The Membership Economy – bridging the corporate and associative world

In our daily work trying to ‘empower associations’ we tend to introduce with great ease corporate management concepts. Associations need to set out proper governance rules. We advise programs and actions be developed along the PDCA-cycle, in order to avoid them to become part of the ongoing business even when no longer relevant. Financial analysis of member benefits versus tailor-made services is executed with great scrutiny to keep a perfect balance between individual member satisfaction and the higher cause.

One of the BSAE (Belgian Society of Association Executives) members told me recently she found it most challenging to explain the association’s ‘business model’ to her big corporate members within a organizationally highly formalized industry. How to translate concepts such as the consensus-driven decision making process, the very complementary role of the board and the management, the importance of long life engagement, the ongoing efforts to create member-value (i.e. not financial profit), and so on. Sometimes she feels as if she’s living in a completely different world.

Reading “The Membership Economy” by Robbie Kellman Baxter*made me realize how closely related the corporate and associative world have become. And especially how companies and business are now exploring in depth the basic concept of associations: connecting people in such a manner that they excel individually and collectively. The strategies, tactics and practical cases in the book give great insights into a membership oriented business model that can immediately be applied to all kinds of companies and organizations.

What struck me the most however, is how looking from outside of the usual ‘association management’ approach, this book sheds light on new possibilities and opportunities for associations to perform better at what they think that they have been good at for years. Acquisition, onboarding, retention, free membership, technology – all of these concepts are analyzed in detail and appropriately illustrated. For an association executive or association management consultant this particular angle is not only eye-opening for daily practices, but it sends out a strong warning to associations to step up if they do not want to be outdone by the Membership Economy. There are definitely no arguments left for associations to uphold the status quo as being special and different. If they do not or no longer sufficiently answer to ‘our innate humanity to gravitate toward community’, the Membership Economy organizations will take their place.

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*The Membership Economy, Robbie Kellman Baxter, McGraw Hill Education, 2015, ISBN 9780071839327

(Marc Mestdagh, June 1st, 2015)

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