What’s Old School Tech is New Again

By Sarah Sain, CAE • December 16, 2016

Back to Tech Basics

Sarah Sain
Sarah Sain, Naylor Association Solutions

I’m a runner, and over the past 12 weeks, I’ve been training for my second marathon. It’s been a few years since I tackled 26.2 miles, and I’ve approached this marathon a little differently than my first.

This go-around, I’ve become a bit more innovative in my training in an effort to have a better race: new workouts, diet and some really cool tech tools. The tool in my arsenal that’s made the biggest difference though: my shoes. As any runner will tell you, a good pair of running shoes has always been a key to success.

Technology is great, and associations are using it in creative ways that drive member engagement to new levels and advocate for their industries. Associations should always be looking for ways to innovate their offerings, whether that’s by optimizing your website as Naylor’s Laura Taylor explains in “Where Did the Milk Go?!”, producing the latest event app or customizing your newsletters by member demographic.

However, as my marathon training has taught me, we can’t forget the basics. Oftentimes, the technologies that have been around the longest can still be among the most effective. Wireless headphones, electrolyte-infused gels and light-up shoe charms may or may not help me run faster, but a pair of well-built shoes will. When old-school technology is paired with your digital and social media tools, your associations will see a bigger impact in member engagement and staff productivity.

Below are three low-tech/old school tech tools that you should be using to communicate with members:

Phone calls

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been emailing a member all week with a request, but you haven’t gotten a single response. It’s not that your members don’t want to read or respond to your emails, but they (probably like you) get hundreds of emails a day. And that’s assuming that your emails are reaching them in the first place. After all, nearly half (45 percent) of respondents to Naylor’s 2016 Association Communications Benchmarking Report said overcoming technological barriers like spam filters is a challenge.

The easiest way I’ve found to combat email overload: pick up the phone and call. You’ll get your questions answered, and live conversation gives you a few moments to catch up with what’s going on in your member’s world. Sometimes a quick conversation is all it takes to plant the seed for a great idea or a more engaged member.

In-person meet-ups

Face-to-face meetings and events are still one of the best ways to progress toward your association’s goals, but how often do you meet with your members outside of your annual conference? Your board and active volunteers probably meet regularly, but you likely also have that group of members who you only see once a year.

Instead of waiting another 12 months to see those members, host an open house at your association’s office every few months and call them with a personal invitation. It gives those members an opportunity to see up close how you’re working for them. Or connect a couple members whose companies are facing a similar challenge. Send each of them a $5 Starbucks card and invite them to join each other for coffee to brainstorm. You’ll help make a valuable connection, which is what association membership is all about.


Over the past few years, as inboxes have grown, mailboxes have been seeing less and less of the action. Associations that strategically send printed materials – say an association magazine, sponsorship packet or even a holiday card – stand out from the digital clutter. By designing a unique piece with a clear call-to-action that your members can physically hold in their hands, you’ll get the kind of attention that an email just can’t.

One tip: Much like your email communications, direct mail pieces should be personalized and targeted to certain groups within your membership. Don’t just send the same piece out to everyone on your mailing list because it likely won’t apply to everyone, and instead of making an impression in their professional life, will just make a dent in their trash pile with all their other junk mail.

About The Author

Sarah Sain is a senior content strategy and development manager with Naylor Association Solutions, working exclusively with society of association executive and meeting professional clients. Email her at [email protected] or follow her as @ssain7 on Twitter.