Monday, May 13, 2013

Getting Used to the Dark

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I found this HBR blog post to offer an interesting perspective--namely that businesses, fatigued with all the doomsday economic predictions and ineffectual political grandstanding in Washington, are muscling forward and figuring out how to be prosperous despite the constant economic and political turmoil. To quote the post's closing line: "We are stuck in an economic tunnel: there is no light and no end in sight, but at least we are getting used to the dark."

Reminds me of an association luncheon I attended recently, where the inside-the-beltway speaker looked befuddled when I asked her if it would make any difference to Washington if only a tiny fraction of the population kept voting. My bet was that it wouldn't--that the demagogues would just trumpet their 2% mandate and then get back to the serious business of sticking it to the other political party. Voters, I thought at the time, would grow weary like businesses in the HBR post, and would figure out how to get by on their own.

So much for my political opinions. What I really want you to think about is the possibility that the same HBR observation might apply to your association. In that construction, it is your organization that is running from one crisis to another, and your members who are growing fatigued with your promises that go nowhere, and who are figuring out how to get by without you.

Sound familiar? If not, then consider it a cautionary tale. There are associations that, despite ever-escalating concerns about the challenges facing their industry or profession, are growing less and less relevant to the constituents they supposedly serve. Why? Well, it may be that they are trying to solve their own problems, rather than helping their members solve theirs.

Like many of the politicians in Washington, who appear to the voters to be more concerned with winning elections than enacting good legislation, these associations appear to their members to be more concerned with their own objectives--growing membership, increasing meeting attendance, maximizing non-dues revenue--than they are with helping them solve their problems.

And what happens next? Cue the last line of the HBR post. The members get used to operating in the dark.

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Do you like the things I say on this blog? Are you attending the 2013 ASAE Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference? Then please stop by the learning lab I'll be leading with Elizabeth Engel and Peggy Hoffman. "Walking the Walk of Deep Member Engagement" will be held from 10:15 to 11:30 AM on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. Click here for more details on the conference. Hope to see you there!

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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