Associations as Networks Not Organizations
Posted by Allison Fine on January 5, 2010
Rosetta Thurman wrote a terrific post this morning about the Fort Wayne chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network opting out of the national association. It seems that it was too much work, too burdensome, for the local chapter to follow all of the rules that the national association set to be recognized as a chapter. Both entities are made up entirely of volunteers which makes this situation a bit different from the complaints I’ve heard over the years from local affiliates with national entities. For instance, it is common to hear United Ways say that it costs too much to maintain the national, or that the locals are not getting any return on their dues to the national.
At the root of this conflict is the need of national entities to try to exert control over affiliates or chapters. they want to control the message and the messenger of the local entities like they are McDonald’s franchises. And unfortunately groups like the Young Nonprofit Professional Association has bought into this notion that controlling local chapters is important or necessary in developing a national network.
It’s not just unnecessary it’s counterproductive.
Readers of this blog probably have a sense about how I feel about the wasted energy that organizations spend trying to control people and things that they simple can’t control. Most recently, I brought this up in this post about branding gone bad for nonprofits.
But there are other issues at work here in the assertion of the Fort Wayne chapter that trying to conform to the needs and dictates of the national organization wasn’t tenable for them. That is the issue of simplicity.
Organizational complexity, particularly the rules that govern what chapters can and can’t do, is to social networks what cholesterol is to arteries and hair is to drains; it’s the gummy stuff that clogs everything. Simplicity enables people to do what they’re best at, connect and learn from one another, be creative and social. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School shares here why organizational simplicity is the Next Big Thing.
Associations are groups of people with a common professional interest who want to connect to and learn from one another. Sounds like a social network. My favorite association, a group that could only exist in Washington, DC, is the American Society of Association Executives – in other words, the Association of Associations! This group, like so many other associations, came about last century as the number and size last century as part of the general explosion in the size of the nonprofit sector. And along with that explosion came all of the expected signs of organizational complexity: brands, staffing, rules guiding what local chapters can and can’t do. And, as the Young Nonprofit Professional Association is demonstrating, the more rules that are developed, the harder it becomes for local chapters to participate.
It’s time to swing the pendulum in the other direction, associations need to get back to their roots as social networks. Staff were added when it was hard for members to communicate with one another. It isn’t hard to connect, share information, learn from one another, gather online or in person with social media.
A great example of a national organization valuing simplicity and trusting their local chapters is the Surfrider Foundation. They have national staff, but they also have tens of local chapters who they support without trying to control.
It is time for all associations to take stock of themselves in light of the power of social media and ask hard questions about themselves and how they function. Do we really need staff, and if so, why exactly? What are we afraid local chapters will do that will harm us?
This entry was posted on January 5, 2010 at 11:39 am and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: Rosetta Thurman, Surfrider Foundation, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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