Highlights of the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting

The ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition was held from August 10-13 in Columbus, Ohio, and neither the convention nor the city disappointed. The conference opened with a keynote by bestselling authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms in which they discussed the “new power” dynamics in today’s society. Their talk was based on their bestselling book, New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade in Our Chaotic, Connected Age. Until recently, the world was defined by “old power” which was held by only a few and was jealously guarded. “New power” is transparent and participatory. New power can help us run more dynamic associations especially in an era where the public is demanding more openness and input into their associations and many individuals’ engagement with associations is declining. The challenge is to channel this “new power” to make it work for you and your association and to develop a leadership pipeline for the future. The book is a fairly easy read and relatively inexpensive (available through ASAE or Amazon for less than $17).

There were plenty of educational sessions at ASAE this year. A few sessions of note that I attended focused on rebranding, membership marketing, and mentoring The re-branding session entitled “Ten Steps to a Successful Rebranding” was presented by Brad Gillum of Indianapolis’ own Willow Marketing. It was a case study of how one association – Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing – successfully rebranded their association. As Gillum noted, rebranding begins with a decision as to whether to rebrand or refresh your brand. If a brand does not evoke positive emotions and it’s been the same for many years, it may be time to rebrand since most brands are updated every 7-10 years.  However, no rebranding effort should be undertaken without thorough research followed by an openness to listen to what the research revealed (even if it goes against what you believe about your association and its members). It is also important to involve the board and staff in the process from the beginning. It is equally as important to know the vision of the organization and make sure “it is bold” and succinct. And remember rebranding takes time and money. Gillum noted that participants spend about 60 hours each on the rebranding process. These were only a few of the ten steps that Gillum outlined in a successful rebranding effort. These steps helped make the rebranding of the Board of Certification of Emergency Nurses a success.

There were a number of sessions on membership marketing. However, two were especially noteworthy. One of the sessions focused a membership turnaround at the American Nurses Association (ANA). Entitled, “Membership CPR: From Flagging to Thriving in Just 5 Years.” ANA employed Marketing General (the company that produces the annual benchmarking report each year). ANA dropped from 159,089 members in 2007 to 89,168 members in 2011. However, the ANA was not willing to accept the decline and wanted to become a high-growth membership organization and realized that they first had to improve their value proposition. They did this through research and realized that adding benefits was not sufficient. To improve the value proposition, they needed to lower the dues for the organization. They partnered with state associations and offered one reasonable dues rate rather than multiple rates. By offering one reasonable rate, they were able to almost double their membership to 153,000 in five years. Although the lower rate could have meant a financial loss for the association, the fact that they almost doubled membership actually resulted in an increase in revenue. The association also implemented a best practices membership recruitment program, looked to new markets (e.g., early career nurses) and then used a variety of digital marketing channels to promote membership.

The other membership session I attended was entitled “Growing Your Membership One Benefit at a Time,” presented by Jane Siggelko and Erin Erickson at Kellen. The session focused on how one association, the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP), was able to increase their membership by 78% by using a process they entitled GROW (Get focused, Reassess value, Overcome fear, and Work to implement new benefits). The session focused on developing a member value proposition (which includes identifying existing member benefits, linking benefits to an opportunity to provide value, appealing to different audiences, evaluating the cost of dues, and communicating the value), utilizing a dashboard to track progress, identifying opportunities for growth by analyzing membership data, and building a case to sell ideas to members.

Some associations have mentorship programs or are thinking of establishing one. The session on “Making Connections: Case Studies in Developing a Mentorship Program” focused on two associations’ mentorship programs – the Society for Scholarly Publishing and the Grant Professionals Association. Although both associations hadsome issues in setting up and maintaining mentorship programs, both associations felt that these programs led to a bigger sense of community and belonging, a growth of professional competencies, identification of new career paths, and a sense among long-term members of giving back. Overall, these programs all started with research and the launch of a pilot mentoring program. Having a very clear program structure, as well as having both parties (the mentee and mentor) understand the commitment to the program were important to their success. Furthermore, it is important to get feedback from both parties to assess the success of the program and then make adjustments in future years. Both associations found that recruiting mentors could be a challenge but by publishing an article on mentoring and by having mentors present a session at their annual conference on their experience helped grow their program.

Again, this was only the tip of the iceberg regarding the topics and sessions presented at the ASAE Annual Meeting. I would also like to remark on the exhibit hall. This year, I took the opportunity to make appointments with some of the exhibitors (which I have never done in the past). However, through those meetings, I learned about some of the new technology that is available such as virtual career fairs, digital library software that can help an association curate its content, and chat bots to help with communications and engagement. I had no idea all the types of new digital technology that can help us grow and engage our membership! I would encourage those who go to ASAE in the future to not miss this opportunity to widen their horizons by not only going to the sessions and social functions for networking but by also taking time to meet with exhibitors to learn about the new technology and services available to associations.

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