Strategies for Overcoming Membership Disengagement in 2024

Transform disengaged members into active participants with our expert strategies. Revitalize your community and drive success today.

Are you facing challenges with member disengagement? This must-watch show is here to guide you through proven strategies for reconnecting with inactive members and fostering lasting engagement. Explore innovative techniques for revitalizing your membership base, especially if you are an association or society looking to increase participation rates and achieve long-term loyalty from every member. Elevate your organization’s impact by watching this insightful interview.

With Special Guest Sarah Sladek From XYZ University.

#1—Sarah, can you outline some of the biggest challenges associations, societies, and general membership-focused website businesses face in 2024?

#2—You have talked lately about one of the biggest problems membership-focused organizations face: silent diseases of disengagement. Can you share some more of your latest thoughts on this particular subject?

#3 – The word community is used quite a bit as the vital mythology to counter disengagement. What are your thoughts on this?

#4—What are one to two key things a membership-focused organization can do in 2024 to help it address disengagement and a slow decline in membership?

#5 – How will AI change how membership-focused organizations engage with their membership in the next 18 months?

#6—If you had your time machine (H. G. Wells) and could travel back to the beginning of your career and business journey, what essential piece of advice would you give yourself?

About Sarah Sladek

Sarah Sladek has been referred to as a social equity expert and recognized as a Global Leader in Strategy and a Talent Economy Influencer. Organizations worldwide have relied on her insights to plan their futures, foster cultures of relevance and belonging, and realize growth.
Leaders who seek Sarah’s expertise tend to want a different outlook for their organizations, but they aren’t sure how to make it happen. They feel stuck. They are overwhelmed by change, turnover, conflict, and decline.
Sarah has the solutions to these challenges and more.

Since 2002, she has dedicated her career to understanding the concepts of engagement and belonging and answering these core questions:
• Why are organizations experiencing more turnover, disengagement, and decline than ever? • Why are younger generations less likely to feel like they belong?
• Is sustainable change possible?

Sarah studies belonging through the lens of social change and generational influences alongside trends and shifts in organizational cultures, workforce development, consumerism, and economics. She refers to this comprehensive approach as Next Gen Intelligence. Using this approach, Sarah has successfully transformed organizations, bringing them to a place of increased relationship-building and revenue generation.

Sarah is the founder and CEO of XYZ University, a training and consulting firm advising organizations worldwide.
She is the author of six books. Her latest book, MemberShift: Why Members Leave and the Strategies Proven to Bring Them Back, was released in late 2023 and was honored with a Nonfiction Book Award.

This Week Show’s Sponsors

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The Show’s Main Transcript And Links

[00:00:06.770] – Jonathan Denwood

Welcome back, folks, to the Membership Machine Show. This is episode 72. Yes, we’ve been going for a year and a half with this podcast and got a really great special guest. We got Sarah Slagik. Slagik? I butchered that, but as you know, listeners and viewers, my ability to destroy my guests’ names is legendary. It’s become a legend, Sarah. So don’t I’m not a ticket to, personally. In this podcast, which I’ve been really looking forward to, is that we’re going to be discussing the silent killer, the silent killer of memberships for your associations, for your nonprofits, whatever organization, or if you’re an individual entrepreneur, something you need to understand about this silent killer of your membership. It’s going to be a great discussion. I’m really looking forward to it. Sarah, Sarah. Can you give us a quick 10, 20-second intro about yourself? Sure.

[00:01:21.990] – Sarah Sladek

I’m Sarah Sladek. I am the author of six books, including the latest, Membership: Why Members Leave and the Strategy that Has Proven to Bring Them Back. In addition, I am the founder and CEO of XYZ University, which started out as a generational research firm. We’ve really expanded to offer courses, consulting, and strategy development for organizations that are struggling to engage the next generation.

[00:01:55.170] – Jonathan Denwood

Yes, Sarah is the expert. She’s written the book, so she does. I watched a lot of her previous interviews, and I thought she would offer some tremendous insights and value to the listeners and viewers. But before we go into the meat and potatoes of this great show, I’ve got a couple of messages from our major sponsors. We will be back in a few moments, folks. Three, two, one. We’re coming back, folks. I want to point out that we’ve got a great Facebook community where you’ve got any questions about membership, you can go and ask them. It’s run by myself and my colleague, Kurt, and you can find this on Facebook by putting it in the Membership Machine Show group. We’ve got a great community there. As I say, if anything about membership marketing, setting it up on WordPress, because you know we love WordPress, anything like that, it’s a great resource. So go over there and join it. Let’s go straight into it, Sarah. So only a tiny question to start off, Sarah. In 2024, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges Association Society, or anybody that’s got a general membership-focused, community-focused, stroke website is facing, Sarah?

