Why Every Association Needs Zealots

Jones_why zealots are essential June 13, 2022 By: Joe S. Jones

Involved and engaged volunteer leaders and members are often zealous about their reasons for being involved with associations. Harnessing the power of their dedication and commitment can be an essential way to help your association succeed.

As an association executive, you work for zealots. These are the people who populate your boards, committees, and social media platforms. And it’s a good thing zealots do exist, because if it weren’t for them, associations might not exist.

Granted, “zealot” is a strong word, but it probably got your attention. And if you think about it, you may realize your volunteer leadership and most active members could fall into the category of zealot.

On closer examination, the root of the word zealot—zeal—might accurately describe your volunteer leadership. After all, a person who has zeal is said to be one with great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit or a cause or an objective.

You know your zealous volunteers and members. They are the ones who communicate everything from a spelling error in the newsletter, to truly grand ideas for the annual meeting, a political activity, or social gathering. These members are critical to the organization and to you.

A person who has zeal is said to be one with great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit or a cause or an objective.

Individual membership organizations, such as professional societies, may have a large percentage of potential members who never join. For instance, one group with 7,000 registered professionals might have less than 5 percent who are members, while another organization representing licensed members has about 60 percent membership. In contrast, another association could be bolstered by a state law that requires all people practicing in the profession to be members. Therefore, 100 percent of its target audience are members.

The snapshot above illustrates both the importance of having interested, dedicated, motivated members to fill various roles, as well as having a mission, vision, and activities that attract members who are not compelled to join.  Let’s look at zealous members and what drives them, how they make your job both easier and harder, and what we must do to meet their needs and keep them involved

Different Member Types

When your association receives a membership application, you don’t know what you have. It could be a “checkbook member,” one who supports the association’s concepts but has no time for involvement beyond paying annual dues, or it could be a future leader who believes strongly in the association and wants to be involved.

Of course, there are members in between these two poles. They may attend conferences, participate in continuing-education offerings, and even contribute to the group’s political action committee. All these members are needed for a viable organization too.

Before looking at your true leaders (zealous members), think about the overall membership. Obviously, all members are not zealots or leaders, but all members do have some affinity for the group and are willing to support it through membership. Of course, rank-and-file members usually do not participate in every association activity, but your zealots may come close.

What’s In It for Me?

A common membership question is: “What’s in it for me?”

Although the response for this question can vary, these reasons appear to be consistent for many volunteer leaders:

  • A strong affinity for the group and its perceived or real mission/vision.
  • A strong desire to become involved.
  • Someone who wants to be heard.
  • A person who wants peer recognition, to feel needed, or seen as an authority in the field.

Now, why is it beneficial for associations when zealots participate? Here are several reasons:

  • The group must have members as the face and soul of the organization.
  • The organization needs members to lead and carry the standards of the organization.
  • Other members need to see these member leaders to believe in the mission and vision of the organization.
  • The organization’s revenue requires these members to set the stage for association activities.
  • Zealots help generate revenue and interest in the programs that sustain the organization.

Whether you see your volunteer leaders as zealots or simply dedicated members, your association is dependent upon them, no matter what their motivations are for being leaders.

Joe S. Jones

Joe S. Jones, APR, IOM, is a principal at Jones, McAden, and Associates, an association management and public relations firm in Columbia, South Carolina.