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Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

Membership Practices of Associations With High Retention Rates

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Uncategorized


Do you ever wonder how your association’s membership practices stack up against others? Maybe you don’t because you know that every association is unique given the profession or industry it serves and its size, budget, location, culture, along with a host of other factors. But I can’t help but wonder what thriving associations are doing that others are not.

I found some answers in Marketing General Incorporated’s 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. This year’s benchmarking survey was completed by 865 association executives, with another 178 executives completing some portion of the survey for a grand total of 1,043 responses.

I’m going to focus on what’s happening at associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher, but if you haven’t already, check out Associations Now’s coverage of some of the major findings and interesting tidbits from the report. Download the report for yourself so you can get more detail (and ideas) on membership practices.

Associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher raise dues annually. Apparently, members don’t mind paying more when they know they’ll receive high value in return for their dues investment.

They’ve added member research and mobile apps to their benefits package. With the increase in competitors providing content to your members, find something unique and valuable to provide, like member research. If you deliver what your members seek to the palm of their hand, even better.

Their top methods for creating brand awareness are personal sales calls and association-sponsored events. The personal touch is always effective for making an impression and mobilizing members to action – as long as you can get past their voicemail! Look beyond your conference and trade show for branding opportunities. Become more open to your professional community by hosting happy hours, small group lunches or dinners, tours, community service events and free webinars. Don’t be so predictable and boring – experiment!

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the most effective method for recruiting new members. Members are your best ambassadors. Reward them for sending prospects and recruits your way. Share written and video testimonials on all your digital platforms.

Members join for discounts on products or meetings. That’s not usually the primary driver for joining an association but if you have these “golden handcuffs” then you’re likely to have a competitive edge.

They use volunteer or staff welcome phone calls and/or mailed welcome kits to welcome new members. MGI pointed out that fewer associations are using these methods — the email welcome is outpacing them — but those who do have higher retention rates than those who don’t. Test what works best with your new members.

Engagement doesn’t always mean committee service or volunteering. Associations that reported growth have also seen an increase in event, education and webinar attendance, purchases of products and services, and members-only website visits. The biggest percentages were for webinar attendance and visits to the members-only section of the website — online engagement makes a difference.

Increasing non-dues revenue from members is a top goal for them. Members who spend money, beyond dues, on webinars, subscriptions, products and event registrations are becoming more tied to your association — that’s engagement their way. If they rely on you for their professional and/or personal development, or for the tools that help them do their job or make more money, they’re engaged.

They start the renewal process three or more months prior to expiration. Emails get lost in the inbox. Or, they get forwarded to someone else to pay who also has a full inbox. Build some time into the process.

They extend renewal efforts more than three months after expiration. Give your expiring members time to second guess themselves. Make your case – they need you, right?

Direct mail is their most effective membership renewal channel. The inboxes on our desk aren’t nearly as cluttered as our email inboxes. Remember to test and to personalize direct mail.

They offer installment renewal payments and automatic annual Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). It should be as easy to pay your association bill as it is to pay your Visa bill – and hopefully a lot less painful.

 Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who loves benchmarking reports.



Adopt the Turnaround Mindset at Your Association

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Social CRM for Associations, Strategy


The budget’s approved. The consultant’s contract is signed. Your existing data is clean. What else do you need to prepare for the successful selection and implementation of a new AMS? Yes, the title gives it away: you need a turnaround mindset.

Looking back several years to my last AMS selection and implementation, my association did not have a turnaround mindset – which probably explains why we drove our AMS support team crazy, and, even worse, imploded once the recession hit.

At the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville, Kevin Whorton (president, Whorton Marketing & Research) and Lance Clark (associate vice president of membership and student development, American Pharmacists Association) explained how to apply the turnaround mindset to association “business.”

Embrace your turnaround

The need for a turnaround is obvious when you’re faced with a challenge, for example, declining revenue or membership. Something has to be done if you’re going to remain in business. The need is not so obvious when leaders don’t see the gap between their perception of the association and the reality experienced by others.

Turnarounds also coincide with transitions, for example, governance restructuring, or a new CEO or new AMS. However, the opportunities that arise out of turnarounds will be squandered if you don’t invest appropriate resources – time and money – into them.  

In hindsight, I would have insisted on hiring a consultant with business analysis and project management skills to help me gather and document AMS requirements, analyze business processes, make the right selection, and oversee testing and implementation We missed the opportunity to improve processes, break down silos and get the best AMS for our needs.

Turnarounds can be times of great opportunity, but Kevin and Lance recommend having a turnaround mindset every day, not just in times of transition or distress. By adopting the turnaround mindset, staff becomes more adept and agile at responding to and embracing change, stretching their comfort zone and trying new things.

People, processes and technology

Any turnaround or change, including an AMS implementation, is affected by three factors – people, processes and technology. You must identify how each of these factors affect implementation and are affected by implementation.

People: Who needs to be convinced of the need for change? Who are the influencers? Who needs to be involved in requirements gathering? Whose job will be affected by changes in process? Who needs additional training? Who needs to change their attitude?

Processes: Which existing processes are redundant or ridiculous? Where can streamlining or automation help? Which processes need a major overhaul?

Technology: Which existing systems need to integrate with the new AMS? Which existing systems will no longer be useful or necessary? Is the network infrastructure affected by this change?

Ingredients for a successful turnaround

Before embarking on a turnaround, establish a baseline so you can measure the effect of subsequent changes. You want to be able to prove that all the pain is worth the gain and show colleagues that change can be a good thing. The metrics you use will depend upon the project goals, but could include processing time reductions, expense reductions, user experience ratings, member renewals or satisfaction ratings, or Web traffic statistics. 
Politics and organizational culture play a huge role in change. Every turnaround needs a champion – a change agent – especially if you have to convince others of the need for change. Turnarounds must have leadership sponsorship and support and must be an enterprise-wide effort, otherwise staff will never become as invested as you’d like, and your AMS will always be the “membership database.”  

Communication will make or break a turnaround. Many stakeholders – staff, members and others – may not be aware of the need for change. Many of them may not like the idea of change – they were happy the way things were. You can’t communicate with them all in the same way. Your messaging content and style must vary depending upon your target audience and their relationship to the project.

  • Your staff project team have bought into the need for change – they’re easy.

  • Staff leadership must be encourage to continue their role as change agents and influencers.

  • The board and other member “insiders” have a different understanding and appreciation for the change.

  • Members and others who are “outside the tent” may not understand the need for and impact of the change. 

Have a communication plan in place for each of these audiences. Write as a human, not a legalese- or jargon-using institution. Be very clear about the purpose for change. Make no assumptions about members’ understanding of association goals, strategies and operations. They could be completely clueless.

Manage expectations. Don’t promise more than your AMS will deliver. Make sure everyone understands what will be delivered (the requirements) and what won’t be delivered (their wish list).

Change is easier to bear when you can show incremental improvements.  

  • “This process now only takes X minutes per member. That saves you X hours a month, and it will probably get even better.”

  • “We’re receiving only X member service calls a week instead of Y because of this new Web function.”

  • “Our email open rate has improved X% because we can now segment and target our blast emails.”

 Sustaining change is difficult. After a big turnaround (or implementation), take advantage of the momentum and find ways to continually improve processes and programs. 

If you aren’t in the position to move your association’s culture toward a turnaround mindset, you can reap its benefits in your own work. Sometimes, just doing the fundamentals better has a big pay-off. Innovation doesn’t have to cost anything – experiment where you can. Change one of your own processes or talk regularly to members about ways the association can help them improve their business or advance their career. 

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who wishes she knew back then what she knows now. Sigh, don’t we all?