[00:03:21.780] – Sarah Sladek

Well, I think that we’re still seeing organizations needing. They’re reassessing and reanalyzing where we are in the aftermath of the pandemic. It seems like the pandemic was a long time ago, but I think the pandemic really rocked a lot of organizations. They were already in this era of disruption and change, there have just been a lot of things that have happened in a short period of time that have impacted membership engagement. Things like economic shifts, consumer things like technological change, and demographic change, and then need to pivot and try to engage people during a time of the pandemic. Now we’re finding Oh, and let’s not forget things like retirement waves. We’ve seen musical chairs happen within organizations and their staff and all my, my, all the things. What I’m hearing from a lot of associations and membership organizations is that they’re really saying, Okay, are we healthy? Are we on the right path? Have we changed enough to stay relevant? Where are we really going? Are we changing adaptive? Are we innovating fast enough? What are the next few years likely to bring? And are we on a to be able to meet those changing needs and expectations in the marketplace?

[00:05:05.280] – Sarah Sladek

So I think it’s just a real-time reflection and asking those really tough questions about strategy and whether organizations are on the right path.

[00:05:17.760] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, that was a fantastic answer. Based on my experience of working with associations, I think they tend to be very conservative organizations. These are They are just generalities, though, so they don’t apply to every organization as you apply generalities to groups or individuals. But based on my experience, they tend to be conservative. They are obviously committee-driven. That has a certain diameter. What are a couple of key things? It’s a follow-through question. What are a couple of things that, based on your experience… You said COVID and retirement, and disengagement, which we’re going to cover in the next question, but one of the main reasons is that the actual people that are running the association, that the top community, they are unaware of some of the problems, or is it a lot of associations that you speak to, they are aware, but they have no roadmap on how to turn the ship around, really?

[00:06:45.510] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of awareness, but there’s a vast difference between awareness and acceptance. It is hard to… Change is difficult. It’s really dang complicated. And what I have learned in my research of membership organizations is that just be brutally honest, there’s a lot about running an association that we don’t know as fact. A lot of what we do when we are volunteering or we’re on staff and we’re charged with growing membership or growing the community, a lot of us borrow best practices from other business models that are not membership models, or we’re passed down information and strategies that were used 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago but aren’t relevant anymore. There just isn’t a tremendous amount of study about things like change management, things like pertinent strategies that are genuinely proven to engage people today. There’s just a lot about membership that leaders don’t know. And so then they fly by the seat of their pants. They try to create on the fly, and it doesn’t always work. I think there’s a lot of awareness, but it’s, Okay, what do we do? We don’t know what to do, or we’re trying these things, but they’re not getting the results we want.


[00:08:26.340] – Sarah Sladek

So people become frozen with fear.


[00:08:29.200] – Jonathan Denwood

I don’t need to buy your book, don’t they, Sarah?


[00:08:31.970] – Sarah Sladek

Yes, they do. Yes, they do.


[00:08:36.870] – Jonathan Denwood

I totally agree with you. One of the things I have recommended, and I don’t know what your thoughts are going to be about this, is that I’ve taken… Because I come from entrepreneurship all my adult life, I’ve run about four or five businesses that would be moderately successful. But I’ve still a lot of ideas from the bootstrap startup world to apply to membership about churn, because in the startup, the bootstrap startup world, Some of the challenges of engagement, getting traction, stopping disengagement, which is for a startup, you get a leaky bucket. You’re spending money in either or in actual paid advertisement to get people in, but you got leaks in the bucket, so you’re losing as many customers from the bucket as you’re filling new customers in the top. So all these concepts from the startup world, I personally feel, to some extent, can be applied to associations and memberships, some of these key things. And these are some of the things that I’ve I’ve recently written about. And also, I’ve blatantly stole your ideas as well, because as Picasso said, the average artist only copies the genius stills. There we go. What do you think about the concept?


[00:10:20.670] – Jonathan Denwood

Are you looking a lot at the startup, and especially the bootstrap? I’ve been influenced, he’s a friend of mine, Rob Rowland, of startups for the rest of us. I, like yourself, I mercilessely copy his ideas as well. But I always say that I do. So what do you think of that concept, taking some of the ideas from the startup world.


