How Board Members Can Help Generate Growth
Growth — however an association defines it — is essential to an association’s ability to carry out its mission. According to Chris Mundschenk, director, Business + Trade Industry Practice, SmithBucklin, there are no easy answers when it comes to achieving organizational growth goals, but an effective approach begins with board member insights.


In an annual membership survey conducted by Marketing General International (MGI), “increasing member engagement” ranked highest among associations’ top goals for the year, just ahead of “increasing membership retention” and “increasing member acquisition.”

Why is this important for an association? A highly engaged member is receptive to larger portions of an association’s value proposition, Mundschenk said, which causes him or her to be a more active member and can lead to participation in more programs, which leads to more revenue.

“Having a plan in place to evaluate and maximize member engagement is a very important element of an association’s formula for growth,” Mundschenk said. The plan should take into consideration member participation in areas such as conferences, trade shows, webinars, social networks, professional certifications and the association website, and should try to answer the following questions:
  • In what ways are our current members engaged with our organization?
  • What percentage of members receives a high return on investment (ROI) from their membership?
  • How can we better communicate our value proposition?
  • Do we have strategies and tactics in place to increase engagement in ways that drive revenue?
Having this information will help the board decide where to focus association resources. In addition, Mundschenk said, this data can be used to identify less engaged members before they fail to renew their memberships, as well as to target and even incent highly engaged members.

A secondary by-product of a strategic approach to member engagement is the ability to pick up on key themes. “The closer you analyze your membership,” Mundschenk said, “the more intelligence you are gathering that can be applied to your recruitment and retention efforts. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.”

Value Proposition

Understanding how members gain value from an association is only the beginning. The board must also ensure that the value proposition is evaluated periodically to ensure its relevance. “If you are hoping to attract new members and engage existing members, you must offer something valuable, relevant and compelling,” Mundschenk said.

Evaluating the value proposition can encompass everything from understanding why people make the decision to join the association in the first place to identifying what specific offerings hold the most appeal for different member segments, such as younger generations.


Boards can also look at options outside of the association and put resources in place to foster expansion in new ways. “Boards of many associations are keeping an open mind and thinking creatively when it comes to opportunities for growth,” he said. Here are some questions that boards can explore:
  • Can we expand beyond our core products and programs and find new revenue streams?
  • Can we grow by marketing products and services to non-members who may pay a higher price?
  • Have we analyzed other market segments or subsets of market segments that could help us grow in ways we haven’t considered before?
  • Can we serve other groups that are also involved in our industry, such as those with similar labor or legislative concerns?
  • What other organizations are serving an audience like ours, and are there opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships?
  • Are we utilizing thought leadership and advocacy to help us gain influence and advance our mission?
  • Have we reached our potential for domestic growth? Could we expand internationally?
A Case History — Board-Driven Initiatives Position BSCAI for Expansion

In an effort to achieve its mission and better serve its members, the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) has employed a number of growth strategies based on directives initiated by its board. For example, board-recommended market research indicated growth potential in two specific membership segments — small- and mid-sized building service contractors.

To meet the needs of smaller contractors, the association designed a collective buying tool that enables them to achieve significant savings when purchasing supplies. This membership benefit helps BSCAI’s small, independent contractor members generate savings that, in many cases, exceed their annual BSCAI dues.

BSCAI also designed a dedicated acquisition approach to recruit mid-sized building contractors. By creating a relationship management department — independent of its other acquisition and retention practices — BSCAI is able to utilize personal, one-on-one outreach to identify and reach potential new members in this category, and then assess their needs and encourage their involvement. These efforts have yielded new members as well as valuable market intelligence that has informed other acquisition activities.

In an environment of association growth that MGI characterized as moderate in its 2015 report, Mundschenk said many associations share a challenge to attract new members and keep the ones they have. Member engagement, value proposition and an open approach to external opportunities are just a few considerations for boards as they seek to define and achieve growth for their associations.
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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