Category Archive: Membership

Engagement Plan for nonprofits

Avatar photo June 14th, 2022 by

If you’re a nonprofit leader, you know how important it is to keep your constituents engaged. But sometimes, hitting those high-touch point activities with your members and associates is challenging. Or maybe you don’t have a standardized approach to those activities. Either way, an engagement plan can help.

Engagement Plan for nonprofits

What is an Engagement Plan?

Engagement plans are all about organizations working proactively to keep their members involved and invested. At a high level, an Engagement Plan is a set of tasks (literally a series of steps executed at different intervals) that helps you engage with your constituents. This can be done in a number of ways, from offering opportunities for leadership and development to providing pathways for members to give back and make a difference. By thinking ahead and engaging your members on a regular basis, you can keep them involved and invested in your cause.

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Engagement Levels

With Engagement Levels in NPSP, you can assign different tags (let’s call them Levels from here on) to contact records in the system. Levels indicate how these contacts are engaged with your nonprofit. In other words, Levels can be thought of as Ranks you assign to your constituents.

To better understand this feature, let’s look at a few example donors and how they have contributed to your organization:

Let’s say you have a donor, Paul, who has contributed $100, another one, Jennifer, who contributed $500, and the third one, Ryan, who not only contributed $1000 but also has been influencing other prospects to donate money. Ryan also has those prospects assist in various fund-raising activities for your nonprofit.

All these donors require lots of TLC for the remarkable work they are doing for your organization. But some might need more TLC than the others, depending on where they are in their journey with your tremendous efforts to make this world a better place. So, to identify where your contacts are with respect to their level of enthusiasm, efforts, and excitement about your cause, below is a typical progression a new joiner goes through.

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Wouldn’t it be great if all your volunteers grew to be your major donors? Yes, but for that, you must ensure you do your bit by ensuring you are as engaged with your volunteers as they’d like to be with your organization.

And this is where Engagement Plans can add significant value. Once you understand where your volunteers are in their growth with your organization, you can automate creating and assigning certain Salesforce tasks, so everyone on your team has a clear roadmap of what to do and when to do it. Consistent actions bring consistent results.

How to use the Engagement Plans

Before setting up an engagement plan, you should develop a high-level plan for engaging your constituents. Some typical questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Who are these tasks targeting? This is where defining Levels comes in quite handy. Once you define the Level your constituent is at, you assign a set of activities specific to that level.
  • What’s the list of tasks that need to get done? These are the actual tasks that you add to a set of activities associated with your constituent’s Level (more on this in a minute when we define Engagement Levels)
  • Do the tasks need to be completed in a specific order? If yes, what is the correct sequence? These are strategically placed sequences of activities. For example, you want to send a Welcome Email when you have a new constituent come on board, followed by a Thank You Email after their first donation.
  • Who’s responsible for each task? The user who will be performing the tasks. You associate an Engagement Plan with the Engagement Level of a constituent and then assign those tasks in the Engagement Plan to a user in your organization. Simple and Efficient. 


Now that you have a high-level understanding of how you can structure your communication and activities with your constituents let’s start putting together a plan.

The first step is to define the Levels. Let’s continue to form our case above.

Paul contributed $100.

Jennifer contributed $500.

And Ryan contributed $1000 and has been actively involved in other initiatives of your organization.

Looking at these contributions, you decide to use Donation Amount alone as criteria to define the Levels.

Donation Amount from $0 to $100:

Donation Amount from $101 to $500:

Donation Amount more than $500:
Big Donor

We used only one criterion for this example, but you can use as many as you like. For example, you can use a combination of Donation Amount, Events Organized, Events Attended, and the number of people influenced, to come up with your unique measurement of Levels of Engagement. Super! You are one step closer to unlocking the full potential of Engagement Plans.

In the next step, we will look at different activities you can do with someone at the Base level.

Our goal here is to engage the constituents at the Base level further so they can one day (sooner than later) become your Big Donors. And to do this, you strategically decide to do activities specific to the Base level.

On Day 1, once the constituent registers with your organization, you send them a Welcome Email.

On Day 7, to further pique your constituent’s interest in causes your organization is passionate about, you send a newsletter detailing all the incredible work you have been doing to help communities.

On Day 12, you place a Follow Up Phone call offering any help they might need with upcoming events and activities.

Congratulations! You created your first Engagement Plan!

To keep things consistent, follow the same steps to create plans for the other Engagement Levels in your organization.

Create an Engagement Plan Template and assign plans to records

Before assigning tasks to users in your organization, you will first have to create a Template that lists these specific tasks and the order in which you want your users to perform these tasks.

The Template is your first step in building consistency of actions in your organization. Typically, this is how the Template looks like (activities in the photo below are different from the ones mentioned above, but you get the idea):

Once the Template is created, assign the Engagement Plan to the constituent (Contact/Donor record in Salesforce) you want to engage with. Users can see the completed and upcoming tasks in Activity timelines. Flag items, add notes, see due dates—no More Missed Activities.

Below is what it should look like after the assignment:

That’s it! You are all set!

There are many more superpowers like Engagement Scores, Automation, Tracking and Reporting of Activities, Engagement Plans can give you. But, for now, the above steps should get you started with creating great experiences for your constituents and users alike.

So, you should tailor your engagement plan to fit your group’s specific needs, and it should evolve over time as your membership changes. The best way to create an engagement plan is with input from all levels of your organization. If you’re not sure where to start, our team can help. We have extensive experience developing successful engagement plans for organizations just like yours. Let us show you how we can help!

