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Meeting member needs.

To understand what your members need, you have to know where they're headed. Seven association executives explain how they're keeping pace with evolving member needs and expectations.

To truly deliver the products and services your members need, you must first try to understand the external forces of the constantly changing world in which they operate. As an article in the September-October 1997 issue of The Futurist bluntly put it: "Failure to anticipate change can be deadly."

In that article, "Anticipatory Management: Tools for Better Decision Making," authors William C. Ashley and James L. Morrison stated, "Change has become the essence of management, so to survive and prosper in the future, you and your organization will have to perfect 'outside-in' thinking skills: to relate information about developments in the external world to what is going on internally. . . . The first step is to identify emerging issues before they strike, much like earthquake forecasters scan fault lines for signs of abnormal activity. Because significant issues may emerge from unexpected places, it is important to scan the macroenvironment for social, technological, economic, environmental, and political developments." (See sidebar, "Peering Beyond the Horizon.")

As the comments of the seven association executives highlighted here suggest, whatever the issues and emerging trends, association executives must come to understand their members - and the business of their members - like never before (see sidebar, "Membership Microcosm"). Likewise, association executives must help members envision a positive future - and then help them find their way there.

Seeking competitive advantages

The overarching trend affecting members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association is globalization, says NEMA President Malcolm O'Hagan. The Rosslyn, Virginia based association represents makers of electrical equipment ranging from switches and sockets to sophisticated medical diagnostic equipment such as CAT scanners. In total, 65 product sections operate somewhat like mini-associations.

According to O'Hagan, many U.S. electrical manufacturing operations have been acquired by foreign, largely European, companies in recent years. At the same time, U.S. companies have been quickly developing markets outside the United States. With an increasingly competitive, increasingly global market economy, a concerted effort has been afoot during the past 10 years to develop international standards across industrial sectors. While standards development has always been one of NEMA's core areas of involvement, one challenge for the association has been getting its busy corporate executive members to spend the time and the money to travel all over the world to attend the meetings of international standards-setting organizations to influence the outcome of electrical standards.

Along with standards development, governmental affairs and economic development and analysis are other key areas of NEMA involvement. At one point several years ago, NEMA started branching off with educational seminars, but soon found that other groups could more efficiently provide those services. "We're more disciplined now than ever in following our core competencies and providing value that members can't get elsewhere," says O'Hagan.

In a bold move three years ago, NEMA moved to fee-based services and activity-based accounting practices akin to how a law or consulting firm operates. Staff track hours that are then billable to the various product groups represented within the association. "The great need for our members is the need to survive the competition," says O'Hagan. "As members have faced increased competition and globalization, we in turn must operate more like a business."

One benefit of this new operational mode is that a motor manufacturer, for instance, knows that the dollars it gives to NEMA will be spent on its projects, explains O'Hagan. He says that NEMA staff members are now constantly challenged to keep hourly rates down and value of services up. His challenge to other associations is to get away from the model that makes membership an obligation. "Dues connotes what is owed," says O'Hagan. Instead, he says, concentrate on providing invaluable services.

Advancing an industry

With public debate continuing about the benefits of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and preferred provider organizations (PPOs) versus traditional insurance, the biggest promotional hurdle faced by the National Association of Dental Plans, Dallas, is with the general understanding of managed dental care by both business and the dental community, says Executive Director Evelyn F. Ireland, CAE. At one point, NADP - which represents dental plans, not practitioners - formed a spin-off subsidiary for dentists in managed care. An assessment one year into the effort led NADP to create a resource center on managed care for dentists without formalizing membership. Likewise, it formed a communication group within its provider relations committee to write articles and speak to dentists about managed care.

Two years ago, NADP voted to enhance its mission and to move from purely promoting dental HMOs to likewise "advancing the dental HMO/PPO industry to provide consumer access to affordable, quality dental care," and representing PPOs. "This expansion of both our membership and our mission essentially gave us the mandate to become proactive in identifying trends and areas for change and to speak to the consumer aspect of dental care," says Ireland. NADP is now in the process of developing quality measures and an accreditation program for member plans to help the industry move forward.

