I'm sure many Acronym readers have seen Joe Flowers' post on his blog, "Why I won't renew with ASAE in 2011." If not, you should read it, and the fascinating discussion that follows. The discussion also continues on the SocialFish blog, again, worth a look. (If others have posted on the conversation, my apologies for the oversight - let us know in the comments.)
As I've said many times, Acronym is not the place to give an official ASAE position on things or to deliver messages ASAE wants delivered. It's point is to foster discussion and debate about leading and managing associations. I think the points that Joe and the commentators make are much larger than ASAE; I think they're talking about a wide swath of associations. So first, I want to give my definition of what we're talking about.
Associations have many different primary reasons for existence. For some, the primary reason is government relations. For others, it might be a certification or an exclusive product offering or even a golden handcuff, affinity-style benefit. I'm on record saying that the social web is transforming all associations, no matter their primary reasons for existence, and that is most acutely true for organizations with the primary reason of fostering peer interaction, or networking, and information exchange. ASAE is such an organization, as are thousands of other associations.
So putting it another way, if the primary value your organization provides is networking and information, the social web has changed the rules of the game you're in. It's obvious, right: by definition the social web makes information sharing and building connections easy and free. Here's a dirty little secret: ASAE hasn't figured out what associations should do about this. Neither has anybody else. Some of the models are intriguing. There are several associations who have dropped the whole dues-paying part of membership. Another model is the exclusive model; the Third Tribe as a possible association model is fascinating to me. The comments to Joe's post are rich with ideas for ASAE and all associations--these exchanges, whether through ASAE channels or other means, enrich us all.
I think where we are now is that each organization has to look at its attributes, its possibilities, its limitations, and figure out its own approach. I don't think it will be a simple, cookie-cutter operation. It didn't feel like it, but believe it or not, it used to be easy: provide really good information and a means for smart, interesting people to talk to each other and you would be successful. That's not enough anymore. The social web has transformed that from a scarce resource into an abundant one. As I said, I don't know what's next. But here are some thoughts as we think about it.
1. It's ok for the Joe's of the world to question their involvement with an organization. Just because they can publicly proclaim their thoughts doesn't mean organizations should change and accommodate them. To be sure, we should listen, debate, and try to learn from such experiences--they truly are gifts to an organization--but should the organization make a change based on it? Maybe, maybe not.
2. It may not be better for the bottom line (at least in the short run), but all associations would be stronger if each and every member that received a renewal notice carefully considered the value they received--or could receive-- and then decide whether or not to pay it.
3. When I read the comments of Joe's post, there are clearly ASAE supporters and those that are less supportive. As organizations, we need to have a better understanding than we do of how people become engaged and involved in what we do. All organizations have the pathways to engagement, but we tend to focus on the people who find those pathways attractive (or find them at all) and dismiss those who do not as if they didn't want to be involved. That's a mistake - clearly associations will not be successful with such an attitude. If somebody paid dues to your organization, it's likely that they want one of those pathways to entice them. We need to have a better understanding of why and how these things happen in our organizations.
So that's three things to think about. What would you add to this list?
Some additional blog posts on this topic, I'll keep updating as I see them (or you let me know of them)
Just What Am I Joining from Get Me Jamie Notter
The Scarlet F of Freeloading from Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects
Why Being Anti-Indispensability Is Pro-Membership from Shelly Alcorn
To Be or Not to Be a Member from SmartBlog Insights
Paying the Price for the Failure to Innovate from Jeff De Cagna
Why I renewed with ASAE in 2011 from Moving Through the Association World