Who Belongs to Whom?

Most of us regularly use the phrase "our members." Stop and think about that. Do members belong to your association, or is it really the other way around?

If you were a regular reader of Acronym, the predecessor to the blogs, in its early days, you’re likely familiar with the wisdom of Seth Godin. The prolific business author and blogger was a favorite of past editor-in-chief Scott Briscoe, CAE, and for good reason. Godin has always had a knack for reminding us of simple ideas we know are true but that we forget in the day-to-day of business, management, and human nature.

I’ve gotten away from regular doses of Godin in the past couple years, but I’m glad I caught his post “Actually, They’re Not Yours” last week. His message, as usual, is short and sweet. Here’s about half of it:

When you say, “my customers,” or “my readers,” you’re using a shorthand, but you’re also making a mistake. We’re not yours. We’re ours. Your readers aren’t going to spread an idea merely because you ask them to. Your customers aren’t going to buy an upgrade just because you issue one.

Of course, the same applies to “my members.” Complacency sets in when you find yourself always thinking of members of your association as “my members.”

The member’s time, attention, energy, and loyalty don’t belong to you. They never do. They must constantly be earned.

It’s true that, once a member has paid her dues for the year, that dues money belongs to you. But that’s it. The member’s time, attention, energy, and loyalty don’t belong to you. They never do. They must constantly be earned. Godin’s reminder is an important one.

For associations, his point can be drawn a step further. Not only are members not “yours,” but one could argue that you, the association professional, are in fact “theirs.” The association that employs you is an organization formed and governed by members. Their dues pay your salary.

Later in his post, Godin writes, “No, you don’t own an audience.” In the context of associations, the audience owns you.

“Belong” is a word we use a lot in associations, and it takes on several important meanings. Members join and belong to an association, and yet the association also belongs to the members.

For an article in a future issue of Associations Now, I interviewed a volunteer leader at an association this week. She’d been involved with the organization for more than 25 years, and at one point she said, “My ego’s tied up in my professional association.”

My professional association. That’s all the proof you need right there. Belonging is a two-way street.

Do you ever find yourself thinking of “my members” too regularly? Do you remind members that the association belongs to them in your engagement efforts? Please share in the comments.


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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