It could be leadership. It could be a strategic plan. It could be even something as simple as focus. But I'm going to try and make an argument for a different top ONE thing an association needs - something on the slightly newer side of the house: a chief revenue officer, or CRO.
At the time of this writing, there were only two CRO jobs listed on indeed.com. Not exactly a trend...and not exactly a ringing endorsement for the one thing all organizations need. Worse, perhaps, is that I don't even like or agree with the two job descriptions as written. The better of the two starts off as follows:
Your primary objective is to generate revenue. You’ll lay the underpinnings of a scalable revenue engine tuning everything for execution. Your job is to test demand generation, sell, growth hack, etc., to measure success and failure. You’ll carry a comp plan like a sales rep. Hustling deals is job #1.
Nope. I'm not enamored. Not convinced whatsoever. In fact, it sounds like a glorified VP of Sales. It sounds kind of desperate, honestly.
So I'd like to make an alternate suggestion. But let's start with the need, not with the job description.
I've been in organizations that obsess over revenue. It's management's first go-to number on the monthly financials. It's their short-term (and often myopic) measure of health and sustainability. Moreover, all too frequently, many associations look at revenue through the lens of independence, reviewing product/service line revenues separately with "owners" of each bucket being held accountable for their goals, for example.
That's OK. It could be better, though.
If I was a newly appointed CRO, it'd be kind of a "big yawn" to approach the revenue growth of an organization via textbook strategies such as intensive growth, where approaches such as market penetration, market and product development, and diversification are tried and true. Or integrative growth, whereby horizontal and vertical (forward and backward) business integration can bring revenue growth, but typically requires significant capital.
Holistic Revenue Tack
Instead, I'd want my job and legacy to be defined by people-centric strategies, knowing that almost every organization's non-dues revenue efforts would benefit from a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approaches...such as:
Developing horizontally-integrated teams. It's time to stop looking at revenue in "buckets" or "lines" or other forms of separateness. Build integrated teams and then let them go do their stuff. Eliminate stiff, artificial intra-organizational boundaries and take advantage of the rich melting pot of employees' expertise - while executing a positive, memorable, and holistic customer experience. Reward them for the new stuff that works. Revenue growth will follow.
Creating association-wide voice-of-the-customer strategies. Listening to members and customers and then doing something about what you hear is a special skill...foster it internally, everywhere. Take this feedback and inject it directly into product/service development and use it to integrate lines of business across the board. Revenue growth will follow.
Designing fully-integrated offerings from scratch. By purposefully crafting your product or service offerings, you'll reduce the need for expensive marketing and redundant product/service line departments Focus on reducing the number of customer interactions with the sole idea in mind of solving member problems and then leaving them alone. Expenses will drop, and revenue growth will follow.
Organizations that use team(s) like this, however, require very different rules of operational freedom - potentially difficult for some due to the need to let go of old, hierarchical habits. The litmus test of readiness includes asking yourself the following questions:
Can I let staff work without - or with exceedingly few - organizational boundaries/hierarchies?
Is it possible to take the long-term view for making a positive impact on the organization, as opposed to being held to short-term results?
Finally, instead of creating new roles like the CRO with the usual bottom-line intent, I'm advocating associations deliberately scratch a new type of line in the dirt - perhaps calling it the starting line, defining a new place from which we want all our employees and teams to race. Simply put, this new line is where we begin enabling people and teams to use their best judgment, learn together, and achieve their full potential. And then revenue growth - and an improved bottom line - will follow.
If the CRO (or any other senior leadership role for that matter) is allowed to build non-dues revenue in this manner, then I would support the statement: that's the one thing so many associations need these days.