Find the programs and services your members really need—NOW!
By Bridget McCrea
There comes a time in every association’s life when its leaders must ask themselves whether they are truly offering the right mix of programs, products, and services to meet member needs. For many REALTOR® organizations, the time to ask that question—and to tweak as needed—has arrived.
With the real estate market in flux across much of the nation, and with many associations seeing double-digit dips in membership numbers (accompanied by the associated revenue reductions), there’s no time like the present to look carefully at what’s being offered and why.
Reassessing for Relevance
At the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®, the leadership realized that many projects and activities, planned with a lively and positive market in mind, have suddenly become less significant, says Director of Communications and Education Pug Scoville. Subsequently, the association launched a “re-engineering” of its services, reassessing what it delivers to members and how it can deliver more efficiently.
“There will be a temptation to simply do what we’ve always done and hope that the economy will get back to normal before too long, without making any more significant changes,” says 2008 TAR president Mike Gaughan. “That would be a serious mistake and probably irresponsible. What’s needed is a more fundamental reassessment of what we do, when we do it, how we do it, and how we take more services to our members instead of demanding that they come to us.”
In 2009, TAR plans to offer advice-filled podcast interviews with veteran brokers, more distance-learning offerings, and education courses on thriving in a challenging economy and changing real estate market. The association also will make all its services more accessible and easier to use.
Offering More in a “Less” Economy
Although the Charlotte Regional REALTORS® Association in North Carolina projects a 20 percent drop in membership this year on top of a 12 percent decrease last year, it is holding firm to a “no service cuts” pledge. Included in that pledge are government affairs and diversity programs that were beefed up over the past five years. Instead, CEO Ann Marie Howard says the association will reduce staff levels, such as those that were allocated to the MLS Help Desk, whose busyness has declined with member levels.
“We’re also committing a sizable amount of our budget dollars to hire a -public relations firm to help us promote the REALTORS®’ value to the media,” says Howard, whose own PR campaign includes participating in a speaker series that will put her “directly in front of members” on a quarterly basis throughout 2009.
Cutting Costs, Not Services
Nearly all association executives RAE spoke with for this article are looking for ways to save money without cutting services to members.
“I told our board of directors months ago that we had an imperative to increase our member benefits for 2009,” says Pat MacConnell, AE of the West Volusia Association of REALTORS®, Fla. “At budget time I held firm that all member benefits and services would be preserved for 2009, if not improved.”
To that end, MacConnell’s association added free CE classes, member discounts at local restaurants and businesses, and free coffee and Wi-Fi at the association office.
The DeKalb Area Association of -REALTORS® and Sauk Valley Association of -REALTORS® in Illinois have consolidated expense items, held off on replacing a retired staff member, and piggybacked their telephone lines, according to Heather Wie-drich, executive vice president of the associations. Wiedrich has yet to cut any services and has even introduced some discount programs (made possible by the group’s buying power) on products such as business cards and marketing materials.
To further help members work through the current market, Wiedrich’s associations are participating in the statewide “Buy Now, Ask Me Why” campaign that includes positive press messages, “consumer conversation starter” buttons (for members to wear), and monthly prizes for REALTORS® who participate.
Loyal to the Core
In the Tampa Bay area of Florida, Pinellas REALTORS® Organization president and CEO Ann Guiberson says her group’s 6,000 members have been coping with a turbulent market since 2005—long before many other regions began feeling similar pressures.
So how are they handling the downturn? By staying committed to core services and products (including education, mini-conferences, workshops, and government affairs) while economizing by eliminating five nonessential staff positions. Launching new services, such as free Web sites, IDX solutions, a national syndication program (which enables members to display listings nationally and at no charge) and access to current, detailed market -statistics, is a move Guiberson believes will help members cope with uncertain market -conditions.
Distressed Times, Creative Measures
At the Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS®, CEO Irene Vogel says her organization has taken specific measures to help members manage the down market, including the creation of new foreclosure-oriented programs that help members form more productive relationships with mortgage firms, asset managers and other property owners.
In 2008, during a three-week period, the association held a “Fall Spectacular Sale,” through which members advertised their listings at 5 percent to 10 percent below asking price via the local newspaper and open houses. “It’s about doing anything we can do to create buzz and help members sell homes,” says Vogel. Of course, the importance of core services is not lost on Vogel, who says public relations, political activity, and community-oriented activities, to name just a few, continue to drive business to members.
Kristyne Blake, AE at the 360--member Aiken Board of REALTORS® in South Caro-lina, says her board has added weekly “broker open houses” to help members stay motivated and save marketing dollars. Aiken will continue to serve as a “sounding board” for members who are grappling with the changing real estate market, and will still offer core services, such as a legal hotline and in-house education.
With associations of all sizes dealing with membership decreases brought on by a challenging real estate market, at least one thing is for sure: Core services have earned their pride of place and aren’t going away anytime soon.
Promote NAR’s “Right Tools, Right Now” program of more than 300 discounted and free member services designed to help REALTORS® through the challenging economic times. For more, visit REALTOR.org/RightTools.