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Does size matter?

In the lead up to Associations Week and the memcom conference and awards next week, I have been thinking about associations as influential organisations and the support that senior leaders in associations need to become successful influencers. If you search on ‘associations + influence’ (Google is your friend) you will come across the notion that influence correlates with size; the larger the association the more influential it must be. Indeed, the ‘Influence 100’ list suggests that the 100 largest associations are the most influential. This, of course, has absolutely no basis in fact.


Using myself as a yardstick, as the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, with a Royal Charter going back to 1891 and some of the most prominent legal professionals in the UK in its 4,500 membership, and as Chair of the Institute of Association Leadership and a regular speaker on thought-leadership on the membership circuit, I am not ‘influential’. This may or may not be true, but whatever the truth, it is not because of the size of the association I lead. In terms of the ‘Influence 100’ barometer, my association is 8 times less influential than the 100th placed membership body on the list. I do hope my award-winning influencer Neil Lampert is not listening.


Setting aside the notion that only the largest associations can be influential, I have long held the view that senior leaders of associations, regardless of background, share a professional identity. We all work with volunteers. We all work within association governance structures. We all have relationships with elected volunteer officers. We employ similar types of people performing similar roles. Our capacity to influence on behalf of our members is, in part, shaped through the relationships we cultivate with our peers and those we lead.


Size really doesn’t matter. We are all ultimately responsible and accountable for the performance of our associations, including how influential they are, whatever the size and however many people we are able to delegate to. Size is something of a red herring, indeed those leading smaller associations must be multi-disciplinarians capable of going beyond multi-tasking. What associations leaders need is a ‘safe place’ to come together, to network and to learn from each other.


That is where the Institute of Association Leadership comes in. It does not make a distinction between the solo association leader running a small membership organisation and those leading the largest associations. It caters for those in leadership roles at all levels in an association and those who aspire to such roles. It is an institute for association leaders by association leaders, with a Board of Directors elected by the membership. It is, in all it does and all it says, inclusive.


There is, of course, a cost. Being a professional membership association, the IAL charges its members for the privilege of belonging. We are funded and owned by our members and all our Directors are volunteers. All our income is invested in the benefits and services we aim to provide for our members. At around the cost of a cup of coffee each week, I think it is reasonable value for money by any measure. That said, I don’t drink coffee.


In return, our most senior members, those at the forefront of associations have access to our Chief Executives Forum, meeting regularly under Chatham House Rules to provide that safe space where we can share experiences and learn together. All our members benefit from learning and social events where we share ideas, problems and solutions; develop, promote and share best practice; and disseminate association sector specific news and information.


We offer an engaging CPD programme underpinned by a comprehensive library of professional guidance notes, a brilliant resource covering all the aspects of running an association for new association leaders and old hands like me. We are the founders of Associations Week, which we aim to grow to become the annual celebration of the fantastic people, staff and volunteer members, who make associations great.


It is worth saying again. The Institute of Association Leadership is inclusive; it is run by association leaders for association leaders; it offers association leaders all that they, in turn, offer their members; and it costs no more than the price of a weekly cup of coffee. What’s not to like?


Lee Davies, Chief Executive of Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, and Chair of Institute of Association Leadership.

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