Is your marketing team hanging out at the North Pole while the membership group chills in Antarctica? If these two drivers of engagement are a world apart, it will be challenging to deliver the seamless experience customers expect from their favorite brands.

There was a time when associations didn’t think of their members as customers. We saw their loyalty as beyond commercial transactions. It’s no longer possible to depend on professional allegiance as a buffer for less-than-stellar service.

If the marketing team promises a fabulous new website, and the results don’t include any features members want, there will be issues, not the least of which is broken confidence. Declining membership numbers are a symptom of a disconnect between what your people need and what you deliver.

To align your mission with your brand and reflect that symmetry through products and services, you need to bring membership and marketing to the Equator. These are tips to help them make the journey toward collaboration.

Highlight the Advantages

There are plenty of incentives for these two teams to develop a symbiotic relationship.


  • Promotes awareness and educates constituents
  • Cultivates a pool of prospective members
  • Influences business and identifies market trends
  • Stimulates engagement and promotes interest


  • Provides real-world insight into member behavior
  • Advises on content and professional trends
  • Identifies user concerns and needs
  • Tests and supports product and service development

These advantages double when they are powered by an overarching organizational strategy.       

Integrate Strategy

Effective strategy begins with an integrated plan. The days when board members holed up in a conference room and mapped the organization’s future based on anecdotal evidence, political expediency, and personal experience should be over.

Sharon Rice, .orgSource Managing Director of Business Strategy, explains the new roles like this, “An integrated strategic plan gives everyone in the organization a voice, especially the professionals from marketing and membership.

“The board plays the central role of visionary. Instead of addressing the “how to,” they concern themselves with the bigger issue of “why.” They are charged with posing and answering significant questions like these:

  • Why was our organization founded? What has changed over time?
  • What is changing in our industry?
  • What is the future that we want?
  • What is the future that we want to avoid?
  • What do we need to start asking ourselves now?

After these fundamental issues are identified and outlined, the staff, using their knowledge about available financial and human resources, sets the objectives that will realize the board’s vision.

Integrated planning gives departments, like membership and marketing, a format for collaboration on agendas and goals. Jane Pearson, .orgSource, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Services, emphasized the importance of this partnership.

“Both MarCom and membership have a significant role to play in an integrated planning process,” Jane observed. “Communicators are often on the front lines of coming trends and can spot challenges in the making. They can alert membership to emerging issues. Include your teams in strategy sessions and provide them with the tech tools they need to keep pace. They will reward you by crafting messages that move the hearts and minds of your most important audiences and reinforce brand identity.

“Branding depends on creating multiple messages that speak with one powerful voice across the association. When strategy doesn’t filter through departments, communications lose that impact. Integrated goals, objectives, and tactics keep everyone on point. Content is easier to produce and more effective when all communicators understand the desired outcomes.” 

Use Data as a Connector

Integrated planning isn’t a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that should keep membership and marketing teams working together routinely. Data is an important connector. The numbers, statistics, and trends should inform joint initiatives.

Analyzing website traffic, social media, product sales, and marketing campaigns together strengthens activities on both sides of the equation. Membership can use the information to target new prospects and be alerted to potential lapsers. Marketing can customize campaigns utilizing information from the group that regularly communicates with constituents.

Using data to upsell and cross-promote products and services, both groups can support increased revenue streams. This collaboration improves customer service, events, and user-friendliness across platforms and has a significant impact on member satisfaction.    

Set Common Goals to Inspire Performance

When the teams have established a comfortable working relationship, setting common goals that advance the strategic plan can be a powerful incentive to take collaboration to a higher level.

To inspire performance, set common goals.

For example, an organizational goal of increasing membership by 10 percent, could include joint objectives for membership and marketing teams related to web and social media traffic, new prospect identification, renewing lapsed memberships, and closing new ones.

This degree of cooperation doesn’t happen overnight. You can set the stage for success by:

  • Defining roles and responsibilities. Be clear about accountability.
  • Fostering trust and transparency. Don’t tolerate hidden agendas, negative attitudes, or behavior that’s disruptive to the group. Confront problems quickly and openly using objective information.
  • Recognizing and rewarding mutually supportive activities and behavior. Make successful collaboration part of performance standards.
  • Preparing for the unexpected. Don’t write outcomes in stone. Adjust to changing circumstances. Be ready to seize opportunities when they arise or set a new course to avert disruption.

Outline Processes and Procedures

Don’t let collaboration slip through the cracks. Meetings can seem superfluous and a drain on precious time. It’s easy for employees to be “too busy” to take on a complex new partnership. 

Formalize the interaction between these two groups by providing specific times for them to exchange information and channels for reporting the outcomes of those conversations. Circulate the feedback broadly. Everyone from the board president to the receptionist can benefit from their insight.

I’m a big believer in documentation. When you want to give validity and structure to ideas, put them in writing. Memorialize the relationship guidelines in your operations manual. Getting things on paper is a good way to discover flaws in logic or missing information.

Offer Support

Just because people are employed by the same organization, doesn’t mean they can work together successfully. Supervisors may have distinct management styles, and their teams may be accustomed to interacting and communicating in ways that aren’t compatible. The marketers might love to debate every question, and the membership staff might consider all that dialogue a waste of time.

During the early stages of this relationship, teams may require assistance from a skilled facilitator to develop trust and discover a common language. Our culture expert, senior consultant, Kevin Martlage, advises, “Even great teams can build on their strengths and learn to adjust and respect new group norms.”

A facilitator can help sort through obstacles and guide people toward effective interaction. Yes, extra support is also an added expense, but those dollars might save considerable time, promote buy-in, and improve the overall initiative.

It can be a long journey from the pole to the Equator; keep the wind at your team’s back. Helping marketing and membership work together will increase brand recognition, improve member experiences, and deliver ongoing professional loyalty and success.