Forget Unicorns, Think Platypi: Why Associations Are Better Than Corporations

Association Leadership
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Myth of the Unicorn: Why Your Association Doesn't Need to Be One

In the realm of successful organizations, Silicon Valley’s “purple unicorns” – those rare, highly valued startups like Apple, Amazon, or Google – often steal the spotlight. Their strategic efficiency and innovation engines seem unmatched. Yet, another type of organization, less flashy but equally effective, deserves recognition: associations. Think of them as the platypuses of the organizational world.

While unicorns are celebrated for their mythical allure, platypuses, with their duck-like bills, beaver-like tails, and egg-laying habits, are often misunderstood. Yet, these seemingly bizarre creatures are perfectly adapted to their environments, thriving where others fail. Similarly, associations with unique structures and goals frequently outperform corporate giants in their specialized niches.

Newcomers to association leadership, especially those from corporate backgrounds, might find this surprising. But associations’ seemingly chaotic nature is intentional, and it’s precisely what makes them thrive.

1. The Triple Bottom Line Advantage

Newcomers to the association world, especially those from corporate backgrounds, might find this surprising. But associations' seemingly chaotic nature is intentional, and it's precisely what makes them thrive.

Unlike corporations, where profit reigns supreme, associations dance to the rhythm of a different drum – the Triple Bottom Line. This unique approach to success is an association leadership balancing act that requires juggling three equally important factors:

      • Mission: The North Star of any association. This is the fundamental reason for its existence, the change it seeks to make in the world. A strong mission guides every decision, from strategic planning to daily operations. It’s the soul of the organization, the driving force behind its work.

      • Member Value: More than just a membership card or a newsletter, member value encompasses the tangible and intangible benefits that members receive. It’s about providing relevant resources, fostering a sense of community, advocating for their interests, and ultimately, enriching their lives and careers. Associations thrive when they consistently deliver value that exceeds member expectations.

      • Money: While not the sole focus, financial sustainability is essential for any association. It enables the organization to invest in its mission, provide valuable services to members, and adapt to changing needs. But money is a means to an end, not the end itself. Associations must always remember that their financial decisions should align with their mission and serve the interests of their members.

The Triple Bottom Line is not just a buzzword; it’s a holistic approach to measuring success. It recognizes that associations have a responsibility to their members, their communities, and the broader world. By focusing on mission, member value, and money, association leadership can create lasting impact that extends far beyond the bottom line.

2. A Conglomerate of Purpose

Associations aren’t monolithic entities like the sleek, streamlined unicorns of Silicon Valley. They’re more like platypuses, a curious amalgam of seemingly disparate parts. Associations are ecosystems of interconnected businesses under a shared mission. This might include membership programs, publications, events, advocacy initiatives, and charitable foundations.

While this structure can lead to siloed efforts, when done right, it creates a powerful synergy where each part contributes uniquely to the overall success. Think of it as a diverse team with specialized skills collaborating towards a common goal. 

This diversity of functions, like the platypus’s varied features, enables association leadership to adapt and address a broader range of needs than corporations typically do.

3. Distributed Power: A Strength, Not a Weakness

Associations often have multiple power centers, with various boards, committees, and volunteer leaders contributing their expertise. This hyper-distributed association leadership might seem chaotic, but it serves a vital purpose.

Associations are not just about achieving goals; they’re about empowering a collective to achieve many diverse goals. Their purpose is to serve the shared purpose of their constituents. This democratic approach ensures that the organization remains focused on its mission and the needs of its members. 

This distributed power structure, like the platypus’s decentralized nervous system, allows association leadership to be more responsive and adaptable than corporations with more centralized leadership.

Associations are not just about achieving goals; they're about empowering a collective to achieve many diverse goals.

4. Consensus as a Superpower: The Art of Balancing Priorities

While corporations streamline decision-making, associations thrive on consensus. This approach may be slower but fosters buy-in, inclusivity, and a deep understanding of diverse perspectives.

Great association leaders understand that their role is to facilitate consensus, even when faced with competing priorities and the complexities of the triple bottom line. It’s a “pathological democracy,” a unique characteristic like the platypus’s electroreceptors, that allows associations to navigate their environments and achieve what other organizations can’t. 

This consensus-driven approach often leads to more equitable and sustainable outcomes than the top-down decision-making common in corporations.

Rather than trying to fit into the corporate mold, associations should embrace their unbusinesslike nature, recognizing that it's their greatest strength and what sets them apart.

The Platypus Paradigm: A New Model for Association Leadership

In the world of organizations, forget the mythical allure of unicorns. Instead, embrace the platypus – the strange, misunderstood creature that thrives where others fail. Associations, like platypi, may appear messy and complex, but their unique structures are what make them resilient, adaptable, and remarkably effective in their own way. 

Their distributed power, consensus-driven approach, and focus on multiple bottom lines enable them to address complex challenges, serve diverse needs, and achieve long-term success. 

Rather than trying to fit into the corporate mold, associations should embrace their unbusinesslike nature, recognizing that it’s their greatest strength and what sets them apart.

From Passive to Passionate: How to Supercharge Member Engagement

Member Engagement And Retention
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Member engagement and retention are the ultimate weapons in the battle for long-term success. Without a loyal and actively involved base, even the most well-intentioned organization can struggle to grow or sustain itself. This article steps up to be your champion in this fight, offering a treasure trove of insights and strategies to turn passive members into enthusiastic participants.

Defining Engagement: Beyond Participation

Engagement goes far beyond the act of simply showing up. It’s a dynamic two-way street where both the organization and its members actively contribute and receive value. This exchange can manifest in many ways, fostering a sense of connection and belonging within a thriving community.

