Belonging is Losing Its Appeal

To paraphrase the late and misquoted Baroness Thatcher, there’ll soon be no such thing as societies anymore. There’s a growing phenomenon across the westernised world that’s afflicting organisations as diverse as churches, the boy scouts, political parties, professional institutes, trades unions, and voluntary associations. Membership rates are falling and more and more people just do not want to belong to organisations any more.
The latest OECD report shows that on average New Zealanders spend 13 minutes a day in volunteering activities - twice the average in other developed countries but that doesn’t seem to translate into joining an organisation. The Salvation Army and Rotary are just two organisations suffering from falling numbers. It seems that although online membership of sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are booming, formally belonging just doesn’t appeal like it used to.
It’s a common problem, in the last six weeks more than half a dozen times I’ve been asked to speak to organisations about how they can solve it and boost their membership numbers. Each time I’ve had to stand up and tell them it is a branding and perception issue, which has built up over time. Ultimately, it all boils down to `what’s in it for me?’
Unlike business and industry, New Zealand organisations have failed to understand the need to develop a brand identity to communicate the benefits of belonging.
Whereas many marketing directors get how important it is to cultivate a brand that people want to be associated with, many union officials, national presidents, directors and board members just haven’t grasped that they need to be able to offer their members something distinctive; something that sets them apart from non-members.
That something has to be more than a plastic card or a title. We all understand an MBE or a PhD after someone’s name on a business card but what does an APR or an MPRiNZ mean? Such strings of initials on your business card at best foster confusion and at worst the sort of outright mistrust associated with degrees from mid-west US colleges.
Not one of my clients has ever asked me about the APR or MPRiNZ or MJA, which are associated with organisations that I have been involved with. There are literally hundreds of such post nominal letters available in New Zealand but there are now many more talented professionals who decline to use such distinguishers than do, because there is no real benefit in doing so. You don’t get paid any more and it won’t get you a table in a good restaurant.
Back in 2009 a US researcher at New York University predicted that in the USA alone 100,000 non-profit membership organisations would soon fall by the wayside because they failed to respond to the needs of their members.
Coverage at the time cited a number of reasons why these associations were failing; these were losing their mission focus, straying into the wrong business, taking their members for granted, over-pricing their services, giving potential members a free ride, ignoring the competition, resisting change, merging for the sake of it and accepting their irrelevance. But the most important failing is not communicating the benefits of membership.
Yet while trade unions and political parties may continue to struggle to find new recruits there may be hope for some professional organisations among the next generation of executives. According to Professional Associations and Members’ Benefits: What’s in It for Me?”, published this month in the journal Non-profit Management and Leadership, a recent study found that younger professionals are less concerned with the value of benefits in determining their membership satisfaction than older professionals.
The researchers believe that younger people may put aside the need for a tangible return on their investment in membership if they believe that the symbolic benefits that professional associations offer will help advance their careers and define who they are to both themselves and their employers. Older, more established members are more likely to insist on tangible benefits to justify the membership dues.
It has been pointed out this suggests that when trying to recruit new members organisations should differentiate between the triggers of younger professionals who may want a recognition of their professional identity, and older members who really only want to know what is in it for them in terms of tangible benefits.

Even so, the study does support my case that there is an incontrovertible l link between ‘what’s in it for me’ and the decision to join. At the end of the day it’s all about the mighty dollar.


Two of the country’s fastest growing business networks are joining forces to provide more help for New Zealand small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in response to growing demand for business mentor support.

2degrees, the leading supplier of mobile communications solutions to SMEs has become a Partner Patron of Business Mentors New Zealand, the only national network of volunteer, independent business mentors, supported by private enterprise, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and local economic development agencies and chambers of commerce.

Ray Schofield, CEO of Business Mentors New Zealand believes that 2degrees’ support will enhance the business mentoring service.

‘We’re delighted that 2degrees has come on board,’ explains Ray. ‘Our mentors and mentoring clients tell us that mobile communications is the future of their business growth. 2degrees understands their challenges and with our combined experience, we will be able us to improve our offering. It is set to be an important and very exciting partnership.’

2degrees Senior Campaign Manager Rhona Hamilton says  Business Mentors is an ideal fit for the company: ‘2degrees launched in 2009 and we have enjoyed phenomenal growth since then. However, like all businesses, we have experienced our fair share of challenges and growing pains along the way and are looking forward to sharing those learnings and success stories through our relationship with the Business Mentoring team and their clients.’

Mrs Hamilton says 2degrees can not only offer New Zealand businesses sage advice, but also fairer, better deals on their mobile plans.

‘2degrees has been operating in the NZ business sector just under two years now and our mission is to make life easier for kiwi businesses. We offer great value, flexible plans that will enable NZ businesses to stay connected in today’s mobile workplace,’ says Mrs Hamilton.

‘As a start, we are planning to announce some special deals for NZ Business Mentor clients shortly. By supporting the services of over 1900 business mentors and their thousands of clients we believe we can make a real difference to the range of support available to local businesses wherever they are in the country,’ she adds.

Ray Schofield says 2degrees’ commitment will make a real difference to the service Business Mentors New Zealand can offer: ‘Business Mentors New Zealand is a non-profit organisation, which is largely funded by patrons from the private sector. Without the support of our sponsors, such as 2degrees, we would not be able to keep providing our free mentoring service to companies across New Zealand.’

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About Business Mentors New Zealand
Business Mentors New Zealand was established in 1991. It is funded largely by patrons from the private sector, with additional support from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. It provides a mentoring service to trading businesses that employ less than 25 FTE’s and is the owner's main source of income. A registration fee of $150 + GST applies, which entitles businesses to use the mentoring service for two years. This is the only cost - the mentoring received is free.

About 2degrees
Launched in August 2009, 2degrees Mobile has significantly lowered the cost of making mobile phone calls and texts for Kiwis. 2degrees now has over 40 retail outlets, 97% network coverage across the country and the team has grown to over 770, with a mix of over 40 different nationalities.

The company has committed over $550 million to building New Zealand’s third mobile phone network. Company shareholders include US-based mobile communications specialists, Trilogy International Partners, the Hautaki Trust, Communication Venture Partners and KLR Hong Kong Ltd. The combined shareholders bring a wealth of international experience and knowledge which is of huge benefit to New Zealand mobile users. More information at: