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What’s Your Value? Associations Strive to Define the Value of Membership

July 29, 2013

Many of your members don’t really know what you do or why. At least this is what Doug Rotthaus, CEO of the Omaha Area Board of REALTORS® in Nebraska, uncovered during the first stage of his value proposition development. And he’s probably not alone.

“We conducted focus groups and research with top-producing agents and found some of them really didn’t know what the association was all about,” says Rotthaus. “One referred to us as the ‘club,’ and several showed confusion between the state association and the real estate commission.” This intel outlined some important voids to fill in the association’s communications, he says.

Uncovering what members think the value of your association is and what they believe it provides is the first step in crafting a member-centric way to express why they should be members. It’s called a value proposition, and it was a marketing industry tool for more than a decade before migrating into association management. It’s a promise to members detailing how the benefits they receive in exchange for their dues investment will enhance their businesses and careers.

A value proposition is the member’s rationale for choosing his or her association over another or none at all, says Melynn Sight, a consultant who has helped many associations develop value propositions.

“The process of developing a value proposition forces you to evaluate your services and communications with members from the members’ point of view,” says Sight. “This is a significant shift for many organizations and one that can create meaningful dialogue about current and new member services.”

“But we already list our benefits of membership”

Although most REALTOR® associations have a benefits brochure or a Web page listing all the products, services, discounts, events, and programs that come with membership, a value proposition goes beyond presenting the benefits of membership.

“A value proposition is more than what you get. It’s almost intangible,” explains Sheila Dodson, executive director of Coastal Association of REALTORS® in Maryland. “It’s the problem solving for the member that you do. It’s a description of how we answer their needs and communicating value in such a way that they understand what they receive.”

For example, you may believe that members understand the value of educational courses, but, in fact, many members fail to connect the dots between education and making more sales. This is where your value proposition comes in. The value of educational courses is gaining knowledge that will make members better professionals and lead to career success. The value is what members get out of the benefit.

Members can appreciate this notion because they do it in their business all the time. They don’t just help families find the right house with the right number of bedrooms at the right price; they highlight the value of home ownership, the sense of being part of a community, the investment in the future, and the home as an expression of the owners’ identity.

Why you need a value proposition

If you’ve gone on a broker office visit and chatted with a roomful of young real estate agents about all the association does for them, their businesses, home buyers, home sellers, and the community, you can practically hear their collective, “Oh, now I get it!”

Yet because you can’t always reach all your members and potential members with your explanation of the true importance of membership, your value proposition (printed or posted) can do that for you. It is especially effective when included with your dues bill. As Dodson explains: “Last week, a member popped into my office and told me, ‘When we received our dues bills in the mail, we used to question why we paid them. Thanks to you, we now know what we get from [the Coastal Association of REALTORS®]. Now we don’t have to question it.’”

Crafting the value proposition

A single value proposition can be applied to the entire association, or several value propositions can be developed for specific programs or products. They can also be developed for specific audiences, such as brokers or young professionals.

But before you take your list of membership benefits and start detailing its broader value, look at the value positioning toolkit that a workgroup of 17 REALTOR® AEs spent two years developing. The toolkit guides you through this enlightening and somewhat complex process and covers a range of steps, from who should be involved in crafting the value proposition to how to communicate it to the membership.

Yet if you’re not sold on the value of this process just yet, you’re not alone. “Until I went through the process with my association, I don’t think I really understood the whole concept,” says Dodson, vice chairwoman of the work group that developed the toolkit.

Convening a group of volunteers and staff to sit down and talk about programs, services, and member needs sounds much like strategic planning or program auditing. But, as opposed to a strategic plan (which details your organization’s goals and how it will allocate resources to achieve them) or a mission statement (which describes the core purpose of your association), a value proposition is about how the association fulfills members’ needs. “It’s the outside-in perspective,” says Sight. “A value proposition articulates what members need most and links those concerns to relevant products and services offerings that the association delivers.”

For example, the Coastal association’s Web site doesn’t simply list technology classes as a membership value; it says it provides members with “technology readiness, because knowing the right technology and how to use it gives you more effective ways to service your customers.”

