Being Something to Everybody

Associations have a soft spot for wanting to make people happy. One of the mistakes we frequently make, since we all have diverse membership bases, is trying to please everyone. Trying to be everything to everyone. This is typically hard to sustain strategically. You spread yourself too thin trying to please everyone.

But in nearly every strategic conversation I'm having with associations these days, they are being drawn towards focusing on multiple niches. Our customers are less tolerant of receiving their value in packages that are generalized. Big, central, appeal-to-everyone events are down in numbers for my clients. Members want their piece, just for them. Social media is a factor–because it enables a more targeted or micro delivery of value. 

This tends to hurt our organizational brains, because we weren't set up to deliver value in such a distributed fashion (hence the spread too thin comment above). We designed our organizations to provide centralized value, not distributed. When a strategic imperative requires changes in organizational design or culture (as this one does), you may be in trouble, because in general, we don't know how to handle design and culture issues.


  1. 21.06.2010 at 12:27 pm

    Great post. No matter how big your budget, an organization cannot be all things to all members (or perspective members). We have to lead/advise our clients to make tradeoff so they can generate the most value for the most people. Think your right about organizations, in general, not being designed to deliver value in distributed format; members would need a more flexible platform (menu) to customize a membership program that adds value for them.

  2. 22.06.2010 at 6:34 am

    Hi Jamie, thanks for bringing this up. I have also written on this on ASAE listserves several times over the yeas and the argument that comes back is as associations we need to be inclusive. Somehow associations when it comes to niching, we seem to equate this to being exclusive, which of course is not true.
    You are so right on. It is so important to focus and be very special to smaller group then to be generic to a larger group–which is what many associations suffer from.
    For associations to thrive, it’s imperative to focus as you suggest. You are absolutely dead on my friend.