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Boosting members' exports.

Immersing an association in international activities sparks excitement among U.S. members seeking new markets. Keep in mind, though, that success in stimulating your members' exports requires a heavy load of homework, fire fighting, and patience.

It's just another neighbor who needs product."

Exporting is easy in the eyes of Karen Crum's members, the 384 companies that make up the Dallas-based Independent Distributors Association. As IDA executive director, Crum watched these equipment parts manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, and distributors develop international savvy. She says that 10 years ago the U.S. firms, which form the bulk of IDA's membership, would have been "scared to death to even consider exporting something, but now they sort of take it in stride."

According to Crum, what calmed their fears was the increased availability of information. She credits international conferences and fax machines with turning firms from opposite ends of the Earth into friends. Trust in doing business was built from the frequent communication. And once a U.S. company took the plunge into overseas sales, Crum says, experience proved that "it's no more difficult to ship to Egypt than it is to California."

Many associations like IDA are playing a significant role in supplying information that's breaking down old barriers to trade. In addition to delivering data that are critical to members' export decisions, associations are fostering direct information exchange among firms worldwide, providing forums for businesses to consider global trading options.

At IDA, the export-promoting membership services are conservative: The trade association hosts educational programming on trading, recruits overseas exhibitors to its U.S. trade show, and disseminates market research collected from several outside sources. Yet Crum characterizes this modest activity as very important to recruiting and retaining members.

According to a recent study by the University of North Carolina Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, nonprofit organizations lag behind the private sector and government services in helping U.S. exporters. Still, as a survey conducted last spring by ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT shows, a large number of trade associations - some partnering with the government through grants - are entrenched in programs and services that help increase their members' export volumes (and help increase membership). These associations can serve as models to others interested in furthering U.S. trade.

Diverse levels and forms of trade support

ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT surveyed associations that would be likely to offer export-boosting services to members because of the nature of their business. Of the 196 associations on the list, 81 (41 percent) responded. The variety in respondents' scope, geographic location, market interests, and international programming (see tables on pages 52-59) bears out the belief that any association that has a well-researched reason to enter the international arena and that has membership support for the idea can do so effectively in some way, shape, or form.

Budget allocation for international involvement also varies [ILLUSTRATION FOR CHART 1 OMITTED!. While approximately one third of the survey respondents devote 5 percent or less of the association's total budget to international activities (including, but not limited to, ones promoting exports), one tenth of the respondents devote more than 50 percent of the total budget to international efforts, and half of the associations in this segment devote 91-100 percent.

How important a role do international activities (including those supporting trade) have in recruiting and retaining members? Forty-four percent of the responding associations said that the role played is somewhat important; 30 percent elevated the level of importance to very [ILLUSTRATION FOR CHART 2 OMITTED!.

Government grants help some go global

Most survey respondents fund little or no international activity through government grants. Only 10 of the 81 respondents indicated that more than 10 percent of their international activities are supported by Uncle Sam, and many associations noted that the percentage is zero.

One nonprofit organization that funds 100 percent of its international activities through government grants is the Home Builders Institute, Washington, D.C. Judith Becker, director for special international programs at HBI, the educational arm of the National Association of Home Builders, says that the funding of the institute's international programs is split between two agencies; approximately 75 percent comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the rest from the Department of Commerce.

It's the Commerce Department grants that go toward advancing trade - for example, in HBI's case, toward setting up trade missions and conducting market feasibility studies. USAID, on the other hand, finances projects that further private- and public-sector development in other countries. But the two government entities' goals mesh with HBI's use of the grant funds. Becker explains: "One of the things that comes about by taking American exports overseas is, unless the end-users are going to know how to apply these products [which, in HBI's case, are things like gypsum board and paint!, the products won't sell. So what we are doing with the USAID grants is training builders and consumers [in developing countries] how to use those products once they get there."

Government grants can be "a mixed blessing," according to Eric Nelson, "because you sometimes have to jump through so many hoops to get them." Nelson, vice president of international affairs in the Washington, D.C., office of the Telecommunications Industry Association, based in Arlington, Virginia, says that, still, the effort is very worthwhile. He estimates that 30-40 percent of TIA's international programs and services are funded by government grants. "It's tough to open an office outside the United States without them," he says.