[00:10:47.250] – Sarah Sladek

I love it. I think that is a huge reason why membership organizations are struggling, or just organizations in general. Right now, everyone’s talking about relevance, retention, engagement. They’re talking about it because we’ve seen these gaps to relevance and engagement widen and widen and widen. And they’re widening because we really lost touch with our market. There’s so much about how we lead and learned to team build and learn to grow, whether we’re talking about communities or companies, in this very siloed hierarchical model. You cannot have a voice or a seat at the table until you have so many years of experience. Or you work in your department, you do your job. All this segmentation and siloing and hierarchies and all this, it is just killing innovation. It’s killing community building and relationship building and being able to adapt and be nimble. And so many other important skills are lost when we rely on those old-fashioned models. So I think, yes, that entrepreneurial mindset and approach would serve membership organizations very, very well.


[00:12:29.890] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, let’s go on to one of the major questions. So you talked about in your post and that the silent disease, well, maybe it comes from me, maybe you did word it this way, but I word it the silent disease of disengagement. What does that really mean? Is it that the management, the main board, the committee, are not aware of the dissatisfaction, I just got that word out. It’s early for me, Sarah. I haven’t had my five cups of coffee yet. Is it that they’re totally unaware of the… Because that’s what you’ve seen in some of your recent posts, and that seemed to be suggesting that they’re just not aware of the membership dissatisfaction with what they’re getting from the association. Maybe you want to speak about that.


[00:13:37.880] – Sarah Sladek

I started in this career and researching this because I really observed early on in my career that I had a light bulb moment. I was a young professional working in an association, and I had this moment where I started to think, wait a second, where are all the young professionals? Why is everyone on the board over the age of 50? What is our succession plan? What are we going to do if we can’t engage young people? What does that mean for the future of our organizations? Fast forwarding and thinking about here and now, so much has been It’s done just in repetition, so much has been done out of habit. But also when we face a major change or where it sounds like or seems like or we realize things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to be going, we’re seeing disengagement and decline. One of the first reactions to that is, let’s make excuses.


[00:14:53.080] – Jonathan Denwood

I do it all the time. It’s my big rock of AI, COVID life.


[00:14:59.900] – Sarah Sladek

So I often hear, Well, membership must be declining because young people, they’re not joiners. These types of attitudes or thoughts that may seem fleeting but are actually really damaging because we’re prolonging our organizations from really diving in and answering the question, what is it that is truly contributing to decline? Do we know it for a fact? And what are we doing to fix it? I think those are critical questions to be asking. A lot of times, though, we’re afraid of change. And so we blame someone else Young people aren’t joiners, or we tried that already, but it didn’t work, or kids nowadays, or whatever. We come up with all these excuses, and we never, ever really get around to the actual solution, problem solving, and it proves detrimental.


[00:16:06.610] – Jonathan Denwood

I think one of the other things, some of the things I’ve noticed dealing with association, Sarah, is that I have physically gone to a couple of association and they’ve had a media lab where they’ve spent tens and tens of thousands of dollars on video equipment. They’ve got plans to do regular video, podcasting, this, that, the other. After six months, nobody uses it. It just covers dust. Don’t get me wrong, this is important. They want to have a Swiss Army knife CRM system that brings together all the various systems that are used in the association. Then they start looking at sales force, and then they realize the cost of installing sales force. Because they have nobody on staff, that they would have to hire who deserves to be paid because it takes a certain level of knowledge. I’m not having a bash. But when they look at the cost of consultation and having people in the background, they move away from that idea quite rapidly. So is that something you see where it’s like they’re going to buy something, software, or they’re going to buy equipment to solve something that’s a person-person problem. A culture problem.


[00:17:47.020] – Sarah Sladek

Oh, gosh. I see that all the time. Whether we’re talking about, we’ll just launch a Facebook page and the people are going to come running, we’re going to launch a podcast, it’s going to be amazing. We’re going to have so many members, we’re We’re not going to know what to do with it. We’re going to invest in this new software, a new CRM program, a new website, a new brand.


[00:18:08.140] – Jonathan Denwood

That definitely could work, though, Sarah, a new website.


[00:18:12.450] – Sarah Sladek

Well, it can with Any of these things can have a positive impact. The difference is, I think, putting a lot of emphasis that this is our magic wand type of thing. It’s so incredibly important to remember that you’re a membership organization in the first place. Membership means that you are fostering an emotional connection with people, a relationship with people. You’re delivering solutions to problems for them. You’re ROI, return on investment, real benefit for being a part of a particular community and spending their time with you and their money with you. But again, I think a lot of times when engagement begins to wane, we start to see people scramble. It includes also, let’s adjust the dues prices. It’s got to be that, or let’s open the doors. Anybody and everybody can come to this, not just members only, anybody. Let’s start doing more events, and we’re going to invest more in conferences now. All All these crazy solutions that really would be resolved if people spent even an ounce of that energy and time and effort on relationship building.


