What’s In It for We?

By Dan Stanton

Last summer before assuming the role of AzLA President, I tried to do a little research about associations and other membership organizations.  I have been a member of AzLA since 1990, but I realized I had kind of been doing my own thing, getting involved where it suited me; but what is AzLA (or any other membership organization that claims to exist for the benefit of the members)?

Since we had been struggling somewhat with the changeover in our Web Service Provider from Affiniscape to yourmembership.com, I had been taking a look at the yourmembership.com website for information and contacts that might help us gauge what resources or support they offered and help guide our transition.  As I poked around (which I encourage you to do), I saw that in addition to software and web service options, yourmembership.com also provides information to support the “Association” – which is really us, a group of individuals, bound by a common profession who have come together to work towards success in a somewhat common  purpose.  Managing an organization of this type and size is unfamiliar territory for most of us, and yet we exist for our members, and there are things we want to get done.

Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and reflect on yourself in the scheme of things.  Last Newsletter, you got a little taste of, ‘Ask not what your Association can do for you, but ask what you can do for your Association,’ in The Ideal Member info I included at the end of my column.  That is info I found in the Organization Management section of the Learning Center Resource Library.  There are all kinds of organization best practices info that we can tap into, and you can use in other ‘organized’ areas of your life.

Another resource I took a look at is The Decision to Join: How Individuals Determine Value and Why They Choose to Belong, a 2007 publication from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) which analyzed nearly 17,000 survey results from current members, former members, and non-members of 18 organizations.  The findings made sense, and once I thought about it most of them were not surprising. Some of the takeaways that I noted include:

  • People tend to leave Associations for career and other life changes, more than they do because of the performance of the association
  • The value received from membership increases with the level of involvement
  • Depending on where you are in your career, the value is Selective vs. Collective
    • Selective
      • Younger/newer folks ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ looking for material results
    •  Collective
      • Older/experienced folks are interested in solidarity, doing things for the good of the order
  • The Association serves both through collective activities such as networking, education, and advocacy
  • Affiliation brings individuals together into a shared commitment, and involvement is the key to satisfaction.
  • The ultimate question is – would you recommend the Association to a colleague?

As a mid-career academic librarian, I’ve been through this.  Early on in the tenure process I was told, ‘Do this!  It will look good on your CV and in your Review Packet!’  And there were a few things I did, that I didn’t necessarily want to do.  But then you notice you are gaining experience and establishing friendships as well as professional relationships, and you realize that no one is telling you to ‘Do this!’.  At this point you are doing it for you, and because you are comfortable, people are looking to you as an established and experienced resource.

The other book I took a look at is called Race for Relevance which takes a hard look at the state of associations.  The landscape for associations has seriously changed.  Gone are the days when association membership was thought to be an obligation or a duty.  People have choices.  In addition, we Americans are now accustomed to getting what we want, when and how we want it.  Those are tough deliverables for any organization, let alone one led by part-time volunteers, no matter how well-intentioned.

Many associations try to increase members’ ROI (Return on Investment) by offering more: more services, more subgroups, more non-dues/fee-added programming, etc.  It may seem obvious, but there is no value in things that members don’t use.  Not only that, it stretches (and stresses) the volunteer association to keep these things running.  The book goes on to suggest other issues that keep associations stagnant, including slow adoption of technology, and the size/makeup/motivation of Boards.  These are things that AzLA has already been confronted with, and we will need to address these issues to maintain our value.

And, in case you haven’t noticed, these are exciting times for AzLA!  We have just come off a very successful Joint Conference with our colleagues in MPLA, and we will be taking this year’s conference to the northern part of the State for the first time ever.  We have a new web presence, growing by leaps and bounds by the hiring of a dedicated Webmaster.  We have updated the Newsletter from a print format to an interactive online publication.  We have 3 ‘new’ committees (Professional Development, Web and Social Networking, Marketing and Advocacy) that have come into their own and are actively offering their expertise and guidance to membership and leadership alike.  We have a reinvigorated Legislative Committee that has identified issues and mobilized leadership to take a stand.  We have meetups scheduled around the state that allow us to meet in a non-work environment to network or just to socialize.

We have many other groups and individuals who are giving their time and effort to address the wants and needs of our members.  If you haven’t done so, take a look at your Association.  I hope that you are finding a place for yourself in AzLA.  We look forward to working with you to help us continue to build our organization.

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