Yes, non-profits/not-for-profits have business needs. Making sure you bring in enough revenue to cover your costs/expenses is the ultimate need, but what drives those revenues?
Membership dues, you say. Registration fees to the conference and other events. Conference booth revenues. Sponsorships. Maybe some advertising. Perhaps you offer additional products — reports, survey results, books, magazine subscriptions and advertising….
So how well are you educating your members about their dues and registration fees? Do they understand your membership application process? Renewal process? Timeline? How about registrations?
Most associations seem to cover these bases pretty well.
But what about sponsorships? Are you letting potential sponsors know what’s available to them? Do they understand how they’ll benefit from sponsoring? Are there particular parameters around the sponsor-member relationship that they should know?
Are your members responsible for attracting these sponsors? How clearly do they understand the process, the expectations sponsors need to have, and any regulatory requirements or limits? Are you in the position of having to re-educate volunteers for every event? Are you worried you’ll forget something? Do you give those volunteers the materials they need to secure sponsors (commitment forms, descriptions of events and sponsorship opportunities, etc.)? How familiar with those materials are your volunteers?
Sometimes we assume our members know more than they do, and they don’t want to admit otherwise for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we just forget things because we’ve trained so many people, over and over.
Here’s another example. An association has a complicated booth selection process because they consistently have many more vendors requesting booths than they have booths available. And because so many of the vendors are corporate competitors, that booth selection process has been refined over the years, incorporated into the policies and procedures manual, with each change requiring a vote by the board of directors — all to ensure the highest level of fairness and equality.
The process is long, with several intricate steps and hard deadlines.
But because only the board of directors and staff members have easy access to the policies and procedures manual, only the vendors who have been involved in the process over the years are truly familiar with it.
What does this mean? New companies wishing to get a booth are often surprised when they call to reserve a space only to find out that they are months late in starting the process. New representatives in long-participating companies who haven’t been fully apprised of the process jeopardize their booth reservation when they miss deadlines they didn’t know about.
What could be done differently?
It’s simple, really: provide easy access to a brief tutorial on what the process is, why it must be followed, and who to call for more information.
Yes, you could do this as a live Webinar, but why? Create a simple asynchronous tutorial and make it accessible to anyone who might be considering a booth, and direct any new corporate representatives to it so they’ll be up to speed on what they need to do.
Don’t assume a long waiting list means you can afford to let a few slip by. In 2009 many associations saw their historically long waiting lists rapidly dwindle, leaving them to wonder and worry about what could happen if they suddenly couldn’t fill the convention hall.
Don’t assume that the time it would take to create a tutorial won’t be worth it. Think about it. Don’t most of the questions requiring the longest explanations seem to come at the worst possible moments? You’re in the middle of organizing the annual conference and people want to know about booth space. Or you’re trying to gather and organize learning materials for and educational event when someone wants to know how they can participate as a sponsor for an event that doesn’t even have sponsors.
Those calls can feel like an unwanted interruption when, in fact, they’re some of the most important calls you’ll get. Without interest in booth space, sponsorships, advertising, membership and renewal procedures, where would your revenue go?
Your sponsors and those who reserve booth space at your conference and other events are also juggling other sponsorships and events for other associations and groups. Don’t take them — or what you think they know and understand — for granted.
Help them. Educate them. Make it easy for them to participate, and they will. Show them how to navigate a complicated process or sail through an easy one. Keep the tutorials easy to find so they can refer to them any time they wonder about it — not just when the process is already underway. Your timing is not necessary their best timing.
What other business procedures will be new to someone? Which ones are complicated and need more than one explanation?
Every one of them should be a brief tutorial for your members, volunteers, sponsors, booth participants, and advertisers. Keep them informed about how to fufill their roles. They’ll reward you with continued support, and that means your business needs will be met over the long haul.