[00:19:44.720] – Jonathan Denwood

I also think in the startup world, actually talking to the membership in a way, actually doing not the cliché attempt, but actual getting real research, because most startups, they haven’t got market product fit. This is the jargon of startup, Sarah, which I’m sure you’re aware of. I think a lot of association, their association is the product, and there’s a misfit of what the membership wants and what the association. If you don’t do that research, you can try all these other concepts, but you’re not dealing with this mismatch. What do you think of that?


[00:20:32.410] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, I agree 100%. I’m always telling associations, well, it’s really interesting. I find a lot of associations have this fear of, well, we can’t survey people too much, too often. We can’t ask too many questions. We’re going to be wasting their time, et cetera, et cetera. I keep saying, What do you mean? If you’re not asking those you’re guessing. Some of the times you’re not right, you’re guessing incorrectly, you’re making assumptions or stereotypes. Why not know for a fact? Again, if we’re getting back to membership being about relationship building, how are you in a relationship with someone you never, ever talk to?


[00:21:24.300] – Jonathan Denwood

I get a sense when I’ve been asked about this. I get a sense that you really don’t want to talk to their membership. I don’t know if I’m being cruel there, but I just sense a lot of times I’ll be, Oh, well, I’ll give them my spiel, but it ain’t going to go anywhere. I don’t really feel that they want to talk to their membership.


[00:21:45.060] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, I think sometimes it’s seen as a burden, and that’s something that needs to change. That’s part of the problem. That’s why we have a disengagement and decline problem. Right.


[00:21:57.820] – Jonathan Denwood

On to the next one. It’s a It’s a bit of a bug bear for me because obviously, because I do truly believe it, but I think it’s a bit like in the membership world, there’s this term gamification. In entrepreneur in the education, entrepreneur space, because I have two worlds. I have a very widespread of entrepreneur that hosts with us and use WordPress, but then I have my association nonprofit for clients. I’ve spread all two worlds here. But I hear this word community, like gamification, utilized as the tool that will solve all problems. That will make my membership website even more successful. The business plan isn’t exactly work, but we add community to it, and it’s seen as a way to solve all problems. But I’ve never… What is community? What does that really mean, Sarah? Have you got the concept worked out to your own satisfaction? Because it’s such a broad statement that in some ways, I’m going to be very cruel there. It becomes a cliché, doesn’t it?


[00:23:25.420] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, I agree. I think it’s easier for me to say what I think membership engagement is. Membership engagement is an emotional connection people have. They feel a It sounds woo- woo, but it’s true. We find that when people feel truly inspired, included, feel that they have a voice, a seat at the table, a sense of empowerment, responsibility, they feel motivated. They feel their heartstrings are tug as a result of being a part of this organization. To answer your question about community, I think first you have to feel a sense of engagement. That engagement comes from believing and trusting in what the organization does, in believing and experiencing that the organization values values your participation. But then what comes next? You start to not only foster relationship with the organization and the brand, but also with other people who share this value for this organization with you. To me, that’s community. I think when we get into nitty-gritty about where community is, what community is, when community is, I think the important thing is to backtrack and say, Well, wait a second. First and foremost, do our members experience an emotional connection with us, members of all ages, or do only certain sections of people feel that way, feel that connected activity to the organization and then eventually to one another?


[00:25:21.950] – Jonathan Denwood

I’m going to be a little bit controversial here, Sarah.


[00:25:25.150] – Sarah Sladek

All right, go for it. I love it.


[00:25:27.480] – Jonathan Denwood

Because I am a little bit… Because I do another podcast, Sarah, that I’ve been running for eight years, and it’s in the WordPress agency freelance world, and I’m known to be a little bit controversial in that podcast. I totally agree with your statement, but I think with a lot of these complicated problems, there’s a duality to them, right? And I think it’s in the world of my other podcast, because I don’t want my other podcast to be boring. I’d rather come across as a bit of an asshole than a guest or somebody to think I’m just a bore. It’s just part of my mentality, my childhood, the way I was treated. I’m a bit of a rebel. And I think this is the problem with a lot of content that’s produced by associations and also entrepreneurs. It’s boring. But the problem is, if you want non-boring, You got to be a bit edgy. The problem with edginess is it can dive into toxicity in being quasimental more political, and in this environment, I can see why people want to shy away with it because I’ve shied away from it. But on the other hand, everything, in my opinion, has an element of politics to it.


[00:27:15.670] – Jonathan Denwood

How does the organization, because I’m sure you’ve had these discussions, how does the content that the association produces that generates this community community, this person to person that you’ve been talking about, how does it produce? Because so much content I see, so many organization is dead boring. Have you thought about this yourself and you got any insights? And what do you think of what I’ve just stated, Sarah?


[00:27:50.590] – Sarah Sladek

Well, I agree. It is boring. Our research shows that people are… That’s part of the disengagement situation. Members aren’t reading material. They’ve stopped reading newsletters and publications. We see it really apparent among… When we do data analysis of surveys and client research, we always break it down by age group, and we find this huge curve. Older generations love the print publications, and they’re okay with it, but it way declines for younger generations. And part of that is we’re seeing that for young people, actually, they produce. So Gen Z, little tidbit, Gen Z consumes and creates more content than any other generation. But also, we know that Gen Z’s brains have developed differently in that they obtain information and memories almost exclusively through videos. So high, high visual learners. That’s going to change how we educate and inform and train. We’ll have to not be boring anymore. We’re going to have to think creatively and think in terms of multimedia and in terms of shorter snippets, more visual, more graphic, all those types of things. I think you’re probably very well aware of that with your content interests. But I think also when we tie community and content together, it looks like news.


[00:29:37.890] – Sarah Sladek

It looks like interviewing people and getting their best practices, their case studies, their stories of what’s working, their perspectives. It’s good if you have unique perspectives and people of different backgrounds and ages and skill sets all contributing. To me, that’s when cognitive diversity happens, that’s good stuff, right? That’s where community is adequately represented. We’re not just hearing one voice, one section, but all voices, and it creates a robust learning opportunity.


[00:30:16.550] – Jonathan Denwood

I totally agree with you there. I just want to… Like in the WordPress world, Sarah, there’s different silos, different groups around different technology solutions in WordPress. They’re extremely passionate, these groups, but over the last 18 months, in my opinion, some of these groups have become very toxic, and they attack other individuals and other groups. So I think it’s a balance, but I think it’s the leadership of these communities, because maybe leadership had said, You need to toe down, you need to back off. That’s not right. And I think in some of these groups in WordPress, there has hasn’t been that leadership that’s told people you need to back off. Because I think there’s always a strain between producing content that’s basically a yawn fest and stuff that engages. It may be a little bit spicy, but it’s done in a good heart and have an organization that’s open and welcoming, that doesn’t focus on individuals Because we are in that world where you got online bullying and the worst aspects of online technology, haven’t you?


[00:31:43.260] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, definitely. And I think it does require some facilitation on the organization’s part or a leader’s part, just to just very clearly have guidelines and rules. We’re here to share opinions, but not to be cruel.


[00:32:08.280] – Jonathan Denwood

No. Before we wrap up the first half of the show, Sarah, I think this might be one of the reasons why organized organizations shy away, why they keep with the… What I call… This is only coming from me, Sarah. What I call as the collective Yorn Fest. Yes, right.


[00:32:27.540] – Sarah Sladek

The energy vampires.


[00:32:30.270] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, they produce… You got to get the grammar totally right. Also, I’ve noticed with a lot of associations, especially professional organizations, and I do understand it, there has to be They are obsessed with the quote. There cannot be even the slightest grammar mistake. Every video, every podcast has to be of broadcast quality. This fixation about everything has to be perfect, which leads to nothing being produced.


[00:33:05.880] – Sarah Sladek

Right, exactly. It’s putting so much pressure. But also it’s getting away from authenticity, and that’s what people want right now. Is that trustworthy, authentic messaging and resource?


[00:33:18.860] – Jonathan Denwood

Right. We’re going to go for our break, folks. It’s been a fab discussion. It’s met my expectations of where the discussion would go. We’re going to have our break, folks. We’re We will be back in a few moments. Is it a tea? Yeah.


