From the Front Lines

5 ‘Aha!’ Moments that Will Increase Your Association’s Efficiencies

By • November 13, 2015

Brian Choate
Brian Choate, Timberlake AMS Solutions

Operating an association takes a lot of time. Both day-to-day and annual activities can eat up most of an association executive’s time and leave little room for reflection about how to improve operations and the member value proposition. That’s why we’ve assembled a list of five ‘aha’ moments collected from our experiences helping clients improve their efficiencies and maximize revenue. Browse this list for new ideas to improve your processes, to shine new light on a persistent problem, or to gain a new perspective about increasing efficiency while providing a richer member experience.




The simpler a new process or idea is, the easier it will be for your staff to accept the change. RealLilTweetables

Offer a membership justification packet that outlines the costs and benefits of joining your association. RealLilTweetables

Better analysis lets your association gain deeper insight into membership activity and trends, as well as stay on top of information upkeep. RealLilTweetables

Aha! Moment #1: Build a Plan

Without a basic map of your association’s needs and a plan for satisfying those needs through an association management system (AMS), your organization likely won’t implement new ideas successfully. Plans disprove myths and misconceptions because they lay out facts and potential obstacles. What are some myths that resist change?

  • Board disapproval.
  • Members are too old, won’t accept change.
  • Technology is too expensive.
  • Limited time.
  • Additional staff needed.
  • Too many failed attempts.
  • Membership culture changing faster than any new process can keep up with.

In the face of facts, myths disappear. You may consider surveying your members to find out what their path to membership is, and build your plan from those results.

Aha! Moment #2: Smoother Recruitment and Pre-retention Practices

Once a member visits your website, he or she is on the path toward membership. Rarely do people make a purchase after just one look, so it’s up to your association to guide prospects toward becoming members after they take the first informational step.

Most associations have a “Join Now” button on their website that leads visitors to a membership application and a payment mechanism for potential members to join. That’s fine, but what is quickly becoming a best practice is using that “Join Now” button to lead potential members to a very simple, straightforward page. Formatted like a brochure, the page lays out the benefits of membership and positions the association as a value-add to the member’s career. Most people do not like to feel pressured to make a snap decisionwhen dues are involved, so this one change can make a huge difference.

Other associations employ a membership justification packet to present potential members with practical information about the costs and benefits of joining. A membership justification packet is a bundle of documents and/or rich media that explains the value of association membership and justifies the cost. Such a packet or PDF allows the potential member to feel like they are driving the member recruitment process. Younger generations are purchasing things online differently than other generations. A potential member can download the packet, think carefully about the information contained within, and come back later (with their supervisor’s approval, if needed) to the website to officially sign up as a member.

Next, think about your membership application. Is it available online? How long is it? It should take no more than seven minutes to fill out a membership application. Why? You will see more successful application completions when the form is manageable from a time and information perspective. If your association needs more information about a new member later, it is more convenient for your staff to go back to the member and ask him to fill in the gaps, than it is to ask the new member to front-load information on a lengthy application. Helping new members become a member is one of the first ways your association can show excellent customer service.

Some associations automatically add potential members to an email list as soon as they begin filling out an application. Then, if the application is not completed or if payment isn’t made, your AMS can automatically email that person 10, 15, 30 days or more reminding him that the application is incomplete, that you can help him complete his application, and that you look forward to receiving his completed application.

Aha! Moment #3: Improved Membership Renewals

An AMS can help your association simplify membership renewals. If you don’t already, consider offering online membership renewals. There are several benefits to hosting an online membership renewal: accessibility to members, convenient online payment options, and auto-renewal setup. There is no increase in cost for accepting payments through a credit card.

An online membership application can also integrate with an email-based renewal campaign. Your association can send reminders that members are due for renewal 30, 60, or even 90 days out. Members usually find these reminders helpful, and the ability to renew from their device convenient. An AMS also allows your association to target members who are up for renewal with a personalized message when they log in to your website.

Your association can produce invoices or postal communications through an AMS database. Some members prefer these forms of renewals or need an invoice for company reimbursement. An efficient AMS can help you meet all of these needs without sacrificing convenience or staff time.

Aha! Moment #4: Review Membership Categories

Years ago, the majority of association membership categories fell into one of two categories: individual or company-centered memberships, the latter in which a company was the main member and individuals who worked for the company belonged under the company’s membership. Today, we see more types of memberships. Some members want to join as individuals because a company membership isn’t possible for them. Some companies want flexible pricing for multiple individuals that give the company an economy of scale discount. Many associations offer student memberships as well.

You might experiment with membership categories based on experience or title. New members can join at a discount rate as they get their feet wet in the industry. Veteran members, or members with a higher certification, could join at a higher dues price point as they ramp up their careers. Offer retired members a lower price point so they feel they can continue their involvement despite their decreased income.

Try to accommodate as many membership types as is practical, because every membership type is an opportunity to increase your membership at scale. Sticking to just a few types may exclude potential members and their dues-based revenue for your association.

Aha! Moment #5: Better Data

One of the most sought-after services through an AMS is data improvement services. An AMS can provide you with better information through improved data analysis. Better analysis lets your association gain deeper insights into your membership activity and trends, as well as stay on top of simple information upkeep. For example, an AMS can help your association keep track of updated member addresses by syncing with USPS records and scanning your members’ info, so that any changes are immediately detected and updated in your database. Your association saves on postage by mailing to fewer incorrect addresses.

Data improvement services can also include data simplification. How many of your members still use a pager? Probably not many, so why would your association still track that piece of information? An AMS system allows your association to add or subtract membership information categories as needed.

Implementing Aha! moments

In most organizations, there are two camps: those who resist any and all change, and those who want to explore the best working experience they can manage. If your association decides it’s necessary to implement any of these ‘aha’ moments, start slowly. Keep your idea implementation simple and focused. Difficult activities are often pushed back, and then rushed to be completed. The simpler a new process or idea is, the easier it will be for your staff to accept the change and handle it efficiently.

With members, the simpler the process, the more likely they are to adapt to it. Use our five-second rule for new ideas: If it takes longer than five seconds to explain the purpose, it’s too complicated.

Implementing new ideas that save time, money, and improve efficiency in the long run often take more time and effort to adopt in the short run. This trade-off leaves some association staffs paralyzed: Should you drive revenue now or try to create more efficiency? We recommend applying the 80/20 rule of implementation: Complete 80 percent of a new project, process, or program and push it out. Then work on straightening out the remaining 20 percent of details. Get a new system out there that helps your members and shows them you are trying to use current technology to make their membership experience richer.

Learn more

For the full list of ‘aha’ moments and more exploration of how associations can maximize efficiencies and revenue, download the free archived recording of this Association Adviser webinar.

Brian Choate is the executive vice president of Timberlake AMS Solutions.