Mapping Member Value #1: Answering the Fundamental Questions

businessmen shouting


“Please take the time to READ everything we send you. If you do, you will learn about the many benefits of your membership. You’ll never question the value of your membership. And you’ll be able to do your job better and more effectively because you’ll have all the information you need.”*

You’ve done the surveys, studied the benchmarking reports, scanned the environment, analyzed the competition. You’ve asked members point-blank what they want, what they need, what their biggest challenges are. You’ve developed programs, products, and services, based on what you think members are telling you. You’ve beefed up your marketing, and communications plans. Added formats and channels. Increased your frequency. Targeted your messaging. You’ve told your association’s story as compellingly, as completely, and as often as you can.

You’ve given them every bit of information they need to take full advantage of their membership…but, your members still aren’t using their benefits. They’re still not even aware of most of them. Members still aren’t engaging or joining at the levels you’d like to see. And, you keep watching in frustration as too many of your members don’t renew, because they don’t see the value of membership.

What is wrong with these people? And, what do you have to do to get them to pay attention?

Just this: You have to talk about something they care about. You have to create and communicate a value proposition that actually reflects and reinforces your members’ values. Not what you think members (should) value, but what they actually do value.

Fundamental Questions

All compelling value propositions begin with two deceptively simple questions:

1. What do your members really want?
2. Why do they choose to try to get what they want from your association?

The reason these questions are deceptively simple is because the answers are almost certainly not what you think they are. Most associations can’t actually answer these questions.

That’s because most associations are unaware of or (worse) ignore the deeper, more fundamental needs and values that lie beneath the superficial answers tracked and analyzed in traditional member needs and value assessment tools. Yet it is these deeper, hidden needs and values that shape your members’ worldviews and form the basis of the only value propositions that are ever going to resonate—or even register—with them: their own.

Fundamental Needs

There are fundamental needs or values that drive someone to want to “network with others in the field,” “access specialized and/or current information,” support “advocacy,” or seek out “continuing education,” in the first place. What fundamental values shape your members’ worldview? What core needs describe what your members really want?

Even more important, what is it that drives someone to meet these core needs or satisfy these deeper values by becoming a member of your organization, attending your conference, reading your publications, networking within your community, etc.?

Why do they choose your association instead of, or in addition to all of the other choices available? What are they looking for—what core value do they believe only your association can provide or can provide better than any other organization?

Fundamental Drivers

Toss out your needs assessment and conference survey data, and go back to the core values that drive membership and engagement in your association. Talk to your members—a lot of them and often—to dig out the deeper membership drivers beyond “networking,” and “training/education, such as:

  • Community
  • Excitement
  • Shared purpose
  • Identity
  • Belonging
  • Aspiration
  • Prestige
  • Desire to lead/influence
  • Reputation for excellence/innovation
  • Desire to feel valued, understood
  • Exclusivity
  • Trust
  • Curiosity
  • Pursue a passion
  • Desire to help/give back

These don’t look like the traditional “reasons people join associations” do they? But they are the bedrock values and worldviews that drive your members and drive their engagement with your organization.

Only when you truly understand your members’ worldviews and the values that shape them can you even begin to develop a compelling, sustainable member value proposition. Only then will your association—and your members—“have all the information you need.”

NOTE: Although there is no substitute for actually talking to your members and interacting with them one-to-one on these questions, a good way to jump-start the change in organizational focus you need to to get to and serve the members’ true core values is through the “two-minute survey.” Keep in mind, the survey is not the answer. It will only give you an idea of where to start. See Measuring Member Value Perceptions: The Two-Minute Survey.

*2012 MGI Membership Marketing Benchmarking Survey.

This post, which is from our archives, was originally published in July 2013.