Monday, April 23, 2012

Who Revolves Around Who?

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I've been reading a bunch of blog posts about people's reaction to ASAE's choice of James Carville and Karl Rove as General Session speakers at their upcoming Annual Meeting. Jamie Notter provides links and offers his own thoughts here.

I also read this fantastic post on SocialFish by Ryan Crowe about an outsider Millennial's perspective on associations and association membership.

And they've all left me with a this thought. I am a member of several associations. ASAE, WSAE, CMA. I get value out of my membership in each of them. I wouldn't belong to them if I didn't. But, emphatically, I am NOT a satellite that revolves around any of them. Quite the reverse, in fact. In my solar system, they are satellites that revolve around me.

Do any of them know this? I'm not sure, but I am sure that none of them act as if they do. And frankly, neither does the association I currently manage when it comes to interacting with our members. We all still act as if we are the center of the universe and our members revolve around us.

That makes sense, doesn't it? We're we the ones with the services they need. We're the ones leading our industries into the future. We're the ones that make the big decisions about what matters and what doesn't.

Aren't we?

Yes and no. There is very little that the associations I belong to can do that will dictate whether I am successful or not. There is a lot they can do that I can take advantage of, that I can leverage for my own success, but that is a much different proposition. I am not sitting idly by, waiting from them to tell me what to think or where to go. I take a look at what they offer and decide how I can best put it to use.

I don't think that's radical. I think that's what most of us do when it comes to the associations we belong to. So why do so few of us who lead associations think this way when the shoe is on the other foot? Why do so many of us persist in treating our members like satellites that revolve around us?

Well, it's easier, for one. Even those associations that effectively engage members in their product identification and development processes typically offer a static menu of programs that are designed for broad cross-sections of their memberships. Almost no one that I'm aware of turns the machinery of the association over to an individual member and let them create customized value out of it.

But isn't that what a member ultimately wants? I know I do. I don't want to comb through a thousand educational sessions or a hundred magazine articles to find the salient points of information that can get me over the next hump in the road. I want quick and consistently valuable interactions with my associations and my fellow members in them. And I want to be in control of it. That's the way it has to be. I'm in the driver's seat when it comes to my career and professional development, after all. Why should I turn that responsibility over to someone else when it comes to the associations I belong to? Why would I choose to be a satellite when I can be the center of all creation?

There's deep implications here for the way in which associations are managed and resourced, but I believe these are the challenges we need to face. The fundamental value proposition between an association and its members is changing. The days of one-to-many communications are over, and associations are losing their authoritative positions in the eyes of their members. We must find ways for our members to create their own value from the resources we can leverage for them, and stop assuming that we can accurately predict the problems they need solved.


  1. Nice post Eric. Very pleased to see you now agree with me about the need for radical innovation in association business models. Just two points:

    First, it is absolutely true that the associations to which you belong cannot "dictate" your success. Still, as you indicate, associations can do much more than they do now to help you remove constraints and provide deeper support as you work toward your desired outcomes. But that will require them to create and deliver new forms of value supported by new business models.

    And second, it also is absolutely true that you are not a "satellite" revolving around your association. But nor are you an island. All of us pull the raw materials that make us feel like we are "the center of all creation" from our networks. What is different is that we no longer need the association to interact and collaborate with those networks. In this world, the tacit value of associating as a fundamental human experience far exceeds the explicit value of association membership. Once again, we need new business models to sustain our purposeful action and drive profitability.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jeff. When I wrote the post I wouldn't have thought that I agreed with you, but reading it again I see that I obviously do. I wonder how that happened?

  3. LOL! It took some time, but I am delighted to welcome you to the club. We've got jackets. ;>)

  4. Maybe neither of us revolve around either of us, and we need a different metaphor. I'm not sure gravitational pull is what it used to be ... individually or organizationally.