Recognizing this multifaceted nature of engagement is the key to unlocking a more involved and invested membership base. By understanding how members can contribute value, organizations can cultivate a more profound sense of connection and, ultimately, achieve their growth objectives.

Engagement transcends mere participation. It's a two-way street where an organization and its members exchange value.

The Value Hierarchy of Engagements

Not all engagement activities are created equal. On one hand, high-impact, infrequent events like annual conferences offer substantial value. These gatherings provide opportunities for in-depth learning, networking with peers, and fostering a sense of community. However, these events typically occur only once a year, limiting their overall impact on engagement. Conversely, low-impact, frequent actions like receiving newsletters may not generate significant engagement on their own. 

The critical challenge for organizations lies in identifying the sweet spot – activities that contribute most significantly to member value and influence membership renewal. This requires a shift in perspective, moving beyond simply counting the number of engagements to understanding their depth and impact. 

Organizations can uncover hidden gems by analyzing data on member activity and its correlation with renewal rates. For example, volunteering opportunities or participation in advocacy efforts, while less frequent than attending a webinar, might demonstrate a more profound member commitment and positively influence renewal decision.

Measuring Engagement with Precision

While offering a starting point, traditional surveys are limited in capturing the full spectrum of member engagement and retention. Imagine relying solely on surveys to gauge a student’s performance—you might miss valuable insights from class participation or project work. Similarly, surveys can miss subtle engagement cues that paint a more accurate picture.

This is where data-driven analysis enters the game, providing a far more nuanced picture. Organizations can uncover hidden gems by examining the frequency of member activities and their correlation with renewal rates. Think of it like this: Surveys ask members, “How engaged do you feel?” while data analysis shows you, “What actions demonstrate true engagement?” Analyzing website visits, event attendance, volunteer sign-ups, and even content downloads paints a more complete picture of how members interact with the organization.

This data can then be used to create an “engagement scorecard.” This scorecard goes beyond a simple yes/no response and assigns a value to each activity based on its frequency and correlation with member renewal. The scorecard empowers organizations to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach and tailor their strategies to activities that genuinely resonate with their members, fostering long-term engagement and a thriving membership base.

Not all engagement activities are created equal.

High-Value Engagement Actions: Where the Magic Happens

Certain actions consistently emerge as the heavy hitters of member engagement and retention, offering significant value and fostering deeper connections. These high-value engagements include:

    • Personal interactions through local chapters: Face-to-face interactions in local chapters create a sense of community and belonging. Members can connect with peers, share experiences, and receive personalized support, fostering a deeper loyalty to the organization.
    • Volunteering: Volunteering allows members to contribute their skills and expertise to a cause they care about. This two-way street strengthens member commitment and builds a stronger sense of ownership within the organization.
    • Advocacy efforts: Participating in advocacy campaigns allows members to collectively have their voices heard on issues that matter to them. This active participation fosters a sense of purpose and strengthens the bond between members and the organization they represent.
    • Interestingly, recurring engagements like specialized insurance purchases also rank highly as high-value actions.

This finding challenges the conventional wisdom that discounts and one-off events are the key to member engagement and retention. While these tactics still have a place, the data suggests that members value benefits that seamlessly integrate with their daily lives and provide ongoing value.

Strategies for Supercharging Member Engagement and Retention

Enhancing member engagement and retention requires a strategic shift, starting with a comprehensive audit of your current offerings. Think of it like revamping your product line – you need to identify what resonates with your members and what’s gathering dust on the shelf. This audit analyzes member activity data and its correlation with renewal rates. By understanding which activities generate high engagement and contribute most to member retention, you can prioritize these “star performers.” 

On the other hand, the audit might reveal some low-engagement benefits. These could be generic discounts on unrelated products or access to infrequently used resources. Instead of clinging to these underperformers, organizations should consider strategically reallocating resources. Phasing out low-engagement benefits frees up valuable budget and human resources that can be channeled towards more impactful initiatives.

Organizations can create a balanced engagement portfolio by prioritizing high-value benefits and strategically reallocating resources. This portfolio caters to diverse member needs and preferences, ensuring a year-round engagement cycle that keeps members actively involved and invested in the organization’s success. Imagine a membership experience that goes beyond one-off events – it’s a dynamic ecosystem offering ongoing value, fostering continuous interaction, and ultimately driving member retention.

Engagement for New vs. Tenured Members

Engagement strategies shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. Like nurturing a plant, member engagement thrives when tailored to the member’s lifecycle stage.

New Members (First 90 Days): Imagine a new member as a seedling – full of potential but needing careful attention to establish strong roots. This is a critical period for setting the stage for long-term engagement. Organizations should implement a targeted onboarding program during the first 90 days. Techniques like personalized welcome emails, phone calls, or access to online resources like FAQs or video tutorials can empower new members with the knowledge they need to navigate the organization’s offerings. 

Tenured Members: Think of tenured members as established trees that provide shade and stability to the organization. However, even established trees need occasional pruning and care to flourish. For these members, the focus shifts towards deepening their connection and maximizing their value to the organization. Targeted email series can be used to share exclusive content, industry updates, or member success stories, demonstrating the organization’s value proposition and keeping them actively involved. 

By tailoring strategies to each lifecycle stage, organizations can nurture a thriving membership ecosystem, fostering ongoing engagement and loyalty from both new and established members.

The ultimate goal is to construct a high-engagement portfolio that maximizes member value and drives renewal rates.

