DO AS I SAY Mistakes When Dealing with Members

I remember the email clearly from last year. “When we surveyed the membership, many of you said you wanted a special dinner the night before the trade show. But only 13 members have signed up. If your association does not get more registrations, we will have to cancel this event and take a financial loss.”do-as-I-say

As I read that, I thought to myself, “How dare an organization lecture me like that. My member dues pay your salary.” I would never send my members such a note, I thought.

This spring, a missive arrived from another group to which I belong. This one read, “This special leadership weekend was designed with members with you in mind. If you don’t sign up now, we will have take a chance that this kind of programming won’t be offered again.”

That raised my ire with me thinking, why would any organization threaten its members with the lack of benefits to motivate them? Certainly one would not catch me doing that with my non-profits.

Generating support for a lobby fly in to Washington, DC, I wrote to association members touting the benefits of face to face meetings with their representatives. I ended my plea with the words, “If you don’t help out, you can’t complain about what the Federal Government is doing to you!”

WOW! Now there was a threat that would really motivate them. As satisfying as it was to lecture my members, I had done the very same thing that I had objected to when it was directed to me as a member.  Clearly, I was not paying attention to what kind of reaction threatening gets when attempting to get positive action.

This is a good reminder that it easy to fall into the trap of pushing the negative rather than working to see it from the members’ point of view. Instead of thinking that going to the DC was the only way to influence public policy, I should of looked for ways to get members to visit their legislators closer to home, or by writing emails or making telephone calls.

Bottom line: If you want to motivate members, use the positive.


Dont sit in a chair (hosannamissions)Engaging members after getting them to join or renew is one of the most asked questions by those trying to grow non-profits.

“No one wants to get involved,” is the cry, “How do I get members involved?”


When I am asked that question, I turn it around and say, “Why should anyone be active in your organization?” By that I mean, not what motivates you to be involved, but what engages your members.

To get members involved, you have to see your association through their eyes. How important do they value your programs; services; advocacy; and other offerings?


How do you find out what they think? Ask them. Ask them when they join and renew. Call them. Survey them. If they don’t come to a meeting, reach out and find out. Technology to do all this is not expensive. What it does cost is an investment in doing it on a regular basis.


When you have this information, do something with it to get members involved. You may need to change the timing of a program. Perhaps they were unaware of certain services so how should you change that? Frequent reminders may be necessary. Whatever it is, make changes and incorporate them into your non-profit.


Whatever you do, don’t accept the current situation anymore. Be proactive and implement these steps to get members engaged in your association so you never have to ask the question, “How do I get members involved?”

(for another take on this topic, read this:


dont-be-stupid-bannerI was recently at a meeting of associations executives when the subject of social media came up.

“Who does your social media directed toward your members?” was the question.

“I have people on staff who do that.” was the reply from many.

“Do you ever read what is going on?” I asked. “and do you every post to further the conversation?”

“No. Don’t have time.” was the reply. “That is for young people. Not me.”

How foolish. Here are leaders of different non-profits basically admitting that they do not listen to their members. Instead, they have delegated that responsibility to people under them who may or may not keep them totally informed.

These leaders are missing out on a major benefit of social media…to hear what is on the minds of their members.

Social media is not a one way communication tool where an association puts out what it wants its community to know. It has become a more democratic process where members and potential members talk about what is important to them.

It is actually a great way to learn what is on the minds of a group’s constituency before it bubbles up to be a problem, creates dissention or results in the creation of a competing organization.

When leaders do not pay attention to what is going on with its members, they doom themselves and the association to extinction.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out:

So, get off your duffs. Start reading what is going on your non-profit’s social media outlets. Compare what is being said to what the group is doing and offering. If they are not the same, why not? If your association is able to provide resources, show how.

Be part of the greater community. Be relevant and proactive. And don’t be stupid and ignore social media…especially if you are a leader.


Why is it that so much of the marketing materials that come from associations and non-profits are so boring?

Just look at your email inbox. Which items stand out? I would bet that few are from any non-profit groups.

Marketing is what motivates people to do something. And if you are still sending out the same boring convention, meeting, membership and even government affairs alerts, then, duh, no one is going to do anything except hit the “delete” button.

But it does not have to be that way.


