Is it transactional? Do you deliver high quality services direct to the member at a value equal to or higher than what the member pays in dues or fees?
Or is it aspirational? Do you create communities of change around aspirational goals that can only succeed through collective action?
It's actually a trick question. Successful associations don't approach this as an either-or proposition, because failure waits at both ends of the continuum.
Associations weighted too heavily towards the “transactional” side risk losing in the inevitable competition against more nimble for-profits providing the same services. Associations weighted too heavily towards the “aspirational” side risk losing all but the most passionate members.
To be successful, you must find a way to balance these two concepts. You must provide valuable services while bringing members together to achieve something larger than those services.
It isn't easy. But understanding that you're trying to do both gives you an advantage over those who don't. Use that advantage wisely.
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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit www.ericlanke.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.