If you expect your trade association or professional society to serve you well; you must become an actively engaged evangelist for your association. You must bellow it from the rooftops; the value you receive from your membership. You must tell all your colleagues, competitors, and suppliers why they too should become members. It is your job to drive a continual membership recruitment campaign. More members, among other things, mean a louder voice in legislative matters, more programs to help you improve your business, and better affinity programs.
A trade association or professional society should be a wonderful, industry wide strategic alliance enabling all stakeholders to harness the collective strength and thereby receiving the value they need. The members that are actively involved as functionaries in their industry should be the ones driving an association, not the paid staff and not the suppliers. Your paid staff members already get their benefit—a paycheck. Not to diminish the roll of paid staff however, there is a different dynamic between the persons that ”pay-to-play,” members and associate members verses the ones that are “paid-to-play,” the staff. The times when the paid staff experience this “pay-to-play” dynamic is mostly if they participate at ASAE, MPI, PCMA, etc. where they too are a paying member.
The suppliers always get a huge amount of value from participation—networking with their customers. However, it is you, the functionary member that stands to gain the most through participation. At this point I must stop and be clear to you on the idea that I firmly believe suppliers, or affiliate members, should be able to participate in your association and should hold board positions. But, too many associations are currently addicted to the opiate of having their suppliers do all the work of driving their industry’s association. It is not their job—it’s yours! Your suppliers will happily do all the work, but by relinquishing your responsibility, you will only weaken your association.
What about the paid association staff? Sure, their job is to enable, support, and encourage the membership. If a prospective member calls or emails an inquiry, they are to instantly jump on it, get out some membership marketing materials, and then forward the inquiry to the volunteer membership committee to close the deal. If staff does their job and does not function as a stumbling block or impediment, then there is no excuse—every inquiry should be converted to membership.
However, if the paid staff is too busy doing the work that the volunteer leaders and their committees should be doing, then they will not instantly jump on membership inquiries, and another potential member is lost. Remember, more members mean a louder voice in legislative matters, more programs to help you improve your business, and better affinity programs.
Association board members always receive a higher level of value from their association membership by virtue of their increased engagement. This is the reason that I refuse to conduct my member value process for determining the yearly sustainable real-dollar value at board meetings in contrast to conducting the process at member meetings. Board member numbers will always be higher. Tobecome an evangelist for your association, you must truly understand your return on investment (ROI). When you are clear on the yearly ROI you receive from your membership investment of time and financial resources, you will want to shout from the rooftops.
For over a decade I have been traveling North America conducting my proprietary member value process at association and society meetings. I have NEVER found an organization to deliver less than a 2X ROI—many deliver 10X. One, the American Society for Quality, delivers 50X. While there may be an exception, my belief is that the collaborative efforts of association members will always deliver value—the challenge is that most associations really cannot quantitatively document the actual value they deliver. Unfortunately, that can leave the perception in the minds of some members that their trade association or professional society is falling down on the job. While some organizations might, in fact, be falling down on the job—most deliver value quite well.
I have always advocated that business is about results, not excuses; and as such so should associations and its members. To get results, become an evangelist for your association. For squeezing even more value from your association or professional society membership, my recommendation to you:
- Learn more about the services your association offers and pledge to take advantage of the value for which you are already paying. Admit it; you’ve been throwing money away.
- Attend your association’s annual convention this year—no excuses.
- Volunteer at the convention to do something for the following year.
- Get to know your association’s paid staff as they can be a stellar resource in times of need.
- Commit to yourself that two days a week you’ll take only a 45 minute lunch rather than your usual hour and a half. With that extra time, you’ll call non-association members that are involved in your industry and ask for the order—invite them to participate through membership.
- Do more year-round networking with the members of your association. They truly are an invaluable resource in both good and bad times.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
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