Revitalizing Is Easier Than Resurrecting—How to Jump-Start Your Affiliate
Dustin K. Hunter is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is a name partner of the law firm of Kraft & Hunter, LLP in Roswell, New Mexico.
Participation has dropped off, membership has declined, and meetings may or may not have a quorum. What is going on? Have no fear, your affiliate young lawyer organization is likely not dying; it may just need a jump-start.
Michael Pellicciotti, ABA YLD Membership Director and a member of the Washington State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Board of Directors, recognizes that these problems may have many causes. But Pellicciotti has observed that problems with membership, recruitment, and morale often stem from an organization’s loss of focus on key objectives that results in pulling young lawyers in many directions, including between different bar organizations.
Specifically, Pellicciotti believes that some troubles suffered by affiliate organizations may be the result of the organization straying from its intended purpose. “When people stop showing up, it is probably the result of one of two things: (1) the social events, activities, and opportunities for service are not being effectively communicated; or (2) what is being communicated to the membership is not attractive to them and does not meet their needs,” Pellicciotti says. “There is a lot of competition out there both internally in bar organizations and between bar organizations. What we need to do is to go back to the basics, examine our mission statements, and see what actual member benefits we can provide to our members.” If you begin to notice the above-mentioned symptoms in your affiliate, following the steps below can help jump-start your organization.
Before you can make a determination as to what can or should be done to reinvigorate your affiliate, you need to conduct a detailed self-assessment of your organization. Each affiliate organization has different things to offer and different needs to be addressed by and for its members. “Volunteer leaders are involved because of their firm belief in the objectives of the association and a desire to contribute talent and effort toward realizing those objectives.” Mark Frels, CAE, Motivating Volunteers , Associations Now (Nov. 2006). When there is a disconnect between the objectives of your members and those of the organization, members may feel disenfranchised, causing a decline in membership morale. “You should be asking your friends and colleagues [in the organization] what they are interested in, what can be done better, and what would make a difference to them because everyone has initiatives that they really care about,” Pellicciotti suggests.
Other young leaders agree. “Opening this type of dialogue between leaders and members is an important step to revitalizing or reinvigorating affiliate organizations, as member contributions are vital to the organization’s success,” says Martha Chicoski, member of the ABA YLD Affiliate Assistance Team and member of the New Mexico State Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Directors. According to Pellicciotti, “It is important, particularly for bar organizations with active service projects, to step back and evaluate them and ask the following questions: (1) for the amount of resources going into this project, are the results to the community and our members worth it? (2) Does this project meet our membership’s needs?”
Take Action to Address the Issues
Once you have identified the unmet needs of your membership, you should immediately take action to fulfill those needs by tailoring events, projects, and activities to members’ requests. Pellicciotti acknowledges: “It is always easier to provide a service that people have requested as opposed to coming up with a program and trying to get people interested in it. Remember that whether it is at the national, state, or local affiliate level, one of our primary obligations is to provide substantive benefits to our members.” If you focus primarily on your members’ needs, then increased membership numbers and activity levels will follow, because your affiliate will be providing a true service to its members.
In addition, you might want to consider partnering with other organizations to diversify the activities offered to your members. “Often bars take up too much time competing with each other with the same programs, services, and efforts,” Pellicciotti notes. By partnering with groups, such as another bar organization, a law school, or an entity completely unrelated to yours to create synergy, the overall effectiveness of the organization will be increased. “The point is that contacts will be made that will allow you to engage those outside of your normal circle of influence. Anything you can do to reach groups of attorneys outside of those that you normally come into contact with is very helpful to the health of your organization,” advises Pellicciotti.
The ABA YLD’s Affiliate Assistance Team is the ABA YLD’s primary tool for providing assistance to affiliated young lawyer organizations and can be an indispensable resource for young bar leaders. “The Affiliate Assistance Team is more than willing to help an affiliate organization in any way possible,” says Martha Chicoski, ABA YLD Affiliate Assistance Team member.
The Team can provide affiliates with specialized training, templates, and resource materials, including the Bar Leader Handbook , to help affiliates trying to jump-start their organizations and address membership issues. You can also use resources from the ABA Division for Bar Services, which serves as the primary link between the ABA and other bar associations and provides education, training, and management support services for bar leaders. For more information, visit www.abanet.org/barserv/home.html .
Addressing issues in your organization as they arise will help to preserve the future of your affiliate. When faced with membership challenges, the most important thing to remember is that your organization is too valuable to its members to give in to the challenge. It is much easier to jump-start an affiliate organization than to allow it to die and have to resurrect it at a later date. So talk to your members, ask for help, and get going.