By Alex Damico – CIMGlobal MD – USA & Canada
Tell me if you’ve heard this one. It’s a member of a not-for-profit association staff talking to someone on the senior staff of that organization.
“I was talking to one of our members today and they suggested we start doing (you fill in the blank here) because it would really help them in their business. I’ve done a little research and it wouldn’t cost us a lot. I’m sure quite a few of our other members feel the same way and this would be a great addition to our member value proposition.”
Ever been a part of that conversation? Most of us have and I think there are a number of things to take away from it.
First, heap praise on the staff person for engaging and actively listening to the needs and concerns of a member and sharing it internally.
Second, empower that staff member to own the request, or at least lead the team that figures out if it makes sense.
Third, proceed with caution. Most associations, at least in my experience, jump into some of these “opportunities” with both feet without much thought. Frequently, the rationale is that the opportunity is tied to the organization’s mission. After all, trade associations and professional societies exist to fulfill their mission, right? Sure, but it takes funding to do the programs that support the mission and eventually we all end up at that age-old question of
Money Versus Mission
It’s not so different than the chicken and egg question – which comes first? Well, in this case, I believe strongly that money must come before mission. Try carrying out your well developed, perfectly crafted mission without it. This may seem obvious, but many associations, at least at times, struggle with this. If your association is fortunate enough to have a broad and healthy membership, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the requests for programs and services will be as diverse as they are. Saying yes to every member request is a sure path to financial problems since many of the programs and services associations provide are either non-revenue generating or operate with a negative return. I’m not suggesting that everything an association does needs to generate a positive return but, in total, money in must exceed money out.
There are two important activities that every association should undertake in this regard:
- Analyze their current product and service offerings with an objective of optimizing the balance between the organization’s expertise and the market demand
- Set up a gating process that tests all potential new products and services against this same balance prior to implementation.
These activities will not, by nature, exclude “mission driven” non-profitable offerings. They will, however, ensure that these offerings are tested for relevance to the target market and that the organization actually has the expertise to deliver them.