What does “International” mean for an organization?

Last year at this time, the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA) was finalizing a lengthy re-branding process for the association. Attention was given to a new logo, focused mission and vision, key messaging, and more before turning to the association’s name. Turning the acronym into a word meant it was being called “VERMA” (sounds awfully close to vermin, don’t you think?).

A name that more accurately reflected the updated image of this global industry was wanted. To shorten a long story, the new name proposed was voted down by the membership. The reason, at least anecdotally, is the word “international” was in the proposed name.

The objection was not to welcoming members from other countries. They already do. But by simply adding the word “international,” the expectations of an organization change. A new international membership category would be needed and bylaws would have to be changed. An international seat on the Board would have to be added and that could throw off the number of seats or term rotation. Offices and staff would be needed in multiple countries so would further add expense. And, if international chapters were slow to form and support themselves, the North American members would have to be willing to subsidize them indefinitely. Holy cow! Everything changes when an association becomes international. Right?

Maybe not. According to global growth expert Terence Barkan, CAE, with GlobalStrat, international development and membership can mean different things to different associations. What works in one industry and one country may not be the best option for a different association or geographic area. (Learn more about GlobalStrat resources and courses). He ought to know as his experience spans decades and includes dozens of organizations representing a wide variety of industries. Understanding your association’s competencies and value will lead to a definition of “international.”

With that fundamental understanding, maybe VRMA already IS international in the ways that are best for this organization. “International” is not a part of the association name, but VRMA members represent 15 countries. Membership is open to a company that qualifies based on its business practices without regard to its postal code. Any VRMA member in good standing may apply to serve on the Board of Directors. And VRMA is gearing up to host its fourth international conference in Europe in 2015 with continued growth in attendance and revenue each year. Surely all of that counts.

What does “international” mean for your association?