A Diverse Reality
When I was in graduate school studying learning styles and leadership methods, there was a
theme that permeated much of the discussion:
Every individual is unique and therefore has
different needs. This principle holds true in all
aspects and stages of life. First-grade teachers understand that each little girl and boy
learns differently and requires his or her own
approach. Athletic coaches know how to tailor
their instruction and feedback for various types
of personalities. Business executives, if they are
to be successful, must understand the support
needs of each employee. People are, by nature,
unique. Within any group of individuals, large or
small, diversity exists.
For those of us who live and work in the
association world, we likely agree that there is
nowhere this holds truer. Associations are, in
most cases, organizations made up of individuals within a field or industry—each with unique
opinions, aspirations, challenges and needs. And
just like the teacher, the coach and the CEO,
leaders in the association space must understand not only who their members are, but what
their unique needs are and how they can meet
After all, successfully meeting the needs of
your members will not only lead to satisfied,
dues-paying individuals, but will also help you
build a value proposition for future growth.
This year, Association Development Solutions has had the pleasure of partnering with
the International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (IAOMS) and its Executive
Director, Mitch Dvorak, on the Foundation’s
fundraising efforts. Mitch has generously agreed
to provide his perspective throughout this piece,
bringing a valuable perspective on serving a
diverse association membership.
How would you describe the dynamics of serving
a diverse association membership, and in your
case, an international one?
MD: “There are just so many factors that create
diversity in an association, and it’s a consistent
challenge to make sure we understand and
account for all of them. Within our membership,
we have spectrums of socio-economic situations,
cultural differences, age gaps, career stages…
and that’s just a few. We have to consistently
ask ourselves if we really understand our members and their unique situations and needs, and
if we are doing what’s necessary to meet them.”
Reflection: Do I truly know and understand
the diversity of our members? Do we understand
their unique needs and goals? Have we done the
legwork to find out?
It All Starts With Leadership
Imagine a fictional association for a moment.
One with huge resources, a large membership
and a great reputation. Now, think about the
board and volunteer leadership of this successful organization. What do you envision? Hopefully, we all picture a group of leaders that is
just as diverse as the membership it represents.
This doesn’t only mean gender, age or ethnic
diversity—although that is certainly a big part
of the equation and should be a goal. It also
means diversity among types of members or sectors within the field or industry.
In a medical organization, your members may
consist of private practitioners, academicians
and institutional professionals. Immediately, we
have three groups represented, and each has
different thoughts and needs. How could they
not? They each apply their knowledge and expertise in very different settings every day.
In many organizations, geographic location
is another critical factor when considering the
representative nature of your leadership. Even
within the United States, there are always cultural and economic differences that need to be
addressed. East coast vs. west coast, urban vs.
rural and political leanings are just a few. Certainly, internationally this is magnified ten-fold.
Your boards and committees are the bodies
that are making strategic decisions that will
affect the direction of your organization for years
to come. Given that reality, should it not be a
top priority to make sure your leaders understand—and are representative of—the members
they are leading?