Building a Thriving Engagement Portfolio

The ultimate goal is to construct a high-engagement portfolio, a collection of membership benefits and programs that truly resonate with your members. By prioritizing engagement, you can maximize the value members perceive from their membership, ultimately driving renewal rates and securing a loyal base.

Here’s how this approach works:

    • Member-centric focus: Shift the focus from simply offering benefits to strategically evaluating each based on its ability to drive member engagement and retention. This means understanding what truly motivates your members and prioritizing benefits that align with their needs and interests.
    • Data-driven decisions: Don’t rely on guesswork. Utilize surveys, feedback mechanisms, and analytics to score each benefit based on engagement value. This data will guide you in allocating resources towards the most impactful offerings.
    • Enhanced member experience: Members who find value and purpose in their membership are more likely to stay engaged. A high-engagement portfolio fosters a sense of satisfaction and belonging, leading to a more positive overall membership experience.
    • Organizational growth: A high-engagement portfolio prioritizes member needs and fosters loyalty, resulting in a stronger organization. Increased retention rates mean sustainable revenue streams, which in turn fuel the further development of member-centric programs and services.

Conclusion: A Blueprint for Success

Member engagement and retention isn’t a one-size-fits-all tactic; it’s a dynamic and multifaceted process. Think of it like cultivating a thriving garden – you need to understand the soil, choose the right plants, and provide ongoing care. Similarly, successful member engagement and retention requires a strategic and data-driven approach.

These insights offer a valuable blueprint for revitalizing organizations’ engagement efforts. By fostering a deep understanding of your members and prioritizing high-impact activities, you can cultivate a vibrant and engaged membership base that thrives for years to come.

Call to Action

Evaluate your organization’s current member engagement and retention strategies and consider implementing the abovementioned approaches. Focusing on high-value engagements and strategically enhancing your engagement portfolio can lead to sustained growth and a more engaged membership base.

How to Become Your Members’ First Choice: Strategies for “Second Societies”

Member Value Proposition
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Are You Your Members’ First Choice?

Do most of your members belong to other associations? If they had to pick one, would it be you? If the answer is no, you may be a second society. Members’ first choice will always be the organization with the member value proposition most closely aligned with what they do for a living, where they can find the resources and experiences specific to their field—the one they must belong to do their job well.

The Struggles of a Second Society

The first challenge is that you are optional, so you must make an excellent case for membership. Moreover, you are one of many options. You may be the third, fourth, or even lower choice. People have limited time and money to invest in membership, and you must compete for them. And when times get tough, you are at the top of the list to drop. When the boss stops paying, or the paycheck stops stretching, you are a much easier “no” than their number one choice. This shows up as low retention or cyclical membership that booms and busts with the economy.

Too Much and Too Much of the Same

Members choose their first society because it meets their professional needs so well. Most of what they need to do their job, they get there. The member value proposition could not be more clear. They join second societies to fill in gaps in their sub-specialties, interests, and networks. But is that member value proposition clear?

The answer often is no, for two reasons: First, they often do many of the same things primary associations do, only less well. Primary societies are deep and focused. They concentrate their resources on serving the core professional needs of their members. Second societies cannot beat them at their own game, but they all too often try.

The second reason is that they try to do too much. They want to meet as many of their members’ needs as possible, but so does everyone else in their space; so many weak offerings overlap and fail to inspire people to choose them.

When the boss stops paying, or the paycheck stops stretching, you are a much easier “no” than their number one choice.

The Vacation Home Analogy

Second societies are like vacation homes. No one needs a reason to stay home this weekend, but they need a reason to make the trip to the lake house. It needs something pretty special you can’t get at home or by going to a hotel. A great vacation home fills a white space in your life. You go there to get something you don’t get someplace else. It doesn’t have everything, but what it does have is special. Not to torture the analogy, but a great vacation home has the right to win your free time.

Your Right to Win

So, how do you get the right to win? Wee Willie Keeler, one of the best baseball hitters ever, said it best: “Keep your eyes clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t.” In other words, find the white space and offer something your competitors can’t. A lot of what you do may overlap with others. Ask yourself what doesn’t. What can you do that others in your space cannot?

For example, one Sequence client was focused on urban development, a space with professionals from many walks of life: developers, investors, urban planners, and so on. Many members belonged to nine or more associations to meet their professional needs. So where was the white space? It became clear that this association was the only place all those different people could come together to solve problems. They alone could convene those kinds of curated, trusted environments, so much that their most exclusive work groups cost thousands of dollars, which members line up to pay.

A lot of what you do may overlap with others. Ask yourself what doesn’t. What can you do that others in your space cannot?

Another Sequence client was in the food space, serving scientists and technicians from dozens of different disciplines, who, on average, belonged to four or more associations. They found their right to win in the space between all those scientific fields. They could provide connections, community, and trusted information that cut across the entire industry, something members needed badly, and no one else could provide. This allowed them to double down on the white space and stop doing things other societies did better that had little value for the organization.

Conclusion: A Winning Member Value Proposition

Successful organizations embrace their not-first-choice position and go all-in on well-defined spaces where they have a clear right to win. The key to finding that winning value proposition is understanding what your members need that no one else is giving them and meeting it in a way only you can. If you become world-class at doing that, your association will thrive.

From Mundane to Magical: How AI is Reshaping Association Management

Ai In Association Management
Reading Time: 3 minutes

AI In Association Management 2024

As the landscape of AI in association management continues to evolve, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) stands out as a transformative force, propelling us towards enhanced efficiency, deeper member engagement, and more strategic insights. Far from being just another tech trend, AI has become a fundamental element of our strategic toolkit, revolutionizing how we interact with members, streamline operations, and make data-driven decisions.

