Happy people.

Guest post by Fonteva.

Elevate the association’s mission.

Associations have always had worthwhile or commendable missions. Somewhere in the drive to get members to join or renew, to fill seats at conferences, to sell journal subscriptions, and to simply conduct the daily business of an organization, many associations have lost sight of the driving forces that brought them together as an entity in the first place. The association’s mission needs to be at the forefront of messaging; otherwise, the organization is just a collection of individuals.

“Our members and future members need their organizations to go beyond the ‘you get a discount on the annual meeting or car rental’ offerings. The landscape has changed. What value do you truly offer? I said 15 years ago that we no longer compete with other associations. We have been competing with for-profit entities for almost two decades,” states Kim Howard, CAE, Director of Communications and Marketing, EMDR International Association.

The modern member wants to know that they are a part of something greater, a goal that extends far beyond themselves. Rather than getting people in the door and hoping they catch the vision, make the mission what compels them. If they sense that commitment, these members will be more willing to volunteer, to mentor or be mentored, and to contribute to advocacy efforts. These members will share with their friends and families, and they will become evangelists in their communities for the great and important work the association is doing.

“No matter how magnanimous we are or want to be, there still needs to be a “why there?” says Elisa Pratt, MA, CAE, CVF, CEO and Chief Strategist, Brewer Pratt Solutions. “The vision should inspire people, the mission should give members purpose, and the return on investment of time and/or money should keep them coming back.”

“The mission should the central focus and the starting point. I think any association would tell you that it is, but this is a call to action for our missions to be so inspiring that our members light up when they speak about it, they are ready to attach themselves to it, and they are willing to engage because it means so much to them,” declares Carter Lyons, CAE, Director of Communications, Associated General Contractors of Viginia. “When we build an organization that is on fire for a mission, and we’re driven by what our members value, then our members are ready to engage and contribute – because they see a purpose in doing so.”   

Be innovative and change your industry.

We live in an era where companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and others have changed our habits and daily lives in sometimes radical ways. One of the strengths of any association is or should be its understanding of the industry it serves. Because of the depth of this knowledge, associations are uniquely positioned to be leaders and should take risks accordingly. Too often associations have limited themselves and their innovation to a new webinar series, a new conference, or a new membership type rather than looking at the overall landscape of the profession.

They haven’t fully tapped into the collective understanding of staff and volunteer leaders or completely assessed what their members need. Silver linings from the pandemic include an embracing of and an advancement with the use of technology; and associations had to, in many cases, cease from their normal operations and really listen to members and what they were dealing with on a daily basis. More than ever associations should be open to and seeking new collaborations and partnerships- and sometimes in unlikely places. It’s time to take risks. Place small bets. Be willing to abandon what’s not working, and to quickly build on and grow what is. A forward-thinking approach rather than an entrenchment of past offerings will attract the modern member.

According to Alan Chewning, MSBC, Association of Change Management Professionals, Senior Manager, Membership and Chapter Relations, “Associations were kind of like a professional internet before the internet.  They were the expert voices, the advocates of industry, and the builders of networks-- all things diluted by the world wide web. Associations need to own the space. They need to plant a flag and reclaim their territory as being the experts, the gurus, the growers and the shapers.  And this can work really well with the younger generations of association members.”

Howard adds, “Culling your data and knowing your members and prospective members is paramount to continued renewals and increased membership. We can no longer take days to respond when for-profit companies set immediate customer service response and delivery expectations. We must innovate how we do business and think beyond the box when communicating with our members and prospects.”


By elevating the mission and highlighting the important work of the association, members and potential members will be drawn to the organization; and they will be excited to talk about this with their professional colleagues. Advancing the use of technology can not only transform an association but can lead to innovative solutions that have the power to change an entire industry. Modernizing membership takes creativity, planning, and the technology to support this endeavor. The process will radically change the association itself and the way it relates to members. The efforts, however, will be worth the work and time invested with an energized and motivated constituency.

To read our entire whitepaper on the modern member experience, click here.