Those of you who know me know that I started my career in the association mecca of the world: Alexandria, Virginia. I cut my teeth in a couple of international associations â€“ one trade association, and one professional society. Like many association executives in the DC marketplace, I developed an inside the beltway bias about the face of the association industry. One of the ways this manifested itself was in my opinions about components. For me and many of my colleagues in the DC area, state affiliates, chapters or allied organizations were disrespectfully viewed as nuisances and distractions.
A little over three years ago, looking for a change of scenery and relief from the traffic, I left DC to work for a statewide association in Richmond, just 100 miles south of Alexandria. In the time that Iâ€™ve been here, this association has grown to be the biggest Iâ€™ve ever worked for both in terms of staff and budget. Iâ€™ve also gotten to know association executives at other state associations around the country and have been consistently impressed with their capabilities. Furthermore, Iâ€™ve come across some local associations with programs that absolutely knock my socks off.
My colleagues at national and international associations are always shocked when I tell them the size of our membership. Still, Iâ€™m continually asked by my peers when will I be moving back to DC, or when will I be getting back to a national or international association. No time in the immediate future, I tell them; Iâ€™m very happy where I am.
In the years since I left DC, Iâ€™ve noticed that the savviest association executives are the ones that treat their affiliates and chapters with the utmost respect. They acknowledge that theyâ€™re partners in some ways and competitors in others. But thereâ€™s a genuine modesty and conscientious decorum in their relationships with chapters and affiliates. Although weâ€™re not connected in any official way, Iâ€™ve always been pleased by the way Iâ€™ve been treated by the national association with whom my employers is aligned. Because of this positive relationship, Iâ€™m happy to carry the national associationâ€™s message to our membership and prospects. The results of this respect are played out in other areas as well.
Truly respecting your components may require giving up some control over programs. Opening yourself up to competition from chapters in some program areas may be necessary, too. Completely turning some things over entirely to components might be a demonstration of good faith.
Do you respect your components? Or do you overtly block them in some areas? Would they be offended if they overheard your staffâ€™s indiscriminate comments about them?
As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence, I have learned: The beltway bias is unfounded and counterproductive.
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