Membership Memo: Brain Trust

The American Council of Engineering Companies highlights a strategy to leverage your engaged member experts.

At the American Council of Engineering Companies, as in many associations, there are two types of members: those who are passive joiners and those who want to do it all—volunteer their time, join a committee, and move up the leadership ranks.

At ACEC, the latter is a small but effective group whose members Heather Talbert, CAE, knows by name.

Masterminds tend to work well in spaces where there is an entrepreneurial edge.

“I can count about 25 people who are my super-committed or uber members,” says Talbert, ACEC’s coalitions director. “I can also call them up and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ And I can get an honest answer.”

Many of these members serve on specialty groups called coalitions, organized by practice area or firm size. These are knowledge-sharing spaces where business leaders meet and learn from each other, gathering valuable intelligence that can help their firms grow. ACEC benefits too: The groups are instrumental in planning association events and seminars, producing content (including coalition publications), and engaging in strategic planning for the organization.

“They get access to content, like publications, toolkits, and a weekly digest of news. And we also just started marketing business polling with our groups,” Talbert says. Members pay coalition dues (in addition to ACEC membership dues)—the “skin in the game” for participation, Talbert says—ranging from $250 to $2,000 a year. She recruits new coalition members with an enticement—50 percent off the first year’s dues.

ACEC’s coalitions are similar to so-called mastermind groups—a century-old concept that was formally introduced by Napoleon Hill, an author of the self-help book Think and Grow Rich. By his definition, a mastermind is a group of individuals thinking and functioning in harmony to produce newfound energy.

“Masterminds tend to work well in spaces where there is an entrepreneurial edge,” says Jennifer Wenzel, a consultant who facilitates mastermind groups for businesses and other organizations. “In fact, people have used masterminds since the 1800s. Some of our earliest entrepreneurs were part of masterminds— people like Andrew Carnegie and [John D.] Rockefeller.”

The mastermind concept can also work well for professional associations, Wenzel says.

“It’s probably most applicable to a professional organization where individuals have joined, are paying their own money, advancing their own career, and using their own free time,” she says. “It’s for people who are looking to grow their career with an entrepreneurial rudder.”

Mastermind groups not only deepen member engagement with your most loyal members, but also serve as fertile ground for testing or advancing new association products, services, and ideas.

The key is to keep these groups small and focused. Wenzel suggests limiting each group to four to 10 members and making sure individuals’ goals are in line with the group’s focus. Smaller associations looking to recruit may want to consider adding masterminds as a no-cost membership benefit.

“Masterminds aren’t evil geniuses or super-exclusive and secretive clubs. These are peer advisory groups for your most-involved members,” she says. “It should be egalitarian—a self-selecting group who fit together for a common business interest.”

(baramee2554/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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