Project Overview: Change from Anniversary to Annual Membership Renewals

2016-1-5 Anniversary to Annual Membership Dues1
Image Credit: Canva

By Anna Morris, account associate

Members are the lynchpin of most associations. Therefore, deciding to change your association’s membership system can be a big undertaking. After working with an existing membership system for a while, you may realize that doing it a different way could benefit the association more in the long run.

This happened with two of our associations that started their memberships on the “anniversary” system – members purchased a membership on August 21 one year and from that point on their membership renews on August 21 each year moving forward. This means the organization has 365 different renewal dates for members. Our associations decided they wanted to explore switching to an annual membership renewal system, where all memberships last for a certain time frame (say, January 1 – December 31). What exactly did this project entail?

We divided the project into four chunks.

  1. Present the pros and cons of moving to an annual renewal period

Since this is a big decision to make, your association’s board will want a detailed rationale behind why you are proposing the switch. This means presenting a sound case including both pros and cons of moving to annual renewal period. One of the main pros is being able to run a target renewal campaign, since members are all expiring at the same time. Other benefits include a more streamlined process, a decrease in the amount of staff and volunteer time needed to contact members about renewals, and a likely decrease in the LOSS of members since the association will be able to better communicate with renewing members in multiple formats during the renewal campaign period. The switch can be tricky to navigate, especially if members or organizations have been with your association for a while and are very used to the original membership system.

In the case of our two associations, the pros and cons were evaluated, and both boards decided to move forward with switching to an annual membership renewal system.

  1. Provide an outline of the timeline for adoption

Once the decision to transition is made, it is imperative to have a very clear timeline for adoption. The timeline should include how and when you are going to communicate with members, how the pro-rating of membership during the switch will happen, and when you will follow up with members about the change. One of our associations decided to pro-rate membership monthly, so that the membership cost decreased each month leading up to the date when the “annual membership” time period would start. Another option would be to pro-rate quarterly. But either way, make sure you sketch out the whole timeline beforehand, including specific price points and when that information needs to be changed in the database system.

Also, make sure you are sharing the timeline internally as well as externally with your board. Depending on the size of your AMC, you may have different staff working on membership, conference logistics, and accounting. In the case of a big change like a membership renewal shift, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows how to answer any member questions that come up.

  1. Provide a timeline for future years (post adoption)

Because considering switching from an anniversary membership system to an annual membership period makes things a whole lot easier, the timeline for the years post-adoption should be much more straightforward than the timeline you developed in step (2). For this step, be sure to clearly lay out the NEW system, including when rates would potentially pro-rate during the annual membership system, and when communications should be distributed to members.

Planning out all of these items ahead of time ensures nothing falls through the cracks, and that the annual membership system can be implemented without a hitch.

  1. Provide a letter to members for further explanation of how the change will be implemented and communicated during the change

A constant theme throughout this project is communication, communication, communication. The whole goal of the project is to ultimately make things easier for both the association and members (eliminating confusion regarding when their membership expries), but this goal cannot be accomplished if people are confused along the way. As part of our initial membership project, we found it important to prepare the communication that would ultimately be distributed to members once the switch occurs. This is another opportunity for everyone to see the facts in writing and raise any potential questions or concerns that might arise. In addition to the draft letter, have your staff, and any new staff that come on, practice explaining the switch in system (including the new benefits), in order to prepare for tricky questions that members may call in with.

Have you considered switching your association’s membership system? If you took the plunge and made the switch, what are some tips that you found helpful? Share in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Your Association’s Strategic Plan – Getting from Development to Accomplishment

2015-12-1 Strategic Plan
Image Credit: Canva

By Stevie Kernick, owner emeritus, account manager

We’ve all been through it…the highly anticipated Strategic Planning Meeting of your association’s board of directors.

The facilitator has been retained and has conducted the necessary due-diligence. The board and, perhaps, other members of your association’s leadership, have committed the compulsory two-days (or more) for a face-to-face meeting requiring them to travel to and from the meeting site. The staff has printed lists, exported membership and conference attendance metrics from the association database, updated financial histories, done five-year budget projections, prepared the opening PowerPoint presentation and is well-prepared to answer those inevitable, random questions that will surface during the planning process.

Everyone has done their homework. They have reviewed the association’s governance documents and attempted to commit to memory the mission statement and goals which will provide a reference point throughout the planning process.

