MGI Tipster Volume 1, Issue 16

Do you know how to become ‘indispensable’ to your members?


Recently, an association was looking over results of a membership satisfaction survey. They discovered that 76% of their members gave a ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’ rating. Not too bad. Then they looked at the satisfaction rating given by former members. Seventy-six percent of their former members also gave them a satisfied/highly satisfied rating.

Maybe that rating wasn’t so good after all. Or, maybe satisfaction is not the way to measure how well an association is serving its membership. In today’s marketplace, the pressure to excel—whether imposed by external pressure or by internal motivation—has created a new measure of success. Whether it’s an individual trying to protect or enhance his or her career or an association trying to attract or retain its members, the criteria for success has become ‘indispensability.’ There aren’t degrees. You have either achieved it or you haven’t. And those who haven’t, are always at risk. So how does an association become ‘indispensable,’ and how do you measure it? The first step is understanding that your members WANT to rely on your association. That is why they joined. They also want to continue to use the association for benefits and services that are critical to their personal or professional success. So the obvious tactic is the most simple: Ask them.

In new member or renewal surveys or in periodic member studies, find out the following:

  • What is the primary reason members joined?
  • What do they currently expect the association to provide?
  • What does your association offer that they don’t get from any other association?
  • What is the most important thing you can offer that they are not getting from any association (including yours)?
  • (and for non-renewing members): What did they expect when they joined that the association did not provide?

The second step involves taking this information, highlighting and focusing on what matters. You’ll find that the needs will change as members age and progress in their careers. As such, the needs and the services that make your association indispensable will shift as well. While it may vary for each association, most professional associations have found that the keys to indispensability shift as their members progress in their profession. This shift can be summarized as moving from ‘survival to satisfaction’ or from ‘environment to ego.’

For example, younger members tend to look for career help and the essentials to get established and begin to get noticed. As they progress, they begin to seek best practices and the opportunity to make substantial contributions. Senior members may start looking for greater recognition (from their employer and their peers) and, as such, the association needs to show appreciation and ways to promote the wisdom, contribution and prestige that these members represent.

In the road to indispensability, associations need to recognize that there is not just one ‘typical member,’ but key segments, each with specific needs that will reflect the measure of indispensability. They will find out what specific programs are demanded by their member segments and will measure how well they are delivered (from the members’ perspective) to ensure that members are not only aware, but engaged in using them.

And the association will help the members understand that, while they are currently enjoying key services that meet their current demands, there are also ‘future’ critical opportunities that the association will meet as their needs change and progress. This pre-empts a member from leaving due to ignorance of services they haven’t used yet.

This clear identification of what drives indispensability also enables the association to ensure that the staff is focused on advancing the things that matter most to the membership. Dollars and time, programs and communications are dedicated and focused on member demands, and not internal preferences.

One way to look at it, is that an indispensable association creates ‘realized success’ in its members, moving them from powerful contributors, then to heroes, and eventually to icons. Getting there takes a special approach to member research, communications, services and recognition.

A tall order? Perhaps, but anything less makes the association dispensable in the eyes of members.

To find our more about how to measure and communicate indispensability for your association (or to request our white papers on indispensability research and brand development), call 703.739.1000 and ask to speak to a member of our marketing Solutions Team or email MGI.

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