Membership bodies – organisations that provide support, guidance, training, and networking for professionals working within particular disciplines, and work to shape policy and influence perceptions on behalf of their members, are as diverse and specialised as you might imagine.
Having worked with over 25 of them in the UK and Asia Pacific, we’ve learnt a thing or two about the ways in which they perceive and utilise digital. It’s also become clear that they actually have a lot of things in common, particularly when it comes to the challenges they all face when trying to increase engagement with members.
All of them recognise that digital channels are a key tool in enhancing engagement. But at the same time, their ability to change or adapt their strategy and online presence is constrained by a huge number of factors – including, but not limited to:
A lack of flexibility in CMS and member database systems meaning they don’t have the insight and data required to create an interactive and personalised experience
Slow decision making processes and a “design by committee” approach to new projects
A vocal minority of members often dictating organisational priorities and diverting resources away from more important initiatives
More often than that, these issues can be traced back to previous projects that didn’t meet expectations, and fear of changing or upsetting the status quo. And it’s in these two factors that we find the heart of the problem.
Digital projects fail for a variety of reasons – most commonly because of a lack of strategic planning and a lack of focus on “users” – your members. And fear of changing – or at least reviewing – the way you’ve always done things ignores the shifting needs and expectations of your members. And the longer you spend standing still, or reinventing old ways of engaging with members, the more disengaged and open to younger, more agile competitors they become.
Refer back to the reasons why your membership body exists and I am certain that you will see members at the heart of everything you do. The same approach should apply to digital projects – balanced with organisational needs, but with an understanding that member engagement and satisfaction lead to mutual benefit.
Taking a member-first approach leads to a new mindset, avoiding the problems outlined above:
Digital projects are led by a desire to meet and exceed member needs – not dictated by technology. Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself or a constraint
Research and testing with members prioritises projects and smaller initiatives and helps break large workstreams into smaller, more impactful work that can be delivered quickly rather than trying to do everything at once
Research into member needs provides the evidence to drive decision making – not the opinions of a board or council.
Our new report – The New Membership Mindset: Redefining the member experience with impact – proposes a vision for a member-centric, 21st century membership body, unconstrained by the challenges of the past. It also outlines the IMPACT process – Developing insight on member behaviour and opinion, mapping their needs and journeys, prioritising according to this insight, assembling members and experts to explore further, creating new solutions, and continuously testing assumptions and services. By scaling this approach up or down to suit your needs and context, you can go a long way towards achieving a truly member-first vision.
You can download The New Membership Mindset report here.