Book review: Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations

Membership Marketing |

This is a very challenging book for any Executive of a Membership Organisation … and should be required reading for them.

In this book Coerver and Byers set out a radical agenda for changing the fundamental nature of membership organisations:

  • Adopt a board with just 5 members, based on competencies – this is the most radical change
  • Committees should be chaired and directed by staff (with the appropriate skills) and should be aligned with the business, with peripheral committees stopped
  • The CEO and staff should be empowered to direct the organisation – I think this is predominantly the case
  • Focus your membership at your core and be willing to lose low-value peripheral members
  • Rationalise services and activities to ensure they are relevant, eliminating any “scatter gun” offerings – the book criticises the tendency in many organisations to offer too wide a range of programmes, services and activities
  • Ensure that your IT is up to date and appropriate, which in most cases will mean investing in improvements

The rationale for recommending these changes is the well documented threat – of the attack on the membership market from social media networks such as LinkedIn, media organisations and new entrants into the market with lower cost bases. These new competitors, combined with what the book suggests is a reducing inclination of younger generations to join “official” organisations, provides the background to reducing membership levels and balance sheets that are moving into the red.

In my experience some of the more progressive UK membership organisations have started on the process of reducing their boards, but not often to the 5 suggested in the book. It will be interesting to see how many organisations believe they should adopt the book’s full set of recommendations.

I totally agree with the thrust of the IT recommendations – organisations need IT systems that will support and deliver their services. Often this will mean implementing a website based on a modern, functional CMS and a full CRM. And to be fair, there is a wide recognition that there is a need to move away from the legacy membership admin systems to CRMs that are fully integrated with websites.