A particular type of professional is the perfect association member. They tend to:
- Be committed to their own professional development.
- Understand the value of sharing information with a group of peers.
- Say this organization is worth supporting.
- Have defined the association’s mission in their mind and think the mission is critically important.
- Know that volunteering and contributing to the advancement of the profession is worthwhile.
To reach our goals of member growth we often fall into the trap of defining our potential membership audience as being very broad. Everyone in the profession, we say. Actually, for most associations, particularly the associations without certification, membership can only ever be a fraction of the professionals in the profession. Why? Because membership can never be for everyone. In fact we don’t want to make it for everyone. We want to make membership exclusively for the people described above.
Membership is not for those in the profession who:
- Only have their job for the money.
- Don’t care about their professional development.
- Are working to escape the profession.
- Have narcissistic tendencies.
Every time we try to appeal to those not suited for membership we dilute the value. Every time we poll non-members and use their insights to create our strategy we erode our offering. Every time we spend valuable time and money chasing everyone we slowly become an association for no one.
Our boards want the association to grow, we want the association to grow, association marketing companies want our associations to grow. Perhaps some growth is good: we spread the word, we help more professionals and we improve our funds to do good work. It is a balancing act however because too much growth hurts our ability to listen, empathize and partner.
I would give up the false promise of big growth for becoming better any day. Better associations focus not on growth but instead on becoming closer to their members to truly understand what problem needs to be solved for them today. They walk in their member’s shoes and look back at the association through their member’s eyes. They partner with members to make the profession, members’ lives, and maybe even the world just a little bit better.
Every time someone on the board says we should be targeting everyone in the profession kindly remind them that only some of the people in the profession make good member candidates. Going after those without the means, support or need for membership actually hurts the association and our best members. Find more articles like this from Amanda Kaiser at Smooth The Path or follow her on Twitter at @SmoothThePath.