Why do I pay dues?

In his thought leadership session at ASAE’s annual meeting and exposition, Clay Shirky argued that association leaders must shift their mindsets from “instead of” to “in addition” and from “control” to “convene”.

He then argued that associations can use their “convening power” to demonstrate value and justify membership dues. He encouraged associations to harness member interest by engaging them as contributors, raters and rankers of association content.

Answering a question from the audience, Shirky noted that “Loss of control has already happened; (we) need to come to terms with it.” In this social-media era, dues are the ante to create a convening platform and its attendant, high-value conversation – precursors to meaningful member engagement.

Earlier in his talk, Shirky noted that inside every large collaborative effort, there is an incredibly dedicated core group that does most of the work. This has long been true of most associations. Shirky went on to say that social media tools now let many more people get involved at a level that suited them. He sees a new math at play here:

(improbable) x (large) = (likely)

That’s an equation that will reshape how associations think about both membership and engagement. The number of dues-paying members may shrink over time and be supplanted by participants more comfortable with “a la carte” pricing. Associations that face such trends will need to develop more agile ways to engage and provide value to these “al la carte” participants.

Measures of engagement will also need to evolve to capture the breadth, depth and energy of member-to-member (and non-member) conversations. This could be a big shift for some associations, particularly those with substantial commitments to sections, chapters or issue- or topic-oriented departments.

I was able to Twitter elements of Shirky’s remarks; if you’re interested in reading more, you can find them here (scroll back to August 18). Comments from other attendees can be found under the Twitter hashtag #asae09.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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