Does anyone really like change? Of course not. Which is unfortunate since the association / nonprofit world is going through a period of tremendous change. If leadership fails to acknowledge and adapt to this change there’s going to be trouble. And we like trouble even less than we like change.

Follow along with this blog series as we look at a few of the challenges brought about by change and some ways smart associations & nonprofits respond to them.

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Riding the Storm Out

Part 4 of 5 in a series, "The Winds of Change," facing & dealing with change in the Association / Nonprofit world.

"You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing."

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we wrapped our brains around the idea that change isn’t a series of isolated events that come and go, with periods of “normal” in between. Instead, we know that in today’s business world, change is the on-going normal, that change has to be acknowledged, and it needs to be effectively managed if any organization is going to survive the winds of change.

Part 3 showed us a few ways organization leadership deals with change. The first, sticking our collective heads in the sand while pretending change isn’t happening, is a really bad way of reacting to change. Sooner or later, this approach will lead to the death of your organization. An alternative, acknowledging change is occurring, yet still clinging to the status quo, isn’t much better. Your organization will still die. But hey, at least you can look back and know what killed it.

Two choices; one bad, one worse.

So, how about a good one. Let’s look at real-world change and how one smart association has met the winds of change head on and is riding the storm out.

EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) is an Austin, Texas-based professional association serving EMDR practitioners and researchers. The IT Guys have served as the Association’s outsourced IT department for over six years. During that time we’ve gotten a chance to know them and watch, up close, their evolving approach to dealing with change.

And they’ve done it right. EMDRIA governance has met the challenges of change with smart, informed and well-implemented policies and procedures. The result? EMDRIA has seen its membership rolls increase by over 25% year over year. This level of membership growth would be impressive any time. But to pull it off during a period when almost half of the associations polled have seen a drop in membership? That’s nothing short of astounding.

So, how’d they do it? There are a number of factors involved, but we’ll focus on the big one.

First EMDRIA leadership came to really accept the concept that expanding their membership roll was critical to the long-term viability of the association and its ability to serve those members.

Yes, of course, all of that sounds academic. Yes, of course, membership growth and retention is important. And yes, of course, a strong membership base is critical to an organization’s long-term health and survival. So what? So, having said all that, it’s amazing how many associations will whole-heartedly agree to these sentiments while dedicating only scant resources to actually make them happen.

The Old School approach to membership says, “We don’t have to actively market ourselves to potential new members to get them to join. That’s what they do. What they’ve always done. And existing members shouldn’t need to be convinced to stay. The reasons for doing so should be obvious. So, everything just sort of takes care of itself.”

Sorry, everything doesn’t sort of take care of itself. And that kind of thinking epitomizes the problem of declining association membership today. But it’s not EMDRIA’s approach. Not by a long shot.

Unlike governance at other associations, EMDRIA leadership realized that growing its membership base would require resources dedicated to help potential members see the value of association membership and encourage existing members see the value of remaining as members. Membership growth and retention weren’t just going to, “take care of themselves”. They would require dedicated resources; people, technology and money, to make them happen.

So the question became, how to add staff to perform these vital functions without increasing headcount and blowing the budget? The answer came in the form of one word; outsourcing.

Now, outsourcing isn’t a new concept. Businesses do it all the time. But not in the association / nonprofit world. Case in point; for the first fifteen years of its existence, outsourcing had never entered into the EMDRIA’s collective management philosophy. The entrenched thinking was to handle Association tasks as they and everyone else always had; with in-house human resources. In other words, expensive people.

This isn’t an indictment of EMDRIA Governance. Far from it. After all, that’s the way everybody did it. And most still do.

But EMDRIA was smart enough to look outside their comfort zone of past practices and long-held views that just didn’t seem to work anymore. So, Association leadership took a chance on outsourcing as a strategy for growth. And once the idea of outsourcing took root and proved to be successful in practice, EMDRIA became true believers.

EMDRIA leadership outsourced a number of costly in-house functions;Information Technology, Human Resources, and Events Planning chief among them. These functional roles were pure cost centers. They only consumed resources (primarily large amounts of money) and, in and of themselves, generated no revenue in return.

As each job function was outsourced (at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated staff person), the payroll dollars saved were re-invested in staff dedicated to revenue-generating activities. Membership growth and retention being chief among them.

The result? Cost centers were converted to revenue generators. And membership has grown at an enviable rate.

EMDRIA didn’t just stumble into this growth. To achieve this membership performance, hard choices had to be made:

First, EMDRIA governance accepted the reality that the association world was changing. That change was on-going and demanded a response. And that failure to respond would lead to failure to grow. Or maybe even failure to survive.

Leadership took a hard look at the status quo. The way things had always been weren’t the way things could continue to be

Facing the challenges of changing markets demands new ideas and new approaches. EMDRIA “got it”. And the Association rose to the occasion; they ditched outmoded practices of the past and adopted new approaches to challenges of the future.

Finally, and most importantly, the Association simply tried something new. And that takes courage. After all, your chances of getting fired are a lot higher for taking a chance on a new idea that blows up in your face, than they are with clinging to the status quo.

Outsourcing, a totally new strategy for EMDRIA, proved to be a key component of the Association’s response to change in the association marketplace. But adopting an outsourcing philosophy required a completely different mindset coupled with the willingness and courage to take a chance. For EMDR International Association, the risks paid off; the Association is sailing confidently into the future on the winds of change.

In the last installment of this series, we’re going to dig deeper into one component of EMDRIA’s outsourcing strategy. How the decision was made, how it was put into practice and how it’s become a foundational part of the Association’s management strategy.

Don’t miss the finale!

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan (1965)