Deanna Varga CEO Mayvin Global spoke to us about the challenges many membership associations and local government organisations are facing on how to reimagine services, maintain service levels and reshape their revenue streams in the context of continuing business disruption. As a specialist in the area of creative revenue generation, Deanna uses evidence based approaches and research to help organisations reinvent and reframe their service offering and business model to meet the transforming needs of their customer base.
What advice do you have for Associations about staying engaged and relevant with their members?
Many marketplaces have had disruptions – minor and major – to their supplier network, business opportunities and customer demands, and therefore, how your members need you or want you to support them has changed. For many associations, there are a vocal few, so it is important that executive teams spend the time to understand their changed, adapted or modified needs.
I know associations who have worked closely with their members, developing mechanisms to really hear their situations and challenges, have either maintained or increased their membership, generating greater loyalty over this time.
One of the best ways to facilitate listening and responding to your members is ensuring strategies for connection – either through forums, face-to-face events, webinars, social media groups, etc. We have seen across the board, that in times of stress, members want to connect with their association and with other members, to share, learn and benchmark their own experiences.
How have membership models evolved and what is the next trend you are seeing emerge?
As they say, crisis is the mother of invention, and therefore, we have seen a multitude of membership models popping up in response to changing member needs. These include providing more agile, and faster-to-market strategies with more ‘front-doors’ to the organisation, including community forums, improvements to websites which allow for more ‘self-service’, social media activations and even using the old phone to complete reach out calls.
At their core, the best models are based on being relevant – for the day (and this can change quickly), being a driving force for the member’s collective needs, and a voice that represents their interests to either government, industry, or peer markets, or all three. An effective membership model has built-in ways to showcase empathy, understanding but also spur action and results.
Many associations have been talking to us at Mayvin Global about wanting to review their models, particularly if their events or content were (pre-COVID) a key source of revenue. The questions many associations are grappling with are – how do you generate the same level of income from non-face-to-face events, especially when hybrid or virtual events options (when done well), can be more costly? And, when the income from events covered the provision of great quality content i.e., an Annual Industry Insight Report for free to members?
The answer lies in understanding your value, your member’s need and how unique your offerings are. This white paper has some terrific insights that could help focus the thinking in this area.
How can regional Local Governments commercialise their assets, whilst staying true to the needs of their community and what part does arts and culture play?
There is a lot to unpack in the commercialisation of assets, and it is different for every local government and community. Part of the success of a commercialisation strategy is that it listens and responds to the stakeholder’s needs and desires for their assets. You could also consider how to engage your stakeholders more frequently or with more quality, consider what you could provide for free to expand lead-generation, review your costing models, use the data already available to you for better insights, and enhance your packages for sponsorships.
There are many examples of local governments commercialising their assets; reviewing other organisation’s journeys is a great way to develop ideas for your own. One example is the work of Singleton Council.
Following several decades of community consultation, Singleton Council is in the process of constructing an Arts and Culture Centre adjoining their Visitor Information Centre which will open late 2021. The council required a diversified revenue stream to overcome an insufficient operating budget, position Singleton as an Arts and Culture destination, complement their Engagement Strategy, and more.
Mayvin Global recommended they focused on building memberships, philanthropy, enhance and diversify their retail offerings and sponsorship packages to meet their short-term financial goals.
How have you navigated research with consumers and industry during and post COVID, and other unforeseen environmental disasters?
It seems odd to say, however some good navel-gazing is a great place to start to collect data for organisational commercialisation strategies. When you start to ask what you can do from within your organisation and consult your members, board, staff and donors, you will always pick up a gem or two. Your people know your organisation best and will often have had ideas they have not had the chance to express.
I often hear organisations do consult their people; however, we need to do this frequently to keep aligned to changing sentiments and expectations. When you have the insights, which can often be derived cost-effectively through a survey tool, the information you collect must also be looped back with those you have consulted. Group together to make your decisions, but always remember not deciding to act is also a decision.
One organisation that committed to research-led decision making was the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service who asked Mayvin Global for data-led, specialist guidance to shape their business cases for long-term commercial and community tourism product development for three key projects: Tomaree Coastal Walk, Tweed – Byron Walking Trail and Hill End Historic Site.
The process involved situational and impact analysis drawn from researching reviews of previous work, stakeholder interviews, site visits of similar or competing destinations and experiences, and a feasibility review. This resulted in data-led, evidence-based recommendations (through a commercial lens) for the 5 and 10-year strategic plans for these new visitor and community experiences.
What should Associations be doing now to ensure the future success of their organisations?
Even though each association is unique, with challenges particular to their membership market, industry pressures, histories and more, I believe there are some strong guiding principles that associations can follow now to ensure the sustainability of their organisation.
First, as I have already stated, stay close to your members. Ring them, consult with them, provide channels for good conversation, make sure the whole organisation understands your member’s pressures.
Second, look to diversify your revenue. If COVID has taught us anything, it is you cannot always predict where the next crisis will come from, so ensuring you have multiple strong sources of revenue is key. Do you have IP you could licence? Could you develop an affiliate marketing program? Apply for deductible gift recipient status to accept donations or bequests? Work with a parallel organisation, either locally or internationally? Use your hard assets differently? The options are endless.
Third, ensure your organisation is not bogged down in bureaucracy or legacy systems and cultures that prevent it from being able to respond quickly and purposefully to changing circumstances. Some associations with federated models (Australia), duplicate their administration efforts to the detriment of member returns.
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