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Rethinking Marketing Automation And Your Membership Lifecycle

Susan Baumbach June 3rd, 2021 by

Many association professionals are undoubtedly aware of the membership life cycle of Awareness, Recruitment, Engagement, Renewal, and Reinstatement. The concept can be pushed further since your relationship with members does not look the same year after year, instead, it evolves. Thinking about the membership life cycle three-dimensionally is more realistic. Therefore, we now have a Membership Spiral!

In this Spiral, you can think about the X-axis as several different things. The first is most obviously time as the member learns more about your association and you learn more about your member. The renewal cycle for your first-year member should look different than a renewal cycle five years down the road. The Spiral shows this concept more effectively than a two-dimensional life cycle. Also, your engagement with that member should be managed differently as they already know about your association and you may want to engage them by advertising different events or volunteer opportunities.


Another way to think about the X-axis is a measure of the member’s advocacy activities for your association. As time goes on you may have a segment of your membership that invites their colleagues to events, presents at conferences, or serves in a leadership position on a committee. These members have the opportunity to influence the Membership Spiral of other members as well.

When thinking about advocates, first you need to define how someone becomes an advocate. Is it after they forward 20 of your marketing emails to others, or that they attend 10 conferences in a row, or something else? Next, do you have the data to know when they cross that threshold? This question can be very difficult for some associations to answer if the data lives in unconnected platforms. For example, the marketing automation tool holds information about email forwards and the event management system holds historical attendance information. This leads us to a discussion of your association’s tech stack, with a specific focus on marketing technology (or MarTech).

Segmentation of Membership Spirals Using Data

Just as you can think about segmenting member advocates, you can also use data from across your technology platforms to segment the various membership spirals. The key factor is to have a tech stack that brings together all of the ways that members have engaged with you historically. The graph below is from Pardot, which is a marketing automation tool that integrates with Salesforce data and can also capture information about website interaction behavior. In Pardot as a member opens an email, clicks on a link, or visits the website, their score increases. This graph shows their cumulative score overtime, so in this example you can see the members stay consistently engaged. There is a leveling off in December, which makes sense due to the holiday season. This member is spending time with family and not opening association emails or the association wasn’t sending out communication during that time.

The next example looks a bit different because there is no engagement over the summer months. This was taken from an association that has a large segment of their membership who are university professors. So having little to no engagement over the summer months would make sense. If you are able to bring together historical data about your membership, then try to see if you can create segments. This is critical because how you engage with the member above versus the member below would be very different.

Awareness and Recruitment

Having a highly integrated tech stack will allow your organization to better capture leads and recruit them for membership. Many marketing automation tools will allow you to place tracking code and forms on your website. Once a lead completes the form, the system is then able to track website visits and behavior. Based on that behavior, for example two visits to the Join Now page but not purchasing a membership, would trigger automatic marketing emails to the lead about the benefits of membership. Once the lead purchases a membership, which is typically a data point captured in the CRM, that will feed back to the marketing automation tool to remove that person from the automated emails.


The classic example of engagement for brand new members is an automated welcome campaign that triggers once someone purchases a membership. But, let’s think further down the membership spiral when the member has been active for 4-5 years. By that time an integrated tech stack should know if this person typically attends the annual conference, or a bunch of regional events, or primarily engage with online training courses. Based on this historical data, if you are seeing a dip in engagement for a specific member, then you could send opportunities that are similar to how the member engaged previously. For example, if someone never took an online training course, that probably isn’t the avenue to re-engage them.

Depending on the marketing tool, you can also understand how and when the member interacts with association content. Do they typically open emails at 6am in the morning on their mobile phone or 9pm at night on their desktop computer? Capturing this information can help your association better target your content so that your intended audience is more likely to engage.

Renewal and Reinstatement

For association membership teams, renewal is a critical phase of the Membership Spiral. Alot of associations I work with will send renewal reminders and pretty common intervals, such as 30 days before expiration, 15 days, 7 days, etc. I haven’t found if there is a particular reason for that, or that is what the default values are, so everyone goes with it.

Again, let’s actually look at the data. What days of the week show higher email engagement? How many days before the renewal date do members actually renew? If 75% of your membership doesn’t renew until 3 days before the renewal date, then sending a 30-day reminder email may not be very effective. When looking at the data you could segment your membership to those who typically renew early versus at the last minute. Of all the data so far discussed in this blog, I’m nearly 100% positive that your association will have this data, but I really don’t see many associations using it.

Stay Tuned For More

By thinking of the Membership Spiral concept and leveraging integrated historical data from multiple platforms, associations can more easily attain membership goals. There are many ways to refine how your association interacts with members during each phase of the life cycle and over time.

Stay tuned for upcoming content focusing on tips and tricks for marketing automation at your organization. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to our talented team here at fusionSpan for all your Digital Strategy needs!

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Create Better Membership Dashboards With Apache Superset

Avatar photo March 11th, 2021 by

Dashboards have always been a crucial part of analytics. As the demand for Business Intelligence (BI) tools increase each year, the amount associations spend on BI products has followed suit. Robust platforms, such as Einstein Analytics and Domo, mainly charge fees by user count. This in turn might limit the number of users that can see visualizations. Should an association have hundreds or even thousands of employees that need to look at internal data, being limited by budget towards BI tools is not a great way to start your data deep dive.

Why Use Apache Superset

We Analysts here at fusionSpan have built our fair share of dashboards. When comparing the different BI tools we have used in the past, Apache Superset would often come out on top due to its flexibility in allowing mass distribution of data visuals without extra cost.

