aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

What Would Your Members Say?

Posted by Ellen on August 30, 2011

When you spend a lot of time in an RV on the road, visiting different places, staying in various campgrounds, parks, and RV resorts, you realize what your expectations can be, based on the name of a place.

A campground, for example, traditionally includes places for tents, which means a bathroom facility that also includes showers (unless the campground is considered “rustic,” in which case, you can expect no such facilities to be on the grounds). At the other end of the scale, a resort is usually a meticulously landscaped property that often includes a pool, spa, and other amenities — horseback riding, or a clubhouse with activities and game room. We’ve stayed at resorts that only allowed certain types of RVs (yes, it’s permitted by law), and cost more than a room at a bed and breakfast.

This is important background for the point I’m going to make. Stay with me here.

We’ve stayed at a couple of places that were advertised as “resorts” and ended up being — on the high end — family campgrounds with a dilapidated miniature golf course and a campfire ring as the “resort amenities.” At another “resort,” the pool turned out to be above-ground, the horesback riding option cost more than a night’s stay, the “lodge” was being used as a private residence…

We don’t mind rustic as long as the facilities are usable and the power is reliable (faulty power feeds can destroy the electrical circuitry in an RV… an expensive repair), so we considered the experience an adventure and spent our spare time watching frustrated RVers pull in only to leave again. Yesterday we watched a man who’d come with two kids photograph the broken swingset, unsafe picnic tables, and “Out of Order” sign on the ladies bathhouse door. No doubt he’d thought the kids would be entertained with the hiking (we’ve yet to find the trail), volleyball (or a net), cookouts (don’t see a grill anywhere)… Today they’re gone.

So the first message in all of this is:

  • Advertise accurately. Don’t advertise something you’ve stopped doing or plan to do. Promote only the things your members can expect from you on a regular basis.
  • Think about your name. What expectations are you setting for potential members? If call yourself a “resort,” people will expect certain things from you and they’ll leave, dissatisfied, if you don’t. What do your new members expect from you? Are you delivering on your promises?
  • Don’t make excuses. When somebody says, “You call this a resort?!?” don’t say, “Well… eventually we’ll have cookouts… and hiking… and a spa… and an in-ground pool… it takes awhile to get there.” Nobody wants to hear their timing is bad and they’re missing the good stuff. Don’t say, “We just took over and the place was such a wreck it’s going to take awhile to get it into shape.” Nobody wants your whining. They just want what you promised them and they’re understandably upset when you can’t deliver it.
  • Accentuate the positive, as an old lyric goes. If the place is rustic and out of the way, say so. People who like “rustic” will stay and say nice things about the place, instead of leaving frustrated, angry, and feeling they’ve been had.

Which leads me to the next part of this analogy. Out of curiosity, my husband looked up this particular “resort” on the Web to see what others had to say about it, and post our experiences. We weren’t surprised to read a list of complaints by those who’d come expecting one type of experience but left upset. We posted a cautionary but accurate review: yes, the property has its issues, but we like that it’s quiet and off the beaten path; those looking for a “resort” experience ought to look someplace else.

The RV world has many forums and bloggers. RVers are an honest lot, and they like to share their stories. When RVers meet, they swap suggestions about attractions, restaurants, and places to stay. Word of mouth — especially via the Internet — is loud and long.

So — here’s the real question: if there were an online forum for reviewing associations, societies, institutes, councils, and other non-profits, what would former and current members be posting about you?!?

  • Does your membership brochure match what they’ll actually get? Or are you setting expectations you can’t meet?
  • Are your dues and fees fair? Or are you leaving members wishing they’d saved their money for something else?
  • If they could post a comment on a forum about the associations they’ve been members of, what would they say about yours? Would they recommend others join? Or would they warn other people against joining? Why?

All of this could be true about any aspect of your organization: what would they say about volunteering? Membership benefits? Educational experiences?

  • “I spent three hours a day of my own time on Project X for this association and then they completely ignored our group’s findings and recommendations… that’s the last time I do that!!”
  • “For $200 a year I get a magazine. Everything else is geared to attending face-to-face sessions I can’t afford to attend. This is my last year as a member. I can get a magazine for a lot less money.”
  • “They have some of the best educational sessions I’ve ever attended. If you haven’t been to one, go! They’re a little pricey, but you’ll get a lot out of them.”

There might not be an “associations forum” where people post their reviews of their membership experiences the way they do RV campgrounds, parks, and resorts, but they are sharing their experiences.

What are they saying? And what can you do about it?

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