One challenge is that consolidation within NADP's membership has created a growing chasm between the association's "large" and "small" plan members. But while the number of dental plans operating in 10 or more states has doubled in only three years, growth in managed dental plans operating in a single state or metropolitan region has also increased and shows no signs of abating, says Ireland. The results are some rather diverse member needs and communication and data collection challenges for NADP.

For instance, company mergers have affected NADP-maintained historical data on enrollment trends. To provide up-to-date records, the association charts mergers over several years to ensure that data from acquired companies are incorporated into the acquiring company's data. This allows NADP to accurately report industry growth - the cornerstone of its broad public relations effort.

Another effect of company growth is that across the years, volunteers within the association have changed from the owners and chief executive officers of plans to second-tier management. In addition, NADP contacts within a company are sometimes centralized in a particular national or regional office. To ensure top management support of its objectives, NADP established a CEO meeting at its annual conference and is developing an annual CEO retreat. And to make sure that all levels of the corporation get the necessary information on critical state legislative and regulatory tracking, member companies are asked to add contacts in all offices to NADP's data base. "Understanding the impact of industry consolidation on your membership structure, member needs, communication structure, and major program areas is a definite focus for us," says Ireland. "Quickly responding to the issues that consolidation creates is critical for survival."

Forging new niches

From film to direct to press to digital - these advancements have had a great impact on what's required for commercial printers to stay competitive, says Joseph Truncale, CAE, executive vice president of the National Association of Printers and Lithographers, Teaneck, New Jersey. NAPL members have a growing need to understand how to manage such increasingly technical and high-tech operations. At the same time, things are evolving rapidly for NAPL membership with regard to activity as they expand into areas of business that were once tangential. For instance, some NAPL members are moving into fulfillment and database management for their customers. Some are essentially outsourcing employees to clients to help them coordinate in-house mailings and print buying. Others are taking up Web site design for their customers.

According to Truncale, NAPL is increasingly focused on reminding members that they are in the industry of "business communications," not in the printing industry per se. "Our members still see printing as their bread and butter," says Truncale, but NAPL is helping them to see other business activities as increasingly within their realm.

NAPL itself is shifting gears to accommodate within its membership large investment holding companies - some of which own up to several dozen printing companies - that are emerging as a result of industry consolidation. NAPL recently attracted one such entity by "listening to the particular interests" of the company and then defining what NAPL could offer it, says Truncale. The association staff is quickly realizing that the needs, interests, and demands of such multiplant conglomerates are quite different from those of the independent commercial printer, which still composes the bulk of NAPL membership.

In fact, NAPL staff are noticing sharper differences among members within this core membership segment. For instance, while the concern for increasing sales volume is generally shared by all NAPL members, the necessary strategies for how to go about doing so might vary dramatically for a printer with less than $1 million in sales volume versus one with $10 million or more. To help identity those differences, NAPL recently transformed its volunteer committee structure. Instead of forming around interests of education, membership, and publications, for instance, committees are now segmented to represent members by sales volume: up to $1 million; $1 million to $5 million; $5 million to $10 million; $10 million to $20 million; and more than $20 million. These segmented committees can now better identify the specific educational and informational needs of each group.

Truncale sees the potential for aligning staff efforts by these same segmentations and someday having actual segment managers. Currently NAPL is experimenting with developing segment experts by making it part of the responsibility of several staff members to spend up to one 'day a week on-site with members in the various groups. The idea is to observe the business of their members and to watch what goes on operationally - right down to what the plant's chief executive officer receives in the mail and what time of day he or she looks at it, says Truncale. These staff experts are then charged to report this information to all association staff so that the knowledge shared becomes incorporated in the various roles and responsibilities of each staff member. "If we believe that members are the reason for our work, then it's worth the investment to develop the ability to figure out their business," believes Truncale.

Empowering members

Members of the Chicago-based American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) deal with every aspect of patient health records, working in hospitals, clinics, long-term and managed care facilities, and other types of organizations. Members are responsible for managing both paper- and computer-based record systems.

"As little as six years ago, 90 percent of our members worked in hospitals," says Susan Haack, AHIMA vice president of member and volunteer services. Today, only about 60 percent do. The rest are "going all over" she says, largely as a result of hospital mergers and downsizing and growth in other areas such as managed care or home health care. "Our members need skills that are transferable. They're looking to us to position their credentials as valuable in the marketplace - wherever they go," says Haack.

