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You Must Be A Member of At Least One Association

Author: Joseph Schmitt

If you are in this industry in a serious way, you must belong to at least one association, no exceptions.

For the moment, I am speaking only of your business and industry activities but most of the thoughts that follow are directly applicable to activities in your community, civic and fraternal life.

Several industry associations probably could use your money, your opinion and your positive efforts. I know of no place where the statement, "One person can make a difference," is truer than in a good industry association.

If you think I'm going to recommend a specific association for you to automatically join and send money to, you can stop reading now. What I intend is to share some of my personal opinions to guide your association membership decisions.

At a minimum, association participation should, and most often does, expose you to a diverse group of like-directed industry leaders who have banded together for a common good. Associations provide a unique educational and communication opportunity to you for a reasonable cost in time and money.

I can think of industry meetings where you can expect to meet with the top decision-makers of your most important or most troublesome suppliers. They're there and accessible. They consider the meeting sufficiently important that they are mingling at the sessions. They are receptive to your opinions because they have come, just as you have, to learn and to support the common objectives of the group.

I have always been critical of groups that do not publish advanced registration lists and do not publish where the members are staying to make important contact opportunities easier. If someone doesn't want his information published, it's easy to leave him off the list.

You cannot get these quality, big-time executives to attend second-rate meetings. I classify second-rate meetings as those heavy with inspirational, funny actors who remember where the hell they are today by writing the name of the group and the city on the palm of their hand.

It's a big mistake if the members who should be in charge don't participate and don't pay attention to the business of the industry. That's how you end up with inspirational, funny actors, or industry-ignorant consultants and preachers, ruling the day.

The best example I can think of are the computer people who like to reorder our world by saying that pipe is sold by the chunk and priced the same way. Contractors like to know the price by the foot rather than the price for the whole piece and for good reason they are right.

This example may not apply to your world but your participation and attention are needed. Otherwise, the bean counters will invade and think they know the needs of this industry better than you do.

You can really make a difference in an association if you work for the common good, rather than out of a need for a healthy feeding of your ego or for another picture of yourself holding a new shovel.

One of the stark realities of associations is that some of the most active members are seeking approval or the respect they are not getting at home. We have all seen those guys and gals who are drawn like moths to the strobe flashes. They fly into the spotlight with a passion only to be seen and appreciated rather than to help and do good.

I have won money betting that if a flashbulb went off, one particular eager beaver would run to get into the picture. If he arrived late, he would suggest yet another picture.

When you get involved with an organization, you join to learn, to work for its betterment and to be an activist. You join to give. First, you give your financial support and, second, you give your personal effort for the good of the whole, both locally and nationally.

Let's assume you see a need for action and are willing to organize an effort to change something for the common good.

If you're one of those who can make a difference, then you are a rare and valued member of any association.

In joining an association, you have no right to be negative about any part of the industry unless you are doing something positive to improve it.

In many instances, your involvement starts at the local level as a satisfied member encouraging others to attend the meetings. You then work to see that the meetings are worth the time and effort.

I have personally been a founding member of several organizations. I think I know most of the reasons people join. Quite frequently people have self-serving reasons for participating. These special-interest types can be useful, but you need to spend time understanding and evaluating their motives. If you are really willing to give something back and work for the "Good of the Order" then here are some thoughts and pitfalls.

Associations too frequently are looking for speakers on the cheap. They often end up with people willing to be on their programs to sell something. While everyone deserves a short commercial at the end of a talk as a reward, the speaker's message must be worthwhile. He should be someone who knows what he is talking about as it applies to the association objectives.

In my world, the magic acts and motivational guys in Liberace jackets are not better than nothing.

When I think of the importance of knowing the subject, I think of the turn-of-the-century evangelist Billy Sunday. He could pitch his huge tent almost anywhere in the nation and by midweek be playing to standing-room-only attendance.

Billy preached on repentance, if you came to the tent, you heard enough about sin to confirm that Billy knew his subject well. In fact, some may have come for his hot tips on how to sin instead of his future promise Of how great it would be when you stopped sinning.

If you get people who know their subject, you'll fill the tent and pack the exhibit halls, which would be a great improvement for some recent conventions.

Now for some cautions. When you become an activist you face several more pitfalls.

Some members and paid executives always are looking for some eager beaver to shoulder a bigger chunk of the load -- someone willing to give unequally of time and effort. Any assemblage of people has members who are operating with secret agendas and may be supporting causes that have special benefits to their persuasions.

The question is: Are these members motivated by personal greed or are their passions as uncomplicated and sincere as yours? If you are truly concerned about the general welfare of the organization, others will identify you as a rare bird -- either good or bad.

The bad is that members may avoid you like the plague because when you are around the boat gets rocked.

The good side is a mixed blessing. Good associations constantly have search parties looking for the talent to evolve into the leadership of the group. Being asked to go through the chairs is usually a compliment. I call to mind one newly elected president of an association who, for the first time, got a look at the books and resigned within days. It is nice to be appreciated to the extent that the association wants you to assume a greater leadership role. But seldom do you know the personal penalty that may be part of it until it is too late or at least becomes very embarrassing.

I have known more than a few executives who have become active in their associations and ruined their businesses and their careers by spending years on their association's board. You must not become so involved outside the business that it becomes a second or third priority.

I will define the circumstances of your business that would make it reasonable for you to go for the glory:

You have already gone for the company gold. You have headed a successful company and have handed over active management to younger members of your management team. You can afford the time and financial demands of a leadership role. When the association says it will cover all expels, it didn't mean the new tux and the ball gown you'll need. To answer the question, I know you don't think there will be a ball gown involved. Your spouse will think otherwise.

In a second scenario, you are a working member of the firm and think you have gone as far as you can go in this company and look to the association exposure as the best and biggest billboard you can get. Of course, you run the risk that your company will discover it runs just as well when you aren't there.

If your company is for sale or actively looking to buy companies or hire people, association membership will give you lots of opportunities to schmooze, showcase and get to know the buyers or sellers you need to know on an informal basis.

When you join an association you join for many positives but one of them is not talking about prices. If you don't believe me, I can show you any number of industry friends who spent time in jail and paid both with money and ruined careers without accomplishing any good for anyone.

And thus my final thought -- when you hear someone start to talk about prices in any context, remember you are listening to an uncaught criminal who may be trying to convert you to the same sin. There really is guilt by association here.

This very same crook and sinner may also become the whistle-blower who fingers you to save his own skin when the Fells turn on the heat.

Author Joseph Schmitt
Date 1999
Copyright © 1999 Cahners Publishing Company
© 2000 Gale Group

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