Staying Relevant as an Association

We live in a competitive world where the game is constantly changing. Whatever industry you service, it’s in a never-ending state of evolution. Trends are a moving target. What becomes viral and what does not is really difficult to forecast. So, with that granted, how can your association stay relevant?

Being relevant, if you boil it down, is really the only thing that matters when it comes to attracting new people to your association. No one is drawn to something that seems out of touch, disconnected, hollow, played out or tired. People project the attributes they covet in themselves toward the communities they choose to join – and no one wants to consider themselves irrelevant. Everyone likes to believe, whether they will admit it or not, that they are in the know and on-trend – so that’s exactly what they will be looking for in an association.

People don’t want to live in the past, they want to move with the times. So, what are the steps your association can take to ensure what you offer is relevant to your target market? Provided below are some helpful hints you’ll want to consider. Staying current is, of course, not an over-night thing or a one-shot deal. You need to be consistent and diligent in your attempts. Becoming complacent is the first step toward not mattering in your industry.

Be Mindful of Your Messaging
Your content is your first impression to prospects. Unfortunately, in this day and age, attention span is not substantial. Therefore, you really need to bait the hook well when casting your line. Be clear, concise, descriptive and precise with the words you choose to educate people on what it is your association offers. You have a small window to show prospects that you are a major player in the industry, so every word and graphic needs to accomplish its purpose. Also, stay connected to industry news and influencers. Staying up to date on the comings and goings of your market, so you are familiar with the common language, is important in marketing your association in a meaningful way. You certainly shouldn’t be a puppet of the trends, following and mimicking every one that arises. However, you should be aware of them so you can conceptualize how they relate to your association’s voice, and how you can interact with trends through your content in a way that is discernibly on-brand and fitting.
Set Goals (and Accomplish Them)
Nobody wants to board a train that goes along the same track, over and over. They want to affiliate themselves with people and communities that are pushing new boundaries and forging into new territory. They want to align themselves with an association that’s set on influencing and impacting the industry – not just toeing the line and following the crowd. The best way to show your association’s intent to lead from the front is to visibly establish goals (quarterly and annually) and accomplish them. Setting ambitious goals within your association will show to members (and non-members) that you are not satisfied where the community is at. You should never be satisfied, and showing that you are striving for better will prove that you are always looking to get better as an association. However, just setting goals isn’t enough. As a matter of fact, if you have a track record of establishing goals without seeing them through, that will almost certainly make you irrelevant among your target audience. The accomplishing of the goals you set out is a very important step. It shows that when your association says something, they are serious about seeing that thing come to fruition. Talking the talk and walking the walk, and pushing your industry’s envelope by continually raising the bar with improvement will make you very relevant.
Engage with Your Membership
First off, for your members to feel like your association’s community is relevant, there needs to be an evident community. That means there needs to be interaction between the association and its membership. In order for the association to be relevant in the eyes of your members, the association needs to make members feel relevant by investing time and attention in them. Your association is only as relevant as your membership thinks you are. Secondly, your members are a resource. Do not make the mistake of leaving them untapped. Each member is like a tentacle that goes out into their respective field of the industry you service and carries with them a unique perspective and insight. The more members you engage, the greater your reach in gathering knowledge and information from the industry. The more industry knowledge your association possesses, the greater your advantage will be in staying relevant.
Discuss the Importance of Innovation Frequently
Whether it’s in a blog, social media post, newsletter, forum comment or during a speech, presentation or interaction – innovation is the word. You definitely have to follow-up on what you say, so make sure your actions represent a spirit of innovation as well. However, as long as you are walking the walk, make sure you are talking the talk – a lot. Work the word “innovation” into as many communication pieces as reasonably possible. With enough repetition across all association broadcast mediums, the word (and its meaning) will become irrevocably attached to your organization. Your association, because they talk the talk and walk the walk, will become synonymous with the term. It sounds sort of devious to condition people to subconsciously pair your association with innovation, but it’s not duplicitous because you’ll actually be innovative. Making sure you use the word will just make sure your association gets the credit it has earned through its actions.
Provide Learning and Development Resources
If your association is going to be innovative, your members need to be too. They represent your association’s culture just as much as your administrators and executives. You want to be able to provide value that your members can then take out into the industry and make noise with. The best type of resources you can provide to accomplish this are training and development programs. An association management system makes this very simply to offer. Through an AMS, you can easily upload e-learning content that members can access and complete. The more education you can make available to your members, and the more credentialed and knowledgeable they become, the more relevant those members will make your association out in the industry community.
Take Calculated Risks
In order to innovate, you have to venture into uncharted waters. Whenever you are daring enough to test uncommon ground, a certain level of risk should be assumed. After all, innovation is mining the unknown. However, even though you shouldn’t be afraid to take certain risks, they should all be calculated. You want to remain relevant, not be seen as reckless. You have to go where others haven’t gone before to trend set. But if you can reasonably expect to come out the other side, it’s not worth it. The reward has to match (or surpass) the level of risk.
Learn from Mistakes
In making the effort to keep your association relevant, you will not always hit the mark. Sometimes, you’ll miss the mark by a country mile. As long as you aren’t making it a habit, overshooting your target is okay. It’s certainly better than coming up short. I won’t say you should celebrate your mistakes. A loss is a loss and you should hate losing. However, the reality is that you can’t always win, despite your best efforts. So, when you don’t win, lick your wounds and learn where you were lacking. Turn your losses into future wins by accepting and acknowledging the lessons a mistake teaches you. Pushing the envelope and maintaining your industry renown aren’t easy undertakings. But stepping into the abyss without resignation or fear of failure will certainly contribute to your association’s continued relevance.
Embrace Technology
To remain the focal point of your industry, you need to draw on every advantage you can. Employing the best in tech will allow you to optimize your initiatives so duplications of effort are reduced to nothing (or nearly nothing). In the association world, no matter your industry, one piece of technology that you’re definitely going to want to implement is a member management system or AMS. Achieving all of the above is not a cakewalk. However, with an AMS, successfully accomplishing these initiatives that will keep your association relevant is made much more manageable and realistic. Guild is an AMS solution that will allow your association to stay ahead of the curve, while being directly supported by a team of system specialists. To learn more about Guild, or schedule a live demo of the solution, click here.

The above suggestions represent a starting point, not a finish line. The reality is that there is no one action you can take that will establish your association’s relevance for all time. Staying important within your industry takes work, day in and day out. The best advice there is in staying relevant is to consistently make a genuine effort. People take notice of those who not only talk about their dedication to a cause, but exemplify it as well.