[00:33:42.820] – Sarah Sladek



[00:33:43.630] – Jonathan Denwood

Oh, it’s coffee, right? I’ve got coffee. So three, two, one. We’re coming back, folks. We’ve had a fab discussion. We’ve got a few more questions to cover areas. But before that, I want to point out that we’ve got a great course that’s available on the WP Tonic website. If you’re looking to set up your WordPress membership website and utilize the best technology and get some free advice. We got a FAB free course. If you go over to the WP Tonic website in the next week, we will have details about that. So let’s go straight into this great discussion. What’s one or two key things that organization can do That might start to turn the ship, the Titanic, that’s going towards the iceberg of disengagement. Are there one or two? Because I’m sure that you are asked that straight away. Sarah, we’ve hired you for consultation, but one or two things we can do straight away? Are there any things that you say that you need to deal with, or is it really Or maybe you can give a group of things based… Because there must be some generalities of the scenarios that you face.


[00:35:24.290] – Sarah Sladek

Right. So one of the first things that I recommend, first, well, a couple of things. No Number one, if you haven’t done research lately, it’s time to do it. You need to survey. Survey members, we have a practice that we use where we really measure and analyze on certain drivers that we know are proven to yield membership engagement. But the point being, you need to know what’s keeping your members up at night, what they really value about your organization, what’s proving to be a hurdle for them within their participation. As soon as we can identify some of those things, we can start to fix them. Wouldn’t that be great? A lot of times, again, it’s just really funny how some people are like, Oh, I don’t know if we want to know, or, I don’t know that we want to survey. It just boggles my mind. But anyway, so first of all, research. Second of all, let’s start breaking down some of those silos. What I typically do is bring together a group of stakeholders, meaning let’s bring a group of people of various ages, backgrounds, skill sets, years of experience in the organization, and they only need to have one thing in common, and that’s that they’re all really passionate about the association and the association’s success.


[00:37:00.360] – Sarah Sladek

Then let’s have a facilitated conversation and brainstorm and talk about the vision and the opportunities for this organization. When we’re doing that, we’re achieving a couple of things. We are beginning to basically build our own internal think tank, which can go on to become a real grassroots marketing effort for the association. But we’re also beginning to learn and teach from one another and build cross-relationships because we’re immediately getting rid of those silos to engagement and those barriers to entry. One of the other things I would suggest, too, is Really assess whether you are aligned with trends. And this one I find a lot of associations say, Oh, we’re very aligned. Yes, we know exactly. I know. I’ve got friends all the But then when you sit down and you start really diving in, it’s like, No, we never talk about this stuff. I mean, really assessing in the next five years who and what is coming next, who and what is likely to disrupt your organization. Because if you’re only planning for here and now, you’re always going to be in this process of trying to hurry and catch up. The idea is to plan for yes, for now, but to plan for sustainable growth.


[00:38:32.700] – Sarah Sladek

And that requires really being looking towards the horizon and trying to anticipate change and be ahead of it, be ready for it.


[00:38:43.960] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, a couple of areas that I think that are, based on my experience, that are the initial things that are most acceptable. And then if you can get some result and build a relation relationship, the other parts that I would suggest myself become more acceptable. And these are two areas, obviously educational training, online training, but training that is around getting results, not building a course that is what I call War and Peace online, because a lot of your membership haven’t got the time to do War and Peace. They all, based on my experience, want to produce War and Peace because they see it’s a way of value. These, what I call microcourses with clear outlines that can improve the performance of the membership. Also online membership groups is a Combining that with the microcourse structure, I found that they can be initial wins, where they start to get a little bit more engagement, and then your suggestions it’s a little bit more credibility and you listen to a little bit more. What do you think of that?


[00:40:21.180] – Sarah Sladek

I love it. And guess what? You’re building community. Those relationships with one another. Because it’s true that And again, it might sound corny, but it’s so true. If people have friends, mentors, people they admire, if they have relationships with people in the organization, they’re more likely to continue to be a member and to engage more often. So if there are opportunities like groups and things like that, to help to foster those connections and that relationship building, it’s a win-win for everybody. The win for the association because you’re getting higher retention and engagement and a win for your members because they’re seeing greater value.


[00:41:12.620] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, because I found if you just start If you don’t put in place the microcourses with micro-outcomes, if you just build the group without that other part, the groups, it’s very hard to get engagement on the groups. But if you build some microcourses that have real outcomes, you find that people do want to join the group, and then it encourages the initial discussion of what they’ve learned and that in the microcourses. So they feed one another, but I might be wrong.


[00:41:45.810] – Sarah Sladek

No, and I think you’re spot on.


[00:41:48.820] – Jonathan Denwood

I don’t normally hear that, Sarah.


[00:41:55.040] – Sarah Sladek

Well, I do. I think you’re spot on with that. I think, and And again, we find that research shows people want the opportunity to learn something from the organization, be able to lead something in the organization, and be able to make a difference in the organization. So that learning piece should not be overlooked. It’s very influential.


