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Lots of Programs, Lots of Confusion: Evaluate. Understand. Bundle. Repeat.

One member said this about the programs and services of his nonprofit, “I feel like I am walking in a fog and picking programs that might work for me. Once I am out of the fog, I am not 100% sure I picked the right ones.” Is this a typical member experience? Not necessarily in every association. Successful associations have adopted a corporate retail bundling approach and an understanding of member needs through targeting services. This approach takes all programs and services and bundles them together for members in a certain target market (i.e. new physicians, first time REALTORS®, Young Professionals). 

Apple Inc. is a stellar example of how a company reduced its products by 70% as it too realized there was confusion in the marketplace around what products to buy. This reduction in products led Apple from a loss of $1.04 billion in 1997 to a profit of $309 million the next fiscal year. A whopping $1.3 billion turnaround! Again, this was through a reduction of the product line by 70% and clearing confusion around what a customer can buy based on their needs. Consumers were effectively able to choose something that would suit their needs and not have too many choices overwhelming them. If a member has to go through a fog to choose a program or service from your organization, do you think they will enter that fog a second time? In our focus groups with members of associations, the resounding answer is “no!” As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a great first impression. 

So, how do we clear the fog and shine a light on the programs that would be most beneficial to your members?

Evaluate the Programs– Just like Apple, many nonprofit organizations create programs that serve or have served a purpose at one time or another. The operative words here are “have served a purpose.” It is always difficult to sunset a program that was put in place by one of your volunteer leaders or was successful at one point in time as it served a need. There is great emotion in sunsetting a program given it was nurtured for so many years and so much of an investment was made. To take that emotion out, a formal review of programs is recommended. Review them through several lenses:

Return on investment – How does this impact the bottom line or professional expertise of our members?

Return on mission – How related is this to the mission of the organization? Does it still serve the ultimate purpose or reason for existence of the organization?

Focus groups – How do members’ opinions help us shape current and future programs? Use them to gain insight at every event opportunity or create them as needed.

Value surveys – What do members value most and how do they rank current programs and services? Are they even aware of what we are offering? Use this information to make decisions around repurposing or sunsetting programs.

Understanding Your Target Audience – Another member once said, “One-size does notfit all.” This was emphatically stated by the member and the question she asked as a follow-up was, “does everyone wear the same types of shoes, wear the same types of clothes, use the same types of laptops, do business the same way?” Of course not. Just as your organization is unique, it also has to understand the unique value that members are searching for that fits them like an old pair of shoes. How do we segment our membership and provide a unique experience?

  • Personas– Define each member type by a list of their attributes, where they are professionally and what their specific “pain points” are that need to be addressed by your organization. This should yield, on average, 5-7 different personas or member types. An article by speaks to personas in this way, “However, as an association, you don’t have buyers or customers per say. You have members! But the concept of a “buyer persona” can also apply to associations and other member-based organizations. Creating a persona of your member (or different types of members) can help your organization recruit and retain the right people.” This also means that you can better target your member for specific services.
  • Member Value Surveys– Use member value surveys to provide valuable feedback around the main “pain points” your members are facing. Use services like Survey Monkey so that different member types or “personas” can enter your survey and you can then segment your data by member type/persona. One of the questions you want to ask your member is, “what are the main pain points that you are faced with in your business or profession?” and another, “where else do you get programs, benefits and services from outside of our organization?” These two questions will yield true gold and doesn’t put the onus on the member to figure out a new program and it also helps identify key competitors. It provides the leaders of your organization the opportunity to take this data and translate it into targeted programs, benefits and services that are competitive in the marketplace.
  • Member Ratings of Services– In a member value survey, ask your members and past members how they would rank each program and service on a scale of 1-10. In addition, ask them how that program and service contributes to the mission of the organization on a scale of 1-10. Use this data to group your services into “high value”, “growth opportunities”, and “ripe for review”. We discuss this concept next. 

Group Your Data– Use the data you pulled from the value survey, focus groups and other instruments and rank your programs, benefits and services. It is an effective way to use real member data to bring back to the leadership to say that these are the highest value programs and these programs need to either be repurposed or sunsetted. The greatest benefit of using data is it takes the emotion out of sunsetting a program that was established by a well-respected Board member by showing quantitative rankings. It also doesn’t single out one program but a core set of programs that may need to be re-evaluated. Finally, this review should also highlight where resources will be focused. For example, the statement could be made that if we sunset three programs and the expenses, including staff time, is $75,000 then we can take those expenses and staff time and focus those resources and dollars into the high value programs. If you want to go further in the analysis, you may even state that the $75,000 is yielding a net loss of $10,000 but redirecting those resources into high value programs will yield a net income of $15,000. It is hard to argue when you have the data to back up assumptions. Boards want to do what is best for the association and members given their fiduciary role.

Bundle, Bundle and Bundle Some More– As we said in the beginning, some programs are still truly essential today and some have lost their luster. If we utilize the analysis and end up sunsetting 5 programs, but we are still left with 45, then have we lifted the fog of confusion? No, it truly hasn’t but is the essential first step to understand programs and their relevance and value to members. The next step is to do the following:

  • Master Categories– Create a master category of all like programs and instead of a pull-down list on your Website of 30 programs, you now can reduce it to 5 essential member service categories with subcategories in each one. Make it easy to navigate and understand the value of each program.
  • Leverage and the “Power User” – Leverage programs that, when used together, provide greater value than if used alone. You can illustrate this by designing a step-by-step infographic that states, if you use this first program then this second program would be the next logical progression and so on. What you are now creating is a roadmap for members to get through the fog and find out what is most valuable for them initially but then allowing them to take the next step with guidance. This is probably one of the most important points as our discussions with members of organizations points to their need to identify that next program. Here is a quote from a member of a large nonprofit organization, “I have no problem identifying the first program because it has the greatest interest to me but my biggest issue is finding that follow-up program that will build upon knowledge gained in that first program. If I can’t find it, I give up.” Leveraging programs allows us to convert a potential one-time user into a “power user” or a member that now utilizes more than one program, more than one time as they now have the roadmap. That is the key to member satisfaction.

John Eldredge, author, once wrote, “Most of us live in a fog. It’s like life is a movie we arrived to 20 minutes late. You know something important seems to be going on. But, we can’t figure out the story. We don’t know what part we’re supposed to play or what the plot is.” Our job is to serve as a guide to our members and help them navigate the wonderful world you created for them in your organization by taking advantage of high-value programs that will either increase their bottom line or help them practice better. Evaluating programs, reviewing data, creating member personas and then categorizing/targeting programs and services will create the best experience. This is the key to member retention and recruitment. How will you bundle your member experience?