From automating mundane tasks to personalizing member experiences and predicting future behaviors, AI’s role is multifunctional, heralding a new era of innovation and efficiency.

Streamlining Operations Through Automation

AI technologies, especially in the form of chatbots and advanced knowledge bases, are redefining how associations interact with their members. These AI tools offer instant support, addressing common inquiries and resolving issues around the clock. This immediacy and convenience are crucial in satisfying the modern member’s expectations for quick and accessible support, thereby boosting member satisfaction and loyalty.


AARP’s Sami Hassanyeh discusses using AI for Member Service

An example of this in action is an association that introduced a chatbot to handle frequently asked questions, such as event details and membership renewal processes. The chatbot managed to reduce incoming member service calls by 30%, significantly improving response times and member satisfaction.

Personalizing Member Communications

Personalization is another area where AI is making a significant impact. Through dynamic versioning powered by AI, associations can now deliver customized messages tailored to individual members’ preferences and interests. This method uses data analytics and machine learning algorithms to dissect member behavior and engagement, allowing for highly targeted communication strategies that significantly enhance member engagement.

A health professionals’ association utilized AI to segment its communications, resulting in a 25% increase in engagement with their email campaigns. By sending personalized content based on each member’s interests and interaction history, the association not only boosted engagement but also increased attendance at targeted events and webinars.

In a competitive landscape, this ability to tailor marketing strategies can significantly impact membership growth.

Transforming Membership Marketing with AI

AI-generated content and sophisticated data-driven marketing strategies are transforming how associations attract and retain members. By analyzing vast datasets, AI tools can pinpoint the most effective messaging and channels for different membership segments, optimizing marketing efforts to resonate with the intended audience. In a competitive landscape, this ability to tailor marketing strategies can significantly impact membership growth.

For instance, an association leveraging AI for membership marketing saw a 15% increase in new member acquisition within the first year. By employing continuous A/B testing and analyzing member data, the association identified key messages and channels that appealed to potential members, streamlining their marketing strategy for maximum impact.

Predicting Behaviors with Digital Twins

Digital twins in AI represent a groundbreaking approach where virtual replicas of members are created to simulate behaviors and preferences. This method allows associations to test various engagement strategies and membership models without risking real-world fallout. Insights from these simulations can inform strategic decisions, ensuring offerings are closely aligned with member needs.

An environmental advocacy group used digital twins to test reactions to different membership fee structures and benefit packages. The simulations revealed preferences for tiered membership options, leading to a restructuring that increased membership renewals by 20%.

AARP’s Sami Hassanyeh discusses using Digital Twins to simulate member response

This method allows associations to test various engagement strategies and membership models without risking real-world fallout.

Informing Strategic Decisions

Beyond operational efficiencies and marketing, AI-powered data analytics play a crucial role in strategic decision-making. For example, dues sensitivity analysis helps associations find the sweet spot for pricing, balancing financial sustainability with perceived value. Loyalty driver analysis, on the other hand, uncovers factors that affect member retention, guiding enhancements in value propositions and engagement strategies.

A trade association conducted a loyalty driver analysis using AI, identifying key services that were most valued by their members. By focusing on these areas, the association improved its retention rate by 18% over two years.


The integration of AI into association management heralds a paradigm shift towards more efficient, personalized, and strategically informed operations. By automating tasks, enhancing member services, personalizing communications, revolutionizing marketing efforts, simulating member behavior, and aiding in strategic decisions, AI technologies offer a comprehensive suite of tools for associations ready to embrace the future. As we continue to explore and integrate AI, associations are poised to meet the evolving needs of their members more effectively, ensuring sustained success in an increasingly digital world.

For more on AI in association management, please see:  2024 Association Outlook: Embrace the Change.

From Fuzzy to Focused: Why Member Focus Matters

Member Focus
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Many associations talk a good game about member focus, but their actions tell a different story. Generic benefits, one-size-fits-all communication, and a lack of understanding member needs all contribute to a disengaged membership base. 

But there’s hope! By shifting your mindset and embracing a genuinely member-centric approach, you can unlock a new level of engagement and value for your members. This article will equip you with two fundamental questions that can serve as a springboard for creating a thriving member community. We’ll also delve into actionable tactics to help you better understand your members and leverage that understanding to deliver exceptional value and foster meaningful connections.

Your Mysterious Members: Unveiling Who They Are and What They Need

In today’s crowded marketplace, where associations compete for the attention of busy professionals, a laser focus on your target audience is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. Forget “one size fits all” marketing that dilutes your message and fails to resonate. The key to success is genuinely understanding your members, not just as a demographic statistic but as individual professionals with distinct needs, aspirations, and challenges.

Can you vividly describe your members and what makes them unique? Imagine you’re creating a detailed character profile. What is their career stage? Are they just entering the workforce, navigating mid-career challenges, or approaching retirement? What specific industry or niche do they work in? What are their most significant pain points and areas where they crave knowledge and support? Delving deeper, consider their preferred learning styles. Do they thrive in interactive workshops, prefer on-demand webinars, or get the most out of in-depth industry publications?

Going beyond demographics and building rich member profiles, you can tailor your offerings and communication to resonate deeper. This fosters a stronger sense of connection and ensures your association delivers the kind of value that keeps members engaged and coming back for more.

The key to success lies in truly understanding your members, not just as a demographic statistic, but as individual professionals with distinct needs, aspirations, and challenges.

The Member Focus "Vision Tests": Are You Truly Member-Centric?

