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News & Views

News and views from the team at SMS. If you have anything you would like posted here please let us know.

  • 06 Jul 2016 7:54 PM | Anonymous

    You are not alone if you say, "great..." (with much sarcasm), when faced with another strategic planning session. You know it’s going to be another Saturday never recovered.  Kids sports missed, silly get to know each other games and often some attendees will feel that the strategy has been mapped out with a smaller group some time before, making the formal session, lip service.  So, off you head....


    The word "strategy" is pretty simple.  It means an action plan designed to achieve a particular result.   We use it in business, politics, sport and school (I regularly ask during my parent teacher interviews - so, do you have some strategies we can adopt to help them focus more ... ahhhh, boys!).  We all want our teams engaged and enthusiastic about our strategic plan, so it needs to be kept pretty simple and be achievable, practical and measurable.  Otherwise all that eye rolling is absolutely justifiable.


    Your strategic plan must be a living document.  Not one from which the dust is blown off when a potential new board member is doing their due diligence.  This requires a commitment from your planning team that the plan will be practical, understandable, achievable and will inspire your team to get in and make it happen. Additionally, it's important that the plan makes sense to both your internal and external stakeholders. 


    A three-year plan is generally a term that most associations are comfortable with.   The projects which drive the plan need to be assigned timeframes, a responsible person/team and able to be tracked and reported against with ease. 


    This approach is practical and engages your team in the plan's implementation structure. 


    Jane Schmitt is a lawyer by professional with significant experience in executive management and has been CEO and Company Secretary of the Australian Medical Association Queensland (AMA Queensland) since 2009. Jane is available to provide direct assistance to organisations seeking to develop and implement their strategic plans. For more information, please contact Jane on or +61 417 799 235.

  • 05 Jul 2016 8:21 PM | Anonymous

    Data collection is underway for the Annual Member Communications Survey. This survey provides a comprehensive snapshot of their profession. With valuable benchmarking stats and a plethora of data-driven insights, it is a useful tool to help spark internal conversations about bigger budgets, bolder creative ideas and more powerful marketing and communications strategies. Respondents to the survey will receive a first-look at the exclusive report. Please click here to participate in the survey.

  • 18 May 2016 11:27 AM | Anonymous

    By Julian Moore.

    Potential sponsors don't sit at their desks all day waiting for your proposal to arrive. For many, sponsorship is one part of a larger role which keeps them very busy. This means your proposal isn’t just competing with other sponsorship proposals (of which there will be many) but also with many other distractions for a share of their attention. Having a well-crafted, compelling partnership document is a critical first step in getting the attention of a potential partner.


    A good proposal is a particularly useful step where little or no prior relationship exists with the potential partner. A compelling proposal can be an invaluable tool for enticing the other party to the table by making them excited to learn more about you. Once it has completed that task, it is up to you to build a strong personal relationship with the prospective sponsor and turn that interest into a long term, mutually successful partnership.


    The focus of your proposal will change depending on the value of the money you are seeking. 


    High-value partnership proposal – When seeking a high value partnership, there will generally be a significant amount of tailoring required. The purpose of a high-value proposal is to get the prospective sponsor excited about the prospect of meeting with you to speak further. To achieve this, you should outline the potential benefits of working with you without being overly prescriptive regarding the opportunities. These specifics will be worked out in collaboration with the partner once they have determined they are interested and then documented in a formal agreement. This kind of proposal typically includes: a covering letter, a cover page, a positioning statement, an overview of opportunities, a list of key contacts, testimonials, and some indication of pricing.


    Low-value partnership proposal -  When seeking a lower value sponsorship (roughly up to $35,000 but will vary between organisations) you can shorten the sales cycle by being more prescriptive about what the partner receives (as long as it is tangible and nothing as naff as just putting their logo somewhere). This kind of proposal is often used in Annual Partner programs where an association may have a number of partners they manage. This kind of proposal includes everything outlined above, with more detail on the benefits to the partner (rather than just an overview of opportunities), as well as an application form containing terms and conditions. Once the signed application form and payment is returned this becomes the contract for the arrangement.


