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Ambitious Associations: How to Harness and Direct Goals

By: Samantha Kilgore, Account Executive 

Have you ever had one of those breakthrough moments in a board meeting that resulted in an idea for a new member program? You know the one. Your board or taskforce has been discussing an issue for several minutes, and you can feel the wheels turning. After a moment of silence (I like to call this the marinating phase of idea generation), a board member speaks up: “what if we…”  Excited by the new program, a few others chime in with equally insightful ideas.

Minutes later you look down and your yellow notepad (iPad or word doc) is packed with next steps and to-dos for 3 or 4 new association programs. As the staff team, it’s time to put rubber to the road and make all of these ideas a reality, right?

Well, maybe.  Here are a few questions to consider as you look to reign in that do-it-all and do-it-all-this-month temptation, and focus on the programs that keep your association on mission and provide true member value.

Does it align with the overall mission?

Strategic planning can be overwhelming, but it is crucial to help lay the path to continued promotion of the association’s mission. Recently, one of our clients set its sights on an upcoming 100th anniversary, took a hard look at who they wanted to be at this pivotal celebration and laid out a strategy to get there. They soon discovered that some of their programs did not resonate with the industry anymore.

If the mission of this organization is provide excellence in professional development, but their programs are no longer relevant to the changing industry landscape, then those programs need to evolve.

Additionally, if the strategy for this association in reaching their 100th anniversary was to be established as a leading professional organization in their field and reach a membership goal, then this board needs new programs to actively help make this happen.

When a new (or existing) program is up for discussion – be sure to ask the question: Does it help our association reach its mission? And if it does, should it replace a program that might no longer yield results for the organization?

Does the membership find it valuable?

One of our associations recently began to explore a new mentorship program for the membership. The mission for this organization is professional development, so the program passed the first test. But was mentorship something the members even desired? If they were interested, would they go so far to participate for a 6-12 month program?

Ideas developed at a board session sometimes may seem like a perfect solution within the confines of the meeting, but it is often worthwhile to take a quick gauge of members to see if they too find it valuable.

This particular survey asked members if 1) they would be interested in participating, and 2) how would they like to serve i.e. mentee or mentor. With positive responses and volunteers for both, this association kicked off the program with 8 mentor/mentee pairs. It’s a small start to a potentially hugely successful program, one that is already proven to achieve the mission of the organization and to be valued by its members.

Is it in the budget?

This one is a tough question to ask, but is worth discussing. Sometimes, there is no financial investment required for new programs. The mentorship program, for example, is a volunteer to volunteer program, so there are no dollars needed from the association’s budget. But, say your organization wants to initiate monthly webinars. Is there room within the budget for a monthly subscription service to a webinar provider?  Or should you consider a partnership or sponsorship with an allied industry company to offset that expense?

Solid member programs generally result in fortified renewals and new members (i.e. income), but it is still important to be fiscally wise in allocating your resources. Consider creating a line item in expenses for new programming, or cushion your membership recruitment expenses to include some wiggle room for new ideas that further the organizations mission.


Here at ASG, we love ambitious associations, and we love being the hands and feet that help make those ideas concrete programs. With your eye on the overall mission and budget of the organization, and a finger on the pulse of your membership, you can keep your organization honed into programs that yield lasting results.


Samantha Kilgore graduated from the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental sciences in 2011 with a bachelors in agricultural communications. She has been with ASG for 5 years and loves reading, music and spending time with her family and husband of 3 years, Matt.