Friday, February 1, 2013

Membership IS the Value of Membership!

So, I was one of the lucky ones who got to see Dave Grohl's new documentary "Sound City" last night at the Crest in Sacramento (and yay +Sandra Giarde was with me, Mark and Molly).  And I CANNOT stop thinking about it.

Dave expertly tells the story of the Sound City studio in Los Angeles that saw the birth of iconic album after iconic album.  But at the end of the day this is a deeply human story about connection, friendship, creativity and the human struggle in the digital age.  It offers questions about how we find our communities, express ourselves and honor the past while moving forward into the future. The story builds around a platform - the NEVE board, the thing that sat in the center of the creative musical swirl and created a focal point for these musicians to connect, sweat and scream.  To create songs and moments that will endure.

As we walked out into the hall, my brain convulsed and I ended up saying (louder than was probably necessary), "I'm SICK AND TIRED of the questions about "what is the value of membership."  MEMBERSHIP is the value of membership."

Yes, associations are changing.  Yes, technology is changing.  Yes, communications are changing.  Yes, we can talk all day long about dues models, governance models, etc., etc., etc.  To me, what is not up for debate is the fundamental concept of belonging - the group, the community, the tribe.  Maybe it's free.  Maybe it isn't.  Maybe it's narrowly defined, maybe it's broadly defined.  Maybe we call them associations and maybe we don't. There is a lot of room in the middle about HOW it manifests, and what role we can or can't play in facilitating those connections - but the question about WHETHER it manifests or not is just not debatable.

From the symposiums in Greece, to the guilds in Europe, to the salons of the Renaissance to the associations of today - HUMANS NEED CONNECTION.  Associations absolutely can be the thing, the NEVE board, the platform to facilitate those connections.  Maybe not in the way they have always done it, and with the advent of social media they can't exclusively claim that space anymore. But surely we can stop this grousing, negativity, whining and complaining over the question, "What is the value of membership?"

I'll tell you what the value is.  It's getting into a room (virtual or not) with people who understand what I spend 15 hours a day doing. It's the friendships I've made.  It's the people I will cry over when they are gone.  It's MaryAnne Bobrow waving at me from across the room to invite me to sit with her.  It's getting the chance to work with consummate professionals like +Gina Sutherland .  It's +KiKi L'Italien taking time out to chat with me on a Hangout, +Vickie Lester who gets my Doctor Who obsession, getting to drink wine and cook some killer chili with +Jeffrey Cufaude and +Steve Swafford, Rick Rutherford listening to my next crazy idea at 9:00 PM on a Thursday night.  It's knowing Stephanie Reeves digs Foo Fighters as much as I do.  It's hanging in a hallway with +Joan Eisenstodt , +Patricia Hudson and +Leslie White.  It's having people like +Mark Athitakis send me an email saying, "Here's a killer book you need to read." It's spirited discussions with +Jeff De Cagna.  It's meeting one of my past employees in line at the movie last night and seeing how connections still resonate even after all this time.

It's surprising +Sandra Giarde at Pizza Rock, seeing her smile and sharing a meal, some laughs and a really wonderful movie.

It's Mark.

Some connections are deep, some cursory, some tenuous.  But all of these connections have created meaning and made my life better. (There are many more of you that I could mention, but this post would be a thousand pages long - you know how I feel about you.)  In a world of uncertainty, I am holding onto one thing that I believe is true - that what we do for a living means something.  That our community is worth something. Maybe it's naive, maybe I'm in denial - but I cannot see a world where people will not want to organize, to create and to achieve great things with each other as helpers, collaborators and friends.  I choose to stand on the side of associations and want to see them do better and thrive.

So yeah, we can argue all day long about what is changing, what should be changed and how we are going to do things differently in the next decade.  But what you can't take away from me is the fact that humans need to associate.  We need to trust each other and learn from each other. We need to care about each other.  We need to be grateful for each other.  We need to laugh together, and maybe even give each other a panic attack now and again when we get our emotions in a bunch. We need to argue and create.  We need to push ourselves to new levels of performance. We need to miss each other when we are gone.

