Telling the Advocacy Story: Moving Members from “Me” to “We”

Written by Tommy Goodwin on May 30, 2019

For some association leaders and practitioners, advocacy remains a “black box.” While advocacy has always been one of the most powerful ways that associations engage their members, some associations struggle to link and communicate that work back to their members in a way that shows them that “My association is fighting for me!”

In a previous article, I stressed that advocacy is a deep, untapped driver of member value that we often overlook. All associations advocate, but how many connect and communicate all their advocacy work back to member value and retention? Not many.

Why? For those association leaders and practitioners who do not understand the intricacies of advocacy, it can be difficult to effectively communicate that work externally. Additionally, since advocacy efforts are not always successful, there can be a fear factor about trumpeting that work too loudly in case it doesn’t achieve the desired outcomes.

But that type of thinking is preventing many associations from showcasing the great work that they are doing to advance their members’ interests. By flipping the script on advocacy communication, associations can reinforce the value they provide to their members each and every day. How?

COMMUNICATE… AND INTEGRATE!

Survey after survey shows that prospects and members care deeply about the work that associations are doing on their behalf. To them, it’s a core aspect of member value. That said, quite often member value and advocacy messaging and messages are totally distinct. That’s wrong. The key is to communicate about advocacy in a way that shows how advocacy is a key piece to the member engagement and retention puzzle.

We all know that one of the most critical long-term member journeys in the association world is getting a member to go from “me” to “we.” Often, new members join our associations to meet a specific need: a discount on a certification exam, a new project or service, etc. But eventually… or quickly… those rational benefits get tapped out.

So what else can get them to stay? The answer is the demonstration of collective action, and a given member’s involvement in participating in that action. It moves the needle from “me” to “we” and begins to tap into those emotional components of the buying decision that increase stickiness and help plug the membership “leaky bucket.”

AVOID THESE PITFALLS!

When beginning to communicate about advocacy in an integrated way, channel consistency and cadence is critical. All messages touching on advocacy—from traditional calls to action to advocacy updates to membership renewals with advocacy angles—have to be coordinated in a way whereby they:

  1. Simultaneously reinforce each other without contradicting each other.
  2. Don’t overwhelm the recipient.

Many associations struggle with advocate fatigue. That’s when members are called upon too many times to take action on a particular policy issue. Since many policy issues take years to wrestle down, the key is not to overwhelm members with too many messages or too many requests. When layering in a focus on integrating advocacy and member value communications, even more care must be invested to ensure that this integration isn’t communicated in a way that piles on even more. Rather, it needs to leverage marketing best practices around cadence, consistency, and preferences, so that members appreciate the message being delivered and the value being added.

Association advocacy—successfully executed and better communicated—can really reinforce the relevance of the associations to their members and help drive engagement going forward.