Does a professional or trade association exist to serve its members? How about to serve the profession or industry? Or, perhaps the association exists to perpetuate itself?
Sure, your answer is based on your personal experiences. Unfortunately though, I have come to believe that there are simply too many people involved in association leadership today that believe in self-survival. Many of these leaders do not consciously realize they believe that the reason for an association is to perpetuate itself. Yet, their actions in this area speak so loudly that few listen to their words.
I recently visited the web site of ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership and searched “member value” but what I found was more directed to the organizational side. My lack of finding information specific to “member value” strengthens my assertion. Sure I found great information on subjects like: Identifying program goals and setting realistic expectations, identifying and defining the needs of the target audience, developing program structure, building a budget and cross-selling and up-selling additional programs and services.
While these topics are all great tactics, what about the overarching strategy for an association? What about quantifying the real dollar value a member receives from holding membership in an association? This is an area that I have discovered many association leaders are missing the point. There are a few people left that join their trade or professional association because it is the right thing to do in supporting their industry. But, at corporate belt tightening continues, many are re-evaluating the value of such memberships.
Call me crazy, but I believe that a professional or trade association exists exclusively for the betterment of its members. Associations like these are really industry-wide strategic alliances. And, for strategic alliances to succeed, all involved must receive reasonable value for resource (time and money) commitment to the alliance. In associations, staff members receive value—it’s called a paycheck. Volunteer leaders receive value through exposure and having the ability to forward their particular agendas. But, what about the “rank and file” members—where’s their value?
If you are interested in this topic of member value, you’re in luck.
I have conducted my Association Member Value Process for a number of trade associations and societies of association executives over the years. The results might be helpful to you in benchmarking the value your association delivers to its members.
In visiting seven societies of association executives from October 2003 through May 2004 and conducting the process: On the average, association executives received 19X return on investment dollar from their membership. Average yearly membership and meeting participation cost—$914. The average yearly real-dollar value received—$17,390.
In visiting the national conventions of four trade associations from February through May 2004 and conducting the member value process, the average yearly member return on investment was 12 X. The average yearly membership and meeting participation cost—$2,250. The average yearly real-dollar value received—$27,800.
A huge study I conducted for the American Society for Quality (finished in 2007) revealed that their members get $50 dollars in value for every dollar they invest in their membership. www.rigsbee.com/association09.htm.
Association paid staff and volunteer leaders must continually question the yearly sustainable real-dollar value their members are receiving rather than just see members as an ATM (automatic teller machine). Without the members, there is no association.
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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