Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I believe WIFM (short for "what's in it for me?") is the bane of association leadership.

I am aware there is a lot to be said for the WIFM concept. The WIFM idea is very well established and will continue to have a place in discussions regarding the value proposition we offer to member-citizens in associations. There are certainly levels of WIFM considerations in memberships, conference attendance and other consumable products that we offer. But for me, WIFM belongs squarely in the member benefits and marketing department, not in our volunteer leadership structures or the board room.

The Boardroom belongs to WIFU instead (short for "what's in it for us?")

Here's why.

WIFM is a mindset. We know people often ask WIFM before they consider WIFU, but how much of that is human behavior and how much of that is a mental model they have built because we keep telling them THAT is the question they should ask? I refuse to sell Millennials short and insist that they can’t be attracted to a profession, issue or cause through any other method than WIFM. WIFM wasn't on John F. Kennedy's mind when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." He was all about the WIFU.

WIFM is a one-way transaction, WIFU is a two-way conversation. WIFM is valid and individuals use WIFM when evaluating such things as purchases or attendance at events but WIFM is consumerist by its very nature. WIFM doesn’t apply to the totality of the association’s vision and mission or the member experience. If you can make a credible, authentic case for WIFU (What's in it for Us) instead of constantly throwing darts at a moving WIFM target, you have a much better chance of getting and keeping someone’s attention. Individuals have to meet you half way by buying into the WIFU, not simply wait for you to serve up the WIFM.

WIFM is a mirage. We are kidding ourselves. We continue to tell ourselves it is possible to develop such an intimate relationship with our members that we can routinely second-guess and satisfy their every whim and need. Survey fatigue is a growing phenomenon and is a direct result of this mindset. We keep going back to the well time and time again in an effort to decipher where the WIFM is in the minds of a diverse and ever-shifting population. Should we make every attempt to get to know members and develop deeper, more authentic relationships? Absolutely. But absent installing chips in their heads we are not EVER going to be able to guess exactly what they want on any given day.

WIFM is undermining civil discourse. Association discussions and decisions must reflect the WIFU first. If your volunteers are obsessed with WIFM issues, either on behalf of your member-citizens or in pursuit of their own individual goals, you are going to be playing politics - not leading. Do you want chapters to compromise on certain policy positions? Focus on WIFU first and keep WIFM in your back pocket in case you need it. Do you want volunteers to go above and beyond the call of duty? Then infuse volunteer leadership with WIFU first and discuss the WIFM as a secondary, bonus outcome.

WIFM isn't the exclusive motivator. If you ask me to boil my decision about paying dues or belonging to your organization to a coldly practical WIFM calculation as to whether I "get my money's worth" then, sorry, the answer is probably no. The more you tout WIFM reasons for me to fork over the cash, the more put off I get. Especially because social media gives me a way to establish professional relationships and gain access to information on my own. Membership, like friendship, is no longer an experience that you can commoditize the way you do programs, services and other benefits. Genuine affiliation has to be based on something bigger than a WIFM outcome. If you can combine the WIFU with the WIFM, you might get me to say yes.

So, I am not actually sure if anyone else is using the term WIFU. I am probably not the first person to come up with it, but I AM the first person to put it in the urban dictionary. Yes, I am associationgrrrl. :D

And the next time I am in a room with my association peeps and someone says, "we have to concentrate on WIFM" expect me to challenge with, "Only if you can answer WIFU first!"


  1. Shelly, how can a profession effectively translate its value/benefit to policy makers under the WIFU model? Policy makers say they are elected to represent the "people" but in reality they represent groups of people (who have usually given them money at some point).

  2. Thanks for the comment. To change the system we need to overturn Citizens United and enact campaign finance laws that make sense.

    I'm not nearly so interested in swaying individual policy makers as I am embedding another concept into the electorate who are beginning to make those connections. We don't work or live in a vacuum. It's WIFU or it's disaster. If we can elect WIFU folks, we will be in a much better position to make policy and decisions that make sense as opposed to on behalf of the highest bidder.

    Thanks for reading....



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