Continuing education content has long been the anchor of the professional association chapter meeting. It creates a common purpose and bond for the community to meet, break bread and form relationships with colleagues and peers.
Yet in recent years, several financial services associations have shifted from making CE the centerpiece of core membership community-building, to the anchor around which multidisciplinary networking is supposed to occur. Unfortunately, though, the approach is fatally flawed, as affiliated professionals are unlikely to find the content and sponsors relevant, and CE can take up so much of the meeting time there is little left to actually network.
As a result, many organizations are at a crossroads—to either really restructure meetings to allow for proper and structured networking opportunities, or to refocus on using the chapter meeting once again to build community around a core membership.
The inspiration for today’s blog post is a recent conversation I had with an attorney who had decided to drop his membership in one of the major financial planning associations. He complained it just didn’t feel like he got anything out of it; he joined for the opportunity to network, but after two years of involvement, he hadn’t cultivated a single referral. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying to get involved; he regularly attended the local chapter meetings. But he hadn’t developed any relationships, so it just didn’t make sense to renew anymore.
In recent years I’ve come to realize that this is a common plight for several of the financial services associations (most notably, the Financial Planning Association and the Society for Financial Services Professionals) that have taken an increasingly “multidisciplinary” membership approach in recent years.
The basic concept seems pretty straightforward. Financial advisors often view and position themselves as the quarterback of the client relationship, but they require a whole team of affiliated professionals to function. Consequently, the associations thought, we can grow our membership by bringing in affiliated professionals in a variety of disciplines who would want to work with our members, and invite them to the meetings that are already occurring!
The members get the opportunity to network with outside professionals to generate referrals, the affiliated professionals get the opportunity to network with financial advisors to generate referrals, and the association gets more members, leading to greater membership dues, growing the attendance at chapter meetings and sponsorship revenue.
Unfortunately, though, there’s one fundamental but crucial and fatal flaw to the approach: the professional educational meeting is the anchor of the local chapter experience for most associations, and those meetings are an absolutely terrible way to facilitate networking for multidisciplinary members. There are three primary reasons: