Recruiting Members and Volunteers Amid a Changing Landscape

In recent months I have been traveling to ASQ sections and divisions to meet with our members. Our members are very passionate about ASQ, and they don’t hesitate to bring up challenges that we must address as an organization. One of those challenges is our membership model. Simply put, members tell me that we must make it easier for quality professionals to be a part of ASQ. For some, the traditional section and/or division membership works great, but for others, it does not.

While we will certainly analyze this issue, I think we’re not the only association in this boat.  Most associations must generate new and creative ways to attract and retain members. This comes as no surprise. If you’re really interested, you could read this report from the Center for Association Leadership on changing demographic trends and how they affect associations.

From the report:

“The dependency on membership and participation for traditional third-sector organizations will likely continue, but the sustaining sources for such organizations — namely the ‘traditional’ members — will certainly evolve and could even disappear, forcing organizations to look for new sources of members, donors, volunteers, and revenue. Organizations may have to change their missions to meet the needs and demands of a whole new membership and service sector. The transformation is a result of dramatic demographic change in the U.S. population, a force that is altering the profile of U.S. membership associations like never before. The pool of ‘traditional’ members (i.e., members derived from historic rather than current demographic data) is diminishing quickly as demographics continue to shift.”

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. It appears that professional associations worldwide are also affected by demographic trends. Even without such trends, we intuitively know that there are many ways for people to get professional information these days—certainly on the internet and on social media, for a start.

At ASQ headquarters we are sometimes asked for advice on best practices on attracting members to their section or division. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I do want to share some tips developed by ASQ’s Community Development team, which works closely with our members and volunteer leaders.

  • Asking people to attend an association event is an authentic, effective, and simple way to engage potential members.  The Community Development team tells me that people of all ages are three times as likely to help if asked directly. In this age of electronic communication, do we ask people to help, face to face, as frequently as we could?
  • In addition, current association members can refer members and colleagues. They can invite them to association meetings and events, and they can follow up with members who’ve lapsed. A simple call or email can do the trick.
  • To encourage committed members to step up and become association leaders—such as volunteers or chapter officers– explain what’s in it for them. Think leadership experience, practice and application of skills, and personal achievement. You should be ready to provide enough information about specific requirements and expectations. Finally, of course, asking them is the most effective technique of all.

Now let’s hear from you. If you’re part of a professional association, how do you encourage people to join or volunteer? How do local trends impact your association?

*Not to trumpet ASQ, but in November we will resume our annual Adding New Voices campaign, in which ASQ members can give a free, six-month membership to a colleague or friend. Members, watch your email for details.

Learning About Quality From Counter-culture

This is a guest post by Nicole Radziwill, an assistant professor in the Department of  Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She writes about research in the quality field, quality consciousness, and innovation on her blog, Quality and Innovation. Nicole is also an ASQ Influential Voices blogger.

What can you learn about quality in the middle of a counter-cultural gathering in the desert? A lot. And that’s just the start.

Quality and innovation can be managed, but transformation must be catalyzed by new insights and experiences. It’s the process of inner transformation that allows us to see possibilities for creating future value.

On August 24, my partner and I embarked on our annual trek to the Burning Man festival to be transformed. Burning Man is a yearly gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in the harsh wilderness of the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada, U.S.

Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014. Image Credit: John David Tupper (photographerinfocus.com)

We joined 70,000 others in the creation of Black Rock City, a temporary community dedicated to art, technology, and radical self-expression that is dismantled (leaving no trace) a week later. The entire city is decommodified. No money is exchanged at all; however, gifts are given frequently. If you need something, it’s expected that you ask around. Someone will provide it! The community is guided by 10 Principles that include participation, communal effort, and civic responsibility.

A Quality-Minded Approach: A quality-minded approach is essential. You’ll be in the desert for several days, so you need to bring sufficient food and water. Your shelter must withstand mud, extreme heat, hypothermia-inducing cold, and dust storms with hurricane-force winds. You need to make sure you don’t forget anything; you can’t just run to the store and quickly pick something up.

Basic Quality Tools: Some of our camp mates learned this the hard way. When we arrived, they were building a 30-footdiameter geodesic dome. It would serve as the base of operations for a neurogaming event, which challenges two players wearing EEG headsets to see who can get into a meditative state the fastest. As they unpacked their gear, the discussion became heated.

“Where’s the projector? It’s the most important part of our installation!”

Without a projector, the competitors’ scores could not be displayed to the crowd. No one could find the projector.

The project manager asked, “Who was in charge of the checklist?”

Team members glanced quizzically at each other.

“What checklist? What do you mean?”

Unfortunately, basic quality tools weren’t part of their pre-trip planning.

“Didn’t you make a checklist so you’d be sure not to forget mission critical things like… the projector?!”

Fortunately, they found another camp willing to provide a projector on loan for a couple days.

Waste and Value: Burning Man also trains me to think about waste in a totally different way. There are no trash cans, so what you bring in you must pack out. You can’t dump gray water on the ground due to Bureau of Land Management requirements — it has to be packed out, too. Loose hairs are also considered MOOP (Matter Out Of Place).  I found myself choosing canned drinks instead of bottles (which are easier to safely crush and recycle), sparingly transferring dishwater of varying hues between dishes of varying dirtyness, preparing only enough food for each meal (and eating it all!), and being extra careful combing out my hair. In a socially and environmentally conscious community, I didn’t want to leave any MOOP.

The “out of place” component of the MOOP term is also very instructive because it encourages you to consider whether you’re dealing with true waste, or something that just needs to be somewhere else to add value. (Could MOOP become an established term in the quality profession?)

Embracing Variation and Innovation: What I love most about Burning Man, though, is that you are continually surrounded by technological innovation and beauty — all contributed by the participants. Interactive art installations are scattered throughout the city. For example, one night we sat in a “binaural beats therapy” pod, the size of a cargo van, that provided a light and sound show that stimulated a sensory deprivation environment. The environment encourages you to temporarily embrace variation, experience freedom from marketing and economic transactions, and practice giving, receiving, and expressing gratitude.

To quote another attendee: “To celebrate the collective expression and actualization of an entire city is nothing short of transformational. That’s what happens every second of every day on the playa. No one is just pushing paper or wasting time doing something they don’t want to be doing.”

Key Takeaway For Quality: This exploratory culture has been spreading around the globe for the past few years. Regional events can provide anyone with the opportunity to participate in this experiential, transformational culture that catalyzes innovation.

But you don’t need to attend an event as radical as Burning Man. You can find hints of quality and even transformation in any offbeat event near you. Quality isn’t something restricted to an office or manufacturing floor.

How can we implement liberating environments like this — that drive purpose, value, and meaning–while retaining a focus on quality?