[00:42:22.650] – Jonathan Denwood

So let’s go on to the next thing, AI. I utilize a lot of AI, and I found it very helpful because I have a little bit of dyslexia. So I find utilizing AI tools have been… And I’ve spent a lot of time delving into it, and it’s made a big difference to the output that I’m producing to some extent. So I think, what’s your own thoughts about AI? I think it could really help associations, or it could make the situation a lot worse, because I think they can just produce a lot more yawn fest stuff. The possibilities of producing comatised material is endless with AI. How do you think… What’s your own views of AI? How can it benefit associations or not? How do you see it? Things change changing in the next year, 18 months around it, because I wrote a bit about AI strategies of association, and I got a fair bit of feedback about it because I’d judge. It So I judge this quite a few organizations thinking about this. So what’s your own thoughts, Sarah?


[00:43:56.030] – Sarah Sladek

Well, first of all, I’m going to be totally transparent and say I’m not an AI expert. I have been slow to move-There’s a lot of people say they are, but there’s very few that actually are. Yes. But I will say, I think that Yes, I think AI is a fantastic tool. You mentioned a great example of something, there are aspects where AI can fill in, do tests, can make things very turnkey, can make things more accessible, so on and so forth. I think that’s fantastic. What I’m cautious about, and what I urge associations to be careful about is AI is not creative, not really, and AI is not relationship-oriented. So we have to be very careful to make sure that if we’re using AI, it’s to use it to enhance the operations and some of the reach and some of that. But it is so important not to have it replace. As I was mentioning previously, younger generations, especially, they want that authenticity. It’s that need to trust an association that they belong to is so incredibly important. The need for emotional connection is key to membership engagement. We have to be human. We have I have to get quirky, not be a young fes, be unique and different and colorful and fun.


[00:45:40.990] – Sarah Sladek

I advise so many organizations I work with, one thing that I find it is the most lacking. It’s fun. It’s like, I will ask clients, When’s the last time you did something fun? And I’ll get these strange looks like, We don’t have time for fun.


[00:45:59.480] – Jonathan Denwood

I’ll imagine you get some very strange looks when you mention the word fun. Isn’t that sad?


[00:46:09.560] – Sarah Sladek

Who wants to be part of an organization that isn’t fine? That taps into a human need, I think. But anyway. So yes, I think AI is going to continue to evolve. I hope it becomes a fantastic tool to enhance but not to replace the real work of associations.


[00:46:31.960] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, I totally agree with you, but I’ve been thinking about this. I think not only associations, but people that are running, entrepreneurs that run in their own individual membership, what you don’t understand is the amount of content. If you’re going to move the ship, the amount of content that you have to produce, because I’m a small business with a small team, but if you knew the amount of content that I was knocking out each week, Sarah, I would imagine you’d be impressed, actually. I would hope you would be, because on average, we produce about 30 articles a month, and I do about 30 videos a month, and three podcasts a week.


[00:47:24.850] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, that’s a night. You’re a content engine.


[00:47:27.780] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, and it’s the main I’ve utilized to move the business forward over the past four years. I think association don’t realize if they’re going to really get engagement, really build community, the amount of content that they’re going to have to produce to churn the conversations I have, they are just not aware. Now, they’ve also got this, as I touched earlier, they’ve got this complex that it has to be top… Everything’s got to be top quality, professional quality. This is around this duality that I mentioned. They need to get over that to some extent. But they also… Obviously, there’s a cost. They can’t normally employ enough people. Well, I say that, but then they’re prepared to throw half a million to a million dollars on getting Salesforce set up, and then six months later, they’re hardly using it. I’m not sure about that, but you can’t employ our army to produce the content. That’s what I think AI, but it all has to be edited. It all has to be read. I use it, but I mix it with video, podcasting, and then I edit the content, add to the content, and that’s how I deal with it.


[00:49:07.190] – Jonathan Denwood

And that’s what I would suggest to people that consult with me. But I just don’t think, and that’s where I think the greatest benefit would come from, because it would enable association to get over the hunt and realize they just got to produce a lot more content. But if it’s content that’s a total yawn fest, That was the problem, so they got to understand that that’s the duality. Is this making any sense, Sarah?


[00:49:41.230] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, absolutely. I will say, as I mentioned, Gen Z consumes and creates more content than any other generation. So you might be a Gen Z, Jonathan, because you produce- I’m a X.


