Monday, July 20, 2015

Getting Members Engaged Is Like Running a Maker Lab

Unfortunately, while we’ve been busily building and marketing the programs, products, and services we think our audiences might like, the world has changed. In 2015, customers are looking for more than a transaction; they’re looking for custom solutions that can be constructed only through authentic relationships of the type, duration, and intensity they—not you—want.

I pulled that quote from the introduction of the recently-released white paper, "Leading Engagement from the Outside In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members' Success," by Anna Caraveli and Elizabeth Weaver Engel. If you're interested, you can get a copy here.

The central message of the white paper is one I agree with. Indeed, my association is one of the case studies profiled in the paper, and one of my staff people recently presented with Anna and Elizabeth at the ASAE Membership and Marketing Conference.

If you're having trouble getting your members "engaged" in your association, it might be worth a read, if, for no other reason, than to get your head around what engagement really means. To wit:

What if, instead of viewing members as passive consumers of our benefits and programs, we worked with them as codevelopers of the value our associations provide?

That's the key, and our ability to do that is the primary reason our association was featured.

But here's an additional idea, not mentioned in the white paper. Even though you want your members to come into your workshop and start working with your tools to fashion and build their own value products, remember that they are your tools and that you are in charge of buying, providing and maintaining them.

What do I mean by that?

Imagine that you run a Maker Lab. If you're not familiar with those, they are starting to pop up all over the country. They come in different stripes--some focused on woodworking, some on machining, some on additive manufacturing--but they are all basically public spaces with a set of tools that are available to anyone who wants to come and use them to build something that is important to them.

So imagine you run one of those, and one day someone who has never been to your Lab before comes in and starts to demand all kinds of new and upgraded equipment. Your wrenches are in English units. I need metric! And your clay oven isn't big enough for the project I had in mind. And where's your 3D printer? Don't you even have one?

Remember, you've never seen this person before. And everyone you are familiar with--the people who frequently use your Lab and are happy with it--have never asked for any of these things before.

What do you do? Do you bend over backwards and try to add all the new tools and capabilities that this stranger is demanding? Probably not.

But now imagine a different scenario.

A group of people who have been using your Lab for a year or more approach you and let you know that are are struggling to succeed with the tools you have. We've been using them for a while, and they work well for many of the things we want to make, but they have helped us raise our vision, and now we think we need something better. What can we do to bring some of these new resources into the Lab? How can we help?

Did you hear the difference? In the first situation, the guy kept saying "you." You don't have this and you need to get this. In the second situation, the familiar group kept saying "we." We need this, and we'll help you get it, and it'll help all of us succeed.

That's what co-development with association members has to look and feel like or it won't work. If you run out and buy every new tool that every new person demands (and if you've never co-developed before, trust me, you're going to get a lot of early demands for a lot of new tools), you'll quickly find yourself out of resources and probably out of business. But if you can get a group to work only with the tools you already have, they'll come to understand their value, and will start taking on some personal responsibility when using them and helping you make the tools better.

That's what I call member engagement.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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