What associations offer

Edward P. Salek, CAE, Executive Director | TLT Headquarters Report February 2011

The opportunity to build a community keeps members invested in organizations like STLE.

All three experts emphasized the desire of younger professionals to be defined by their values, not their occupation.

Late last year I was one of 18 association executives invited to attend an executive forum sponsored in Chicago by Marriott Corp. We were joined by five senior Marriott executives and three expert speakers for a day devoted to high-level “leadership sharing.”

The leadership experts targeted three topics that present both challenges and opportunities for all associations: social media as a communication and engagement tool, changing preferences and expectations of consumers and the competitive forces facing membership organizations like STLE.

That third topic was addressed by Rebecca Rolfes, executive vice president of Imagination, a Chicago marketing-communications firm. She focused on one succinct and provocative thought: “Associations need a compelling value proposition. What can we do to give members a unique experience while at the same time creating product and service offerings that solve members’ needs better than anywhere else—faster, less expensively, more effectively?”

In the weeks since the conference and presentation, I’ve thought about Rolfes’ challenge in relation to STLE’s current situation and what we might do in the future to create offerings that make our organization more worthwhile. Let’s look at three areas of what Rolfes calls “competitive opportunity” and how STLE excels in each.

The first area relates to associations’ ability to make the world a better, safer place for all mankind. While this might sound a bit overblown, organizations like STLE earn their tax-exempt status because we contribute something unique that probably would not occur absent our efforts.

Our mission statement was crafted to make this case: To advance the science of tribology and the practice of lubrication engineering in order to foster innovation, improve the performance of equipment and products, conserve resources and protect the environment.

All three speakers at the Marriott Forum emphasized the desire of younger professionals to be defined by their values, not just their occupation. STLE affords members the opportunity to broaden their career experience and make a social contribution while engaging in business-related activity.

Cross-pollination of ideas in an open, trusted forum is the second offering that makes associations attractive. This is a traditional strength of STLE, because the organization serves as a link between the commercial, scientific and academic worlds. STLE is also an interdisciplinary organization that cuts across many industries and technologies.

STLE’s trust level is a complement to the cross-pollination factor. A commitment to quality and accuracy through things like peer review and non-commercialization produce a trust factor that’s not found in a Google search or on Wikipedia.

Members find this experience in multiple places, the most prominent being local section meetings, technical committees and national conferences. In the digital world, these same experiences are being replicated through LinkedIn discussion forums and TLT’s monthly Sounding Board polls.

The third item is the ability to create an invaluable network of peers. This is a benefit of association membership that is not always easy to quantify or describe but is certainly very real. The best evidence is that people consistently cite this as the No. 1 benefit of membership.

Whether you are a long-time member or a non-member thinking about joining, a great way to experience these and other STLE offerings is by attending our 66th Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Atlanta on May 15-19. Just go to www.stle.org for technical program details, a list of exhibitors and both meeting and hotel registration forms.

When you attend the meeting or participate in other STLE activities, I am certain you’ll discover what I did at the Marriott forum—leadership sharing is a valuable experience.

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