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Defining members' international needs.


When we first surveyed the International Section members, we expected to see evidence of individuals whose associations were, for the most part, just beginning to become active internationally. We expected most section members to indicate they were fairly new to this area and were looking for guidance.

What we learned from this latest survey--sponsored by Boston-based ITT Sheraton, whose 430 hotels and inns are located in 61 countries--was quite different. First, the average years of international experience for section members was about 12, along with almost 14 years of experience in association management. This pleasant surprise was underscored again when respondents were asked to identify areas in which they have expertise and would be willing to share information with other members.

With almost 40 percent of the section responding, 178 people indicated they could be contacted as resources for information on managing an international organization. They also indicated having expertise in areas such as overcoming language barriers, alternative delivery systems, and forming chapters outside the United States. Almost two thirds said they could be contacted about international trade matters, such as conducting trade missions, the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and where to find help in the government.

Respondents have an abundance of expertise on holding international meetings inside and outside the United States, noting such areas as negotiating with hotels abroad, finding ground operators, and avoiding pitfalls of cosponsoring meetings with counterpart organizations.

But what do we mean by international? When ASAE's International Section was formed seven years ago, the term international was, at best, ambiguous and certainly misunderstood. A survey of the section membership during those formative years indicated about one third considered themselves to be international because they held meetings outside the United States. Another third had members located outside the United States and counted members in Canada or Mexico as being international (most organizations do not consider their Canadian members as international). The final third had members that did business internationally and wanted their associations to help in some way.

An emerging role

As the section matured, the struggle to properly define the term international began. Should it be used to describe only those associations that have members in countries in addition to the United States? Should it apply only to those organizations whose governance boards have representation from many countries? Should it be applied to any association that produces multilanguage materials?

In the latest survey, completed in November and December 1992, members indicated perhaps a shifting of practice, if not attitudes. Although the question of how to define an international association was not explicitly asked on the survey, from the 232 responses (at press time) emerges a profile of association internationalism.

The bulk of international interests has clearly shifted from merely holding meetings outside the United States to satisfying the needs of organizations with members all over the globe. Associations view internationalism as a way of thinking and doing business. International Section Chair Wayne H. Gross, CAE, director of international operations, Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, Atlanta, explains: "Associations do not 'do international.' International is not just a program area. It cuts across the spectrum of services and products offered by associations. They hold meetings outside the United States; they provide services to their members wherever they are located; they publish a plethora of materials, set standards, conduct research, and so forth. It is a reflection of what is happening to their members and incorporates a 'think globally' attitude among the leadership, members, and staff."

International service

International Section members are telling us they are being faced with many and varied requests in servicing their members' needs around the world. For example, in the area of helping their members in markets outside the United States, respondents indicated that they

* want information to improve their ability to lobby against tariff and nontariff barriers and

* need information and assistance in arranging meetings with government officials overseas.

In the area of recruiting and retaining members outside the United States, International Section members want ASAE to

* provide information on efficient means of providing member services (e.g., distribution services);

* identify trade association counterparts and related associations in other countries;

* highlight case studies of associations that have found successful solutions to member challenges (e.g., dues incentives and payment obstacles).

In other areas, members cited the need for information on

* lessons learned in conducting meetings in other countries (e.g., how to generate attendance in the country where the meeting is located);

* business practices and pitfalls, including examples of matchmaking operations;

* ISO (International Standards Organization) 9000 series;

* what other associations are doing outside the United States (e.g., government and other contacts, case studies, research);

* resources such as government agencies here and abroad, electronic bulletin boards, or specialized libraries; and

* who within the ASAE membership is an expert on different dimensions of international activities. (All members of the International Section will receive the section's new Peer Networking and Resource Directory in late spring.)

For such organizations as the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association or the Electronic Industries Association, both of Washington, D.C., operating internationally is nothing new. Their members' presence in international business activities has been well-documented for years. But how about other kinds of organizations, such as state groups?

A case in point is the North Carolina Forestry Association, Raleigh. "For years our members believed their interests began and ended with the state line," says Robert W. Slocum, Jr., executive vice president. "However, many of our members are now dealing internationally and consequently have increased expectations of their association."

Indeed, we are all impacted by world events, world economies. And our members expect us to help them deal with the complexities of this new international arena. If the developing international expertise of many ASAE members is an indication, associations have far-reaching opportunities to lead the way.

Thomas A. Gorski, CAE, is ASAE's vice president of public relations and market research. He analyzed the survey data. For more information, or if you want to join ASAE's International Section, call Carolyn Lugbill, (202) 626-2828; (202) 626-2803 TT.
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Author:Gorski, Thomas A.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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