Here's how to make the case that your association's knowledge should be managed as a members-only benefit.
By Ed Rigsbee, CSP
The acquisition of industry or profession knowledge will continue to be a primary driver for individuals and companies to hold membership in your member-centric organization. However, the case can be made that efficient and effective knowledge management—how your association develops, archives, and makes specific knowledge available to members—should be a member-only benefit.
Most nonprofit organizations define their knowledge management activities and resources as keeping track of, and making easily available, industry or profession knowledge. This typically includes:
Policies, standards, and guidelines
Trade press/scholarly journal articles
Other industry/profession-specific documents
Availability of, and access to, subject matter experts
Peer review committees
Safety and occupational issues
Knowledge sources created by staff
Collective industry/profession stakeholder knowledge
Chances are that a large segment of your members are not aware of the knowledge resources you make available to them. This is a sad situation because so much of the potential member-perceived return-on-investment (ROI) can be demonstrated in this line-item member benefit. However, this is also an amazing opportunity to accelerate your member awareness efforts.
Determine Real-Dollar Value
You can determine the true, real-dollar value of your association's information resources based upon:
Total knowledge availability
Member awareness of available knowledge
Uniqueness of proprietary knowledge
Ease and speed of access to specific knowledge
Resource acquisition time-saving in hourly measurement
While many of the above elements of calculation might appear nebulous, all can be measured. For example, proprietary knowledge can be valuated in real-dollars by the cost of acquisition through non-member benefit (outside) sources and/or the cost to the member's organization of not having access to the knowledge.While it is true that much knowledge is currently accessible through public knowledge management systems like Google, the length of time that it takes to do the search, read through the numerous sites, and aggregate the needed knowledge can be daunting and very time consuming.
Unintended ROI Killer
If your association makes industry knowledge available to non-members, you may be metaphorically shooting yourself in the foot every day. If non-member industry stakeholders can access anything more than industry headlines through your website or from headquarter staff, why would they invest in membership?Consider the value your organization places on knowledge management activities and whether it makes sense for you to reserve all but the most basic industry headlines for members only. And remember that staff must also be instructed in the fine art of only giving away a taste of knowledge—not the whole meal.
When your organization allows non-members to access your knowledge for free, the message is that you really do not value your knowledge or your knowledge management systems and processes. On the flip side, the clear message you are sending to your (paying) members is that there is no membership ROI for information. If enough members discover that you are giving information away free to non-members, your current members may consider relinquishing their membership and still acquire the knowledge.
Measure It Your association delivers yearly, sustainable real-dollar value to members in several areas. By encouraging members to measure each value proposition, they can easily see for themselves, through real-dollar ROI, why membership in your organization is a good business decision. In addition, your members will believe and support what they help create (user-generated content), and hopefully become member recruitment evangelists for your association—convincing "industry parasites” to make a new decision and join.
Ed Rigsbee, CSP is the chief member evangelist at Rigsbee Research Consulting Group, which helps associations access their strategic advantage through collaboration.