provide new sources of revenue and relationships. 

Sae International

SAE International has made a series of acquisitions of for-profit companies that bring unique capabilities to their industry offerings, from cybersecurity to quality control to training and certification. 

These strategic acquisitions allowed them to quickly build an entirely new, industry-facing arm of their enterprise, providing new revenue streams and competitive advantage alongside, but independent of, its membership. 

Growth Through Groups

As the individual membership model becomes less and less fruitful, some organizations have opened a new avenue of membership for employers. Far from the “group discount” offered in the past, the new institutional membership includes individual membership for employees but layers on new B2B benefits uniquely available from the association and only offered to group members. 

Intelligent program design offers clear financial benefits to the employer, with calculable ROI and intangible benefits that are important to the executives who decide to buy. In addition, successful programs can more than offset declines in individual membership and potentially foretell a future in which group memberships surpass individual memberships in importance. 

Ama

AMA, recognizing that nearly half of US physicians are now employees of large health systems, created an entirely new group membership for large health systems, loaded with benefits for the group and its executives. These benefits and discounted memberships for all of their physicians were easy for executives to justify. As a result, group member growth will surpass individual member growth this year. 

What Will Association Success Look Like?

One of the most important lessons the market teaches us is that organizations that have thrived in the face of often tectonic changes responded boldly and did so a long time — even decades ago. The pace of change is only accelerating, not only in velocity but in the sheer number of fundamental shifts and unforeseen threats facing every organization, even the most venerable and entrenched. 

It is often not one new development that imperils a business model but rather a nexus of powerful but fragmented changes that overwhelm old ways of doing business and create entry points for a potential swarm of new competitors. 

From our market survey, it is clear that the pressures associations have felt are neither transitory nor entirely within their control. The pace of change will increase. 

The unexpected should be expected. And the fundamental forces at play go deeper than messaging and positioning. Instead, they encroach upon the elements of the business model itself, which entirely revolves around an organization’s ability to build and monetize an audience, that is to say, a membership. 

 Headwinds mean challenges and opportunities for association success and those who can tackle them while others struggle to stay afloat. The most successful associations have seized the moment to consider their options and courageously turn their threats into opportunities. 

3 Ways to Tell If Your Nonprofit Alignment is Inside Out

Nonprofit Alignment
Reading Time: 2 minutes

How Can You Know if Your Nonprofit Alignment is Inside Out?

Most organizations are unconsciously designed to be inside out. 

I say “unconsciously” because no leader would intentionally blinker their organization. I say “designed” because layers of decisions stack up to create a nonprofit alignment built to spend most of the time thinking about itself—decisions about how to communicate, what gets rewarded, and what information is essential. 

A history of malalignment can be challenging to turn around. These three questions will help you figure out how to get started.

Eighty percent of executives say creating an “outside-in” culture is a high priority for the future. Outside is where the good stuff happens. Buyers buy. Inventors invent. Competitors compete. An outward-focused organization has its eyes on the action. They see what’s happening now and what’s coming down the pipeline.

But, equally important, it sees itself the way it is, how it stacks up, and what futures are possible. Looking from the outside in brings a clear view of whether what you’re trying to be stacks up with what you are to your members. 

Stepping back and looking at your organization from this new perspective will allow you to define what’s stopping you from achieving the growth you know you’re capable of. 

How can you know if your nonprofit alignment is inside out? Start by asking yourself these questions.

1. What do people say are the three most important things to do for the future?

If all three are process, organization, or cultural changes, you might be inwardly focused.

2. What data do people bring to meetings?

If almost all of it is about your own performance, you might be inwardly focused.

3. Who do you focus your research on?

Ben Franklin once said: “three things are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Once an organization has turned inward, it often clings to that view for dear life. 

In one extreme example, a prominent membership organization had seen a start-up insurgent out-innovate them. It grew to three times its size in a few years. Alarmed, one leader commissioned a detailed study of their new competitor. They wanted to know how they had built a new digital model that had undermined the way they did business. 

The rest of the leadership not only dismissed this reality but denied it. They refused to believe it was happening. External perspective becomes threatening if it challenges the status quo. These leaders failed to recognize that denial is just as dangerous, if not more.

Another client, a large membership organization, was long mired in old ways. We helped them take a radically inclusive and transparent approach to make external perspectives a lever for real change. The process was exhaustive. It encompassed their entire profession, members and non-members alike. They held in-depth conversations with admired and like-minded organizations outside their own space. 

A profound reflection on their competitors and similar, more successful organizations ensued. As a result, they came to an entirely new vision of who they needed to be and where they needed to focus. With great fear, the leadership opened themselves up to an outside view, only to be pleasantly surprised at the clarity it brought them.

You can’t read the label while you’re sitting in the jar. To improve, you first have to understand who you are from an outsider’s perspective. Becoming intentional about turning your nonprofit alignment outward could be the most strategic move you could make.