Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Golf Offers Lessons for Association Management

Now that I’ve “taken up” golf and have done some consulting work for golf course superintendents, I’ve discovered that golf and associations share common issues.
  1. We both seek time and money from members and participants
  2. We both have catered to (and been led by) Boomers
  3. We both find it is difficult and intimidating for newcomers and that we are struggling with engaging Generation Xers and Millenials
Golf’s leading organizations (USGA, PGA, etc.) are working to overcome golf’s challenges: 
Now, a relative new golf course owner (Bob Griffioen) has determined to face the issue with some creative options for golfers. John Paul Newport summarized the concept in his Wall Street Journal column titled A Golf Course Experiment: Why Not Five, Seven, 12 Holes? 
  • Depending on how much time they have, they can play five-hole, seven-hole, nine-hole, or 12-hole rounds. "The fewer holes you play, the less you pay," said Griffioen. 
  • Griffioen says his inspiration came from childhood idol Jack Nicklaus who has said “all the experts say, that the three big uglies in golf are—it takes too long to play, it costs too much money, and it's too difficult and intimidating for newcomers.”
  • So Griffioen modified his course play in an attempt to eliminate objections to golfing.
Now, let’s focus on similar challenges for associations.

1. Cost
(Remember my retired Boomer friend’s comments about his professional association and how membership and attendance started declining when employers stopped paying for dues and conference expenses.)
  • Member dues continued creeping higher and – based on members of the 10 associations my company managed – members were pressing board members for lower dues.
  • Conference fees and expenses were also under pressure. As I noted in my post about the ASAE annual meeting, my fees and expenses ran about $2,370. Like a lot of other members, I’m paying these costs from my own pocket. What is the “breaking point” that members like me (who don’t have employers to pay the costs) will say enough is enough?
2. Time 
  • Some members complain about the length of conferences and events and say they just can’t afford that much time away from business.
  • Some volunteers are resisting the length of time in volunteer positions (2 year terms; “laddered” positions; board tasks; board meetings; etc.). A few years back, I had a client that couldn’t find a volunteer to take on a two-year term as president. The resolution came when one board member said, “I’ll do a one-year term if someone else will do the other year.”
3. Generational
  • Membership and/or conference attendance can be intimidating for newcomers. Think back to the first time you attended an association event (not as a staffer). This is becoming an issue as Boomers retire and their replacements don’t see the same benefits from evening socials and/or weekend events.
  • In addition, associations will need to replace retiring Boomers. This means getting the younger generations to join, volunteer and lead.
Golf is working on its problems with the cost and time for its game.

What is your association doing to address these p
ost-Boomer challenges?
With 10,000 Boomers re tiring every day, the challenges are coming sooner than we may want.

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