Test #1: Understanding Your Audience
    • Detailed Member Profiles: Move beyond basic demographics like age and location. Craft rich profiles that capture your members’ interests, career stages, and specific pain points. What are their day-to-day challenges? What are their long-term career goals? What keeps them up at night (professionally speaking)? Understanding these nuances allows you to tailor your offerings and resources to address their needs directly.

    • Segmented Communication: Gone are the days of blasting generic emails to your entire membership. Leverage your member data to segment your communication based on their profiles. This ensures members receive information relevant to their interests and career stage, leading to higher engagement and open rates.

    • Active Feedback Mechanisms: Don’t make assumptions about what your members want. Regularly gather member feedback through surveys, member focus groups, and social media polls. These insights are invaluable for understanding member needs and satisfaction, allowing you to continually refine your offerings and ensure they remain relevant.

Test #2: Uniqueness and Value Proposition
    • Unmatched Value: What sets your association apart from the crowd? What unique problems do you solve for your members that your competitors can’t? Identify your niche and become the go-to authority in that specific area. This attracts highly engaged members who value your specialized expertise and the solutions you provide.

    • Competitor Check: Conduct a competitive analysis. Can another organization easily replicate your services or resources? If so, refine your niche and identify what makes your association unique and irreplaceable. Focus on developing programs and resources that address industry challenges or cater to a particular member segment’s needs.

Data Detective Work: Uncovering Member Insights

Gone are the days of relying solely on intuition to understand your members. Today, a wealth of data empowers associations to gain a more nuanced understanding of member preferences and behaviors. This allows you to move beyond guesswork and create a genuinely member-centric experience. Here are some powerful tools to leverage:

    • Member Surveys and Feedback Forms: Craft targeted surveys and feedback forms to gather valuable insights directly from your members. Ask questions about their needs, challenges, preferred learning styles, and overall satisfaction with your association’s offerings. Analyze the data to identify trends and common themes. This member-driven intel is crucial for shaping your strategy and ensuring your association delivers the value your members crave.

    • Website Analytics: Your association website is a goldmine of data waiting to be unearthed. Leverage website analytics tools to understand how members navigate your site, what content they engage with most, and where they drop off. This user behavior data helps you identify areas of interest, content gaps, and potential improvements to the user experience. By optimizing your website based on member behavior, you can ensure it serves as a valuable resource and keeps members coming back for more.

    • Social Media Listening Tools: Social media platforms offer a window into your members’ hearts and minds. Utilize social media listening tools to track industry trends, identify member concerns, and gauge sentiment around your association’s initiatives. This real-time feedback loop lets you stay on top of member needs and proactively address their concerns. You can also use social media to foster discussions, spark engagement, and build a stronger sense of community among your members.

Example in Action: A leading medical society implemented a data-driven approach to member focus. They conducted in-depth surveys to identify distinct member interests within their broad field. By leveraging this data, they segmented their offerings, creating targeted content, events, and resources for each member segment. This significantly increased member engagement and overall satisfaction, demonstrating the power of data-driven member focus.

Gone are the days of relying solely on intuition to understand your members. Today, a wealth of data empowers associations to gain a more nuanced understanding of member preferences and behaviors.

Sharpening Your Member Focus: The Power of Niche Specialization

Larger associations can fall into the trap of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, catering to a broad spectrum of members with diverse needs. This “one size fits all” approach often results in generic offerings that fail to resonate with any particular group. Proper member focus, however, requires strategic narrowing. By specializing in a specific niche within your industry, you can carve out a unique position and become the go-to authority for that particular area. This strategic focus attracts highly engaged members who value your deep expertise and the solutions you provide for their challenges.

The Thriving Association: A Cycle of Member-Centric Growth

Reallocation may be necessary, but it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Focusing resources on actively engaged members offers a win-win for your association. By strategically allocating resources towards this core group, you can create a more impactful experience. High-quality programming, exclusive events, and targeted resources tailored directly to their needs and interests will foster a more profound sense of value and strengthen their connection to the association.

Investing Wisely: Prioritizing Your Most Engaged Members

Member focus isn’t a destination—it’s a journey—and it’s the lifeblood of thriving associations. The professional landscape is constantly evolving, and so must your understanding of your members’ needs. 

Your association’s value proposition is a living document, not a static one. As your members’ needs change, so should your offerings. Regularly assess the value and uniqueness of your programs, resources, and events. Are they still addressing your members’ most pressing concerns? Leverage data and member feedback to identify areas for improvement and ensure you stay ahead of the curve.

Ditch the guesswork and embrace a data-driven approach. Member surveys, website analytics, and social media listening tools provide valuable insights into member behavior and preferences. By understanding your members, you can make data-driven decisions about resource allocation, content creation, and event planning, ensuring your offerings resonate deeply and deliver maximum value.

Call to Action

Is your association ready to thrive in today’s competitive landscape? Embrace the power of member focus! Implement the strategies outlined in this article to gain a deeper understanding of your members, refine your offerings to deliver exceptional value, and cultivate a vibrant, engaged community. The future of your association hinges on prioritizing your members’ needs.

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

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Crafting Irresistible Member Value in 4 Steps

Crafting Irresistible Member Value: 4 Steps To Extraordinary Transformation.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

This article first appeared in AssociationNOW as Four Steps to Creating Irresistible Member Value

4 Steps To Creating Irresistible Member Value

Brands like Apple and Amazon have created so much value that consumers can’t get enough of their products and services. Your association needs to offer that same type of value to its members. A look at four ways to do just that.

When we talk about member value in associations, we don’t want members to feel like we just gave them a bargain. We want them to love us. We want them to keep coming back. We want to be irresistible. We all have had that experience with brands. Apple products come to mind. (In fact, chances are that you’re using one to read this right now.) For another example, a client once told me: “If Amazon doesn’t sell it, I don’t need it!” That’s irresistible value.

