When you’re starting an association, it’s usually in the service of a simple but powerful goal: bringing people together to advocate for their shared interests. But even the simplest goals aren’t necessarily easy—and they usually require a pretty sophisticated strategy to back them up.
The specifics of your strategy are going to vary depending on your industry or your members’ interests or any one of a hundred other factors—but there are certain best practices that pretty much all successful nonprofit association strategies have in common.
7 Things Your Association Strategy Should Include
Mapping out a strategy for your membership association isn’t a one-time process. That strategy will be constantly evolving and adapting to new facts and circumstances. If it doesn’t, then your organization won’t last.
But, while every association’s strategy is going to be somewhat unique to that specific nonprofit, there’s also going to be a lot of overlap. Here are seven different elements that any association strategy—including yours—should include.
1. Align Your Mission and Vision Statements
It doesn’t matter how many sound strategic principles you put into place: If you can’t clearly explain what your association’s mission is, it’s all going to be for naught.
So, step one, craft a compelling mission statement that captures your core values and objectives.
But don’t forget to craft a vision statement, too, that lays a vivid picture of the future you aim to create. Your strategic plan should explain how each individual initiative under your mission contributes to realizing this vision.
Get all of your nonprofit’s stakeholders involved in this process. Engaging your members, staffers, board members, and key partners will foster a sense of ownership and commitment that enhances your nonprofit’s impact.
2. Focus on Financial Management, Not Just Fundraising
Obviously, building a steady stream of revenue is going to be an important part of your strategic plan.
From traditional fundraising methods like membership drives and community events to embracing crowdfunding or corporate partnerships, your plan should include a variety of revenue sources that go beyond simply collecting membership dues.
But managing those financial resources is equally crucial. Your strategy should carefully outline how your nonprofit will manage its funds. This includes creating a realistic budget, allocating your resources efficiently, and ensuring financial transparency for your members.
3. Include Plans for Member Engagement and Retention
Building a strong membership base starts with recruiting new members, but it doesn’t stop there. If you don’t have plans in place for member engagement and retention, all those new members you brought in are going to churn right back out again.
Start by developing personalized communication strategies that resonate with your members. Whether it’s through members-only newsletters, exclusive updates, or direct outreach, make your members feel seen and valued; it will strengthen their connection to your cause.
Outline engaging activities and events that align with your mission but also provide opportunities for members to actively participate and contribute their skills.
When the time comes to ask your members to renew, the message you send could be the tipping point factor that leads to them re-upping their membership—or it could be the final straw that sends them packing.
Want some help? Use the free member renewal letter template and best practices laid out in the article below to compose your message.
4. Develop a Public Relations Plan
Advocacy is about being the voice of change. Your strategic plan should outline the issues that matter most to your members while also position your group as a credible and influential force.
Identify your target audiences, whether they be policymakers, community leaders, or the general public, then develop communication strategies for each group.
At the same time, you’ll need a slightly more formal public relations initiative that shapes and maintains your organization’s image. Your strategic plan should detail how you’ll engage with the media, build community partnerships, and effectively communicate your organization’s values.
Strategic storytelling, media engagement, social media campaigns, and community collaborations are some of the different ways that your association might want to share its mission and values with the wider world.
5. Outline Governance and Prioritize Development
Whether your association operates with a board of directors, committees, or specific leadership roles, a well-structured governance plan sets the stage for effective decision-making.
Start by outlining your organizational structures. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and reporting lines to ensure transparency and accountability.
Don’t stop there! Your strategy should also detail initiatives for leadership development, mentorship programs, and succession planning.
By nurturing a skilled and motivated team today, you’ll be setting yourself up to achieve your long-term goals tomorrow.
6. Build Technology Into Your Strategy
In 2024, it’s hard for even the most cash-strapped nonprofits to run without using technology. But relying on Google Sheets as your database will only get you so far. As you build out your strategy, remember that technology isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must.
Addressing cybersecurity and data privacy is important, too. Outlining measures to protect sensitive information will help you earn the trust and confidence of your members.
By incorporating technology into your strategic plan from the ground up, your association can position itself as a forward-thinking organization ready to tackle challenges and seize opportunities.
7. Plan to Change Your Plan
When people make plans, the universe laughs. That’s why any good strategy needs to include room for adaptation and change.
Create a culture of adaptability with a strategic plan that encourages flexibility and equips your staff members with the mindset and tools they need to navigate unexpected challenges.
Periodic reviews shouldn’t be just a formality; they are an essential part of the strategic process. Your plan should include scheduled, periodic evaluations—at least once a year, but more often would be better—that allow you and your team to reflect and adjust.
Never forget that the journey toward nonprofit success is not a straight line; it’s a continuous evolution. Make sure your strategy leaves you room to adapt and survive.
Find the Right Software to Support Your Strategy
Crafting a successful nonprofit association strategy for your organization is going to be a lot easier if you have the right membership management solution to help you put your plan into action.
For a full rundown of membership management software—plus a look at eight top solutions, including Neon CRM for Associations—check out our mega guide:
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