Everyone arrives at the planning meeting eager and anxious to begin planning. Depending on the facilitator, the process will take different forms for different associations but the objective is the same – a roadmap for the association’s future spanning two-, three- or five-years; hopefully not more than that.

A skilled facilitator will keep the discussion within bounds while still allowing the creative ideas to propagate. Day one tends to involve visioning for the future of the association, while day two defines the nitty-gritty of the strategic priorities, goals and action steps.

Everyone leaves the planning meeting inspired by the cohesiveness of the group throughout the process and enthusiastic about what the future of the association.

And then reality hits.

Members return to their offices and the bulging in-box. The staff returns to headquarters and is submerged in the day-to-day activities of managing the association. Enthusiasm dissipates…not from lack of desire but for lack of time.

When the board looks at the new (or updated) strategic plan two weeks later, they begin to consider critically the results of their effort and question how all of this can possibly be accomplished within the established timeframes!

Without budgetary support and operational resources, strategic priorities will languish incomplete or not even launched.

Each time the board reviews progress on the strategic plan those same deliverables will not show progress. The concept might have merit but without a concise directive, financial support and staff resources, it will never have the traction needed for action.

How do you avoid this all-too-common syndrome?

Frequently, this question is lacking during the excitement of the planning process, “Is this idea/goal/strategy fiscally viable and operationally doable?” This is not a rhetorical question, but one that needs to be asked and answered each time a strategic initiative is proposed.

Yes, it can be a bubble-buster in the midst of the euphoria of planning, but reality-checks are an important element of the development process and can prevent unrealistic goals and strategies from being included in the final strategic plan.

Staff should not hesitate to ask the all-important question, “Is this fiscally viable and operationally doable?”

To get from development to accomplishment we absolutely must have doable goals that are supported by the association’s resources.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at info@imiae.com to learn more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Automatic Renewals for Associations

Image Credit: Canva

By Linda Owens, CAE, owner, President

“Sign-up and Receive Automatic Renewal Member Perks!”

We’ve all received promotions like this to reward automatic renewal. No longer do companies exclusively focus on the incentive of saving time on future purchases; they instead focus on tangible benefits to encourage anyone who might be on the fence about auto renewal.

For example, by signing up for the Entertainment Book’s automatic renewal program, I receive exclusive Renewal Members’ perks like:

  • $5 off your Renewal books every year
  • Free shipping on your Renewal books every year
  • Early delivery—15 full months to use each book
  • 10% off additional books you buy as gifts or for yourself
  • Renewal Members-only exclusive offers and discounts
  • 50% off additional Member Fine Dine Cards
  • New! FREE Companion mobile app — view your book on your phone

What if one of the associations I belong to was to send me a similar email, would I sign up for their automatic renewal program? What about you, would you sign up? What type of perks would entice the typical association member to choose to automatically renew their membership from year to year? How about:

  • $5 off the next year’s dues
  • Free shipping on your next order from the association’s bookstore
  • 5% off the next Annual Conference registration fee
  • Admittance to a free webinar held exclusively for Renewal Members only

Do you have other ideas to add to this list? Does your association offer an automatic renewal program?

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Roundup! Our Top 10 Lists

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Rachel Owen, Communications Manager

I love a good “list post.” You’ve probably seen them everywhere: Top 10 Ways to Simplify Your Life Before Breakfast, 5 Ways to Be a Superhero Every Day, or 7 Movies You Didn’t Know Are Based on a True Story. List posts get you to the information you need without a lot of fuss and then get you on to the rest of your day.

In honor of this perennial favorite, we present to you a roundup of the top list posts from the IMI blog!

Top 10 List Posts for Associations

  1. Top Speakers & Sessions at ASAE

Our team shares the sessions we just can’t stop talking about.

  1. 5 Ways to Save a Bad Day

If your Tuesday feels like Monday 2.0, this post is for you.

  1. 5 Steps to an Awesome Onboarding Experience

Help the new employee or volunteer acclimate quickly with these tips.

  1. Top 10 Excel Tips and Shortcuts for Associations

Whether you love Excel or love to hate it, these tips will make your day easier.

  1. Top Tech Tools for Associations

Here’s what our team is raving about right now.

  1. 21 Tips for Better Board Meetings

What happens when 10 executive directors brainstorm a better board meeting? You get this post.

  1. 9 Tips to Recruit and Retain Volunteers

How to bring in those volunteers and then keep them engaged.

