For the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), one advantage of being located in Washington, D.C. is that we regularly interact with other D.C.-based trade associations from all types of industries to share best practices and approaches to good governance. My trade association colleagues and I share a common concern, regardless of the industry represented: member companies who decide not to renew their membership because “funds are tight,” “the business has been down,” “we need to put our cash to marketing and sales,” and other similar reasons. These companies promise to return to the association “when business is better.” What is evident from these conversations is that these companies view their trade association as a luxury—a “nice to have,” but not necessary for their business growth.
I’d like to challenge that perception. It is particularly when business is not at its best that you need your trade association more than ever. Your trade association can be a lifeline to provide outside expertise, industry insights, and fresh perspectives, good counsel and access to your competitors’ best practices, all as part of your membership. Rather than thinking of your trade association membership as a luxury, consider it a necessity to help your business grow.
Your trade association membership is like keeping the utilities connected.
You wouldn’t let the electricity bills go unpaid, or risk allowing your water service to be cut off. Your trade association is what keeps you connected, what provides energy to your organization, what infuses your executives with insights into the regulatory climate. Your association should be providing a range of educational opportunities to keep your executives current on compliance, market research, and business opportunities. Where else would you get opportunities to collaborate with your competitors to grow the industry for everyone? A rising tide lifts all boats, but if you recede from your association, your company may get caught in the undertow.
Your trade association membership is like paying your insurance premiums.
You wouldn’t cancel your property insurance or allow your medical insurance to lapse; what would happen if a disaster struck? The same thinking should apply to your association membership. Your trade association is what you maintain—day in and day out—so that when burdensome regulations are threatened, or onerous state legislation arises, you have a first line of defense. Imagine the effects of a single law that restricts your customers’ access to your products, or raises your cost of doing business. The proactive work your trade association is doing on Capitol Hill, in the halls of FDA and FTC, across fifty state legislatures and state AG offices, and by building relationships with the press is your insurance policy against a host of regulatory, legislative, and media crises.
Your trade association membership is like your monthly retirement contributions.
Just like your IRA or 401(k), your trade association is protecting your long-term future. As more outside investment comes into the dietary supplement industry, it seems more companies are focused on a profitable “next quarter” to keep shareholders happy—and that’s completely understandable. But who is working on self-regulatory initiatives and research projects to expand the supplement marketplace beyond next-quarter profits? Who is playing the long game to be sure this industry can survive and grow for the next five or ten years? If you are member of CRN, your answer is your full-service, proactive, strategic-thinking trade association.
I appreciate the temptation that when revenue fails to meet expectations to treat your trade association membership as an easy expense to eliminate—like cutting back on philanthropy. But if you have been equating your trade association dues with a charitable donation, or even as “just doing your part” to be benevolent, then reconsider how you are utilizing that membership. Perhaps the better viewpoint is to demand a return on your investment. Resolve that your company be thoroughly invested in your trade association and insist numerous executives in various departments participate in association committees, educational events, and the networking your association provides. To quote a popular financial services corporation, “Membership has its privileges.” That’s why CRN members get the benefit of advance notice of potential disruptions, expertise from a team of association professionals, policy insight, and advocacy that the rest of the industry isn’t even aware of.
When times get tight and you consider dropping out of your trade association, ask yourself: How could I better leverage my membership to address the issues I’m currently facing? Have I taken full advantage of what my trade association offers? Can that investment help me navigate these difficult times? You might discover your trade association can provide the necessities, insurance, and long-term perspective that give your company advantages over your competition and a path to a solid future.