Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign: A Message for Associations

When returning from an association meeting last week, I heard Les Emmerson and the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1970 rock song Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign. For those who don’t remember, it was a 70s “protest song” about the signs that kept “nonconformists” out of “main stream establishments.”

Hearing the tune made me think of a section from Farewell to the Lodge (Dan Frost’s piece 1996 articles around the “Bowling Alone” themes). 
Membership in a variety of civic and fraternal organizations is on the decline. The reasons have to do with fundamental changes in attitudes toward work, leisure, and the roles of American men.

Another reason for decline of lodges is a new generation's dislike of conformity.
  • "People are less willing to deal with the tight rules of the organizations, like a song and a handshake and a hat and you have to be there every Tuesday for lunch," says Gaudiani. "People need more flexibility. That's why you see these companies with 800 numbers, that are open 24 hours. It's 2 in the morning, and you call the damn number and get the shoes sent to you. People under 45 demand a lot more flexibility."
Interesting points.

As you look at your association’s “rituals and practices” from a prospect’s point of view, are these traditions of our membership or barriers to future membership? Most groups have eliminated visible barriers such as the secret handshake but do we have more invisible barriers that may say “you’re not welcome here?” Or time-consuming practices that discourage family-oriented Millenials from joining?

The key to this discussion is to get your association leaders to change their point of view when considering what it will take to engage Millenials and others.

Now, you don’t have to change if you don’t want to. Your association can join the bulk of America’s service/civic clubs who are continuing on a death spiral in dramatic losses of membership to the point of irrelevancy. (Think of the U.S. Jaycees which has dropped from 490,000 members to under 25,000.)

As I’ve mentioned before, Boards composed largely of the “typewritten generation” will have difficulty developing programs/services for potential “iPad Generation” members. You need to engage Millenials in the discussions of what your association should look like for the next generation.

Otherwise, your “signs” may be keeping them away from your association.

By the way, if this has you Boomers humming the tune, here are the lyrics:
And the sign said "Long haired freaky people need not apply"
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said, "You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do."
So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that, huh, me working for you."
Oh, sign, sign everywhere a sign
Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign
And the sign said "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight"
So I jumped on the fence and I yelled at the house,
"Hey, what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep Mother Nature in
If God was here he'd tell you to your face,
Man you're some kind of sinner."
Hey you, mister, can't you read?
You've got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can't even watch, no, you can't eat,
You ain't supposed to be here
The sign said you've got to have a membership card to get inside
And they said "Everybody welcome, come in and kneel down to pray"
But when they passed around a plate at the end of it all,
I didn't have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
It said "Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me, I'm alive and doing fine."

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