I recently returned from a client visit. I won’t give away the location, so let’s just call this the typical Association/Board setting. Beautiful building full of capable and dedicated Staff eager to serve the membership. As I lay out this scenario, imagine it taking place at your own local Association/Board building. Maybe you work there. Maybe you are a member.
I was booked to deliver two talks during Member Appreciation Week; 5 days worth of speakers and content geared toward highlighting all the great things going on in the trade organization. I had a day to myself. A session in the morning and one in the afternoon with a Solid Earth-sponsored lunch in the middle. Morning was straight MLS class and afternoon was a talk I love giving on technology and meeting consumer expectations. If I do say so myself, pretty solid content to anyone who cared enough to spend a few hours at the Association office learning some new stuff.
I had maybe 50 people cycle in throughout the day. Approximately 5% of total membership.
1) The Association planned and promoted these events remarkably well
2) Everything was free
Allow me to digress for a moment.
My church has approximately 1000 members. On any given Sunday there are 400 or so people in and out of the building for worship. Of those, about 200 people actually make the place go. These are your Sunday School teachers, volunteers in the kitchen, volunteers with the homeless ministry, etc. My church is almost a perfect case study on the 80/20 Rule (aka the Pareto Principal): the concept that in any organization, only 20% of the members actually do anything. I see this concept playing out in many other places also. I was on the board at the local Boys & Girls Club for 5 years. Of the 10 members on the board, 2 did all the work. When I realized that I had somehow slid from being one of the 2 to being one of the 8, I resigned. My fire and passion had given way to distraction and ineffectiveness, so I bowed out.
You can see where I’m headed here.
To be clear, the fact that a small percentage of members turned out to hear me speak didn’t bother me at all. My ego doesn’t need a quota (not yet at least). In fact, I thanked the ones that did show for caring enough to invest time into their own professional development and we had a great time. Still, 5% is a telling number considering the circumstances. We’re in a down market where any edge will make a difference. The Association attempts to provide a day’s worth of “edges” to members. As I type that, I’m thinking back to all the rooms where I’ve scanned the crowd and thought, “Man, I thought we’d have more here”. But this is not new. The question is, how long can it last?
How long can this industry support 80/20? Because of the pressures we’re seeing, I’m left with a mix of concern and excitement for my client Associations and the members they serve. I congratulated those that attended my talks and (in my mind) dubbed them part of the 20%. The rest? I’m uncertain of their future and therefore the future of the business on which their full engagement (in things like Member Appreciation Week) is based. That’s the concern.
The excitement is in the possibilities represented by a 20% that’s challenging me to push the envelope. We want to make great things that add value to our Association clients and their members. We want to drive innovation. We want to blow minds and hear applause during product demos. The 20% demand it. So, as a MLS software vendor, what can I do to empower my partner client Associations/Boards as they seek to empower the 20% yet still engage and provide value to the 80%? It’s my job to provide that amazing (miraculous?) toolbox of products that will carry all of us forward. From a pure business standpoint, this is a precarious balancing act.
Stability and Innovation. Concern and Excitement. 80/20.