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What Leaders Need to Do to Grow the Business in 2022 and Beyond w/ Dawn Sweeney

Associations, Revenue Growth // Hear Dawn Sweeney’s revenue strategies for association leaders on the Member Engagement Show.

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Most associations have dealt with a laundry list of challenges throughout the pandemic. Not least among them: keeping revenue levels up and creating new revenue opportunities. Join us on the podcast, the Member Engagement Show, to hear from Dawn Sweeney about how association leaders can make these goals a reality.

The Guest

Name: Dawn Sweeney

Who They Are: Dawn Sweeney was the longest serving and first woman president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. Prior to that, Dawn was president of AARP Services, the taxable business subsidiary of AARP. She’s currently executive in residence at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a principal for the New England Consulting Group, serving iconic CPG brands across the globe. Dawn was recognized by Washington Magazine as one of the most powerful women in Washington for each of the past five years.

Episode Takeaways

Best Clip from the Episode:

“We all have a sense of fear around disruption and making a mistake. It’s what you do with those fears that matter. You move from comfort into fear, but you don’t stay stuck there. You then move out of fear and into learning. Then you get out of learning and move on to growth. The pandemic didn’t give us any choice. It disrupted us and moved us all from comfort to fear. But if there was any silver lining to the pandemic at all, it’s that there were opportunities in it. One of them was it forced us out of comfort zones and moved us through the fear. Now the task is to get to the payoff, which is learning and growth.” – Dawn Sweeney

Learn from Dawn’s business model to sustain and grow your association

“Everything’s changed, and nothing’s changed. It was always important to have a great team and support that team, but it’s more important now than ever. It was always important for the work to have meaning and purpose, but it’s more important now than ever. It was always important to understand people’s needs and gear products and services to that, but it’s more important now than ever. There really are opportunities to be even more relevant that weren’t there before. And yes, there’s opportunity for growth in this timeframe.”

How you can stop relying so heavily on dues for revenue

“Start with the purpose of the organization. From that go out in concentric circles. Build value for your members by understanding their businesses and challenges. At the National Restaurant Association, one of the first things I did was study the drivers for restaurant profitability. In doing that, I found two or three things that were dramatically impactful. So I focused on those high-gain opportunities. Identify where you can make the biggest impact. You can improve something 100%, but if that something represents only 2% of their cost of doing business, you haven’t done much.”

How to grow a culture that will facilitate change and growth

“Maintain a diverse, well-articulated, well-connected team that isn’t afraid to challenge each other. One that’s willing to work across silos for the bigger vision. That goes for the team within the organization and the team outside the organization, like the board and its leaders. Members must also be willing and comfortable telling you the truth. Heed the data. You can’t get too emotionally attached to an idea until you’re sure it’s worth being emotionally attached to. You even have to be willing to drop things that are only marginally successful. If the data points you in the other direction, don’t let your emotions overrule it. Lastly, embark on continuous improvement. Make it better, then make it better again.”

Advice about affinity programs

“They make sense if they’re connected to the mission. I wouldn’t want to promote things that are two or three steps removed from the core mission. Try to frame the program so that it’s more closely connected to it. Challenge why you’re doing it. If it’s just to raise money for a revenue line, that’s not a good enough reason anymore. In the short term, it’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just try it out and see if it creates revenue.’ But long term, this can damage the brand and trust. Affinity programs are good tools, but they require you to be discerning.”

Where the really big ideas come from

“I don’t think I personally have ever had an original idea all by myself. But if we look around, we’ll see something that was completely unrelated and connect a dot to something that relates to our association world. You can see how a twist or change could make it relevant. It’s easy to get in the zone where you’re just looking at your own vertical and certain competitors. The big ideas come from completely unaffiliated, unconnected industries, or experiences. Look up and around, and you’ll see a new idea.”

Listen to the full episode over on the Member Engagement Show.

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