Guaranteed Investment Winner – Your Association Dues
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By David Ewald, CAE, President

A finance professor in 1986 taught me an important lesson that I have applied to my work with associations. I, along with most of my classmates, squirmed in our seats counting the moments till the end of a three hour lecture on present and future value calculations—hard stuff, at least for me it was. We groaned when he went over his allotted time for the course. How could he do that? Then came “the lesson.” Stopping the FV/PV lecture, he said “I’ll bet the education field is the only one where the customer wants to pay full price to a vendor and receive less ‘product’ than the vendor is willing to give.” Good food for thought, professor. We left. The professor’s idea applies well to the association world. Many members of associations pay their dues and then neglect to collect the full—or more—value by failing to lead or participate in the many opportunities the association offers for little or no cost.

A favorite question I like to ask board member is this: “If you could be convinced to pay 10 times your current dues to this association, what would it do to your (your company’s) participation?” The response is always the same. That member would become much more invested in the association because he would need to make sure his company saw a good return on its investment. If that is the case at 10 times the dues, then why not get an even quicker return by “investing” now at a lower price? Here are some ways to get more out of your membership:

Serve on a committee or board
Participating in the work of a committee or board will help you or your staff members develop leadership skills that will serve well in your work. You will be networking and “in the know” regarding what is going on in the industry. You will become appreciated as a leader. That can set you up for future growth in the association—or other leadership opportunities.

Sponsor or host something
Associations are usually looking for sponsors of meetings, events and publications to help keep costs low for members. Kicking in a few dollars to sponsor a breakfast will get recognition for your company and a lot of appreciation. Host a tour of your company and have a roundtable discussion about issues you and others face. They’ll appreciate it and you and your staff will enjoy showing off what you do.

Attend training events
Association-sponsored events are usually one of the best deals going in continuing education. Usually they are run to make (at most) a small profit. Programs provide great networking opportunities for you and your staff and are another way to become visible in the industry.

Get your staff involved
Would you like to magnify the value of your membership? Get more staff members involved. The value of your membership is limited only to you if other staffers don’t hear about training events or participate in leadership opportunities. When you get staff involved they grow in their careers and they learn about their (your) industry. Importantly, attendance at association events can be an affordable “perk” to give your staff that will leave them recharged when they return to work.

Share an idea
Afraid your competitor will learn what you are doing and use it to capture the market? After 18 years in the field, I’ve never heard of it. In my opinion, many industries are more likely to be put out of business by their work being out- sourced to another country or by a competitor that isn’t yet in the business than by a current competitor down the street. Share what you know, learn from them and get better together! Share the ideas by writing newsletter articles, teaching a course or participating in roundtables.

Many saw portfolios shrink beginning with the crash in 2000. Through that time, associations have continued to provide one of the best returns on investment. Like the stock market, a member can’t just invest her money in an association and hope for great returns. The good news is that unlike the market, investing in your association pays dividends no matter what the state of the economy — as long as you decide to take an interest in it. Pay closer attention in 2005 to the strength of your association commitment and I’m sure you see the rewards. Share your stories with me at


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