When Members Don’t Get Going Global

Selling the idea of international expansion to members can be difficult. Here's how one association dealt with the challenge.

Six years ago, Deborah Andres launched the international department of the National Funeral Directors Association. Born in Cuba and raised in Canada, she speaks Spanish and French as well as English, and years of networking with international attendees at NFDA meetings convinced her that the organization would benefit from a dedicated staff person focused on international matters.

I had to prove to them that it was the international dues dollars that were paying for what we were doing internationally.

Those efforts have paid off: NFDA’s non-U.S. membership has jumped from 35 in 2006 to 749 in 2011. But Andres says she’s faced headwinds almost the entire time.

“In the beginning it was very hard for our board to grasp why we were doing anything internationally,” she says. When NFDA launched its first expo in Asia in 2008, members revolted: “They started writing us, saying they were going to withdraw their membership because they couldn’t believe that we were spending their dues dollars to do [events] internationally when we should be concentrating domestically.”

Andres has taken a two-pronged approach to address those concerns. First, she promoted the financial benefits of expanding membership, arguing that what was good for overseas members was good for domestic ones.

“I was bringing the ROI home,” she says. “I had to prove to them that it was the international dues dollars that were paying for what we were doing internationally.” She reminded suppliers that going global was an opportunity to expand their market. “I explained that we were answering the call of the suppliers because they were complaining that the market was shrinking.”

Her second tactic was to bring NFDA’s international members face to face with the association’s leadership to show how much its education and training were valued. Last year, she invited a funeral director from Nigeria to speak to NFDA’s policy board. “It set off this light bulb—that’s when the board began to understand what we were doing,” says Andres.

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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