Going Global: Strategies for Scaling your Professional Association

Strategies for Professional AssociationsIncreasingly your association members are interacting internationally, either in person, through email exchanges, or over the phone. Shouldn’t your organization be part of the conversation? A Campbell & Company webinar drove home the idea that global positioning could be part of your long-term strategy, not only to enhance your visibility and influence within your industry but also to expand your membership as well as increased philanthropic income and corporate sponsorship.

Facilitated by Campbell & Company Vice President and 24 year company veteran Marc Hilton, the webinar featured Jane Boyce, Director, Member Programs and Services of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE); and Marisa Raso, Membership and Communications Director with the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

A 2013 study by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) demonstrated the following globalization trends impacting associations:

  • 47% of ASAE members have held meetings outside of the U.S.

  • 42% of their organizations have global or international members

  • 27% have global or international board members

  • 17% have offices outside of the U.S.

International vs. global: there is a difference

While the terms “global” and “international” are often loosely interchanged, it is now commonly accepted that there is a difference when it comes to association management. “International” means the association operates in two or more countries, but not necessarily worldwide, with a focus still in a base country. On the other hand, a “global” association operates in several geographic regions or worldwide, with a commitment to international decision making and simultaneous “headquarters” located in more than one region.

Associations can start with an international branch but can keep their sights on a true global vision, one in which they have developed a major presence around the world, on every continent. Yet that doesn’t mean that they should give up local identities.

When entering a new region, the SPE searches out local champions who understand needs and can create interest with their colleagues. Once a new presence is developed, the SPE continues its local commitment with training programs and conferences specific to the area.

Tiered dues can counter economic disparities

At some point associations that expand globally recognize that the ability to pay dues varies widely by region. A $100 annual membership may seem doable for a member living in New York City but is quite out of the realm for a prospective member living in a developing country. Both of the panel guests explained that their associations offer tiered dues that are based on World Bank classifications of gross national income per capita.

Governance may require a shake-up

It’s difficult to be truly global with a U.S.-controlled board operating out of a U.S.-based headquarters. Both the SPE and the IAFN have gradually introduced more international representation within their boards and their committees. The SPE board has six U.S.-based directors and 10 from other countries. They also have two at-large board positions that can be filled strategically to provide input to fill a certain technical background or to represent a country that has been targeted for growth.

With over 55% of its members living outside of the U.S., the IAFN changed its bylaws in 2007 to bring in international board members as a way of formalizing its commitment to expand globally. The association’s current president is Canadian, the first member from outside the United States to head the organization. 

To be effective globally, association leadership should plan on spending a lot of time on the road, meeting with members and attending conferences. This type of networking helps to better understand and appreciate worldwide issues, which that may differ from a leader’s home base. This first-hand education may even spur a change in strategic directions.

Where decisions are made is equally as important as who makes them. Although the SPE originated as an organization centered in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, the association no longer considers Dallas its headquarters. It now lists all of its worldwide offices in alphabetical order, giving no prominence to one over another. This may seem like a bold move to organizations used to centralized control, but it helps gain credibility. And, according to Jane Boyce, “We feel this has contributed to our overall success, financial health, and stability.”

Communicating and fundraising dos and don’ts

There are some considerations when reaching out to a global stage. Marc Hilton provided some guidelines for communicating across borders:

  • Use global standards for dates and currencies

  • Avoid terms like “foreign,” “domestic,” or “international”

  • Recognize geographical boundaries as regions or continents rather than U.S. vs. non-U.S.

  • Keep communication direct and straightforward, and avoid slang and abbreviations, to assure widespread understanding

View globalization as a process

Developing a presence outside of the U.S. takes planning and coordination. The board needs to be fully committed, which may take some time. And there are legal and political considerations to be resolved before setting up operations in another country. For that, Jane Boyce suggested seeking guidance and contacts from members already living in the area who are familiar with procedures and the culture.

But with the continued growth in the world’s professional class, along with new technologies that enable virtual interaction and collaboration, globalization may be the best way to ensure participation in, if not leadership of, your industry’s worldwide conversation.

About the Campbell & Company Association Practice

The Campbell & Company Association Team helps associations and professional societies develop more sophisticated governance, membership and engagement strategies. Through our extensive experience and knowledge base, the Association Team builds consensus among leaders, staff, and volunteers around engaging members beyond the limits of membership and sponsorship. For 37 years, we have helped hundreds of association and professional societies succeed in growing and sustaining their programs.

Campbell & Company maintains offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC. For more information, please telephone (877) 957-0000 toll free, email info@campbellcompany.com or visit www.campbellcompany.com.