Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hockey Feud Shows What Happens When Associations Forget about Their Members

I’m a huge hockey fan. The greatest sport there is. I’m biased though. I played varsity hockey at Ohio State.

As a hockey fan, the current “lock-out” shows hockey leaders (management and players union) are the dumbest “association” going. (Especially because a similar labor issue cancelled the entire 2004-05 National Hockey League (NHL) season.

Unable to reach a multi-year contract by mid-September, the NHL owners “locked out” the NHL players union. No practice. No games. The work stoppage – which has gone past 70 days – has resulted in cancellation of more than a third of the season, their traditional New Year’s Day outdoor game and their All-Star Game.
  • The core argument: how to split the $3+ billion in revenue the league generates, how to deal with player contracts and how to deal with the aftermath of the lock-out.
  • Management and players are so focused on their battle, they have forgotten about their “members” (fans, vendors, neighborhood bars) who are the real losers in this fight no matter who wins.
The Losers: fans, vendors, neighborhoods and perhaps professional hockey itself.
Associations and nonprofits are not immune from similar feuds. In fact, what’s happening in the NHL reminds me of two similar cases in the association and nonprofit world.
I experienced one such case in the 1990s and we all watched another case in 2012.
About 20 years ago, two affiliated national organizations (working for the same industry) moved from partners to a feud that lasted more than a decade. I was the Deputy CEO of one of those associations. The argument ultimately seemed about the $50+ million coming from a new funding system. It appeared to be about “who is the No. 1 organization in the industry. But, most had no idea of what started the disagreements nor why it continued. 
  • The losers: association members and association staff. Many staff (including 3 CEOs, hundreds of staff and myself) lost their jobs. 
  • Through it all, I kept wondering whether the directors on the two boards had forgotten about their members/donors? 
While I don’t know the background of the details, something similar happened at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure over withholding its funding of Planned Parenthood.
  • “Two top executives at Susan G. Komen for the Cure have announced their resignation, amid reports that the breast cancer charity is struggling to raise money and repair its reputation after its decision to defund Planned Parenthood and subsequent reversal,” the Huffington Post reported last February. Komen's executive vice president and chief marketing officer and the CEO of Komen's New York City affiliate both resigned. Founder Nancy Brinker resigned as Komen’s CEO. Ms. Brinker; however, remained as chairman of Komen’s executive committee. 
  • The losers: local Komen chapters (who had fewer runners and lower donations) and cancer patients has donations to Komen tanked and it and its local 
When two giants (whether it be boards or boards vs staff) fight, many lose. It might be members or donors or staff. But they and the organizations lose.
All this reminds me of an Indiana farmer who once told me “Nothin’ ruins a great organization like too much money.”  In my 34 years in association management, I've often thought about how correct this farmer was/is!

Somehow we need to instill the core cultural thinking within our organizations to first, do no harm to our members and/or our donors.

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