Hanging Out and Talking About Membership

If your members can do their own associating, do they still need to join your association? A gathering of association pros last weekend explored (and exemplified) how membership models are evolving.

Despite what you might think about this dedicated membership blogger, I don’t often spend my Saturday afternoons thinking deeply about association membership models. Last weekend was different, though.

I was invited to participate in Association Jam, a small, multi-location gathering of association people with varying perspectives on the future of membership. This was the brainchild of Shelly Alcorn, CAE, principal of Alcorn Associaties, who hosted a group in Sacramento, California, on Saturday. (She also set up a Google+ community for the group in advance.) I met with a group in Washington, DC, hosted by Elizabeth Engel, CAE, CEO and chief strategist of Spark Consulting. Two other small groups met in Atlanta and Long Beach, California.

After sharing some food and drink, each group discussed the topic of membership for about an hour, and then all four gathered virtually via Google Hangout to share what we’d discussed. Shelly recorded the online conversation and posted it to YouTube:

Anything that makes it easier for an association’s industry to better itself is a step closer toward its mission.

Spoiler alert: We did not come up with a perfect membership model that will sustain all associations for years to come. But I don’t think that was ever the goal. We did, however, learn from each other. I got to know some association professionals I hadn’t met before. I heard some ideas and perspectives on membership that I hadn’t thought much about before (potential future blog posts to come). We commiserated about challenges and wondered aloud about potential solutions.

And none of this was directly facilitated or organized by ASAE. Toward the end of the afternoon, in some post-Hangout discussion among DC participants, a question arose about whether people need to join associations if they can gather and connect like this on their own. The people in the room were all association professionals of some sort, so the consensus seemed to be that people do still need associations, but the question remained hanging in the air as the event came to a close.

A while later it occurred to me that self-organization isn’t brand new, though. A gathering like Saturday’s could have occurred 30 or 100 years ago, but without the video conferencing. It’s just easier to organize such an event now. I think associations should see that as a positive development. Anything that makes it easier for an association’s industry to better itself is a step closer toward its mission.

Since their dawn, associations have existed to pursue goals that individuals can’t accomplish on their own. Technology hasn’t changed that dynamic; it’s merely raised the bar for what people can do on their own. So, yes, associations must raise their game accordingly, and they must craft membership packages (or other business models, if they choose) that provide that unique value that their members can’t get anywhere else.

Are your members self-organizing for knowledge-sharing and events? How has that affected your association’s value proposition? Please share in the comments.

(YouTube screenshot)

Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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