Despite major changes in society, the way many associations operate hasn’t changed much, according to Mary Byers, an author and consultant who spoke at Ohio Farm Bureau’s annual meeting.
And that means many groups face becoming less effective as they become less relevant to members.
“Our message is simple: It’s time for associations to get with the times,” said Byers, who co-authored “Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations.”
She said the organizations that are thriving are those that are constantly measuring themselves. During a recording of Ohio Farm Bureau’s radio show Town Hall Ohio, Byers complimented Farm Bureau for its willingness to evaluate its efforts and said she didn’t see some of the “red flags” she has seen with other groups.
“The associations that aren’t measuring and aren’t taking a look at where they need to be in five or 10 years are really in danger of losing their relevance,” she said.
“They may not disappear, but they’ll be a shadow of their former selves.”
One of the biggest factors affecting member involvement in associations is time, she said. More families have both spouses working outside of the home and parents are putting more time into their children’s activities.
“We are in a time famine in this country,” she said. “There is just too much to do and not enough time to do it.”Byers said organizations must find balance by combining the work of their volunteers with the specialized knowledge of staff.
“If you take the farmer expertise, put it with the staff expertise, there’s no stopping you,” she said.
She also challenged the tendency of associations to keep things the same if they’re not apparently broken.
“I believe in change if we know we can make things better,” she said.
Today’s organizations should invest in technology, focus on their strengths and take a critical look at how they’re governed, Byers said. People shouldn’t be selected to serve in a leadership role simply because they’re willing and available.
“We believe you should be putting people on the board because they have specific competencies, whether that’s because they’re visionary, they’re idea people or they’re consensus builders.”
Byers believes that organizations that try to be everything to everybody end up being nothing to anyone. And most of the value in an organization is likely derived from 20 percent of the products and services.
“Rather than trying to do a lot of things and do them with mediocrity, why not just focus on that 20 percent and do them with excellence,” she said.
She encouraged leaders to start asking questions such as “What if?” or “Why not?”
“Those types of questions will lead to great conversations and conversations are really what lead to change,” she said.
An early gift
One of the “five radical changes” that Byers recommends is investment in technology. Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Jack Fisher jokingly asked annual meeting attendees to give him their email addresses for Christmas so that the organization can keep in contact in a more timely and efficient manner.
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