Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Where Did Everyone Go?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Dennis Martino
February 16, 2024

Have you noticed fewer people joining organizations or genuinely participating in the community? One could attribute this phenomenon to COVID. Indeed, we have blamed most things on the pandemic. Or we read the excellent book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam.

We may be getting it wrong. It is a combination of things. Here is my take on what is happening. Boomers got lazy. Gen X and Gen Z congregate differently. Many people get their news through the unbelievable world of social media. Many Americans outright state they get their news from Facebook. They live on it. It is an active community, but it is a detached community. 

We, as a nation, do not network in a face-to-face fashion. Many people think Zoom is face-to-face. But people mute themselves and do not use their cameras. The upshot of that is we cannot see their affect and mood. When we met in rooms, face-to-face, we could network and build relationships across the country.

Does this sound familiar? I belong to an organization that had over 3000 members as recently as five years ago. That group now has slightly over 100 members today. It thrived when people met in person at events in schools or hotels. We got to know each other, trust each other, inquire and problem-solve with each other.

There are many pieces to this puzzle. Employers are less apt to send people to events due to travel costs. 

  • Costs can be prohibitive for members of organizations to pay their way to events.
  • Events are expensive to put on. Guest speakers alone can be costly. 
  • Some events are too long. This adds to costs.
  • If employers or schools do not subsidize participants, numbers drop, so costs increase. 

What worked in the past was forming connections and friendships. These things fueled the success of ICMA, ASPA, the National Organization for Human Services and Certified Public Accountants, etc.

We may need to reinvent our treasured organizations. We could hold Constitutional Conventions where we take the time to talk about what our purposes are. What do we wish to get from membership? How do we build leadership that does not rely on the kindness of people who stay on board out of loyalty? How frequently should we meet? 

Most of all, we must be open to recognizing that things have changed. We can make sure those changes promote success or we can let them drain our numbers. We have the power to turn things around.

ASPA is not immune to this phenomenon. Remember that our Annual meeting in Minneapolis is coming up this April. Let’s talk there.

Author: Dennis Martino is the former director of the New Hampshire Bureau of Education and Training. He has taught organizational leadership and public administration courses at the graduate level at several colleges. Prior to his academic work, he worked in labor relations as a union advocate and contract negotiator. Martino is an NOHS educator and fellow of the National CPM Consortium. He can be reached at [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *