Let’s play a game… Where would your association be in 5 years, in your wildest dreams? Would it be bigger? Perhaps more efficiently managed? Using new technologies without blinking an eye?

Now, think about how you would achieve that vision? You’ll need a plan- just like a college student has a four-year roadmap to get to graduation day. You’ll need to know what steps to take. Don’t worry, its not hard- it’s fun! Just let your imagination run wild!

Below I outline the basics of achieving a Strategic Plan for your association. This is your road map to achieve new ideas.

1. Focus
• What is the purpose of the association? Who are you trying to reach? Are you trying to be all things to all people?

• Donald Trump said “Don’t think about how you can make money. Instead think about what service you can offer that is valuable and useful to people in your community.

• Cut out all programming, expenses, etc that distracts from this purpose and after careful consideration during the following steps, add back only those expenses which truly further the associations purpose.

2. Benefits
• If your association wants to gain more members, give them a reason to join! Sounds simple, but here’s a tip:

i. The #1 reason people join associations is to solve a “problem” or make their lives easier.
ii. The #1 problem in their lives currently is financial pressures and job security due to the economic downtown. Skill building, including learning or implementing new technology, and relationship building (in person and electronic) are other member concerns.
iii. Help solve their problems by offering programs and services related to finding and keeping jobs, make more money and feel valued and accepted by their peers.
iv. The #1 reason people renew their membership is because their problem was solved: they advanced their career, got a referral, made more money, received recognition, cut costs, etc.

• What are your core benefits? Are they measurable- can you clearly state the Return On Investment a member can expect to receive? This is particularly beneficial for Generations X and Y members. Focus on outcomes, not features: Networking is not a benefit of membership. It is a means or feature for the member to get more job referrals (the outcome or end).

• What makes your members join your association apart from others? What do they like about it? This difference is the inherent value of your association and is a benefit.

• Why are people hesitating to join? Can you offer a “satisfaction guaranteed” to ease their minds? Member feedback or surveys may be required to gain this information- event exit surveys, use of a free internet survey tool (SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang), informal chats with members.

• Would a new membership structure aid in achieving the goals? Please see this post for a review of alternative membership structures that may benefit your association.

•Are you trying to reach a younger demographic- Generation X and Y? Please see this post as a summary of Generation X and Y characteristics which will need to be addressed to successfully appeal to this demographic.

3. Set Goals- Five Year Plan
• Make goals measurable and reachable. Mediocre goals are not worth the effort!

• Do you already have a goal in mind like this one: “Increase the membership by a net 10 percent per year for the next 5 years”? After a successful review of the benefits of membership and your chosen target market, you may need to revisit your predefined goals to ensure they are still in-line with your decisions.

4. Marketing 
• Use targeted marketing materials to explain and define your goals to your membership.

• Inspire and excite your members to help achieve this goal. Use rebranding, marketing, new methods (ie social media, video message from the President posted on the website) to disseminate the plan among the membership.

• Are you reaching your defined target market from step one? If not, change your marketing approach. If you are trying to reach a younger demographic, you must be aware of their characteristics, age, geography, etc. and take active, measurable steps to reach them.

• Establish a relationship with your prospective member first via a “non-salesy” method, ie a free newsletter to which they subscribe. (Utilize an email marketing service such as Constant Contact to build a fresh, modern looking newsletter, members can assist with the article content.) After the relationship gains trust and respect for relevant information, then “upsell” membership benefits to the prospect.

5. Troubleshoot
• After a designated period of time (3-6 months or 1 year) review the strategic plan and methods used to achieve the plan.

• What are the obstacles for growth? Review many potential solutions and select the top 3 to implement.

• It is important to eliminate negative/biased discussions and focus on the positive.


That’s it! It’s not rocket science to create and implement a strategic plan, but it does take brainstorming and cooperation between the association’s leaders and the Executive Director’s leadership. One person cannot answer these questions alone, but a team of driven individuals can put your association on track to a better future.