    If you would like a sample copy of a high-value and low-value partnership proposal (including the terms and conditions) please let us know.

  • 18 May 2016 11:18 AM | Anonymous

    By Belinda Moore

    When email first became popular, we were all excited about this new communication medium. It was cheap and you could send millions of emails with the click of a button. It was a big bandwagon that everyone jumped on.


    And that’s the problem. People are now so inundated with email that response rates for all but the most innovative communicators are dropping - and response rates from well-crafted direct mail increasing.


    The cost savings and potential reach are so attractive that we’ve seen many associations leap with both feet into entirely electronic communications to members without first testing to concept. Please note that “testing” doesn’t mean “asking your members if they’d prefer electronic communications”. That kind of approach doesn’t account for the subtleties of membership engagement as evidenced by the following example:


    A client was interested in moving to electronic communication. We recommended they first test the impact. They asked members who would prefer electronic communications.  100 of the members who opted for no hard copy communications were sent only electronic communications – including an e-magazine. 100 of the members who opted for no hard copy communications continued to receive all hard copy communications.


    At the end of two full renewal cycles the control group who had continued to receive hard copy communications had been retained at the same rate as previous years. The retention rate of the group who had received only electronic communications was zero. Not a single member from that group had been retained. This was a truly shocking result. While I believe there were multiple factors that led to this startling outcome, we concluded that a significant factor was that the process of receiving a magazine (even one likely not to be read) was still powerful enough to reinforce the value of membership enough to encourage renewal for that association.


    Electronic communications are just a single tool in your communications toolbox. Consider how you can most effectively, and economically, use all the tools at your disposal. Some associations have become quite clever at integrating their hard copy and electronic communications. One client has a process where the initial communication is sent via email. A hard copy communication is only sent to those recipients who didn’t click through from the initial email. This is a clever way to ensure your message has been received.


    The focus of your communications should be on delivering information that is useful, interesting, or compelling for your members (not something you consider interesting about yourselves). As you are competing with a myriad of other formats and content, you need to utilise a variety of communication channels and formats to ensure your communications reach the recipient.

  • 30 Mar 2016 11:41 PM | Anonymous

    The Certificate in Governance for Not-for-Profits is Australia’s only course for governance professionals with a focus on the not-for-profit sector. Six courses that fulfil the requirements of the Certificate in Governance for Not-for-Profits will be offered over three days as part of an intensive study course. Details of the Certificate are as follows: Date/s: Tuesday 19th April – Thursday 21st April. (9:00am – 5:00pm). For more information, please contact Mary Jarratt at the Governance Institute of Australia on 03 9620 2488 or

  • 30 Mar 2016 10:42 PM | Anonymous

    By Julian Moore

    Securing new, high-value partnerships is NOT about selling your organisation.


    When you send your proposal, the purpose of your proposal is not to tell the potential sponsor everything about your organisation. The proposal is a teaser whose role is to excite the reader into wanting to learn more. 


    When you follow up your proposal on the phone, the purpose of the call is not to tell the potential sponsor everything about your organisation. The purpose of that call is to secure a face to face meeting to discuss things further.


    And when you do get that meeting, the purpose of the meeting is not to tell the potential sponsor everything about your organisation. The purpose of the meeting is to ask questions to learn more about what the sponsor is trying to achieve, what marketing channels work most comfortably for them, and what their idea of a “successful” partnership looks like. It is your opportunity to build a genuine relationship with the individuals in the other organisation and seriously evaluate whether they are the right partner for your organisation.


    With the information you have gathered, you can tailor your sponsorship package to effectively achieve the outcomes your potential sponsor is seeking in a manner both organisations are comfortable with. Now is your opportunity to make a compelling, high value, offer with measurable, tangible outcomes for all parties. 