As a result, AHIMA is in the midst of reinventing its educational standards, professional development services, and credentialing program and process. "Because of health care and technology changes, we need to redefine ourselves - how our expertise will be applied in the future. We could plod along and keep our niche but not expand, or we could enhance our skills to move into new roles," says Haack. Ten years ago, AHIMA members primarily needed continuing education to upgrade their skills. "They still need that, but they need us to help them track where the profession is going next," says Haack.

One direction in which the profession is definitely headed is electronic. "We're just now at the beginning of electronic record-keeping. This will impact all members and create new opportunities such as roles in safeguarding the security of health records," says Haack. She predicts AHIMA members may also take on a consumer advocacy role during the next decade. In an increasingly electronic environment, issues of data quality, access, and security take on a new spin, she explains.

Because of the lack of job security many AHIMA members feel at the moment, they're looking more than ever to the association to help them out, says Haack. Her assessment: Members need to have the challenge of defining their future put back on them. "The difference between what the association should do for you and what you would like for it to do depends on how empowered you feel - the person who is in charge of his or her career versus the person who expects the association to figure it out for them. We're increasingly in the habit of telling members we can't do it for them, but we will do it with them," says Haack.

Protecting members

According to Robert Harden, CAE, executive director of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), Milwaukee, nearly one third of the association's resources is put toward regulatory and legislative efforts. Issues of primary concern include worker safety laws and environmental protection laws with regard to the fluids used in the embalming process. Another area of ongoing regulation for members is the federal "funeral rule" governing price disclosure of funeral home fees and services.

Because the funeral services industry is a heavily regulated one, and because protection of members is a top concern for NFDA, the association recently decided to take a more active role in protecting members whose homes were in violation of the funeral rule. NFDA, in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission, developed the Funeral Rule Offenders Program - a five-year educational program geared to helping offenders achieve compliance.

For instance, if the FTC finds that a funeral home is in violation of the rule, the funeral home director has the option of entering the program in return for not facing civil court litigation by the trade commission. The home then pays a fine based on its gross revenue and receives compliance training from NFDA. One benefit for members, says Harden, is that the process provides increased confidentiality so that members are less likely to face public embarrassment or backlash for noncompliance.

In addition to its legislative and regulatory involvement, another emerging focal point for NFDA is member education, as more states are passing continuing education requirements for funeral directors. To help map out its educational agenda, NFDA recently conducted a detailed survey of its membership to identify which technologies members have access to and what forms of education they're looking for. Survey analysis is still under way, says Harden, but the association has learned that about 80 percent of members already have computers in their funeral homes.

Association plans to focus on distance education via the Internet and CD-ROM-based interactive learning should be well-received by members, who have likewise indicated a strong desire for education that comes directly to them. One simple reason for that, explains Harden: "People don't die on schedule. Our members need a medium by which education fits into their lifestyle, when they are essentially on call 24 hours a day."

Responding to consumers

"From tree to cup" is how Melissa Angerman, CAE, describes her association's membership. The National Coffee Association, New York City, serves a broad constituency in which one segment operates as supplier to the next - from grower to seller to roaster to retailer. According to Angerman, NCA director of membership development and marketing, her members increasingly look to the association for help in responding to the media, the public, and consumers. Studies surrounding the health effects of caffeine, for instance, can have a ripple effect on consumers' coffee consumption - even if reports of ill effects are later shown to be unfounded or incorrect.

While members want the association to actively debunk any false claims, Angerman points out the difficulty of tackling public scrutiny head on. "We're the coffee association, so of course people would expect us to say that certain reports are unfounded." Instead of launching into image-boosting public relations campaigns, however, NCA's approach is to study the reports. For instance, an NCA volunteer health issues management committee regularly reviews health journals and published scientific studies related to coffee and caffeine. If the findings of a particular study are negative to the industry, the association may decide to commission a known expert physician in the field to conduct a similar study to test the findings.

Through a combination of press releases, faxes, and newsletter articles, NCA tries to educate members about the issues and outcomes of such studies so that they are better informed and prepared to respond to their publics. Likewise, to assist the broader media with background coffee facts and findings, NCA's Coffee Science Source - another volunteer-led effort - gathers and disseminates current information and articles to the media, health care professionals, and coffee consumers.

