Tips for Starting an Association (and Attracting Members)

You could fill a telephone book sized manual on how best to found and position a fledgling association, chamber, society, council, foundation or what have you. This is not that. However, it is a quick hit of key tips and tricks to keep in mind when you are attempting to build a community.

You could fill a telephone book sized manual on how best to found and position a fledgling association, chamber, society, council, foundation or what have you. This is not that. However, it is a quick hit of key tips and tricks to keep in mind when you are attempting to build a community.

Below are some hacks you can employ to ensure prospective members know you exist, know who you are, and know how they will benefit should they choose to join.

Conduct Market Analysis
Before you do anything, make sure you aren’t setting out on a fool’s errand. Review what communities already exist in the space you intend to occupy. Make sure there is enough vacancy in the market, ensure you evaluate whether there is a large enough pool of people with like interests to drum membership from, and that your concept for an association is unique enough that it will be interpreted as different from anything other offering. A good idea for a community is great, but it has to have legs.
Publish an Executive Summary
An executive summary is a brief abstract that provides a clear description of what and who your association or community represents and / or intends to accomplish. This content is important as it is the information that people will evaluate when deciding whether your association applies to their background, interest or expertise. Another benefit the summary serves is it helps your internal leadership better understand the identity and culture of the community you intend to cultivate. No one outside your organization is going to understand until everyone inside knows.
Establish an Organizational Structure
This goes for any endeavour, but everyone within your organization must understand their respective role and responsibilities. There are a lot of moving parts within an association – especially as its membership grows and its scope expands. The effort must be efficiently spread across a competent and diligent team if success is to be in the cards. Also, having roles clearly defined will encourage greater buy-in and more team cohesion, as it will be easier to envision the common goal.
Implement Community-Building Infrastructure
Prior to marketing to your target audience, you’ll need a place to draw them toward. In the digital age, this usually constitutes a web-presence. Below are some examples of the online landings you will want to be able to drive prospective members to.
  • Association Website
    - This one is a no-brainer. You need a well-designed website, that is SEO-integrated, and provides easily consumable content if you want to convert prospects to members. When it comes to web-presence, people tend to judge a book by its cover. Your website should be clean, simple to use and provide the concise and snappy information necessary for people to understand what your association is.
  • Association Management Software (AMS)
    - Some refer to it as association management software, others membership management system – there are many names. Whatever you choose to call it, you’re going to need a good one if you plan to attract and grow your membership. An AMS is a solution that streamlines registration, member directories, email marketing, event invitation, information access and association related transactions. Brass tacks, it makes it easier for your professional administrators to comprehensively manage association members. There’s no shortage of AMS options, so do your homework and make sure you invest in a solution that fits your needs and is backed by a trustworthy, transparent provider.
  • Social Networking
    - This is another must-do. Make sure you have a presence on applicable social networking sites and ensure that your content and messaging is cohesive with the things your association is saying on their website and within their marketing campaigns. The language you use must remain recognizable as on-brand to prospects and members.
Institute a Marketing Plan
Once you have somewhere to direct people, you’ll need to formulate how you want to entice interest. You’ll need an established strategy around marketing that includes who you will be targeting, what value your association will provide, the types of campaigns you want to run, the metrics you will measure during and after a specific campaign and the key performance indicators you intend to focus on.
Draw on Your Existing Network
o To hit the ground running, start by marketing toward friendly target audiences. Don’t be afraid to draw in people you already have relationships with. With any luck (should they see value in your association’s offerings) they will then draw on their network, drawing in more prospective members. The key at the start of your association is to get a few members registered promptly – to start the ball rolling. Friendlies are the best candidates to fill this role.

Play the long-game when founding an association or community. Put the pieces in place that will allow your association to continue growing and evolving. Do not hinder your association with processes or solutions that don’t encourage or allow expansion. More than anything, let your passion for the subject matter show. Prospective members need to believe they are buying into a community that’s just as keen on the proposed purpose as they are.

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