  • 30 Mar 2016 10:42 PM | Anonymous

    By Belinda Moore

    I have worked with a number of associations recently who have wonderfully high retention rates but very low growth rates. After investigating further, it became apparent that all these associations have a wonderful range of services, many very happy members, and absolutely no sales function whatsoever. To fix this situation, and to effectively recruit new members, you need the have the following processes in place:

    A process for generating leads into your organisation. To create new members, you need prospective members. This means developing strategies for generating leads. This can include attending trade fairs, viral campaigns, and strong internal policies around the collection of opt-ins from prospective members with whom staff and volunteers come in contact with.

    A process for building a relationship with prospective members. Recruiting and retaining members is a bit like dating. Just because you are ready for them to join doesn’t mean they are ready to make that commitment. Having some regular non-member engagement is a great way to enable prospective members to get a feel for the organisation. This can include issuing free e-newsletter and enabling non-members to register to attend your events (at a much higher fee). 

    A process for converting someone from a non-member to a member. There are many great sales channels for membership including direct mail, e-mail, outbound telephone calls, and/or an on-the-ground sales team. Associations who are growing the most strongly use a mix of all of these. After a heavy swing to email over the past 7 years, we are now seeing associations generating an excellent return from sending a well-crafted direct mail piece followed up by a phone call.

    It is vitally important that every prospective member enquiry or outbound campaign is followed up with a phone call. This is an absolutely critical element to member recruitment success. With the advent of cost-effective, outbound call centres specialising in associations (such as Optimum Contact) there is no excuse for these calls not being made.  

  • 30 Mar 2016 10:41 PM | Anonymous

    It is impossible to make informed decisions regarding your membership strategy without knowing your membership statistics. At the most basic level you should know your Retention Rate, Growth Rate, Loss Rate and Average Tenure – by each membership segment. If you don’t know how to work out these statistics, please download The Membership Managers' Handbook (2015 Edition) and read page 18. If you would like an excel spreadsheet with the formula, please email me.

  • 15 Mar 2016 7:17 PM | Anonymous

    By Belinda Moore

    With the right approach, great things can be achieved by associations working with few staff and limited financial resources. Belinda Moore from Strategic Membership Solutions is running a full day workshop entitled Practical Strategies for Turning Around a Small Association with Few Cash Reserves and Minimal Staff Resources in April and has the following tips for those wanting to achieve a significant turnaround in their organisational performance.


