Monday, February 20, 2006

Why do people join associations?

As Ben mentioned, I've been involved in the ASAE supertrend convo happening in the little online spheriod called Icohere. That's a scary name, isn't it? Be that as it may, the convo, along with what I've got going in the job they actually pay me to work on have got me thinking about how to supercharge the whole membership scenario, and I've been going to school on how to make something happen.

So these bits of information come from what I've liberally summarized from an ASAE publication based on a survey done in 1986, called The Decision to Join. Although that's now 20 (!) years ago, I can't imagine the reasons have changed all that much. Most of this stuff seems pretty darn fresh. You know, one thing that I see in reviewing ASAE's print products is that you see a lot of ahistoricity. Like, the problems we face are always the same, like the sky is falling. Yet everyone's still here. I'd like to see some kind of longitudinal study that addresses whether associations as an industry have made progress or not. Or does it just follow along with the trades and/or professions that we represent? Anyway, now on to business:

Four reasons people join associations:

1. Specific association services. These would be things like newsletters, magazines and also things like lobbying or representation. People also seem to dig trade shows and ranked that up there among things they value.

2. Professional or business gain. If you're a member of a trade association (an association whose members are companies or institutions), then you'll join because of the marketplace-like environment. If you're in a professional association (an association whose members are individuals, and practitioners of a certain profession) then you'll join because of the individual cachet you get, the networking opportunities, and the opportunities for career advancement.

3. The association's image. The association is big and visible and projects quality.

4. Benefit to the industry or profession. People want to be in a position of influencing the direction of the organization and/or industry.

What do people like their associations to do?

1. Professional members dig educational programs [ed. this is probably less true now than when the survey was published].

2. Government relations matters most to trade types.

3. Everyone likes a friend. Peer contacts are a crowd-pleaser to everyone.

Why do people continue their memberships?

1. Peer pressure (just say no, right?) and the need to know. Some groups are lucky in this because state laws or other structures require continuing maintenance of one's professional knowledge.

2. Association performance and professional loyalty. People feel obligated to the association because they benefit from its work.

3. Trade folks are more outcome-oriented (surprise, surprise). Not that this is a bad thing. Outcomes can cover a multitude of sins. Or something like that.

Why don't people join associations?

1. No perceived personal benefit. "I'm not a joiner." And, "I hate meetings." I take your point.

2. Disillusionment with past memberships. People disagree with association priorities or the way associations spend dues money.

What can we do to get more people to join?

1. Clearly define benefits. We discussed this specifically during the Supertrend conversation. The upshot was that we need to tell people how much $$ they can make by being active in the association world. To me, this makes good sense, given the general societal trends (I'm thinking of The New Job Security here) and given what it takes to have a successful career these days.

2. Greater responsiveness and upgraded services. One thing the survey cites is less of a focus on social stuff. The guy they quote says: "If I want to eat a good dinner, I can choose my own time and place." Again, point taken.

3. New approaches to industry problems. "A few respondents said they will not join the association until it takes a more informed and realistic approach to industry and member problems." Hard to argue with that one.

UPDATE: Ben was good enough to send me two resources that build on this. This one is from the NY Society of CPAs, and the writer comments on this study. Another, more lengthy, entitled Will Demographic Trends Transform Association Membership?, is very comprehensive. It comes from the Center for Association Leadership.