Please engage … but there’s no way you’re going to have a say!!

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 08.00.08I’ve worked for lots of different trade associations and membership organisations.

Large or small, commercial or voluntary, every single one has wanted engaged members, members who’ll turn up to events, step forward and say I’ll lead that initiative.

Better still, members who say I’ve got a great idea and I’m willing to make it happen.

At meeting after meeting the thorny issue of persuading people to get involved is debated. But bar one, maybe two notable exceptions, there’s almost never any conversation about democracy within the association, about transparency.

People get tapped on the shoulder and asked to join the Trustees or a committee; then there’s a quiet little nod of agreement by an undefined electorate and it all gets sorted. No one really understands the process or even whether or not there is one, and the criteria is completely opaque.

If you’re never invited you start to feel excluded. Just this week a volunteer in one organisation I work with told me he was starting to feel it was personal!

I’m probably a hypocrite. I’ve been tapped on the shoulder a few times. I’ve said ‘thank you for thinking of me, I’d love to’. My only excuse is once on board I always try to change the culture.

Sometimes I’m pushing at a wide open door but I’ve also found it shut, locked and firmly bolted. I will never forget one memorable occasion when a fellow Trustee said the only way we could get good people was to select others exactly like ourselves. It felt like I’d gone back in time!

I’m a PR and communication specialist. I’ve often been asked to keep members informed of all the great things the organisation is doing on their behalf. I’ve got good results but it can be superficial.

Engagement is a two way process. It’s about actively listening just as much as sharing information. In a membership organization it’s also about sharing power. Transparent democracy is at the root of real engagement.

Give me a call if you want to find out more.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

By Cathy Connan

I'm an integrative psychotherapist. I help people invest in their wellbeing and live the life they want.