Mark Athitakis is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
How you refer to your members outside the United States can have a big impact on your global strategy—and one size often doesn’t fit all.
The terms an association uses to describe its members can say a lot about what it thinks of them. If you describe your members as either “American” or “international,” you run the risk of marginalizing members around the world who have more diverse interests and needs than that one-size-fits-all moniker suggests.
About eight years ago, the Institute of Management Accountants began taking that kind of member nomenclature seriously. More and more members from outside the United States were joining IMA, and “we could clearly see a time where we couldn’t call ourselves a U.S. organization as such, because our membership was going to become more outside of the U.S. than inside,” says Jim Gurowka, CAE, IMA’s senior vice president of global business development.
Time has borne that out: Today, only 30 percent of IMA’s members reside in the U.S. That transition has affected how IMA categorizes its members and how it describes them in its communications. Its first move was to break down membership into what are now five regional categories: the Americas, China, Europe, Middle East/Africa, and Southeast Asia.
IMA also decided to refer to all of its board members as “global board members” to better emphasize the association’s international focus and remove the sense that non-U.S. board members were second-class representatives.
“We very consciously made sure that everybody was referred to as a global board member, so you weren’t representing a chapter or a city or a state or a country. You were representing the organization,” Gurowka says.
Those changes aren’t merely cosmetic, he says; they’ve informed how the association structures its operations. In recent years, for instance, IMA has integrated its marketing staff rather than having separate teams working in places like China, Europe, Dubai, and so on, which helps with consistent messaging. This year, the association had the highest number of nominations for board members from outside the U.S. that it has ever received. And members see IMA’s global focus as an asset.
“What we’ve heard, especially from members outside of the U.S., is that they really value that our association is international and globally recognized,” Gurowka says.
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "What’s in a Name?"]