“One of the most common proverbs in the business world is that the customer is always right. While this formula may be true to some extent, this kind of opinion can be risky when making crucial marketing decisions. Be mindful of your defined marketing goals, while still using your expertise and judgment to make close calls in specific situations. This will enable you to properly adjust to any difficulties that may arise.” Sooraj Balakrishnan

Listening to our members, as customers, is always a good idea. That said, only you, as an Association Leader, can determine whether what your customers, or prospective customers (aka ‘members’) are suggesting, no matter how interesting and exciting, will take you out of your area of competence or expertise. After all, it is important for any person or organization to ‘stand for something’, to be recognized as having a particular competency, if not expert status, on specific issues or areas.

Organizational Assessment

As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 environment, many organizations, in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, will be reflecting on how to move forward, to secure market share, and retain, if not grow, business.

As we do so, it will be helpful to remember the organization’s ‘raison d’etre’ – the reason the Association, in this case, came into being. Why was the Association formed all those years ago? What brought an important core group of volunteers together, perhaps putting aside competitive differences, for the betterment of all concerned?

Many Association Leaders are surprised that, when they dig out their letters of incorporation, or by-laws, to see that the same purposes that caused the organization and development of their Association, are still relevant today. Yes, the words may be different, and the language somewhat formal, but the root purpose is often still one members can recognize and embrace.

Core Competencies

Mandates often have to do with the need to elevate professional expertise among industry participants, or to advocate for a particular cause or interest to government and other decision-makers, to raise money for research into an issue or disease, or, to raise ‘awareness’ and understanding of the importance of certain products and programs and the solutions they offer.

In my own experience, I recall at time when, although our Association was hard at work advocating with government, and educating our members, we had, somehow, forgotten that the third element of our mandate was to educate consumers and businesses about the products and services our members offered. This set in motion programming initiatives that sought to present and position our members as value-added advisors and participants in the socio-economic well-being of our country. Needless to say, members (and prospective members) deeply appreciated this work on their behalf, enhancing their image and standing in their communities.

Mandate v. Mission

Here, I will stress that I am referring to an organization’s ‘mandate’ as opposed to its ‘mission’. The two are related, but not the same. Again, the mandate is contained in your original letters of incorporation or by-laws, whereas your mission statement may have been updated and revised from time to time as part of your planning process.

I believe reviewing your mandate can be crucial for organizations at this juncture of their evolution, or perhaps, devolution. Mandates capture the absolute essence, the core competencies; why your Association was brought into being. It can be a source of inspiration, or of discipline, in considering your focus for the future, and the best way forward as you set about continuing to grow, albeit in changed circumstances, and deciding what programs to keep, which to let go, and which to create or expand.

Taking a moment to get back in touch with what your Founders thought important, and why others responded enthusiastically to their outreach to join them in fulfilling an important mandate, can provide you with the context, and insight, you need as you consider your future.


Paul McKay

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