In the October 2007 issue of Qualified Remodeler, we discussed my Myth No. 1 — that trade associations were not worth it — and we talked about why or why not that was true. I fully support a good trade association but not unconditionally. Now is a very good time to think about grading your association; it’s an important time because our industry is showcasing itself in Baltimore at the Remodeling Show at a time when our industry is under intense pressure to survive.

Both NAHB Remodelers and NARI will be there, and I would like to suggest some considerations for giving out some grades to your association whether it is NARI, NKBA or NAHB and certainly on all levels: local, state and national. What should we be grading them on? Some of the subjects are pretty obvious: education; government affairs and legislative matters; and administration and member services.

Beyond that, what about the philosophy of your association? Does it jibe with its members’ needs and wants and even wishes? Can you compare NARI to NAHB or NKBA? Absolutely. Each association must serve its membership effectively against its goals.

Three parts

A trade association consists of three parts: the membership, the staff and the interaction between the two. A great membership with an inept staff gets some things done but neither efficiently nor well. A good staff with an unenthusiastic membership will get default work done, but staff can only do so much and a disengaged membership will diminish the efficacy of the best staff. Nor can staff, no matter how capable, be solely responsible because they have no field experience. It is only the balance of engaged members and effective staff that kick donkey. Check your association out; give it a grade. You will learn and improve your membership, and we need to do it now.

How do you find out how good yours is? Network with others at every opportunity? Consistently, surveys of Remodeling Show attendees remark on the value of that intangible “networking” with fellow contractors. The one-on-one or face-to-face encounters are the real glue that tells of our regard for getting together. Nothing will spell the end of an otherwise successful local chapter, state or national association as fast as losing that human contact, the hand shake, the hug, the pat on the back.

The recharge you get from attending a conference like the show or a class is not measurable in pounds or volts; it’s measured in attitude. You may be down like most of us these days but you may find someone who needs your advice, and giving welcome and needed advice is a boost. This may sound like cheerleading, but I have witnessed its benefits throughout my life. When I come back from a show, a board meeting or a conference, I am more productive, think more clearly and feel more effective.

Social networking such as Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, LinkedIn are popular and are helpful for some kinds of information; e-mail is now very much a standard for exchanging data, details and instructions and hopefully soon will be a legal communication, although it is not yet. Use all of these communications to support networking, sharing and consolidating thoughts, but don’t miss the chance to do the face-to-face.

Use your time to cultivate business friendships, free consultants and casual sources of information when you are at a business gathering. If you are not a member of a trade association, before you join and pay the dues, ask about the association’s philosophy of networking, their system of grassroots contacts. If the association favors more scientific communication at the expense of the one-on-one, flesh-pressing variety, think long and hard about associating with it.
Good chapters and other kinds

There are good NARI chapters and good NAHBR chapters, and there are the other kinds as well. As soon as the leaders or staff of any organization begin to act like they don’t need to consult the rank and file members, the networking becomes diluted and worthless. I am preaching a little here, but we are in very tough times and the support of colleagues is a very important asset to have; develop it whenever you can; protect it by sharing and being genuine with exchanges. The help you give to someone while networking will make you stronger and lift your spirits and we can all use some of that. Besides you wind up having friends who know the business and are like free consultants — and free is good, while you’re here…

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