How to Grow A Profitable Association – real examples from California & Houston

I was lucky enough to be the panel leader for SchipulCon’s “How to Grow A Profitable Association” presentation, with Tony Brock of (Schipul client) ThinkLA and April Guzik of AIGA Houston. These two organizations have been able to grow memberships and sell-out events despite a rocky economy. It was amazing to be able to pick the brains of these two leaders for some tips on what has made their organizations thrive!

ThinkLA is the Los Angeles ad club and interactive marketing association all in one – as many of the groups in the Los Angeles area found that they were appealing to the same members and competing for the same event dollars, they decided to join forces and combine to form ThinkLA. Today it’s one of the most respected associations in California. One of my big questions for Tony was what he attributed ThinkLA’s event success to – what was the magic that could lead to sold-out events again and again? The two big tips from Tony were “Consistency is key” and “Right-size your venue”. When you start out with a new event for your group, listen to the feedback you get from members. Do they like the event? If so, keep it going. Make it consistent for them, so they always have something they know they can look forward to, and refer friends to. Right-sizing the venue was my favorite tip, and one that seems a bit counterintuitive at first. We all hope that we’ll get a huge crowd for an event – but that doesn’t mean you book a venue for that huge crowd. Unless you’re sure you can fill the space, don’t pick a giant venue. It makes the crowd look small and less exciting. On the other hand, if you have a venue that’s smaller, you may sell out tickets. That’s not a bad thing!! Selling out is actually great because it means that people will be sure to buy tickets early for the next event. By right-sizing your venue, you can create the premium experience you want your members to have.

Not surprising for someone having such an awesome name, April Guzik was really interesting to hear from regarding member involvement. It’s easy to say you’re going to be consistent with events, but harder to do so sometimes – board members get busy, life happens, and things can get pushed back. One thing April has done successfully at AIGA Houston is to welcome anyone who wants to take part in the organization – member or not. She values the help that is offered, and will gladly take help from enthusiastic community members. Both Tony and April pointed to the importance of viewing your association goals and missions to benefit the community at large, not just those who are paying dues. Especially as the economy forces many companies to cut back on corporate memberships, associations who continue to welcome these non-members will only thrive. And to thank those who have continued to support the organization through membership, having member-only events or benefits is a great way to say “thanks”.

If you’re on the board of an association or non-profit organization, I would strongly encourage you to check out out video from the SchipulCon presentation. Tony and April both have a lot of great experience with associations; in places as diverse and complex as California and Texas. They shared a lot of great tips that board leaders can take away and put in to place.

How to grow a profitable association (and be a bad ass member) from Schipul – The Web Marketing Co. on Vimeo.