Here's a Big Ideas Month blog post we received from Jeffrey Cufaudeâ€”thanks Jeffrey!
"The things you own end up owning you."
~ Tyler Durden character in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
What if associations shifted more of their efforts from being direct providers of member value to facilitators of members receiving value?
Associations have long prided themselves on delivering high-quality programs and resources for members, including certification, educational conferences, magazines, and journals. Most of these programs are done in-house and require a significant investment of resources. In essence, these are association-owned efforts. They create them; they pay for them; they deliver them. They are an essential part of the associationâ€™s stated benefits and identify with members.
Association staff and volunteers often express some of the not-so-positive consequences of this direct provider approach: You canâ€™t ever kill a program around here. Once we start doing something we rarely stop doing it. We keep adding more to our plate without ever taking anything away. We try to do so much for so many that we donâ€™t do very many things very well. By trying to be everything for everybody we end up being not much for anyone in particular.
So whatâ€™s the different between being a provider of value and being a facilitator of value being received? At its roots, the word facilitation means â€œactions taken to make it easier.â€ What is it that associations would be making easier? Members receiving the value they need in the form they want it, when they want it, and at an affordable price.
But wait you say, isnâ€™t that what associations already see themselves as doing â€¦? Providing programs and services that meet member needs? Well yes, but the key word there is providing. Associations see making things easier for members primarily through the lens of the association being the direct solution provider. But no association has unlimited resources or ability to meet all of the specific needs its members might have at any given time. Rather than try to do so, associations should incorporate a greater role facilitating members receiving the value they need. Doing so would complement the specific areas where it is in the associationâ€™s best interests to retain its role as being the actual provider of value.
Some associations already do these by default. Iâ€™m simply advocating that more of it be done by design. Associations doing so would:
- Identify complementary/competing associations its members might now consider joining and negotiate special affiliate rates that provide a limited bundle of benefits, the ones that would be most attractive to members.
- Negotiate special rates for members to purchase resources/attend educational programs sponsored by other organizations. These resources or programs might be ones that the association itself would be less capable of providing at the best cost or the highest quality or that might require a disproportionate percentage of resources in relation to the number of members who would be served.
- Purchase generalist content others create and then adding additional information addressing specific implications/applications for the associationâ€™s members and providing the enhanced product as a member benefit or publication for resource.
Instead of seeing this as a gatekeeper roll think of it as a door-opener or hyperlink function, one in which I receive additional value specifically through access, pathways, and opportunities that my primary association has acquired for me â€¦ ones I might not have been able to access myself as easily or as cost effectively.
But perhaps the greatest shift in mindset and action would be in the way the association sees itself relating to, and interacting with, its members. In any association community, a significant pool of member interest, talent, and knowledge remains untapped. In its purest role as facilitator of members receiving value, associations would devote more effort and resources to creating the infrastructure that would enable members to more easily and quickly connect, share, and create with each other.
Again many existing efforts fall into category, including listservers, online discussion forums, member directories, etc. We frequently see members rating these services as being very important benefits, yet the association merely provides the framework in which members provide the actual content that is valued. They facilitate members doing what they want to do.
This is where the real untapped opportunity existsâ€” engaging members in determining the platform that would enable them to create and access the value they most desire. Associations pursuing this path would be seen as enablers, facilitators, and amplifiers of member-generated content and initiatives. In this respect, the association would be acting somewhat like the iPhone application store: providing the hardware and the programming guidelines for others to create apps that are then screened for standards compliance before being released to the market.
The value is sustained for any particular initiative by membersâ€™ interest and ownership as opposed to direct allocation of association resources for a specific program. Associations wouldnâ€™t have to kill off sacred cow initiatives that only a small population values. Initiatives would die on their own when insufficient member interest and ownership remains to perpetuate and manage them.
Not everyone wants a DIY bundle of value, so associations cannotâ€”and should notâ€” get out of the business of being a direct provider of value. But the resources provided for doing so should be more focused and leveraged more exclusively for those topics/areas where the association is uniquely positioned to directly provide the value â€¦ better, faster, more efficiently, or at a better price.
The right mix of direct provider versus facilitator is something each association must decide and regularly revisit based on changing conditions in their profession or industry, broader environmental trends, as well as members needs and preferences. So finding the answer is up to you and your organization. Iâ€™m fairly confident that the act of doing so is well worth your time and attention.