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Assessing Membership Value

· Catriona McNaughton,Membership,Industry Association,Analysis

FPL Advisory’s Communications Analyst Catriona McNaughton takes us through the common offers and benefits of industry association membership and how to make sure your company is getting the most out of their investment.

Industry associations offer a range of membership benefits. Broadly speaking these involve providing key industry information, a collective industry voice to media, public and government, a range of professional development courses, and support for developing standards or establishing guidance for best practice. In many cases, organisations join their relevant association without an assessment of the cost-effectiveness of the investment. So how do you assess the value of a membership? Look for these 5 characteristics;

1. Memberships that do not replace internal responsibilities

Many membership benefits can support tasks and roles that would otherwise be undertaken within a business. This can be particularly the case for advocacy approaches where organisations allow the industry association to regularly speak on their behalf (usually via an industry position) to government. This can provide significant efficiencies both in supporting the narrative being put to government stakeholders through the weight of whole-of-industry support and in reducing the time investment for internal staff needed for advocacy. However, care must be taken to ensure that the organisations priorities are really being progressed, particularly where these may not align with a more general industry view. Membership to an industry association should not mean that resources are no longer allocated to determining, prioritising and executing government engagement activities.

2. Minimise reputational risk and maximise industry social licence

Organisations often become members of industry or other associations to demonstrate legitimacy. This is particularly important for smaller organisations and where there is some safety or other industry standard that must be met to join. For organisations exceeding the basic standards it is important to consider how the positions and actions of the other organisations within or the group as a whole can contribute to reputational risk. If an organisation is operating well above standard, being linked to a particularly poor performing industry association or allowing them to speak to government or media as a quasi-representative on your behalf can damage relationships and reputation. Ensuring that those leading the industry consistently raise industry standards is important to protect the social licence and reputation of the association and therefore to maximise benefits such as advocacy.

3. There is internal accountability for costs

Memberships often provide benefits across an organisation, with no single department being the entire beneficiary and therefore no operational department is responsible for the cost. This can mean membership management becomes the responsibility of the finance department and the memberships is automatically renewed from relatively obscure budgets such as marketing. At budget review they pass under the radar as those with the budget responsibility assume benefits are being accrued elsewhere when this may not be the case. Ensuring a clear understanding of who is utilising benefits and whether, compared to their other budgetary priorities, these benefits are worth the cost is important for ensuring value.

4. The asset is maximised

In a similar way as a lack of accountability for costs can reduce oversight, a lack of internal membership ownership can be a barrier to maximising opportunities and membership value. Set-and-forget memberships do not often have a designated internal representative for the organisation and therefore cannot maximise the value of a strong personal relationship between the organisation and the association. Strong personal relationships can mean that an organisation is prioritised because the relationship manager within the association becomes an internal advocate for the organisation, ensuring a greater focus and alignment with the organisation’s needs. Clearly identifying and communicating what you want the membership to achieve will provide the best opportunity to maximise membership value.

5. Consider the membership mix

In many cases a range of membership levels or associations could be relevant at both an organisational and an individual level. For instance, a higher level of organisational membership may provide access to professional development, but if only a limited number of staff are using this then personal memberships may be more appropriate. In addition, large industry associations may carry more weight in advocacy but the organisation’s priorities are more likely to be compromised within a large group. Assessing the offerings of all relevant memberships and determining how best these can be utilised together will develop maximum value.

In short, organisations who do not receive value from association membership may not be giving enough attention to identifying their priorities, communicating these to membership providers or pushing for additional value. They have allowed memberships to slip under the radar and have not only let them avoid the scrutiny otherwise applied to resource investment but also not given them the attention or maintenance that is otherwise invested in managing assets.

Catriona McNaughton is the Communications Analyst at FPL Advisory.

FPL Advisory is a team of specialists resolving risks and creating opportunities with respect to government. We work with public sector and corporate clients to execute strategies for owning and managing change.