Blurring the boundaries: Member engagement and non-member marketing, or the other way around?

I’m fresh from moderating a panel at the CSAE National Conference, on the blurring boundaries between members and non-members in terms of how associations think about them as stakeholders. Who gets things for free? Who has to pay? How much do they pay? What’s your connection with non-members, and why?

A few things emerged from the session that I thought were worth sharing.

First, the question of what’s at the core of associations is clearly something worth discussing further. If you think about an association as something around which you can build walls, what stays inside? The people in the room struggled to identify products and services that were at the core, reflecting the way those walls have been eroded – for instance, in terms of content. Instead, there was more discussion about benefits, about needs met, about the core being a sense of community and a sense of service to the industry or profession as a whole. And should we be thinking about erecting walls at all, or should we conceptualize the association as creating a marketplace for value to be exchanged?

Second, associations clearly have a lot of work to do to be nimble enough to respond to this new reality if membership models are transformed. Governance structures came up in the session as one inhibiting issue, but organizational silos and skill sets are also clearly challenges for associations to make this kind of transition from a fixed membership model to a more fluid and responsive and real-time way of working. Clearly an enormous change in both mindset and day-to-day operations is ahead to make this a reality.

Third, you have to have an intimate knowledge of your stakeholders to be able to engage with them.  Find out what they want – it might be very different from what you think. You have to actually have ways to go out and ask them. Figure out what makes them tick. Don’t assume. Don’t generalize. And don’t let your knowledge of them get stale. They share information in real time – it’s there for us to listen to it.

The eagerness of the audience members to get involved in the conversation was really striking, and I think suggests we were really on to something in the topic and the remarks by the panelists. There’s clearly much more to discuss, but today was a really compelling conversation opener.

Thanks to the fantastic panelists: Mike Brennan from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, Beckie MacDonald from the Ontario Library Association, and Meagan Rockett from Greenfield Services. We put this together not knowing where it would go exactly, as panel discussions are always co-created with the audience, and it was a lot of fun to embark on the whole process with such an interesting set of people.

Were you there? What did you think?

If this sparks any ideas, I’d be happy to discuss these questions further – please get in touch.

Photo from Creative Commons.

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