CHASE Away Winter Blues
Glenda Parker, Rob Dobell, and Allen Reid of Hart Square, gathered together a ‘coalition of the willing’ in London recently to launch the CHASE 25thanniversary event.
But why is CHASE important? If you work for a membership organisation you don’t need me to tell you that change has been rapid in recent years. Associations, institutes, and charities have developed joined-up systems, CRM, and active member engagement processes. Their outward appearance has become slicker. Their business acumen more honed. And much of this is down to the digital revolution.
When I started my trade association journey, they were very different beasts. The Department of Trade and Industry’s ‘The Model Trade Association’, published in 1996, rooted best practice, bench-marking, and competitiveness in the association psyche. The DTI is long gone but that document persisted as the bedrock of many associations.
At the turn of this century members grew more concerned about trust issues. Reputation management became a function of trade associations: achieved by furthering members’ interests with stakeholders and the media. Criticism was fended off with promises of self-regulation.
Associations also tried to influence regulatory or trading conditions that adversely affected their members, by providing a platform for collective representation and lobbying. In reality, ‘promote and protect’ was and still is the stated, or implied, motto of many. For their part charities have also had to adapt. First to more stringent rules around governance. But more significantly in shouldering the burdens previously the responsibility of the state.
Over the last decade, the big story has been the rise of digital and the evolution of organisations to meet their members’ changing expectations. Data is now freely available to all. Charities and associations aren’t the only conduit for communication between stakeholders. And members are increasingly reluctant to pay to simply `belong`.
So, faced by shrinking fees, and keeping up with members’ demands for instant access to resources, both have turned to sponsorship, exhibitions, group buying, financial benefits packages, and other monetised relationships to fill the financial gap. The most successful ones have managed to continue updating and innovating. Making the transition to e-learning, developing digital products, and putting all their services online!
Charities and associations – and their leaders – if their recent history tells us anything, are innovative, adaptable, and increasingly fleet of foot. They’ve had to be. They’re also independent, focussed on the task at hand, and frequently small to medium enterprises. So they can become insular if not challenged. And that’s where Michael Webb came in!
In 1991, a couple of years after I began (and incidentally first encountered computers in the workplace) Michael Webb established the Charities and Associations Exhibition, known thereafter as CHASE. And it’s been going for an astonishing 24 years!
Michael understood that membership bodies are fundamentally about people. And the best way to engage with them was to bring them together under one roof. Once there you could entertain them, enlighten them, challenge them! New goods and services, new venues, new personalities, new theories, new ideas. All were available at CHASE.
Deals were done, trends spotted, gossip shared, conspiracies contrived, and friendships sealed. Exhibiting, speaking, listening, and respect were the lexicon of CHASE. And now it’s back! After a bit of a wobble last year, Hart Square have marshalled a coalition of willing partners to light the candles on its 25th birthday cake. One with four nourishing layers: digital, innovation, culture, and leadership.
So, times change, fashions wax and wane, technology comes and goes, and the next big thing is always just around the corner. There may be no such thing as ‘society’. We might all just be ‘consumers’ now. But I say, for one day at least let’s blow a big fat raspberry to isolation, kick individualism into touch, forget about ‘me’. And let’s get together to share and learn – from each other! See you at CHASE!
Over twenty years experience managing and leading trade associations. I am a member and past president of the Institute of Association Management (IofAM); and former editor of Association News.