Monday, May 14, 2012

Is Networking Your #1 Association Member Benefit?

A few weeks ago, Race to Relevance co-author Harrison Coerver shared some interesting stats he pulled from ASAE’s Decision to Join research.

Here’s what Harrison shared:
• Board and committee members rate networking #1 (4.3 on a 5.0 scale);
• Members-at-large rate networking #3 (3.6 on a 5.0 scale).
• For board and committee members information and education were #2 and #3;
• Information and education were #1 and #2 for members-at-large.
So, what’s the disconnect in priorities and what does it mean to your association?I was visiting with the CEO of a large national association the other day and he said “I’ve not been to a meeting of that group for a long time. I just can’t afford to take three hours off to attend their luncheon meetings.”

The ASAE research and this CEO’s reaction to his time pressures help explain why so many local “monthly lunch groups” (usually local chapters of national organizations) are struggling.

I serve as a volunteer board member of a local chapter of a national association that is “suffering” from drops in meeting attendance and membership. During board discussions, many board members are resisting adding benefits in addition to monthly luncheon meetings.

The typical board member response is: “I really like the chance to network with my association friends once a month. I don’t want anything more.”

Meanwhile, members and prospects are “voting with their feet” by failing to attend meetings and failing to join or to renew memberships.

So, the disconnect Harrison found in the ASAE research threatens the existence of the organization (and many like it).

Chip & Dan Heath identified this disconnect as a result of what they called The Curse of Knowledge.

“The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”

I wrote about my volunteer board experience last December in a post I called “Challenges of Narrow-Minded Board Members: OMG, I am One!” http://bit.ly/y4U5CC

So, how do we as association professionals work with our boards to avoid the curse of knowledge? And, for that matter, how do we as association staff avoid that type of thinking?

In ATTENTION ASSOCIATIONS: Who is Answering Your Incoming Calls,  I mentioned recent Inc. article titled Make Room for the Chief Customer Officer. Inc. says the Chief Customer Officer has one key responsibility: “to ensure that the customer is taken into consideration at all times, in all departments, and in all major decisions.”

Well, shouldn’t someone in your association have that role for members? Is it your membership director? Is that person part of your executive team? Does he or she have influence over all departments and major decisions?

Who, at your board meetings, urges board members to stop basing decisions on their preferences and look instead at what prospects and members want or need?

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