Reflections on yesterday's seminar

We had a great session yesterday afternoon at Third Sector Foresight’s latest Leading Lights seminar.  If you weren’t able to make the session, I hope this will give you a taste of what you missed. If you were one of those taking part in a bursting-at-the-seams room, I’d welcome your comments on what most struck you about the speakers and the discussions.  And if you’re interested in reading more, the links below will take you to drivers on key areas on our site.        

Tessy Britton, our first speaker, is amongst many other things Chair of the RSA Fellowship Council.  She spoke engagingly about the innovation work she is involved in at the RSA alonmgside other case studies.  A key ‘takeaway’ for me was the move from transactional, top down models of membership to participative, relationship-based ones.  She also stressed the need to try lots of things before something necessarily succeeds, and suggested conceiving of a membership fee as an ‘investment’ rather than buying something.

Our second speaker was Dave Boyle, CEO of Supporters Direct, who was part of our Future of Membership Consortium last year.  Dave is always a compelling speaker, and he focussed on remembering the importance of love in membership.  Using FC Barcelona and Cooperatives UK as examples, he suggested that tangible benefits – as well as traditional meeting structures - might have had their day, and that really successful membership organisations were able to make their membership priceless by stressing the intangibles.  A real benefit of these organisationally, he suggested, is that ‘priceless’ is cheap to offer, and the marginal cost of each new member is very low.

Our final speaker was Charles Armstrong, the brains behind the fantastic one click orgs project.  Charles identified that the problem with an organisation of any size and age is that the ‘informal mechanics’ that operate in small groups as we start them up [ie we can discuss things down the pub] quickly break down across larger, more dispersed groups.  Charles’ solution is the one click orgs platform, which uses software to automate – and reduce the time and financial costs of – important legal and democratic functions within a membership organisation, such as voting on a suggestion or changing its name.

One of the most interesting things for me was what participants most wanted to focus on.  Key drivers suggested by participants included moves towards mergers and collaborative working due to funding levels and the role of trust and legitimacy in membership.  Internal governance structures were also suggested as an important internal factor.  After a vote, we ended up with a number of groups discussing the impact of increasing commodification of membership, another group discussing changing attitudes to participation from members and a mini-discussion around economics: changing attitudes to consumption.  If you want to read up on the drivers which these conversations were based on, they’re all in Future Focus 8 which you can download an electronic copy of here. They'll also be put up on this page soon.

Key things that came up in discussions were the need to remember an organisation’s core values – what did we start off to do? And also the main reason people join in the first place.  When as organisations we become too preoccupied with offering tangible benefits to attract or keep members we can become distracted from what really matters.  If you’re interested in exploring this further, you can take a look at blogs I’ve previously written on values and tangible benefits, or read NCVO’s Values into Action report.

There’s much more to add, and we’ll be updating the website with full details of what was discussed, and presentation highlights in due course, so keep your eyes peeled. And if you want to explore this further, do join me at NCVO's membership schemes conference, on Monday 12th July.

Last updated at 14:53 Fri 11/Jun/10.
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