The following white paper is on how trade associations and membership organizations can create more personalized experiences for members.


February 12, 2010

Today, more than ever, better service and customized experiences are the new normal.

A recent survey by SalesForce found 80 percent of consumers say the experience is just as important as the product or service.

Brands like Amazon and Netflix use a customer’s online behavior to provide recommendations for their products. Even Coca-Cola has gotten into the game. In addition to their standard packaging, they now print cans with one of 250 first names. Consumers of these brands also belong to trade associations and member organizations, and they expect the same type of individualized experiences.

For large trade associations and member organizations creating personalized experiences for members is easy. Just write a check. The market is full of software solutions that capture and analyze member data, and then use this data to customize homepages, newsletters, event
experiences, etc.

What if the associations yearly operating budget is less than $10 million? What if the staff is small? Personalizing and customizing the members’ experience still needs to occur. Why?

Membership is the lifeblood of a membership organization. Without members, there is no organization.

A 2019 survey by GrowthZone found 54 percent of associations are seeing membership unchanged or decreasing.

This is alarming when you consider the economy in 2018 grew by almost 3 percent.

Creating Personalized Experiences Starts with Asking Members

Creating a personalized experience requires understanding what members want and need. It does not matter the size of the organization’s budget, the following three questions need to be answered for each member:

  • Why did they join/renew their membership?
  • What topics are they most interested in?
  • How would they like to receive information?

The only way to find the answers is to ask. The best time to do this is when someone joins and each year when they renew. Answering the questions needs to be as mandatory as providing an email and mailing address. Just asking is not enough. Members must be constantly reminded that they are receiving a personalized experience. Every time an organization asks members about their interests, the question should include a phrase about the need for the information. For example:

“Please let us know which topics are most important to you so we can create a more personalized member experience.”

While many associations ask members these questions, they struggle with what to do with the information. Some member management software programs allow tagging and categorization. A less expensive workaround is using an off-the-shelf Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application like Zoho or Salesforce. These general CRMs can be quickly and easily customized to a user’s specifications.

Personalizing Content Can Be Easy and Quick

Providing meaningful and relevant information is one of the most important value-added services an association offers its members.

A survey of 1,000 association members by the tech firm CommunityBrands found 79 percent of respondents felt it was somewhat or very important that the organization they belong provides targeted, valuable content.

When members know they are receiving tailored information, not only do they enjoy the information more, but they also are more likely to act on this information, according to a study at the University of Texas.

For most associations, the weekly, monthly, or quarterly newsletter is the primary touchpoint with members and is the way a majority of content is delivered. These communication vehicles can be easily and affordably customized based on a member’s interest. Here is how:


Let’s use the fictional organization, Left-Handed Pickleball Coaches Association (LHPCA).

When a member signs up (or when they renew their membership) with LHPCA they are asked to rank the following three topics in order of importance:

  • Lesson Ideas
  • Business Development
  • Growing the Sport

Members also are asked how they would like to receive the value-added content. They are given the following choices:

  • Never
  • Once a month
  • Weekly

If LHPCA was a large organization, it would have several publications, each containing articles on those different topics (the three listed above). Because LHCPA is small with a modest budget, the organization has only the resources to produce enough content for one monthly publication.

The lack of resources does not stop LHPCA from providing members a customized experience. The organization creates five pieces of content each month: a letter from the president, a note from the executive director, and one article for each of the three topics. Instead of sending the same e-newsletter to every member, three versions of the newsletter are distributed. The difference between the versions is the order in which the articles appear. For example, members who are most interested in lesson ideas receive the version with lesson ideas first.

To create additional value without exhausting more resources, the newsletter also contains links to articles written by third-party publications. By curating these articles, LHPCA provides additional content without having to create it themselves.

It is also easy and affordable to customize how and when members receive content. For those members who want to receive their content monthly, they receive the version of the newsletter that corresponds to their most important topic. Members who want to receive information weekly also receive their corresponding newsletter each month. However, during the weeks between newsletters, they receive an email with a list of the curated third-party article links.

If the organization does not tell the member, the member probably does not realize they are receiving a personalized newsletter. Whether it is the monthly email or the weekly list of curated articles—in a highly visible location on the publication—is text informing the reader that the information they are reading was developed and presented based on the reader’s stated preferences.

Hyper-Personalized Conference Invitations Demonstrates Further Customization

Invitations to association events and conferences are also a great place to provide personalized experiences for members.

A HubSpot study found calls-to-action targeted to the user performed 202 percent better than generic calls to action.

Personalizing invitations needs to go beyond just adding the member’s first name after “Dear” in the email. It means including information that pertains directly to the reader. The easiest way to do this is by having several versions of the first paragraph. Imagine the impact on a member when they read the invite and it contains information specific to their past attendance.

For example, LHPCA uses five different invitation templates. For those who have never attended, the first paragraph contains language about hoping the member is able to attend their first LHPCA national conference. For those who missed last year’s conference but attended the year before, the first paragraph is about missing the member last year and reminding the member about the great things that occurred the year before. The third is for those who had not attended in the past two years but had attended before that. The last one is for those members who have attended for several years in a row, and the paragraph mentions how many straight years they have attended. An added bonus, personalizing invitations, increase event attendance.

Cutting-Edge Technology Makes Personalization Affordable and Easy

Another way to personalize the member experience without investing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually is specialty software designed for a single purpose.

I mentioned Zoho above. This cloud-based service is modular, which allows the user to only pay for the services they want. Along with a CRM, Zoho includes an email application similar to Mailchimp and recently launched a survey tool similar to SurveyMonkey. Another application is BrightGuest. This innovative software allows non-profits to customize text messages with a corresponding microsite.


For member organizations, providing personalized and customized experiences is no longer an option—it is now a requirement. The technology is available to seamlessly provide these experiences. The challenge is the investment needed to implement solutions.

For member organizations with large budgets, all it might take is writing a check. Small and medium-sized organizations also can provide customized experiences without breaking the bank, it just takes some creativity. Just providing these experiences is not enough. Members must be constantly reminded that they are receiving personalized services.

It does not matter if the organization is a trade association, professional society, non-government organization (NGO), social club, philanthropic group, or religious institution, providing customized, tailored experiences are critical to remaining strong and viable.

Note: Any product, service, company or organization mentioned, highlighted or referenced in this white paper does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by the author or The Gotfried Group.



About The Gotfried Group
The Gotfried Group helps trade associations and membership organizations maximize their communication efforts to increase membership value, improve retention rates, and grow member rolls. The company’s customized suite of marketing, communication, public relations and brand strategy services help member organizations of all sizes. The Gotfried Group’s principal, Steven Gotfried, has worked for, with and lead a variety of membership organizations—from a large national Washington D.C.-based trade association to a local member-led organization.

For more information, including how The Gotfried Group can help you with creating more personalized experiences for your members, please call (602) 568-5067 or email