Belong to something

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FCNews Volume 27/Number 12, October 22/29, 2012

By David Stafford

What do associations, churches, country clubs, political parties, societies and unions have in common? Membership.

Most of us will have multiple chances, offers, opportunities and downright prodding to join one or more of these organizations. However, there’s only so much energy, money or hours in the day.

How do you make those important choices? Here are some tips:

Does it make sense to join from an emotional or belief perspective? I remember a membership offer in an organization that was well known and quite prestigious. However, the purpose was purely social and at odds with how I wanted to spend my free time. I declined.

Having attended a church where the sermonizing could make you smell the hell fire and brimstone, I felt I had little in common with the devout and so, didn’t become a member.

More than money or time investment, does it feel right to you? If you wonder about the fit, attend some meetings as a guest and give it a trial run. Halfway into the event, if you cringe or feel out of place, you have your answer.

Is there a strong connection to your business life? If you’re a retailer, then the local flooring association and its relationship with the World Floor Covering Association makes sense. It can also be important to become a member of the FCICA and CFI to strengthen your industry contacts for education, training, certification and networking. If you have a union shop, then INSTALL is the place.

Likewise, other local groups may make sense. If you’re doing a lot of government or property management business, an example would be the Coalition for Government Procurement or the Property Management Association.

What benefits will you receive? In spite of the sales pitch from organizations courting you and your money, what are tangible returns you expect? Country club membership and Kiwanis or Rotary may lead to invaluable contacts. Maybe you don’t even play golf or tennis, but the social activity and “elbow rubbing” is worth it. Perhaps membership will enhance you and your company’s reputation, or give you greater visibility; often, this can lead to a national presence.

Unfortunately, some people miss the overall value by taking a short-term approach. “What has it done for me today?” rather than feedback over a longer period of time.

I advocate a review of existing and prospective organizations by and with the people who have participated or would be participating. It does little good to pay or membership if no one is going to attend meetings and events.

Which brings me to the quality of participation by the membership. In one case, a membership was terminated because a review showed attendees were low-level employees who had no purchase or specification authority. Imagine a cocktail event where 80% of the attendees are sales personnel from similar service companies.

What can you bring to the party? Of course there is a trial period, but you should be able to figure out how or if you should become an active member. What strengths and attributes will make you a star with this organization and not just boost your ego? How can you help the lot of this association, and do they need it? Perhaps an offer to assist in an event, serve on an advisory committee, or just attend meetings and participate in discussions will be enough to get you started. Most will welcome this and be eager to give you and your ideas a try.

Some large associations are well-funded and have a set hierarchy but all depend on paid dues and member retention numbers.

Belonging can be fun, exhilarating and cost-effective or an absolute waste of time and money. Choose wisely.

Dave Stafford is a business consultant in the flooring industry with over 25 years of experience and an Honorary Lifetime Member of FCICA. He may be contacted by email at dave@dsainfo.com.

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