Trying to be all things to all members

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The American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) most recent environmental scanning project generated Mapping the Future of Your Association (PDF) – a book describing eight super trends affecting not-for-profit organizations. The super trends are:

1. Demassification. Break-up of the mass market creating the challenge to craft increasingly focused and targeted appeals.

2. Unbundling. One-size-fits-all products & services no longer appeal creating the challenge of determining what member needs can be met through new, imaginative value packages.

3. Scrimping. Members want a greater return on their dues investment creating the challenge to help members rediscover the personal & social payoffs of belonging.

4. Wave 3.1. Knowledge, not information, is the competitive advantage creating the challenge to move beyond information products to offer enrichment and learning through the application of knowledge.

5. Virtualization. People want virtual as well as personal relationships creating the challenge to continue to offer the “personal touch” while building and strengthening virtual communities.

6. Cyber-Mobbing. Web-based communities are organizing for advocacy creating the challenge to harness the power of the Web and integrate it with more traditional advocacy methods.

7. Scrutiny. New laws for oversight call for greater transparency creating the challenge to closely track legal developments and develop a policy framework for ensuring compliance.

8. Counter-Americanism. U.S. styles, values, products and approaches no longer dominate the world creating the challenge to partner with others to develop localized models and develop diverse value packages for non-U.S. members.

Many not-for-profit organizations do not have adequate resources to “target appeals”, “individualize value packages” and “offer the personal touch”. Are they doomed?

Frst of all, it may be easier to demassificate than one realizes. A carefully executed Excel spreadsheet can provide very targeted e-mail lists. An affordable SurveyMonkey (or similar) on-line survey tool can make it easy for your members to check the information categories they are interested (and not-interested) in being communicated to about. You can then hire students or seniors to phone follow-up members who did not respond to your on-line survey.

But the question remains: Should your organization try to be all things to all members? There is a strong argument that says NO.

In this age of internet, members can find a lot of information in cyberspace. What they attribute value to is the analysis of information – how will it affect them and your sector? This can be your niche service.

Decide what else is your niche – products or services that are focused on a targetable portion (subset) of your market sector that you are in the best position to provide. Said simply, do what you do best and leave the rest to others. Focus on your specific field of knowledge.

An example could be a geographically defined organization which serves a particular sector; they are likely to have more reliable area-related data understanding than a non-resident source and can take advantage of this niche.

Another ASAE publication dealing with trends is The 7 Measures of Success (PDF). The following are The 7 Measures of Success:

1. Customer Service Culture. Remarkable associations build their structures, processes and interactions – their entire culture – around assessing and fulfilling members’ needs and expectations.

2. Alignment of Products and Services with an Organization’s Mission. Remarkable associations speak passionately about fulfilling their mission and constantly test their ideas for products against that mission.

3. Data Driven Strategies. Like location is to real estate, “data, data, data” is to remarkable associations. They gather information, analyze it and then use it to become better. Research is always put to use – not put on the shelf.

4. Dialogue and Engagement. Remarkable associations feature a close-knit, consistent culture where all employees receive the same information and also see the potential to contribute to a blockbuster production. Everyone, whether in lead or supporting roles, equally shares the responsibility to contribute and add value to the association.

5. The CEO must be a broker of ideas. While CEOs may certainly be visionary leaders, what’s more important is their ability to inspire and facilitate visionary thinking throughout the organization.

6. Organizational Adaptability. Remarkable associations weather crises and learned from them, quickly assessing and then taking action – with no excuses.

7. Alliance Building. Remarkable associations (secure in who they are and in what they bring to the table) communicate clear expectations for each specific partnership and don’t hesitate to walk away if a win-win scenario doesn’t materialize.

By building on these measures, once you have identified your niche products and services you can apply these measurements to ensure your deliveries are the best they can be. An example would be a community-based organization that provides services to a very specific sector group. Localized customer service and alliances with related local organizations would be key activities to measure and improve on.

Many not-for-profits experience mission drift; they deviate from serving their mission because they need to earn revenues to balance the budget. They end up applying their resources to activities whose purpose is to generate revenue rather than serve their mission. A golf tournament or a silent auction can be good examples of activities that are extremely labour intensive and may not provide an exclusive niche value to your members. While this may be necessary for your organization’s survival, it is important to understand what portion of your resources are serving other than your specific mission and evaluate the situation.

Ensure that the work your organization does is relevant to your members/constituents, that it is what they need and want. In summary, serve the niche you own, serve your mission, and provide products and services that members value as relevant to them.

Paulette is President of Solution Studio Inc., a consulting practice that serves the not-for-profit association community. Paulette co-authored two manuscripts on risk management & not-for-profit organizations and regularly conducts risk management, strategic planning and board development workshops. She can be reached at 1-877-787-7714 or

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