So what is the answer? In our opinion an association creates the potential for value and only the individual member can unlock that potential. Said another way, members who get involved create value for themselves and the association. And networking is the key to involvement.
The word and concept of networking seem to have been hijacked by social media with the use of Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook etc. All of these applications are certainly important but they can’t replace the rich communication offered by face-to-face contact that members need and gain value from. As we get busier the face-to-face contact is getting more challenging so as association managers and board members you need to look for ways to get members together, talking about their profession, connecting and learning from other members.
I used to work with a small client that was a chapter of a national organization. The members that attended meetings to plan the professional development for the chapter received the greatest value from being members of the association. They got together regularly, reflected routinely on the issues of the profession and connected with their committee members. The return on investment they received from getting involved provided them the return they needed to maintain their membership.
As an Association Management Company (AMC) we work with a client that has a 90 year history as an organization so it has many traditions. When our firm was contracted to manage the association there were committees but they were not very active. Over time the activity of each committee has increased and each committee is having regular meetings and interacting several times a year. With the increased involvement it allows members to connect with each other on a more regular basis creating more opportunity to learn more about their colleagues and their businesses. This has tremendous value for these members as it is a business networking organization so more contact leads to more business opportunities for all.
This same association ran a regular set of annual functions as networking opportunities for members. When the program committee looked at attendance for each event they saw a trend of dropping attendance. The committee polled the members and then went to work on creating some different opportunities for members to meet. One was a wine tasting event, another was an outside summer barbeque. The success this group is having with their new events shows the value of putting your heads together and thinking outside of the usual annual things that are done. Creativity and thinking outside of the box are crucial to be successful.
Getting people together face-to-face and giving them a purpose creates value that retains members and gives them the opportunity to get more out of their membership, so there is never a question of whether or not you are providing value for the dollars they are spending.
LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter all have their place in networking but never discount the value of committees, board work, task forces and conferences as great vehicles to create the face-to-face contact required to provide value, and move your association forward.