Creating a Strategic Plan That Enhances Member Value

Strategic plans can help guide associations toward future achievements and developments. It’s also possible to give the plan a specific focus if your association wants to change make changes to a major area. Here’s a look at the positive membership changes the Indiana State Bar Association has seen since creating and implementing a strategic plan focused on member value.

When Joe Skeel, CAE, started his position as executive director at the Indiana State Bar Association in 2018, one of his charges was to help strengthen and grow ISBA’s membership.

“Unlike many states, joining ISBA is voluntary for Indiana lawyers,” Skeel said. “So, we need to convince members that there’s good reason for them to join. One of the things I thought we could be doing better was to be more intentional about the programs and services that deliver member value and how we deliver that value.”

In 2020, the association conducted a scientific member survey to determine where members found value from being part of the association. The study found that members received value through education, advocacy, and connecting with other professionals. The results didn’t surprise ISBA. The real task was how to elevate those categories for members.

“For that reason, our plan was largely internal and foundational, it changed or codified our approach to how we delivered member value,” Skeel said.

Determine Responsibilities

According to Skeel, prioritizing accountability and ownership among staff and board members was key to the plan’s success.

Based on the data, ISBA engaged in meetings with its board and determined a strategic plan. The board laid out major goals and then staff fleshed out how to best reach those goals.

After the board approved the plan, ISBA assigned most of its staff members with specific tactics from the plan on ways to deliver value to members. In addition to giving staff clear responsibility over certain tactics, the association also held weekly and then monthly strategic planning meetings so staff could keep one another updated on their progress.

“Accountability was definitely missing in previous iterations of our strategic plans,” Skeel said. “But this plan was driven by the board, and we kept it on track by having three layers of accountability: the board of governors, myself as the executive director, and staff. You need strong accountability to make a strategic plan successful.”

According to Skeel, assigning specific tactics to staff helped ensure that all the organization’s departments were more focused about how to deliver member value and individual staff members approached their own roles and purview more strategically using the plan as a guidepost.

“Staff think about how to incorporate elements form the strategic plan into their purview, whether that’s the member magazine, advocacy efforts, or programs and events,” he said.

Elevate the Value

The survey revealed that ISBA members received a lot of value from their association sections, communities that practice in specific areas such as family law, criminal justice, or trust and estates.

“To bring more value to our sections, we created a decision-making matrix for volunteer leaders to help them decide and plan virtual, in-person, and hybrid programs. We included recommended criteria, key must-haves, and what to avoid for each type of event.”

ISBA also identified five important career stages and career types for members. The association then created personas based on those stages and career types, which helped ISBA determine its approach to educational offerings.

“Through that decision, we launched more cohort groups such as the Young Women’s Associate Empowerment Group, which is open to women in a certain stage of their career,” Skeel said. “We listened to the cohort wanted in terms of education and curriculum and we brough tin speakers and peer to peer support for them.”

Through its work with the group, ISBA was able to cross all three areas of value members had identified—advocacy, connections, and education. Since launching the cohort, that group has developed its own network and mentorship program. Based on its success ISBA plans to create a cohort for managing partners and one for lawyers working in-house.

The association has found that its strategic plan to deliver better membership value has been successful. Not only has the retention rate among young attorneys been steadily climbing, but also members are renewing at a higher rate than they were before the plan was implemented.

“In these ways, we’ve been able to take our strategic plan and reshape how we deliver programs and services to members that are meaningful and valuable to them,” Skeel said.

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