The Secondary Association: Serving a Niche Within a Niche

By: Joe Rominiecki

For associations like the International Association of Forensic Nurses, serving a hyper-specialty is both a challenge and a core selling point. [Titled "A Small Piece" in the print edition.]

For any association, membership appeals to a small segment of the population. This is by design; every association serves a niche. Some associations, though, serve a niche within a niche, a segment of a segment of the population. For these "secondary" associations, recruitment and retention—or even just awareness—can be a challenge.

The International Association of Forensic Nurses is one such association. It serves a portion of the nursing community that acts as a bridge between healthcare and law enforcement. Marisa Raso, membership and communications director at IAFN, says the group's hyper-specialty is its core selling point: "IAFN is the hub for all things related to forensic nursing, which is a very specific specialty."

A Drop in the Bucket

With about 3,000 members, IAFN occupies a sliver of the American Nurses Association's estimated 3.1 million registered nurses in the United States. Another secondary group, the Emergency Nurses Association, has about 40,000 members.

3.1 million: American Nurses Association's estimated number of registered nurses

40,000: Emergency Nurses Association members

3,000: International Association of Forensic Nurses members

With about 3,000 members, IAFN occupies a sliver of the American Nurses Association's estimated 3.1 million registered nurses in the United States. Another secondary group, the Emergency Nurses Association, has about 40,000 members.

Raso says IAFN and its counterparts complement each other. "We don't compete with them by any means," she says. "IAFN needs ANA to advocate for nurses on that larger scale, to promote education standards, lobby Congress, and support the practice in general."

Still, winning dues dollars can be difficult. Forensic nursing is often a secondary job, and Raso says the economic downturn left IAFN membership on the chopping block for many nurses who also belong to other associations. IAFN also sees members cycle in and out every three years when they renew their forensic nursing certification. They get a one-year membership when they recertify, but retaining them in the interim is challenging, Raso says.

Her strategy has been to communicate the value of forensic nursing at the collegiate level and to hospital administrators. A bundled membership program for multiple nurses within the same organization has "taken off" since its launch in 2011, Raso says.

Of about 6,000 emergency rooms nationwide, only about 600 have forensic nurses. Raso says the other major strategy for a secondary association such as IAFN is to simply try to expand the niche, by building awareness and "educating the community leaders, the administrations at those emergency departments, to recognize the need for forensic nurses."

Joe Rominiecki is a senior editor at Associations Now in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is senior editor at Associations Now.