Taking “The 90 Day Challenge”

By Elsbeth Russell • January 3, 2013

By Elsbeth W. Russell

Want to know what your members want? Just ask them.

That’s the approach the Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE) took in an effort to find out the key issues its members are facing and to help them tackle those issues by providing support and solutions.

Called “The 90 Day Challenge,” this effort began with some inspiration from a presentation by Sarah Sladek, the author of the book, “The End of Membership as We Know It.”

  • Associations can stay relevant by offering outcome-based member benefits.
  • Experts suggest checking in with members every 90 days to monitor their changing needs. Member surveys and focus groups are good techniques for doing so.
  • It’s important to keep members informed regularly—but do so in digestible pieces. Don’t overwhelm them with lists they might not have time to review.


“We as a staff don’t always know what our members want, so we need to ask them,” explained TSAE President Beth Brooks, CAE.

In Sladek’s book, readers learn that the way for associations to stay relevant is by offering outcome-based member benefits. She suggests frequently and consistently evaluating your member benefits by surveying members or by hosting focus groups every 90 days to monitor their changing needs.

Reader note: Check out Beth’s review of Sarah’s book here.

Brooks took Sladek’s suggestions and added a TSAE twist, issuing a simple, open-ended question, via email, to about 250 TSAE CEO members that asked: “What is your biggest challenge?”

The members took the question to heart, and Brooks soon had about 75 responses, ranging from membership to human resources to technology challenges.

TSAE staff reviewed the answers and identified the issues cited most frequently by members. Then the staff began to examine their resources. Their goal is to provide one original resource, four or five existing resources and one educational course for each topic identified.

“We can go back to our members and say, ‘You said A, B, C were your top issues, and here’s what we have to help you,’” Brooks explained.

Starting with membership—the top challenge cited by survey respondents—the staff is addressing a different issue every 90 days as they work their way through the list they’ve compiled.

Keeping members informed about TSAE resources through regular communication, and in her monthly, President’s Update email newsletter, Brooks says it’s important to offer members the information in digestible pieces, rather than in overwhelming lists they might not have time to review.

While it’s not clear yet what kind of impact this will have on membership, Brooks says she could see TSAE’s version of Sladek’s “90 Day Challenge” becoming an annual event, allowing TSAE to better evaluate member needs and analyze potential patterns in issues that arise for associations.

“The beauty of [Sladek’s] idea—whichever way you take it—is that you’re asking your members, and then you’re turning around in 60-90 days and saying, ‘This is what we have for you,’” Brooks says.

Elsbeth W. Russell, editor at Naylor, LLC, works with association executive clients to produce content-targeted print and online publications. Contact her at [email protected].