Pride in membership

I've been speaking ill of the association business model for quite a few years now. My industry association involvement was INVALUABLE 15 years ago when I was new to the industry /  before social media / during a time when people derived pride from this type of loyalty. However, as the landscape changed and new ways to learn and network appeared, I was having a hard time seeing how associations could continue to rely on one major event and membership dues to survive (as many of them do). People just aren't loyal in the ways they used to be and they'll go with whoever gets their attention and shows them value.

The good news is face-to-face events are more important now than ever as we're all so isolated by our screens. Unfortunately, business events have been designed to keep your phone in front of your face because we decided we couldn't compete with the distraction so we should program through it. This is one of the many design flaws that keeps me wondering if the value proposition of your annual conference will keep the association in the black. Are your attendees achieving their goals? Is transformational change occurring because you held this event? Are they learning something they can't learn anywhere else? Are they meeting people they aren't likely to meet anywhere else?

As I do more research on mental health and the future of work, it seems as though our reliance on our online networks is making us depressed. I had previously thought that online networks detached from formal associations were all that we needed. This might have been premature. People can and will connect with each other online with or without paying you dues. There seems to be an opportunity for associations here. Sadly, the challenge is getting through the clutter. This is going to take a lot more time and attention than you are probably paying to it. The algorithms are working against you and you will have to pay to make this work. Let me know if you are interested in helping build a bridge to a better community.

Elizabeth Glau, Macleay Park, Portland, OR

Nancy Zavada of MeetGreen, a pioneer in the events industry, generously gave me her time during the busy season to interview her for my Human Centered Design course research. We chatted briefly about chapter leadership. Nancy says, for someone who hasn't been given an opportunity to lead at work, getting a group of volunteers to follow you is great professional development. I was reminded that this was one of the most important pieces of my industry involvement. You could certainly get this experience other ways, but I can't deny that this is an important value proposition for association membership.

The work we've been doing this year on the Meeting Professional International (MPI) Diversity and Inclusion task force is important. If chapter leadership is one of the most valuable experiences your members can have and therefore something they'll pay you for, how do you better design these experiences? The goal of our committee has been to diversify MPI's chapter leaders. The reason this is important is because this leadership experience is even more meaningful for those who aren't likely to get it at work (typically, those without privilege.)

How do you bring pride back to membership? You decide who you want to serve and who you don't. You can't make everyone happy but if you can make some people feel like you are fighting for them, they'll do anything for you.


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