New York Yankees pitcher, Mariano Rivera, retired at the end of this baseball season. After all the years Rivera he’s spent in the league—he’s retiring at age 43—it’s easy to forget where he came from. But I won’t make you look it up. Rivera is a product of the New York Yankees farm system. (If you’re not a baseball fan, the farm system is a network of minor league teams that supports the major league teams—it’s where talent is developed).
What does baseball have to do with association membership? Great baseball teams have great farm systems. And they take talent development seriously.
Great associations need to follow baseball’s example. Talent development doesn’t happen by accident—your organization needs a member management strategy, to develop talent systematically.
Here are three questions to consider as you do:
1. Is there a meaningful way for young talent to participate in your organization?
Many organizations ask members to ‘pay their dues’ before they can participate in meaningful ways. Members ascend from volunteer roles, to committee chair roles, to Board member roles, and through a rotation of officer positions. In some groups, this means the path from first volunteering to leadership can be measured in decades.
For the WWII generation, which was hardwired for loyalty and organizational longevity, this made good sense. But for Millennials, who are hardwired for 140-character tweets and frequent job changes, can you be confident that a path this long will attract the best talent?
2. Do you regularly scan your association membership for stars?
Your future association chair may be sitting as a volunteer on a subcommittee. Or she might be the person standing up to ask a hard question at a meeting. Or, sometimes, he has nominated himself for the Board. Regardless of the source, the reality is the same: unless you create a focused effort to identify talent, you’re going to miss out.
Here’s a practical way to do so—a pyramid scheme. Ask your officers to identify the top two or three Board members. Ask the Board members to identify the top two or three committee chairs. Ask the committee chairs to identify the top two or three volunteers. Before you know it, you have a talent bank on your hands.
3. Is talent development a part of your association’s member management strategy?
Once you’ve identified your stars, be sure you’ve created ways to develop their talent. Per the first question, this doesn’t have to be a decades-long apprenticeship. Something as simple as assigning a mentor can go a long way toward turning young members into longstanding members—ones with tremendous leadership potential.
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