Monday, July 2, 2018

Trade Associations Really Have Organizational Memberships

I have to take issue with Amanda Kaiser of the Smooth the Path blog, who said in a recent post that trade associations don't really have organizational memberships.

Your key contact member understands that some of their colleagues at their organization can be members. But, most often when they think about the value of the association, they are not thinking about the value to their colleagues, or even the value of the membership to their organization, they are thinking about the value of the membership for themselves. This single individual makes the determination to renew based on the value they, themselves get from the association.

It's a decent point -- that an association doesn't first have a relationship with an organization, it first has a relationship with an individual. And if it wants to have a relationship with the organization it had better deliver needed services to that individual.

Because as the CEO of a trade association, I'd have to say that Kaiser is not seeing the whole picture.

In my experience, we are certainly careful to nurture a relationship with one particular person at each of our member companies. That's the person we call the decision-maker, the one who has the authority to decide if the company in question will or will not be a member of our association. It's usually the company president: the person who signs the checks. Whoever it is, we definitely work to ensure that this person sees and receives value for his or her membership in our organization.

But a big part of that value proposition is how other people in the company can grow and develop, or find more business, as part of their engagement with the association. This, in fact, is one of the key pain points we recently identified as part of our membership recruitment strategy. Our members, embodied by that person with check-signing authority, want to develop not just themselves but their team for greater success.

The company president comes to our Annual Conference, for example, where she can network with other executives in our industry, and learn about the trends and challenges facing organizations like hers. But her product manager probably goes to our Economic Conference, where he can get forecasts and analyses on our industry's customer markets so he can set his sales forecasts for the year and try to grab some more market share. And her engineering manager probably serves on one of our standards committees, where he can help set the technical specifications around which the next generation of our industry's products will be based.

My association is by no means unique in this regard. Trade associations of every stripe and kind work hard to offer service packages like these, providing value for multiple individuals across the hierarchy of their member companies. In many ways they have to. It is what makes them successful and keeps that decision-maker signing that dues check year after year.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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