The world is more than ‘members’ and ‘non-members

by Chelsea Brasted

If there’s one thing the last couple of months as global citizens has taught us, it’s that things are a heck of a lot more complicated than we may have liked to think at the beginning of 2020. 

  • Even going to the grocery store to pick up some extra milk isn’t as straightforward as it might have seemed before the novel coronavirus worked its way into our global lexicon. Now we’re all becoming more aware and informed about supply chains, what it means to be an “essential” employee and even epidemiology. 

In the association space, another thing that’s gotten more clear is how we can no longer look at people through a binary lens anymore. No longer is someone just a member or a non-member; our organizations should instead be thinking of the fuzzier lines between our groups of stakeholders and how, in this new future, we can provide value to all of them. 

Take, for instance, a restaurant association: Thinking of its audience as just members and non-members would leave out the service staff, bartenders, dishwashers, suppliers, farmers, fishers and even diners who routinely frequent the establishments they all want to survive this massive interruption in business. 

More than ever, it’s clear that associations need to move forward with an Open Garden approach to understanding its audience. 

This approach, which was defined in Amith Nagarajan’s “The Open Garden Organization,” throws out the window the simple binary member vs. non-member definition of your audience. 

Instead, Nagarajan suggests you split this group into four. 

Those four sections would include volunteers, the people most deeply committed to your organization; members, the general batch of folks who pay dues and maybe even subscribe to your materials; interested people, which includes the people who support your efforts and may even give of their time and money on occasion; and the general public, which includes the people who may occasionally have interest in what you do, depending on the news cycle, but aren’t invested enough to regularly pay attention. 

The goal in revising your view of your stakeholders in this way is to redefine your offerings, allowing space to rethink how you provide resources and to whom you offer it. 

As Nagarajan wrote, “You have to let people into the organization first so they can see the value in being part of it.” 

The world’s been totally turned upside down by the coronavirus’ impact on our health and economy. In order to set things right again, it’ll take turning our own understanding of how it works to find a pathway forward for both our personal lives and our organizations. And starting with how we think of the world is the first step. 

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