Velvet Rope or Come Party with Me?

group of people at a Holi celebration throwing gulal

Scene one: I’m in New Orleans on vacation wandering down Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny looking for a good place to hang out and hear some tunes on a Wednesday night. First stop: the Spotted Cat.  It was so packed I couldn’t get in the door (literally), so I hung out on the sidewalk with a WIDE mix of characters (and nobody does “characters” like NOLA) for a while enjoying the music wafting out…for free. At the band break, I decided to move on, and down the street, I heard the sweet strains of Shamarr Allen’s trumpet pouring out of Cafe Negril. There was a short line, as the guy at the door struggled to keep up making change for the $5 cover when everyone kept handing him $20s. When I got inside, the crowd ranged from middle aged and older white people to hipsters from the neighborhood to a “professional hugger” from Austin (Keep Austin Weird!) – all ages, all races, all styles of dress, everyone just hanging out and grooving to the Underdawgs. Vibe? Awesomesauce, even before the generous pour, reasonably priced cocktails.

Scene two: One of my spouse’s co-workers moonlights as a DJ in DC. He was spinning at a chi-chi lounge on a recent Saturday night, and we thought we’d swing by and see him. So we roll up only to spot a velvet rope, two scowling bouncers, and a LONG line. Vibe?  B-A-D BAD.  And totally unwelcoming.  And definitely *not* groovy.

So what’s the connection to associations?

  • What does your organization look like to an outsider?  Not someone on staff, not someone who’ s been a member for a million years, not someone who’s served on your Board – someone who doesn’t know you at all but might be interested in what you provide?
  • Are you welcoming to everyone or only to the “right” people?
  • Do you make it easy for people to get access to what they want and need, even if they aren’t an “insider”?
  • Do you let people participate at the level they want to, even if that’s the equivalent of standing on the banquette outside the club just grooving to the great tunes for free?
  • What’s your barrier to entry?
  • What’s your association’s reputation in your industry, profession, or community?
  • Are you affordable to people of lesser means or lower professional stature who might benefit from what you offer?

In short: Are you groovy or snooty?

Photo by Adam Whitlock on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Velvet Rope or Come Party with Me?”

  • I can certainly empathize with your personal reactions to the two scenes — mine would probably have been about the same — but the impression from your last paragraph is that you think one route is intrinsically preferable over the other to an organization, and I don't agree. There is value to an exclusive strategy (that's why clubs have them) and there is value to an inclusive strategy. They are two different approaches with their own pros and cons (and in fact, it's possible to practice both — with an inclusive organization creating “snotty” interior groups with higher standards and subsequently higher fees). Also associations do not have an inherent responsibility to make themselves “affordable.” Maybe an association could have that as part of its mission, but it's a mistake to assume that all associations must have that mission. Good post!

  • @Kevin – I get your point, but I think a lot of associations define our audiences far too narrowly. And even within our well-defined audiences, there are too often “in” crowds (and everyone else). And then we wonder why we have problems with retention of new members.

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