The question is, how do you create that for your members?

The famous brand evangelist Guy Kawasaki said, “If you provide enough value, then you earn the right to recruit new customers.” Think about that in terms of membership—you have to earn the right to recruit new members by delivering enough value to deserve their membership. You must have the right to win.

Imagine a coach watching a player on the field and saying, “That kid has a right to win out there!” They’re saying that they are the right player, playing the right game with the right skills for that moment. They’re saying she has the right “way to play.” If your association is the player, there are four steps to finding your “way to play” and creating irresistible member value.

Step One: Narrow Your Focus

If you want to be irresistible, you first need to ask yourself, “Who do I want to be irresistible to?” You don’t have the right to win every game, and you won’t have the right to win every member. The more narrowly you define your target, the more member value you will deliver. That may sound wrong to you. You want as many members as you can get, right? But the way to get (and keep) them is by segmenting them as clearly as possible.

One prominent medical association earned the right to win by segmenting its audience based on their interests. Their research and data analysis revealed that doctors care the most about four things: advocacy, education, practice improvement, and patient outcomes. No matter their age or where they worked, at least one of those things mattered a lot to every doctor they spoke to. 

By defining their way to play for each segment, they transformed their membership—and tripled their growth rate—in two years.

Step Two: Find the Unmet Needs

Your audience has many needs, as any member needs analysis will tell you. But one way or another, most of their needs already get met. You will find your right to win in the gaps—the unmet or under-met needs for which there is no other solution. Filling those gaps may be more challenging than it sounds. You must briefly forget your current offerings, have honest conversations with actual members, and listen openly to what they say. 

Their unmet needs may not end up being what you expected.

“The way to get (and keep) members is by segmenting them as clearly as possible.”

An international engineering society did just this. When they listened to their members, they heard that industry leaders needed space to collaborate in precompetitive ways on emerging technologies. In their current state, the society could not legally do this. Stepping up to serve their members’ needs led to the launch of a multimillion-dollar new business.


Every organization has unique assets and capabilities, things they have or do that no one else could easily imitate. It could be your reputation. It could be data or information. It could be your ability to bring people together. Your unique assets are the ingredients of your right to win—your best chance of winning is in places where no one else can play.

One global professional society, struggling with growth, was convinced they needed a new business model. But an inventory of their capabilities revealed that what they alone could do was bring people across their entire industry from around the world together to get things done. Their content and training were excellent but not unique. However, their events couldn’t be matched.

By doubling down on their power to convene, they more than doubled their business.

Step Four: Choose Your Way to Play

The intersection of unmet member needs and your unique capabilities is the key to your way to play. If you meet the unmet needs of the right members, in the right way, when no one else can do it, you will have the right to win their membership. Your member value will be irresistible.

The examples here are real-world stories of associations going beyond giving members a bargain. They provide their members with something they need and cannot get elsewhere. They made themselves irresistible and transformed their businesses in the process.

Unleashing Member Engagement: Overcoming The 3 Biggest Challenges

Unleash Member Engagement: Conquer 3 Major Challenges
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Member Engagement Is The Key to Renewal

What is member engagement? We usually talk about it from our organization’s perspective. However, real growth happens when we start thinking about it from the perspective of a member as an experience of value. Engagement is a meaningful experience of value by a member.

This takes on a lot of forms. It could be great content, a product, an experience, or interactions with other members. It makes sense that the more of those valuable experiences you create, the more likely people are to renew. They want to have more and more of those experiences.

Why is member engagement critical? In all of our research, engagement is the number one renewal driver. It’s the only driver that really matters.

Engagement is not just about renewal. We want members to engage because that’s how we execute our mission. We want them to get value from us, we want them to learn, we want them to engage, and we want them to connect. So, the mission of an organization is driven by member engagement. But as you know, renewal is where the hard numbers are. So, it is the best barometer of association engagement.

There’s a lot of data to prove that the best way to improve retention is by focusing on member engagement, especially early in the membership cycle. A study by Dynamic Benchmarking shows that those focusing on first-year engagement across all associations see a 6- to 12-point lift in their first-year renewal rates.

If you started at an average of 58%, rising to an average of 70% is an enormous lift. The bigger your association, the better those results are.

How Many Associations Get Engagement Strategy Wrong

Many associations are getting member engagement strategy wrong, despite a wealth of data proving that the best way to improve retention is by focusing on engagement, especially early in the membership cycle. So, what are associations doing wrong when it comes to member engagement? There are three main things.

1. They Don't Measure Member Engagement

We haven’t defined member engagement well as an industry, so it becomes hard to track. Ideally, the very best organizations have an engagement score. They can score their members on how engaged they are. This is often a very accurate predictor of their likelihood to renew. Unfortunately, most associations haven’t gotten that far. 

They don’t have the data or the metrics to say: are we doing a good job? Are we not doing a good job? What are members engaging in or not engaging in? And how are those things correlated with renewal? Measuring engagement is critical.

2. They Don't Devote Resources to Engagement

This is a real obstacle for a lot of associations. They don’t devote enough money to engagement. The Dynamic Benchmarking study showed that associations only spend 1% of their budgets on member engagement even though it’s the best investment they could make.

3. Members Don't Know What They Really Do

Marketing your existing members about your current resources is as important as recruiting new members. Associations often assume that their members know as much about their work as they do. This is empirically untrue. We did a very successful project with the American Medical Association where we asked the question: what do members think that we do?

