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The Power of Associations Embracing Social Initiatives

Sometimes, the reason ideas start looking the same is because the people being asked for ideas look the same.  

On a recent episode of Higher Logic’s Member Engagement Show podcast, guest Suzanne F. Stevens discussed the importance of associations incorporating mission-aligned social initiatives in their work, and explored ways to use those initiatives to attract, recruit, and retain diverse staff and members. 

 The Guest 

Suzanne is a professional speaker who has served on many boards, including past president of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. She’s Founder of You, Me, We Social Impact Group and works with non-profit and for-profit organizations to grow and sustain conscious leaders, their influence, and their social impact.   

What Brought Suzanne to the Social Impact Space  

“I’ve been in the speaking world 22 years and for the first 15 focused on influential communications and working in the corporate sector. As people went through the pandemic, a lot of them started asking, ‘What is my purpose? Is this enough?’ I did that in 2008, 2009, and 2010.”   

“I had a consulting firm and disbanded my team, giving them licenses to train my influential communication content. I convinced my husband to quit his leadership position to interview pioneering women throughout Africa. We grabbed our backpacks, cameras, and mics. And for two years we packed through 19 countries interviewing women, from change-makers from the African Union to massive social enterprises to women leading corporations. They inspired me in a unique way.”   

“I decided to transform my influential communication business to focus on You, Me, We. ‘You’ is how to be conscious about when you contribute. ‘Me’ is how to create the most meaning in our lives through contribution. And ‘We’ is how to lead and sustain it based on how we structure our contributions.”  

Why Associations Should Strategically Include Social Initiatives  

“So many people have left the workforce and if you want to attract, retain, and engage people, they’re no longer just looking for a job, they’re looking for meaning – for purpose. They only have so much time. So they want to fold quality of life into their work because they have to balance their volunteerism with other priorities.”   

“Sure, associations provide the opportunity to learn, share, and grow, but members also want to have an impact in their association. In Canada, by 2028, 76% of the workforce is going to be millennials. In the United States it’s higher. They want to select organizations that are having a social and environmental impact. Associations would be prudent to bake that in.”  

“Pick a well-aligned initiative. A lot of organizations contribute all over the place. This year it’s this, next year it’s that. They haven’t attached themselves specifically to a value with longevity. [Doing that] allows you to clearly put what you’re contributing to in front of members.”   

Social Initiatives Build Deeper Connections  

“Often, when we have new people coming to events, some people don’t know anybody or how to connect. But if you create a social initiative experience around that event, you could engage members in unique ways.”   

“At this event where I didn’t know anyone, we were putting together packages of hygienic products for girls who couldn’t afford them and sometimes weren’t going to school because of that before the event. I ended up chatting with an indigenous woman who shared her story about how she grew up and became an addict and had a tough life. She’s now a PhD and helping addicts, particularly in the indigenous community. We became friends. I had her on the You, Me, We podcast. And her impact is having this ripple effect. It wouldn’t happen if we didn’t bond over a social initiative that connected us on an emotional level.”  

Social Initiatives Must Be Deliberate and Strategic  

“When considering how to take on social initiatives, I would recommend associations facilitate a process. It needs to be part of their strategic plan. Associations sometimes want to contribute socially, but if they don’t have time, it never gets done. If it’s in your strategic plan, it gets implemented throughout the year.”  

You should also think about how to leverage volunteers. “Volunteers would love to contribute beyond themselves. But you have to isolate what you want them to focus on. They just need to know the direction and know that there’s a sincere commitment to it.”  

You can also start a dialogue about social impact the organization can have within your staff and with your members. “Have a webinar on the benefits of the association having a social impact, then ask the team what cause they’d like to take up. Or interview members that have a social initiative running in their organizations. Ideas start spilling out and it creates a really rich dialogue.”   

“You can also start acknowledging and celebrating members that are doing social initiatives. Have some kind of philanthropy award. These are easy things to do and don’t put a lot of added effort work on small teams.”  

“Associations have the power to impact people in such a profound way and attach their heads and hearts, giving them more meaning in their lives. Associations have a responsibility to do it, and if you accept that responsibility, you’ll get the benefits tenfold in the form of attracting, retaining, and engaging members in more profound ways.”  

Diversity Empowers Social Impact  

“People have to see themselves in your association…If you’re trying to establish yourself as an association that welcomes everyone, you need to have diversity in your speakers. Don’t always go to the people you know, because if people can’t see themselves on your stages or virtual platforms, they won’t think that environment is for them.”   

“Research has demonstrated diverse opinions get the best solutions for organizations, particularly in the corporate environment. We just need to start thinking about all of this stuff in the association context.”  


Kelly Whelan

Kelly Whelan is the Content Marketing Manager for Higher Logic. In this role, she develops content to support association professionals and advise them on member engagement and communication strategy. She also hosts Higher Logic’s podcast, The Member Engagement Show. She has ~10 years of experience working in marketing for associations and nonprofits.