“It’s a whole different way of communicating,” says Dodson. “It’s a big change in how you articulate what you do for members.”

Learning to think like a member comes from your value surveys and workshops. The value positioning exercise involves directly asking members what they value and how valuable certain association services are to them, and then using that feedback to shape your argument that will make members see your offerings in a new, more valued, light.

For example, brokers may say they value “the long-term health of the market” and not connect that to “political advocacy,” notes Sight. “Being educated about what’s going on politically is important to members, but they don’t necessarily say it that way.”

When it comes to showing the value in REALTOR® association membership, translate your programs and services into member solutions and tools.

Idaho’s Ada County Association of REALTORS® held several value-proposition member focus groups where staff presented current programs and members talked about what they wished the association offered. “What became apparent,” says Sarah Kestler, the association’s director of communications, “was that a lot of what our members want or need we already offer, and they just didn’t realize.” The association didn’t need to offer more value programs; it needed to better communicate the value of its current offerings. The resulting value proposition campaign was called “Discover ACAR.”

Claim value offered by state and national

“Realize that you’re not going to get everyone to see the value in everything you do,” says Terry Penza, CEO of the REALTORS® Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach in Florida, and also a member of the value positioning toolkit workgroup. “But if they see the value in many of the things you do, you’ll keep that member.”

What if your value survey uncovers a member need that your services don’t directly address? Remember, you’re not alone in your value proposition. Your state association and the national association are also important parts of the value you offer at the local level. Don’t forget to include federal advocacy on behalf of real estate and home ownership as a feature of membership in your local association, with a value proposition explaining why it matters locally. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has outlined the features and values it offers on its Value of Membership page. Yet, one proposition does not fit all. “Associations vary in their analysis of important member segments, and more important, their core competencies—areas where they excel that best match up with what their important member segments most need,” notes Sight. “If an association can’t substantiate its claim of value, it won’t be credible. It will just be a slogan.”

The touch of salesmanship that comes with communicating value in a value proposition is new to many nonprofits that set themselves apart from other companies that “sell” products or services. But today, in this economy, when members scrutinize every dollar they spend and ask what they get in return for their hundreds of dollars in dues, your value proposition is your answer.

A value proposition:

  • Finishes the statement: Our members joined because . . .
  • Appeals to members’ strongest decision-making drivers (what’s good for my business, what’s good for my career)
  • Is believable, authentic, and 100 percent accurate
  • Is specific (as much as possible in a brief statement)
  • Addresses many, if not all, of the forms of value: quality, convenience, price, trust, image, time, and safety

A value proposition isn’t:

  • A mission statement or association “tag line”
  • Aspirational
  • A laundry list of services

Source: Ken Esthus, Marketing General Inc.; and Tracy Taylor, Natural Products Foundation

Sample Membership Value Proposition

Membership in the [X] Association of REALTORS® helps real estate professionals become more efficient, more effective, more innovative, and more profitable. We want you to be fully equipped to take on the challenges of today’s real estate marketplace so that you and your customers can enjoy a brighter tomorrow. Through our members-only classes on everything from real estate apps to negotiating, our discounts on key business products and services that you use every day, and our extensive networking and leadership opportunities, we are confident that we can prepare you for greater success in this profession like no other organization in the world. Are you ready to join us?

CarolinaHome.com Value Proposition

Your home search begins at CarolinaHome.com and ends in your new home.

  • Connect to a “no-pressure” home search — Come and browse; no registration required.
  • Connect to local market data — We update every 15 minutes!
  • Connect to the community — Match your interests to area demographics.
  • Connect to accurate information — We stand behind our data.
  • Connect to a trusted professional — Carolina REALTORS® abide by a code of ethics that goes beyond what’s required by law.
  • Connect to your future home.

If your location is the Carolina region, begin your home search at the local resource that offers current and trustworthy property information—and is the first choice of sellers to promote their properties. At CarolinaHome.com, our goal is to connect home sellers and home buyers by connecting both to REALTORS®.