Today it is harder to engage a member than it was ten years ago. Ten years ago it was harder to engage a member than it was ten years before that.
Why is member engagement becoming so difficult?
Well, because our members might be dividing their time between multiple associations. Or because our members are engaging with for-profits that are offering some of our benefits better and cheaper. And because now our members are doing the jobs three other people used to do. Each day is a frenzy with zero discretionary time, not even for lunch or pee breaks. Or because now their organization refuses to fund association membership and events. Because our members are working 10 hour days and by the time they get home, make dinner, clean up, put the kids to bed, and pay bills there is only brain space left over for some TV then bed.
- We are losing their time.
- We are losing their attention.
- We are losing them.
These technological, economic, and cultural forces will not improve. If anything they are going to get worse. Attention will become even more of a premium in the years to come.
So does this mean that associations are doomed?
But it does mean that we have to question our expectations. In 10 years can we expect volunteer board members to contribute 10 hours or more a month to the association? Or can we expect the president to devote 20 hours? Will the work of committees have to become the work of staff? Can we expect contributors to spend hours on an article and even more hours preparing a presentation? Can we expect they will read the journal, or the newsletter, or that recent research report? Can we expect they will spend three days at the conference plus another two days in travel time?
All that might need to change.
Assuming members in the future can only participate half as much as they do today, how will the association have to change?