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Is Your Association Developing Strategy or Tactics?

by Christina, on September 18, 2018

09.18 Blog-Post-Strategy-Tactics

At the root of every association, there is one underlying goal: to move your organization toward its mission. A key component of this is a strategic plan. While most organizations have a systemized process to maintain progress in this direction, there are a number of pitfalls we’ve seen that get in the way. One of those is bridging the gap between strategy and tactics.

What is strategy?
Think of strategy as a long-term or big-picture guide. Leadership typically develops strategy to determine a path for the organization. Each strategic objective is supported by initiatives to bring it to fruition.

It is like a bridge over a gap. Knowing you need a bridge to take you to your next destination is the first step. From there, you figure out the bridge’s design, what expertise you’ll need to plan, and the predicted volume of usage. It is a path forward that aligns stakeholders around a common idea for how to overcome an obstacle or challenge. 

What are tactics?
Tactics are actions. They are the finite “to-do’s” and steps that help carry out the strategy. Ideally, they are assigned to a specific person or committee, with regular check-ins. This helps measure and ensure progress to completion.

In the bridge scenario, tactics are the details: sourcing and delivering the materials, the work plan schedule to make it happen, and the opening day coordination.

What does all this really mean for associations? Take these two examples of associations that had been experiencing continuously declining membership revenue:

Example 1: Tactically focused
Association 1 knew that they had a problem, so the Board got to work. In their planning process, each member contributed their ideas for reversing declining membership. They landed on 3 ideas:

  1. Add more benefits to each tier of membership
  2. Send out more reminder to renew emails
  3. Create a member only listserv to increase engagement

Example 2: Strategically focused
Association 2 went through a similar process and took a close look at their current membership. Some key findings included low member satisfaction with educational offerings, had low awareness of member benefits, and that the online renewal process was confusing. They developed the following strategies:

  1. Develop a refreshed content strategy which addresses the various needs of members.
  2. Revamp communications strategy and messaging with more focus on the tangible benefits of membership
  3. Improve the online user experience for membership

So which is best?
Both strategy and tactics have their merits. Association 1 has come up with a definite action plan but doesn’t have a full view on what they’re tackling. Association 2 used their current standings to outline strategies but hasn’t begun to consider how to make it all happen. While each organization is making moves to fix the same challenge, they each miss out on effectiveness by not having both strategy and tactics.

At the end of the day, knowing the big picture helps the pieces fall into place more easily. How do you move the needle on advancing your association’s mission? With a careful balance of evidence-based strategy and smart tactics. From membership to meetings to education and beyond, measured and measurable efforts are the key to moving toward that golden goal.

Topics:Growth & StrategyAssociations