Engagenomics: The New Science of Member Engagement & Satisfaction

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Industry Events


If you’re a membership geek like me, you eagerly anticipate the annual release of MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I shared my favorite trends and tidbits from the report. But I’m not doing that again just yet. While we wait for the report’s release on June 17, I have related research findings to share from the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville. 

MGI vice president Erik Schonher and Higher Logic president Andy Steggles shared results from their joint study on member engagement and satisfaction. MGI provided member satisfaction data from their forthcoming report and Higher Logic provided engagement data from their client associations’ online communities. ASAE CIO Reggie Henry joined them to share data from the ASAE research department’s analysis of Collaborate, ASAE’s online community.

There was talk of variables, ratios, correlation analysis and a Composite Engagement Score, but I’m verbal, not mathematic, so I’m not equipped to discuss that. Ok, you got me. I spaced out a bit during that part of the session. I snapped back into it when Andy shared some of the joint study’s findings.

Surprising facts about online communities

Profile bios and photos increase engagement. But, bios are more important from an engagement perspective than photos.

Profile completeness levels don’t always have an impact unless your members are the type of people who feel compelled to complete their profile so they can achieve a 100 percent completed bar.

The smaller the organization, the more successful they are engaging members. It’s much easier to get 50 percent of 400 members to participate in a community than to get 50 percent of 40,000 members to participate. Set appropriate engagement expectations based on your organization’s size.

Open rates for discussion digest emails are higher (27 percent) than for regular marketing emails, perhaps because they are messages from peers.

Auto-subscribe members to relevant discussion groups. I know that might feel wrong, and Reggie originally felt the same way, but now he’s glad he followed Andy’s advice. Don’t worry — only 10 percent of members will probably opt out. Have the right communication plan in place and a one-click opt-out process.

Everyone emphasized that you need someone on staff to make a community work. It’s cliché but worth repeating: don’t expect to build it and think they will come.  

Preview of MGI’s Membership Marketing Benchmark Report

This year, 894 associations participated in MGI’s survey. That’s a 28 percent increase over last year’s 691 participants. Membership trends look good:

  • 53 Percent of participating associations reported a growth in membership.

  • 58 Percent of them acquired more members last year than the year before.

  • 31 Percent of them had a better retention rate.

  • The average retention rate was 85 percent for trade associations and 76 percent for individual membership organizations (IMO). 

However, for associations with online communities the retention rates were even higher — 92 percent for trades and 79 percent for IMOs. A 5 percent improved retention rate was correlated with online community engagement. Erik said the top reason for not renewing is no longer simply a question of ROI, it’s now a lack of engagement — that’s why communities play such a key role.

Lessons from ASAE’s Collaborate community

About 62 percent of ASAE members are Collaborate users. ASAE used a net promoter methodology to survey its members, i.e., on a scale of 1-10 how likely would you recommend membership to someone else. Members who don’t use Collaborate had a net promoter score (NPS) of 0.1, Collaborate users had an NPS of 22 — yes, you read that correctly. Wow! Another sign of increased engagement among community users — 82 percent of survey respondents were Collaborate users.

Members who had a bio, photo, or both on their Collaborate profile had twice as high an NPS as others.
Members who reply to community posts have a higher NPS than members who initiate posts. Members who do both have the highest NPS of all.

Collaborate’s most successful groups are the Executive Management and CEO groups — debunking the myth that those types of members aren’t interested in online communities. If you create value, they’ll participate.

Forget what your organization has done in the past. Reggie suggests listening to the advice of association peers and consultants who have launched successful communities.

Your goal is to get the right level of engagement, not necessarily maximum engagement. Someone in the audience reported the results of a three-year survey they did: more of their passive community members self-identified as active members than their traditionally defined active members. What members perceive as engagement is what matters, not what you perceive.

Stay tuned for the release of MGI’s 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report on June 17 — the opening day of ASAE’s Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference. You can find the session PowerPoint with more numbers and findings on the digitalNow website.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and membership geek who highly recommends the digitalNow conference for association executives.


