A reporter recently asked me if I thought people were not joining membership organizations like they used to. People in the greatest generation and the boomers joined because that is what you did. People expected to join and joining was expected of them. Is the motivation to join gone nowadays?
I do not think that is necessarily the case. People still want to join professional organizations, but times have changed, and the decision to join is much more complicated than it once was. 40, 50, 60 years ago, the decision to join an organization was much more cut and dry because there were fewer organizations. There was likely just one engineering society, one or two medical associations, and perhaps one or two options for small business owners depending on what chapters or clubs were available in their local area.
In the last twenty years, there has been a proliferation of niche associations. The choice between which groups to join is almost infinite. There are little associations everywhere that focus on a tiny fraction of the overall discipline. First time members, who know little about associations are trying to decide if it is worth their trouble to join. Early in the decision-making process, they find it difficult to determine whether they should join the big national or the small local or one of a handful of little niche groups. Sometimes it is easier to give up and not join any organization at all.
For nearly every profession, even in at-will associations, I hear plenty of members say, “if you want to be a [professional title] you join [professional association].” That feeling of wanting to join hasn’t gone away; it has changed as potential members wrestle with deciding which association to join now.