Spruce up your marketing copy by instilling as many of these different marketing tips into your next pieces:

  • To get a response, have a specific action or purpose in mind. Make it clear what you want the reader to do.
  • Grab attention. Make the recipient want to read what you have to say with a headline that pulls the reader in.
  • Make the value proposition easily understood. State what you providing and how will it benefit the person reading it.
  • Personalize what you write. Make it about the reader and tell a story to show how acting will benefit personally.
  • Provide an appealing idea that motivates the recipient to respond. Show how responding is the best thing to do.
  • Be ready to respond to inaction. Detail why not participating is not in the reader’s best interests.
  • Ask for the sale…or in this case, a response. Set a deadline and have multiple ways to act such as email, telephone, website, etc.

You may not be able to use them all, but certainly use this list as a guide.

Other things to include are guarantees (after all, if you are offering something, why wouldn’t you be willing to guarantee it?); bonuses if receiptants respond early; and testimonials which provide validation to your offer and organization.  Story telling is another super way to market and here are some ideas how to get started: 

Finally, start a file of those emails, mailings, brochures and the like which catch your eye; especially email since that is the primary way communication takes place nowadays. Look at what motivates you and see if you can break it down to use with your non-profit’s communication

Huffington Post is talented when it comes to putting together teaser headlines to catch your attention. Try to emulate it by testing different headlines for the same item.

When I have a meeting coming up and I am sending out repeated emails over a period of time, I use different headers and track to see which ones get a better response so I can use something similar in the future.

Finally, be genuine. Readers can tell when the marketing is too good to be true. Be honest to yourself, your organization and to your readers.


We have all been there. Those long unbearable long lines just standing at the move theatre, to be seated at a restaurant, to ride an amusement ride, go to through airport security.

I am not sure exactly which of those I was standing in, but there I was, waiting with several dozens of my “closest” friends waiting. I struck up a conversation with my nearby line mates.

After exchanging pleasantries and sharing our thoughts about the incompetence of those who were responsible for the long line, our conversation turned to other topics.

I shared that I was a non-profit professional who works with a variety of different kind of groups handling a myriad of organization challenges. That sparked interest from one person nearby who was on the board of an association that needed some professional assistance.

Since we had the time, I prodded him to describe the situation. His tale of woe fit well with what the certified and experienced professionals at Non-Profit Help do.

I gave him the quick NPH elevator speech (that describes succinctly what we do) and then reached into my wallet and pulled out a business card. Now, these are no ordinary cards.

Besides have the usual company logo, name, contact info, etc., these NPH business cards fold out to give a short description of what services are offered and who may benefit. Basically, it is an elaboration of my elevator pitch, just longer and in writing.

My new found friend took the card and slips it into his wallet thanking me for the information. He adds that he would share our brief contact with the Executive Committee and may be back in touch.

By the time I returned to my office a few days later, I had an email from him asking me to meet with his fellow officers. That meeting led to a proposal and presentation and shortly thereafter, NPH had a new association with which to partner.

On another occasion, I was handling the logistics of a day long seminar for a non-profit where attendees were going to work on building their businesses. The seminar leader started out by asking everyone to give him a business card. Of the 70 people present, only 13 had a card to give. He then asked the very obvious question, “Why were the remaining 53 not interested in building their business?”

No matter if you are trying to recruit new members, getting people to volunteer, or finding additional help, you have to be armed with two things: your Elevator Pitch which explains why your group is so important in what it does and your Business Card which allows people you meet to follow up.

We meet so many people in life. They have so many possible connections from which your non-profit may benefit. By reaching and giving them a way to remember you, can and will lead to many unexpected but beneficial places for help.

So before you go out today, even if it just to shop or to church or to the grocery store, what are you going to put in your pocket or wallet?

That’s right…Business Cards!


There are all sorts of books and articles out there detailing the characteristics to look for when seeking leaders for non-profits. They list such things as business savvy, previous volunteer involvement or service to the association.

But few, if any, mention one that is an overlooked important harbinger of success.: Excellent association leaders are those who are gardeners.


You shouldn’t be. Here are 4 reasons why:

Better Mental Health

Those who garden have greater satisfaction with life. Studies show that those who dig in the dirt rate their “zest for life” along with the amount of optimism higher than those who do not.

Another aspect that has been discovered is that gardening helps people handle agitation, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. Wouldn’t you rather have someone with a healthy balance in life working with your organization?

