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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 12, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Associations’ Key: Managing Members

Associations are not-for-profit organizations that represent

the interests of individuals with a profession or interest in common,

or of companies in a particular industry. Not so long ago, many associations

feared that they were going to be replaced by the Internet, says Jean

Frankel, a partner with Tecker Consultants, a Trenton-based consulting

firm with many not-for-profit clients.

While no such wholesale displacement of associations occurred, associations

nevertheless are facing formidable challenges. "Membership is

down," Frankel says. Reasons include the parsimony of cash-strapped

corporations, which are increasingly unwilling to shell out for employees’

dues, and time constraints among constituents, many of whom are working

longer hours. At the same time, members are increasingly assertive

in seeking ever-greater value in exchange for the dues they pay.

Tecker is joining with Marriott and with the New Jersey Society of

Association Executives (NJSAE) in presenting a series of workshops

to help association leaders ability to respond effectively to the

demands their organizations face. Frankel leads the second seminar

in the six-seminar series, "Your Staff: How to Deliver What Members

Expect," on Friday, February 21, at 9 a.m. at the Trenton Marriott.

Other seminars, taking place about one month apart through June, include

"Your Committees: They’re Either Too Involved or Not Involved

at All," "Your Vendors: How to Engage Them to Make Our Association

a Success?" and "Yourself: What Does It Take to Keep Doing

This?" Cost: $139 per seminar. Call 732-339-9085.

Tecker, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, has six principal

partners. Frankel, a partner, joined the firm seven years ago. A resident

of West Windsor, she grew up in Maplewood, and studied history and

English at Muhlenberg College. From there, she worked on Wall Street

in tech management and then at AT&T, where she was involved in implementing

a system of Total Quality Management (TQM). Her last corporate stop

was General Instrument, where her final assignment, overseeing a mass

lay-off, convinced her that the corporate life was no longer what

she wanted.

At Tecker, which has academic and corporate clients as well as not-for-profits,

she travels "at least 50 to 60 percent of the time." She has

a specialty in working with healthcare organizations, but recently

has consulted with entities as diverse as Cook College and the American

Massage Therapy Association. She enjoys her clients, observing that

not-for-profits tend to have a great deal of passion for the work

they do, and she enjoys her routine.

"I feel sorry for the poor saps on my flights who get in at 2

a.m., and are talking about having to be at the office in seven more

hours," she says. While working with not-for-profits, whose boards

often are available only on weekends, involves a lot of Friday night

and Saturday work, she is free to structure the rest of the week as

she pleases, working from home if that is more convenient.

Weekend work is only one thing that sets associations apart. "In

corporations there are pretty clear lines of authority," says

Frankel. "It’s different in a not-for-profit. You have a staff

and a board." While corporations have boards also, they rarely

are as involved as are the boards of not-for-profits, whose influence

is such that, says Frankel, the staff often feels that "we are

here to serve you." To complicate things further, board turnover

in these organizations is high — often one-third to one-half a


The staff obviously must be flexible, and it also must get a lot done

with just a few people. "On average," says Frankel, "the

associations in the NJSAE have only eight staff members.

And while corporations have customers, associations have members.

These members, Frankel points out, are, in fact, customers in that

they purchase everything from seminars and workbooks to trade publications

and T-shirts. But they are also owners, because it is their dues that

funds the association. A third role members play is that of workers.

"Especially in a small setting," says Frankel, "members

run the committees. They’re responsible for doing the work." Managing

members well is a trick — and a vital task. To do so effectively,

Frankel suggests:

Realizing that one size does not fit all. Some members

are "mail boxes," says Frankel. They have little desire to

be involved beyond receiving a newsletter. Others are "shapers."

These members want to be in on policy and programs. Still other members

are "networkers." They are in the association primarily to

meet people.

Not shutting members out. Too little staff can mean that

bases are not covered and that staffers are overworked. But it is

possible to over-staff, according to Frankel, who says the result

could be a feeling of disenfranchisement among those members who yearn

to be involved.

Providing a pleasant culture. No one joins an association

to experience more stress. "If leaders are yelling at each other,

it’s not much fun," observes Frankel. Likewise, if interminable,

badly-organized meetings lead to no discernible progress, members

may quickly decide the association is a waste of time.

Doing meaningful work. Association members expect to see

results. "They want to see that real work is being done,"

says Frankel.

Striving to add value. Association members expect a "return

on attention," says Frankel. To keep them happy — in fact,

to keep them at all — the association needs to listen carefully

to hear what they want, and then has to follow through.

While manufacturers have their factories and their widgets,

and service businesses have multiple outlets serving burgers or writing

financial plans, associations have but one asset — their members.

What could be more critical than learning how best to keep them engaged

and happy?

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