  1. 20 Key Takeaways from the Book: “The Will to Govern Well”

We love a good book!

  1. 3 Things I Learned About Membership

Lessons from one year in membership services.

  1. 7 Evergreen Ideas to Engage Volunteers

This is our very first post on the IMI blog and it’s worth repeating!

Do you like list posts or do you prefer a traditional blog post? Share with us your favorites in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

How to Improve Your Association’s Finances

Image Credit: Canva

By Anna Morris, account associate

The Association Management Companies Institute just rolled out a report that spell$ big new$ for the a$$ociation management industry. Err… sorry, appears the “s” key on our keyboard is broken, but we’ll just replace it with a $ sign, which is exactly what the July 2015 report is about: more $$$ for associations managed by an AMC. (Learn more about what an AMC is here.)

Commissioned by AMCI, an independent researcher from Brigham Young University found that associations using AMCs have stronger financial performance than those that do not. In fact, the report found that “AMC-managed associations experience more than three times the growth in net assets and 31 percent more growth in net revenue, regardless of size and tax status” (here). The study surveyed more than 160 associations with budgets ranging from $500,000 to $7.5 million, which is a good indicator that the study’s results are applicable across associations of different types and sizes. This is huge news for an industry where many associations still shy away from AMCs because they fear the cost or lack of added value.

The research is in: Using an AMC can more than triple your assets. Check out more info on the research study here or see what IMI could bring to your association here.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Race for Relevance

Image Credit: Canva

By Whitney Thweatt, account manager

As an association management professional, I find myself constantly wondering how to improve the association and member benefits. In an age of almost limitless free resources available online, associations are faced with the daily challenge to show value and relevance to both current and potential members. What are some strategies association professionals can take to address this challenge?

The book, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations, by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, proposes five fundamental changes in the way we think about association governance and management:

  1. Overhaul the governance model and committee operations.
  2. Empower the CEO and leverage staff expertise.
  3. Precisely define your member market.
  4. Rationalize programs and services and focus on those that have the maximum effect.
  5. Build robust technology framework.

Not sure where to start? Here are five high impact ideas to implement in your association.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Association Relevant:

  1. Members and volunteers face a work/personal life dilemma. “I don’t have time” really means “I have better things to do with my time.” Volunteers expect a return on investment of time so make sure you are offering some short-time volunteer opportunities as well as ones that are worthwhile to the volunteer.
  2. The board should focus on potential and possibilities; staff on implementation. Ideally you should have a competency-based board made up of five or six people.
  3. Specialization is key. Associations should focus on their strengths instead of trying to be all things to all members. Members will narrow their memberships to those with highest return on investment.
  4. Concentrate on the products that deliver the most value. Unused services and unneeded programs have no value. Prune obsolete services and your message becomes simpler.
  5. Every association function can be enhanced or performed via technology. Not only can automating some tasks free up staff time for other important member projects, it may also increase involvement. Find out what technologies and services your members are already using and integrate current member resources into those systems.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Loose Lips Sink Ships … And Client Relationships

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Stevie Kernick,  owner emeritus, account manager

No matter what your generational representation, you have likely heard the phrase, “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” coined during World War II as part of a general campaign of American propaganda to warn servicemen and other citizens to avoid careless talk concerning secure information that might be of use to the enemy.

So, might you ask, what does this have to do with associations?

With any long-term client affiliation, the association staff working with that association develops relationships with members and, particularly, those members in leadership positions with whom staff is apt to have frequent interactions. Those client-staff relationship can often move beyond discussion of the day-to-day operations of the association into more personal conversations on family activities, birthdays, weddings or vacations.

So far, this is fairly benign.

But what about the member who wants to talk with you about a negative interaction or exchange with another member? Your antenna should go up … but does it?

It’s easy to get pulled into negativity. Perhaps you also have had a similar negative response to that same member, or even another member. And since you are intimately sharing information already, it’s easy to add to the conversation with your own experiences with members, all of which seems most innocuous at the moment.

The funny thing about relationships, however, is that a riff in the relationship between two members can be resolved almost as quickly as the initial grievance occurred, and a few months later those two members are suddenly congenial and conversive and you are hoping your negative comments are not remembered or, at the least, not being repeated.

Suddenly the confidential relationship you thought you shared with that member or board member is in question. Might your “loose lips” comments be shared with other members of leadership? The board president? Your immediate supervisor? How might that impact the client’s perception of your management company and its ability to maintain appropriate levels of confidentiality?

