Running a global membership association is a unique opportunity. The potential for growth and impact is enormous as you can connect people from all over the world and help them achieve their goals. However, because of the nature of global membership associations, leaders are also required to navigate some unique challenges.
So what are these challenges and how do you ensure you’re prepared to contribute to the success and sustainability of your global member association?
Managing and coordinating international teams, boards, working groups, committees and volunteers can mean navigating a mishmash of mixed priorities, agendas, personalities and capabilities, plus cultural and language differences. Not to mention the logistical challenges – coordinating meetings, events and other activities for a global team can be complicated and time-consuming.
To ensure your association runs effectively and efficiently, it's important to have clear policies and procedures in place for managing and coordinating your association's most important assets – people. This should include regular communication and training and a system for tracking and evaluating performance. Ensure your association provides support and resources to help teams and volunteers succeed and to recognise and reward their contributions.
A robust organisational system that includes tools and technologies to help your global teams manage your membership database, communication channels and other aspects of your association will help set your global team up for success. Embrace technology and asynchronous work. Three tools to try include:
Running a global membership association can also mean ensuring compliance with a wide range of international laws and regulations. This can be onerous (not to mention daunting), and failure to comply can result in significant penalties and damage to your association's reputation.
It pays to have a solid understanding of what the relevant laws and regulations that apply to your association are and to consult with legal or governance experts as needed. Protect your association by having clear policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance and regularly review and update them as needed.
It's also important to maintain currency. Undertaking regular training and communication with staff, board members, and volunteers ensure that everyone is aware of their responsibilities and obligations.
Maintaining high levels of member engagement and satisfaction is essential for the success of any association. When your members are global and spread across different time zones, this presents several unique challenges. For starters, only a portion of your membership is awake at any one time – and in some scenarios, you'll be asleep when they're awake! It's easy for members to begin to feel disconnected from the association and other members, particularly if you have smaller pockets of members in some locations.
The key to keeping members engaged all over the world is to stay in regular communication with them and to keep them feeling like part of the member community. If your tech stack enables you to, deliver communications during business hours in different timezones. In addition to online/one-to-many communications (emails, forums, social media, etc), try to talk to your members face to face (virtually) at least a few times a year. This will mean occasional early mornings and late nights for the global association professional, but your members will appreciate it.
Regardless of whether your members are global or not, your association should always offer a range of engaging and valuable benefits and services that meet the needs of different members and regularly evaluate and improve them. Not sure what your members' needs are? Ask them! A great question to ask members is 'what keeps you awake at night?'.
Listen to their feedback and concerns. You can do this through surveys or focus groups to get an overall picture – but a good old-fashioned phone call surfaces all kinds of great insights at a micro level as well. Remember this motto: 'when in doubt, ask the members'.
Running any membership association is challenging – a global association can be even more so. But the potential for impact is also amplified. A global member base opens up opportunities for both your organisation and members – in today's digital-first world, becoming a thriving global membership association is more achievable than ever.
By addressing these key challenges, you can set your association on the right path to be successful and sustainable, to make a positive impact, and to delight (and retain!) your members – wherever they are in the world.
A seasoned association professional, Donna South strives to turn every member into a
raving fan. A self-described matchmaker, she thrives on making connections for members -
bringing people together and creating opportunities.
Donna spent eight years running membership and marketing for Weld Australia, the peak
body for welding in Australia. Most recently, she acted as Membership Director for the
Association of Product Professionals - the global peak body for product people.
When Donna isn’t nerding out about membership, she enjoys sampling a good craft beer
and listening to classic rock. She has seen both ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Supernatural’ in their
entirety several times over (she’s nothing if not eclectic).
Connect with Donna on LinkedIn!
A seasoned association professional, Donna South strives to turn every member into a raving fan. A self-described matchmaker, she thrives on making connections for members - bringing people together and creating opportunities. Donna spent eight years running membership and marketing for Weld Australia, the peak body for welding in Australia. Most recently, she acted as Membership Director for the Association of Product Professionals - the global peak body for product people. When Donna isn’t nerding out about membership, she enjoys sampling a good craft beer and listening to classic rock. She has seen both ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Supernatural’ in their entirety several times over (she’s nothing if not eclectic). Connect with Donna on LinkedIn!
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