Managing member networks: strategy, volunteers and funding

Anthony Haynes writes: Managing member networks (ISBN 978-0-9570125-7-8) is written by Christina Williams and Andy Friedman and published by the Professional Associations Research Network (PARN). My attention was drawn to it by a post on LinkedIn by Andy Friedman. I had read one of Friedman’s previous books (Stakeholders) and thought it particularly well written.

28 Jul 14 PARN coverManaging member networks is based on research conducted in 2012-13. The research had three sources: a survey of professional bodies; a set of case studies; and discussions with members of a steering group drawn from seven professional bodies.

As the sub-title (‘strategy, volunteers and funding’) indicates, the book is wide-ranging. Topics covered include trends in managing member networks, types of network, funding, communication and representation, and member value. Particularly interesting from the point of view of this blog, which focuses on talent acquisition and management, is a chapter on personnel, covering such topics as participation, training, and recruitment. The text is written clearly and professionally.

The passage that engaged me most was one on ‘a model of control’. Williams & Friedman identify a problem arising from member network groups, especially regional groups: such groups are often keen to represent the wider organisation, yet tend to ‘go feral’, so that a tension develops between their views and the strategic vision of the organisation as a whole.

Williams & Friedman argue that professional bodies typically seek to regain some control from such groups. The result is often a ‘sophisticated balancing of power’. Size is a key variable here: ‘When organisations are small…the entire organisation may be run by volunteers…The issue of control is not relevant here’. However, as organisations grow and employ more staff, they implement more initiatives and engage with a wider range of stakeholders: volunteers ‘may become less central to decision-making and less aligned to the organisation’s strategic vision…The organisation attempts to wrestle back control’.

Yet such attempts don’t ‘necessarily lead to more successful member networks or better alignment with strategy. It can lead to tensions and confusion over roles’. As organisations grow larger still, ‘the number of member networks they offer increases…[and] ‘the control that they exercise over the networks becomes more sophisticated and relies much more on a balance of power…and a sharing of responsibilities between HQ and the networks’. Overall, this ‘leads to a perception that member networks are more successful’.

I have two criticisms. First, the book is heavily, and somewhat implicitly, UK-focused. More international comparison and contrast would have been interesting. Second, the design and production values are unattractive. PARN could surely produce a book that looks and feels more attractive for little or no additional expense.

But it’s a good book — one that conveys research findings simply and clearly.


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