Boardroom talked with Kai Troll, Chairman Best Buddies Europe, MiddleEast & Africa and Head of Development at International Sport and Cultural Association, about why he thinks education platforms and knowledge sharing are probably one of the primary reasons for individuals to become members of an association.
From the member perspective: Is Education the very raison d’être of associations?
Indeed, often one could wonder why an association is in business and I know of a good number of associations who seem to have forgotten why they exist in the first place, for different reasons: they have grown too big too fast; they are busy with all sorts of activities, keep developing new ones and perhaps have lost focus; they lack a proper planning process, don’t have much of a plan where the organization should be heading towards or maybe the board feel that things are ‘good enough’ and keep doing things the way they have been doing them forever.
Whether industry or non-industry funded association, education is always an important part of what we do. Ideally, an association has created its stakeholder map and fully understands who the stakeholders are that should be educated in order to maximize outreach and impact. Often, associations must become better in communicating what ‘problem’ they and their members actually try so solve. Therefore, I often wonder if association stakeholders at large know and understand who and why associations do educate. That could mean looking back at the core purpose of the association, or making adjustments. The key question an organization has to ask itself is: what impact do we have and what change do we create and make as an association?
I hope most association leaders and their board are able to answer this question. If not, there is some homework to do
Is education the main added value to association members?
As we all know, and considering the broad variety and types of associations, there are a number and different motives why members join an association. In my mind mostly because of the networking opportunities, connecting with people, industry colleagues and peers. Besides staying informed and current on global topics, policy issues and being ‘part of something bigger’, education platforms and knowledge sharing are probably the other most relevant reasons to become members of an international, European – or other regional association.
There is one important reason that member often don’t bother or don’t think of too much, hence don’t take the opportunity to benefit from this one relevant aspect. And that is ‘engagement’. From my observation, the majority members tend to be rather inactive and passive members, information receivers rather than taking a lead in a project, in a working group or an initiative that could help make a difference. A pro-active behavior by some will motivate other to get more involved. As a result, the association benefits overall.
One interesting question to ask these days is what makes one being a ‘member’ of an association or a network? What’s the definition of a ‘member’ for an organization? What is indeed the value added for an organization by becoming a member? I believe that we will see a lot of change in how organizations define ‘membership’ in the next years to come. There will be much more diversification of ‘members’ and differentiation to the word ‘membership’ and what that actually mean to organizations. In fact, this process has started already for many leading and innovative associations.
From an association management perspective: How crucial is it for associations to encourage and directly support the continuing education of their employees in the various disciplines required to manage an association?
In general, associations regardless what geographical reach or size aren’t very good at providing further education, in an academical and non-academical sense, to their staff. This is the case for any staff levels but also for board members. Often, staff members are interested in receiving further formal and non-formal education but it is not provided because their managers don’t support it for reasons of time, budget or find that there is no real need, especially if the staff is more junior, lower or middle management. Board members who should generally receive board training don’t take advantage of becoming more trained, because they often feel that they are already highly knowledgeable and others believe they know it all already anyway.
But for an association to understand staff’s interests and needs will help to keep people motivated. And there is a lot of training and education in association management out there that leaders can choose from. One issue but also key question is: ‘where do I go to get the best possible training and education that is suitable and relevant for me to an affordable price for my association?’
In most cases, people look for training and education opportunities related to their current responsibility and works in current association or of that of association in general. Association, event or project management in specific is one, but I wouldn’t necessarily restrict it to ‘association’ related management but really look at it as ‘business management’. Personally, I would very much recommend that people join non-industry related training or education courses not necessarily related to the association or meeting industry. That should help to bring fresh thinking into the work place.
According to you, what are the best ways to keep up-to-date with developments in association management?
One could easily get attracted and caught up in a number of training and educational events around the globe every year. I would recommend association leaders to attend 2-3 focused events annually that will add real value to them and eventually their associations.
In order to remain meaningful and with purpose, associations must continuously evolve and probably need to operate and be run with much more of a business mind. Since members, other stakeholders and partners start to understand that more and more, I assume that we will see much more rotation and leadership change within the association world in the years to come than ever before. There is a trend that visionary and innovative boards hire (new) leadership with general business background versus people coming from within the association business. This has pros and conts. The point being, that it is easier for an experienced business leader to learn and understand a specifics of an industry sector rather than association representatives without business training and background to gain better business expertise and more skilled in that area.
In any case, whilst associations educate stakeholders, we must put more focus and efforts in educating everyone, including ourselves the association staff and executives, our members and other internal and external stakeholders to ensure positive impact and to remain relevant.