December 21, 2020

Charles Dickens, Social Justice and Membership Development

What, you may be asking, do Charles Dickens, and the concept of Social Justice, have to do with developing membership in my Association? The answer lies in the very purpose of Associations, and why membership is important.

Too often, I believe, we, with an interest in the role and well-being of Associations, fall prey to the over-arching simplicity of thought, and exclusivity of focus, that seems to pervade our contemporary mindset. That is, we concern ourselves, specifically, with the task-at-hand ? and turn quickly to our took-kit of tactics and devices, in an effort to breathe new life into flagging engagement levels ? the symptom of declining membership.

Socio-Economic Inequality

Charles Dickens is the author of A Christmas Carol, a commentary on society and human nature. At the time of writing, in 1843, the Industrial Revolution had brought about sweeping cultural and economic changes in England, the U.S., and much of Europe. As a result, life was getting better for some, but worse for many others.

Social Justice, as we know it today, seems to come with its own set of pre-set factory conditions. Generally, the concept is associated with the left, if not far left, of the political spectrum, which some may recognize, more readily, as the moral centre. And yet, Social Justice, emerged through the work of someone many would today call a ?conservative?.

Luigi Taparelli, a Catholic scholar in Italy, lived and worked around the same time as Dickens, was also concerned with the problems arising from the industrial revolution. He became convinced that the philosophy of Descartes was leading to errors in morality and politics given its emphasis on ?rationalism? ? the regard of reason, and reason alone, as the source of knowledge – could be used to justify a range of conclusions. Fr. Taparelli is recognized as the scholar who coined the term ?Social Justice?. Some believe it is his views that are reflected in Charles Dickens? A Christmas Carol.

The purpose of Membership

Rarely, I believe, do we take the time to reflect on the ultimate purpose of Associations, and why membership is important, not just to us as people charged with the responsibility of growing and maintaining organizations, but, more importantly, those we are mandated to serve.

There is a long history of Associations in Canada. In 1604, Samuel de Champlain founded L?Ordre de Bon Temps at Port Royal, in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia. Its mandate was to help people get through the Canadian winter, by staying active, healthy and engaged.

Like Champlain?s Order of Good Cheer, many of our Associations still retain an essential purpose that relates to something more than simply being financially successful. Even our most business-driven Associations encourage members to engage in discussions related to their role in society, and develop their expertise to serve their clients more fully. While those goals may not be related to social justice, they do reflect an understanding of a something more than simply making money at the expense of others, and the need to organize, and govern, in a way that is accountable and transparent, to those who have agreed to voluntarily join as members.

Social Justice and Strategic Orientation

To move membership forward, sometimes we need to ?down tools?, and review the basic design of what we are trying to do. Do our programs reflect the basic strategic purpose of the organization, or have we become so focussed on specific tactics and demonstrating certain values and norms, that our programming is no longer relevant?

Social Justice involves a re-examination of the purpose of socio-economic activity. Social Justice involves the ideas of inclusiveness, and opportunity, and to offer those sharing an interest, to develop skills and acquire knowledge. Associations emerged out of such concerns, to engage with a broader community, to serve a higher calling. Therein lays their appeal and their purpose. We owe it to our members, and our prospective members, to always be mindful of the special role Associations play in Society.

Paul McKay

Paul McKay CAE, is Senior Consultant with McKay Associates, specializing in advocacy, marketing and development.
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