The science of association is the mother of science: the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made.
Frederick C. Caruso: The Challenge of Association Management is not a how-to-do-it, cookbook approach to the management of nonprofit, membership associations. Rather, it is a study of what it is like to manage an association on a day-to-day basis. It is in my words and the words of other association managers on the job throughout the country.
The concepts evolved from extensive research, which I conducted as closely as possible in accordance with accepted rules of sociological, qualitative analysis. In-depth interviews with executives working in a variety of specialty fields were analyzed for fundamental recurring themes. These ideas were developed and expanded with hundreds of less intensive interviews, and supplemented with my own experience of ten years with more than a dozen diverse organizations.
Since the beginning, it has been my intent to contribute in some small way to what Alexis de Tocqueville referred to in 1835 as “the science of association.” In his words, “The science of association is the mother of science; the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made.”
Associations are a mystery to just about everyone. The new manager, in particular, finds himself a key figure in a strange and powerful environment. Many of his initial experiences are perplexing and appear to be unique to his own situation. In reality, however, most of these “unique” experiences are shared by others in the field.
All managers should benefit from the insights, viewpoints, and feelings of the executives who participated in this study. All who have even a remote interest in the science of association should gain from sharing the combined experience of more than 200 years expressed in the following.
Two Basic Assumptions
I have proceeded in my research with two basic, but vital assumptions, both founded upon the concept of an association as a medium of communication:
First, that associations are vital to the technology transfer process. Well-managed associations serve as effective vehicles for disseminating technological, economic, and regulatory information among isolated members of any trade or profession and the general public. The more widely scattered the members, the more evident this function becomes. And,
Second, that well-managed associations provide vital feedback between numerous influential members of society and their government.
An association is the buffer zone between the regulator and the regulated. The association’s feedback mechanism not only helps shape government to fit the needs and interests of the group (through the lobby function), but it also serves to mold the regulated elements, the members, helping them conform to the final shape of government. Thus, associations provide the mechanism required for the continued advancement and stability of government itself.
On Advancing Associations
If these assumptions are true –that associations play a vital role in the transfer of technology and in the stabilization of government–then one might conclude that the more effectively associations are managed, the better off our entire society will be. Technology will advance and government will be enhanced.
To insure more effective associations, I have concluded that qualified managers must be recruited and trained for the job prior to their entry into the field. Those already in the field must continue to work toward the improvement of skills and updating their association knowledge. All must work toward understanding associations for what they are. An association is a complex medium of communication which must be managed as a communications network designed to aid the members in the achievement of goals.
Association management is a career field in the process of professionalization. Pressure is mounting for a continually higher level of competency on the part of those who hold these key positions of responsibility. The career field is responding slowly to that pressure.
The following chapters take a close look at the state of the art as I see it today, with its problems and its opportunities, its uniqueness as a career field, its similarities to other management specialties, and its special challenge to the association manager.
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