Almost every profession and/or industry is banded together by their respective organizations. Members of these networks provide support to each other and create an arena for collaboration. I will share how to market professional organizations by first citing why some of them deteriorate or disappear to oblivion and then cite specific areas to focus on.
Let me start with 4 key indicators of deteriorating professional organizations.
- Declining membership – Initially, you would notice that more existing members are not renewing as compared to new members being inducted. This is followed by a compromise in membership acceptance criteria to attract more new members, followed by accelerating decline of existing members.
- Declining finances – Cash surplus is reduced; less members lead to less revenues. The lack of financial discipline also caused declining ability to generate cash – no project goals, no terminal report, no internal control, and no focus on balance sheet.
- Declining attendance – The needs and wants of progressive members changed over time. The organization’s existing activities are no longer relevant to them. Moreover, compromises in membership criteria often leads to changing demographics alienating them further away.
- Declining activities – On the surface, declining attendance leads officers to reduce number of activities, but the root cause is actually much more than declining attendance. It is actually lack of relevance and obsolete proposition.
Here are 3 ways to market or even turnaround an organization.
- Relevance – A professional organization exists to fulfill what an individual cannot. What are the pain points and wish list of the members that the organization is solving? Are the officers mindful at all to explicitly ask instead of assuming? The more homogenous an organization’s membership is, the easier it is to fulfill their needs. As people move up the organization hierarchy, their needs will naturally change. How is the organization staying relevant to them? Are there new projects that cater to their needs or has the organization been so stuck with continuing with the past, extending traditions more and more. Without an organization launching newer, more relevant projects, they risk losing thought leadership to hungrier groups or organizations who become category innovators.
- Distinctive and Different – Organizations spend time agreeing on theme, logo, design, and even video releases, but spending time tweaking these without an updated and compelling value proposition will not change the organization much. Like most firms, many professional organizations simply try to be different in the same way, instead of trying to be different in a different way, the latter a higher level of differentiation called strategic distinctiveness.
- Believable – Who heads the organization is critical. This refers to the president as well as the board. The leadership symbol sends a message to everyone of the type of organization’s membership that attracts “birds of the same feather”. Does the leadership team have a track record of getting things done and excellently, at that? Do they have potent networks to tap? Do they have the clout to tap these networks for resources? Are they trustworthy? Are they personally invested in the organization or do they simply send representatives? Are people excited to meet them?
Finally, I would like to share 4 statements that officers of professional organizations must regularly ask themselves. If they have difficulty completing these statements convincingly, they need to start refreshing their relevance, distinctiveness and believability. They may want to ask their existing as well as lapsed members the same questions and separate them for evaluation and redirection.
- I need to join or renew my membership in this professional organization because ____________ .
- If this organization is gone, I cannot get _________ elsewhere.
- I am busy but I need to allocate time in this organization because ________ .
- The one word that this organization own and no other organizations come close to is __________ .
If you are a member of an industry or professional organization, what grade would you give them in terms of relevance during the pandemic?
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Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc.
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