By Harold Maurer DCM & CeM, MGI Senior Account Director
That was an actual sign I looked at every day in the lobby of the corporate headquarters at The Trane Company, my first job in corporate business.
The rumors abound right now, just like 2009, 1999, 1983, 1976, and so on. Recessionary impact frightens the entire association world with concerns about finance, employees, members, investments, and more. But there is good news. Associations that deliver significant value to their members usually thrive in a recession–countless studies have proven it–but not without careful thought and the contingency plan to be always prepared. The best method for that is to start now so that if and when a recession comes, your organization is already prepared. Here are some insights.
Recognize and Remove Deadwood Programs
Stop that nagging concern for pet programs that have seen their day and no longer contribute significantly to the bottom line. Action can be as simple as ending print versions of newsletters and books, backing out of unprofitable conferences or meetings, or as complex as retiring an archaic advisory council. Whatever the case, take a dispassionate look at your programs through a member-value and revenue lens to determine which should stay and which should go. I would even recommend hiring outside consultants to help identify and assess these. Once you have done so, proactively work to nurture your healthy, value-laden programs.
Take a Quality Step: Adopt Lean
Having worked in manufacturing, I was privileged to see the rise of continuous process improvement, Deming principles, and Lean manufacturing. Lean is the study and application of cutting waste, not budget, to improve efficiency. All organizations have waste in the form of bloated processes, useless process steps, manual work tasks, costly services, organizational redundancies, and lack of multi-task synergies, among other things. Learning to work in new efficient ways today is a great recession medication: the outcome of cutting waste is increased revenue!
But Don’t Step in a Bear Trap
Software can help processes, but software can’t save your organization in a recession, or at any other time for that matter. There is a huge trap buried in the weeds of technologies that become more appealing as a recession looms. Software is about process, not outcome. Going virtual, adopting a one-size-fits-all AMS, consolidating to a single strategic dashboard, or moving to all-electronic communications may seem like good ideas when under pressure, but they are no replacement for sound management and value delivery. When you need to walk successfully with a steady, profitable gait, wasting time adopting new software can be the bear trap beneath the leaves.
Make it Easy to Become and Stay a Member
How easy is it to join your organization? How easy to renew? Make sure your processes for recruiting and retaining members are simple from the member’s point of view. Some logjams are easy to recognize: if you don’t have automatic renewals, set them up; mount an absolutely state-of-the-art renewal program including telemarketing; recruit regularly in every media channel you can, including mail; and assess your membership program and rid it of overly complicated levels, fees, or other attributes not critically important. Keep it simple.
Provide Recession-Proof Indispensable Value
What do members want, or more precisely, need from your organization? Question your own conclusions. As we work with associations and ask them what their members value, the answer is mostly convention, networking, magazine, and advocacy. On the other hand, when you ask your lapsed members what they needed and did not get, you will hear remarkably different answers: online communities; certifications; career and learning opportunities; and a robust job board. All of these have one thing in common: they will become even more important to members during a recession. Set a goal today to incorporate benefits that make your organization the knowledge and practice center of the profession you serve.
I don’t know if we are moving into a recession. But I do know we will someday. So my last suggestion is simple. Start now and get ready. It’s coming this month, this year, or this decade.
Decide today you are not going to participate.