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From Leader to Member: A Lesson in Getting the Most Value from STC
2004, Q3 (September 18, 2008)
By Christopher J. Benz, STC Associate Fellow

With the current STC Transformation effort, there's a lot talk about the value of STC membership, and for good reason: For the past few years, fewer members are joining and staying in STC.

A big reason for lower membership numbers is that many employers are no longer paying membership dues, either as a matter of policy or because members no longer have employers. Many members have had to decide: "Do I pony up my own money for STC membership this year? Does my membership deliver enough value to offset the cost?" For the past several years, my answer to both questions has been an emphatic "Yes!" For my last membership renewal, though, my answer was more of a "Well, OK."

So what changed? Did STC cut back on membership benefits? Did I have less of a need for ongoing professional development and advice from my peers? No, what changed was my STC involvement.

I realized that STC is not a very good spectator sport, but an excellent participatory sport.
As a member of the STC Carolina board for four years (1997-2000) and then a member of the Society board for another three (2000-2003), I was highly involved in STC, and what I got out of my membership and involvement more than covered both my membership dues and my time. After seven straight years in STC leadership, however, I decided to take what I felt was a well-deserved break from STC business. I decided to be just another STC member, watching from the side lines, but not playing in the "game."

What was the result? After just one year, I knew much less about what was going on in STC, I learned very little about new tools and technologies, and I lost of lot of my sense of belonging in the greater STC community. Sure, I read STC publications such as this newsletter and Intercom, but simply reading paled in comparison to active involvement. I realized that STC is not a very good spectator sport, but an excellent participatory sport.

This realization echoed a presentation I heard during Leadership Day at the STC 50th Annual Conference in Dallas. Mary V. Merrill, an expert on volunteer management, talked about how buying a membership in a professional organization is much different from buying, say, a new television set. With the television set, you probably expect to take it home, plug it in, and not think about buying another set for several years. With the membership, though, buying is only the very beginning. To get the most out of your membership, you shouldn't expect to sit back and enjoy the benefits. Rather, to get maximum membership value, you need to get involved. The more you're involved, the greater the benefits.

By the way, I'm getting more involved again, and the benefits are getting better.

What's the lesson in this story? Well, I'll leave it to the current STC leadership to convince, cajole, wheedle, nag, or pester you about volunteering and getting involved. What I will tell you, though, is that if all you do is pay your membership dues and attend an occasional meeting--even if you've been heavily involved in STC in the past-you're missing out on a huge opportunity to make your membership worth much, much more than you pay.

Christopher J. Benz, past president of STC Carolina and immediate past Director-Sponsor for Region 2, can be reached at cjbenz at unforgettable dot com. End of article.

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