by: Chris Troksa
She Will Host the November Association Design Circle
Who are you and what do you do?
I am an attorney, but I have spent my entire career in the association world. I enjoy solving problems, including both those challenges faced by associations and “fun” problems found in word games and mahjong, which has been described as making order out of chaos.
This question catches me at a crossroads in my career.
For the past 30 years I worked for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, a national organization of about 3000 members who represent individuals applying for Social Security Disability benefits. For many years I was the staff attorney there, where my main responsibility was assisting members in their research and ensuring members had the knowledge, they needed to do their job well. For the past 9 years I led the organization as Executive Director, a job that required wearing many hats and working with several talented staff members. As Executive Director, no two days were the same and the job required flexibility and responsiveness. Some days required working with members of Congress or with other government officials, other days were focused on conference planning, writing, or meetings. Every day I was honored to work with staff and members who were improving the lives of so many people who interact with the Social Security disability program.
Soon I will become the Executive Director of the Westchester County Psychological Association. I expect this organization to offer similar challenges as rewards as I have found at other associations. I am excited to lead a professional organization that whose mission is to advance psychology as a profession and a science, and that has been on the forefront of critical issues facing psychologists for over sixty years.
What are some of the issues associations are facing?
I see many associations striving to stay relevant. Membership in a relevant association should be seen as an indispensable part of a professional’s portfolio. There is no doubt that associations can play a crucial role in bringing together people who have similar needs, interests and concerns, to help answer the questions in their professional lives. How the association does this, how the association meets the changing needs of the professional, is the current challenge facing many associations.
So often we hear that young people aren’t “joiners.” So as the original generation of joiners retires, associations are faced with declining membership. The older generation may have felt a sense of loyalty to the organization, and a desire to be a part of something bigger, perhaps because they were the founding members or simply because they believed in the organization’s mission. Especially in the pre-social media age, association membership may have been the only way for professionals to join together. But the younger generation doesn’t feel the loyalty or need the sense of belonging, and instead has to see what they get out of their membership. As a result, one of the main issues facing associations is how to be worth it for the younger professionals. This requires a new way of engaging members. Simply presenting them with knowledge that they can “Google” themselves isn’t enough. The information must be packaged in a way to be unique and helpful. Associations also have to sell new professionals on the value of being part of a group of people with shared values and professional goals.
Associations have long relied on membership and event registration dollars as their sole funding. Because people are looking at the value of associations differently now, another issue is to how to expand funding sources by having a more engaged membership. For example, associations have to consider whether it is better to have a “one size fits all membership model” where members pay one price and receive all benefits, or a “pay what you use” model, where the initial cost may be lower, but each add on is an additional cost. Either way, it is essential for members today to understand the value of their membership, because simply “belonging to the association” isn’t what moves people anymore.