Terrance Barkan, CAE, is the chief strategist at GLOBALSTRAT, an international strategy consultancy for associations. He is the past chairman of the ASAE International Section Council.
Many organizations describe themselves as “international” but in reality, there are degrees of how international an organization is. It helps boards and staff teams to think about where their organization is on a continuum, from purely local to completely global:
- International “A.” This is a primarily national organization that has members from outside its national borders not exceeding 5% of the membership. This type of organization is international in name only with no dedicated service or representation of non-national members. It is primarily concerned with national issues, regulations and standards and only concerned about international issues to the extent they affect the members nationally. There are gestures to serve non-national members, but this is more intent than effort.
- International “B.” This is a proactively international organization that has members from outside its national borders representing 6% to 15% of the total membership. This type of organization will normally have established at least one non-national chapter or representative body and most likely has no more than one non-national representative on its board, if any. Most often this association will have developed some dedicated service or representation for non-national members. The focus will include international issues but will be guided primarily by the majority of national member needs. This type of organization is often aware that it needs or wants to do more for international development but is not certain how to serve national and non-national members simultaneously.
- International “C.” This is a truly international organization that has members from outside its national borders representing 16% to 50% of the total membership. This type of organization will normally have established several non-national chapter or representative bodies that deliver unique services or networking opportunities at a local/regional/national level outside the “home” territory. There will be at least one non-national representative on its board, usually defined as an official representative of the non-national chapter or affiliate. There will be a dedicated service or representation of non-national members with an allocated budget and at least part time support staff. The focus in this type of association is primarily on international issues with an adaptation at the national/regional level. Multiple language versions of information may be implemented.
- Global. This type of organization cannot easily be defined as having a “home” base or market (other than a historical one). No one country or region constitutes more than 50% of the total membership. Typical structures are multichapter, regions or a federation. The board is constituted by representatives of many countries, elected based on regional as well as professional profiles. The focus will be almost exclusively on global/international issues. Chapters or affiliates will disseminate global decisions downwards and raise local/national issues to the board level. Each region/chapter/affiliate will maintain at least a majority of its infrastructure needs locally. The board and a global coordination center will oversee the global organizational management. Multiple language versions of information will most likely be implemented.
Should my association be more international?
Being an international association is attractive, and important, for many reasons.
- Your organization is able to represent the global profession, not just the U.S. portion of it.
- Your organization benefits from many points of view, including trends and innovations no matter where they start.
- It is a competitive advantage to be seen and respected as “The” leading association world-wide in your profession or sector, attracting the best and the brightest to your organization.
- The association has a much larger potential membership base and is better protected against economic downturn in one country or region.
- It is simply more interesting and stimulating to work with colleagues from different parts of the world, thereby expanding our own worlds.
Most organizations start out being international on an “ad hoc”, informal basis. However, once international membership reaches 5% or more of your total, it is time to develop a dedicated international growth strategy.
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