With offices in Japan, Russia, and China, TIA is able to fulfill members' desires for on-site assistance in lucrative overseas markets. But this effort takes a lot of money. Government grants are not enough, Nelson explains; his association also requires interested member companies to pay additional dues if they want to take advantage of the services offered by the overseas offices.

In addition to grants from the Commerce Department to help support these offices, TIA receives grants from the U.S. Trade Development Agency to bring delegations to the United States for reverse trade missions. In line with that agency's mission, delegations have come from developing parts of the world: Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Latin America.

Member-directed steps

Member support for international decisions is essential, as John Olson knows well. He is executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association, Englewood, Colorado. ASIA's involvement overseas began in the late 1980s, when members, suffering from import competition, pressured the organization to find ways for them to access other countries.

Today ASIA engages in trade missions, export seminars, market research, and overseas trade shows. About half of the cost of these activities is subsidized through an export-enhancement program run by the Foreign Agricultural Service.

Exports of sheep products have grown with ASIA's international programming. Now a segment of the membership wants to export the technology and materials for sheep production - the genetics - and Olson has a sensitive membership issue on his hands. "There are people with legitimate concerns about whether we should be exporting this technology," he says, explaining that ASIA must work through the differing export interests.

Nancy Tucker, CAE, vice president of international trade and development at the Newark, Delaware-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA), also emphasizes the membership component of any export-enhancement program. "International is a big hole that you can pour money into," she says, "so the association must have its international focus firmly implanted in its strategic plan."

Measuring the worth

If your intentions for going global are mapped out in the association's strategic plan, (assuming the strategic plan is on target), your efforts should succeed. But exactly how do you measure the value of international efforts to members?

"That's something I've grappled with for a long time," says Eric Nelson, "because, frankly, our board wants me to be able to tell them how successful my department has been. It's hard to come up with across-the-board numbers about how our members' export sales increased by X percent." Pointing out the difficulty of measuring the worth of international programs in a quantitative way, Nelson says he will try another route: acquiring anecdotes from members that describe the benefits of TIA's international activities.

Tucker, too, finds it tough to measure her work in quantitative terms. She notes that a number of other factors besides association support are involved in export growth, including the improved economies of other countries.

However, she does believe that PMA's international offerings play a role in recruiting members and in attracting attendees and exhibitors to the association's international trade conference. With the conference, Tucker talks numbers: While 11 years ago, when PMA got started internationally, the association attracted 180-200 attendees, last year a record 600 attended. Non-U.S. exhibitors grew during the same time period from 5 to 33.

Follow us

Advice for entering the international arena is plentiful among those who are there.

* Tucker: "Have at least one person on staff dedicated to international activities." She cautions that spreading around the accountability by assigning international projects to staff members in various departments may mean that these projects wind up at the bottom of staff's priority piles.

* If you run a small association, you may not have the resources to devote one staff person to international activities. IDA's Karen Crum spreads the international responsibilities among the four people on staff, and they look for ways to make limited resources work. "For example, being a small association, we don't have the funds or staff to conduct a lot of in-depth market research. So, for the most part, we use outside experts, getting permission to reprint information from them in the newsletters we send to our members."

* Mark Van Fleet, manager of international business services at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., advises associations to stay focused on real business needs, rather than simply gathering information. "Too much information can bog you down," he points out, "just as too little leaves you unprepared."

* "Be careful," recommends ASIA's Olson, "and do your homework. You need to talk to others and learn from their experiences."

* The words of wisdom from William Hixson are: Be patient and be committed. The managing director of Health Synergy International, Warrendale, Pennsylvania, says, "If you expect to turn business around in 18 months, don't waste your time and money. With international, you have to get in for the long haul. It takes at least three to five years before things start to move."