In this article, we have built a membership dashboard to showcase the functionalities of Superset 1.0, a new version of Superset that has just been released this year. We showcase key features of Superset that are used from start to finish, so that readers have a clear understanding of what the tool can do. Now let us jump in!

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Logging In With SSO

Superset supports oauth2 out of the box. This means that web developers can integrate SSO along with Superset. In the screenshot below, we have incorporated Google SSO into Superset. Users can register or login using their google account credentials. This helps increase security drastically, as malicious hackers without emails ending in their .org domain would not be able to login and see any data.

Intuitive Navigation Page

Navigation is important, as it allows users to quickly find the data visualization they are interested in. Superset’s Main Page displays a list of most recently accessed, created, and edited resources such as dashboards, datasets, and charts. From this page, users can also quickly navigate to charts and start building whichever visuals they would like to see.

Upload CSV/Excel Files

Superset, by default, connects to databases and data warehouses. However, if a user had an excel or csv file that they would like to analyze, they can upload that file into Superset and use it to create a dataset. They can then build a dashboard on top of that dataset, or even share that dataset with other users.

Exploring Data in Charts

Superset allows users to easily add calculations and conditions to their dataset, and then analyze that data in charts. In the example below, I am counting how many people have signed up for 2021 membership by looking at the membership field, and then filtering my dataset by the ‘member’ string. As you can see, by using a few clicks, I am able to calculate how many of my Contacts are 2021 members.

Building Dashboards

After creating a few charts, I can now copy and paste these onto my dashboard. As an opensource solution, Superset might not be visually appealing compared to commercial competition. However, functionality wise, this dashboard can provide deep insights to help viewers create actionable business plans.

To explain what is happening in this dashboard, this dashboard displays all contacts that has 2021 membership. I added a filter on top of this dashboard filtering 2020 memberships. This means that the number ‘222’ under “Total Member Count 2021” is now showing the number of people who have signed up for both 2020 and 2021 membership.

Other panels within the chart are showing the average annual spending, as well as the average ages and communication preferences of these members. If we would like to identify who these people are, we can also display a raw data view of their information in a table. The filter will still apply in this case.

Embedding Dashboards Within Websites

Dashboards can be easily embedded in a website or shared via an email or URL link. Embedding dashboards involves creating iframes, which are simple to achieve. Security wise, if the dashboard’s privacy is not set to public, only selected users would be able to see the contents within the dashboard. This means you would have to log in to see the data.

Quickly Combine Datasets using SQL Lab

As I have mentioned in a previous Superset blog, SQL Lab can handle sophisticated data transformations. Using SQL lab, superset users can quickly combine different datasets, allowing users to join and create new datasets using simple SQL queries. In the example below, I have combined Contacts and HubSpot clicks to allow me to see how many clicks my contacts have made in the past.

What is Missing in 1.0

While Superset 1.0 is much more visually appealing and functionally superior to its previous versions, we must be honest when it comes to the shortcomings of Superset. One thing we noticed that Apache has done is remove chart metadata. This is a step backwards, since adjusting metadata allows us to change the color of the chart legends freely and lock filters (so that certain numbers on the dashboards will not be affected by the filter box).

In addition to that, despite SQL Lab being plenty useful in data transformation, we are not able to conduct cross database queries. This is understandable, since Superset itself is not an ETL tool and cannot join queries between two different data sources. To get around this, we have had to combine Superset with other ETL tools such as Stitchdata or Tibco Cloud Integration. Current commercial solutions such as PowerBI, Domo and Einstein Analytics all include their own built in ETL tool.

In Conclusion

In the current day and age where dashboards are being priced up, Superset 1.0 offers an open-source and cost-efficient to build dashboards. It might not contain many wowing factors in data visuals, but it’s flexibility in sharing and displaying data gives it a powerful edge over its commercial competitors. We look forward to the future versions of Superset, and will continue to use them for data analytics.

For your dashboard and data inquiries, don’t hesitate to reach out to our talented team of Data Analysts here at fusionSpan today!

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VIDEO BLOG: Moving your association to focus Outside-In

justin fusionSpan Team August 4th, 2015 by

Part 2 of fusionSpan’s conversation with Elizabeth Engel and Anna Caraveli about their recent white paper: Leading Engagement from the Outside In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success. Here we dive further into what steps association’s can take now to become more member focused.

Did you miss part 1 of the conversation? Make sure to check out here!

Ms. Engel is CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting. Dr. Caraveli is a managing partner at the Demand Networks, and author of a recently published a book called The Demand Perspective: Leading From the Outside.

VIDEO BLOG: Association Engagement – returning the focus to members

justin fusionSpan Team July 15th, 2015 by

Associations often focus on increasing attendance at their events, people signed up for their listservs, and overall membership numbers – but is that always in the best interest of members? fusionSpan spoke with Elizabeth Engel and Anna Caraveli about their recent white paper: Leading Engagement from the Outside In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success.

Part 1 of our conversation focuses on common mistakes associations make around engagement. Make sure to sign up to receive email notifications from the Microstaff blog to make sure you’re notified about Part 2 of our conversation as well as all our other great content.

Ms. Engel is CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting. Dr. Caraveli is a managing partner at the Demand Networks, and author of a recently published a book called The Demand Perspective: Leading From the Outside.

