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A trade association can be loosely defined as a group of people or companies who voluntarily come together to solve common problems, meet common needs and accomplish common goals. Common is the key word here. A trade association is uniquely positioned to serve the common needs of an industry. Without a trade association, the industry is open to increased government intervention and public scrutiny. Simply put trade associations are needed.
A common industry platform established by a not-for-profit trade association has the power to change what an individual company cannot accomplish alone. This common platform requires an investment of all the individual parts of the industry – the educators, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, etc. – all working together to build up the industry and, consequently, benefiting the individual parts. Without this investment, the common interests of the whole breaks down.
According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the association representing associations, there are over 65,000 trade and professional associations in the U.S. The number of associations is growing not declining. There is an association representing virtually every industry, trade and profession imaginable.
Just for the fun of it, Google the word association and see what you get – 1.3 billion results. With every new association, the opportunity for access and clarity of messages becomes even harder; requiring increased engagement of industry participants and greater need for combined investment.
Trade associations are unique enterprises. Basically, the same population of members own the association; are the customers of association programs and services; and are part of the workforce of the organization. What an odd business model!
However odd, its essential to the effectiveness of the association. Your dues buy part of the organization – the ability for you to invest in the future success of the association and, in turn, the industry. Your dues also buy products – programs and services such as a voice in government, education for you and your employees, industry research that you cannot perform yourself and networking with your peers in a trusted environment. In addition, you can engage as part of the association’s workforce by serving on committees and other opportunities to participate in shaping the future. Can you think of another investment your company makes that can do all this?
Given the unique and essential role of trade associations, you cannot afford not to devote dollars and time, both for shorter-term opportunities to grow your company as well as the longer-term investment in the success of the industry.
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Paul Meyer is president and co-CEO, Tecker International, a consultancy that, among other things, speaks to the value proposition of associations.