Use Your Association’s Data to Make Better Decisions

Written by Deirdre Reid on . Posted in Association, Association Best Practices, Social CRM for Associations


The blogosphere never stops telling you what your association should be doing — social media, content marketing, responsive Web design, the list goes on. And, yes, guilty as charged! Now, everyone is talking about data.

We’ve always been slightly obsessed with member data – it helps us better understand members and, therefore, make better decisions. But now that we’re collecting more data than ever, where do we begin?

If I were in your shoes, I’d start by reading Getting to the “Good Stuff”: Evidence-Based Decision Making for Associations. This new white paper by Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, CEO and Chief Strategist of Spark Consulting, and Peter Houstle, CEO of Mariner Management & Marketing, will show “how you and your staff can use data to make better, faster decisions in service to your mission, your members, and your other audiences.”

Like many associations, you may first have to overcome some challenges before you’re in the position to best analyze and use your data.

Improve data quality.

Fixing and maintaining data is a thankless job that’s usually not a priority for anyone except the staffer with an overwrought conscience who knows the high costs of mediocre data:  

  • Wasted staff and member time

  • Squandered resources ($$$)

  • Damaged association brand

  • Member service frustrations

  • Poor email segmentation and deliverability

  • Missed marketing and engagement opportunities

  • Flawed decision-making

Crappy data is not an IT problem. It’s an organizational problem and needs an organizational approach. Engel and Houstle’s paper provides many recommendations for solving the data quality problem.

Have the right data.

“For many associations, the data we choose to use in decision-making is determined not by its value to our decision-making process, but by merely by its easy availability. The result can be an incomplete and seriously misleading picture of our association’s true health.” Sound familiar?

Get access to the data you need.

Associations get data from multiple sources: membership applications, member profiles, surveys, program evaluations, website analytics, and email marketing, social media, learning, political action, advertiser, event and exhibitor management platforms. Phew.

Does all this data live in one place? Of course not. It lives in multiple, stand-alone databases, which may or may not integrate with your AMS, or what I used to call at my old job, “data vaults” – data goes in and never comes out. Plus there’s member data in systems at affiliated chapters, local, state and national associations to which you may or may not have access.

Make sense of data.

Even when data is not scattered about, you need dashboard reports or data visualization tools to help you spot patterns and “reveal the larger story behind the details.” Engel and Houstle recommend several tools that “can facilitate the development of performance dashboard reports.”

netFORUM clients know that the A-Score™ is a useful tool for measuring and monitoring the engagement level of individuals and organizations. Member activities are weighed within a composite of scales, for example, membership, advocacy, volunteerism, social and fundraising. With the A-ScoreTM, you can identify engaged and disengaged members, and, among other things, set up automated communications so each member receives the right message at the right time.

Find the “good stuff.”

Engle and Houstle say, “The combination of data and tools available in 2014 should allow us to move beyond the standard operational dashboards we’ve been using for years and get to the “good stuff.” By leveraging data and technology, like A-ScoreTM and data visualization tools, you can better understand member behavior and membership value, and make smarter decisions about programs, content and messaging.

Promote a data-friendly culture.

“Associations are also particularly guilty of shunting anything to do with data into IT. Data is not the job of your IT department. Data is everyone’s job.” And, I’d add, it’s not just the job of the membership department either. Engel and Houstle argue for “welcoming IT onto the senior leadership team as a strategic decision-making partner and in sharing the information that drives decisions widely across the enterprise.”

Data combined with informed intuition, interpretation and analysis “forms the basis of good, evidence-based decisions” and provides the foundation for a more relevant, meaningful membership experience. Associations who find the “good stuff” within their data will have a better understanding of members, their behavior and their needs, and will respond more nimbly to emerging issues and needs.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who used to shiver at the thought of data but now knows it’s a membership professional’s best friend.