Connecting with Users

justin fusionSpan Team March 12th, 2015 by
JBurniske_AUDCI recently had the opportunity to present at AUDC in Austin, TX during their Ignite session. The Ignite session requires individuals to present 20 slides, each slide appearing for only 15 seconds, resulting in a five minute presentation. Given the speed of the slides, presenters were encouraged to use more pictures and fewer words so I used my favorite subject – photos of my 22-month-old son – to illustrate how to best connect with your users. (more…)

Hot Topic – Salesforce Based Platforms

Avatar photo February 27th, 2015 by
DivingboardThere has been lots of buzz lately in ASAE’s Collaborate community regarding Salesforce based AMS/CRMs for associations. Since we’ve got our fingers on the pulse of new trends in the association world, we thought we’d share our thoughts and let you hear from an expert in this arena. (more…)

My First Tech Conference

Jessica Sansaet December 19th, 2014 by
As I enter the large exhibit hall at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center, I’m immediately surrounded by hundreds of people, all here for one purpose – to see what’s “new” in the technology world. Wandering around the ASAE Technology Conference and Expo, one could stumble upon just about anything, from 3D printers to projector signs and even… a trailer?


Dear Betty: Something Different for the Holidays

November 20th, 2014 by
Dear Betty: Is it already time for sending snowman-themed “happy holidays” greetings to my members and boxes of chocolates and cans of popcorn to my exhibitors and conference sponsors? Isn’t there something different I could do?

DelightGentle Reader:

I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes it seems like the sparks from the Independence Day fireworks have scarcely gone out before Rudolph and his friends make their first appearance.

I’d like to introduce you to a concept that was, I believe, originated by Seth Godin: surprise and delight marketing. It’s ideally what you should be aiming for in interactions with your members, customers, and other audiences. (more…)

Summer Interns for Your Small Staff Association

Avatar photo May 16th, 2014 by

Blog summer

Summer break is quickly approaching and it is a great time to consider hiring an intern. Let’s face it, your small staff association can use all the help it can get, but let’s make sure we do it right.

Why hire interns?

It is a mutually beneficial relationship – at least it should be if you’re doing it right. Students gain valuable experience to put on their resumes. Sometimes they get school credit for internships. Some schools/programs even require students to take on an internship.

Your organization benefits because your small staff gets a boost (think of it as a shot of adrenaline) from having another person join the team, even if it isn’t permanent. They can do things your staff cannot (young people are good with social media for eg.), do not want to do (I’m sure there’s plenty of administrative tasks that can be delegated), or simply do not have the time to do.

Where to look?

My organization and many of our clients have already begun the process to find summer interns. Local colleges are a good place to start. Most if not all of them have dedicated career centers to help their students find jobs.

If the work doesn’t require as much expertise, you can even go to high schools – just make sure the proper paperwork is filed if they are under 18, depending on your region.

There are countless job boards, but you can use free resources such as Craiglist, LinkedIn, and your organization’s social media pages. As always your organization’s website is also a very good place to advertise an internship position. Make sure you are clear with your posting and definitely say “intern” and if it’s “part-time” in the post.


If there is a project that is time consuming that your staff cannot give the proper attention to during the year and it can wait until the summer, assign it to the intern. They can see it from beginning to end and gain good project management experience.

Don’t just delegate menial tasks to the intern. You should try and make this a learning experience for them. There may be some tedious tasks but there should be a good balance so the intern will want to come back and join your organization full time when they graduate.

Pay them. This is important. There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not to pay an intern. Having some experience in the workforce development world, my stance is that you should pay them for the effort they put in, because they are doing valuable work for you. If you don’t want to pay an hourly wage, a fixed stipend also works. Otherwise, this position isn’t an internship, it is a volunteer position.

Keep in mind…

An intern will need supervision. Chances are you will need to train them and then manage their work so make sure your staff can take on this responsibility and that someone is assigned to it.

Here are some resources to help you get started

1) The 6 Best Job Sites to Find Interns from Smart Recruiters
2) 6 steps to hire an intern/co-op student from Walton College
3) Hiring Interns: Do’s and Don’ts from Mashable
4) 5 Tips for Hiring and Managing a Summer Intern from
5) Hiring Interns, The Legal Way from The JUSTWORKS Blog

Dear Betty: How do we know what to include for FREE in memberships?

April 14th, 2014 by

Dear Betty:

Should everything we offer (webinars, events, discount cards, publications, etc.) be included with membership? Or should members have to pay an additional fee for some of our programs, products, and services? Should everything also be available for a fee to non-members? Or should some stuff not be offered to non-members at all? How do we know who should pay what for what?

Gentle Reader:
The answer is yes.

I know, not very helpful.

Yes, membership should generally include at least some of your programs, products, and services. Yes, members should pay for some things separately. Yes, you should offer some programs, products, and services to non-members. Yes, some of those should be offered for a fee – and some should be offered, even to non-members, for free.

How do you know what should go in which category?

First of all, you do need to offer some stuff for free to non-members. Even if it’s something as simple as a weekly “news of the profession/industry” enewsletter or the occasional free webinar, you have to give them some way to start getting to know you. That’s the beginning of their ladder of engagement, and you need that ladder, because you can’t ask them to marry you (join) before you’ve even been on a date.

Many of the programs, products, and services you offer to members should also be offered to non-members for a fee, and when you’re also charging members, likely for a higher fee than members pay. Remember, according to The Association Law Handbook, 4th edition:

…services of an association or other nonprofit membership organization must be available to those who would be competitively harmed if denied those services because they are not members. (p. 262)

And remember:

 [n]onmember charges for services should not be set so high as to deliberately compel joining the organization. (p. 263)

So of course, you’ll want to offer member and non-member rates for programs like your annual conference and your professional development and continuing education offerings. Anything that a reasonable person could argue provides a competitive advantage needs to be available to non-members.

