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What drives AEs crazy more than any thing else?

Member apathy. It’s what I hear regularly from both veteran and newcomer AEs (not to mention their leadership). The common frustration: “My members don’t get involved, they don’t participate in our programs or classes, and they have the -REALTORS®-Don’t-Read syndrome.”

AEs and association leaders have struggled for years to come up with solutions to the “apathy problem,” and although there’s no magic formula, there are techniques that are proven to help.
The first step is to ask yourself some tough questions: “Is my association providing programs and services that really address the needs of members -today? Or are we doing the same old thing we did years ago because it worked for so long?” This question is especially critical in today’s fluctuating economy. Next, consider whether you are marketing your offerings in a way that entices members. Sometimes it’s not that REALTORS® don’t read, but that they’re not excited about what they read or simply don’t see the benefit in what’s being offered.

These issues are often addressed at strategic planning sessions or leadership retreats, but it’s critical to keep them in mind with everything you do. The most successful associations continually look for new and creative ways to first uncover what members want and need and then encourage member participation by communicating program benefits clearly.

To get started on a new road to member involvement, employ these key strategies:

First and foremost, survey, survey, survey! Ask your members what they want, what they think, and who they are (and ask them often!). Use both full member surveys and short online surveys about recently attended events. Many associations are using Zoomerang and Survey Monkey to create easy-to-develop and easy-to-answer online questionnaires. This technology also summarizes and analyzes results in a variety of ways. Many associations have informal feedback sessions with different member types (brokers, property managers, older, younger, etc.) on a regular basis, while others employ consultants to use more traditional methods, such as focus groups or written and telephone surveys. There can be a cost to the more formal processes, but they are often worth the dollars spent in the long run.

If you can’t say with relative certainty who your members are, you’ll never be able to create programs and products to fully serve them.

Once you know more about your members, ask some additional questions:

Q. Do your programs and services match your members’ needs and interests?

If you have programs that no longer match at least one part of your membership’s demographics, eliminate or drastically revise them.

Q. Do you communicate your services and programs in a way that is individualized, engaging, precise, and actionable?

If you’re not sure exactly how to tailor your communications to different segments of your membership, consider some member focus groups to gather feedback and keep asking. Many associations have established young member groups to bridge the gap between different generational communication styles, for example.

Successful associations communicate in a variety of ways: e-mail, direct mail, and social networking (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Your members are not all alike and they don’t communicate the same way, and neither should you.

A last thought, and perhaps an unpopular one, is that some associations have been successful by accepting the reality that there are many members who may never use your programs, no matter how good they are or how well you communicate their benefits. Don’t worry about those members. Focus instead on the ones who have demonstrated an interest in and appreciation for the programs and services you offer.

My message is the same with every association I visit: Strategically determine what to offer members by asking them what they want; by learning more about their collective interests and needs; and by telling them what you have to offer in powerful, creative ways that let them know they’ll benefit. z

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