My communication career flashed before my eyes last night. No, it wasn’t a dream or a momentary panic attack that caused the flashback. It was a reception sponsored by IABC/Richmond.
I’m a member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Nothing against PRSA — the Richmond chapter is a fine group that offers great programs — but IABC holds a special place in this communicator’s heart. In some ways, however, my heart is breaking. I’ll explain why in a moment.
Last night’s reception was like a class reunion. Some of us who grew up in IABC/Richmond had a wonderful time recalling our first meeting and many memorable events since then — certain speakers, chapter leaders, interesting meeting venues, international and regional conferences, long-time friendships.
I thought about the milestones of my career so far and how IABC is a common theme among them:
- I remember the first person I met at an IABC meeting — Dawn Stuart, ABC. She remains a friend today, though she now lives in a different state.
- I met my mentor and best friend — Les Potter, ABC — when he came to speak to our chapter as vice-chairman of the association in 1991. That first encounter with Les changed the course of my career in numerous ways.
- I became an Accredited Business Communicator in 1992. It served as a significant barometer of my career up to that point and led me to learn skills and gain experience where I needed to.
- I served three years on the IABC Executive Board, which enabled me to meet top communicators from all over the world, to visit interesting cities I otherwise might not have visited, and to learn how to lead.
- I have served two terms as president of my home chapter, which also gave me much-needed experience in leadership and management.
- I have made more friends than I can count — communicators from all over the world, many of whom are the “rock stars” of our profession.
My membership and participation in IABC has opened countless doors for me and prepared me for the work I’m doing now. I owe a lot to the association.
That’s why it breaks my heart that my home chapter and many others like it are struggling to retain members, much less grow, and to attract more than a handful of people to monthly meetings. Even more heartbreaking is that the leadership of IABC — both volunteer and staff — don’t seem interested in doing anything to help.
IABC has focused its attention on global growth and services provided at the international level, especially over the last 10 years. This is a fine and appropriate thing for a global organization to do — but not at the expense of local chapters. Chapters are where IABC members live. If we lose the chapters, we lose the lifeblood of the association.
IABC/Richmond once was considered a leader among mid-sized chapters. It was vibrant and active. As we recalled last night, coming to an IABC/Richmond meeting was an energizing experience. Now the chapter is struggling, but it is not because of mismanagement or lack of effort by local volunteers. Understanding the problem — and, more important, what to do about it — requires more resources and experience than IABC/Richmond leaders can muster. And the Richmond chapter is not alone. This scenario is playing out in many other chapters, especially in North America.
It’s interesting that just this week I received a mass e-mail from IABC — over the signatures of IABC Chairman Mark Schumann, ABC, and President Julie Freeman, ABC, APR — that tells of a soul-searching exercise the association is undertaking right now. “We recognize that IABC needs to stay relevant and in touch with its members, others in the profession, and the business community,” they write, and the IABC Executive Board is working on ways to do so, including the administration of a member survey.
I hope IABC members send a strong message that the association should do more to support the health of local chapters. The experience and expertise of IABC volunteer leaders and staff should be focused on helping chapters figure out ways to boost local membership and participation. We need help. I’ve served on my chapter’s board numerous times and have tried to help crack this nut, but it’s time to call in the reinforcements.
It would be a shame to watch IABC die from the ground up, but that is what will happen if chapters don’t receive the support they need and deserve.