It is critical that associations communicate openly to their members with information about events, staff and policy changes, publications, website updates and more. It is especially important to communicate with members regarding changes within the association. Even small modifications, like a minor change in schedule or location for a recurring event, can turn into a big problem if not communicated across multiple platforms and at multiple times to members.
There may also be changes that are of a significant nature that we may have put hours and days into, sometimes over months. Communicating the change, no matter the size or nature of it, is crucial to maintaining the trust and respect of members.
The Importance of Communicating with Members
The association I work with has some members who have been with the association for years, even decades. Over time they have become accustomed to the association’s yearly calendar of events and expect to receive communications associated with them.
As association leaders, we are responsible for being keenly aware of every change in every event, schedule, initiative, procedure, communication and deadline date for the association(s) we work with. It is important to us, and it is what we do. But it is up to us to communicate the importance of such matters to members.
While association work keeps association professionals busy every day, it is important for us to keep in mind the role an association plays in its members’ day-to-day life. The association could be a small but important part of their lives. We need to focus on ensuring members are being communicated with and members are getting the messages. For trade associations in particular, members have a myriad of other responsibilities: they focus on running their companies, as well as the wellbeing of their employees and the satisfaction of their customers amongst countless other priorities.
Further, member involvement in the association may vary. Some may be acutely aware of all the goings-on of the association, while some may have very little engagement on a regular basis. These members might count on the association for the services it offers and to be there when they need it. We cannot assume that all members are absorbing the messaging, therefore using different methods of communication may help. For more on this, please refer to my previous blog article.
While associations may change significantly over the years, it is remarkable how quickly longtime members can get used to the rhythm of repetition and may disregard communications.
Let me illustrate this with two scenarios:
- A major association event repeats at the same time of the year and at the same location annually. A decision is made to change venue and timing of the event. Even though messaging is sent out to all members in different formats, and thoroughly communicates the change in time and location for that event, the message still misses some.
- You’ve implemented a new association database system that will significantly improve the online experience for your membership, and you send out two or three emails to members containing thorough information notifying them of the change. In the first couple of weeks, you are inundated with calls and emails from members who are confused by the new system and claim they have not seen any communication about it. Access to one of the primary benefits of your association has improved and you’ve done everything possible to communicate this to your members, and still the message doesn’t reach everyone.
Both of these scenarios may lead to disappointment, and association leaders may be left wondering what else could have been done to communicate the message effectively. It is important to accept that no matter what, you will not reach all members all of the time; but keeping in mind that the content of your communications is as important as the method of dissemination will surely help.
Sharing Association Information with Members
We all absorb information in different ways, and everyone places different importance on the information they receive. Due to limited resources and time in associations, it is usually not possible to communicate to members via too many mediums. The association I work with employs several means of communication, including in-person communication, phone calls, emails (both personalized and general), social media and even post and fax from time to time.
Equally important though is the highlighting of any change at every opportunity. We endeavor to be as clear and concise as possible and try to anticipate any potential ambiguity, misunderstanding or confusion, no matter how minor, in advance. We keep in mind that if a change is occurring to something our members are used to, we need to view the change through that lens. It is sometimes challenging to look at something you know so well as if it is new to you, while also accounting for the history of it, but this is an essential element when communicating with members.
While it is impossible to reach every member about every possible piece of information, keeping lines of communication open and communicating clear, concise information to your association’s members in as many ways possible will definitely help in the long run!