You are starting to sweat and so you should be.

The advice is quite simple. Do NOT under any circumstances allow yourself to be drawn into negative conversations about any association members. If you find yourself a party to such a negative conversation, excuse yourself and make a hasty retreat.

You can politely and professionally suggest that any problems between two or more members be directed to the association president for action.

Don’t let your “loose lips” be the reason your management company loses a client or you lose your job.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Transitioning a Client When an Executive Leaves

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Linda Owens, Owner and President

Imagine this scenario: You arrive in the office one morning to find a letter of resignation from Chris, an employee who has served as an executive director for the past six years. He’s given two weeks’ notice; not nearly enough time for a smooth transition.

Your first reaction may be:

  • “Oh no, what will we do now?” Chris has served as the executive director to one of your larger clients. You feel Chris’ departure is a significant loss.

Or

  • “It’s for the better. I have had this nagging feeling about Chris’ performance over the past six months which has required several serious coaching sessions.”

Either way, you are concerned about the immediate transition steps that need to take place. You worry about who will manage the day-to-day priorities of the association in the interim, and may feel as though a search for a new executive director needs to happen immediately.

Not so fast. When an executive director leaves the organization, it provides an opportunity to take a step back and assess several areas: your current organizational structure, your client base, your long-term goals, and the capabilities of your staff. So, don’t panic. Often, what seems like your worst nightmare at the moment can result in an opportunity to reassess your company’s priorities and make changes that will result in increased efficiencies and enhanced effectiveness.

When an executive director leaves, whether it is because they resigned or were dismissed, it’s time to consider your options by taking the following steps:

Begin an assessment of your organization. Do you have the correct structure in place? Maybe your AMC has grown and it is time to move to a more departmentalized structure. How is your client base performing? Maybe this is a good time to assist a struggling client with finding a different management resource that might be a better fit for them. What about the current staff? Maybe the executive director’s departure will afford you the opportunity to promote a star employee who has really proven him/herself.

Write a plan. Draft a clear and precise plan that details the responsibilities of the outgoing executive director, as well as who will handle all other aspects of the transition during the interim period between the executive director’s departure and naming a new key contact person.

Get on the same page. Schedule the outgoing executive director to spend time with management reviewing the client’s production schedule to determine the status of all projects. If a new executive director has been selected, that person also should be involved in this meeting.

Communicate. Inform the staff of the changes, what you know for certain and the decisions that are still pending. Any change to a client’s team has an effect on the entire office. Communication is vitally important in keeping a staff functional and positive in spirit. People are social creatures and tend to discuss what is going on around them. It is important for staff to have factual information otherwise there will be a lot of speculation.

Notification should take place as soon as possible, even if they have to be told that final transition plans have not been made; the discussion should be open and frank. Consider involving staff in the transition and search process. It also is helpful to meet individually with those employees that are directly impacted by the change to give them an opportunity to share how they are feeling about the changes. This will help alleviate some of the stress that naturally occurs when there are significant changes in an employee’s role within the organization.

Determine board input. During the transition, decide how much input the board of directors should have and, possibly, in the candidate selection process as well. There are some clients that interact on a daily basis with the staff and who place a high regard on the executive director, so it would be important to notify the board of directors immediately. There are other clients with whom it would be very important that you have a transition plan firmly in place to reassure them that the AMC has a clear transition plan in place. In either case, the executive director’s scheduled departure should be communicated as soon as possible. This communication with the client leadership should include regular and frequent updates on the transition process; all such communications should be done face-to-face, whenever possible, and should be done by a senior executive of the AMC.

Resist the urge to rush the interview or selection process. Conduct a behavioral-based interview, asking questions that will help you determine if your candidate is a good overall fit. Don’t forget the importance of background checks and be sure to call those professional references (be aware of the employment laws in your state). Do not settle for a less than perfect fit for the client or you will surely regret it later.

Once the new executive director is selected, immediately introduce the new executive director to the board of directors. As soon as possible, send an announcement should to all of the client’s members informing them of the exciting news. With your new executive director in place, it is time to start positioning the new hire for success. Extra involvement from the AMC management team may be needed during the learning curve, particularly in the case where an executive director is replacing someone who was dismissed or who had a history of performance problems. Perform a 30-60-90 day review to assure that the new candidate is indeed a good fit and continue to check-in often with the new executive director and the association’s leadership.

