Membership relations are highly specialized, but overwhelmingly common, bonds that need constant care and attention.
What’s that you ask? How can something be “highly specialized,” yet “overwhelmingly common?” Well, I’ll tell you! A membership in an association entails a level of exclusivity and privilege. The thing is, there are currently over 150,000 associations in the U.S. alone!
I personally have been a proud member of numerous associations; the PRSSA, the National Honor Society, my middle school drama club, TY Beanie Baby Club, Lisa Frank Fan Club–I think you get the picture.
The Encyclopedia of Associations states “Associations serve their members in many ways, but, above all, they do for the membership that which individuals cannot do for themselves.” Basically, associations are meant to support, educate, and untie members in a way beyond their own abilities.
Our dear friends Guth and Marsh, of Issues in Public Relations, offered a number of examples where member relations were tested. They site the American Library Association as one group that rallied together to fight challenges from the outside and spread awareness. Members of the the American Library Association created the Library Bill of Rights to counteract potential censorship of reading material. Their efforts criticized book banning on a large-scale and encouraged communities to do the same.
In a more recent, similar situation, teachers from the New Jersey Education Association banned together to protest legislation. The state is trying to pass a bill that will adjust healthcare benefits and pension for public workers at the detriment of the employees. The teachers decided to maintain a sense of order, and only rallied in the morning before classes. They wore matching red shirts to signify a halt to the bill and show unity. Their protest exemplifies the purpose of an association; according to the writeup, “for the staff themselves, it was all about supporting each other and taking a stand against the legislation.”
While both of these instances show a sense of comradery, I can’t help but wonder, are the associations or the people responsible for their efforts? Do memberships really benefit the members or are they just a figure head? This seems to me like a “chicken or egg” argument that could go on for ages…
From a PR standpoint, it’s imperative to tend to these relationships on a regular basis. Members want to feel a sense of worth and inclusion–especially if they are paying to be a part of something! The best associations have more to offer than a name and some button that says “I’m a member of blah blah.” They offer advice, newsletters, forums, and support. Both the American Library Association and the New Jersey Education Association deserve three cheers for not only relating to their publics, but giving them a voice.
So if a member asks herself, “What’s in it for me?!” associations should be prepared to with a list of reasons and rewards for membership. Associations must emphasize their worth through an array of media channels, but more importantly, by using existing members as spokespeople.