Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Do We Owe Our Members?

THIS POST IS FOR ALL THOSE ORGANIZATIONS out there who rely to any extent on membership dollars to fund their work.  This maybe even applies to organizations who don't have memberships, but rely on ticket subscribers, major donors and underwriters.  The question that's on my mind has to do with how much information we give (or withhold) from folks who support us.  How much of the organizational curtain do we pull back for these faithful and generous souls?  After all, it can get pretty messy behind the curtain.
I guess it depends a lot on how you/your organization view members.  We expect, perhaps without much thought, that members will automatically renew their support year after year.  We throw some benefits their way, give them a wine and cheese reception every once in a while, and cash their checks.  Are they just dollar signs for the balance sheet, hungry mouths to constantly feed with programming, precious commodities or fickle friends?  All of that or something else...or something more?
I've come to view members as something way more.  I'm thinking about them as organizational partners.  Sure, they're often the primary beneficiaries of our programs and services, but they also help to pay our bills.  Their ranks provide the people power for our events, our committees and our boards.  They're more than just an organizational ATM -- they have ideas and opinions...and most of them care a lot about what we do.
So, why do so many organizations fear exposing the mess behind the curtain to the very folks who invest the most in their success?  (If it's truly a mess, we're embarrassed to show how out of control we are.  Just remember, that kind of a mess will come to light sooner or later.)  Or are we afraid that if the curtain is pulled back, our partners will find nothing there?
But what about those times when we're just simply struggling to get a compass reading for organizational direction-setting?  When we need some different perspectives, some fresh organizational oxygen?  Don't members -- organizational partners -- deserve an invitation to those conversations?  Isn't that a big chunk of being transparent and, dare I say it, entrepreneurial?

Image:  ending a hand from sam b-r