Turning to members, how do you know what should be included with membership and what should be offered for an extra charge? Associations are all over the map on this. Some, generally associations operating on a free or freemium membership model, include very little and offer pretty much everything as an upcharge. Conversely, some associations offer the opportunity to choose a “concierge” type level of membership that allows members to write one BIG check and then participate in anything they want to. Most fall somewhere in the middle.

How should you decide?

Programs with low costs, particularly that most members use, are naturals for inclusion in membership. An association I used to work for chose to do this with our online job listings. The staff time to process the listings for display online was more than covered by the listing fees employers paid, so we included free access with membership, and found it had a terrific impact on our retention rate for student and young professional members.

Programs with high costs, or that few members use, are naturals for being offered for an extra fee. The classic example here is your annual conference. Between the facility costs and the speaker fees and the A/V and staff support and the food and beverage, your annual event is probably not cheap, and at least for most associations, a relatively small percentage of your members attend. If you suddenly increased everyone’s dues by $1000 a year and included an annual meeting registration with membership…well, I’ll let you try that first, and do let me know how it turns out.

Most things aren’t that obvious, though. So how do you choose?

You have to ask your members what they think and look at how they actually behave. List all your programs, products, and services, and ask members what are the three or five that are most important to them. Look for patterns of behavior. What do lots of people use? What do few people use? What are the associated costs and revenues of popular and less popular programs? Is there another way than participation fees to generate revenue? When you’re developing something new, ask members about pricing options in a way that forces choices: “Would you buy this new thing at price X? Price Y? What if it were included with membership, at the cost of giving up one of our other membership benefits? What would you sacrifice? What if it were included with membership, and the cost of membership increased by ZZ amount? Which option do you prefer?” Look for opportunities to bundle items or pre-sell: “Include this year’s monthly webinar series with your membership and get 12 months for the price of 10.”

This is always going to be an inexact science, governed by tradition, by the norms and history of your association, and by your members’ experiences with the other associations they belong to. But working with your members to put together a package of benefits that best supports them in their professional goals and to help them invest their resources with your association in the most effective way possible is a good place to start.

What about you, Gentle Readers? How do you decide what to offer to whom at what price?

I am a millennial. What can your association offer me?

Avatar photo April 4th, 2014 by
I wanted to bring back a popular topic that all associations, not only small staff ones, face. We originally addressed it Dear Betty: How do we leverage pop culture moments to attract people to our site? This topic is a very important issue – how to get young people, millennials, and recent grads to join. Our members aren’t getting any younger, so we need some new blood.



Dear Betty: How do we ease the pain of a dues increase?

March 18th, 2014 by

Dear Betty,

At the request of our Board, our association recently worked with a consultant to evaluate our membership structure. The consultant strongly recommended increasing our dues rates. I’m worried about the impact this will have on our retention rate. How do I explain an increase in dues to our members? How do I ease the blow for them?


Gentle Reader,

You know that old saying that the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes? As any association professional knows, they left one thing off the list: dues increases. They’re a fact of life in associations, but that doesn’t mean your members are going to like them.

Some of how you handle this depends on how large the increase is and how satisfied your members are overall with the association. If it’s a small increase (either small dollar figure or small percentage) and your members are enthusiastic about your association, they may not even notice or care all that much. In other words, don’t assume you have a mountain here – you may just have a molehill.

But what if the increase is large, or your members’ attachment to you is a little…squishy? What can you do to help prevent a mass exodus when your dues rates increase?

First of all, your consultant had good reasons for recommending the increase. Which of those can you share with your members?

Related to that, what are your plans for the additional revenue you will raise? Are you going to use it to improve customer service? To upgrade your website? To create a sophisticated mobile version of your magazine? To launch a private member community? Share that vision. Don’t be shy about asking your members to invest in creating an association that will serve them better.

As an example, at a previous association, we created a new top category of dues on our income-based sliding scale specifically to offset the cost of better programming and greater outreach to students and new professionals. We were shocked at how many members voluntarily upgraded to the top category when we knew for a fact, due to our salary survey, that they did NOT earn that much.

What is the ROI (return on investment) of your members’ dues? One would hope that for $XXX in dues, they receive $XXX+ in value and benefits. Create an online interactive ROI calculator where members can plug in the value of the benefits they use and see how that compares with the dues they pay. Caution: only do this if the calculation is favorable for the vast majority of your members. And if it’s not, it’s time for a little soul-searching.

Another question for you to ask yourself is: “Is there anything we’re currently charging for that we can include in membership?” You’ll be charging more, but your members will also be getting more.

As an example, in the mid-1990s the association I worked for produced a print monthly newsletter of all open positions in the profession. When we took it online in the late 1990s, we made the online version free to all members, with the print version still available for a slightly higher subscription fee (we covered the rest of the cost of the online version via a slight increase in the non-member price to list jobs). We did this at the same time as we instituted a dues increase and saw our retention rate go up.

In a more tactical sense, don’t hit your members with the full increase all at once. Much like the District of Columbia does with property tax increases, set a percentage cap on increases (something like “no more than 15% per year”), and let members adjust into the new rates over the course of a few years. One of my clients is in the process of doing this right now as part of a larger dues model change, and they are experiencing good results.

