Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are Associations About Professions or About Needs?

So, Joe Rominiecki wrote a terrific post on Acronym called Big and Niche.  I think we should all read that one again and the additional posts he linked to by Maggie McGary and Joshua Paul.

I've been thinking along similar lines recently especially in light of a new organization I just became aware of called the Young Entrepreneur Council. I thought this was a great post on the Personal Branding Blog about the YEC and a new partnership they are offering in conjunction with Citi called My Start Up Lab.

Membership in the YEC is by referral. It does have a GuideStar record but no 990 yet, so I can't actually tell if it's a 501(c)(6) or a 501(c)(3).  Regardless, it is a membership based community formed around the concept of helping Gen Y reach their career goals and accelerate the development of their business acumen.

What I find so cool about this is it is a membership organization built around an idea, not a profession.  I am sure this concept isn't new and there must be membership organizations built around specific ideas intended to support a broad segment of the population.  However, nine times out of ten when I run across an association it's entire mission is based around a particular industry or profession, or perhaps a hobby or activity.  Most associations that we are familiar with are dedicated to supporting specific skills people need to succeed in a particular job as opposed to gaining basic job skills and resources that could be useful in the economy at large.

I am very intrigued with this concept and wondering what other possibilities there are.  I know people are struggling with Gen X and Gen Y membership.  I just conducted a board retreat on that topic this weekend and we had a blast doing it.  But maybe the question is bigger than how do we create value for our younger members.  Maybe this laser focus on "creating membership value" within our own industry segments is clouding the bigger question.

Is it possible that associations need to be going big and niche at the same time?  In other words, what if this isn't an either/or question but an if/and question?  The need for young people to hone their business skills around entrepreneurship is something we may build a 100 programs for in a 100 different associations.  What if there is one program that gets it done and appeals to a wide audience at the same time?  What if associations collaborated to create such a thing and then directed members to established associations to get more specific when/if the time came for that sort of interaction?

That could be a game changer.  Are we ready?

(I picked this weeks video clip because I was trying to remember what it was like to be exuberant and young like the members who are joining the Young Entrepreneur Council.  Not sure I got the perfect clip but it's a hoot anyway - M M M M My Sharona!   I was in sixth grade when that song came out.  One of my cousins threatened me with certain death after I played that 45 about twenty-six times in a row one afternoon. :D)


  1. Years ago I did some consulting for the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (, which has since merged with some other "EOs" to become simply the Entrepreneurs Organization.

  2. Hi Jamie -

    That may well be but according to the YEC's website ( this iteration of the YEC was founded in 2010. So they are either a new group with an old name or an old group that is being resurrected.

    Either way, these folks are energized and refocusing membership energy around some new initiatives that I think could potentially have some broad implications....

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Good, thought-provoking insights, Shelly. I'm going to have to think on this a bit. Great video too! Now that you've given out your age... what year was My Sharona? '79? If I'm remembering correctly, I was in either 6th or 7th grade when it came out. I remember roller skating to this song (yes, roller skating... not rollerblading or in-line skating or whatever these crazy kids call it these days...)

  4. Reverse skate! Couples skate! And of course, every girls accessory - the colored fuzzy pom poms that went on the skates....

    Good call on the date - yes, it was 1979....:D You fellow Gen Xer you...

    Thanks for the read....

  5. Good food for thought. Makes me think of the ASAE Foundation environmental scan from early 2000 that had Meaning Matters as one of its themes. A meaningful purpose was often found to be the catalyst for action. Sounds like that is what has occurred with this council. Organizing around purpose and meaning doesn't have to be tied to a profession or industry as you aptly note.

  6. Great comment Jeffrey - certainly the concept of "social" has transcended any number of barriers, maybe the question of meaning is now poised to do the same thing.

    It could actually be beneficial for membership organizations who are looking to create new structures that meet new, broader needs in terms of workforce and economic development.

  7. Hi Shelly. I'm late to the party on this post, as I somehow missed it last week, but I still wanted to chime in. First, thanks for the kind words about my big/niche post. To answer the question in the title of your post, I think associations should be about needs, since that's less limiting than being about a profession. I think needs are what communities form around. A lot of times, though, that happens to align with a profession because people within a profession all have very similar needs (accountants all need to know accounting rules, etc.). So I guess I don't see a huge difference. But, "needs" is a better guidepost because it opens up an association to the kinds of broader goals and ideas that you're alluding to here. Involving consumers, collaborating with other associations, working toward workforce/economic development, and so on -- if needs define the community, then it's free to grow and bring together whoever is interested. Thanks again.

  8. Hi Joe - thanks for stopping by and for the nice comment....I am continuing to think about this a lot...I don't have a lot of answers but I like the concept of needs as a "guidepost." Love that idea...and the way it opens the mind up to the "superstructure" that I'd like to see built....


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