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Headquarters Report - September 2014

By Edward P. Salek, Executive Director and CAE

A different look at membership

There are many reasons to join STLE-including one not often mentioned

LIKE ALL GOOD ASSOCIATIONS, STLE frequently asks members what benefits they derive from being a part of the organization. Gathering this data is the key to retaining current members and recruiting new ones.

Responses typically fall into three broad categories when we ask this question: business networking, access to trusted information and competitive advantages. But there’s another category that seems to be taking on added significance for STLE. Before we get to that fourth category, here’s a look at the more traditional types of benefits.

Topping most lists will be peer-to-peer networking. Being a member of STLE enables you to make multiple contacts throughout the field and build a network of trusted advisors. This tends to be the No. 1 benefit cited by members of most professional associations. Contacts made through STLE sometimes grow into lifelong friendships. This is evidenced by the number of smiles and handshakes seen at a local section meeting or the STLE annual meeting.

The second response to the benefits question is much more tangible. Even in the digital age, access to a trusted source of information and education remains valuable to individual members and their employers. Plus, members enjoy discounts on things like conference registration, education courses, certification or books. The sum of these savings usually amount to far more than the annual dues investment. In STLE’s case, this is $140 a year.

Third on the list of benefits is the competitive advantage that individuals and organizations gain by being associated with a respected organization like STLE. For individuals, that advantage might be as simple as including the phrase STLE member on a business card or email signature. People who hold one of STLE’s certifications, such as Certified Lubrication Specialist™, say they obtain additional recognition in the eyes of customers, suppliers and colleagues.

Employers find that it’s possible to differentiate their team from competitors by citing the STLE membership and credentials. These stand as evidence of their commitment to having a workforce with current skills and knowledge about the rapidly changing marketplace.

While these are all good reasons to support an organization, there’s a fourth factor that deserves attention. I was reminded of this benefit by an association management colleague speaking at a conference I attended over the summer. The concept can be summarized in one sentence from the talk: “Membership is needed to define a field and keep it viable.”

This isn’t exactly a new concept. It is a variation on the notion that people in a profession or business have an obligation to join and support the industry association. Conventional wisdom says that this approach no longer works in a time when there’s pressure on individuals and businesses to show a substantive return on money and time invested in things like membership.

But don’t overlook the fact that this “what can you do for me” mentality has potentially negative consequences. For example, in a recent Sounding Board survey published in the August TLT, 80 percent of respondents said they were concerned about lack of government funding for tribology. Other studies point to a similar concern that the tribology and lubricants field doesn’t get the respect it deserves as a driver for global priorities such as energy conservation or environmental, safety and health issues.

Joining an organization won’t be enough to reverse these trends. But STLE’s 2013-2016 Strategic Plan puts emphasis on the issue of making the business case for tribology and lubrication engineering. The plan’s success depends on the support of the technical community STLE serves.

So while that reason alone is not enough to justify membership, it’s worth keeping in mind that there is strength in numbers. And while that might be a cliché, it’s also true that most clichés contain a strong element of truth.


You can reach Certified Association Executive Ed Salek at esalek@stle.org.
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