Finally, to avoid the entire “large dues increase” problem in the future, switch to small annual increases. After the first year or two, it’s highly likely your members won’t even notice the increase from one year to the next. This is a tactic I’ve used repeatedly with both association employers and clients over the years, to good effect.

What about you, Gentle Readers? What advice can you share about easing the pain of inevitable dues increases?

Millennials! Leadership! NextGen Association Models! Puppies!

adam thocher March 3rd, 2014 by

OK, so I put some buzz words into the title of this post that will hopefully act as “link bait” for the association community, but hopefully they are not 100% off-target. It seems that every week (at least), there is another book, blog posting, magazine article, news story, and/or BuzzFeed photo journal about the next generation, and what they do (or could do) well, and where they fail, and otherwise claiming to know the truth about these mystical kids. So now that I’ve gotten all the links out of the way and missed out on a couple prime selfie-taking hours, this is going to go in a different direction.


Dear Betty: How do we clean up dirty data?

January 31st, 2014 by
Dear Betty:

Our small-staff Association Management Company (AMC) recently acquired a new client. Which is great, but we have a problem. Their data is a mess! Keeping day-to-day operations running for our new association client is nearly impossible given the dire state of their membership and financial data. Should we try to fix the data as we go, or call a time-out to straighten out the mess? Any tips on how to handle this?


Gentle Reader:

One, congratulations on your new client! Two, you have to fix their data. Your ability to manage your new client successfully is entirely dependent on the quality of the data. If things are a mess, you have no way of knowing with any degree of certainty:


Dear Betty: What does your crystal ball say for 2014?

December 30th, 2013 by

Dear Betty:
As we move into 2014, what trends should small staff executives be paying particular attention to? What do we need to focus on next year?

Gayathri Kher,
President, fusionSpan

Gentle Reader,

It is that time of year, isn’t it? Every December we find ourselves bombarded with trend lists: trends in marketing, in social media, in content, in content marketing, in social media marketing, in content marketing with social media, in technology, in marketing technology, ad infinitum ad nauseam.

It’s overwhelming for everyone, but, I think, especially for small staff executives. Many of these lists seem neither relevant nor even possible when you’re running an association with modest resources.

So what are some trends small staff association executives can and should think about as we turn to 2014?


The top posts from the Spark blog from 2013 include:

Do you notice a theme? They are all about our relationships with our members and other audiences, or their relationships with each other and with us. And relationship is one area where small staff associations have an edge. Small staff usually means relatively small membership and highly engaged volunteer leaders. Your members truly think of themselves as a community. Think about how you can use that strong sense of community to contribute to achieving your mission in 2014.


Speaking of, if you review ASAE’s 2008 Decision to Volunteer study, one of key points that stands out is that upcoming generations are willing and enthusiastic volunteers, but they seek different kinds of volunteer experiences that their elders, focused meaning, impact, and “getting it done.” In other words, they are mission-driven volunteers. Think about your mission and what about it inspires people, and use that to draw in people who care deeply and are strongly motivated to make a difference. Examine everything you do through the lens of: “how does this contribute to achieving our mission?” If the answer is, “it doesn’t,” you know what to do.


As the saying goes, culture eats strategy for lunch. I quote from the eponymous Fast Company article by Shawn Parr:

“Culture is a balanced blend of human psychology, attitudes, actions, and beliefs that combined create either pleasure or pain, serious momentum or miserable stagnation. A strong culture flourishes with a clear set of values and norms that actively guide the way a company operates. Employees are actively and passionately engaged in the business, operating from a sense of confidence and empowerment rather than navigating their days through miserably extensive procedures and mind-numbing bureaucracy. Performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation.”

Think about your culture. Is it creating “serious momentum” based on “clear values” that produce passionate, empowered, engaged employees? Is it encouraging growth and innovation? If the answer is no, a good place to start in making it better is with Humanize, an outstanding book by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant that looks at how organizations with open, trustworthy, generative, courageous leadership make the most of the people who power them.

If you are going to jump on one tech trend in 2014, make it mobile. You do not need an app, but your website MUST render correctly and your e-commerce functions MUST work correctly on smartphones and tablets. This is non-negotiable. According to Business Insider, worldwide, more people own a smartphone than a PC at this point, and tablets are gaining rapidly as well.  Think about and plan for how you’re going to shift your online presence to accommodate that in 2014.

What trends do you, Gentle Readers, see impacting small associations in 2014 and beyond?

netFORUM Pro Consulting Giveaway

Avatar photo December 19th, 2013 by
In the spirit of giving (and with your tight budgets in mind!), this holiday season fusionSpan would like to help a small-staff association by giving away 8 hours of free netFORUM Pro consulting. fusionSpan is proud to be a Certified Implementation Partner with Avectra, an Abila Company and provides implementation assistance, training, consulting, and has develop customized software solutions for multiple small-staff clients.

To be entered into this give away, simply fill in the form below. Open to new fusionSpan clients only. The deadline to apply is 2 January 2014 and winners will be announced 3 January 2014.

Happy Holidays!


Answering Your Members’ Holiday Wishes

Avatar photo December 6th, 2013 by

I love Sarah Hill’s recent post for the MemberClicks blog on Answering your Members’ Holiday Wishes. It comes at the perfect time as we are all juggling end of year plans and projects while keeping our members in mind. Check it out:

Have you ever REALLY listened to “Santa Baby?” If you haven’t, take a listen. The amount of stuff she asks for is absurd. Now granted in the spirit of catchy holiday music the song is supposed to have a Betty Boop-esque satirical charm, but it makes me think of the articles that come out every year detailing an approximate cost of the 12 Days of Christmas in modern times.

