As the end of another calendar year bears down on us, many of our industry trade associations are working on their budgets for 2016, developing new programs for the offing in the coming year, prepping to do battle in their state houses, reminding members (and non-members) of the good work the association has done in 2015 and, in many cases, engaging the non-members to get in to the fight in 2016.
The associations that are strong, active and growing share many common denominators. Here’s a short, and certainly not complete, list. They are…
- Staffed with people who are vested in the success of the association, really believe the member is first their customer, and go out of their way to address member needs
- Led by a board focused on meeting or exceeding the association’s mission
- Constantly communicating with industry members on matters of concern, and offering solutions to problems
- Hosting regular events in the form of industry meetings, conferences, trade shows
- Offering regularly scheduled and “upon request” technical and non-technical training to industry
- Running to ground those suggestions and comment from current membership
- Proactively engaged in their state’s legislative and regulatory process
- Regularly engage the media whenever practical to get the industry’s message out, keep it out there, and counter that which is not favorable to the industry
- In touch with the notion that ROI is part of the equation and make changes to ensure the member’s dues investment provides a return, be they a regular member or associate member
- The ones that show up and participate in industry meetings, conference calls and webinars
- Eager to develop relationships with peers and swap information with them
- Sensitive to the notion of “non-dues revenue;” that is, income to the association brought by that other than dues assessment. Think group insurance plans, credit card processing plans, seminar offerings
- Making changes to the association to take advantage of the on-going changes experienced by our industry
- Acting swiftly to fill opportunity voids left open by other groups
- Seeking collaboration, and at times even mergers, with similarly positioned trade groups
- Achieving a supermajority of the industry players as members
- Ensuring that the association is relevant to regular and associate members and communicate that at every opportunity
- Working those non-members each and every day
Non-members are a fact of life that associations must accept. Some companies will never join the association, no matter how good the work it does. Over the years I have heard many reasons:
“It costs too much.”
“They (the association) do not do anything.”
“Back in 1942 the association did not help me with [a particular problem].”
“The association is run like an exclusive country club and I don’t fit it.”
“I don’t want to be in the same room with my competitor ABCXYZ Company.”
“I am a non-member and the association does not return my phone calls.”
“The meetings are too far away from my business.”
“The association is run by the ‘big companies’ and small companies like me don’t matter.”
…and so on
Whether the complaints above are legitimate or not with respect to a given association, or just an excuse, non-members are simply a fact of trade association life. While disturbing and frustrating to those associations at the top of the game, a small number of non-members will not be the difference between the association’s survival and success.
For others, however, non-member are perhaps the obstacle to the association’s future. Especially for trade associations with a distinct minority participation rate, non-members may contribute to a lack of common voice, which can make the industry appear weak in the eyes of the media, public, or competing industries. Non-members also represent unrealized foundation revenue that allows associations to function at their very basic level.
A business partner of mine is fond of saying “If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always “no”
So, I’m asking.
If you are not a member of your industry trade association, please reach out to them. They need your support and are working hard to earn it. If you don’t know who that fuel association night be, feel free to contact me, as noted in the column to the left, for help locating the fuel trade association in your area.
Shane Sweet is an energy and management consultant with clients in the heating oil, propane and motor fuel sectors. He is a Partner with the firm of Lake Rudd & Company and as of November 1, 2014 he is the new Executive Director and Technical Director for the New York Propane Gas Association. He served the industry as President & CEO of the New England Fuel Institute “NEFI” from 2007 to 2011, and as Executive VP/Director and Lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association “VFDA” from 1993 to 2007. He lives in Shaftsbury, Vermont and may be reached at email@example.com or 802-558-6101 cell/text. Suggestions by readers for future column content, as well as general comments, are welcome.