|When your members are actively engaged in your association or society, there are two important benefits to the organization. First is what usually comes to mind—member retention. Second, might not be so top of mind and that is member recruitment. When a member is enthusiastically engaged, he or she will aggressively talk about the organization to colleagues, suppliers and customers. There is no better source for member recruitment, which will have the follow-up member assimilation factor included, then member evangelists.
Fostering communities of reciprocity within your organization is the number one most important activity of association and society leaders and paid staff for encouraging high-level member engagement. However, there are frequently self-generated internal control issues that can easily squelch this kind of valuable participation. If a particular community is not, an association officially sanctioned and developed community, the leadership can all too easily consider the community a threat, menace, or danger to the organization’s traditional power structure. This is truly a disappointment to mature organizational value seekers.
There are no better organizational communities of reciprocity than the ones that are member founded. While these communities are all too frequently feared by the ensconced organizational leadership, they are nevertheless conduits of high member value. Dynamic individuals drive the creation of communities that they want, need, and desire.
If a contingent of your members want a particular community and develop it, they will value it and remain engaged as long as the community delivers value to them. It would only be a low-esteem, paranoid personality that would want to squelch this kind of community participation. Association leadership must embrace these emerging communities or chance the repercussion of member anger and drop-off.
Since these members generated communities deliver additional organizational value to members, association and society leaders really should be looking to put in place strategy and tactics that foster these communities rather than try to limit them. Frequently, geographical communities can evolve into formal “chapter” structure far quicker and more successfully than can or does organization developed structure.
As I mentioned earlier, control is one of the primary reasons that organizational leadership will squelch member generated communities in favor of official organization created communities. Organizational created communities are fine and can deliver high levels of value if created for the correct reasons; primarily to deliver additional value to members. If revenue generation is the primary organizational driver, the communities have a higher propensity for failure.
Organizational created communities must serve the needs of members rather than the needs of the organization. There also is the important challenge of relevance. Since member created communities are relevant to member needs, organizational created communities must do the same. The challenge with surveying members using an online system like Survey Monkey to determine wanted communities is that all to often members will state, give me this—and when created by the organization, the members never participate. This is because they have no skin in the game. Then association leaders surmise that members really do not want the communities.
Better, is for association leaders and staff to listen intently to off-handed remarks made by members during a variety of events and when enough members make a similar remark about a needed community—build that. This method is much more effective than the traditional leadership structure saying, “We need X, Y or Z” and then going out and building those communities without a champion.
Regarding a community that I personally built, even though the entrenched leadership of a particular association continually tried to kill the community; my good friend, W. Mitchell, frequently said to me, “The market decides.” With this in mind, the leadership could have and should have embraced a community being developed that gave scores of members an additional reason to attend the annual convention but fear of absolute control paralyzed any thoughts of collaboration, much less cooperation. Is this what you want?
A valuable hybrid approach will generally serve most organizations and their members well. This is where member generated communities are encouraged and assisted through a flexible support system put in place by the board of directors and administrated by the organization’s staff.
My urging to all association and society leaders, volunteer or paid, is to embrace communities of reciprocity that sprout within and around your organization. These communities should not be feared but rather embraced, nourished, and encouraged. The natural byproduct is additional perceived value your members will experience from membership in your organization, additional reasons to be engaged, and the organic development of member evangelists, singing the praises of your organization. Gosh, isn’t that so much better than animosity, distrust, and ambivalence?
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.