Get in the Habit of Connecting Members
As an association pro, you're in the best position to help members meet each other. Could you make a daily habit of making introductions?
From time to time, I get an email from an ASAE member with a question about something related to membership. I maintain that I’m not an expert, just a writer, so I usually try to find some past articles on the topic they’re asking about and, when I can, recommend they get in touch with a member at another association that has experience with the issue. This has always been a rewarding part of the job, knowing I’m helping someone with a problem directly.
But, I only do this on occasion. I’m no Adam Rifkin, the entrepreneur and super-networker profiled by Adam Grant in his book Give and Take. Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, mentioned Rifkin during his opening general session at the 2014 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Nashville on Sunday. Specifically, Grant said he likes Rifkin’s daily habit of making three email introductions between members of his network who could benefit from connecting, calling it a perfect example of the power of “five-minute favors.”
A lot of what Grant had to say Sunday was in the context of workplace interactions, but I think the five-minute favors concept could be a powerful tool for membership pros. Fostering community and facilitating connections is at the heart of what associations do, so why not make it a daily habit?
Associations’ major programs are typically aimed at connecting members on a large scale—getting them in the same room, in the same classrooms, or in the same online discussions. But, from there, we often simply hope the connections happen themselves. (“Organically,” if you’d like.) That approach works, of course, but there’s no guarantee that the people with the best potential to collaborate will find each other, or it might even leave introverts by the wayside. Why leave it all to chance?
Association staff (and volunteer leaders, too) have a unique vantage point in their community that lets them see where optimal connections could be made. With a little effort to make introductions, they can have a big impact. And Grant and Rifkin say that’s what makes the five-minute favor so powerful: low cost to the giver, high benefit to the recipient.
Chances are, most association pros make these introductions often, but they might not make it a proactive habit. But what if they did? Or what if one staff member’s entire job was to simply get to know members and make introductions? That might sound crazy, but it’s not unheard of. Terry Fong, member concierge at the California Dental Association, spends her time making welcome calls to every new member of CDA, about 1,000 in a year. And, as in Rifkin’s case, persistence pays off. Grant says Rifkin’s introductions over the years have resulted in “dozens of new companies and even some marriages.”
One of the best benefits of membership in an association is other members. These days, social technology allows some of that connecting to happen without the need for an association. But, if you’re doing it right, a social media algorithm won’t be able to compete with the power of association professionals who are dedicated to knowing their members as real people and making those one-to-one connections.
How often do you make member introductions? Do you think asking your association’s staff to make an introduction every day (or on some other consistent schedule) would work well? Please share in the comments.