November Roundup: Engaging Members and Volunteers

Are you part of a professional association? If not, this in itself might be telling. Fewer people are joining professional trade groups these days because information is more available than ever through other sources, including, of course, the internet. The face of professional associations also is changing. In October, our topic of the month was how to recruit members and volunteers to professional communities such as ASQ.

Why join? John Hunter discusses the value of professional associations, finding that career opportunities and open-access information are two of the most valuable aspects to joining. Rajan Thiyagarajan says that networking is still the major benefit offered by associations. And Anshuman Tiwari writes about how ASQ can become more influential and relevant to India’s quality professionals. Edwin Garro blogs about how ASQ can become more relevant globally.

Lessons learned: Bob Mitchell looks on his own experience in volunteer and member recruitment as part of ASQ’s statistics division and the Minnesota section. Lotto Lai writes about how the Hong Kong Society for Quality successfully increased its membership and engaged members. Scott Rutherford looks to how religious organizations make themselves relevant in today’s society and provide value to believers.  Aimee Siegler writes about the importance of training, and finds a good example of this in the Girl Scouts, an American youth organization for girls. And Dan Zrymiak looks to Toastmasters, a public speaking and leadership organization, for inspiration.

Tips for associations: Jennifer Stepniowski offers a variety of ideas for recruiting and retaining members, including organizing an appreciation event or placing an ad in the local business paper. Babette Ten Haken also shares tips for associations, including the basics, such as making members feel welcome. Manu Vora discusses member and volunteer recruitment from the HR perspective. And Jimena Calfa writes that professional groups must now exceed, instead of just meet, the expectations of their members.

There are lots of options these days. Associations, like other businesses, must be the best in the market to succeed.

Recruiting Members and Volunteers Amid a Changing Landscape

In recent months I have been traveling to ASQ sections and divisions to meet with our members. Our members are very passionate about ASQ, and they don’t hesitate to bring up challenges that we must address as an organization. One of those challenges is our membership model. Simply put, members tell me that we must make it easier for quality professionals to be a part of ASQ. For some, the traditional section and/or division membership works great, but for others, it does not.

While we will certainly analyze this issue, I think we’re not the only association in this boat.  Most associations must generate new and creative ways to attract and retain members. This comes as no surprise. If you’re really interested, you could read this report from the Center for Association Leadership on changing demographic trends and how they affect associations.

From the report:

“The dependency on membership and participation for traditional third-sector organizations will likely continue, but the sustaining sources for such organizations — namely the ‘traditional’ members — will certainly evolve and could even disappear, forcing organizations to look for new sources of members, donors, volunteers, and revenue. Organizations may have to change their missions to meet the needs and demands of a whole new membership and service sector. The transformation is a result of dramatic demographic change in the U.S. population, a force that is altering the profile of U.S. membership associations like never before. The pool of ‘traditional’ members (i.e., members derived from historic rather than current demographic data) is diminishing quickly as demographics continue to shift.”

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. It appears that professional associations worldwide are also affected by demographic trends. Even without such trends, we intuitively know that there are many ways for people to get professional information these days—certainly on the internet and on social media, for a start.

At ASQ headquarters we are sometimes asked for advice on best practices on attracting members to their section or division. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I do want to share some tips developed by ASQ’s Community Development team, which works closely with our members and volunteer leaders.

  • Asking people to attend an association event is an authentic, effective, and simple way to engage potential members.  The Community Development team tells me that people of all ages are three times as likely to help if asked directly. In this age of electronic communication, do we ask people to help, face to face, as frequently as we could?
  • In addition, current association members can refer members and colleagues. They can invite them to association meetings and events, and they can follow up with members who’ve lapsed. A simple call or email can do the trick.
  • To encourage committed members to step up and become association leaders—such as volunteers or chapter officers– explain what’s in it for them. Think leadership experience, practice and application of skills, and personal achievement. You should be ready to provide enough information about specific requirements and expectations. Finally, of course, asking them is the most effective technique of all.

Now let’s hear from you. If you’re part of a professional association, how do you encourage people to join or volunteer? How do local trends impact your association?

*Not to trumpet ASQ, but in November we will resume our annual Adding New Voices campaign, in which ASQ members can give a free, six-month membership to a colleague or friend. Members, watch your email for details.