[00:49:56.170] – Jonathan Denwood

I’m one year in to be X I’m not a baby, Booba.


[00:50:01.990] – Sarah Sladek

I’m one year. Well, you are Gen Z-ish in that you produce a lot of content. But something I urge associations to consider is, are there opportunities in your association to include Gen Z in that content creation. Invite them to do some videos or some blogs or podcasts, whatever the case may be, social media takeovers, article writing, research. They enjoy it. It’s an opportunity for them to learn, to meet other people in the community. It doesn’t have to be perfect and so professional and polished. We’re in a different era now.


[00:50:45.540] – Jonathan Denwood

So that- Yeah, it has its place with certain content, hasn’t it? Certain content has to be polished and- Certain, yes. It’s finding this balance. I think this has been the thread of this discussion, hasn’t it? That Finding a medium middle road for each association. But I found, and I think you’ve hinted that, there’s surprising… Well, it’s not surprising in some ways, resistance, isn’t it? It’s a crying need. They know there’s change, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of it, I get a lot of resistance. So I’ve learned just to do it baby steps, because otherwise, you’re just going to be blanked off straight off.


[00:51:36.160] – Sarah Sladek

Yeah, definitely.


[00:51:38.100] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, let’s end up with one of my favorite questions. If you had your time machine, like HD Wells, Sarah, and you could go back to the beginning of your career and business journey, what one or two pieces of advice would you love to tell yourself, Sarah?

[00:51:59.790] – Sarah Sladek

See, you asking me that question means I’ve reached a certain age because you don’t get asked that question when you’re a young professional. It’s like, Oh, my goodness. Now I’m one of the old ones.

[00:52:14.160] – Jonathan Denwood

I don’t think you’re old. I’m old. You’ve got plenty of life in you, but I’m seen.

[00:52:22.230] – Sarah Sladek

Oh, my gosh, I hope so. All right, let’s see if I had to go way back. I would say trust your gut. That would be number one. Trust your gut. Your intuition is usually spot on.

[00:52:41.210] – Jonathan Denwood

Before you go into your second one, I would like to make a remark. You’re so right because all my balls-ups—I knew there were balls-up on my intuition at the beginning—I made so many excuses about a situation or individual that looking back, it’s hilarious, isn’t it? It was all there right in front of you, but you made so much stress out of it.

[00:53:09.930] – Sarah Sladek

I think we second-guess ourselves, sometimes for years. Trust your gut. Related to that, my second advice would be that it’s okay to fail. Fail fast. If you fail, you’re learning something. If you never fail, you’re not improving. So, I think it’s okay to fail. Fail fast. Get up, dust yourself off, and move on. Jump back in there.

[00:53:47.080] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, I tell you, I’m a duality because, like I say, I’ve got a bit of dyslexia, but I’m also a perfectionist. And that has not always served me well. But my best side is that I’m a plodder, so I’m pretty happy to grind it out. But I can be a bit of a perfectionist about my own performance, which is a duality that I’ve had to back off and be more understanding of myself. So, Sarah, I think it’s been a fab discussion. To say I think we’ve covered a lot of ground.

[00:54:31.820] – Sarah Sladek

We did. We certainly did, yes.

[00:54:34.550] – Jonathan Denwood

So, is there hope for the association that’s experiencing disengagement? Oh, my gosh. They need to go off and buy your book, so don’t. Yes, buy the book, definitely.

[00:54:47.150] – Sarah Sladek

But yes, there is hope. I think the most important thing to remember is if this engagement is happening, it’s fixable because one thing, even in this era of change, that will never change is our desire to belong. That’s part of our innate human desire. We want to belong to something. Associations were built for belonging. So if we can do the research, get relevant, and build community, you will see growth. It’s inevitable. You heard it here, folks. It’s inevitable.

[00:55:24.740] – Jonathan Denwood

Sarah, what are the best ways to learn more about your company and yourself?

[00:55:31.470] – Sarah Sladek

You can check us out at XYZUniversity. Com, or drop us a line at hello@xyzuniversit. Com.

[00:55:45.750] – Jonathan Denwood

Thanks so much, Sarah, for coming on the show. Thank you, Jonathan. Hopefully, later in the year or at the beginning of next year, you will come back on. We have another feast of knowledge. We’ve got some guests coming on the show in May, and we’ve got some great podcasts that will give you value in the next couple of weeks, listeners and viewers. We will be back next week. We’ll see you soon. Bye.

[00:56:12.060] – Sarah Sladek

Bye. Thanks, Jonathan.

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