In the 2008 Presidential election, President Obama managed to make the word “Change” symbolic with his campaign. That stroke of brilliant marketing aside, the word “change” was already a loaded word.
Think about these terms:
“We want to change the world!”
“I want to make a change!”
“I have to change if I want to be successful!”
“Never change! You’re perfect as you are!”
And to a lesser extent…
“Keep the change”
Let me preface this by saying that change is a good thing! It's just a tough concept for some people when it turns out that they actually have to make some changes in their daily routines.
Be honest. Did you get into your association with the intention to create “change” either for yourself or some subset of the world (or possibly the entire world?) If you did, you’re not alone. In fact, I would say the desire to help others and incite change is one of the more noble reasons to join an association, in my humble opinion.
Think of all the ways your association “makes a difference.” Mentoring? Fund raising? Political action? Career growth or advancement? All of those are great actions and totally desirable in the grand scheme of association development.
Now consider this: how many of your members embrace and welcome change? What about the board, or the rest of your staff? If the answer is sadly, "not many" you're not alone. Small staff association leaders are often faced with the pickle of wanting to incite change in people who claim they want it, but who in practice may resist it.
The solution? Sadly, there isn’t one easy answer. (Is there ever with Small Staff Associations?) The best advice would be to read the community that you’re trying to reach. Is your association dealing with a big upset in your field of interest? If so and there’s a lot of general discontent, marking “change” would be a great idea.
Also while “change” can be a loaded term, “make a difference!” has a different ring to it. People WANT to make a difference, and that term generally means improvement with a softer implication than "change." When you mention “making a difference” though, be ready with specific examples of how their membership, participation, or attendance will so just that.
Another way to incite change is to celebrate the strengths already in place. Your members likely do not want to change themselves- they want to improve their careers or hobbies which do not encompass the concept of “self.” Focus on those bite sized goals rather than the over-arching concept of big change. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, you can reach more people with smaller goals.
Finally, as always, ask your members. Don’t bury them under a lengthy survey, but do be sure to ask 1) What they would like to change about their profession/trade/special interest and 2) What they would like to change about the association. If everything is working well for them, they’ll say so. If not, that feedback could go a long way in inciting change that both you and your members are comfortable with.Change is good, but sometimes hard to bring about. Stick with it! That's what your association is all about.