More Physically Fit

In addition to improved mental health, those who work with plants have better physical health such as lower diabetes and osteoporosis risks because of exercise, movement (such as bending over) and overall physical activity. That translates into volunteers and staff members who can meet the physical challenges inherent in conducting various association functions such as meetings, seminars and fundraisers (

Better Diets

Beyond the physical benefits that gardening provides those who work in non-profits, there is the very obvious one of diet. We tend to eat those things we raise. With the emphasis on organic food in restaurants and in grocery stores, clearly those who are busy growing food and herbs will cook them and eat healthier. The result is association personnel who not as prone to sickness thus absent from work.

The good news is that gardening is no longer limited to rural or even suburban areas. Those who live in cities can enjoy modest container gardens or even grow fresh herbs inside all year round (  So non-profit personnel can benefit regardless of where they live.

Gardeners Are Like Associations

Gardening is similar to what associations tout themselves to be.  It creates bonds with other people making them feel connected to something larger than themselves. It creates conversations, builds communities and strengthens life long learning as people talk about the success of their harvests, seek help when plants do poorly and share ideas of various ways to meet challenges in growing.

So the next time you are recruiting someone to work with your non-profit, ask if this person is a gardener.  It might just be the person who will “grow” your organization.

GETTING EVERYONE TO RENEW IN 2013 IS POSSIBLE. Have You Laid the Groundwork?

As many gardeners & landscapers know, the best time to plant grass is not in the cool temps of spring or in the heat of summer; but in that 4-6 week period of late August to the end of September. By preparing the ground, putting down mulch and fertilizer and spreading seed, the gentle rains of autumn cause the grass seed to germinate and start sending roots downward.

While becoming dormant when frigid winter comes, the gentle rains of spring will bring the plants to life which already have roots in place and cause them to spread deeper and wider. The result is a nice green lawn into which to run barefoot.

Have you done the same for your 2013 membership retention plans? Late November – early December is NOT the time to start sending out renewal notices and hoping for the best. In fact, you should already know who is going to renew and instead, be focused on membership recruitment for the next year.

So how do you get to the point that, like the aforementioned gardener, you know what kind of lawn you are going to have the following spring?

Here are some thoughts:

* How do your members view you?

It better be a good impression because your members have less patience and more choices. Remember, people join an organization because they believe the group can solve a problem for them. So how well are you doing? Are you even asking?

* What kind and how many member touches have you done during the year?

If the first time your members hear from you is at renewal time, you have wasted an entire year. Instead, start finding our whether your members are better off because of you throughout the year. Members ultimately buy experiences, not just products or services.

* What value do you provide and how do you stack up with your competitors?

There are three shifts effecting membership: declining economies; changing technologies, and changing demographics. With these in mind, how is your non-profit positioned to address these trends? What steps has the organization taken to turn these into a positive? If you don’t plan for success, you can bet your competitor organizations are.

* Is everyone in the organization doing membership duty?

Most associations, especially those with lots of staff and board members, tend to work in silos. It is the volunteer President and Executive Director’s job to change that mindset. Everyone should be in charge of membership in a non-profit. One way to convey the importance of membership is to give every volunteer and staff member the title of “Director of First Impressions.”

* Are there other suggestions?

Other sources of help include Daniel Newman’s “8 Simple Ways to Inspire Your Customers” and Hardy Smith’s

Avoid Membership Renewal Mistakes“. Those ideas combined with these suggestions can get you going on the right path.

Great looking lawns take planning, nurturing and teamwork. The same is true for a 100% membership renewal result.

Don’t wait until the end of the membership year to prepare the ground and plant for next year’s membership campaign. Do it all year long and the results will be something worth to brag about.

STEAK SELLING TIPS Part 2: How to Build Interest in Your Organization

When one goes to a steak restaurant, let alone any restaurant, superior ones do not leave anything to chance. They want to provide an excellent dining experience while maximizing profits.

In a previous article, organizations were urged to “sell the steak, not the sizzle” as top quality restaurants do. Are there any concepts that restaurants use to maximize business that non-profits can adapt to grow?


Indeed there are. Here are four:


Restaurants realize that they make more when they sell high priced steaks. They do this by being knowledgeable about their offerings.

How well can you describe the benefits of belonging to your association? Like a waiter, can you do so confidently, concisely and persuasively?


