Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The New Normal Began in the 1920s

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When my dad was growing up, Grange Halls dotted the rural landscapes. The National Grange was the dominate farm associations and the Grange Hall the prominate social meeting place for farmers and others in rural America. Today, not so much.

When I went to Ohio State, Woody Hayes coached football. He became one of the winningest coaches with his “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy. The forward pass? Better to punt. Today, Urban Meyer coaches Ohio State football featuring a pass-heavy spread offense.

When I was a kid, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (known as the A&P) was the dominant chain store in America. Thousands of them throughout the country. So many that politicians adopted laws and regulations to keep them from lowering prices to “unfair levels.” In When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-PopsMarc Levinson writes about the A&P and the history of capitalism in the U.S. His column concludes:

  • “By then, John and George Hartford were dead, and their company, after passing into the hands of less competent managers and going public, had entered a death spiral that appears to be in its final stages. A&P, once the country's best-known brand, is by now so tarnished it probably has negative value, and any buyer will likely retire it. But even if the Great Atlantic & Pacific doesn't live on in name, it will leave an important legacy: the idea that capitalism can benefit consumers, if only capitalists will allow it to do so.”

So, what does all this have to do with associations and association management?

We hear a lot of talk about the “new normal” in the U.S. and the association world.

One facet of this state is the rapid changes in the economy. 

Well, as the A&P story illustrates, the new normal started nearly a century ago.

Rather than debating whether a new normal exists, association executives should be focused on what the continued transformation of the American economy means to associations and nonprofit organizations.

As this Avectra infographic shows, Americans are not “joiners” as they were last century. Three key points:
  • Membership in the PTA has dropped nearly half since 1982.
  • Membership in fraternal organizations has dropped 44% since the late 1970s.
  • Association memberships have dropped 25 percent over the last 25 years.
It is interesting to note that most of the decline in joining has happened as Boomers dominated American society. While some like to say Millenials are not joiners, most of the membership decline happened when Millenials were barely old enough to join Scouting organizations or Little League.

American society and business continue the rapid change. Organizations that do not adapt and adjust are likely to follow Grange Halls, the A&P and Three Yards and a Cloud of dust to irrelevance.

As Harry Truman said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.”

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