Think this through with me for a second: What if we didn’t have members?
I know. It sounds crazy – a membership association without members?! How will we make money? Who will we serve? Won’t we cease to be important to the people in our industry? Step out of that box. The one labeled, “Because We’ve Always Done It This Way,” in big, bold letters. Let’s think for just a second about what would happen if we did it differently by working through the “What If” exercise.
What if we tried to serve all the people in our industry? It’s possible that our profile would be greater. We could reach people who don’t have the money to pay our dues, or those who considered us just an extra expense. If we provide programs, services and resources to all practitioners, wouldn’t we raise the bar even more than we already do?
What if we dedicated all our “membership” time, energy, effort and money to something else? Could you create more programs and services? Jump into a legislative effort? Tackle partnerships like never before? Think about the massive resources you dedicate to simply managing membership. Rework your staff if they weren’t required to track paid through dates, send renewal invoices or answer password questions (because we all have those, right!?).
What if you shift the way you think about members? If members didn’t pay, it might raise the number of people in your organization dramatically. Where could new numbers take you? It’s possible you could carry more weight in advocacy efforts, or have more negotiating power for things in the best interest of your members.
What if we engaged people who aren’t our traditional members? Have you tapped into people you wouldn’t always consider membership material? People who support your industry or organization, but don’t necessarily qualify, might be incredibly interested in staying connected. They can serve as additional advocates, or help boost numbers (see above).
The “What If” exercise can be applied to all areas of membership (and even other departments within your organization). Spend a day brainstorming around the exercise, or take it one step further and commit to a week of replacing the word “member” with “industry/topic/type.” For example, replace “member” with “engineer.” Break away from your common thinking that you only exist to serve members, and explore the possibilities of serving all.
After all, organizations don’t just exist to serve their members, but the communities they engage with. Who is your community, and how can you serve?