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The 100 largest.

Like most other associations, they use direct mail to recruit new members, and they worry about membership retention. Unlike most, if they reduce their membership attrition by 1 percent, they have retained 320,000 members. The American Association of Retired Persons, Washington, D.C., with 32 million members, heads 'The Top 100" list of associations by membership size in this issue. You'll also find associations ranked by staff size and by budget size in this feature.

We made a couple of changes to this feature since it last ran. To help put a face to the numbers, we have included in the lists thumbnail descriptions and management insight from some of the biggest organizations. You'll also notice that each list actually includes more than 100 associations. Whenever there was a tie for position-as with the National Association of Securities Dealers, the International Monetary Fund, and the American Chemical Society (all of Washington, D.C.), which tied for 19th position in the staff list with 1,700 staff members each-- the position was only counted once. For example, there are actually 192 associations in the "membership size" list.

As I studied these lists, I gained some remarkable insight about this business of association management.

Being every bit as fanatic about numbers as I am about words, I couldn't resist tallying the columns in each category and was startled at how big the numbers are. The 192 associations in the "by member" category represent 260,862,063 members-- about 10 million more than every man, woman, and child in the United States. Research done by the public relations firm Porter/Novelli for ASAE found that 7 of 10 Americans belong to at least one association, and 4 of 10 belong to four or more, and even this small slice of a very big pie suggests that this must be true. I myself am a member of a half dozen of the groups listed here, as well as a couple that aren't.

I was struck with the precision with which some of the associations quantified their members. While some round to the nearest thousand, the Medic Alert Donor Program, Turlock, California, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.A., Washington, D.C., for example, have reported a count to the exact number at a frozen moment in time.

The number of staff members represented by the top 166 by staff size is equally staggering-233,723. Among the very large associations, typically the staff represents a combination of both administrative personnel and hands-on service providers. The American Red Cross, Washington, D.C., for example, has paid staff involved in their blood-collection drives. The idea conjures up for me an intriguing and attractive picture of staff members and volunteers working side by side in tangible work. This collaboration among staff and volunteers, it occurs to me, may occur almost as often in associations with very small staffs where getting the job done means relying on a great deal of volunteer "muscle" as well as brainpower.

The top 189 associations by budget size add a final impressive indication of the importance of associations to our economy. These handful of organizations represent a collective budget of $12,683,654,148-a number approaching $13 billion.

One association that in particular stands out for me is a relative newcomerMothers Against Drunk Driving, Irving, Texas. The association made all three lists-number 18 by membership, number 83 by staff size, and number 55 by budget. In the short span of a few years, a handful of people with clear vision and the power to share that clarity have mobilized an enormous force.

I don't think I ever made the mistake of thinking that bigger was necessarily better. For some associations, the intimacy of a small membership group is a part of what makes them work.

But for most associations, growth is a goal, and tempered by the real knowledge of what the optimum potential membership size will be, these largest associations offer both instruction and inspiration. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., son of the founder of IBM Coporation, said, "For a company to grow, it's got to think big. "The Top 100" lists of associations certainly help to stretch my horizons about both the possibilities-and the complexities-of big.

I hope you enjoy perusing the lists and the power of association they exemplify.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:largest membership associations
Author:Myers, Elissa Matulis
Publication:Association Management
Date:May 1, 1992
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