About 32 years ago, I became a lobbyist and a member of the REALTOR® family at the same time. From day one, I was struck by how our members were fierce competitors in the marketplace yet worked so closely together on issues that affected the industry.
At first, the leaders I worked with were visionaries but from smaller markets. The next crop of leaders, while no less visionary, were big brokers and owners from large metropolitan markets, including my hometown of Madison, Wis. I grew up watching these brokers compete. As a young staffer, I marveled at the cooperation and compensation rules embedded in the multiple listing service that brought structure and uniformity to that marketplace. I witnessed a well-developed culture of giving to the REALTORS® Political Action Committee by politically divergent people who strived to promote and protect an industry rather than a political philosophy or party. To this day, I still admire the folks we work for, as they see with clarity the value of cooperation with one another through their association.
As association executives, we would do well to exhibit fidelity to our members’ sense of community and cooperation. The challenges we face today are many, and they come from external and internal forces. External challenges include technology and data dealers altering consumer attitudes and behaviors; regulators and lawmakers advancing major tax, financial, and regulatory reforms; and changing economic realities that impact generational attitudes toward homeownership.
But perhaps more vexing are the internal challenges we face within the REALTOR® organization. Challenging relationships between some state and local associations, as well as among neighboring local associations, has created organizational stress that often puts AEs between a rock and a hard place. Board of choice, Core Standards, changing MLS operations, RPAC pressures, and a wide range of governance models are pressures often of our own making, but they have nonetheless strained organizational relationships within our REALTOR® family. To be sure, these and other changes have been adopted in pursuit of improving our organizations, but the competitive pressures they foster are real and, in some cases, acute.
As we navigate these internal challenges, we should remember what our members have always demonstrated: We’re stronger together. Like my early years, when I watched market competitors work together as industry partners, we, too, must overcome organizational issues, structures, personalities, procedures, and operations that protect our turf over serving our members. We must remember that wildly disparate cultures, organizations, and structures are good things that make us stronger—so long as we keep what’s best for the members in our crosshairs. We, as association professionals, must ensure that association objectives never obfuscate the objectives of the members we serve and share.
I know this is easier said than done, but few things essential are simple.
This edition of the magazine focuses on how to create a better sense of community among our members and how to advance the proposition that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. As we face a difficult future and challenges from inside and outside our organizations, let’s remember the lesson “they” taught us and seek to work less as competitors and more as collaborators.