Skip to content
Metal Treating Institute

MTI’s Story: Harnessing Community to Digitally Transform

The Metal Treating Institute (MTI), a nonprofit trade association, chose online communities as a tool for digital transformation to retain younger members.


The Metal Treating Institute (MTI) is a nonprofit trade association built to support its members, companies in the heat treating business. It has 370 member companies across 40 U.S. states and Canada. MTI adopted an online community in 2009. This is their digital transformation story.

Wondering how your association can stay relevant, effectively connect with younger members, save staff time, increase revenue, and boost retention? We’ll let MTI tell you.

Before MTI adopted an online community, it was short on staff, didn’t have an AMS, and its revenue was decreasing. The trade association needed to update its value proposition dramatically to thrive again. That’s where the value of communities came in.

MTI chose community as a tool for digital transformation, and has achieved the following successes with less than 4 full-time staff members: 

  • 50% decrease in transactional requests due to community
  • 2600% revenue growth in 14 years
  • 97% member retention rate

How do they do it? We sat down with Tom Morrison, MTI CEO, and Kristen Speer, MTI Director of Member Experience, to hear their story and learn about how they’ve harnessed the power of online communities to tap into the future of their membership and provide maximum value.

“We’ve used technology, including our online community, our learning management system, and our benchmarking database to empower our members, help them do more for themselves, connect with them, and expand services without expanding staff. We’ve turned MTI around.” -Tom Morrison, MTI CEO

As you scroll on to soak up lessons from MTI’s strategy, be sure to watch the videos featured throughout to hear about MTI’s digital transformation directly from Tom and Kristen.

Why Community? “Community Solves People’s Problems on a Daily Basis”

In 2006, when Tom first joined MTI, he remembers a study they did with their board. The goal? Identify what problems they’re trying to solve, and connect those solutions to their value proposition in a way that helps members.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

For example, Tom shared that:

  • “60% of our members will not come to any meetings in a given year, and we needed a way for them to tap into the content and the expertise that all our members have.”

If your association hosts one annual conference or offers limited opportunities for members to connect, perhaps you can relate. MTI harnessed its online community to bring members together, recognizing that heat-treating specialists work in an industry where they should be able to connect year-round about the latest industry standards, safety procedures, and more.

By allowing heat-treating specialists of varying expertise and career stages to learn from each other and maximize their industry knowledge as a whole, MTI positioned membership as a vital key to their success. This is especially true for their younger heat treating specialists, who are seeking professional growth and training as they enter the industry to advance their careers.

Upon launching community, Tom was enthused that MTI’s members could post questions, concerns, or comments and get feedback overnight from their membership base of over 1500 people.

Take a moment to hear from Tom:


That’s what it [community] brings to the table,” Tom says, “solving people’s problems on a daily basis.

Through their digital transformation, MTI has maximized its ability to make a real difference in people’s lives, something they’re very proud of.

MTI’s Community Supports its Multigenerational Membership Base

As a trade association, MTI is no stranger to the member generation gap. Trade associations are commonly challenged by balancing different generational needs among members.

And as a trade association on a mission to maximize membership value to support a sustainable future, MTI recognized the immense potential online communities offer.

Here’s the thing: Association members are diverse, and while they may have a shared profession or interest, as a whole they could be at wildly different places in their careers. Not to mention, advanced technological expectations can make it challenging to effectively reach younger association members. MTI uses their online communities to empower members across different generations to connect and engage in ways that are most meaningful to them.

Kristen Speer, MTI Director of Member Experience, believes that it’s important for associations, “especially associations like the Metal Treating Institute that are multigenerational,” to consider community as a solution to bridge the generational gap and really bring members together. Kristen recognizes the vital role of community in supporting future association leadership.

As Kristen put it, “If associations don’t leverage online communities, they’re missing out on connecting with the next generation of their members.”

Take a moment to hear Kristen share her insights:


What younger generations expect from an association membership (like 24/7 access to a community, mobile-friendly learning resources, industry training, leadership opportunities, mentors, and more) is naturally going to differ from the expectations of members from older generations (who might be more focused on maintaining their institutional knowledge or positioning themself as an industry expert to share their experiences).

MTI’s community is bringing people together, harnessing the knowledge of each generation to power its industry forward.

MTI’s Small Staff Embraces Technology to Be More Efficient While Boosting Membership Value

If you own the member experience at your association there’s a good chance that you, like Kristen, have experienced the inefficiencies of being swamped with administrative tasks amid your greater goal: ensuring members have the best possible experience with your association.

By embracing community as a tool in their digital transformation, MTI has been able to do more with less. According to Kristen, “The online communities have really made things a lot more user-friendly for us. They have allowed me to be more efficient with my time.”

Hear more from Kristen on how community has impacted her role as Director of Member Experience:


While a staff size of four people might intimidate some association professionals in terms of taking on new technology, MTI proves that staff efficiency is all about tapping into the right tools, that it’s possible to add real membership value without adding staff members.

According to Tom, MTI has “tapped into the sociability of learning, content management, and connecting people.” The best part? He believes you should “let technology do that stuff.”

Allow him to explain MTI’s approach:


With a time-saving community solution in place that connects your members, your staff can free up time for more meaningful conversations with your association’s members. The most exciting aspect of MTI’s digital transformation?

As you might’ve heard Tom say in the video, “We have all the tools we need to create that feeling that people feel value and they feel valued in the process, and they feel like they’re making a difference.”

Ask yourself: How can your association help members feel like they’re making a real difference? Do you have tools in place to support them? Is your technology aligned with your goals?

MTI’s Community Brings Value to Help Retain Association Members

MTI’s adoption of online community and willingness to digitally transform has led to a bright future for the trade association, even with a staff of four. According to Tom, “We’ve grown over 2600% in net worth the last 14 years. That has been phenomenal.” And they’re still growing.

MTI’s success is a testament to their willingness to adapt to modern technology, mission to make a real and positive difference in members’ lives, and courage to change their processes when an outdated strategy wasn’t supporting the future of their comprehensive members.

Hear more from Tom on his big picture approach and how MTI has been able to maintain their 97% member retention rate:


As Tom noted, “Communities have brought value to help us retain the members so there’s power in all of that.”

By assessing where members were spending their money and positioning MTI to step in and provide those valuable benefits, they increased their association revenue and strengthened member retention. As Tom shared:

“The value chain has allowed us to get more money from our members – where they used to spend money outside for training and other things, now they’re spending that money with us to get that and so that really plays into our value proposition.”

Follow MTI’s Lead: Boost Association Membership Value with Community

If you couldn’t already tell, MTI’s staff is incredibly passionate about helping their members and fellow staff succeed. There’s a lot to learn from their fearless approach to digital transformation, but the largest takeaway circles back to their commitment to aligning their organizational problems and solutions with their value proposition. Your ability to help your association support a healthy future is dependent upon your ability to provide solutions that help members of all ages succeed.

Be sure to watch MTI’s full story and subscribe to our YouTube to learn more about Higher Logic’s solutions directly from our successful customers.

Connect with us today if you’re interested in transforming your association’s value proposition to effectively reach more members.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Gabrielle Wathen

Gabrielle is the Content Marketing Manager at Flockjay. She has a background in journalism, film, and marketing. When she’s not writing, you can find her cuddling her cats Harvey and Wilbur, traveling the world, or storytelling in any way she can. Favorite food: All things cheese. Favorite place: Black Rock City, NV.