By Rick Rutherford
Industry Resource Director, YourMembership
It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.
Whenever I hear that phrase, I feel my blood pressure start to rise! Of course it’s personal – it always has been.
The whole notion that business isn’t personal simply provides justification for treating people poorly in the workplace and within organizations. It works to diminish human interaction and the results are almost always counter-productive. It is at the very heart of poor customer service. We all know that people who aren’t treated well don’t stick around, whether that be employees, customers, or members.
One of the alarming trends I’ve noticed during the last 36 months is the increasing number of associations that are being force to disband – essentially going out of business. The most common reason I’ve seen given for this is dwindling membership, causing shrinking revenues that eventually lead to the organization becoming no longer financially viable. Competition for associations has increased substantially, and even with an improving economy, there is still a great deal of pressure on non-profit organizations.
You may have heard the phrase “people don’t quit jobs, they quit people.” The same can be said for members and their associations.
As our organizations struggle to find new and creative ways to grow and retain membership, they are finding themselves forced to place all of their cards on the table. They must create a member experience based on undeniable value. Does that mean overhauling the traditional dues structure, adding new services, or more non-dues revenue initiatives? Maybe. But I think what is really needed calls for something more personal – getting personal.
As a society, we always find room for the things we value, even when that seems impractical. Traditionally, members have rallied around their associations during tough times. The ability to network, share ideas and ask for help created unbreakable bonds until associations ran smack into the buzz saw known as technology. The New Millennium has not brought glad tidings to many organizations, which have been forced to realize they’re not quite up to speed when it comes to serving this new, demanding audience that wants, and expects, everything at the click of a mouse.
We’ve all witnessed, and been given access to some of the most amazing technological advances known to man. The born from technology have made us more available to one another than ever before. It’s a 24/7 world whether you want to engage it, or not. And yet with all of the advancements in technology we seem to have grown more impersonal in how we communicate with one another. Just because it’s been tweeted, or is out there on Facebook doesn’t mean the connection has been made.
People join associations for a variety of reasons, most of which are personal. Whether they are there for professional development or volunteering their time and talents, it is a personal commitment to the organization. And on the flip side of the equation, when it comes to staff providing exceptional service to your members – it should be personal.
Going Old School
So as we work our way to the Dog Days of Summer, I want to boldly suggest an “old school” approach to cultivating an intimate relationship with your members that has been a longtime and proven favorite of mine – pick up the phone!
One of the casualties resulting from the growth of technology in communications is that we often end up removing the person, the real person, from the equation. Email, texting, tweeting have made it so easy to avoid the “real” in communications – I’m talking about the conversation. No sharing of mood (sorry, emoticons don’t count), personality, or understanding of the true nature of the message. Calling someone on the phone has become a big deal – as in taking a lot of effort.
How often have you read an email that leaves you thinking the author is angry with your organization, angry with you, or just plain rude? In many cases when you talk with the person to discuss their message, you realize they are neither angry, nor rude – just not a very good writer.
Email is often a poor form of communication at best, one that can easily be misinterpreted. Misunderstood messages often lead to nasty exchanges that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Do you want to make an impact that lasts longer than the time it takes to compose an email and then have the recipient move that message to a “black hole” folder? Institute a no email day, at least for yourself. Once a week, once a month – it doesn’t matter. Start with a commitment you can build from. Start with yourself and then engage your staff to join you.
The Starting Point
Where do you start? Look in your inbox. Select someone you have only communicated with through email or have not spoken with in quite some time. Look in your database and identify members who have not been contacted by anyone from your association in a while. Call members coming up for renewal. Call (former) members who have let their membership lapse (a tougher conversation, for sure). Call a member when they receive an accolade, professional or otherwise. Call a vendor or sponsor to let them know how valuable they are to the ongoing success of your association. I guarantee you, there is a lot of low hanging fruit you and your staff can pick.
Now you’re ready to enjoy the opportunity of making a real connection. Maybe there is no one there to take your call and you end up leaving a message on their voice mail. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Either way your voice on the line says “I care about YOU.” That always makes a difference. Start dialing!
It’s not just business, it’s personal.
As YourMembership’s Industry Resource Director, Rick guides YM’s thought leadership initiatives, directing the company’s Resource Center, weekly blog and monthly webinar series, as well as coordinates YM’s Industry Alliance Program.
Rick has worked in the association industry for more than 29 years, serving as a vendor partner, staff member, and co-founder of a technology company focused on associations. Rick previously served as the Communications Director for the Texas Society of Association Executives, where he received a Gold Circle Award from ASAE.
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