memarlene2.jpgBy Marlene J. Waldock

Hundreds, even thousands of people gather every day at business-focused meetings and events produced by membership organizations. While many revolve around business and economic development, there are a range of other groups and missions, including weekly lead-generating sessions; philanthropic get-togethers; and groups revolving around gender, race, ethnic and social concerns. All of these diverse organizations share one common denominator:

caption:  Marlene Waldock & me, Gene Sower

 …access to people and information through networking.

Because of the differences in locality, gender and focus of each organization, many people have multiple memberships. At renewal time, the big question becomes, “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?  With annual organizational membership turnover at approximately 33 percent often resulting from a negative answer to the “WIIFM” question, the challenge for many organizations is financial stability and growth.

With more than 10 years of association leadership experience, I have a different view of “WIIFM” and offer the following advice:

What’s In It For You?  The answer to the question depends on what you want.

Why did you join a specific organization? Was it to find the magic talisman that will catapult your business or career to a new level? Be sure you have a clear understanding of what the organization is about and how it fits your needs. I moved to New Jersey in 1994 and needed to get connected. I joined NJAWBO because it was statewide, and a powerful women’s group. I also joined Women in Communications in New York, and the local Chamber of Commerce. Today, I am president of the North Essex Chamber of Commerce. I knew what I needed and wanted, so the “WIIFM” question was easy and clear.

Be a Leader. The best way to gain visibility, access and respect is to get involved. Join a committee and volunteer your time and expertise. I joined NJAWBO in January 1995; by March I was on a committee and in September became a board member. I spent 10 years with the group in leadership positions, culminating with the state presidency. As a result, I met three governors, many state officials, acquired a TV show, became a source for many publications, took myself and my business to a new level, and learned all the exits on the Garden State Parkway. That is what was in it for me.

Build Solid Relationships. Who you know is often key to getting what you want. Networking, which is often misunderstood and abused, is about developing relationships and creating a circle of supporters who can help you achieve your goals. Align yourself with the people who can influence your desired outcome, and then ask for what you want! You will be pleasantly surprised.

Every membership organization offers opportunity and access. What you do with it is up to you. They are not responsible for making your involvement a satisfying experience. What’s in it for you? Everything!

copyright© Marlene J. Waldock, owner of 1st Impression Communications and the founder of Because We Are Women. She can be reached at first@1stimpressioncom.com