By Denman Wall
Last month, we kicked off a new series of member spotlights whereby we conduct interviews with NYSAE members entirely through email. Why? Well, because our members are awesome and unique. This month, we continue our series with an interview of Jennifer Ian, Director, Member Services and Chapter Relations at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and NYSAE board member.
Jennifer has been at the forefront of NYSAE’s ongoing efforts, contributing her time and knowledge to help the organization improve its marketing and membership position. When you work with Jennifer, you immediately feel bolder and stronger because of her tacit knowledge, cool demeanor, and respect of team dynamics.
Jennifer A. Ian MBA, CAE, Director Member Services and Chapter Relations, American Thoracic Society and, NYSAE Board Member.
Denman Wall: Hi Jennifer. Thanks so much for your contributions to the association community here in New York and for participating in this interview. Tell us a bit about your background and, particularly, what attracted you to the world of marketing and membership in the association and not-for-profit sector?
Jennifer Ian: I started off as a teacher (elementary and English as a second language) and then moved into the business world, working at KPMG in several research, communications, and marketing roles. After many years there, earning an MBA in marketing along the way, I felt I needed a new challenge. A coworker suggested nonprofits, which he had previously worked at. Next thing I knew I was the first marketing director for the New York Society of Security Analysts, using marketing as my bridge between nonprofit and for profit. While at NYSSA I also took on the role of membership development with great results from my first campaign (which earned me a certificate of recognition from ASAE’s former awards program). My subsequent association jobs have been in membership and chapters which I enjoy and which utilizes my marketing skills as well as my love of data and numbers. I also enjoy the challenge of wearing many hats that is common in the association/nonprofit world as it deepens my experience and knowledge.
Denman: I too am a data and numbers person while others are not. How do you utilize numbers and how does paying attention to the data benefit you and ATS?
Jennifer: Creating and maintaining a dashboard of membership statistics and charts to track member growth, retention rates, attrition rates, patterns, trends, identifying areas of strength or those that need more focus, including any that impact revenue, or are tied to specific ATS events or new product launches.
Denman: You and I certainly go pretty far back in our time here at NYSAE and I have enjoyed working with you on various initiatives over the past few years. Would you share with our readers how you first learned about NYSAE and its mission?
Jennifer: Thank you, me too and yes we have! Someone told me about NYSAE. I was new to nonprofits and needed a way to build my knowledge and resources. I joined. Admittedly I was an on again, off again member for years, attending a program here or there but staying on the outskirts. Over time I stepped in deeper and began to see the value in getting more involved to help NYSAE and the profession, strengthening my own skills in the process. I got involved with NYSAE committees, was a panelist at one of the institutes, and was on a task force to update NYSAE’s website. I help to run the Executive Women in Nonprofits SIG, and now am on NYSAE’s board and will again be involved with the membership committee this year. Organizations like NYSAE, and their members, are tremendous resources.
Denman: As a member of the NYSAE board of directors, what are you looking forward to the most as we approach our 100th anniversary?
Jennifer: This past year, as board liaison and a member of the PR/Marketing Committee, I helped to create NYSAE’s new tagline: Where Non-Profit and Association Leaders Connect, Innovate and Grow. I look forward to seeing us continue to live up to it, grow and thrive!
Denman: Awesome! How has your involvement in NYSAE influenced your day to day life as Director of Member Services and Chapter Relations for ATS?
Jennifer: My NYSAE membership opens doors when calling a member with an issue, to gain new ideas or to locate a needed resource. Also, I decided to pursue my CAE a few years ago, inspired by some of the other CAE’s among the membership. Knowing I am part of the NYSAE community feels good!
Denman: Some organizations seem to struggle with expressing the value of membership, whereas others seem to excel. Can you share a few tips about how membership organizations can more effectively define the value of membership?
Jennifer: This is an ongoing struggle for associations who face increased competition, including free information online. We’ve moved from exclusive to inclusive membership and few of us are the only game in town. Here are some suggestions:
(1) Express the value of your membership in a way that addresses members’ issues and concerns. Not “You’ll receive two newsletters with your membership” but “You’ll receive two information-packed newsletters to keep you informed of the latest research and technologies in the field …”
(2) Quantify the value of membership in your collateral. “Your member dues are $200/year, but the value of the goods and services you receive is more than $850 …” and provide details of this, like a value price list.
(3) Use member testimonials to talk about the value of membership to your prospects and current members.
(4) How do you stack up? Pay attention to your competitors’ products and services versus yours, their offerings, dues, etc.
(5) ‘Touch’ and recognize your members. Thank your volunteers. Thank them for joining, for renewing. Offer good, timely customer service.
Denman: Thanks for those. In organizations with chapters, growth and sustainability are paramount to success. What tips can you share with our readers about working with chapters?
(1) The national organization should provide guidelines for chapter operations but allow chapters some independence as well. Have a chapter charter agreement or comparable that spells out basic requirements for a chapter.
(2) Provide a chapter leader community. We have a chapter council at ATS that has meetings and calls and provides a network among chapter leaders for sharing and problem solving, as well as a bridge to national. At a previous job, we held an annual chapter leader meeting to build chapter management skills and community among this group. This structure is also helpful if a chapter is having trouble.
(3) Offer incentives/contests. Some I’ve used are financial awards for chapters that recruit the most new members, new chapter startup grants, and we are currently crafting a contest for chapter programs that focus on early career professionals.
Chapters can be an effective local presence for national, which in turn provides value to the association!
Denman: What is on your agenda for the foreseeable future that you can share with our readers?
Jennifer: Three initiatives come to mind. A new member brochure tailored to member segments, an ATS Fellow designation, and we are near the end of a member survey.
Thanks to Jennifer for her contributions to NYSAE and for contributing to our community through this interview.