Attracting Members and Volunteers to Professional Organizations

This month Bill Troy, ASQ CEO, asked ASQ Influential Voices bloggers to explore recruiting members and volunteers amid a changing landscape.

In most ways the answer is the same as any large question on directing an organization. We must figure out the value we wish to offer that is in demand and provide it in a package people desire. As part of that we need to continually focus on the customer and adjust to their changing desires and the changing realities of the marketplace.

Organizations frequently get attached to their ways of doing things and fail to adapt to changing conditions. I have been saying for more than a decade the extreme barriers put up to old content by ASQ don’t seem consistent to their mission to me. They seem tied to an old business model that made sense when costs to distribute and access information were high.

The costs to distribute and access information are low today (thanks to the internet). Other than the old model growing into a business case that had ASQ pursuing a high income level from old content I don’t see why an organization that exists to promote quality puts up paywall barriers to old content that would promote quality if it were not hidden away. Even if you are a member there is a ludicrously high charge for old articles.

Mount Rainier national park

Trail in Mount Rainier National Park by John Hunter

I think this is a symptom that many membership organizations have. They turn from being focused on promoting their mission to being focused on perpetuating their organization. I don’t see why ASQ members would care much about how big ASQ is.

A membership and volunteer organization needs to understand what those people want to gain. I can make some guess for ASQ (and most any professional organization): notice of job opportunities, professional networking, personal connections with others in their field, promoting their field in general, ways to learn more about their field, ways to contribute to their field, ways to be recognized in their field, etc..

I am very internet focused. I would imagine there are many potential members and volunteers that are like me, and even more that are not (yet, eventually I imagine the internet focused people will be a majority). So for me the focus is in doing those things I mention above using the internet. There are many ways to do so. Many things ASQ is doing are good to use technology to reach members and communicate. Though it has lots of room for improvement also.

Some policies, like the huge portion of old content hidden behind a paywall is extremely bad, in my opinion. I wouldn’t have any old articles behind paywalls if I could decide, but if I could convince the rest of my organization I certainly wouldn’t have members have content hidden behind paywalls.

Membership organization should focus on the highest value added activities to their members. I would imagine this is highly related to careers. If people’s career is more successful that is a huge advantage and likely worth a large amount of money to members and volunteers.

How to effectively be a catalyst to member’s careers is not super easy but there seems to be some fairly normal things lots of professional organizations do. And the trick is to actually provide benefit to members, not just engage in an activity that conceivably could provide benefits to members. And to have members and volunteers realize the benefits they are seeing to their careers (which can be much tricker that it seems it would be to accomplish).

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Conferences are likely an important activity going forward. Integrating them with technology and rich interaction from those not present is likely wise. Certifications, while I am not a fan, are likely desired by the marketplace and very profitable. Encouraging more online content (division blogs, etc.) is something I would make a priority. Focusing on connecting people to others and people to ideas is another thing I would make a priority. And I would focus on how to make ASQ useful in people’s careers and useful to employers in finding people (which would make it more useful in people’s careers). The employment market is extremely inefficient, there is tons of room to add value.

There is the separate, though related, matter of how ASQ funds itself. I would seek to reduce membership fees. I would eliminate paywalls for old content. That likely means the costs have to be reduced somewhere or income increased somewhere (hopefully both).

I think ASQ (and other professional organizations) would benefit in the long term by focusing more on promoting the reason they exist (quality or engineering or art or whatever) and less on growing the size and income of the organization. Increasing cash income has less to do with success at the mission than success at an something that is easy to measure.

– Russell Ackoff, Management f-Laws

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