Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Does NCAA Mean for Large Associations?

If you lead or work for a large association with a highly diverse membership base, the current discussions regarding membership and governance of the NCAA should interest you.

For those who are not familiar with the story, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) represents nearly all college athletic programs from small (Division III) colleges to large (Division I) universities. (See USA Today's comprehensive story NCAA future: reform or rupture

The very large universities (which have annual athletic budgets of $80 to $110 million) have been complaining for some time that the NCAA governance structure allows small programs to vote on issues that may be to the detriment of the huge programs.

For example, the large universities have talked about providing full attendance scholarships and/or expense stipends to college athletes. (Something that many offer music majors and other academic scholars). The smaller schools, who say the cannot afford the stipends, have more votes than the big schools.

Some outspoken members of large universities are clamoring for changes in the NCAA governance (such as a special "division" of like-sized programs that could adopt rules suited to the large programs). Some have suggested absent any changes, they large schools should pull out and form their own association.

This issue could have implications for large, diverse associations and nonprofits.

By diverse, I'm referring to memberships with various sized businesses ranging from very small to very large. It means that the vast majority of association dues revenue comes from a small minority of members. 

I've worked for or had clients with this very type of membership diversity. It can be extremely difficult to manage the needs and desires of these groups within the overall mission of your association. 

If you are lucky, members put the good of all at the front of their involvement. But, when your individual business interests are at stake, it is hard to be ultruistic for the greater good.

I can't tell you how many times I've been told "the big guys run this association!" Or, "we put in the majority of the money but the little guys control the votes."

A few years back, a couple of specialized retail organizations adopted restrictive membership criteria that "pushed out" the large, big box retailers serving their industries. Both of them rapidly declined in financial resources and organizational vitality.

So, what does this mean to someone at a large association with a highly diverse member base?

Without visionary leaders who see the value of "we're all in this together," this issue can pull organizations apart. 

If the industry you represent continues to move toward a more diverse base, you may face this issue sooner rather than later.

And, like the NCAA, you’ll need governance structures and policies built with a sense of fairness and balance.

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