The Product Community can build a community of innovation in your association by looking at the resources you have. Associations have so many resources: people, ideas, research, and years of experience. They have all the tools they need to create things people really value.

by: Chris Troksa

New Board Member Faigy Gilder Provides her Insights

What is your definition of Product Community?

I’ll take a step back before I describe the Product Community. Associations are having a really hard time right now. I saw this at my own association and I’ve also seen this across the board. At the moment, everything we consume is pay-to-play. Everything is a subscription, and everyone wants to know what they’re getting for that subscription.

Netflix, HBO Max, your grocery delivery- everyone is seeing things in that light now. Decades ago, people would join associations or at least

would more easily have memberships solely because they believed in the organization. It wasn’t a transactional relationship. It was ‘I believe in this association’s mission and vision. I’m going to pay my dues every year or every month because I believe in what they do, and I want to invest in the field.’

Most associations, if you look at the data, have declining membership because it’s just not the way people are doing business now.

So, a part of what the product community does is it really addresses the way people are thinking about membership nowadays, which is ‘What innovation are you bringing me? What products are you bringing to me? What value are you adding to my business? What ROI does my membership get me for me or my business?’

A lot of associations are insisting that prospective members have the ‘wrong’ mentality and push back on it. The Product Community says ‘This is the way it is. Let’s add value.’

The Product Community can build a community of innovation in your association by looking at the resources you have. Associations have so many resources: people, ideas, research, and years of experience. They have all the tools they need to create things people really value. Perhaps those will be the entry products to people seeing value in being a member in general or perhaps people will continue to see membership in a transactional light. I don’t know if it matters all that much. By tapping into the power of community and design thinking, you leverage what you have and create value together. I think it can really reinvigorate an association and membership. People will think, ‘I see the direct value to my business right now. This membership is a no-brainer.’

For any organization, big or small, when you have a staff and you all have to move together in a direction, it just takes longer. The process of upgrading technology, the process of refining your processes – all of these things take time. In the business community, there’s more incentive to speed it up because you see the impact on your bottom line. I think there’s a lag in the nonprofit space, including associations, because there’s a lag in seeing it in your bottom line, but I think now we’re catching up now.

I think associations and organizations are really understanding that you must upgrade your technology and infrastructure to stay relevant. When joining an association, for instance, people expect an experience similar to making any other purchase in their life: it has to be easy, it has to be online, and you have to take the payment methods people are using. Nobody wants to take out their credit card. Nobody does that anymore to buy anything. You have to really make it seamless.

Once people are in what are the emails they’re getting? Do they feel like they’re oriented? Do they feel like they’re welcome? Do they feel like they’ve joined something? Are you onboarding them with easy wins through things your association is offering them? Let’s say you develop products in the product community. Are you emailing them three months after they join to make sure they know about this really cool thing that’s part of their membership? All of these pieces are things I think a lot of associations are working on now.

Why start your own business?

It’s something I’ve thought about on and off for a long-time. I also worked for a consultant years ago, so I got to see a little of what it’s like. After almost a decade of experience and a lot of learning, I felt like I finally have enough experience. I really have something to offer. I also now understand my niche. What I do best is really being scrappy. I’m kind of a Jill-of-all-trades. I’m tech-adept. I can look at your profile overall, and I can say here’s what I’ve seen in the past. Here’s where I can get you. Here’s how you make things. Here’s how you stretch a dollar. Here’s what you need, and what you don’t need, when you’re a small organization. A lot of tools are built for businesses at the enterprise level. It’s a completely different skill set to understand what you can do on a budget, and also the tools you have when you’re building community.

I think nonprofits also have a lot of advantages, especially small ones. A lot of times they’re local and have a sense of place. A lot of times they really know their people. I realized that I can help a lot of places stop trying to mimic  what they see brands do right and instead embrace their own strengths. It’s a different perspective to start from a place of ‘These are the resources we have and these are the goals we have. The advantages we have are different.’

I think what I’m trying to say is this: I finally realized after many years of work here’s what I’m good at, and here’s what I have to offer.

I also realized that a lot of smaller places don’t need someone like me for 40 hours a week. That is a waste of their money and a waste of my time. What they really need is someone who can help them for a few hours a week on an ongoing basis. Maybe coaching just for a few months, or maybe some long-term staff augmentation and deeper expertise. Really it depends on the place. But I realized there was probably a really big market for places that wanted some help but didn’t want to expand their team yet or at all.

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