In the past two weeks, I attended two different leadership seminars for two professional associations, AIA and CSI. What struck me after attending the second was the distinct similarities of the issues facing the organizations and the distinct differences in the approach to training the leaders.
Growing Membership - The Hot Issue
The primary concern of both organizations is membership. Professional associations have seen membership decline recently - a result of the economy in part - and, in my opinion, the result of association proliferation. Member dues help, but do not fully fund organizations. With fewer members, less dues are available for direct member benefits and programs. With fewer benefits and programs, there may be less incentive to join. A potential downward spiral, unless...membership is relevant.
Membership relevance is often really determined by the perception of the local experience for each existing and potential member. There may be individual prestige or recognition through membership in a national organization. Most association members will not participate at a national level. Some will join, but will not participate at all. However, many members do participate at the local level because the local relationships help their career.
Leaders are encouraged to increase membership, but the real message should be to develop the local experience into a real value for the members. When members perceive a value, they will participate. When they participate, they will become excited about the organization's benefits. When they are excited, members will encourage others to join.
Simply asking each member to find one new member may work for the short term. But will recruited members stay? Creating excitement is where the emphasis should be. Enthusiastic members will create a local "I've gotta belong" perception that will truly grow the membership.
Organization leaders change regularly. Transitions occur quickly. One-year terms are hardly enough time to get acclimated to the position, let alone accomplish anything meaningful. Each new set of leaders must learn the responsibilities and duties, usually by trial and error. There is little time to gain experience and adjust to suit. So leaders should be prepared before actually taking control.
The leadership seminars I attended could not have been more different. The first, led by a professional business coach, focused on assessing yourself, personal relationships, and organization goals. The second, led by organization members, focused on overall organization programs, suggestions about what works and what does not, and available tools to use at a local level. Both were valuable but for different reasons.
The first gave me a better understanding of my own personality traits and how to work with individuals with traits not matching mine. This insight is valuable for every leader whether in an association or in business in general. Generating goals and action plans for specific committees in small groups built new personal relationships and reinforced a commitment to the organization.
The second was an orientation to the specific organization so the new leaders could understand their role and responsibilities within the organization. The mission and core values were stressed as the overriding guide for every level of the organization. Tools and guides for each office were reviewed so new leaders would know what resources were available to help. The discussion continuously focused on how the local leaders could support the organization's mission.
My Personal Leadership Challenge
Make it interesting. Make it surprisingly different. Make it fun! All while getting up to speed quickly.
Members are the organization. Build friendships! Plan gatherings for members and their families.
Eliminate predictable. Spice it up! Make members want to attend just to see what may be different this time.
Leverage talents. Build networks! Put members in positions to help other members with their work and careers.
Generate excitement. Get members talking! Make members want to invite others to share the experience.
Excited members with strong friendships will build the organization membership from the grassroots level. As one of the organization leaders, I must guide the process while letting members create and enjoy their own experience.