Home Uncategorized How to Keep Your Association Relevant to the Millennial Generation And Beyond

How to Keep Your Association Relevant to the Millennial Generation And Beyond



Cohn Communications was founded in 1992 as an association management and public relations company. Today, president Tom Cohn is an Executive Director for three trade associations. The following is an interview with Tom.

Q: How have you seen the association business change over time?

Our business has changed because technology has allowed us to produce content more quickly and reach more constituents faster and more cost effectively. The fundamentals of running superior, high-performing associations have not changed. The association staff needs to be able and want to crawl inside the heads of their members to understand what makes them smile and what causes pain. You need to understand your members’ businesses as well, if not better, than they do. You need to produce useful, meaningful and effective content consistently and provide a return on dues that justifies members’ investment of resources and time.

Q; What are the keys to being a successful Executive Director?

Creativity, patience, passion and the ability to work alongside exceptional team members and volunteers who make you look good every day.

You also have to be able to develop and implement strategy. You can’t expect volunteers to create a vision for the organization. It is the Executive Director’s responsibility to understand what association members need and craft a strategy that shows them what is possible and then deliver on the promise.

Q: Anything unique you have done over the years to either advance your career or benefit the associations you serve?

Because we immerse ourselves in our members’ industries and businesses, it enables us to provide content and benefits that others simply cannot offer. Today, we publish content daily on social media sites, produce monthly magazines that make our members feel good about their involvement in their organization, and issue weekly eletters and eblasts.

If you can’t produce engaging content, then your communication is viewed as little more than spam. Our content connects our members to their industry and the association. We regularly receive a better than 40% open rate. That is why our membership retention numbers are so strong. One organization with more than 200 members has lost only 1 member. In two others, we have retained 100% of our members. Historically our membership retention for every association that we manage has been more than 90% of those who are still eligible for membership.

Another distinctive Cohn Communications competency is running associations with the same go-to-market philosophy and approaches used by for profit businesses. Jim Collins pointed out in “7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t” that organizations must have the financial wherewithal to develop mission-consistent products and services. You need to have profits and reserves to fund new programs that create additional value for your members. We have developed products and services for each of our associations that have allowed them to expand products and benefits, even during the worst recessions when those products and benefits are needed the most.

Our members and especially leadership understand that we are available at any time. Our members, for the most part, run businesses or have full-time jobs. We don’t expect them to cater to our schedule and availability. We adapt to their schedules so it makes it easier for them to volunteer. And when you make serving as a volunteer easier, you tend to attract higher-performing volunteers.

Q: What are the typical pitfalls an Association Executive should avoid?

• Failing to understand and adapt to the personalities and leadership styles of volunteers.

• Failing to do anything but the maintaining status quo.

• Believing that dues are an expectation and not something that has to be earned every day.

• Spending time and resources on projects that produce little to no value.

• Spending time and resources on projects that are not mission-focused.

• Failing to understand members’ businesses and needs.

• Not knowing how to listen effectively.

Q: Are Millennials, now the largest demographic in the workforce, joining associations?

Millennials, as a rule, are joiners. How else would you explain Facebook and other social media offerings? The challenge is to deliver meaningful content and to deliver it in a context that Millennials want. You need to reach out to Millennials on their terms and involve them in the process. That’s why for several of our managed accounts we have created young leadership peer groups. We’ve made a conscious effort to place younger members in leadership positions. I don’t buy the argument that Millennials aren’t joiners or don’t want to be involved. It does not matter how old you are. You can’t possibly expect to think outside the box if you never leave the box you are in. We provide different boxes for our members to visit and engage with like-minded peers.

Q: How else do you see the association industry changing? What can we do now to prepare for continued success?

I wish my crystal ball worked more effectively. It would make life a lot easier. Technology continues to have dramatic impacts on everyone’s lives. There is no doubt you need to keep your fingers on the pulse of what is happening in your members’ lives, businesses and careers and determine how the organization can continue to connect and create value. Associations will need to produce truly meaningful returns if they expect to continue to succeed.


Source by Ted Janusz


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