Supply House Times

Trade Associations Need To Make People Feel Welcome

January 5, 2010


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 introduced them.

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. If you 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.  

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