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GAMA International Unveils Plans To Double Membership By 2010

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The leadership team of GAMA International unveiled plans at its annual conference to nearly double the organization’s membership by 2010, in part through a campaign to attract leaders beyond its core audience of top-tier agency heads.

During a press conference at GAMA International’s Leadership and Management Program (LAMP) 2007, the executives outlined several components–including a new mission statement and strategic initiatives, plus an expanding portfolio of professional development content–supporting the membership drive.

“Our current mission statement calls for ‘growing through sharing,’ or the dissemination of information and best practices across companies,” said Ed Deutschlander, president-elect of GAMA International, Falls Church, Va. “That’s been a cornerstone of GAMA throughout our history. But for the organization to really have an impact, we also have to develop and grow leaders.”

The broadening of the organizational charge is reflected in a new motto, “build leaders who build the financial services industry,” and in a strategic plan currently underway to expand GAMA’s membership beyond its traditional base, first-line general agents and managers at career life insurance agencies. To that end, GAMA is marketing its professional development products, conferences and services to a larger community of second-tier managers. Among them: individuals responsible for identifying, recruiting, selecting, training and mentoring advisors, including those employed at multi-line agencies that also sell property and casualty insurance, and those who work at independent broker/dealers or financial planning firms.

Second-tier managers now constitute a small percentage of GAMA’s membership. For every 4 top-tier managers belonging to the organization, GAMA counts just one second-tier manager among its rolls. The goal, said Deutschlander, is to reverse this ratio and boost membership by 2010 to 10,000, from approximately 5,500 today.

GAMA is aiming not only for a broader membership in functional terms but also demographically, as a still large percentage of members are boomers. To attract a younger generation of leaders, including so-called “GenXers” and “Millennials” (those born between 1965 and 1980 and between 1980 and 2000, respectively), GAMA is exploring additional ways to deliver educational content. GAMA CEO Jeff Hughes said this might entail a more robust Web platform or the use of MP3 technology that will allow recordings of educational sessions to be digitized and downloaded to a portable device.

“We need to be technologically savvy,” said Hughes. “We also need to align our marketing, branding and content delivery to those [generational] preferences so we can have broader appeal, but in very specific ways.”

GAMA’s diversification efforts are already having an impact. Whereas 10 years ago the organization was 99% white and male, today women make up approximately 25% of GAMA’s members, according GAMA President Tim Murray. He adds the organization has also had success in recruiting minorities, who now constitute one-fifth of the organization’s board, as well as international leaders. Present among the 2,300 general agents and managers at this conference was a 300-strong contingent from Mexico; there were also 450 attendees from Canada and 100-plus from Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.

Murray also observed that GAMA is in a stronger position financially to deliver on its goals than in years past. “Seven years ago, we were $700,000 in debt,” he said. “This year, we will hit a 7-figure surplus–probably well in excess of that. Our financial situation is solid, which has allowed us to do enhanced strategic planning.”

Hughes added that the surplus will provide the necessary reserves to withstand unforeseen changes or shocks to the industry that could impact GAMA’s long-term viability. He noted also that association best practices dictate holding upwards of 75% of annual revenue in reserve, a benchmark that GAMA is “on its way to achieving.”

Part of the strategic planning calls for more events and research for members. At the Toronto show, GAMA unveiled “Reaching the Right People: Marketing Locally for Maximum Impact,” the 4th installment in GAMA’s Systems for Success series. A compilation of best marketing practices at agencies and firms polled by GAMA, the study materials–including a guidebook, applications booklets, audio guidebook and online assessment tools–explore such topics as target marketing, seminars and event marketing, community involvement and building alliances with professional firms. Earlier iterations of the series explored techniques for finding, building and keeping the right people.

“The new content is a smorgasbord of different marketing elements,” said Kathryn Kellam, GAMA’s senior vice president of professional development. “No organization is going to do everything. Also, the success factors described in the study appear to be simple. But execution is not easy.”

Complementing the Systems for Success studies are Field Leadership Series workshops. On June 7th, GAMA will host seminars in 53 U.S. cities, plus one in Toronto, that will explore content from “Building the Right People.” Among other topics, attendees will learn how to select the right candidates, enhance training results for new associates, set high expectations and hold new associates accountable for results.

GAMA additionally organizes “The Essentials of Leadership & Management, a 5-day residency program that covers multiple elements of agency and career development, including: leadership, vision and values; recruiting, election and retention; training, supervision and accountability; personal development and goals; and business planning for growth.

The expanding portfolio of offerings, said Hughes, have contributed to GAMA’s strengthened financial position, enabling the organization to do more long-term planning and better calibrate products and services.

“We’re feeling pretty bullish about our membership, and our members are feeling bullish about us, which reinforces our value proposition.” said Hughes. “The wonderful thing is that we’re at a point financially where we can be more thoughtful about the next 3 to 5 years, rather than the next 1 to 2. That bodes well for us to be ready to support the changing needs of our members and other stakeholders.”


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