Should you be serving or leading your members?
We interrupt this social media month with an off-topic post...
Should your association provide what your members want or what they need? Others may disagree, but I think this is essentially the same question as does your association serve its members or lead them?
The copout answer to both questions is that associations need to do both. Itâ€™s a copout because I believe an organization can only be focused on one or the other (or, I guess neither, but thatâ€™s a different matter). Thereâ€™s obviously some gray area and one side likely always spills into the other, but I think if an organization doesnâ€™t focus on one or the other then the best it can hope for is mediocrity at both.
Iâ€™m pretty passionate about where I think associations should be: They should be on the lead/need side, not the want/serve side. To oversimplify why I think that way, Iâ€™m going to pull from my communications experience. An article that finishes a sentence that starts with â€œHow toâ€¦â€ is the want/serve side, whereas an article that finishes a question that starts â€œWhat ifâ€¦â€ is the lead/need side.
Iâ€™m not belittling the how-to articles. I just think that in the past associations were absolutely necessary to answer the how-to questions. I think itâ€™s less important now because the online universe will almost always have more information and be a more efficient source either to find or, in the case of social media and online collaboration, to create the how-to answers.
Boards, committees, task forces, ad hoc groups, special industry group leadersâ€”collectively all the leaders of an organization should be asking â€œwhat ifâ€ questions and working on â€œwhat ifâ€ answers.
An organizationâ€™s paid staff should be more than administrators; they should be participants in these discussions. Too many associations build a wall between the thinking and the doing.
Guess what paid staff? This is no cakewalk. You become obligated to develop more than passing interest in or marginal knowledge of what your members do. Unfortunately, the world doesnâ€™t really break down so neatly into how tos and what ifs. As staff, you need to have some kind of radar that will help you distinguish between the two and push volunteers to work on the latter.
You know one of the seven measures (similar to one of the ways Collins says â€œgreatâ€ companies distinguish themselves from â€œgoodâ€ ones) is to be data driven. I love the principle but I hate how itâ€™s described in 7 Measures and what it means to most people. Donâ€™t use data to figure out what members want or how to serve them; use it as part of the discussion about what they need and how the organization can lead the profession/industry/interest forward.