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July 12, 2005

New/Young Member Initiatives

Last week, there was an interesting conversation in progress on ASAE's executive management section listserve on the topic of engaging new/young members. I've been meaning to post on this topic for awhile, and now that there's some more conversation going on around it, I finally have incentive to organize and share my thoughts.

First, a little history on my involvement with young/new member initiatives. I am a former chair of GWSAE & the Center for Association Leadership's Emerging Leaders Advisory Council (ELAC). I also am the staff liaison to my employer's Young/New Professionals Task Force. I've spent a lot of time in the trenches on young/new member initiatives (both from a staff and volunteer perspective), as well as thinking about their strategic implications.

The sum of my experience with new/young member initiatives is a simple two-word phrase: Move along. By that I mean, new/young member initiatives should be little more than a stepping stone to more prominent volunteer opportunities. Often times new/young member initiatives become simply and end in themselves, rather than a means to an end. The main goal of new/young member initiatives should, in my view, be to accelerate the young or new member's volunteer career. This all goes back to my faith in the concept of members as citizens.

Thinking back on my experience helping to lead ELAC, I remember often feeling like we were just spinning our wheels and not helping anyone but ourselves, although I feel I gained tremendously from my time leading ELAC. One year, ELAC members were asked to serve on an additional advisory council to integrate them into the other areas of GWSAE & the Center. This was a great concept. It became obvious that this was too much of a commitment for most of us, however, and I wound up only helping out on one project on the other council I joined. The spirit of the idea was right; its execution proved not to be.

During my year as chair of ELAC, I made it my goal to make a real impact. We organized a networking event for current and former ELAC-types, and the proceeds went to benefit the DC Central Kitchen. When all was said and done, we donated several hundred dollars. Due (I think) in part to this activity, I wound up winning the Banff Scholarship for Emerging Leaders that year, as well as GWSAE's Association Rising Star award.

As my year as ELAC chair ended, GWSAE dissolved and I applied (and was accepted for) ASAE's Membership Section Council. Honestly, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed when I wasn't asked to move into another leadership role by the Center's staff or volunteers, especially after being named a "rising star." Perhaps they knew that I was moving into a new volunteer leadership role at ASAE and (rightly) figured I wouldn't have the time. This made me feel that their new/young member initiative was little more than a window dressing. I'm aware of only one former ELAC chair that has gone on to serve on the GWSAE/Center board of directors.

Reading this over, I sure sound bitter, huh? Trust me, I'm really not. I'm way too laid-back to let this get under my skin. It's is all water under the bridge. I'm not hurt about it, and I seriously couldn't care less about it now. But looking forward...

If ASAE & the Center's new/young member initiative is to ever become meaningful, it will, in my opinion, depend on ASAE volunteers and staff viewing the new Emerging Leaders Learning Community as a volunteer goldmine. The Community's most active participants need to be asked to serve in other roles (Mark Levin drives this point home in his new book, by the way). In line with what I wrote above, the Community should be a stepping stone to more prominent volunteer opportunities. This is beginning to happen, by the way, which is very, very encouraging.

As for lessons learned, and my strategy on new/young member initiatives, well: More and more, I'm considering my role in our new/young member initiative to be that of a guidance counselor or coach for young volunteers. This year, I'm looking closely at each task force member's strengths and interests and trying to coach them to move along and make a meaningful impact in the association. I don't want anyone but the task force chair and maybe a few key volunteers to spend more than a year on the task force.

To these ends, here are some things we're doing for our new/young member initiative this year.

  1. Nominate at least one new or young professional to the board of directors.
  2. Grant matching funds to chapters that organize events for new and young professionals.
  3. Encourage task force members to discover what other volunteer opportunities might be interesting to them.
  4. Create an application process to select the incoming chair of the Young/New Professionals Task Force, which will be a two-year term and will include an expenses-paid trip to a national conference of new/young professionals from state CPA societies from around the country.

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