There are a lot of different professional associations out there seeking to provide value to their members. Some do so by helping to lobby for regulations and laws that will benefit their membership. Others provide certifications or have peer-reviewed academic journals that serve as gateways to the industry.
Then there are professional associations like AIIM, ARMA, and ASAE whose primary purpose is helping industry professionals be effective through education. This education takes place in the form of training, publications, seminars, and webinars. There may be a certification but it is rarely required for advancement in the industry.
The problem is that there is fresh competition from for-profit communities and ad-hoc local groups who use Meetup to find members and organize. Information on how to succeed in any industry is readily available on the Internet. Traditional associations are no longer the sole-source for networking and information.
How can associations compete when people no longer need a middle-man? They have to go local and make things personal.
Networking in person is the one thing that the Internet cannot replace. An online community can give you answers but sharing the ups-and-downs of the profession are best done in person. The best conferences that I attend always provide their greatest value from the conversations in hallways, meals, and social events activities
Not everyone can travel to large conferences and even one that can have many to chose from every year. People want more frequent, and easier, ways to network and learn. This leads them to look for local events that they can attend. I attend many local meetups for a variety of interests and I see many of the same people at them. They are all there to learn and network and because it is easy, they participate in several groups.
The need to be local and easy to find is critical. Membership is the life blood of any association. Nurturing grass roots efforts that are already taking place is key to finding new members.
Role for the Association
What can the association do to help? People are self-organizing already. What can an association do to add value?
- Provide content: Creating an exciting program is always a challenge. Offering connections to local speakers and sending staff members on the road to visit is help that is appreciated.
- Offer extras: Send some member-only research or other useful items to be given away as door prizes. This can discounts to events, free membership, or free research. Just make sure it demonstrates the value of your association to members. The winners can share the value of what they received with others.
- Communication: Talk to them. Listen to them. Respond to them in a timely fashion. Make sure they feel they are important and that feeling will trickle down to the entire membership of the groups. Neglect them and their loyalty will vanish.
- Support, don’t control: Like any endeavor, if you seek too much control, you will lose it. Help the groups out. Ask what they need and provide it if possible. Then get out of the way.
Those are some basic needs and most won’t cost an association more than a little time and effort.
And in Return…
This is the no-brainer part of the equation. If executed well, there will be new members joining the association as they determine they want more of the experiences that their meetup has provided. That is more people for marketing the education, events, and other services the association provides.
Fresh blood is essential for any association even if they don’t use all the extras. Fresh ideas, fresh energy, and fresh leadership can insure that the association has a future.
As an association, ask yourself, how are you doing? How old are your average members? If they are closer to 50 than 30, you may be in for some trouble soon, if not already.
If you belong to an association or meetup, are you getting value? What else would you like? What do you need to help advance your career? Ask for it. Volunteer to help provide it. If you don’t get it and your help isn’t wanted, look somewhere else.
Associations that can’t evolve to meet the rapidly changing world will become part of the history of an industry and not the future whether they want to or not.