A big part of my current job and role for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions is focused around our association engagement levels, sponsorships and partnerships with various industry associations. How much time do we spend engaging with various associations? And what is our participation levels, since time is so precious and we need to have the right people involved at the right levels?
One of the consistent key target areas of focus for the various associations is around membership: increasing membership numbers, increasing volunteer participation and engagement, ensuring that education and networking programs are compelling and valuable to members. For supplier members, finding budget to join various associations is a lot easier than if you are a buyer member representing a corporation. Frankly, it’s my job to be a member of various associations but I can remember a time when I was a global buyer where I had to pick one or two associations to be a member of, as the department budget couldn’t support more engagement. Budget aside, it’s also a time commitment thing for many buyers. They are being pressed for results — reporting ROI, creating forward-looking strategies to mitigate corporate risk.
What this all means is selective membership participation and involvement for many buyers, i.e. stagnant and/or a reduction in membership numbers for many associations. The danger in that scenario is frankly the following: loss in association buyers = loss of supplier members. Suppliers will support and join an association where the buyer membership numbers are robust, not stagnant or shrinking.
A recent Op-ed in MeetingsNet by Jim Alkon, former vice president of education for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter and former president-elect of MPI’s Westfield Chapter, was very insightful and reiterates support for the notion that less is more when it comes to membership numbers and active vs. passive participation.
It’s time that associations realize that the membership pool is finite and that they will have to compete for members — focusing on attracting and retaining buyer members in order to attract supplier members. They will have to remain relevant in a world where networking has become non-exclusive, thanks to the internet and social media. And they have to become more cognizant of the fact that suppliers need to track and report solid and defensible ROI numbers in order to justify and continue participation and funding of association-related involvement and support. They have new marketplace competitor entrants, with media publications also offering educational content and conferences.
I believe we are at a tipping point where some associations may have to consider consolidation in order to continue. Suppliers are going to have to make some serious decisions when it comes to participation and engagement with associations — based not just on the membership numbers, but on the sales lead generation ROI they can document and track. The smarter association leadership groups are starting to figure this out, the others in denial will no doubt continue to shrink in size and relevance.
How many associations are you currently a member of — and are you getting good ROI from that membership?