Membership Excellence ... More than a numbers game?

CIOL's Head of Membership Jane Galbraith offers her thoughts on membership excellence as MemberWise's latest guest blogger:

Is achieving excellence in the diverse and intricate world of the professional association really attainable? Are membership professionals all slaves to the metrics in pursuit of excellence? Do we run the risk of losing sight of what’s important when we are chasing the tiniest of percentage retention increases or finalising a recruitment campaign the millennial generation can’t ignore?

As we head towards Membership Excellence 2016, it’s clear that as a profession we are not happy to simply jog along – whether you are in the premier league of professional membership organisations, the big guns, or, like the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), are serving a smaller niche market, we all continue to strive for answers in the pursuit of membership excellence. The golden fleece, the nugget of information that will help us achieve higher retention rates, increase new members, add value to our membership proposition, improve member engagement, drive more traffic to our websites, make our social media blogs go viral, be the thought leader and so it goes on.

I joined CIOL in March 2015, at a time when it was ready for a step-change. CIOL had been serving the professional interests of linguists for over 100 years and was celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Royal Charter and life was good. Membership numbers were stable, retention rates good and new member numbers satisfactory – but good, satisfactory and stable are not words that scream excellence! So we went back to basics and scrutinised every aspect of the membership model including its rules any by-laws (and I’m still recovering!).

At first it seemed like a mountain to climb but throughout the process, we kept our members at the heart of what we were doing and what we were trying to achieve – a new membership model that would better serve the professional interests and

Jane Galbraith, Head of Membership
needs of our members and, as importantly, a pathway that would encourage young, aspiring linguists to come on board and create that all important affinity.

It’s been a fast and furious 10 months and I can honestly say, that what we have achieved is nothing short of phenomenal. I can’t believe quite how far we have come in a short space of time but it’s not a journey that I’ve travelled alone. In addition to the excellent and dedicated team that I work with at CIOL, I had a strong army of support through the various membership networks and associations I belong to. So when I wanted to understand how I could package membership up with our professional qualifications, without bringing on the wrath of Ofqual I might add, I asked fellow membership professionals. This was just one of many questions and so in the pursuit of membership excellence at CIOL, I was able to turn to my peers for support and guidance.

Through associations like MemberWise and the desire for us to share our successes and to learn from each other, we are a powerful force. The theme of the forthcoming Membership Excellence 2016 conference is Membership – Evolution v Revolution, and, up until now, I really hadn’t given much thought as to what camp I’d put myself in. I’ve been in this business for 20+ years and the challenges I faced as a young (’ish) membership administrator back in the nineties to those I face today as Head of Membership, haven’t changed… but the industry has.

We are all so much more aware of our baseline data and critical indicators, we know our starting points and how we can measure success and we understand that whatever we do, our ambition to seek membership excellence, by continually challenging ourselves, is now more achievable. Going through a revolution in the pursuit of membership excellence was the right path for CIOL but we won’t be standing still, so expect a question or two from me as we continue to evolve! I’ll leave you with this quote from Tom Peters, which sums it up very nicely:

“Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change”.

Jane Galbraith, Head of Membership, CIOL
March 2016

First published by MemberWise, 1 March 2016