Associations can innovate and update their member engagement models for the future with some moderate recalibration of current assumptions, according to ASAE Foundation research.
In 2013, the ASAE Foundation provided four grants to researchers to examine the evolving characteristics of professional affiliation and the economic and societal trends that affect engagement. In conjunction with the 2014 Great Ideas Conference, the foundation assembled a group of association executives in a research workshop to analyze the research implications for their associations. The executive summary from this research workshop is now available free to ASAE members.
Perhaps the most challenging recalibration is offering more personalized membership options that better match where individuals are in their evolving life journeys. This would require a move from membership categories that assume one size (or even a few sizes) will fit all needs. There’s an inherent tension in taking this more customized approach, according to the workshop participants, between serving individual needs and attempting too much for too many and thereby diluting your mission.
This research affirmed what sharp observers have long understood. Other people can have a tremendous influence over the decision to join. Employers have to see the value if they are financially supporting membership. Mentors and professors can guide students into the fold. And even families matter, especially in some cultures, where they may see associations as a good way for their children to advance their careers.
Associations invoke the language of community a lot. This membership research suggests members often have an expanded sense of what community means. They are now more likely to expect their association to engage the community beyond their own self-interest. Many members value opportunities to serve the public good, even in ways that might seem beyond the association’s mission.
The workshop participants concluded personalized knowledge and information is a priority. They recommend engaging members in co-creation of content, even while acknowledging the challenges in doing this well. The next generation values these opportunities to collaborate and learn together. However, this research summary does still promote associations as content curators, although another recent ASAE Foundation research project questions this assumption.
This executive summary does reiterate one popular and perennial assumption about association membership: What other type of organization can connect a large number of people with common professional interests and goals and provide them with the physical and intellectual space to share their passions, concerns, and ideas? At a time when people spend so many of their waking hours in their workplace, what other type of organization can help turn a job into a career and a profession into a community? It is important associations never stop communicating this value.
Until some other type of organization or platform can do this better, associations only need to keep recalibrating their membership offer to deliver that value.