Member Focus: The 2 Most Important Questions

Member Focus
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Can your nonprofit grow through member focus? Ask yourself these two questions.

Who is your association for and how clearly can you describe them?

You can “test your vision” by defining what makes members and non-members different. For example, could you look at a list of people and accurately predict which are members and not from the data? If not, you need to tighten your member focus. 

In the past, we relied on research at best and instinct at worst to profile who members are and what they want. Maybe built personas. But they all usually described joiners and non-joiners the same way. We can do much better than that in the age of big data. The most potent, predictive segmentations are not about who people are. They are about what they care about. Just as your value drives your organization, so too are your members. Data can help us get in touch with what it looks like and how your organization should use it to tighten your member focus.

One prominent medical society used outside and internal data to define its audience. First, they perceived four “attitudes,” or interest groups, that described them. Next, they used these groups to predict, at an individual level, which segment(s) they belonged to. Focusing their messaging along these segments tripled their growth rate in one year. Contrary to popular belief, doing more for your members does not necessarily mean delivering more value. Doing more of what your members need and making sure they clearly understand how that can benefit them does. Data insights drive this home. If you think this sophistication is beyond your reach, they did too. But today’s tools and resources make yesterday’s impossible the table stakes of today.

In the past, we relied on research at best and instinct at worst to profile who members are and what they want. Maybe built personas. But they usually described joiners and non-joiners the same way. We can do much better than that in the age of big data. The most potent, predictive segmentations are not about who people are. People are about what they care about. Data can help us in touch with that, too.

One prominent medical society used outside and internal data to define its audience. First, they perceived four “attitudes,” or interest groups, that described them. Next, they used these groups to predict, at an individual level, which segment(s) they belonged to. Focusing their messaging along these segments tripled their growth rate in one year. If you think this sophistication is beyond your reach, they did too. But today’s tools and resources make yesterday’s impossible the table stakes of today.

Is what your association does for members unique, and how hard would it be to duplicate?

Test your product focus. Ask yourself how quickly a well-resourced competitor could do the same things you do. If the answer is anything but “never,” you have more room to focus on your work. Organizations that can “own” a tightly-defined area of interest can win against much larger competitors. They can build fanatically loyal audiences and serve them exquisitely tailored offerings. Some smaller medical societies that have mastered this strategy have grown at eye-popping rates. Focusing on interests over descriptions has even drawn new members from outside their specialty. Even people that may not fit into your organization’s typical idea of what a member looks like may be able to benefit from what you have to offer. The key to capitalizing on their capability to help you grow is to champion a value proposition that is so clear that the benefits of joining are undeniable.      

Larger organizations with “umbrella” missions struggle here. They believe that they must serve every need of their entire audience. In reality, you best serve those who engage with you, and member focus drives engagement. If you focus on doing what you do best and ensuring your members know what that is, your ideal members will come to you. But to do this, it might be time to start stopping old practices that are holding you back from membership growth. It is challenging to stop doing some things and start doing more of others. The crucial first step to growth is the realization that member focus equals power and that less is more.

Larger organizations with “umbrella” missions struggle here. They believe that they must serve every need of their entire audience. In reality, you best serve those who engage with you, and member focus drives engagement. It is challenging to stop doing some things and start doing more of others. The crucial first step to growth is the realization that member focus equals power and that less is more.

To read more about the power of member focus, see How to Make Membership An Offer They Can’t Refuse and “Focus on Members Who Love You Most.”

Connecting in the Time of COVID-19. An Interview with Public Innovator Rich Harwood (Part 1)

Innovation For Nonprofits
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us apart. We have never been so physically distant. Does that mean disconnection is inevitable? Or does it mean we need to change the norms about how we relate to stay connected? I talked about that with Rich Harwood, founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. He has dedicated his career to supporting individuals and organizations in creating change. Rich’s work is about helping public organizations “turn outward”. He guides them on their path to connect with their communities in a more meaningful way. He sees the virtual communications we have turned to as an opportunity for a new kind of connection. Rich shared a touching story about a funeral service in a Jewish home, held by necessity over video. 200 people attended, all in different locations, including the family. Even though he wasn’t physically there, he could support the rabbi and the people grieving. He was able to witness their heartfelt sentiments much more closely than if he’d been there in person. When they spoke, he felt he was right there with them in an intimate way. This is one of the ways in which we have begun to pivot in how we connect with each other as a result of social distancing. He also talked about a large meeting he attended by video, with 70 some people in different locations. The digital setting completely changed the norms of the meeting. People were more focused. There was more participation, less phone checking, and closeness to whoever was speaking. In a live meeting today, there is physical proximity but social distancing. In a virtual meeting, this flips 180 degrees. People feel more attuned to each other and the work they are doing. Most of us now have shared similar experiences. They highlight new possibilities for communication in our interpersonal relationships. We have the opportunity to be more intimate and focused, and to change the norms for how we engage with one another. On a larger scale, the nonprofit organization Rich works with will have to reframe their methods of engagement. Organizations are facing new challenges and financial pressure. This will force them to take a “shared responsibility” approach in their communities. They pivot to an orientation more about these communities and less about themselves. Moving forward, we will need each other. Most importantly, we will have to support one another, and work together to be effective. See excerpts from my conversation with Rich here.

The Two Best Practices for Innovation in Times of Crisis

Innovation In Crisis
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic has led some organizations to pivot in their operations. They’re doing this in ways and at a speed, they never thought possible. How are such quantum leaps possible in times of crisis, and what can we learn from that?

An Expert in Innovation in Nonprofit Organizations

I spoke with Dr. Peter Temes, Founder and President of The Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations (ILO). He launched the Institute in 2005 to bring together senior executives leading innovation worldwide. The current ILO membership includes AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, NASA, Pfizer, and the University of Alabama, among many others. So how are innovation leaders attacking this crisis?

Peter says the pent-up demand for innovation in some organizations is finally getting unleashed. As a result, the “thumb on the scale” to preserve old ways and hold back change is gone.

Yet the focus is shifting to innovating systems over point solutions. Most notably, the ability to match resources to needs across complex networks. Ventilators are a prime example of this in the age of COVID-19. Resource matching is an underdeveloped capacity in many organizations. This is true on the people’s side of things, too. For example, some nurses could operate ventilation equipment in a public health crisis but have not yet been trained. Systems to address and anticipate those needs are now top of mind.

So how does innovation at a systems level happen? Peter points to two enduring best practices.

Lower the cost of failure

Associations can incentivize people to experiment more at lower costs in time and money, but also reputation and brand. A crisis environment, one might suggest, changes those equations dramatically.

Focus more on discovery than prediction

Try something and expect that it might fail. Treat it as an opportunity to pivot to a different way or even a new concept altogether if it does. In times of overwhelming change like these, it is impossible to predict what will happen. There is no time to work through the gap between what we predicted and what happened. Organizations need to work more like lean startups than they ever could have to keep up with the pace of change.

Want more of Peter’s insights on innovation in extraordinary times? Listen to excerpts from our conversation here.