Now, pat yourself on the back for successfully putting out another fire.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

A version of this article previously appeared in the December 2009 edition of ASAE’s AMC Connection.

What’s All the Fuss About Antitrust Laws?

Image Credit: Canva

By Stevie Kernick, Owner Emeritus, Account Manager

There’s not much fuss at all until the Federal Trade Commission comes knocking at the door of your association. Under what circumstances could your association be vulnerable to antitrust violations and how can you, as the chief staff officer of the association, protect your association against antitrust charges?

For most trade association, day-to-day activities are competitively neutral. Associations provide education for members, set guidelines for effective operations and represent the industry with local and federal government entities. Generally, these basic activities, undertaken by all trade associations do not present any antitrust risk.

But no trade association is immune to potential antitrust violations. Violations of the antitrust laws are actionable offenses even if they are committed through a trade association.

Congress passed the first antitrust law, the Sherman Act, in 1890 as a “comprehensive charter of economic liberty aimed at preserving free and unfettered competition as the rule of trade.”

Congress subsequently passed two additional antitrust laws: the Federal Trade Commission Act, which created the FTC, and the Clayton Act. These two along with the Sherman Act, are the core federal antitrust laws still in effect today.

The basic objective of all three of these laws is the same…to protect the process of competition for the benefit of the consumer by assuring incentives for businesses to operate efficiently, keep prices down and keep quality up.

In addition to these federal statutes, most states have antitrust laws that are enforced by state attorneys general or private plaintiffs. Many of these statutes are based on the federal antitrust laws.

Here are the key antitrust issues that affect trade associations:

  1. Price Fixing – It is illegal for a trade association to control or suggest pricing to members, or for competitors to decide among themselves a method of pricing to achieve uniformity. Pricing information should NEVER be discussed among competitors.
  2. Bid Rigging – It is illegal to coordinate bidding among competitors.
  3. Market Division or Customer Allocation – It is illegal to systematically divide market areas and customers among competitors.
  4. Group Boycotts – Any company may, on its own, refuse to do business with another firm, but an agreement among competitors not to do business with targeted individuals or businesses may be an illegal boycott, especially if the group of competitors working together has market power.
  5. Other Agreements Among Competitors – Competitors may not collectively decide to use a standardized contract, establish uniform hours of operation, utilize the same methods of accounting or transportation methods or set restrictions on advertising content.

Trade associations frequently offer their members important benefits with the potential to improve efficiency and control costs. When an association of competitors withholds these benefits from nonmembers, the nonmember may be disadvantaged and the restriction may harm competition and keep prices high.

There is also the potential for the association to become involved in antitrust issues which occur during association-sponsored events, but without the knowledge or involvement of the association’s leadership. At the opening of all association events or meetings, members should be advised of the importance of adhering to antitrust laws and what to do if such discussions transpire.

An association whose members are under-fire for antitrust violations by the Department of Justice can expect to be drawn into the investigation, at the least, with a subpoena to produce documents – reams of them.

Best to take deliberate steps to avoid the fuss altogether.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

When to Say “No” to Research

Image Credit: Luis Llerena
Image Credit: Luis Llerena

Jalene Bowersmith, executive director

These ideas are inspired by the session “Research Roadmap: Using Data to Make Informed Decisions” at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 12, 2014, presented by Matthew D’Uva, Elena Gerstmann, Sarah Slater and Kory Ward-Cook.

Research is one of the best ways to make informed decisions about changes in your organization, but is research always the right step to take?

When Should You Say “No” to Research?

When research is just a delay tactic. Do you already have a great information base and the time is right to make a decision? It’s possible the request for more research at this time is just to delay decision making. It might be time to gently direct the board or committee away from research and towards a decision.

When moving forward just makes sense. Will the research provide very little benefit? Do you have a viable solution and an upcoming deadline? In these and in other cases, sometimes just moving forward makes sense.

When there is a quicker, easier way to get what you need. Rather than a costly professional survey, can you gather the needed information from a quick poll on social media? Can a small set of volunteers provide relevant information faster? Could some simple A/B testing help determine the best path?

When you’re not ready. Before you pay for a professional survey, or otherwise engage in time intensive research, make sure you have clearly defined goals. You need a research roadmap to make sure you aren’t researching on the fly and that you will stay within your budget. You don’t want to complete your costly survey and then realize you need further research to gather the needed information.

If you think it might be time to say “no” to research, check out these ideas on how to make your “no” a positive message.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.