Questions I still don't have answers to
A few weeks ago marked my fifth year on staff at ASAE. When I came on board in May 2007, I only had about year of association experience, so of course I had a lot of questions. I did not know the difference between a 501(c)(6) and a 501(c)(3). I assumed "ROI" was French. I needed Scott Briscoe, CAE, to explain to me what "social responsibility" was.
Of course, over time I found the answers to these questions and so many more. A side effect of editing day in and day out is absorbing what you're reading. (A back-of-the-napkin estimate: I've edited, proofread, or written more than 2,000 articles and blog posts on association management in these five years.) While none of this equates to direct experience—I can write about an association CEO having a new boss every year, but I don't know what that feels like—I like to think I've learned quite a bit about associations in general.
Yet, a few big questions persist, thoughts that crossed my mind early in my time here and which I assumed I would eventually come to understand better. But that hasn't happened. Five years and I'm still wondering. Maybe you can help.
Why hadn't I ever heard of association management before I came to ASAE? It's a deeper question than this, but that's how I first thought about it back then. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. But now I wonder why there are almost no degree programs in association management in colleges and universities. I wonder why, even in Washington, DC, I still have to explain to friends that an association is not a union, and it's not just "a bunch of lobbyists." Why did seemingly everyone in association management "fall into" it? Is anyone here on purpose?
Why is there no universal governance model? There are countless stories in the archives of ASAE publications on associations overhauling their governance models, with nearly as many resulting structures. Are we really all so special that we need each need our own unique way to drive group decision making? We're all human, right? Policy Governance is the only model I can think of that even has a name, and, while it has its ardent supporters, it is anything but universal. Boards are often cited as CEOs' biggest headaches, so it was no surprise to me that Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, got such a strong reaction when they recommended a five-member board. If nothing else, five was a number, something tangible to latch on to in a field with little consensus.
Are millennials not joiners, or are we just not at the right career stage yet? There is certainly no shortage of opinion on this, but neither side has won me over. I may just have to wait for time to tell. When baby boomers finally retire and millennials approach the middle stages of their career, I guess we'll find out. This is one of those questions of recency bias that makes me wonder if we're constantly overreacting. Is change really faster today than ever before, or do we just like to think that? File this question alongside "Is membership dead?" and "Is print dead?" and so on.
Perhaps these are questions you've wondered about yourself. Or maybe you too have questions about associations that you're still in search of answers to. Either way, please share.