Head and Heart: Membership is a Balancing Act

The decision to join an association involves the head and the heart, both logic and emotion, even if the membership is part of a business or professional relationship.


Research by the Corporate Executives Board published in Forbes confirms that 71% of buyers who see personal value in a B2B product or service will end up making a purchase.

Personal value has twice the impact due to the emotional connection felt by the buyer. If emotion can play a role in something as straightforward as an equipment purchase, how much more does it mean for joining a society of one’s peers?

Associations certainly need to get the logical elements of membership right before all else. The logical approach says there must be precisely the right benefits at the right price, promoted with the right message thus creating a value proposition that overcomes any potential obstacle to join.

Where does an organization get the data to support this? Most organizations will routinely collect analytics to create predictive models for questions such as:

  • What web browsing, product purchasing or event attendance behaviors tend to lead up to membership?

  • Do those specific behaviors overlap with demographic, firmagraphic and career progression data?  

  • When that combined data is run through a statistical model, what segments or personas result from these behaviors?

This logical approach to membership is used by some organizations in the form of algorithms and SQL programs that drive marketing and recruitment efforts.

I’ve profiled members, then used neural net, decision-tree, CHAID and other models to help create these very programs. While they do yield results, particularly when the goal is to determine the most efficient audience to target for new membership; they have their limitations too.

The logical approach to membership is seductive because it’s so darn linear. It’s easy to explain and easy to automate. But there’s another aspect of membership, the emotional one, that many organizations often downplay when it’s equally as important as logic.

Both prospective and existing members need to identify with the organization and not just with the formal mission statement. They need to feel that the organization, its leaders and its members truly understands them; that the organization “gets” their daily struggles and relates directly to what keeps them up at night. They need to feel their interests, values and priorities are authentically represented within the fabric of the organization.

By addressing these largely emotional elements, associations can attract members, keep them more engaged, involved and with a sense of pride in what the organization stands for.

And those members will be your very best sources for recruitment.

This begs the question: How does an organization cultivate members who are engaged and feel emotionally connected?

Curt Powell Quote Associa Direct

You can do this by encouraging members to tell their own stories.

Provide a platform, both digital and print, to share their stories. And make it easy.

Then collect the stories that center around themes that build upon the narrative to support the overarching vision and goals of the organization.

For example, a medical society might collect stories around physician wellness. These may take the form of a series featuring authentic stories of real practitioners dealing with the issue of burnout. An HR society might collect stories focusing on the emotional toll of layoffs, creating content that resonates at a gut level with members and prospective members alike.

The most compelling stories have several things in common:

  • They focus on specific challenges, the efforts to overcome these challenges, and the results, whether successful or unsuccessful. To evoke an emotional connection, these stories should offer a real, unfiltered glimpse into the lives of members, not just focusing on the achievements and continuous success.

  • They offer lessons learned through hard fought personal experience, not simply pearls of wisdom.

  • They pose questions, often without an answer - giving the audience an opportunity to look within, finding answers of their own and rising to the occasion when given the means to do so. This can cultivate engagement and conversation through comments and feedback from the audience on social channels; much of which can develop into new stories all their own.

Having clarity on the context or theme of the stories you tell cannot be overstated.

I was recently involved in planning and executing an annual meeting of over six thousand healthcare professionals. The central theme was “continuum of care”.

That’s usually a patient-centric concept, but everything from the event graphics and opening session to the tools provided on-site spoke to a narrative that placed healthcare workers at the very center of that continuum.

The message was crystal clear and resonated at a gut-level.

If you don’t take care of your own wellness, you won’t be able to help the patient.

Head and heart work together. Relevant data and well thought out, authentic stories, are keys to bringing invigorating energy and undeniable value to current and future members of your organization.

With that being said, there is still one question left for you to answer:

What’s your story?

Author: Curt Powell
Author Info:
Curt Powell is the founder and Executive Artist in Residence for BizArtistry, a consulting firm that brings stories to life for businesses through the creative arts. Curt has worked with over a dozen associations as a consultant and strategic marketer. He is also a Chicago playwright, composer and co-author of The Disposable Visionary: A Survival Guide for Change Agents [published by Praeger ABC-CLIO, 2016]




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