Rewarding, if not quite exotic

TIA's Nelson tacks on a personal note: "When I first started doing this, I thought my job would be so exciting, and I've now traveled so much that I find it very tiring. But I do feel that what I do here at TIA is very valuable. The international department has been able to provide opportunities for our members in countries around the world. Our U.S. trade balance in telecommunications has gone from a sizable deficit to a sizable surplus, and it's exciting to have contributed to that."



* Many associations are providing members with the information they need to explore trading opportunities in non-U.S. markets.

* Associations' export-promoting activities range from publishing market research to hosting trade seminars to setting up offices overseas.

* The effort required for success with international endeavors is enormous, but so can be the results.


* A list of resources for grant funding was published in the May/June 1995 issue of ASAE's International News. For a copy, contact ASAE's International Section manager, Carolyn Lugbill, (202) 626-2828; fax: (202) 408-9633; e-mail:

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently introduced an electronic, interactive system called International Business Exchange (IBEX), designed to help firms worldwide find business partners. For details about how your association can use this service, call Mark Van Fleet, (202) 463-5486.

RELATED ARTICLE: Additional Services Associations Provide

ACRI: Obtain export trade certificates of review from U.S. Department of Commerce

AFIA: Provide membership export listings

AFPA: Reduce government import barriers

AMFMI: Provide technical information exchange

ATMI: Operate export trading company

CCI: Provide consumer advertising

EIA: Organize off-shore shows

EMI: Work on worldwide standards and regulations

HIA: Hold a trade show in Europe

IME: Work as a liaison with European manufacturers

ISEA: Publish an export newsletter; provide a standards database

ITA (Truck): Write international engineering standards

MJSA: Publish guide to international trade

NACDS: Form multinational alliances

NAEC: Provide Internet access, databases, and mailing lists

NAED: Publish international directory

NGA: Publish American magazines in non-U.S. languages for non-U.S. distribution

NMMA: Provide help in meeting international product standards

NSGA: Participate in U.S. Department of Commerce Foreign Buyer Program

PMA: Work on industry international trade issues

SWANA: Provide training and technical assistance

TIA: Hold international conferences; reverse trade missions

USCC: Lobby in foreign capitals

WMMA: Provide sponsors, expert counseling, and grantsmanship

Note: See the key to survey respondents for association names, locations, and phone numbers.

Source: 1995 ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT survey of associations likely to offer export-enhancing services (81 respondents)

RELATED ARTICLE: Countries in Which U.S.-based Associations Have Non-U.S. Offices

Australia: PATA, RGI


Brazil: IAI (Accountants), IAI (Apple)


China: AMT, TIA

France: NAB, PATA

Holland: AMFMI

Hong Kong: AFPA, CCI


Korea: AFPA, CCI

Mexico: AFPA, IAI (Apple), PMMI

New Zealand: IAI (Accountants)


Singapore: HIMA, ICSC, PATA

Switzerland: AMFMI

Taiwan: AFPA, IAI (Apple)

United Kingdom: AFPA, CCI, IAI (Accountants), IAI (Apple), IISRP, NHMA, NIMA, USCC

AFPA: Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, United Kingdom

AMFMI: Holland, Japan, Switzerland

AMT: China

ARTBA: Russia

ASPPT: Japan, Russia

CCI: Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, United Kingdom

FPMSA: Russia

HIMA: Singapore

IAI (Accountants): Brazil, New Zealand, United Kingdom

IAI (Apple): Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, United Kingdom

I-CAR: Canada

ICSC: Canada, Singapore

IFMA: Belgium, Canada

IISRP: Japan, United Kingdom

NAB: France Japan

NDPA: Canada

NHMA: United Kingdom

NIMA: United Kingdom

NMMA: Belgium

PATA: Australia, France, Japan, Singapore

PMMI: Mexico

RGI: Australia, Canada

SIA: Japan

SWANA: Canada

TIA: China, Japan, Russia

USCC: Belgium, Japan, United Kingdom (and 70 other chambers in 62 countries)

Note: See the key to survey respondents for association names, locations, and phone numbers.

Source: 1995 ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT survey of associations likely to offer export-enhancing services (81 respondents)

Gerry Romano, CAE, is senior editor of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Romano, Gerry
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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