When the National Speakers Association of Colorado increased their membership by almost one-third in less than a year, there were no special contests, big events, or splashy membership campaigns. As Leslie Shivers, manager of the association says, “We just went back to the basics.”
That simple, straightforward approach worked well – membership increased by 30 percent in the first nine months, and has continued to increase at a rate of 9.6 percent for each of the past two years.
Membership levels for the organization had stagnated over the previous decade when Dean Savoca, M.Ed., BCC, of the Savoca Performance Group, was incoming president for the association. “At the time, it was hard to get members to serve as board members, and there was no succession planning for leadership positions,” he explains. “There was also no overall strategic plan for the association – each president determined the organization’s path for the year.
After developing a strategic plan that went beyond a single year, and establishing a three-year plan for key board member positions that have the president and treasurer serving a year each as incoming, current and past president or treasurer, the association began operating in a consistent, thoughtful manner. It is also easier to recruit board members and committee chairs now, says Savoca.
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Most importantly, board members defined who the association serves, says Savoca. “We were trying to be all things to all people – those who fit the definition of professional speaker, and those who want to be professional speakers.”
Although the association only offers full membership to people who are proven professional speakers, many people who attend meetings and seminars to learn how to enter the industry attended meetings. Educational programs that filled their needs did not meet expectations of professional speakers, he explains. “We made the strategic decision to focus on high-level education.”
Surprisingly, attendance at meetings increased for all member types, and membership increased as educational offerings, along with other services were enhanced.
“Membership was declining because the only way to contact the association was to complete a contact form on the website, which went to a virtual assistant, but did not result in timely responses,” explains Shivers, who was hired as a part-time association manager following implementation of the new strategy.
The first thing added to the website was Shivers’ telephone number and direct email address. “This is a more member-focused approach, versus completing a form and waiting an unknown amount of time for a response.”
After giving members a way to reach the association manager, a number of other tactics were employed to provide consistent, valuable services to members, says Shivers. None of the tactics are earth shattering, but they formed the necessary foundation to reinvigorate the association, she says.
Make sure membership records are up to date and complete
“Because volunteers oversaw the membership function one year at a time, records were scattered among different garages, some of which were never found,” says Shivers. The records were recreated, updated, and are now managed by Shivers, in one location.
Simplify membership information
One of the challenges for NSA of Colorado is the explanation of professional speaker, versus aspiring speaker, says Shivers. “The requirements for professional speakers are very specific, but the previous description on the website was confusing. We simplified the description of the different types of membership, and we offer access to professional learning to everyone.”
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Store historical and operational information in one place
When volunteers are responsible for day-to-day activities, be sure the information they use to plan the event or access social media accounts is shared. Online sharing tools can be used to pass information from one committee chair to the next, or provide a look back at previous events for planning purposes. “Passwords for social media are critical and we lost two Twitter accounts when the volunteers who set them up did not remember to share the passwords,” says Shivers.
Develop processes for consistency
One of the first tasks for Shivers was the development of an operations manual to guide member volunteers in all activities, so the planning and implementation of events or ongoing activities would be consistent and predictable from year to year.
Review the procedures in place
Making small changes and investing time upfront in a process can make joining an association or attending an event simpler and more enjoyable for members, Shivers says. “For example, members who preregistered for events would arrive and stand in line, while volunteers searched lists for their names, and then they would fill out nametags,” she says. “Now, we take a little extra time before the event to write out the nametags based on the preregistration list, and set them on a table in alphabetical order for attendees to pick up as they arrive. This small change makes a big difference and creates a more professional impression of the association for members and guests.”
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