A few years ago, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) published a book titled Decision to Join, which explored the reasons why people join — and don’t join — membership organizations. The book remains relevant today as so many associations struggle with stagnant or declining membership. Researchers talk about millennials not being “joiners.” There’s talk about how social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, and niche networks) are supplanting associations and eroding their value.
Do membership associations still matter? I asked some of my clients if and how they think associations still matter. Here’s what we came up with.
Becoming a Member is Not the Same As ‘Liking’
Much has been said about the various online communities around the web. I am a member of an American Express community for small business owners. I “like” many non-profits on Facebook. But somehow, these interactions don’t have the same impact and heft as joining, actually becoming a member, writing a check, affiliating myself officially with an organization, maybe even getting a specific certification. Joining an organization, renewing a membership — these actions take thought, take intention, and imply commitment. So when someone says they are a member of the Human Rights Campaign, National Rifle Association, or the National Electrical Contractors Association, that’s going to carry a lot more weight than merely ‘liking’ these groups on Facebook
Strength in Numbers
Let’s face it. One person, acting alone, usually has limited impact in any situation (unless you’re the President, Bono, Bill Gates). But power and strength come from numbers. When the American Medical Association, which represents over 200,000 doctors, issues a statement, the healthcare community listens, legislators listen, the media listens, the public listens. Associations bring together people and companies with similar interests on specific issues and give them access to resources, training, and advocacy.
Amy Robinson, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer at the Direct Selling Association (DSA), says “(i)n an age where information comes from multiple sources and it’s sometimes difficult to determine who is actually credible, trade associations are a critical part of the information chain.” Mary Kay, acting alone and trumpeting the benefits of direct selling on the US economy doesn’t have the same credibility as DSA or the Direct Selling Education Foundation commissioning a study on the impact of direct selling on the economy and sharing this information with the media and policymakers.
Someone Like Me
Mike Boa, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) says, “Our members take their careers seriously. So do we. From the actuarial profession’s most respected and valued credential to resources that support their careers in a growing industry, CAS provides everything our members need to thrive.” So at the CAS, casualty actuaries have a professional home where they can learn and succeed. Lots of sites and communities on the web can probably claim to be focused on actuaries, but again, few have the credibility and focused resources just for casualty actuaries.
There’s no question that associations are operating in a challenging environment. With budgets shrinking, lots of competitor organizations and websites popping up, and millennials’ famous reluctance to join, associations must do a better of communicating their relevance. This blog will be focused on the challenges that associations face, what organizations are doing to succeed, and how technology can give associations the critical edge they need to attract and retain members.