Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Association Management - Simplicity + Volume Might Do the Trick

What if the secret to member happiness was taking benefits away instead of adding to the never-ending laundry list of stuff?


Well, why not?

Oddly enough, this article from Fast Company “A Store With Only 3 Products And Other Cases For Simplicity” and this clip from an interview George Carlin did in 2008 converged this morning to remind me of  an important lesson.

Simplicity + volume might do the trick.

First, simplicity.

The article from Fast Company talks about a jewelry company that places only one piece per day in it's shop window.  Think about how arresting that must look as you are moving down the sidewalk.  To see one exquisite piece surrounded by empty space.

Studies have shown that people say they like a multitude of choices, but their behavior suggests otherwise.  At a certain point, our decision making selector goes on the fritz and our ability to capitalize on complexity reaches a point of diminishing returns.  More often than not, a profusion of choice can lead us to outright rejection of the whole ball of wax.

What if your association stopped creating so many services?  What if you took your membership brochure and forced yourself to cut out 50% of the words on it?  What if you set policy that required any new service launch be subject to the intentional retirement of something else?  What if, when someone asked what your association did, you could answer in less than ten minutes?  What if your vision was so clear, it overshadowed anything and everything else?

Second, volume.

Once you simplify the environment, it's easier to turn up the volume.  Watch the interview below, it's profound.  In it, George Carlin points out how Sam Kinison electrified the comedy world with his technique - volume.  George relates that as Sam raised his voice literally, it taught George to raise his own volume figuratively.   Mr. Carlin said that lesson fueled his work through the 90s and to the end of his career.  Raise your voice to overcome the cultural noise we are surrounded by.

Note, I didn't say increase the frequency of your communications.  Notice I didn't say "cram every link you can think of in your e-newsletter."  I said amplify.   Use language.  Use graphics.  Use unique delivery systems.  Be powerful and clear.  Ask the tough questions.  Dig deeper.

What could your association do if you could simplify what you do while simultaneously amplifying your volume?

I’ll get the trashcans and the earplugs.

Ready?  Set?  GO!!!!!

(and enjoy some words from one of my most favorite social commentators - George Carlin)


  1. Shelly, this is exactly what our team is doing right now. We've decided to simplify our advocacy goals. Cut out the items that won't happen due to lack of congressional support, funds, etc.. and instead focus on action items that are moving.

    This will be a sea change from what our committees are used to, but it had to be done. We meet with them next week to talk about it. Should be interesting.

  2. Nice post Shelly. I've been screaming this to CEO's for over a year... Do what your members can't do for themselves, narrow your focus, dominate your market. Very simple association business model.

    Our association did it 6-years ago and we have grown our member's surplus 500% which has allowed us to do some pretty cool things for them without charging them a dime over dues.

    I believe assn's aren't about growing membership, but growing the financial viability to do some pretty awesome for those who ARE members. As my good friend Robert Barnes from Fitness Australia said in a skype call to me, "when we stopped telling people they were "non-members" and just did the work we were called to do as an association, those non-members joined and our association grew 30% two years in a row."

    How awesome is simplicity.... VERY AWESOME!

  3. We are doing this with regard to benefits. I've been working on paring it back for a few years now and amplifying the message on the things we are keeping or introducing.

    I liken it to going to a restaurant that has a HUGE menu, and the food is all ok. Nothing is spectacular or particularly memorable, and it's too hard to decide what you want because everything is mediocre. That's how I see these laundry-list spreads of member benefits.

    We want to do fewer, more relevant things, with excellence and make them memorable. I want members to interact with us on meaningful things and feel like they are getting something of tremendous value every time. I do believe that less is more - great post.

  4. Thanks for the comments all! I appreciate the support....


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