"Matterness" – Your Questions Answered

Lori Halley 30 March 2015 0 comments

During our recent Expert Webinar, Making Members Feel They Matterthere were a number of important questions about "Matterness" left unanswered at the end of the session. But presenter, Allison Fine, graciously agreed to provide answers to these questions.  

This Q&A offers a lot of additional insight into how you can adopt Matterness at your association, club or non-profit – from explaining "why we're not here to serve members", to defining "The Churn", to demonstrating the power a personal invitation has in "turning a watcher into a doer", and more.

Question: If we’re “not here to serve members" What are we here for?

Answer (from Allison Fine): Ahh, that’s a very important question. Associations as a service industry, similar to the hospitality and retail industries, were successful last century. Members paid dues, got a membership number, received regular communications about what the association has been doing, how many people showed up at the annual meeting and who has retired. This worked, just like broadcast television, particularly well when there was no competition. But now, like-minded people can come together very easily using an online platform like Meetup. Dues-paying membership organizations from unions to religious congregations to professional associations are all shrinking in membership.

There needs to be a more urgent reason for people to participate and a renewed mission for associations to exist. The answer is transitioning to a networked model. Instead of serving each member, and organizing them in databases, the association becomes the hub, or center, or a network of like-minded people. The hub is responsible for connecting people to one another, curating and sharing information, enabling people to be heard, and engaging the network in group problem solving. 

Q: Define "the Churn" and tell us more about it. 

A: The Churn is the whirlpool that staff are sucked into. It consists of all of the processes and all of the work that organizations insist on doing by themselves, internally and alone. The Churn is aggravated by the intense risk aversion and fear of the world held as a given by organizational leaders. And The Churn is a choice not a necessity of work. Does every new idea have to be met with hours of fear-based conversations about what could go wrong? Do senior staff have to watch their colleagues work and double and triple check their work? Does every email have to be responded to the minute it is received? Volkswagen has shut down their servers at one of their European centers from 6 pm to 6 am, and that center is more profitable than ever. 

Q: How do you reach beyond a core group of the people who always say yes? The doers, who are doers everywhere. 

A: Great question! This is where making people matter is the most important because there are so many people in your network who are willing to do something, but need to be asked. That can be frustrating that they are sitting back that way, but that is human nature.

But in order to ask people to participate in something or take a leadership role in organizing an event, you have to know who they are – and now we’re back to Matterness! And, also the need for a really good internal database where you can keep notes about individuals; who they are, why they joined, what they are interested in participating in. And then you have to call them individually and ask them to help.There is nothing more powerful to turn a watcher into a doer than a personal invitation. Yes, it does take a bit more work than sending out a generic email asking for people to participate, but the return is many times that of having the same old people do the same old things.

Think of yourself as the host of a cocktail party. Your job is to know who is in the room, connect people to other people with common interests, help start conversations, and give people interesting things to do.

Q: So, next step, how do you start to create that different mind set for the staff and the organizations?

A: Your organization’s leadership needs to begin with a careful look at the default settings of the organization. Are we organized to protect ourselves from the world or to engage with it? For instance, Are we using social media as billboards or are we in conversation with our people? Are we so afraid to make a mistake that it is very difficult to start something new? Are we using language that makes sense to outsiders? How do we feel when something goes wrong in public? Are we doing everything ourselves and just asking members to obey orders (which never feels good?) The only way to answer many of these questions is to be in conversation with your members and ask them what I call Matterness questions. What does it feel to be a member here? Do you feel like a person or a number? When do we feel distant and when do we feel intimate?

You can do some of this work by survey, but please don’t do all of it that way. You need to be in conversation with your people about whether and how you are making them matter, and you will not be able to hear all of that through a survey. Plus, it’s just more fun to talk to someone than fill out a survey.

Q: Do you have any fun ways of thanking volunteers?

A: Yes! A musical group called Death Cab for Cutie (I didn’t say I listened to them, just that I know this story!) had a new album coming out. They wrote the lyrics on a large cloth sheet, cut it up, and mailed the pieces to some of their most ardent fans. Then asked them to take a photo of their piece and upload it to their site so their fans could put together the lyrics for the new song.

An association could do something similar by writing a fun thank you note on a big sheet and mailing it out to the organizers of an event. You could ask people in five cities to hand deliver a thank you gift to people who have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort on association work and video tape their responses. 

Want more on Matterness?

We'd like to thank Allison Fine for introducing our 400+ webinar participants to the concept of Matterness. If this Q&A leaves you wanting more information, you can:


Image source:  Question – courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 30 March 2015 at 8:30 AM

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