I will push the edges here
on creating an owner-driven organization, and you can pick and choose what
fits your situation. First, let me share with you my perceptions of
the vast majority of membership organization's approach to ownership.
Membership organizations have a unique structure in that the members wear
multiple hats, in particular they are owners, customers, and most likely the
beneficiaries identified in Ends.
New members join the organization almost exclusively as customers rather
than owners. There may be a cursory mention of being an owner, but it
is only cursory. At the most, there is an explanation of the annual
membership meeting, voting privileges and the governance structure.
Everything else signals to the member that he or she is a customer.
New members receive a detailed list of the benefits of membership, all the
available products and services, locations, and hours of operation. The
organization may even go so far as to equate great customer service with
being treated as an owner. No wonder membership organizations often
struggle with the concept of ownership.
If you want to create a
membership that recognizes that they are owners, then start right from the
beginning. Ask them to be owners first. Ask them to invest
rather than pay dues. Investments should promise a return based on an
End rather than an individual
benefit to the member. It is a social return rather than a monetary
return. Investments don't have to be dollars. They could be
other things such as time, information, or certain levels of participation.
Greater investments should promise greater returns. Instead of having
a ceiling like dues structures have, investments could have floors with
ladders or paths for greater investment in the organization's Ends.
This is similar to donor structures, except they tend to focus on providing
resources for Means rather than
Given there are few
resources to help us as individuals understand our role as owners, there
will have to be some structure or time to assist these new owner-members to
continue their growth as owners. Even Policy Governance has only
lightly touched on the what it means to be an owner. Its focus is from
the Board's perspective rather than the owner's. Certainly a board
that has implemented Policy Governance with strong accountability loops to
the owners is a requirement. These processes and linkages should help
formulate structure for additional membership activities than just an annual
In addition to this
clarification of the ownership role, the customer role would benefit from
better definition as well. Much of the confusion of the two roles
occurs because they have been combined into one position. The customer
activities need to separated as much as possible from the owner activities.
One strategy would be to make two types of membership. One would
relate to the owner role and the second to the customer role. A member
could be either or both, instead becoming both in the traditional approach
to membership. This would mean that members might have an obligation
for an investment, dues, or both depending on the choice of participation.
A question that gets raised
with this approach is what is the effect on membership growth when the
ownership aspect is promoted more heavily. My hunch is that it will
slow it down. Not everyone wants to be an owner, much less have to
make an investment. No matter how much we may believe in the concept
of ownership as defined in Policy Governance, it is easier and more tangible
to just be a customer. This is a trade off that your organization will
have to balance, and may even effect the organization's viability if the
ownership element is pushed beyond the membership's point of acceptance.
Lynn A. Walker, Ph.D.
Boundary Management Consulting
12411 McKelvey Road
St. Louis MO 63146-2929
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