He asked for his readers to post their answers in the comment section. I was late weighing in (Geoff had to ask that question over what was for Americans the long 4th of July weekend), but I finally gave him my response this morning. I decided to reproduce my comment here (with some later refinements in my thinking), because I think Geoff has asked a particularly important and thoughtful question. This is particularly so for me because in the course of the past year I allowed memberships in three organizations for ADR professionals to lapse.
What follows is my open letter to organizations for ADR professionals everywhere, with some advice on how to keep, not drive away, members:
First, provide your members with useful information that helps them do their jobs. A regularly published electronic newsletter for example that shares news, business tips, as well as links to news stories or web sites that are directly relevant to our work. Avoid drily written, heavily footnoted articles on obscure topics that aren’t useful to most of us toiling away in the trenches.
Second, provide value for those membership dues. Provide regularly scheduled programming (workshops, panel discussions) taught by respected and experienced professionals that will teach us something meaningful, help us deliver services more effectively, or give us tools to help us manage and market our practice better. Don’t waste our time with programs that don’t do any of those things. Schedule meetings and networking opportunities too at locations that encourage as many people as possible to attend, and not just for folks in one single geographic location, particularly if your mission is to serve a larger geographic area. Vary the meeting place to accommodate those different geographic constituencies.
Third, speaking of membership dues, if you increase dues, make sure that the increase is fair and also ensure that you are fulfilling your obligations under point #2, above. We want to know that our dues are delivering us value.
Fourth, provide us with discounts and services that add value to our membership — discounts on professional liability insurance or access to credit card processing, for example. Give us listings in an online directory so that clients can find us and make sure that we can easily update our listings, including the all-important contact information. Provide us with notices of job opportunities in our field, but don’t make prospective employers pay ridiculously high fees to post online job postings on your site, which will discourage those employers from doing so.
Fifth, communicate with members regularly and reliably. And by all means communicate with your members when you make important decisions that directly affect them. (One of the many reasons that I let my membership in ACR lapse is that they quietly dropped the ball on the mediator certification issue without bothering to inform their members — after making such a big deal out of the member survey on certification and appointing a panel to explore the issue.)
Sixth, respond to member inquiries, questions, and concerns promptly. Commit to resolving issues rapidly. And don’t ignore letters and emails. (In one case, I never received quarterly publications or even membership renewal notices, despite numerous requests over a three-year period to correct my address.) In fact, make it a point to conduct surveys of your members and ex-members from time to time to find out how you’re doing and what members really need, and then be responsive to the feedback you get. Earn and deserve the trust of your members.
Seventh, show appreciation to volunteers and to those who have served on your boards of directors. They have given up business opportunities to serve you and to help advance the good work of your organization. Express gratitude for their commitment and their service.
If you do these things, your members will thank you by renewing their member dues and by encouraging others to join you.
Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >