The Innovators: Alliance for Women in Media Adopts Free Membership: Associations Now

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By Melanie DG Kaplan / February 1, 2013
Erin Fuller, FASAE, CAE of the Alliance for Women in Media (photo by Bill Cramer)

Some might call it a free membership and they would be right. But Erin Fuller calls her stroke of genius “radical inclusion,” and it helps the Alliance for Women in Media thrive.

From a young age, Erin Fuller, FASAE, CAE, understood a thing or two about customer service. Her mother, the CEO of a small nonprofit, enlisted young Erin’s help at health fairs and shows. She registered participants, collected surveys and distributed water. The service element has stayed with her, and today, more than anything, she understands the needs of communities and knows how to meet and integrate them.

During Fuller’s short time as President of the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM), she made sweeping changes within the association, resulting in a stronger web presence, more streamlined communications and a complete transformation of the membership structure, which — contrary to tradition — eliminates annual dues for most members. Two years after the launch of the “freemium” model, AWM is experiencing growth of over 400%, going from 1,500 members in the paid structure to around 7,000 in the AWM community today.

“We’re a media organization and our members are influential, tech-savvy media professionals who work in places like Time Warner and Sony,” Fuller says. “If they have poor communication experience, they won’t want to engage in the community.

From old school to modern cool

With the speed at which things move in today’s media world, it’s no surprise that for AWM 2010 seems like an eternity. Earlier this year, Fuller was working as Group President of Strategy and Innovation for Coulter Nonprofit Management (a position she still holds today), which manages AWM.

When I looked at membership from a business perspective, I thought to myself: what if we get rid of it?

“AWM was an old-fashioned membership organization,” she says. “But really what the organization does are recognition programs like the Gracies [annual awards honoring the best media programming created for women, by women, and about women], which generates around 65% of the global turnover. When I looked at membership from a business perspective, I thought to myself: what if we get rid of it? “

Fuller says the goal was to increase AWM’s advocacy weight and make it more attractive for sponsorship dollars. She brainstormed with the staff on various membership models, and at the end of the process, in July 2010, AWM asked her to become president. His thought, “Oh, no. Now I have to implement this!

But Fuller was well positioned to spearhead the revolution. She has worked in association management for two decades and is recognized as an expert in the economic empowerment of women. In executing the new membership model, she received strong support from the AWM Board of Directors. Still, she insists the move wasn’t as risky as it might have seemed. “I tell people, ‘You might think I’m a genius, but it wasn’t that much money,’” she says. Membership dues made up about 10 percent of AWM’s total revenue, and she figured they could easily replace them and devote more staff to some neglected areas, including the website.

Shortly before Fuller’s arrival, the organization changed its name from American Women in Radio and Television. In her first six months, in addition to the membership decision, she deleted AWM’s print magazine, added an email newsletter called FastForward, relaunched the website, changed chapters to affiliates, and created a new logo. , which happened in its first 30 days.

AWM Executive Vice President Amy Lotz, CAE, said there was some anxiety among staff members about all the changes, but they knew it was the right direction for an emerging industry. prey to change. One of the keys was to simultaneously strengthen the brand, through the logo and the website, for example, and change the number of members. “It’s like [pulling off] a bandage, ”Lotz laughs. “You have to do it quickly. The more you drag it, the more difficult it becomes. “

Valerie Blackburn, past chairman of AWM’s board and chief financial officer for six CBS radio stations in Los Angeles, said the change was a calculated risk. “People in their twenties and thirties aren’t used to paying to belong to something,” she says. “They don’t pay for Facebook or Twitter. In retrospect, she says, implementing Fuller’s changes was “the best thing we’ve ever done.”

Restructuring of members 101

By eliminating dues, AWM gave “community members” free access to AWM’s website and all communications. Those who pay a fee of $ 75 (up from $ 110 previously) enjoy perks such as being able to vote for leaders and purchase tickets for the event before other members. One of the most dramatic changes with the new business model has been the move away from an old-fashioned approach to membership application data fields. AWM had more than 24; today there are five.

“We read studies that say for every additional domain people are less likely to sign up,” Fuller explains. “Our philosophy is radical inclusiveness. We want to include as many people as possible. Since the information-gathering process was cut short, not once has Fuller wanted more data.

The increase in membership has led to an increase in awareness of the organization’s annual Gracie Awards. Requests increased 26% from previous years without any additional marketing. The increased cash flow from this event and new symposia (such as ‘Women’s Media Ownership’ and ‘Digital Literacy and Girls’) in various cities combined to make up for the loss of revenue due to the membership.

Two years later

Today, AWM sends out a weekly email newsletter. The eclectic content ranges from updates on women advancing in electronic media to pop culture gems like the launch of Media Barbie. Fuller is a firm believer in not adding to the blocking in member inboxes. “Our members are all mobile and email is their life,” she says. “We promise that we will not bomb them.”

With the growth of its members, AWM has broadened its reach. But more than ever, the association depends on its famous members – with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers – to help spread the word. Katie Couric, for example, tweeted about an AWM panel she moderated, and ESPN’s Hannah Storm tweeted that she was honored to receive her fourth Gracie Award.

Of course, the economy remains a challenge, especially as it affects corporate donations. According to Fuller, it takes a lot longer these days to go from an introduction to a donation. She had hoped to meet projected contribution levels a year earlier, in 2012. But she says the tight fundraising environment pushed her back to the original plan, hitting her goals in 2013.

“All of us, in the for-profit and non-profit world, have had some very difficult years,” says Blackburn. “To that end, some people would have sat down and said to themselves, ‘Whew. It was a bad year. Hope next year will be better. She says Fuller and his team turned lemons into lemonade, such as creating the event Couric tweeted about, adding tens of thousands of dollars to AWM’s coffers in no time.

“Under another leader we might still be talking about it, but with Erin we are miles ahead,” said Blackburn. “He’s a force to be reckoned with, and I think so in the best possible way. Without it, we would still languish by the side of the road.


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