Restaurants realize that they have an opportunity for a high end sale everything a customer comes in. That is why good eateries make sure that visitors are acknowledged and processed promptly to make a good impression.

Non-profits must always be ready to welcome a potential new member at any time or deal with member complaints.

How do you handle such contacts? Is the telephone answered by a live person? Are email inquiries answered within 24 hours? Is your website up to date, easy to navigate, and interactive?


Waiters know the menu. Outstanding waiters know the menu, specials and preparation points inside and out. Why? So that patrons will rely on them to give them exactly what they are looking.

Association leaders and staff must be well versed in the mission, purpose, direction and services of their organizations.

Could members of your Board of Directors do this with a potential member? Can your staff do this as well or are they siloed into their respective areas of work? It is important to cross train and educate both staff and volunteer leaders so that they know what the organization offers.


Presentation is everything in a restaurant. From the entrance, to the decor, to the seating arrangements, to the linen and dishes on the table, to the appearance of the wait staff, everything is designed to make an impression.

The same is true for any non-profit. Attention to detail in the information presented in print or on the website is vital.

Is it clear to visitors and members alike what your association is about? Can it be easily determined what you offer, how much it costs and where to go to belong? If not, it is important to change so, like a restaurant, it is easy to get members to visit, belong and participate.

Inform. Service. Knowledge. Impressions.

Restaurant use them to build their business. Are you doing the same to help your organization prosper and grow?

STEAK SELLING TIPS Part 1: Remember Why Your Organization Exists

For the longest time, non-profits were urged to market themselves by selling the “sizzle.”

“Our next meeting is in New Orleans!”

“Attend this seminar and get a free book.”

“Renew early and get a free gift.”

Then a recession came along, membership went down, fewer people were attending meetings and everyone watched their expenditures more tightly.

In reaction, we now have association management articles urging us to “sell the steak,” not the sizzle.

Say what?!?!

Why did we lose our focus and stop selling the steak to our members in the first place? When was it beneficial to the organization to promote peripheral benefits rather than the things that went to the heart of why the association was in business in the first place?

It often seems that when times are good, we start getting sloppy and wander off track from following and honing core association practices and techniques. Instead of focusing on the value proposition of our respective groups, we start promoting ancillary items which, while they may be fun, do nothing to help our members in their everyday lives and businesses.

Questions like “What have you done for me lately?” and “What keeps you aware at night?” are and must remain a non-profit’s focus…in good and bad economic times.

While the sizzle and the smell of a steak is nice, it is the actual taste that makes the difference. Remember the following:

  •  Keep your eye on the mission and purpose of your non-profit.


  •  Judge everything you do as to whether it serves the core needs of your members.* Get help from an outside consultant/non-profit management company to conduct a top-down analysis of your organization so you have another set of eyes analyzing your effectiveness.

Bottom line: make certain you are always selling top quality steak.

(Coming up: Steak-selling Tips for Non-Profits & Associations)


Corollary to Murphy’s Law: A meeting will expand to fill the time allotted to it.

Tired of meetings that just go on and on and on without any end in sight? It does not have to be that way. Good meetings take planning, direction and effective guidance from the leader, usually the President or Chairman of the Board.

Here is a quick list of ideas to help anyone run a targeted and productive meeting without wasting everyone’s time:

  • Have a stated reason for the meeting published at the top of the agenda in the meeting announcement. “The purpose of this meeting is to decide on the budget for next year.”


  • Use measurements to determine success. “When this meeting concludes, the following items need to be resolved.” This will determine to all if the meeting was successful or not.


  • Use written committee report forms. These are filled out ahead of time and distributed in enough time for board members to review. Break the form into different parts for easy review and action. Subsections might be: progress made on previously assigned items, assignments for future items, items which need to be discussed now and recommendations which require action by the Board.


  • Use a Consent Agenda. Put items that do not need to be discussed on a consent agenda at beginning of meeting. These might be the minutes of the previous meeting and routine committee reports (see above) in which no action is need. Everyone present must agree the items placed on the consent agenda; Otherwise the item in question needs to be left on the agenda and talked about when it is time.

Finally, have fun. Work collegially. Celebrate successes. Recognize volunteer and staff accomplishments. Meetings are designed to make progress. Make sure your meetings do that

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