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Seeing the big picture.

Innovative lenders and new ideal will help associations meet the demands of changing times.

In my younger days as an association executive in the 1950s, before the advent of strategic planning, a newly elected president might make the staff somewhat anxious. Even though the new volunteer leader had come up through the ranks-committee member, committee chair, board member, and then officer-what would happen if he or she wanted to take a new direction for which I thought the association was not prepared? I soon learned, however, that I was the one who was not prepared, despite my belief that I knew the big picture.

In 1956 Jack A. Quigley became president of the Linen Supply Association of America (LSAA), now the Textile Rental Services Association of America, Hallandale, Florida. Quigley believed the association, which I served as executive director, needed technical research on a large scale to develop innovative laundering machinery and methods to help the industry become more effective.

He saw the future in terms of intensive competition from other industries and believed that no one rental company-no matter how large-could adequately meet this challenge. My conversion to his view was not difficult.

At Quigley's request the LSAA board of directors in October 1956 considered a major research program to be financed by a substantial increase in dues. They decided, however, the increase was not feasible.

Quigley then invited members reputed to have annual sales volumes of $2 million or more to a special session in Chicago in December. The group agreed that major improvements were needed in machinery, laundering processes, and office and delivery systems. They also agreed that no single company could do this job and that something had to be done. Still, the meeting ended with no agreement on how to finance the needed research.

Three months later, in early 1957, Quigley held a second meeting for the same group, with the addition of a few other members. Considerable material had been sent to attendees documenting the uncertain future of the industry if action was not taken. One of the memos sent to the group reported the obituary of Collier's and Women's Home Companion in January 1957. It noted that Arthur Motley, publisher of Parade and a former vice president of Crowell-Collier; told Advertising Age that the company "had too many guys who wouldn't spend a dime to see the Second Coming with the original cast in color."

Within a few hours the group , which represented 18 companies, unanimously agreed to a research and development program and committed themselves for five years to a sum equal to three times their annual dues. All results would accrue to the entire membership. In the next few years many more members became sponsors; the cost of research eventually became part of dues.

LSAA developed a small but highly competent research staff, worked with a number of major contract researchers, held contests for members' employees to get innovative ideas, and sponsored about 20 projects.

The research program also resulted in the rapid growth of international cooperation in the textile rental industry. To indicate that the association was serious in its desire to network for mutual good with the Europeans, LSAA held an international conference in Paris in October 1958, which was attended by 170 people from 15 countries.

Since then, as a result of the first conferees' decision, a similar World Textile Rental Congress has been held every two to three years in a different country, including the United States. LSAA's international membership also grew substantially.

But what happens when an association does not have a plan attuned to changing conditions or when a new president sees his or her task as simply preserving the status quo? The association's focus may not be sufficiently broad to enable the industry or profession to meet the demands of changing needs.

Embracing a broader view

Every association is affected by technological, demographic, environmental, governmental, social and economic changes. To neglect the group's relationships to these changes-that is, to fail to see the big picture and determine how the association can respond-will hamper the ability of the industry or profession to grow and survive. A carefully built strategic plan, updated yearly, enables leaders to embrace a broader view and monitor the value of association objectives.

The concept of strategic planning apparently developed in the early 1960s through a faculty group at the Harvard Business School. In comparing case studies of firms in the same industry, the concept of strategy seemed to explain why some succeeded and others failed. In the first writings on the subject strategy was defined as "determining major goals and policies of a company and the ways of reaching the objectives with a statement of what business the company is in and what it wishes to be."

The concept involves finding out what the opportunities are in the external environment, the strengths and weaknesses of the firm, the personal values of key executives, and the broader societal expectations of the company. Strategic planning is essentially futuristic and coves a longer period than short-range planning.

Substitute association, professional society, or philanthropic organization for company, and the concept fits well. It wasn't until the 1970's however, that strategic planning took hold in the association community, and it is still a method that has not been universally adopted.

A fresh perspective

Seeing the big picture, however, involves more than strategic planning or a futuristic mind-set. Often, it requires adopting a fresh perspective on how to accomplish association goals. Consider the growing popularity of joint ventures. Many associations, at one time or another, join or even create coalitions to work toward a mutually beneficial goal.

For example, the Automotive Service Association, Bedford, Texas, founded the Coalition for Safer, Cleaner Vehicles in 1988. The nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., assists states in adopting and improving vehicle safety emissions inspection programs. It also promotes public education on the benefits of vehicle inspection. Its membership includes 13 national and 12 state trade associations, three regulatory bodies, 52 companies, and five consumer groups.

Six national associations in the laundering, dry-cleaning, and textile rental fields have joined forces to sponsor a major trade show every other year that is among the 100 largest in the country. The associations are the Coin Laundry Association, Downers Grove, Illinois; Institute of Industrial Launderers, Washington, D.C.,; International Fabricare Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, National Association of Institutional Linen Management, Richmond, Kentucky; Textile Care Allied Trades Association, Upper Montclair, New Jersey; and the Textile Rental Services Association of America. The same six groups have formed the Alliance of Textile Care Associations to deal with environmental legislation.