And that, of course, led me to be concerned about the budgets of my Small Staff Association leader readers. All of your members have a “Santa Baby” list, just jam packed with hugely expensive desires of your association that are just funny in their grandness.

But wait! There’s good news!

Source: Memberclicks

Dear Betty: Why don’t our chapter members join?

November 20th, 2013 by

Dear Betty,US

We have a lot of non-members at our conference. I mean A LOT: 43% of our annual conference attendees are non-members. The thing is, the majority of them are active members of their regional chapters (we know because we asked). Why don’t they want to join us, too? What can we do to entice them to become members of the national association?

Name and association withheld upon request

Gentle Reader,

Are you sure you want them to join? Looking at your registration and membership rates, it appears that, at least for most of your membership categories, the cost of non-member registration is actually higher than member registration plus an individual membership. If all those non-member registrants were to join, it appears you’ll experience a revenue decline.

Are they sure they want to join? As I wrote recently in the Spark blog, we tend to give priority to the member relationship, but it’s not the only relationship we can have with our audiences. Stakeholders can be attendees, presenters, subscribers, authors, book purchasers, volunteers, etc. without being members. Perhaps these non-member attendees prefer one of those other roles for reasons that have nothing to do with your association or its membership offerings.

But maybe you do want them to join and don’t mind about the revenue loss, and they would want to join if only they knew. Now what?

I assume some chapter members are national members. You need to find out what’s different about them relative to the chapter members who aren’t national members. What makes that group of chapter members unique? If you can mine your data and identify that, you will know which chapter members are good prospects for national membership, because not all of them are. One initial clue: what will their employers pay for? Many employers who will pay for professional development related registrations and travel will not pay for professional memberships. If that’s frequently the case, you’ll need to try to find a creative way around that.

Also, how easy is it for people to figure out what’s the best deal? If I’m a chapter member who’s decided to attend your annual conference, and I’m on the registration page of your website, I might think, “Hmm. That’s a pretty big price difference between the member and non-member rates. I wonder what membership costs?” But if I have to go hunting around the site to find the rates, figure out which of your rather lengthy list of options is the appropriate membership for me, figure out how to do two transactions, and wonder how long I’ll have to wait to qualify for the member rate, I might just skip it, again, particularly if my employer is paying.

A better approach would be something like:

Someone selects the non-member rate, so the registration form dynamically populates or creates a pop-over with something to the effect of: “Did you know that you can join our association right now for $XXX and register for the annual conference at the same time at the member rate of $YYY, saving you $ZZZ off the non-member rate? Click here to find out more….” Clicking would send her to a combined join and registration form, where she could do the whole thing in one simple transaction

Of course, once you’ve gotten that new member to join in order to qualify for the discounted conference rate, the question becomes: how do you keep her if she decides not to attend your conference again next year? But that’s a topic for another post.

Have a question for our membership and marketing expert, Betty? Leave a comment below or email .

Process Documentation… Why do I need that?

Avatar photo October 25th, 2013 by

WritingAs association IT staff, we are involved in a number of un-ideal tasks: running the graveyard shift, adopting last-minute design and functional changes to applications, dealing with what we view as unreasonable requests from members and other staff, to name a few. However these annoyances pale in comparison, to process documentation, a task the mention of which we all cringe.

“What??? We just spent a year evaluating, planning, testing, and implementing this process. Now we have to document it as well?”

This reluctance is understandable. You understand the technology and how to use it but you don’t have time to write it all down. Writing is just not your strong suit. This is not part of your job function. You do not understand the value of documentation.

So why is it important?

The most important reason for process documentation is to eliminate confusion and ambiguity. The next time there is a meeting or question regarding who is supposed to do what or what are the best practices, the answer will be right at your fingertips. The documentation also serves as a historical document that tracks the evolution of your association along with the change in processes (provided you move forward with version control of your documentation).

Use it!

How many times have been faced with a situation where there has been a new hire and you have an important event right around the corner? I personally have been in this situation more than a couple of times. I wished I had more time… but alas! Some documentation will help new resources learn faster by acting as a training manual.

When changes in your organization’s processes are documented in a detail, they are available for analysis to sales and marketing. These teams can better understand the association capabilities and leverage the information to target their audience. Management can also use this to develop best practices and standards for your association. If the documentation is comprehensive, it also eliminates the need for costly requirements gathering by consultants when you embark on a new project.

So the question is… Does your organization have your business processes documented? Take the first steps …

Dear Betty: How do we leverage pop culture moments to attract people to our site?

October 22nd, 2013 by

We are a 109-year-old organization and, while our members are not quite THAT old, they are aging and, as a result, our membership growth has stagnated. With the renewed interest in genealogy due to some recent popular television shows, we think we have an opportunity to reach out to a younger, more tech-savvy crowd. How do we get them to visit our website and maybe even join?

Illyce MacDonald, Membership Director, National Genealogical Society

Gentle Reader,

As you point out, genealogy has burst back into the popular consciousness due to shows like Genealogy Roadshow (PBS), Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC/TLC), and my personal favorite, Family Tree (HBO – I just love Christopher Guest!). How can you use this pop culture moment to generate interest in your association?

