Associationology I: Expecting ROI From Membership

by Matt Gardner, CEO, California Technology Council

Join us for a webinar on Member Value on Tuesday, October 24th. For additional information, please CLICK HERE.

There was a time not long ago that the entire business model of the average association could be summed up as prestige and access. As in so many other industries, the web, content, and even our government have changed so much that this model for associations has broken down. If your membership organizations cannot make the case that they support your business every day and in continually innovative ways, why do they have your support?

Q. What should this mean for companies belonging to associations?
A. Identifying the ROI for your participation should be simple and easy for any member.

Is your membership relevant to your business? Can the associations to which you belong define what they provide to support your business?

You already know this, but some memberships come with value, while others do not. Look for hallmarks of value such as discounts or exclusive programs and services. Alternatively, look for the sort of visibility among customers, investors, and leaders that your business can use to rise above the noise.

You should always feel comfortable asking your association to explain the value they provide, especially if you are unsure what you gain from membership.

Q. Should my company speak up, or ask an association to speak for us?
A. Yes, most associations look for member views.

If your association asks you to write a check and doesn't ask for your view, alarm bells should sound. On the other hand, associations often have to hammer out consensus among the widely varying views of hundreds of members. Don't assume that the association's failure to espouse your position means that it doesn't support you. You may want to examine how the association arrived at a position, what processes it has in place for taking new positions and resolving conflicts between members, and whether your participation in boards or committees would make a difference.

Associations often produce outcomes that come close to this simple equation: you can only get out as much as you put in. 

It should also be fair game to ask how you work your way into board representation and committee participation. Get involved. Most associations need members who engage in this way to drive decisions, content, and value.

Q. What does my association stand for?
A. If your association has no long-term vision or strategy, any engagement will lead to meandering without purpose, objectives, or milestones. In short, you run the risk of wasting employee time and energy on poorly defined activities without connection to any mission.

While it might be unrealistic to expect that every minute of every meeting in an association connects to the core mission, are you confident you know why you engage with your association? Are you confident you know why they ask for your time on their new activities?

We see real examples of activity that serves as a distraction to your business. Here's an example:

Association CEO: "Let's go to Seattle for a study tour."
Member CEO: "Why?"
Association CEO: "Because the 49ers are playing the Seahawks that weekend!"

Whether it's the Niners or Rams, this shouldn't be the most pressing decision facing your association leader on any given Monday. You may want to ask yourself (and your own team) what your association sets as priorities for its staff, especially if you see more pranks than profits from your investment of time and energy. 

Join us for a webinar on Member Value on Tuesday, October 24th. For additional information, please CLICK HERE.


CTC Chief Executive Matt Gardner is a serial association CEO and frequent board member for other associations and non-profits.

This series on Associationology will continue. In the meantime, you might consider the fundamental business proposition of membership dues. If your association is selling you prestige and access, how will you measure your return on investment?

What is Associationology? In scientific terms, this would be the study of associations. For our stakeholders, this is simply about making the most of your membership. CTC's Associationology Series helps current and future members find tips and tools for harnessing the maximum potential of engagement in your association, whether in CTC or anywhere.