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Horses or Autos — Which Will Save Your Member Organization?

by | Apr 19, 2010 | Industry News & Trends

Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Which begs the question — are you giving people what they want or doing what’s best for your organization’s sustainability? Are they the same thing?

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the future of member-centric organizations. Will they be around a decade from now? Will they have to give up charging dues? If so, what happens to the largely dues-based budget? The future is scaring a lot of people these days. It’s causing us to reevaluate our current “horse” and ask whether we need to make him faster or invent a revolutionary solution instead. Who will come up with that solution — our boards, our members, consultants or some random Harvard undergrad?

Certainly reaching out to your members and providing them with content that they can’t get elsewhere is a start, but not an easy undertaking. It takes a time commitment and the desire to provide a service that benefits them directly and you in an indirect sense — if they succeed, you succeed. So maybe that’s the beginning of weathering a storm of discontent that is hitting member organizations particularly hard. It begins with reaching out and embracing members, providing something unique to them (a community they can only be a part of through you), helping them succeed in ways others haven’t (mentoring, group exchange, career networking, publishing opportunities) and broadcasting their successes.

My AAA club has started doing something that focuses on the reason most of their members are members. I use AAA for two things — emergency auto services and discounts. I don’t want to attend any of their cruise info sessions or visit their office to buy luggage. But what if prior to my member renewal I buy a GPS and my new car insurance gives me roadside coverage? Why would I renew? If they could save me enough money to cover my membership and then some, I’ll do it. If not, oh well. AAA must know me and not trust me on the math of being able to decide if their discounts are worth the cost of membership as they have started sending me emails blasts that tell me exactly what they can save me money on. They highlight several businesses once a week, along with links to them. More often than not, I find myself saying, I didn’t know I could use AAA there!! They’ve taken it upon themselves to tell me how I could save not just expect me to figure it out for myself. The next step would be if they could tabulate the annual savings for each member and send it in their dues/renewal statement. They make you show your card, so, why not? 

This of course is just a start. Figuring out why your members join is essential to retaining them. Do they value your events? Do they swear by your discounts? Do they attribute their career to the connections they made in your organization? You’ll only know if you ask them.

So we’ve begun to answer how you can provide a “faster horse” by taking into consideration your members needs and goals but how do you go about inventing the next automobile/revolutionary idea? Here’s a good place to start: No More Talk: Hacking Associations DC Unconference.  Here you can exchange ideas with an elite group of local association and nonprofit leaders/consultants on April 22 in Washington, DC. This fantastic meet-up will be facilitated by KiKi L’Italien and Jeff De Cagna. The goal is to come up with the next “automobile” and turn the association world on its head. Of course, the idea exchange is enough to have you on Kayak mid-way through booking a plane ticket — but did I mention that the winning idea will receive $1,000 seed money to help make their vision a reality? The only catch — this meeting is coming up fast and you don’t want to miss it so you’ve got to make arrangements pronto. Giddy-up!


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