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Almost every profession and/or industry is banded together by their respective organizations. Members of these networks provide support to each other and create an arena for collaboration. A report by Philippine Daily Inquirer shares how some market professional organizations deteriorate or disappear into oblivion. Let me start with four key indicators of deteriorating professional organizations.
1. Declining membership. Initially, you notice that more existing members are not renewing as compared with new members being inducted. This is followed by a compromise in membership acceptance criteria to attract more new members, followed by accelerating decline of existing members.
2. Declining finances. Cash surplus is reduced; fewer members lead to less revenues. The lack of financial discipline also causes declining ability to generate cash—no project goals, no terminal report, no internal control, and no focus on the balance sheet.
3. Declining attendance. The needs and wants of progressive members have changed over time. The organization’s existing activities are no longer relevant to them. Moreover, compromises in membership criteria often change the demographics, alienating old-timers further.4. Declining activities. On the surface, declining attendance leads officers to reduce the number of activities, but the root cause is actually much more than declining attendance. It is actually the lack of relevance and an obsolete proposition.
Here are three ways to market or even turn around a deteriorating organization.
1. Be relevant. A professional organization exists to fulfill what an individual cannot. What are the pain points and the wish list of the members that the organization is solving? Are the officers mindful at all to explicitly ask instead of assuming? The more homogenous an organization’s membership is, the easier it is to fulfill their needs. As people move up the organization hierarchy, their needs will naturally change. How is the organization staying relevant to them? Are there new projects that cater to their needs or has the organization been so stuck with the past, extending traditions more and more? Without an organization launching newer, more relevant projects, they risk losing thought leadership to hungrier groups or organizations which become category innovators.
2. Be distinctive and different. Organizations spend time agreeing on theme, logo, design, and even video releases, but spending time tweaking these without an updated and compelling value proposition will not change the organization much. Like most firms, many professional organizations simply try to be different in the same way, instead of trying to be different in a different way; the latter is a higher level of differentiation called strategic distinctiveness.
3. Be believable. Who heads the organization is critical. This refers to the president as well as the board. The leadership symbol sends a message to everyone about the type of membership that attracts “birds of the same feather.” Does the leadership team have a track record of getting things done and excellently, at that? Do they have potent networks to tap? Do they have the clout to tap these networks for resources? Are they trustworthy? Are they personally invested in the organization or do they simply send representatives? Are people excited to meet them?
Finally, I would like to share four statements that officers of professional organizations must regularly ask themselves. If they have difficulty completing these statements convincingly, they need to start refreshing their relevance, distinctiveness and believability. They may want to ask their existing, as well as lapsed members, the same questions and separate them for evaluation and redirection.
1. I need to join or renew my membership in this professional organization because ____________ .
2. If this organization is gone, I cannot get _________ elsewhere.
3. I am busy but I need to allocate time in this organization because ________ .
4. The one word that this organization owns and no other organization comes close to is __________ .
If you are a member of an industry or professional organization, what grade would you give the group in terms of relevance during the pandemic?