Association Participation: What’s the Return on Investment?

Rich Walker
July 31, 2012
COLUMN : Industry Watch | Management

When the economy is this precarious, every penny spent must be justified. Cost efficiency and a lean operating model becomes the Holy Grail for survival. The cost of joining and participating in a trade association must be weighed against other discretionary spending. But focusing on the cost is only half of the cost-benefit equation—never a good business practice. To fill in the rest of that equation, it is logical to ask "What can an association do for me?"

There are numerous answers to that question.  First, an association makes members stronger in the marketplace, providing important business, regulatory and market intelligence to form a fact-based platform for strategic planning and new product development. It can also help gain access to potential customers through various networking and promotion opportunities.

Associations give access to training through courses, seminars and meetings that contribute to improved efficiency in members’ businesses. They  also offers informal networking opportunities to generate and share ideas of best practice.

An association provides a stronger unified voice for an industry in its dealings with customers, code groups and regulatory agencies, as well as a platform to take action to proactively and effectively interpret and influence their work product—actions that would be virtually impossible on your own.

For the window and door industry, an association establishes a credible vehicle to educate buying influences on the proper role, selection, installation and use of your products. When an association does it, it’s education; when you do it, it’s selling.

Finally, associations help members keep up with the accelerating change and evolution of technology and the marketplace. In our industry’s case, the most recent challenges of change read like the latest newscast: evolving materials science and manufacturing technology, hurricane zone impact resistance, blast resistance to withstand terrorist explosives, sustainable building initiatives, tighter quality control measures and more. It’s an ever-changing landscape that manufacturers must successfully negotiate, and a strong association is typically the principal vehicle for navigating that landscape.

According to a survey cited a few years ago in a Journal of Commerce article by the Engineering Contractors Association, 85 percent of firms that failed were not connected with a trade association. While a combination of factors can bring a business down, this striking statistic is worth considering.

But, these benefits do not just happen. They are the results of a lot of hard work and effort by the great number of individuals who devote time and energy to get the tasks done.

Theodore Roosevelt has often been quoted as saying: "Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or the industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere." With that quotation, perhaps those of you who have opted out of your association, delayed entry or cut back on participation are now expecting a guilt trip.

Not really. Just pointing out how, if you are not participating, you might be shooting yourself in the foot.

The benefits are only part of the picture. With benefits come responsibilities. So, the true answer to the question "What can an association do for me?" is: “It can't do anything for you unless you do something for it.”

That means attending and participating in meetings and conferences to network with like-minded professionals. It means the same at the committee and task group level, as these are the forums that solve critical issues in the industry through standards development. You cannot participate unless you are physically present. For those who cannot attend conferences, social media is now a viable means to connect.

“The doers and the creators and the innovators in this country will keep figuring out a way to make things better,” says Davis Blanchard, Industry Week’s editor-in-chief. An association is an assembly where doers and innovators can focus their otherwise disconnected efforts.

So, the question is not whether you, as an industry member, can afford to join and participate in an association; it’s whether you can afford not to.
 

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664, rwalker@aamanet.org.