Before I started my business, I was the communications director for a local then for a statewide membership association. Both were invaluable experiences for me. I learned about board leadership, volunteer structure, the power and importance of bylaws and their companion standing rules or policies and procedures. And I learned about independent businesses in two different industries. All of these skills I have used in my business to help both nonprofits and businesses.
When I started my consulting business, the first thing I did after getting my business license was join the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. There was a weekly networking breakfast that I attended religiously. Long after that was gone, I miss having a regular anchor appointment to anchor my week. Chambers of Commerce are the most basic business associations around. Anyone can be a member—global corporations who want to be good corporate citizens down to the independent direct sales associates. There is a Chamber serving just about every city in America.
If you are considering joining an association, now is an excellent time to benefit from synergy created with other people in your geographic area or industry niche. Keep reading so you’ll know what to look for.
Align with positivity
As COVID-19 stay-at-home options continue across the country, I’ve noticed two distinct paths for membership associations, including service organizations. They are either afraid to bill for dues as it seems insulting or insensitive when their members are struggling to operate or they are adding value with increased virtual opportunities for their members.
Of course, adding value is the way to go! Instead of not asking for dues at all, create a payment plan so members can pay something that fits with their situation. Make that investment easy and obvious by ADDING VALUE!
Hold some online networking meetings. I recently took part in the Greater San Fernando Valley’s Chamber of Commerce Thirsty Thursday event. They welcomed members from other chambers to this one-hour “speed-networking” Zoom extravaganza that they have been holding every week since the stay-at-home orders began. They were introducing new members. Wow! At a time when it’s easy to assume that businesses wouldn’t consider spending any money, the value they have been able to offer has helped them recruit members. It was such a great model Long Beach is now going to host Thirsty Thursdays as well, in addition to their Good Afternoon Long Beach monthly lunches online.
Surely there are other ways to at least retain your membership. You might create a new category of membership to attract an otherwise un-represented group of members. Solopreneurs, restaurants, independent retail could all be special membership carveouts that build goodwill. Capitalize on current societal themes like equity and inclusion to offer your members resources and tools they need.
Business Improvement Districts Model a Local Approach
In Long Beach, the business improvement districts go to great lengths to help their members. Living in the area of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, I have witnessed many of its regular activities continue in a new way, some initiatives increase like flash sales, and new ideas abound like Facebook posts featuring our Black-owned businesses in Bixby Knolls. I can’t forget the #BixbyStrong logo that brands all the activities of this local association. I hope all the area businesses will pay their business licenses and business district assessment so this good work can continue to pull everyone through a trying time.
Education is Still Key
Another way to add value is through increased education. Since March, I have watched so many free webinars to hone my skills and learn new things. I know there is a speaker out there looking for the exposure to your membership—myself included!
Nonprofits are not left behind! Our local supporter of all things nonprofit, The Nonprofit Partnership, has a slate of classes that are essential for all nonprofits. It’s not always easy to find classes tailored to the needs of nonprofits, but they have it covered. They offer many other services as well. There is truly power in association.
If you have an audience who would benefit from an informational webinar on small business marketing or interpersonal communications, please email me. Free to fee, we can work something out!
Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Sign-up on her website today to receive helpful insights like this one in your inbox. See how easy your promotional efforts can be here.