Fanning the flames of community
The Waldo Canyon, Colo., fire that began on June 23 and blazed for nearly two weeks has been declared the most destructive fire in the state’s history. In that time, the fire claimed two lives, displaced 32,000 people, burned over 18,000 acres and 350 homes, and caused $110 million in property damage.
As the largest of the ten major fires in the state, it drew the attention of the national media and a presidential visit. Perhaps more personally valuable to those devastated by the fire was the help from strangers across the region and the state who contributed to a grass-roots relief fund that quickly grew to more than $420,000. Others came to Waldo Canyon to cheer on and recognize the sacrificing efforts of the 1,000 emergency responders who came from 34 states to join the containment effort.
As members of a professional community immediately involved in emergency preparedness and response, we don’t need to look far before we identify an immediate friend or friend-of-a-friend who knows — or is — a victim of the Waldo Canyon fire. So it may not be a surprise that our own Rocky Mountain Governmental Purchasing Chapter of NIGP would undertake a fundraising campaign on behalf of the American Red Cross to support those impacted by the Colorado wildfires.
RMGPA’s efforts bring to life the fundamental nature and value of professional associations: support of community. At a time when the association industry is concerned about changing demographics and the impact of social media and virtual organizations on the traditional association-membership model, the value of association — of long-standing relationships and access to personal networks — is immediately apparent during times of need. Still, it begs the question about the value of association membership in normal day-to-day challenges.
Our culture formed on principles of independence and individualism, and today’s technology-powered self-sufficiency has no doubt eroded the requirement for lasting personal networks to gain access to privileged information. Compounding that, marketers have unintentionally done associations a disservice by hi-jacking the meaning of the word membership.
Our understanding of what it means to be a member is undermined by never-ending retailer enticements of discounts and “special opportunities” to become a “member” of their frequent buyer’s club. Frequent buyer clubs are in fact affinity programs, which mean they offer discounts and “reward benefits” so that you’ll like them and spend more money with them versus with a competitor. The impact of these ongoing enticements is that our experience of membership is defined through short-lived one-off transactions rather than sustained shared experiences with peers.
Associations often offer members discounts for products and services, but their intrinsic value is their ability to provide the means to sustain meaningful relationships. Associations may employ technology to help improve members’ ability to communicate and maintain access to information and stay connected across distances, but the ultimate association member experience is founded on the community gatherings we know as chapter meetings, regional conferences and Forum. Ask a member why they go to chapter meetings or national conferences and you will hear answers like, “It’s where I go to get connected;” “Being with 1,000 other professionals who ‘get it’ — it’s how I get my professional batteries recharged;” “I always learn something new;” or “I get re-energized when I talk with members from different parts of the country and find out we have the same challenges.”
If you haven’t been to Forum before, or even if you have, take a close look at the Forum Preview section in this issue of Government Procurement. NIGP’s upcoming annual event in Seattle features over 70 workshops across four days, our largest exhibitor roster to-date and a compelling slate of professional speakers.
Whether recovering from a Waldo Canyon fire or overcoming mundane day-to-day operational fires, the value of membership comes through in the ready support available from member peers and the professional bonds made at chapter and national events. You’ll find that for every fire you put out with the assistance of your association colleagues, you’re stoking your professional fire and fanning the flames of our professional community.
Brent Maas is the marketing director for NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement. If you would like to support RMGPA’s fundraising efforts on behalf of the Red Cross to benefit victims of the Colorado wildfires, visit www.rmgpa.org. Donations are being accepted through July 27.