Membership Count Myopia

Joe Romenieckis’ January 29 article in Associations Now – Looking Beyond the Membership Numbers
– highlights a common issue on the world of associations – Membership Count Myopia. Because we tend to manage what we measure, and associations always measure membership count, we all too often get stuck on the count and forget the mission.

It is for this very reason that we need to look at all the relevant metrics which drive our mission and establish priorities that don’t allow what may be a lesser metric to drive our limited resources in the wrong direction. Yes, the count may be important to the financial bottom line, credibility in the legislature and bragging rights among fellow association leaders, but other measures such as membership composition, quality and penetration are often far more essential to achievement of the mission.

Before we get hung up on size, let’s take a hard look at those other metrics and ask the question, “How much is enough?” More may be better up to a point, but beyond that point we risk bringing in marginal members whose commitment to the cause is incidental at best, whose contribution to the community will be nonexistent if at all and whose acquisition and renewal cost will exceed the marginal revenue, in other words – parasites.

The risk of missing the right marks is well documented by Duncan J. Watts in Scientific Thinking in Business where he highlights missteps by Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who relied too much on his infamous body count, and bankers who, prior to the 2007–2009 financial crisis, relied too much on flawed quantitative models. By placing all four metrics, count, composition, quality and penetration in the context of mission we can set appropriate priorities and meaningful goals for each, thus achieving a balance that minimizes the number of parasites and maximizes the number of citizens in our community.