Much of the value of trade and professional organizations is found in the networking and educational opportunities they deliver. When for-profit companies offer services that replace these traditional values, non-profits must look for other ways to stay relevant. Why bother paying membership dues to a professional association when I can meet people by joining a LinkedIn group? Questions like this put a dent into revenue from membership dues, a formerly stable source of funds for associations. As non-profit industry associations plan their annual meetings or conferences, the executive and board leadership should consider three things to confront the shifts and become more effective.
Know why you exist as an organization
Why are these particular individuals coming together in this group? Today, people with similar interests can find each other easily by making a group on Facebook, posting to Reddit or putting a call out over Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and email to find other people interested in the same topic. What makes you unique? To find out, you may have to dig into the founding documents of the organization. It will certainly take a conversation with the leadership team.
Once you have sketched out an answer, build the agenda for your annual meeting around that idea. Shed all other components. Your members can get those things elsewhere. Focus on what they can get only from you.
Your unique value—as a connector
If one of the things you deliver to your members is value from being in the same room together, consider the agenda of your annual meeting through this lens.
Give your members the opportunity to what they cannot do online. It could be something as simple as orchestrating speed-networking activities. Face-to-face encounters are often inestimable and cannot be done on a digital platform.
The value of thoughtful consideration when crafting in-person interactions will only increase as the effects of machine learning, AI and algorithms wield more influence in professional society. Recently, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, spoke about the need for LQ (in addition to the IQ and the EQ) by saying “And what is LQ? The quotient of love, which machines never have.”
Make sure your agenda reflects the heart of the organization. Instead of spending three hours in a general session reporting to your members on the projects and impact of your work over the past year, use a shorter period on stage to give only the highlights and spend the bulk of the time leveraging the power of being together (you can always deliver the details online).
The shape of an interactive general session activity will vary depending on your membership base, but it could be something as simple as splitting up the audience, mixing everyone into different groups, and asking everyone to answer three questions. Set a timer and, after five minutes, reshuffle the groups and repeat the exercise. Then bring everyone back together in the general meeting to report on the results.
If the unique value you bring is the ability for individuals to make connections that they would not make otherwise, set things up for people to accomplish this. The connection is the deliverable.
Build a future together
Here is where you benefit from building a digital future for your non-profit. My colleague, Mike Mills, outlined how successful non-profit organizations invest in technology and process innovation.
Doing the work of determining your core user personas, and understanding their needs, will help you to see each customer interaction with a true 360-degree view. Only then can you present content and engage them in a way that is relevant to them. As you build out your technology, focus on ways to better understand how your customers use your services and how best to deliver them. And always emphasize things that you, as a team of leaders, can deliver what scalable algorithms cannot.
Non-profit professional organizations are uniquely positioned to bring their members value. A smart digital mindset brings them the ability to do that more efficiently.