Last week communication blogger, Boots regular, new McMurry colleague and IABC watcher Robert Holland sounded an alarm that his Richmond, Va. chapter and others like it "need help—now!" from the mother organization, IABC International.
He said it's killing him to watch his beloved local chapter struggle to retain members and fail to cajole people to attend monthly meetings.
"As we recalled last night, coming to an IABC/Richmond meeting was [once] an
energizing experience. Now the chapter is struggling, but it is not
because of mismanagement or lack of effort by local volunteers.
Understanding the problem—and, more important, what to do about it—requires more resources and experience than IABC/Richmond leaders can
muster. And the Richmond chapter is not alone. This scenario is playing
out in many other chapters, especially in North America."
I have a couple of reactions to Robert's post:
First, I question Robert's contention that it takes an international organization based in San Francisco to understand why the bounce has gone out of a local club's bungee. Isn't that a little like demanding help from the Miller Brewing Company to explain why the Thursday night crowd has tailed off at the J&M Tap?
Not that I don't think the mother organization should be motivated to understand why some chapters' membership is down while other chapters (like Chicago and Toronto) are thriving.
Overall, IABC is down a thousand members thanks to the economy (membership stands at about 15,500), and the association brass is launching a study to assess members' needs. Here's what I expect the study will find:
Where once IABC was the lock, stock, whole nine yards, kaboodle and barrel of all communicator networking—luncheon meetings for local chumming up, the big fat directory and the International Conference for national and international networking—LinkedIn and other social networking platforms have handled the basic national networking, leaving IABC's core value on the outer margins: global, and hyper local.
I'm an IABC member, but I consider LinkedIn my go-to network. Why? Because even though my LinkedIn connections are only a modest 184, these are communicators I know all over the country (and a few more far-flung). So if I need to talk to a communicator in San Francisco or at in the auto industry, I'll probably turn to my personal network long before figuratively thumbing through a virtual IABC phone book.
But if I need a communication contact in Shanghai or New Delhi, I go to IABC, which not only offers me contacts there, but a useful introduction, too: "Greetings from Chicago! I'm a fellow IABC member …."
The rest of the value IABC offers is local. Without IABC, each city would need its own communication Grand Poobah to start a club and host meetings that appeal to locals and make a group culture all their own … wait a minute, each city does need all these things, even with IABC. IABC's central office only provides a framework. (And if it were too heavy-handed, those Richmond meetings would never have been any fun in the first place.)
If Richmond's IABC meetings are dead these days—especially in an economy where people are networking with one another other like beetles in the spring—I suspect one of two things is true:
Either Richmond's communication community is shrinking, longer having enough generous veterans to speak at meetings and accept résumés, enough up-and-coming pros to run the meetings, or enough eager beavers to populate them.
Or, the community is lacking a Grand Poobah with sufficient charisma and talent and energy to pull together good meetings.
Can IABC International do a better job of supporting IABC Richmond? Might San Francisco be a better clearinghouse for chapter-to-chapter survival tips? Might it be argued that IABC should divert some of the resources it puts toward national programs toward chapter support? Yes, yes, yes.
But the first chore, it seems to me, is introspection, at the chapter level. If we find out What's the Matter with Richmond we'll know what's the matter with IABC.
And I trust IABC Richmond veteran Robert Holland to answer that question in far more revealing and useful detail than some survey issued from California.