by Lisa A. Grimaldi | August 01, 2014
In the association world, retaining members, attracting new recruits and building attendance at events are continual challenges. And, effective solutions go well beyond the annual meeting. Groups like the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Medical Staff Services are discovering that year-round engagement is essential to their survival and growth.

Following is a look at how NAMSS successfully turned its fortunes around by connecting with members 365 days a year.

How research led to action 
The National Association of Medical Staff Services was founded in 1978 to represent professionals who accredit physicians to work at hospitals and other medical facilities. By 2008, membership had dropped by nearly 25 percent (from 4,353 to 3,396) in the space of two years.  

The recession was an obvious contributing factor, but association leaders thought there was more to it than that. They conducted a series of focus groups and surveyed members, former members and potential recruits. The conclusion: NAMSS was not meeting the various educational needs of members, nor communicating effectively with them.    

A key finding was that newer members were joining solely to obtain a certification required for the medical staff services field, notes Chris Murphy Peck, senior director, education and learning services, for Chicago-based SmithBucklin, which manages NAMSS. (The association offers two such programs, for the Certified Provider Credentialing Specialist and Certified Professional Medical Services Management designations.) But beyond the certification, they felt little connection to NAMSS itself, or growing in their career.

Another area of concern: Seasoned members said they needed more communication and education to keep up with all the government-regulated changes and reforms affecting the modern health-care industry.

Plan of action 
To address these issues and to elevate the status of the medical staff services profession as a whole, the association tackled the issues on several fronts: First, leadership identified four distinct "audiences" within the membership (new members, newly certified, certified management and executive level) and then set about engaging each of them via communication targeted to their specific need and interests.

NAMSS also revamped its website to be more user-friendly and interactive, developed more targeted email marketing, and launched its own groups on Twitter and LinkedIn. And, to attract and engage more entry-level professionals -- the future of the profession and the association -- NAMSS created a toolkit for new members that included a glossary of industry terms, acronyms and links to other sites related to the industry.

Research also revealed that some members, primarily due to location or scheduling, would never be able to attend the annual meeting or periodic live education courses. To engage that underserved group, NAMSS launched a robust online education program. Virtual offerings now include classes for certification and live-streaming of sessions from meetings. NAMSS coaches presenters to address online participants as well as the live audience.

Meeting content from the annual convention also is posted on NAMSS' website throughout the year to help foster and reinforce the learning experience. To keep the information fresh, even for those who attended the sessions, the content often is expanded online, according to Carol McGury, executive vice president, event and education services, at SmithBucklin.

Virtual engagement has not adversely affected face-to-face attendance at the group's annual meeting. In fact, McGury notes, online participation has helped to convert some members to in-person attendees.

These enhancements were implemented in two stages over five years, and the results are impressive: Membership leaped from 3,396 in 2008 to 5,143 in 2013. What's more, the expanded membership and educational options have boosted the association's revenues since 2007 by a stunning 265 percent.