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Putting Members at the Heart of Your Digital Transformation With Rebecca Achurch

  • 5 Min Read

Success means staying true to your north star: understanding and meeting the needs of your members.


We know that membership demographics are changing, and the expectations members have of their associations are changing with them. Associations can’t rely on what they’ve been doing to meet the needs of new generations—they have to evolve in what they offer as part of a digital transformation.

But necessity doesn’t make it any less daunting. A digital transformation is a big change that has ripple effects across the entire association.

Success means staying true to your north star: meeting the needs of your members, no matter their age or stage of career.

In the second part of our conversation with Rebecca Achurch, PgMP, PMP, CSM, CAE, founder and CEO of Achurch Consulting, we talked about:

  • how a holistic learning strategy benefits both the association and its members
  • why we need to make innovation a continuous, ongoing focus
  • making strategic use of technology across the association’s tech stack

How does having a holistic learning strategy benefit both the association and its members?

People often talk about what they do for their annual conferences, webinars and localized learning. Where I see gaps a lot of time is in working with organizations where those are still siloed into specific components instead of thinking about them in terms of the larger learner journey. How do they go together and play off each other?

We talk about how learning has been out there as an island. It’s treated as an isolated component of other things—events, webinars and so on. What we try and do is bust open that door and think about how those assets can be used together.
Rebecca Achurch, PgMP, PMP, CSM, CAE founder and CEO, Achurch Consulting

We try to get real ROI out of all their offerings, not just one silo. We’re encouraging people to look at how everything is coming together and leveraging each piece in the member journey versus just at the annual meeting.

What role does innovation play?

I love innovation, but I feel like when you go in and say, “We need to be an innovative organization,” instead of thinking about it in bite-sized pieces, people think about it as this big, onerous challenge they need to take on.

Sometimes I think if we make innovation a little more approachable—let’s try something, let’s experiment—it feels less daunting to organizations that are maybe more risk averse.
Rebecca Achurch, PgMP, PMP, CSM, CAE founder and CEO, Achurch Consulting

The other part that I worry about when people talk about being innovative is that they think of it as a one-and-done, whereas my philosophy is that it’s continuous. It’s the underpinning of what you want to do. It’s the idea of constantly evolving.

Technology is becoming such an important piece of the puzzle, but is there a pitfall you sometimes see people falling into?

When we work with clients, it’s not unusual for someone to say, “We want to replace our AMS,” which can be a costly and disruptive endeavor. Sometimes I wonder if it’s simply because they’ve become disenchanted or misaligned.

One of the things we challenge our clients to think about is instead of immediately replacing your AMS, consider de-risking it and pumping up a targeted revenue stream. Thinking about learning, for example—how can you build a top-class program that could increase your revenue and help change or adapt your AMS?

Sometimes it’s not that we’re solving the wrong problems; it’s that we’re asking the wrong questions.
Rebecca Achurch, PgMP, PMP, CSM, CAE founder and CEO, Achurch Consulting

By and large, are associations set up for success?

I think some associations are set up for success, but some, to be frank, are not. Some just feel like they’re putting one foot in front of the other and delivering the programs that they’ve always delivered.

As we evolve post-COVID-19, I hope that we don’t forget to challenge ourselves to think differently all the time. If we go back to what we’ve always done, we’ll have some truly missed opportunities.
Rebecca Achurch, PgMP, PMP, CSM, CAE founder and CEO, Achurch Consulting

I’m not going to say that every experiment succeeds, but the idea of experimenting is one that I hope our associations continue to embrace. I think it will be instrumental to their long-term growth as the expectations of younger generations influence and change the way we do business.

The big shift that must take place is from a set-it-and-forget-it mindset to one where we’re always challenging ourselves to improve. It means understanding what that cycle looks like and building in a cadence of how you’re going to review things and decide where to experiment, sunset and grow.

That would be one piece of advice I’d give—budget for continuous growth and iteration versus sustainment.

There are flagship programs that associations will never get rid of, and that’s great. But if we’re not continually thinking about what’s next, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice.

What are the final takeaways you want to leave people with?

When we’re thinking about technology in general and how you’re supporting your organization from that standpoint, the first thing I would say is to keep in mind the generation that’s coming up. What are their needs? How are you meeting them where they are?

The second—which I shouldn’t put in the middle because it’s the most important—is how you’re aligning your resources to your strategy. I see so many people just do the same things over and over again and not really think about how they align with the future strategy. So, it’s really getting disciplined about that alignment and making sure you’re creating budgets to grow the programs you need to build.

Third is the budget. I see organizations not really budgeting for continuous improvement. Innovation is constant and is not something that you do once. So, how are you building budgets, resources and talent for the future versus thinking about what we did last year?

I think when you combine those three items, that’s really the underpinnings of building a successful organization from a technology standpoint and making sure you’re actually providing the highest level of value for your members and your organization.

colleagues collaborating over a tablet in an office

Real Advice to Help You Advance Your Association

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Written by:

Haley Wilson

Haley Wilson is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L, specializing in the corporate learning space. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph as well as a Master of Arts focused in history from Wilfrid Laurier University.

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