As the AE of an association that spans a large territory, Tracy Huotari, RCE, has a two-pronged approach to reaching out to far-flung members.
First, she upgraded the association’s technology.
Huotari, a 2008 Bud Smith Leadership Society Inductee, joined the 3,200-member North Bay Association of REALTORS®, Calif., in 2014 after 27 years leading the 450-member Duluth Area Association of REALTORS®, Minn. She immediately realized that the diverse four-county area was a hurdle to member participation.
“One of the first things we did was install all the equipment needed for remote participation in all of our committee and board meetings,” says Huotari. “We’ve got members that are an hour and a half away, so for them to be involved in any association meeting was a huge commitment. So now we have the equipment where they just call in. We see their face on the screen, and they see us. We’ve gotten better participation and we’re reaching people we couldn’t before. These new participants bring their local views about what they want from their association.”
Establishing a broader membership reach is a priority for Huotari. “Our goal is to have that connection with agents on the street and for them to value membership.”
The second part of Huotari’s member outreach strategy has been to take advantage of the association’s unique council structure. North Bay has 10 local association councils, each with its own set of challenges, she says. “In terms of reaching the membership on a hyperlocal level, this is where we really make a difference. Technology helps us with our member outreach, but the face-to-face is very important.”
Some local councils have 20 to 30 members and others have a few hundred who meet on a weekly basis to discuss local issues or hear from local officials. “The market in Napa is completely different than that on the coast, so this structure lets members be really local,” says Huotari who drives out to each local meeting about once a quarter. Often she presents updates on association programs and products, but sometimes she’s just there to listen. “I really enjoy going out to those local meetings and getting to know those members who are never going to set foot in the association office. We try to reach members with email and social media and we’re launching text messaging, but talking to them in person makes all the difference.”
Another change that came with her move from Minnesota to California was no longer having an MLS, which further handicapped communication efforts, she says. “Since we don’t have an MLS, we don’t have that daily connection with members, because they don’t have to sign into our website to access the MLS. We had to find new and different ways to communicate and provide professional development to members that is convenient to them.”
In fact, Huotari says one of the biggest technology challenges that associations face is using it in a way that reaches members.
“We just can’t expect members to come and be physically present at a class any more; technology has to help with that, too,” she says. North Bay is moving toward offering a greater menu of live-streamed and recorded webinars and courses. “It’s not an inexpensive endeavor to offer remote training. We’re completely revamping our professional development to make it more accessible.”
Huotari says her new leadership at North Bay had to get to know her, but she was quickly able to implement change by communicating clearly and truthfully and introducing new ideas about what’s possible.
“I strive to be innovative and, as much as possible, I like to bring new ideas and different ways of doing things into the association.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to bring a different perspective on how to do things and the leadership has embraced those new ideas to really move the association forward.”