Monday, April 9, 2012

Bucking the Trend

McKinley Advisors is out with the results of their 2012 Economic Impact on Associations study. I think it's their fifth one. Throughout the recent recession and slow climb back to prosperity it's been an interesting way to check the pulse of the association community.

The results of one particular question in the 2012 report that really jumped out at me. Here it is:

Considering the current economic situation, it asks, how concerned are you with the following issues? Then it lists eight issues that have clearly been on the minds of association professionals through the last few years. Membership retention, membership recruitment, sponsorship, annual meeting attendance, attendance at other education seminars, advertising, product sales, and volunteer participation. The total percentage of respondents who responded with "extremely" or "somewhat" concerned to each issue are graphed against the same responses offered in 2011, 2010, and 2009.

And here's what jumped out at me. For every issue, the overall trend is down. After peaking in 2009 or 2010, every issue shows fewer and fewer people expressing concern. Except one. There's only one issue that bucks that trend, where association professionals are growing more concerned as the economy recovers. Volunteer participation.

This certainly reflects the situation in my own association. In 2009 and 2010, we were very concerned about member retention and attendance at our conferences. They took a sharp hit as companies in our industry cut their expenses in order to protect themselves against bankruptcy. In 2010 and 2011, when it appeared the bottom had been reached, we grew more concerned with member recruitment, trying to draw members that had left back into the association and to acquire new ones. But through it all was the growing sense that volunteer participation was falling off and, unlike our membership and attendance numbers, it didn't spring back the way so much of our industry did.

There were fewer people, you see. Our member companies had cut staff in order to survive the downturn, and as they grew their way out of it, they discovered they didn't need the numbers they had before in order to be prosperous. This is a dynamic we're seeing across our economy today, as companies leverage productivity gains and higher workloads to do more with a smaller number of employees. I'm not criticizing those decisions. I'm simply noting that they have left our association, and hundreds like us, with a situation in which there are fewer people to draw on for volunteer roles, and in which those we can draw on have less time to offer for volunteer responsibilities.

This is another reason why I have chosen to focus on member engagement as a topic of innovation in my association. We're looking for new and compelling ways to engage our members in our activities, not just for our benefit but for theirs as well. I'll be blogging here about some of our experiments, and I'd appreciate any feedback or ideas my readers have to offer.

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