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4 Pieces of Advice New Associations Need to Hear

Starting a new association is a challenge. However, it’s possible to find real success when you're prepared and establish your organization as an industry thought leader.

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As a new association, making your way into the nonprofit world is an intimidating thought. The pressure to succeed and grow into an association people can rely can be overwhelming. How do you prove your value to a brand new audience? According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the United States alone. That number doesn’t even account for organizations registered throughout the world. And, you want to make sure your association makes an impact despite the sea of competition.

Web Scribble had the opportunity to speak with Luigi La Tona, Executive Director of the Self Storage Association of Asia (SSAA). Now in its third year as a trade association, SSAA learned how to grow in a fairly new and unique industry in Asia: self storage. Luigi had a lot to share about building the association’s brand and how to create an association with a global impact. If you’re looking to grow as a new association, you’ll need to prove your value to your audience. Here are some important values every new association needs to have.

1. Trust

One of the most vital aspects to growing an association is having your audience’s trust. However, sometimes trust can be difficult to earn. How do you show your members that you have their best interests at heart? According to a survey conducted by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, 20% of respondents said honesty and ethics are most important when considering a nonprofit. In another report from the Millennial Impact Project, 90% of respondents ages 20 - 35 claimed they would stop giving to an organization if they did not trust them. Luigi shared with us the importance of trust for SSAA and how it’s affected their growth. “When an association comes out of nowhere, people immediately start asking questions,” he said. “Who are you? Why are you here? Who are you benefitting?” These questions stem from a lack of knowledge, and more importantly a lack of trust.

In order to earn trust, an association must be both transparent and engaging. Hiding information from members, or relaying incorrect messages, will only put up a wall between them and the association. Keep members educated on every aspect of your association. Show them what their money is going towards and what they can expect to receive in return. Trust is a monumental part of an association’s value. Any new association looking to grow their membership base needs to provide a certain level of trust for future members.

2. Communication

Another trait potential members look for in an association is communication. Stellar communication traits are what help associations stand out and gain traction. Knowing how to effectively communicate with members is essential for success. You need to be able to communicate with members in order to form a valuable relationship .Luigi states that many struggles SSAA faced when starting out were combatted through communication. “Many parts within an association are actually about communication. We’ve been able to manage specific member needs and prove our value through effective, efficient, and continuous communication. ”Start by identifying the most effective communication channels for your association. Email, phone, and social media are three channels that many organizations find useful. However, every association is different. Analyze which channels get the most feedback in order to best reach members.

Another way to listen to your members is to run a member survey. Folio magazine claims the member survey is the most reliable method of obtaining feedback. A member survey allows associations to get assessments on specific issues directly from each individual member. Members value giving that feedback to you in order to make their experience better. You want to know what’s working in your association and what needs to change. Opening communication up to your audience shows them you care about their needs. Communication allows you to level with members and understand what they want from your association.

3. Authenticity

While authenticity seems like a given quality, it can oftentimes be forgotten when thinking of an association's value. However, audiences will notice whether or not an association is authentic. A study done in 2013 by the Boston Consulting Group showed that customers identified authenticity as one of the top attractive qualities of a brand or organization. Now more than ever, people are relying on organizations to be authentic when dealing with consumers. But, what can you do to show authenticity as a nonprofit? Responding to members’ needs and keeping them informed will show them you’re willing to communicate on a human level. You want members to feel comfortable conveying any questions or complaints to your association. Reaching out to members on an individual level will prove your association values authenticity.

Another way to connect with members is to only create meaningful content for your association. Putting too much irrelevant content out may lead members to lose the connection they have to your brand. Be mindful of what you create and post when it comes to media content. Identifying your members professional levels can also help convey authenticity. SSAA works with a variety of professionals from all around the world, from interns to large multinationals. “It’s important to know who you’re talking to and understand what level they’re on,” Luigi said. Members on different professional levels will need a variety of different benefits.

Your audience needs an authentic organization that meets their communication needs. Once they see that, they can find further value what your association provides.

4. Hard work

Once you see growth in a new association, it’s time to make an effort to keep that growth steady. Hard work goes a long way in any association- new or established. It’s something that members need to see from an association in order to keep them interested. More than ever before, associations need to work hard to impress members. One of the main benefits associations provide is specific information. But with technology constantly on the rise, it’s easy for anyone to have information at their fingertips. It’s an association’s job to be able to provide the most for its members.

“You have to work a lot harder than just providing general information. The trick is to provide a deeper value to members. Work for your members and relay the meaningful information that relates to them or their company.”

It’s this determination and hard work that helped drive SSAA’s membership base to over 120 members in just three years. Make sure your benefits are unique, exclusive, and something people can’t find anywhere else. There are many ways to do this. Your association can offer an exclusive webinar or a workshop to enhance professional development. Create engaging offers your members won’t want to pass up. Starting a new association is a challenge. However, it’s possible to find real success like Luigi La Tona did at the Self Storage Association of Asia.