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Taboo Topics: Caring More Than Your Members

Posted by Jay Dziwlik, MBA, CAE on Nov 16, 2016 12:00:00 PM

volunteer-wordle.jpgI am tired of meeting information and materials left unopened and unviewed prior to a meeting. I am weary of members not thinking about the association in between meetings, for no opinions expressed, no decisions made, industry trends ignored. Do I care more about the association than my members?

Sometimes I do. In associations, it is an odd thing to have members living in their business and then hiring somebody to pay attention to the business of the business full time. I spend the whole work-week thinking about the association, yet members are working a full week and in their off hours volunteering to think about the association. There are some dangers and considerations if you think you care more than your members.

Get the right volunteers on the bus. Not every volunteer cares. Some are there for the title, fun, networking, the plaque at the end. Some don’t care about the right things. Their pet project, control of the purse or personal interests over association interests are not great reasons to volunteer. Set expectations, list tasks and schedule an orientation to get the best volunteers.

Get perspective; give perspective. Sometimes when I am feeling that I care too much, I need a break. I need to share my feelings with colleagues and get help. This feeling often accompanies a too-crowded schedule and not asking for help. Tell somebody you need help with your issue.

Better understand your members. Become a student of your members. Sometimes I work on things members really don’t care about. Nothing is more discouraging than doing a great job on a project nobody really wanted. Ask members about the work staff is doing. Is it worthwhile? Does the meeting and/or time commitment have enough value to take a member away from the work that pays their bills or from family time? I had a dentist tell me once, “Jay, is this meeting worth the $3,000 in dentistry I would do that day?” I had to admit many of my meetings were not worth $10 in gas, let alone that dentist’s standard.

Connect the dots. Worthwhile work is not intuited. You need to show the value of members engaging on the work of the association. I am amazed how a board of directors will haggle over the three cents of a budget for hours, but then rush through a major, new and expensive initiative with very little discussion or consideration. We need to show members the “why:” the payoff, the what might happen if we don’t—and address this issue. As a volunteer myself, I like knowing the purpose of my efforts and what I am working toward, and so do members.

Remember it is their association. It really is. They could shut the whole thing down if they wanted to. It is good to remember it is their business. My job is to help them do what they want, to be a good steward of their stuff and to give counsel and insight when I see it and when they need it. Then I need to step back and take my hand off the steering wheel and let them drive.

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Topics: Members, Associations, Engagement

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