Building Value in Trade Association Membership

Personal experiences often drive attitudes regarding association value and the perception of how "real" that value will be for them.

Surprisingly, some organizations join industry groups without ever really participating in them. In these few cases, the member never fully appreciates what the group can do for them, and the association has little opportunity to understand what the member expects and needs from them. It's clearly not the best model for delivering value. 

Industry associations who stay in touch with, and are responsive to, the needs of participants rarely find themselves struggling to attract or retain members. The operating environment in most industries these days is increasingly dynamic. An occasional ad-hoc revisiting of member needs is not sufficient to maintain relevance and value. Active member involvement is the key - driving the creation of value when and where it will be most appreciated. Faced with very real challenges on a daily basis, leaders expect continuous improvement, focus on fewer priorities and a tangible return on their investments - including membership dues of course.

Not all trade associations are created equal.

There are vast differences in how industry and professional organizations operate. Some approach their role at some distance from their members while others routinely engage members in developing essential programs and in critical decision making. The latter engagement model is far more productive and resilient because members feel their opinions are valued and because it is far more likely the association will serve members’ needs. Association working groups, for instance, combine staff and member expertise to find solutions to challenges member companies face. This partnership approach also fosters better understanding and builds trust between industry association leadership, staff, and membership.

Active involvement multiplies rewards.

When an investment is paying off, naturally investors will want to stay in – perhaps even increasing their investment. Active members can clearly see the difference their association is making. Hopefully, they see their voice reflected in the organization’s actions. They know their trade group is working for the benefit of membership in critical areas of concern. Listening to members is critical. Clear and consistent communication is also essential. If members are not aware of the association doing something, much of the value can be lost in doing it. To address this concern, effective associations communicate progress and value to the membership through a variety of measurement and reporting tools - increasing awareness in marketing, technical, member service, and government advocacy arenas.

Doing what members cannot do themselves.

In the heavily regulated, highly technical and constantly changing design and construction environment, there are just some things a valued trade association can do for its members that members themselves cannot do - or do as efficiently. For instance:

  • Specialized Insight. With in-depth knowledge of industry products and services, an active trade association can monitor, investigate and share information members need to anticipate and respond to opportunities and threats early - when it matters most. Economic data combined with feedback from association staff investigation can provide members with more timely and detailed market forecasts - a distinct advantage in a highly competitive marketplace.

  • Peer Networking. Regardless of the problem, there is an excellent chance other members have dealt with a similar issue and can offer potential solutions. Perhaps one of the most valuable, yet underestimated, benefits of membership is the opportunity for networking and peer discussion with individuals not necessarily competing within a local business market. Peer group networking and industry benchmarking are forums associations can facilitate to help members avoid costly mistakes and improve productivity.

  • Essentials Training. A trade association can bring together best practices and relevant information needed to develop effective educational tools. These training materials often deal with important topics such as safety, resources, and productivity. For example, responding to current industry workforce development challenges, associations can put in place targeted recruitment, training, and certification programs geared to specific member needs.

  • Governmental Advocacy. Leveraging the strength of its constituent size, longevity and leadership reputation a proactive trade association can have a much larger influence in helping to protect members from costly regulation and unfair competition. Legislative and code advocacy can have real impacts for members at both local and national levels. Through the government affairs efforts of association staff, together with allied associations, anassociation can serve as an influential voice on behalf of members.

Find strength in numbers.

Broad membership involvement in an association can provide the resources needed to seize opportunities and combat industry threats. While some industry businesses might be content with letting others strengthen and grow the industry, wise business owners know that their membership in a strong trade association builds the industry that is their life blood and implies confidence-building leadership to prospective customers as well.