Most of our associations serve members who are at the highest levels of their careers. Managers, directors, VP’s, CEO’s and owners are who we tend to seek to serve. In my own career while charging up the corporate ladder, I noticed that the higher I got the more lonely my work life became. No longer one of us, I became one of them. Members say the same. They are the only one at their organization who does what they do and being the only one is often lonely.
While working for a national association, I was annoyed by the small handful of members who demanded that we set up a listserv for a very niche interest. Obviously it wouldn’t work, listserves and now online communities need a to reach a threshold of active users to be effective. What I neglected to realize at the time was these members were looking for a way to connect. They wanted to connect with others like them with the same interest. The solution demanded wouldn’t work and this masked the real issue; they had a problem that we could have solved.
Look at a list of member benefits and the value centers around tangibles: conferences, articles, benchmarking surveys and more. When I talk to members however the value of the association, particularly for long-time members, centers around connecting. And new members also need to build their network which is a time consuming and difficult task.
This idea of connecting members, really connecting them is an interesting one to play with. What if:
- What if we added a connection component to every member benefit?
- What if our core goal was to connect members with each other and everything else we did flowed out of that core goal?
- What if we looked hard at how our members needed to connect. Is it by special interest, by title, by responsibility, by geography or by_____? What would that look like?
- What if instead of association professionals we considered ourselves hosts?
When members tell me, “my association makes me feel not so alone” or “as soon as I moved to this city I immediately joined the chapter and felt at home” or “thank goodness for my association, it is good to know I’m not the only one in a leaky rowboat” I know there is much more to this connection thing than we realize.