It seems that every trade association I encounter ranks
membership recruitment as a top priority. Most trade associations - in other industries
as well as our own - have trouble generating interest these days. Reasons range
from buying groups, to the Internet, to so many demands on our time with the
hectic pace of modern life. All are valid excuses, yet I’ve also observed that
many trade associations are their own worst enemies. They pay lip service to the
joys of belonging but turn newcomers off via cliques and aloofness.
I could cite endless examples, but the one that sticks in
mind the most was an evening about a dozen years ago when I was recruited as a
dinner speaker for a meeting of a local trade association in a distant city. The
officer who invited me was a casual acquaintance familiar with my writing. When
I arrived at the meeting site he took a moment to greet me, then spent the rest
of the evening hanging out with buddies whom he never bothered to introduce me
to, and nobody else in the association made an effort to keep me company.
Even though these folks thought enough of me to pay my
travel expenses and a small speaking fee, I was left wandering alone during
cocktail hour. So I struck up conversation with another fellow who I noticed
standing off by himself. Turns out he was a prospective member attending his
first meeting and knew nobody there. So I led him to the one person I knew and
What’s wrong with this picture when a hired speaker has to
introduce a prospective member to an officer of a trade association!
Ironically, when the association officers talked business preceding my trip to
the podium, the number one topic was an urgent need for more membership
recruitment. Nobody could understand why they had so much trouble getting
people to join and retaining members. This kind of behavior is a main reason why
so many trade associations are starving for members.
are involved with a trade group, be on guard against cliques and aloofness.
Well-run organizations assign chaperones from among the leadership to every
first-time attendee. These mentors introduce the newcomer to other people in
the group and make sure they have someone to talk to and sit at meals with
throughout the event.