Earlier this week, I completed and mailed in the U.S. Census form on behalf of my family. Despite the issues some may have with the form, it was brief and just took my under ten minutes to complete. While filling out the form may be easy, the importance of during it in cannot be made clear enough. Federal resources will be allocated as a result of the form, lines will be drawn for Congress and other information will be extracted that can help guide our country for the next decade, if not longer.

Last month, the Michigan Association of Society Executives (the assosication for association executives), published an article I wrote in their Monthly Publication.  Here is a copy of the article.

Stand up and get counted

Every 10 years the United States Government sets out to track the nation’s population. The 2010 Census questionnaires will arrive in mailboxes across the country by mid-March, followed by U.S. Census takers going door-to-door to make sure the questionnaires are answered and not ignored.

According to the U.S. Census, “Census information affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives. And people from many walks of life use census data to advocate for causes, rescue disaster victims, prevent diseases, research markets, locate pools of skilled workers and more.”  Gaining an accurate count also helps the federal government determine where to allocate funding each year on projects such as infrastructure and services for: hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers and the like.

In December 2009, the U.S. Census released preliminary numbers related to the U.S. population and it does not look good for Michigan. The only three states to lose population from July 2008 to July 2009 were Michigan, Maine and Rhode Island. Wyoming showed the largest percentage of growth, followed by Utah, Texas and Colorado.  This means that Michigan will loose a Congressional seat and our clout in Washington. We also will lose federal funding to states such as those that gained population.

Despite our loss, associations should seize this opportunity to take stock of the past 10 years and start planning for next decade.  Associations should take this time and count its members, send out their own “association census” and start going door-to-door and engage members in a discussion about your association.  For example,

  • Why did you join our association?
  • What benefits do you take advantage of the most? the least?
  • Are you involved in a committee? If so, which one and why?
  • Do you attend our events? If so, why?
  • What services are we not providing you that you would like us to look into?
  • What do we do well?
  • What can we do better?
  • Are we communicating enough with you?
  • If not, how would you like to be communicated with?
  • How is our CEO doing?

Well, you get the idea!

The MSAE also can and should get involved. From an association perspective, it can help you help your members count and be counted. It can form a partnership with local Census efforts to help get the word out on why the Census is important and what it means for associations. In addition, the MSAE can help the legislature with its redistricting efforts and help take the politics out of the process by beginning the discussion now on what Michigan should look like and how we should work collaboratively to see our state succeed.

While we have lots to think about as the questioners come to our mailboxes, we also have lots to do -- As association executives, associations and individuals yet to be counted. With Michigan’s anticipated population loss to continue, we will have to work harder to create an environment to attract people back to Michigan, including changing the way people think about our state and the opportunities within it.

As leaders within your own associations and industries, it is your opportunity to take leadership and ownership over Michigan’s future.  With the anticipated population loss, you will need to work harder developing relationships with Members of Congress and their staff, with the different federal agencies and with others whose support we will need to grow. Within the state, we will need your leadership and guidance to help build consensus through controversy and agreement within division. With a new governor and new legislature, it will take leadership to build bridges between disparate interests, organizations and individuals. Finally, within your own association, you will have to work harder to deliver value to your members and continue to be thought leaders and a resource to the community.

The MSAE and your individual association can be that bridge and the voice of reason and calm as politics continues to trump public policy. Now is the time for the MSAE and your association to step to the forefront of tackling emerging concerns with vigor, set the framework for progressive action and create the tone for how we govern ourselves and how we conduct our business in the State of Michigan for the next ten years. So stand up and be counted, our future depends on it.

Daniel Cherrin is the former Communications Director/Press Secretary for the City of Detroit and to Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr. He is now President of North Coast Strategies, which provides cutting edge practical advice where government action or inaction, litigation vulnerability or complex regulatory requirements will impact your reputation and bottom-line.  He also in an attorney, lobbyist, public relations professional and a certified-mediator.