In the interest of the larger picture, some association merge. Others maintain separate identified, staffs and headquarters but join forces for governmental, educational, or research activities.

The biggest picture yet

Awareness of common concerns and goals has spawned yet another movement in the association community that has enlarged big picture even more. Eleanor Roosevelt's "Light a Candle" and President Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" are reminders that we all have a responsibility for helping others in need. The "we" includes the thousands of associations in the United States and Canada that have enormous collective power in influencing society issues.

Many groups are charting broad missions that emphasize concern for society in practical ways: providing meals for the needy, aid to the sick, training for the unemployed, shelter for the homeless, and other meaningful assistance to society.

Trade and professional associations are advancing America on a larger scale than ever before in terms of reaching out beyond their own special interest to help the larger community. This type of assistance is not new in the association world but has grown far more substantial than in years past.

In the 1930s, for example, the American Trade Association Executives, the former name of ASAE, presented awards for achievement in outstanding service to the public. Award-winning projects included one in which an association's members built 1,500 small homes at a cost of $1,500-$5,000 each, and another in which an association mounted a courageous offense against mob racketeering in its industry.

In 1984 President Reagan launched the Citation Program for Private Sector Initiatives with a theme of "We Can, We Care" to honor both for-profit organizations and associations for sponsoring outstanding community projects. ASAE helped administer the program and urged its members to encourage their associations to get involved.

Many trade associations and professional societies received top honors for their initiatives, which included efforts to retrain displaced workers, provide facilities for the mentally retarded, help battered and abused individuals, and develop food banks for the needy. Associations continue to develop many important initiatives today.

While associations do serve special groups as the basis for their existence, their members and volunteer leaders realize they are citizens of a much larger community.

In a history I wrote for the Chicago Society of Association Executives in 1986, I said, "Both for the volunteer and the paid staff an association offers the participants a way to get richer meaning into their existence. The proper measure of a person is not material wealth. it is the heritage he bequeaths to others in healthy ideals, enriching values, and high morale. The work of an association executive, as that of a volunteer, does have a social service aspect. It has a touch of the missionary in our reaching out to help and advance others, as well as ourselves. If the business calculus is all that an association is concerned with, it will do much less than if it reaches out to contribute its share of solutions to the problems of society. A good association executive and a good volunteer are do-gooders in the best sense of the word."

Altruism may be the driving force behind the broader social view being adopted by associations, but their efforts also result in the long run in increased productivity and higher standards of living.

Among the many examples:

* The California Restaurant Association, Los Angeles, donated surplus food from its trade shows to the needy.

* The Texas Laundry and Dry Cleaning Association, San Antonio, provided warm winter coats for the needy throughout the state.

* The Medical Association of Atlanta operates health clinics downtown staffed by physicians providing free medical care for the homeless.

* The American Home Economics Association, Alexandria, Virginia, with a grant from the Whirlpool Foundation, provides training to assist latchkey children who are alone after school.

An even broader view

At the beginning of this article, I discussed how an association elected officer in the 1950s saw the big picture. I will conclude with a description of a broad focus envisioned by an elected leader in the 1990s.

When Kathryn E. Johnson, CAE, became chairman of ASAE's board in August 1990, she proposed a substantial enlargement of the horizons of associations through a visioning process. Consultant Michael Doyle, who worked closely with Johnson, president of The Healthcare Forum, San Francisco, and many members, explained.

"Organizational visioning augments more traditional planning methods. It explores hard-to-answer questions. What is the essence of the association? What are its core value? What does it do best, and how does that relate to what the world needs? ... In short ... visioning is a commitment to rethinking and reviewing the organization. A vision is a holistic image, a statement of what an association's members want to create over the next 10 years. Creating an inspiring vision energizes members and builds their investment in the organization by helping them contribute to a purpose larger than themselves."

More than 600 of ASAE's volunteer leaders contributed to the visioning process in 15 meetings held between the summer of 1990 and March 1991. The visioning statement has gone through several drafts with probably more to come. It takes account of all key trends that affect associations and stresses how they can define their role.

ASAE's vision for the year 2000 is to be "a worldwide leader and catalyst in inspiring association executives and their organizations to build and renew society."

Given this vision, here is the organization's new mission: "to promote excellence in association management and to work to increase the effectiveness of associations worldwide to better serve members and society."

Seeing the big picture is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing associations today. No longer can the broad view so vital to an association's survival be tied solely to a single industry or profession.

The most successful groups have enthusiastic, innovative volunteer leaders and association executives who are receptive to new ideas and are willing to combine their talents to develop meaningful objectives that reflect an understanding of the big picture.

Samuel B. Shapiro, CAE, is president of Samuel B. Shapiro Consulting, Inc., Miami Beach, Florida.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
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Title Annotation:facing new challenges and innovations
Author:Shapiro, Samuel B.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:An economy in transition.
Next Article:Assess for success.

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