Maybe when members ask us what the value of membership is, we should tell a real, personal story about how membership has changed us for the better. We bury the story of membership benefits in a stream of nonsense about networking opportunities, legislative advocacy and discounts, etc.  We try to "sell" membership in the context of "personal and professional development."

What we never simply say outright is, "Membership IS the value of membership."

Maybe it's time we did.


  1. Those poor people in the lobby, having to hear us in our "kinda sorta outside voices" as the idea sparks were flying.

    My takeaway from Studio City complements yours and it is the quote from Mick Fleetwood...

    "Yes, now you have technology tools where you can do this all by yourself but why would you want to? Doing it with other people is much more fun." (paraphrased)

  2. I feel like I just watched the Breakfast Club for associations, Shelly. Thank you for this post. I'm right with you on the ROI of membership. I'll always push for doing things better and better with associations and it's good to know I'll have friends like you backing me up!

  3. Thanks Ladies....Kiki - Breakfast Club reference - score! :D And Sandra - yes, I am sure the people standing around us thought we were speaking in tongues but that's what happens when association peeps get their Foo on...

  4. Hi Shelly, thank you for your amazing insight! Membership is about relationships, connections, and more importantly people! I am always thinking about the "member experience" because as human we return to those places and organizations where we’ve had a "great experience". Again, thank you for reminding us "why we belong"!

  5. Thanks for stopping by and commenting...I think you are right, it's all about experience....being with other humans makes us more human....:D


  6. It is knowing that a token Australian attendee at one of your IRL sessions still quotes - "Change the Language, Change the World."

  7. Robert - that is so very, very true! And never a token....:D always an appreciated member of the crew! :D

  8. Rob, if it weren't for you...who would be keeping the Pacific Rim sector engaged and enlightened? Never a token!!

  9. Great post! It's something we struggle with (against?) every day. Thank you for putting it so simply.

  10. I'd like to offer a counter argument.

    Membership value measure is determined by the customer. If he/she perceives the offer as less relevant to their business or career because they cant remember what tangible outcome they received to impact them positively then membership fails. Networking is the great "gray area" as is the "discounting" and "affinity programs" that get loaded up and sold as member value just like our beloved local cable companies selling us 301 channels of programming you will never use.

    We see this everyday as we work with clients to conduct locally relevant research to make membership and product experience more relevant to business and professionals in regional markets around the world. These customers focus laser like on "practicality, usability, results orientation" from products and membership. Possibly they do as in most of these markets the notion of associations, peer networking, and professional development outside of universities, is not well appreciated.

    What they do appreciate especially the bosses who are often the one's signing the invoices for attending association conferences, trainings, etc is how will this product or membership return value in better performance to our business.

    Our true North should be delivering an experience that can improve practical performance improvement. Who knows people might pay a little more for that too?

  11. Peter -

    Thanks for stopping by and I do appreciate additional points of view.

    Your analysis is absolutely correct. In fact, I used to believe the same thing. Until I realized one day that the underlying principle is wrong - members aren't customers.

    Oh, if you treat them like customers, call them customers, market to them like customers and prepare them to expect to evaluate you based on a transaction based customer relationship then everything you say is true. You believe they are customers, they believe they are customers and wango-tango - they are customers!

    But what if we stop feeding this beast? True North actually requires rejecting the idea that "members" are "customers." Until you change your belief system, you will not be able to change theirs. I would say we are to blame for setting members up to believe in this false construct.

    What appeals to employers is connections the employee can make and excellent training they can get to be better at their jobs. They don't have to be seen as "customers" to achieve that value.

    I am not a customer of ASAE or CalSAE. I do not make my dues decisions based on my return on investment. They cannot possibly create a program that will give me enough of a return. There ain't no product they can give me that I can't get off the street. However, I am a member of the community and if they make me feel valued and engaged, then membership is no longer a "purchase" it's a "contribution for the good of the whole." When they embrace "whole-self membership" they will have me in perpetuity. If they can't and they ask me to believe their assertion that my dues will "pay off for me," then they've lost me. I'm no longer a person, I'm a financial calculation. And they lose.

    More importantly, I am not unique. I'm not special. I'm not a membership "unicorn." I'm no longer young, but I see the younger generations coming up behind us and they are more anti-customer than I am. And I don't buy what they sell, I interact with who they are and I participate in experiences they create.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.