Only 20% of the members could mention anything except the flagship journal. Of course, they all knew about JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Still, they didn’t know about the dozens and dozens of other things the American Medical Association does that doctors care about. We have seen this play out repeatedly in our work with associations. You cannot engage your members if they do not know your benefits exist.

Three Ways to Drive Member Engagement

What can your association do differently to ignite member engagement as a tool for renewal?

These three things should be at the heart of your engagement strategy.

1. Segment Membership by Engagement Activity

Beyond the services and resources you offer, you can engage members in intangible things. Advocacy and volunteering are very engaging. Members want to be involved in grassroots activities for others, know more about that, and know what you’re doing to support it. They want to be a part of it in the world. 

It requires focus and committed investment in communicating that effectively. However associations that can do that see results in their member engagement and renewal.

2. Prioritize Engagement Over Recruitment

Acquiring new members is expensive. It generally costs about one year’s dues to acquire a new member, while renewing an existing member is much cheaper. Highly engaged members cost almost nothing to renew. They renew themselves.

New members don’t renew very well. Only about half of them will stick around for the second year. Your investment to recruit about half of the new member group will be wasted. But if you renew a member once, maybe twice, the likelihood is that they will continue forever. Investing in engagement and retention has a much higher ROI. 

Sit down with your CFO and figure out what the lifetime value of your members is. What is the total amount a member spends on average with you divided by your number of members? 

You should be thinking about this number over the tenure of membership. It will tell you the long-term value of a new member, the long-term value of retention, and how much you should invest in membership. How long are they going to stay with you? You’ll likely find it worth investing more in a current member’s lifetime value than in a new member’s annual dues.

3. Focus on the First 90 Days of Membership

The first key is to focus on a member’s first year with your organization. This is the most critical year to help them experience the right value and to have the best experiences with you. Why is that? As we’ve just seen, first-year members are the hardest to renew. In general, 50-60% of them will stay, and the rest will leave. But there’s a tipping point at the second renewal. 

Everywhere we go, we find that they’re more likely to renew after the first year. Once a member has renewed two or three times, they will likely continue. So the best strategy is to engage members right in the first year, to get them engaged with something they want to continue across the years.

The second key is to focus your engagement efforts on the first 90 days of that first year. Research has shown that you only have members’ full attention for the first 90 days and have it to the fullest extent for the first 30. They’ve just joined your organization, are excited, and want to know what’s in it for them. Their attention slowly wanes at 60 days and again at 90 because if you have not engaged them in a valuable experience by then, you probably won’t. You’ve lost their attention.

How can your organization employ this member attention “sweet spot” to your advantage? We call the first 90 days a “no-fly zone” for member communications, focusing on anything other than engagement. While all of your partners want to market to your new members, and everyone in your organization wants to talk to them about what they have to offer, we often recommend that associations put a quiet zone around these 90 days. 

The only thing your members should hear from you about during this time is engagement, i.e., things they can get value from. So you should focus on getting them engaged in something they want to be engaged in first and then talk about all the other things they can get involved in.

How to Increase Member Engagement

To sum it up, your member engagement strategy is key to unlocking untapped potential within your organization. The evidence speaks for itself – prioritizing member engagement, particularly in the early stages of their membership, is the most effective strategy for improving retention. By addressing common challenges head-on and implementing targeted solutions, associations can create an environment that fosters active participation and long-term commitment. 

Unleash the full potential of member engagement, and watch as your organization thrives in ways you never thought possible.

To learn more about our proven member engagement strategy, listen to our recent podcast, Member Retention: Engaged Members Retain Themselves.

Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Holding You Back?

Member Segmentation: Is It Limiting Your Success?
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Wrong?

This article originally appeared in Sidecar as Is Your Member Segmentation Strategy Wrong?

Most associations segment their membership in the same way: by career stage. So young professionals might be one segment, mid-career folks another, and so on into retirement. They do it this way because it seems obvious and easy – but is there a chance it’s wrong?

When determining whether or not your member segmentation strategy is helping increase member engagement, ask yourself: Do our different segments act differently?

The Problem With Career-Stage Member Segmentation

If career stage has been the category used for your member segmentation, it’s likely been difficult to spot any trends or changes. For example, do mid-career and late-career members respond to different messages or engage with different things? They probably don’t.

Career-stage segmentation does not work because it doesn’t tell you how to treat people differently to get the best response – It is not actionable.

What you need to know is how your audience is different, which often falls into two distinct categories: what interests them and their relationship with you.

These groups were very distinct. For example, many physicians were not interested in advocacy, but those who were were highly passionate. So, talking about advocacy to the wrong people may have led to unsubscribes while talking about advocacy to the right people got an enormous response.

Segmenting By Interests

One of the most effective ways to segment your audience is by interests – after all, people will always respond better to things that interest them. Moreover, some things your association does are far more interesting to certain people than others. So how can you know which things and which people?

For starters, let your email be your guide. Cluster your email by topic and look at which members respond to what. You will begin to see patterns, and that’s where your member segmentation should start.

In an analysis we completed at Sequence for the American Medical Association, we found that there were four principal areas that physicians responded to:

Understanding Interests Through Action

How do you know what people belong in which segment? If you know what emails and content a member responds to, that will tell you. If you don’t, you can analyze your data for “look-alikes.” That is, members likely to respond to advocacy because they look like advocates in other ways. For example, they may open the same emails or visit the same pages. They may even have similar demographics.

Taking it one step further, an outside data shop can also help you use consumer data to segment non-members by interest. For example, the medical society in the story above doubled its member growth rate in this way.

