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IMEX: New association research proves extent of reality gap

The full results of a Europe-wide research initiative into the issues surrounding recruitment and retention of association members have been announced by IMEX and its research partner, The Association Gateway

The full results of a Europe-wide research initiative into the issues surrounding recruitment and retention of association members have been announced by IMEX and its research partner, The Association Gateway.

The report shows that members are very clear about the benefits they expect to gain from association membership. However, for many of them, there is too great a gap between expectation and reality, leading to a slow decline in interest and a gradual erosion of numbers for some organisations.

Says Carole McKellar, an association specialist who is the driving force behind The Association Gateway, and who conducted the study, The reason these findings are so significant is that we now have clear evidence to support what has, until now, only been anecdotal feedback. Previous to this study, we heard from many members that, in some associations, there was a feeling that management teams were out of touch with their membership, for instance. Now we have the proof and we can demonstrate precisely where those failings are. However, for every so-called `failing`, there`s an opportunity for associations to grasp the need for change and to grow and prosper as a result.

The report combines replies from 192 mainly UK respondents, which were compiled late in 2004, with a second, more detailed study. This was conducted in February this year amongst 207 respondents from the rest of Europe. 70.4% of all research participants were existing association members, although 60 more had decided not to join an association. The feedback of this particular group provided valuable information that shed more light on where associations are falling short in satisfying their members.

Where associations are visibly successful, the report finds they all share common characteristics. They focus clearly on delivering good business networking opportunities, a relevant education programme and up to date industry news and best practice guidance. Other factors cited as important for member satisfaction were sound strategic planning, well-delivered services and professional management.

Associations are also cautioned to avoid having the same management in place for too long and to devote time to succession planning. Some respondents were clearly disappointed by a lack of professionalism in their associations, summed up by McKellar as `making a poor connection`. The primary reason for leaving an association was most frequently given as poor communication between management and its membership. `Elitist`,`unfriendly` and `remote` were some of the criticisms made.

Says McKellar, Fresh ideas and good turnover in the top positions is vital to keep associations in contact with their members. Beyond that, a fully-fledged membership care programme is still a rare commodity but one that is crucially important. When resources are limited, planning how to use them efficiently should be a high priority.

Carina Bloom, Marketing and Operations Director of IMEX and organiser of the show`s Association Day, in association with ICCA, said, Independent reports like this one are important for all of us. The scope of the association network within our industry is unique but also, perhaps, more competitive. That means it`s vital to work hard to keep members happy and so protect revenue streams and hard-fought reputations.

The report, `Membership Retention and Recruitment in Europe 2005`, was a joint initiative between The Association Gateway, Resources for Associations and IMEX. Copies can be obtained from the Association Gateway and the IMEX website at

Association Gateway are also holding a training workshop on Strategic Negotiation for Association Success on June 24th at Warwick Conferences.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.