In hand with understanding consumer concern, NCA is continually looking for patterns in consumer behavior. With a Starbucks rising on seemingly every corner in metropolitan downtowns across the United States, the coffee connoisseur might not guess that coffee consumption in the United States has declined during the past 30 years. According to an annual NCA survey of thousands of coffee drinkers across the country, consumption has dropped from 3.1 cups on average per person per day in 1962 to about 1.6 per person today (though for the past three years, consumption has been steady, with no further decline). Changes in what consumers are drinking (regular or decaf), where (home or office), and how much are among the trends that NCA is trying to track to assist members with their production methods and marketing efforts.

Targeted programming geared to helping members understand and expand their markets has taken on new heights at NCA in recent years. For instance, one new program gives a broad overview of industry segments and processes while another focuses specifically on coffee as a commodity and includes a visit to Wall Street to better understand market issues and concerns.

Transforming mind-sets

Numerous factors contributing to public scrutiny of school budgets and an overall lack of confidence in today's public education system have put school superintendents in a vulnerable position across the country, says Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), Arlington, Virginia. No longer is the position one of command and control, he says. "Now the power is increasingly in one's coalition-building skills," says Houston.

"The truth is, schools are the nexus of so many other societal concerns - public welfare, health, crime. The historical school is one for reading, writing, and arithmetic. But kids can't learn if they're hungry, abused, or in trouble with the police. Today's superintendent needs to bring together the various groups to understand and help solve these issues," says Houston. And when nearly 80 percent of households in the United States don't have kids attending elementary and secondary schools, you must educate the wider public about the issues and needs of kids in school. Which is why today's school superintendents are increasingly in the practice of talking to community groups and older-adult groups such as chapters of the American Association of Retired Persons, explains Houston.

The role and very definition of public education is likewise changing the job of school superintendents. Houston believes a question worth asking is whether there will even be public education 10-15 years from now, and if so, whether it will look anything like it does today. He offers technology as one example. "Kids today can essentially learn from anywhere. The schools of the next century may be what Michael Eisner, Steven Spielberg, and Bill Gates create. But can they teach and show kids how to be good citizens and how to get along and collaborate?" asks Houston.

"Perhaps part of the role of the school super needs to be one of broker of services to ensure equity so that when [Eisner or Spielberg or Gates] comes out with a great new learning tool, all kids will be able to afford and access it," says Houston. The way he sums up the message for his members is: "You've been supers of schools, now you're supers of education - not of the places, but of the process of learning." Indeed, Houston believes one of the great challenges for his members is and will remain getting away from focusing only on the Bs - bonds, budgets, bricks, and buses.

While AASA members still have a need for basic professional development and training, the association is trying to transform the minds of its members with regard to what their job entails. "It's about helping them make connections and build the necessary collaborative skills," says Houston. "I see my role as in part to comfort the afflicted - to build up and complement and let members know they're doing a good job. But then I need to afflict the comforted. Let them know that their job is no longer the same and that they need to shift with it."

In the same vein, Houston believes that association leaders need to give up programs that no longer fit the mission of their organizations or serve their members' needs. To do so requires an understanding of where your members are and where they're headed. "We falter when we look through only one lens," says Houston. "We need a bifocal vision - to look at the horizon and decide what are the important issues but to also see the rocks underfoot that keep us from going there."

RELATED ARTICLE: Peering Beyond the Horizon

The primary benefit of engaging in environmental scanning is that it can improve the overall perspective of leaders so that they can make today's decisions better, says Jennifer Jarratt, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based think tank and policy research company Coates and Jarratt, Inc., and co-author of Managing Your Future as an Association. Because of the rapid pace of change present in today's business environment, scanning may or may not help with long-term decision making, says Jarratt, but it can build a better framework for conducting the strategic thinking of your organization.

Scanning typically entails looking at trade or professional journals, mainstream newspapers, books, and magazines - and of course, the Internet - to identify specific issues, trends, and external factors that might impact the business of your members and about which you want to know more. Who should keep watch varies from one association to another. For some, staff members might take the lead on identifying issues and, where possible, involve board members and other volunteers. The key is to find those individuals within your staff and membership who want to take part and who share an interest in anticipatory management, says Jarratt.

