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by Kim Heck, CAE, KCSAE Director

When you think of culture, you may think of how your association carries out its work; its values and attitudes that are evident when interacting with those inside and outside of your organization.

Have you thought about how your association’s culture aligns with the culture of your membership?

That may seem an odd question or a question that doesn’t appear to matter.  As association staff we obviously pride ourselves on delivering services to members -- that’s why we exist. A major focus of most associations is to be responsive to members’ needs. A member asks for something, you and your team deliver it.

Our association’s members are scientifically trained in agronomy, turfgrass science, plant and soil sciences, or something similar. It sounds like it should be a rather exacting profession -- send technical info their way and all should be good. Except, throw into the mix the unpredictability of weather on their work and the occurrences of localized pests and diseases that affect turfgrass. These challenges propel our membership to share information with their peers on their best management practices -- what is working for them right now. The result is a more forgiving mindset of members -- a collegiality that supersedes pure science as the top solution to their challenges.  Our association headquarters mirrors this collegial culture. 

Our membership’s culture has been set from the beginning of our association when sharing of information was the only way to get information. Understanding this culture and embracing it as our own at HQ has resulted in strong member engagement.  

Here are a few tips on how we keep that culture alive and well at headquarters:

  • We talk about our mission weekly to make certain that it is front and center as we strive to serve our membership. This is especially critical with onboarding new staff, so that they know the importance of the mission and how they are integral to achieving it.
  • Staff is encouraged to build relationships with members. They may spend a few minutes more on the phone asking about the weather (is always pertinent!) and about their families.
  • We take turns on the phone; every person (CEO included) answers the phone for approximately 8 hours per week. This provides valuable insight into what is keeping our members up at night.
  • We strive to answer the phone on the first ring, so that our members know that their calls to us are a priority.
  • We have 24-hour timing (all-staff-determined) on answering email -- emails are answered within 24 hours -- most in a much shorter timeframe.
  • We use our interactions with committees, at our national conference, and while attending local events as a critical touchpoint of engagement to position us as an indispensable partner in their daily work. We want them to know that we not only have technical resources to help them succeed -- but our collegiality in how the information is delivered really connects them emotionally to the association.

Strong member engagement results in strong retention rates. Our average retention rate is 91%. The next time you interact with one of your members (like in the next few minutes!) keep in mind that your interaction may be the reason that member renews his or her membership.

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