December 13, 2013
NSPE TODAY: OUTLOOK
BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MARK J. GOLDEN
Professional societies—all professional societies—face a unique marketing challenge. It is a challenge that for-profit organizations don't need to be bothered about.
The value and the benefits we deliver fall into two categories:
First there are individual benefits, which include things like this magazine and meetings. The value from these benefits can be controlled and access can be limited to members (those who pay dues) or to non-members who pay a premium fee for the services received. If you don't pay you don't get them.
But such individual benefits make up only a part, and often the least significant part, of the value our organizations create. There are also stakeholder benefits, which include things like lobbying and public relations. The value from these benefits is delivered to the engineering community as a whole.
And there's the rub. These benefits are enjoyed by all, regardless of membership status, and cannot be restricted to members only. Let me make that concrete: As an engineer, you enjoy full benefit from every legislative victory NSPE or your state society achieves, regardless of your membership status.
Why should you, as an individual, care about this? If you do value the work that NSPE and its state societies do to promote and protect the value of licensure, the load you have to carry (in dues) goes up for every engineer enjoying the benefits but not paying their dues. And if too many engineers go the free-rider path, there will simply be too few dues payers to effectively support these efforts. Those benefits will be degraded or disappear for all.
That's why promoting membership is so important. And that's the personal stake each of you holds, as a member, in supporting NSPE in encouraging as many of your peers as possible to join.
Now this issue of member value gets even more complicated within the NSPE economy because the same member is receiving benefits from both their state society and national. And stakeholder benefits, in particular, are delivered in part at the national level and in part at the state and local levels. National advocacy efforts enhance and support advocacy success at the state level, for example. And vice versa.
As a member of the NSPE community you probably don't care who exactly is responsible for meeting your needs. And there is no reason you should care, as long as your needs are being met.
But leadership (both paid staff and volunteers) at the national, state, and chapter levels do care about this very much. At all levels, we need to work very hard to avoid costly redundancies and coordinate carefully to fully leverage the financial, intellectual, and human capital that we, collectively, represent. In this area, the whole is very much greater than the sum of the individual parts. None of us can do without the other, and each element needs to avoid the illusion of autonomy and success by robbing Peter to pay Paul.
As a member, you are looking for (and deserve) seamless delivery of services and support from whomever (national, state, local, or some combination of all three) is best suited to deliver it in a manner that is transparent to you, the beneficiary.
This is something that got a lot of attention in governance meetings during the annual meeting. Coming out of those meetings, national and state staffs are undertaking a renewed and disciplined effort to coordinate the most efficient, effective, and productive partnership possible in our co-delivery of value to the engineering community. And things like the Race for Relevance initiatives, underway within the national board and paralleled in great work being done by the boards of many of our state societies, are making strides toward improving the focus and impact of NSPE.
This is by no means easy, but it comes naturally to NSPE. The Society's mission statement couldn't be clearer: "NSPE, in partnership with State Societies [and, by extension, our local chapters] enhances the image of its members and their ability to ethically and professionally practice engineering."
That same symbiosis was present in founder David Steinman's earliest statements when first forming the Society in 1934: "The National Society, the state societies, and the county chapters are closely and reciprocally integrated, and all are regarded of equal importance. Membership in one involves membership in all, wherever state societies and county chapters are organized. This is the logical and essential form of organization for building a united and integrated engineering profession."
If you view a stated mission as a contract between the association and its members, and I do, we need to honor that contract. It isn't so much a question of hierarchy or structure. It is more like a question of organizational DNA. You can't divide the elements without changing the fundamental nature of the organization.
There is a complex web of means, all focused on a singular end.
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