Lately, I’ve been thinking “are member associations worth it anymore?”
This question came about from a small sideline project I’m working on – it’s my own initiative so I’m free to write about it here.
It was a kernel of an idea that planted itself in my head one day that had to be explored. It may germinate to something valuable for me or it may shrivel up and die, however, I thought I’d best work the idea out loud here.
So humour me if you will.
As you may know, for the last year I have been networking and attending conferences, and events with people in professions outside my field of learning and development.
The reason is that I wanted to understand the real challenges professions, organisations and businesses face. I wanted to hear from the people at the coalface. I didn’t want to theorise, ponder or pontificate. I wanted to talk to the people who are in those jobs about what challenges and pressures they face to keep up with constant change and volatility.
By understanding their concerns on how to improve their performance in a changing world, I would be in a better position as a learning professional, to help them with solutions that could be customised to suit their particular needs.
Also, I wanted to explore and find new clients in different fields in addition to corporate learning and development market.
So what did I find?
My assumption was confirmed. When it comes to performance improvement at work, one size most certainly never fit all. There are simply too many variables.
Although much of the networking involved getting out and speaking to people in person, some of it was online inside social networks. I sought membership into online communities and using new social networks (such as Snapchat) to talk to people in jobs such as microbiologists, volcanologists, astronauts, scientists, psychologists, doctors, growth hackers, engineers, teachers and marketers – jobs I would never have otherwise come across in my normal everyday life.
Also while watching interns at companies use Snapchat as a marketing and broadcasting tool to recruit other young people into their organisations, I had a question formulate in my head…
Even though we are living in an age where we have extraordinary resources at our fingertips, if you don’t have the knowledge or skills to find what you need offline, how can you be expected to know how to do this online ?
Let’s face it, no one teaches the skills of learning how to learn.
What Happened Next?
So that’s when I started thinking about Associations in particularly, member and professional associations and asked myself…
“How are these professional associations getting their members prepared for the future? Are the associations even prepared for this themselves?”
Over the last few months, I had the opportunity to present at a couple of networking events at two different associations. I spoke with both their staff and members and the conversations were enlightening because it made me think of my own experience with associations.
In the past, I have been a member of various associations and they’ve helped me greatly when I was starting out my career over 24 years ago. At times, I also volunteered in their committees organising the annual calendar of professional development and networking events, however, in the last years of my corporate life, I have let all memberships lapse simply because they don’t provide any value to me anymore.
Paying an annual membership fee to receive shop discounts, access to member resources online or a quarterly trade journal or periodical doesn’t match the extraordinary richness of the conversations, collaborations, and resources I’ve found online which are suited to my own personal learning needs and for most of them – entirely free.
So in the last few weeks, I sat down and scoured the internet to create a small list of Professional Member Associations and Professional Student Member Associations to call – and called them up one by one.
I had nothing to lose by cold calling to find people who can answer my questions as to whether Associations needed some help in helping their members learn.
I spoke to some people who were kind enough to talk with me and share their thoughts and here’s some of the feedback and concerns they had which surprisingly are similar to concerns that learning and development teams may have with their own businesses.
- Decreasing membership rates and the need to build their member database
- The need to deliver a unique and distinctive service proposition unlike other providers in the market
- Every other vendor seems to be offering the same services such as training, content or networking events usually cheaper than what they’re offering
- Their technology does not ‘plug in’ to their customer’s learning systems so that they can provide data that their customers want around the learning habits of their employees
- Providing their members with more interactive and flexible options when it comes to professional development or graduate programs that can be provided through a blend of delivery options and channels
- The association staff need to upskill in new technologies and find new products and services to generate revenue
- Their members prefer to use social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn Groups more so than their own community platform (and as such don’t have visibility of the conversations)
Can you see how many of the questions and pain points are similar to what many industries, businesses and organisations are experiencing for their own employees or with their own customers?
It’s evident that there’s change in the air – and it’s affecting every business. Associations aren’t excluded. If they can somehow help their members (or even non-members for that matter) tap into each other so they don’t feel isolated as more jobs become contracts or freelance, and in return offer supportive relationships of a trusted community, will this be their new raison d’etre?
So where am I going with all this?
At the moment, it was just a discovery phase for me and as yet, I’m unsure how this will relate to the work I’m doing but it’s making me think that there is an opportunity to be able to provide services to this new group.