The Loyalty Ladder

The other member segmentation strategy that always applies is how engaged your members are with you. Picture a ladder with your most engaged members on the top. These are your Super Fans. They are longtime members active in everything you do. They are your governance and volunteers. You wish every member were like them.

On the bottom are the unengaged. They joined but have not done anything. These are your Window Shoppers. In between are increasing levels of engagement. Members have more lifetime value at each level and become more likely to renew, so your goal is to move your members up the ladder.

Members at each rung of the ladder will react to different things. But, more importantly, you want them to respond to different things.

This approach allows you to concentrate your resources where they will do the most good and engage the members methodically to increase loyalty.

Don't Ignore Non-Members Either

You can also extend this approach to non-members. People come to your events, subscribe to publications, and contribute to journals – yet they aren’t members. More often than not, these non-member “constituents” make up a larger group than members.

For example, you can look at non-members who attended your event and infer their interests from what they did there or how they are similar to members whose interests you know. Once you have that information, your segmentation strategy can be to send more of those resources via email with a call to action to turn them into members.

Thinking about non-member interactions as rungs on the ladder allows you to walk them up to a membership.

Member Segmentation In Action

You do not have to choose between these approaches. Some of the most successful associations combine these segmentation strategies to attract new members and increase loyalty as effectively as possible. A winning acquisition and retention strategy allows interests to guide messaging and loyalty to inform offers.

It used to be that only the largest, data-savvy associations could achieve this kind of member segmentation. That is not true today. Better technology makes data analysis easier and cheaper every day, even in-house.

Could you be doing your member segmentation wrong? There is no reason not to start doing it right.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Crafting Membership Offers They Can’t Refuse

From Ordinary To Extraordinary Crafting Membership Offers They Can T Refuse
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Make Your Membership An Offer They Can't Refuse

Are your members finding your membership value proposition irresistible? Well, if you ask association members why they choose not to renew, you’ll find that two out of three of them point to a lack of perceived value for the price they pay. And guess what? Half of them also mention their lack of engagement with the organization as a reason. Some even admit, “I just forgot.” These are clear signs that members are voting with their feet, indicating how they perceive the value you provide.

Our research has confirmed that an organization’s membership value proposition is the key driver for membership renewal. So, how can you ensure that you reinforce this value through marketing that truly makes membership impossible to resist?

Discover our top four recommendations on how to craft an offer they simply can’t refuse, and make your membership value proposition undeniably compelling.

1. Add Member Value, Don't Discount Dues

Discounting dues by 50% or more may seem like a tempting option for some organizations, but it comes with risks. Just because something has no value at $100 doesn’t mean it suddenly becomes valuable at $50. By going down this path, organizations end up sacrificing significant dues revenue without much to show for it in terms of membership growth.

A smarter approach is to lower dues for specific segments like students and young professionals who may be more cost-sensitive. This strategy helps to “fill the hopper” with potential future members who will eventually pay full dues. In fact, one large society saw a 15% increase in young professional membership within just one year after implementing this strategy.

However, lowering the cost alone doesn’t automatically make your membership more valuable in the eyes of potential members. To truly attract them, you need to offer a compelling membership value proposition that makes them want to join. Remember, the perceived value of membership is always more important than the cost.

Remember, the perceived value of membership is always more important than the cost.

2. Bundling Benefits Builds Member Value

Increasing awareness of the most significant benefits is crucial; otherwise, it holds no value for members. Some organizations have taken a smart approach by bundling benefits together. This not only makes high-value opportunities more enticing and accessible but also allows for the removal of outdated benefits that clutter communication with members.

Instead of developing new products and programs, many organizations have successfully implemented this strategy with existing offerings. By reframing the concept of “products” to encompass all the ways the organization serves its members, it opens up opportunities to highlight the value proposition of membership and why potential members should be interested. 

With the right insights, this approach can yield impressive results, with some organizations experiencing a membership engagement increase of over 40%.

3. Make The Member Value Crystal Clear

Ensuring that the benefits of membership are lucid, easy to comprehend, and well-defined may appear straightforward at first glance, yet our research suggests that it is an indispensable component in maintaining members. Prospective members, as well as existing ones, are unable to fully appreciate and take advantage of the value you offer if they aren’t clearly aware of what they receive through their membership. 

Every organization that offers membership encounters a challenge in renewing first-year members. However, our studies have shown that member retention rates grow exponentially beyond the initial year. When first-year members realize the value that comes with membership early in their tenure, they are more likely to remain lifelong members. As a result, it’s crucial to emphasize this to your first-year members in your communication.

With the right insights, some organizations experience membership engagement increases of over 40%.

4. Offer a Grace Period

Our team has found that offering grace periods is an excellent opportunity for your organization to provide additional value and support to your members. By providing these grace periods, you give members a chance to rectify any oversights in renewing their membership while still being able to utilize all the benefits and perks associated with their membership. 

Based on research, we have found that organizations who offer grace periods tend to have higher member retention rates than those who do not provide them. Generally, grace periods can last around three months, and organizations with 80% or higher renewal rates tend to offer them. By extending this value proposition, you can enhance member satisfaction and loyalty. 

Conclusion: A Membership Value Proposition They Can't Refuse

In conclusion, consider the possibility of a membership value proposition that professionals simply can’t refuse. With the potential to restructure your current model and create an irresistible offer, your association has the opportunity to capture the attention and loyalty of members. So don’t overlook this chance to provide a value proposition that stands out and keeps professionals engaged.

To learn more about irresistible membership value propositions see Maximizing Association Value: Unleashing 3 Powerful Membership Pricing Strategies and Two More Views on Member Value