Your website is your face to the world, and encouraging people to visit is a good place to start. I did a Google search, and, while NGS does appear on the first page for “genealogy” (which is good), you do not appear high in the listings for searches on “family tree” or “family trees” (which is less good). So the first thing I would recommend you look at is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a constantly shifting landscape, as search engines and spammers engage in an ongoing war of attrition. There are many ways to approach SEO, from some simple steps you can take immediately to a larger-scale assessment of your complete content strategy to hiring a specialty firm. One good place to start is with Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, which, just like it sounds, is a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with key SEO concepts and how they might impact your site. Pay particular attention to the role of social media content in improving your SEO.


Once you come up in the listings, people have to click to your site. I want you to look at something:

This is the first page of listings from the Google search on “genealogy.” What do you notice? Many of those other site descriptions are far more exciting than yours. Make sure your public messages encourage action and invite people in.

Once people arrive at your website (, then what? It’s a pretty typical membership-focused site: buy our book, come to our conference, join. In other words, it’s inside-voicey (a very common problem for membership associations). If I saw an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, thought it was cool, searched Google for genealogy, clicked on your link, and came to your site, what would I find there that’s for me?

You need to capture that lead by offering something, likely for free, that person would be sufficiently interested in to be willing to provide some limited contact information (just name and email address at first) to get it. By doing so, They’ve taken the first step on the ladder of engagement. Now you have a lead you know is interested, and you own their contact information.

Your next job is to fill in more rungs on that ladder that encourage them to develop a deeper relationship with you. Just as you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, the first thing you ask a new prospect to do shouldn’t be to join your association. She needs to get to know you before she decides to commit. How do you do that? That, my friends, is the subject of another post.

What about you, Gentle Readers? What other suggestions do you have for Illyce to help her capitalize on the current cultural spotlight on her association’s reason for being?

The “Dear Betty” column appears twice a month on the Small Staff – Big Impact blog.  Have an association membership or marketing question for Betty? E-mail  and your question could be featured!

Source: NGS


We are a 109-year-old organization and, while our members are not quite THAT old, they are aging and, as a result, our membership growth has stagnated. With the renewed interest in genealogy due to some recent popular television shows, we think we have an opportunity to reach out to a younger, more tech-savvy crowd. How do we get them to visit our website and maybe even join?

Illyce MacDonald, Membership Director, National Genealogical Society

Gentle Reader,

As you point out, genealogy has burst back into the popular consciousness due to shows like Genealogy Roadshow (PBS), Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC/TLC), and my personal favorite, Family Tree (HBO – I just love Christopher Guest!). How can you use this pop culture moment to generate interest in your association?

Dear Betty: How do we get members to read our communications?

October 4th, 2013 by

megaphoneDear Betty,

I’m at my wit’s end! I can’t tell you how often my members tell me they don’t know the dates of our conference, had no idea our Board elections were coming up, didn’t see our call for volunteers, didn’t know that we had a career center, have never heard that we have chapters, and the like. I could swear we’ve mentioned all these things many times. How do we get our members to read the communications we send out? What can we do to improve our communication with them?

 – Rachael Hodgen, Membership Support and Technical Assistant, National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys

Gentle Reader,

Ah, the traditional lament of the association membership professional: “My members don’t read!” Raise your hand if you’ve heard this.

Now raise your hand if you’ve SAID this. (Everyone’s hands should be up by now.) And we can all also relate to hearing, “I didn’t know you did X! I really need that!” from our members…ALL THE TIME.

OK, so we’ve all been complaining about this for years. Our members have no idea what we offer them and what we’re doing to educate them isn’t working.

What do we do to fix it?

Many organizations, in an attempt to be all things to all people (or due to the temptation of all that tasty, tasty non-dues revenue), have larded up our membership “benefits” with so much tangential ‘stuff’ that our members can’t focus on the stuff that will actually help them fix their professional problems. Not to single out a particular industry, but while royalty revenue from your credit card program is nice, is it worth losing your members’ attention over the things that really matter to them and to you? Oh, and ONE call to action per communication, please. If you ask them to do too many things at once, the Paradox of Choice tells us they’ll likely choose to do nothing.

Inside Voice. How much do your members need to know about the internal workings and arrangement of your association to find stuff? If the answer isn’t “zero,” you need to rethink how you present information. Your members don’t care that the professional liability insurance you offer them lives in your financial services department, which they have to access under Member Services –> Other Services –> Affinity Programs. What does “affinity program” even mean to someone who’s not an association professional?

Spray-n-Pray. Are you targeting the particular needs of particular members, or are you still broadcasting everything to everyone? Holding a workshop on marketing? Why are you sending a thousand “come to our workshop” messages to your member companies, finance directors? They’re tuning you out, and the next time you release an operating ratios report for your industry, they aren’t going to be listening. “But our members don’t share their interests…” “But our AMS makes tracking demographics hard…” “But our bulk mail client doesn’t easily support segmentation…” No buts. Learn what your members are interested in AS INDIVIDUALS, track it, and target them appropriately.

Push versus Pull. As we all know by now, one of the key differences to social media is that it’s a PULL mechanism. That means people become subjects who pull the information they want them on their schedules. Our models are built on treating members as objects who passively receive the information we push out on our schedules. And while virtually all associations are using social media now, we haven’t changed our mindset. We’re still using these platforms as push marketing outlets. Which is, to say the least, missing the point.

So focus on what your members think is important, have one clear call to action, talk to them in their language and only about what they’re interested in, and in the places they want to go, and watch your communications turn into a two-way conversation they actually WANT to participate in!

What about you, Gentle Readers? What other suggestions do you have for Rachael to help her member conversations shine?

The “Dear Betty” column appears twice a month on the Small Staff – Big Impact blog.  Have an association membership or marketing question for Betty? E-mail  and your question could be featured!