In a crazy economy. crazy measures on recovery come to the fore it seems. New York Times writer Jack Healy wrote a terrific piece Men’s Underwear as an Economic Indicator in which he explores the range of ersatz economic indicators we use to assess the status of the American economy. Healy recalls that “in the 1970s, when Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve was still running his own economic consulting firm, he said that he looked at sales of men’s underwear as an economic indicator. Sales rose steadily in normal times, the theory went, but tended to dip when men had less money, or were trying to cut back on their spending. Nowadays its everything from uncut grass to mosquito populations that inform the notion of economic recovery.
So where do Associations stand amidst the myriad economic indicators? Are our traditional indicators still a valid measure of where we stand and what’s to come? For trade associations whose dues structure are based on the revenues of their member firms a rude awakening likely awaits as the sales declines of 2009 come home to roost in the dues assessments of 2010. Likewise participation levels in conference programs, events and seminars which have slowed for many membership groups may not be a reliable indicator as new forms of program participation—think webinars, audio conferences and distance learning tools—take hold. Even the veritable National PTA is fending off membership defections as parents view social media as the better way to organize and inform parent decisions.
Gazing into the future in today’s environment is daunting at best but Associations looking for leading indicators will find them in membership satisfaction, membership conversion–that is how many prospects buy your value proposition–and join, the association’s rate of innovation, diversity, and measures of ethical behavior by members all stand as strong indicators in today’s environment of future sustainability. Our more traditional tools of member retention, financial statements and event evaluations each a lagging indicator do little to help us anticipate the future.
So what are your measures? What are the new metrics essential to measuring your succeed? How will we know when the economy is in an upturn for your profession or industry? Finding new meterics is an exercise in both innovation and creativity with a significant pay-off for your Association. Don’t take the process lightly, but if you haven’t already begun to look now might be the right time. Sure it’s hard to know what works, but just in case you’re wondering, underwear sales will fall 2.3% this year. Where are your sales headed?