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It’s worth stopping for a second to think something through.

Imagine, if you will, that we didn’t have members. What if our associations’ efforts were not entirely focused on those people who already pay their membership dues?

I know. It sounds crazy – a membership association without members? How will we make money? Who will we serve? Won’t we lose relevance? The fact is, however, that once the initial “But we’ve always done things this way” hurdle has been cleared, asking What if? can really help us to maintain and improve the impact, scope and influence of our associations.

What if…we tried to serve all the people in our industry?

How could our message be tailored accordingly? Our members are the people who are already bought into the organizational mission: what would it take for everybody in the wider industry to do the same? It’s possible that reaching beyond our membership would raise our profiles. We could reach people who don’t have the money to pay dues. If we provide programs, services and resources to all practitioners, wouldn’t we raise the bar even higher? Could we raise awareness for our cause to a greater degree outside of our own echo chamber?

What if…we dedicated all our “membership” time, energy, effort and money to something else?

Could we create more programs and services? Jump into a legislative effort? Tackle partnerships like never before? Think about the massive resources you dedicate to simply managing membership, and the time, space and staff that might be freed up by shifting your focus. What would you do with those hours? And, what could be accomplished by those talented staffers?

What if…we shifted the way we thought about members?

We should be having an honest conversation about what membership means for our associations. What is the goal behind our membership efforts? If members didn’t pay, for example, it might raise the number of people in your organization dramatically. Where could new numbers take you? It’s possible you could carry more weight in your advocacy efforts, or have more negotiating power for things in the best interest of those practicing your craft or working in your industry.

What if…we engaged people who aren’t our traditional members?

Have you tapped into people you wouldn’t always consider membership material? People who support your industry or organization, but don’t necessarily qualify, might be incredibly interested in staying connected. They can serve as additional advocates, or help boost numbers. We’ve witnessed the power of one-on-one recommendations, especially with the power of social media, and harnessing those outside of the traditional “member buckets” is an enormous benefit.

What if…we chose collaboration over competition?

By not reaching out to people outside of your established membership, you risk eating up your own. With the competitive environment around us, and the number of industry challenges that are shared across various and numerous organizations, associations with overlapping stakeholders and interests could really benefit from sharing both audiences and insights, rather than building walls up around their individual memberships. A high tide, after all, raises all ships.

Our organizations don’t just exist to serve their members. We are ultimately committed, beyond our membership, to the communities our members engage with. Exercising the imaginative potential of What If? can open up new possibilities for us to add value where value is needed. No one is advocating you toss out the membership revenue tomorrow, but that you’re asking the right questions to drive out of the box thinking about where your association could go next.

Ultimately: Who is your community, and how can you serve?

Director of Strategic Initiatives at Radio Television Digital News Association, Radio Television Digital News Foundation

Tara Puckey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF), cultivating and managing business partnerships, procuring grants, creating new development initiatives and other strategic endeavors. Prior to her position at RTDNA/RTDNF, she served as the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Interim Executive Director, as well as Associate Executive Director and Membership Strategist. She has a journalism degree from Indiana University-Purdue University, as well as an MBA, and resides in Indianapolis with her husband and two daughters. Aside from associations and journalism, she loves craft beer, really good pens and her dog, Bella.

Tara Puckey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF), cultivating and managing business partnerships, procuring grants, creating new development initiatives and other strategic endeavors. Prior to her position at RTDNA/RTDNF, she served as the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Interim Executive Director, as well as Associate Executive Director and Membership Strategist. She has a journalism degree from Indiana University-Purdue University, as well as an MBA, and resides in Indianapolis with her husband and two daughters. Aside from associations and journalism, she loves craft beer, really good pens and her dog, Bella.

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