While scanning comes first, it's no end in itself. The real value of scanning kicks in when your association looks beyond the issues it has identified to visualize the implications for your particular industry or profession. "The more you can involve wider circles of members in the discussion of the trends and what they mean, the greater the chance that you will institutionalize a way of futures thinking so that you continuously bring new knowledge to bear on all your decisions," says Jarratt. "Then you become long-sighted instead of short-sighted."

Managing Your Future as an Association: Thinking About Trends and Working With Their Consequences 1994-2020 is an ASAE Foundation publication available from ASAE ($50 for members, $60 for nonmembers). To order, request product AMR218055 by phone, (202) 371-0940; fax, (202) 371-8315; or e-mail, mbrsvccen@asaenet.org.

Other ASAE Foundation titles available from ASAE that are aimed at helping you better assess the future needs of your members and better prepare for new ways of leading your organization include

* Charting Assured Migration Paths to the Knowledge Age: Building Your Association's Competencies for the 21st Century; $16.95 for members, $18.95 for nonmembers; product AMR218058.

* Thriving in the Knowledge Age: A Survival Guide for Your Association; $14.95 for members, $16.95 for nonmembers; product AMR218056.

* Keeping Members: The Myths and Realities; $22.95 for members, $27.95 for nonmembers; product AMR213551.

* Meeting the Change Challenge: The Executive's Guide to Leading Change in the Nonprofit World (ASAE publication); $19.95 for members, $24.95 for nonmembers; product AMR216726.

* Building a Knowledge-Based Culture: Using Twenty-First Century Work and Decision-Making Systems in Associations; $42.95 for members, $51.55 for nonmembers; product AMR213560.

* "The Shape of Things to Come?: A Guide to the Changing Nature of Associations" (three-minute video); $14.95 for members, $22.95 for nonmembers; product AMR218059.

RELATED ARTICLE: Membership Microcosm

The ways in which association memberships and member needs are changing as a result of external factors are reflected in the clients served by the Chicago-based association management company Smith Bucklin & Associates, Inc. Groups within its clientele range from technology user groups to health care professionals to distributors and manufacturers to newspaper publishers to child abuse prevention advocates.

Highlighted here are three of at least a dozen significant issues that appear to be impacting association memberships across the board, as voiced by Smith Bucklin executives. Not all of their memberships are experiencing every issue or emerging trend. Nor are they experiencing resulting changes at the same pace. But each issue carries implications for how associations can and may need to adapt their strategies of service to members to remain relevant to them.

* Consolidation. Especially among industry groups, consolidation created by mergers and acquisitions is creating a wider gap between the "large" and "small" member within associations - at times increasing the chasm between what each group needs in terms of products and services. In response, associations are striving to better meet individual members' needs. One size fits all is dead as a membership maxim.

* Technology. High-tech equipment and systems mean more professionals and businesses are always on call, with expectations of higher and faster output. The need to understand ever-new and sophisticated technologies places greater priority on education and training. Increased competition is spurred as technological tools come in reach of more individuals and businesses, enabling local entities to appear and to become increasingly global in their reach. In response, associations are speeding their own pace, trying to meet member demands for immediate, to-the-point information and just-in-time education. Forget five-year strategic plans. Many association executives say that with the rapid changes birthed by technology, trying to peer beyond the next two years is next to impossible.

* Public image. Members of many industry and professional groups alike have a growing need for help with communicating the value of what they do or produce, in part as a result of operating in an age of increased public scrutiny and inquiry. In an era where fewer members belong out of sheer loyalty, associations are seeking to add value to belonging by stepping up efforts to bolster the public image of the professions and industries they represent and to improve their positioning in the marketplace. To do so, many associations are increasing their government relations involvement and monitoring of issues germane to their constituencies and are surveying members and consumers to find any gaps in satisfaction. Associations are taking on this greater marketing role as they strive to sell not only their own services to their members but also their members' products and services to their customers.

Karla Boyers is a senior editor of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.
COPYRIGHT 1997 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on environmental scanning and membership microcosm
Author:Boyers, Karla
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:4521
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