    1. Prioritise – and stick to it! - You don’t have the resources to be all things to all people. If you try to achieve everything at once you will fail. Plan your turnaround process carefully. Note all the tasks that need to be completed in order of priority. Then start at the top. You will be pressured by people who want their particular interest area prioritised. Don’t feel guilty about saying “no”. Turnarounds are a step-by-step process, and you risk failure by diverting attention and resources away from the tasks that need to be immediately accomplished in order to reach the end goal. 
    2. Don’t just budget – cash flow! – If cash is tight having a budget isn’t good enough. You need to live by your cash flow. This spreadsheet maps out all your anticipated income and expenses. When budgeting be conservative on income and generous on expenses. This gives you a buffer when you hit one of the inevitable speedbumps that will crop up from time to time. Don’t fall into the trap of allowing the inclusion of unrealistic income targets to make the cash flow work.(Not worked with a cash flow before? For a free template email
    3. Ensure you have the right team in place – Having one wrong person on your team can completely derail a turnaround. Ensure you have the right Board, management, and staff in place to effectively plan and execute the turnaround. If there are people on the team who aren’t part of the solution, get rid of them as quickly as possible. For a turnaround to be effective everyone on the team must be working together – and working hard.
    4. Streamline your administration and processing functions – Unnecessary administration diverts valuable time resources and creates the need for costly additional administrative support. If entering into a turnaround phase, first streamline your administrative processes to minimise data entry and automate everyday tasks (such as event registrations and membership processing). Remove barriers to joining and renewing (such as unwieldy application processes). This will provide a solid foundation for future growth. There are a number of low cost, cloud based integrated database and website systems such as that are quick and easy to implement.
    5. Focus on delivering compelling tangible member benefits – Associations that succeed aren’t those with the most benefits. They are the ones that deliver the most value to their members. Identify the most compelling value you can deliver to your existing and prospective members and focus on delivering that. Don’t be distracted by investing resources into minor benefits. Be prepared to let go of the benefits that may have served you well in the past but are no longer compelling to members. If you don’t know what your members currently value, then ask yourself the question … “If our association disappeared overnight what would our members miss?” 
    6. Don’t run a membership drive – Selling membership with few staff and financial resources is a difficult challenge. Make the task easier by getting prospective members to come to you. Select a cause that is deeply relevant to your members and prospective members. Create a focused and bold advocacy plan to achieve a specific outcome around that cause. Don’t be afraid to think big. Make membership the positive by-product of making a tangible difference to your members’ lives. 
    7. Run awesome events – The symbiotic relationship between successful events and strong membership growth are well recognised.  Make your events the “must attend” for your profession or industry. This means focusing on the details – engaging speakers with great content, compelling programs, innovative formats, fresh venues, great food, and air-conditioning that won’t freeze or boil your delegates.
    8. Use the competitive edge that being an association gives you - Other organisations can compete with your products, services, and events. It is far more difficult for them to compete with a highly engaged membership. When planning your communications, events, and other programs, find ways to emotionally engage with your members. Reduce barriers (like those awful automated telephone systems) between yourself and the members. Don’t be afraid to show the human side of the association. Your events are a useful tool for leveraging this advantage.
    9. Seek few sponsors at a higher value – Sponsorship seeking takes a lot of effort. Seek a handful of industry exclusive annual partners who are a natural fit for your organisation. Find out how they will measure the success of the arrangement. Structure the partnership to achieve those outcomes. Schedule to catch up with them every couple of months.  Create a situation where you, your members and the partner all win.
    10. Communicate! – Great internal and external communication are critical to an effective turnaround process. This isn’t just sending out the occasional update to staff or members. Communication is a two-way street. Get your key stakeholders involved in the process. Get them passionate about the purpose you are trying to achieve, get them actively involved in implementing the plan, and (very importantly) take the time to celebrate each successful step along the way.  A turnaround is a team effort that is made more successful when all team members are enthusiastically pulling in the same direction.    

    For more information on Association Turnarounds read our Small Association Turnarounds - A Step by Step Approach White Paper.
  • 25 Feb 2016 10:19 PM | Anonymous

    By Belinda Moore

    I was sitting in an association board meeting recently and a discussion on the topic of “how much should we be charging sponsors” was underway. When I heard one person argue that they shouldn’t raise the sponsors fee because “we don’t have thousands of members” I had to step in.  The conversation went something like this …


    Me:       How many you are currently using the services of your current investments partner?

    Board:  Almost all of us.

    Me:       Of those using his services, how much in total do you have invested with them?

    Board:  [After a quick consultation around the table] Almost a billion dollars.

    Me:       Wow, that’s a seriously large amount of money. How much would that be worth in fee income to that partner?

    Board:  Not sure. At least a million per annum. Probably more.

    Me:       And how much are you charging them per annum for the partnership?

    Board:  Around $10,000 ... and it’s exclusive.

    Me:       Hmmm … Do you think you might want to edge up that partnership fee just a touch? 


    While the size of the investment was somewhat stunning in this instance, this situation is not uncommon in the association sector. Few organisations devote much time to measuring the return on investment the sponsor is gaining from the arrangement. This invariably leads to a situation where you either:


    a)       Lose the sponsor because they aren’t receiving value (and you haven’t cared enough about the partnership to make sure they are); or

    b)       Lose out on income because you are providing value to your sponsor that is way out of proportion to what they are investing.


    Talk to your sponsors. You need to know how THEY define the success of the partnership. Once you know how they are measuring success, you can track and report against those variables. I guarantee you this information will be invaluable. It will become the focus of discussions when renewing or on-boarding sponsors. And, in our exceptionally competitive sponsorship industry, it will set you apart from the competition in a very positive way.

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