Perhaps you read my introductory e-mail message as IIUSA’s Interim Executive Director. Your warm welcomes and patient demeanors were encouraging. Thank you. More encouraging, however, is the depth and breadth of IIUSA’s staff’s and leadership’s passion and capabilities. When I sent my e-mail, I earnestly acknowledged these assets.
As a 20+ year student of association management work I learned no association is immune to conflict, doubt, or worry. However, when its mission is clear, its mechanics are sound, and its professionals and leaders are smart and honest, healthy associations absorb and effectively address these challenges
As an experienced association manager, I can tell you objectively that IIUSA’s mission is clear. Its mechanics are sound and its professionals and leaders are smart and honest. In fact, IIUSA leaves no room for improvement; but, it has the capacity, untapped potential, and foundation for exponential growth and even an expansion of the underlying federal Regional Center program. It is a matter of promoting its mission, leveraging its mechanics, and trusting its professionals and leadership.
If IIUSA capitalizes on these assets, it will reach beyond its potential. Given what I see, who I’ve met, and what I learned over the past 20 years and more recently the last two months, I have at least three suggestions about how to do it.
Develop New Audiences
No organization can be all things to all people. However, every organization must strive to connect with as many relevant audiences as possible. Not every audience demands the “care and feeding” others do, but a positive, honest, and supportive connection can earn trust, even reliance, and ultimately increase a group’s political capital and maybe its revenue as well. I suggest there are two audiences on which IIUSA can immediately focus: new members and new decision makers.
New Membership – IIUSA must reach out to new membership audiences and set a specific place for them at the table; create new lines of information and communication. In fact, IIUSA should consider new membership categories for local, state, and regional economic development authorities (Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority oversees 28 acres of undeveloped property in downtown.), universities (Many are focused on economic development of their communities.), and airport area chambers of commerce (All of which are consistently focused on new development and attracting business.)
New Decision Makers – Congressional leaders are invaluable, but few. The many more rank-and-file members, like an association when unified, are unstoppable. Unifying representatives and senators to support the EB-5 program and its Regional Centers takes patience and tenacity. Cultivating this audience must become an IIUSA priority. What states and congressional districts host EB-5 projects? How are they benefitting local economies? We know the answers to these questions, but don’t assume Members of Congress do. They need to be shown, over and over again in new ways. They need to visit sites, talk to workers, and learn how projects work; their financing, the roles of investors, protections against abuse, etc. The more Members understand and appreciate what the program does for them and their districts, the more they will support and promote it.
Similarly, the more local, state, and regional decision makers like mayors, county councils, and state legislators understand how EB-5 works and what it brings them and their constituency, the more they will be willing to join our chorus to federal law makers.
Strive for Unity, Not Unanimity
Associations demonstrate clarity and strength, achieve members’ goals, become an asset to policy makers, and grow based on unity, not unanimity. An association’s grand purpose is establishing a unified -not a unanimous- voice; a singular message (on any topic) cultivated and hammered out amidst like-minded peers, colleagues, and competitors.
Associations can be raucous. Exchanges can be distasteful and not everyone will get what they want. Associations often sound dissonant or feel combative and that is OK, even beneficial. Pick your analogy: platform, umbrella, tent. If an association’s foundation is strong, its members will use it to debate, synchronize, and compromise until they proclaim a unified message or take collective action benefiting the majority of industry stakeholders.
That unity is powerful and all associations must strive to secure it; protect it. Once in hand, the association can leverage its unity to accomplish just about anything, including favorable statutes and regulations, a burnished public image, eager participants and supporters, growth, and assured longevity.
Unanimity is a will-o-the-wisp. Chase it at your own peril. Unity comes from a hard work, earned trust, communications, and compromise. If you have it, everyone wins. If you waste time and resources cajoling your peers, justifying others’ actions with double-speak, and worrying about how others may react, everyone fares much worse.
Above, I suggest expanding IIUSA’s base and seeking new audiences. That makes unity harder to reach, but that much more powerful when assured. More importantly, IIUSA must also reach back out to old audiences its lost to reassure them of their place at IIUSA and make efforts to make it so.
Exude Authority & Expertise
I am not a huge Donna Summer fan, but she does have some great advice: “Baby if you got it — You have got to flaunt it!” IIUSA can and must aggressively promote its ability as a non-profit, industry-wide representative to speak without bias, educate without an agenda, and advocate without favoritism. No other organization world-wide is better or more appropriately positioned to articulate Regional Centers’ best practices, instill investors’ confidence, or provide policy maker’s guidance than IIUSA.
The association’s growth will rely on its accepted authority and expertise as much as its growth will rely on its unity and the new (and old) audiences to which this confidence is imparted. If you got, you have to flaunt it…unapologetically; with consistency and decorum.
Managing an association and growing an association go hand in hand and when an association’s mission is clear, its mechanics are sound, and its leaders are smart and honest, management simply needs to lift up these assets, focus them on growth, and get to work. I am grateful for the opportunity to manage IIUSA and I am eager to help it grow.