Associations can be very dynamic organisations. They can bring together like minded members to share information, ideas, and best practice processes within their industry or area of interest.
Modern society prospers as a result of this type of collaboration; it has instigated breakthroughs in science, changed society's values, and influenced government policies. An effective member association can serve the community in any number of ways.
So then, what do dynamic, effective member associations have in common? Generally, they can demonstrate best practice in governance and leadership, boast a strong, cohesive management committee or Board, and recognise the importance of strategic planning.
However, there are just as many ineffective member associations operating in Australia today; associations that have lost (or are losing) their momentum because of the way in which they are managed.
While an association’s rules of operation—often known as the Constitution—dictate the composition of the Board, they rarely outline the skills and experience required to be an effective Committee Member or Board Director.
Every day we see public examples of associations that have lost their focus and implemented seemingly questionable management decisions. While there may be other factors at play, a toxic Board culture tends to be the underlying cause of this loss of focus.
The majority of Board members understand the value and process involved in developing a strategic plan. The AES Association Executives Toolkit provides comprehensive details on how to develop a strategic plan for an association. Engaging a facilitator to brainstorm ideas with the Board is only a small part of the strategic planning process. It is just as important to make sure the Board knows how to use the strategic plan during Board meetings.
When planning to review or develop your strategic plan, make sure you gather facts and data about the performance of the Association. You can identify the strengths and weaknesses of your association by benchmarking your performance using the AES Best Practice Self Assessment Survey. This provides you with an instant result as to how your organisation is performing compared to over 500 associations in Australia. It is also important to collate facts and data around key areas such as membership—not just the growth of membership, but also membership retention.
Although association strategic plans are developed at the Board level, they are usually implemented by employees or, in many cases, volunteers. For strategic plans to work, the Board must empower staff to use and implement the strategies. This cannot be completed without proper resources both in staff and equipment.
My father always said, “A poor workman blames his tools”. I understand this saying all too well. When I have tried to fix things at home, despite having some of the best power drills and saws, I still make mistakes. And I always blame the power tools. When it comes to Associations, despite all the money securing a facilitator to guide them through the strategic planning process, most do not use the most essential tool in managing their Association day-to-day—their Strategic Plan. Some examples of when this is not working include:
Peter Drucker, a major author of over 39 books on business management, always referred to the importance of measurement. According to Drucker, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”.
In recent years, the term ‘strategic pillars’ has often referred to in a strategic plans. Yet key performance measures that evaluate the effectiveness of these pillars are lacking. No matter what you are trying to achieve, the success of your strategic plan can only be measured by the results. So always ensure that you can measure the strategies that you have implemented.
For example, some critical areas that all associations should be measuring include membership growth and retention, uptake of member benefits and services, and overall financial performance. No matter how good your strategies are, the results must be front of mind.
Last month, Association Executive Services hosted a webinar focussed on advocacy to government, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and afterwards. The objective of the webinar was to explore traditional methods of influencing government policy, how those have changed in the last two years, and how associations can build strong working relationships as we move into a post-pandemic recovery.
Association Executive Services recently distributed a survey to Australian associations seeking information on the technology they are using, including the costs of this technology, the challenges they have encountered, and any solutions they have found. The survey also focused on how they are thinking about technology into the future, and which platforms or software they are prioritising.
At this time of year, many associations are busy sending out renewal notices to members. Retaining membership numbers year to year is a vital part of keeping an association sustainable and relevant. In fact, as much effort should go into your member retention strategy as does to your efforts for member acquisition.