The difference between success and failure sometimes can be the simple difference between seizing an opportunity and embracing a burden.
My association management company is almost always actively seeking new clients, both associations seeking full-service management and organizations looking for help managing or executing programs. The opportunities in both areas are almost boundless. I use the term opportunity loosely, though, because as often as not they would simply be burdens to our company if we chose to pursue them. So we don't.
Let me explain.
A car dealership and a shoe store both sell products, but they won't interchange their products for a very simple reason: their business models are very different. What is an opportunity for one is a burden for the other.
In the case of my company, our business model is to make the best strategic use of our staff's talents in furthering the objectives of our client associations. Many associations are not looking for the kinds of talents we bring to the table. They are not necessarily looking for strategic thinkers to form alliances with their leadership. Many associations, at some point in their evolution, are simply looking for solid clerical support. While we have solid clerical and administrative support, we're much more interested in providing those skills as a byproduct of our core service, management.
If we simply pursued any association that came along looking for help, we'd be drowning in administrative overload. Our staff, who enjoy being involved in every aspect of our client associations' deliberations and decision-making, would be bored to tears with full-time clerical tasks. We might be paid for the time and talent we bring to the table, but almost all of us would quickly tire of the routine. It just wouldn't fit our model. Don't get me wrong, we're as dedicated to good clerical and administrative support as any other company, we're just not interested in focusing solely on those areas.
We want to work with associations that offer challenges, that have significant potential for either growth or reinvigoration, and that want and need our brand of unbridled enthusiasm and broad, deep pool of talent.
When presented with opportunities that don't fit that model, we opt to decline. It's better for both of us; the association wouldn't be any happier with us than we would be with the association.
All of this is simply a prelude to my main point: it is my strong contention that associations are no different than the car dealership and the shoe store or my own company. They must be clear about what they want to be; if they try to be all things to all people, they instead become nothing to anyone. Associations should carefully determine who or what sort of businesses they want as members, what programs and projects they want to pursue, and then stay the course.
If your association is looking too much like the car dealership trying to sell shoes, neither your members nor your board will be fulfilled. Make time to articulate, clearly, your association's perfect opportunities and leave the burdens to another association to which they are better suited.