Every day in my association’s online community, people reach out to fellow members to ask questions or request guidance. Today I saw someone ask for examples of associations that have had proven success with social media. At the bottom of her request for help, she added three words – “NO vendors, please.”

I get why people say that. Too many clueless vendors use discussion forums for their own spammy self-interest. Their boorish behavior provokes others to put fences around their discussions so vendors can’t contribute.

Some association executives want to hear advice only from those who have been in their shoes, either as a CEO or director of membership, education, or another department. But many vendors have been in these same positions – they know what they’re talking about.

Even if vendors don’t have association management experience, they can provide you with the examples or guidance you seek. I thought of a handful of social media consultants who could have given this person exactly the data she needed for her board. Vendors are happy to share their clients’ (and others’) success stories and answer your questions either publicly or privately.

I’ve learned a beautiful thing about many of the vendors in my association community – they’re willing to share their knowledge when someone asks and they won’t ask for anything in return. They won’t hound you with phone calls or add you to a mailing list without your permission. They simply want to help.

Why? They’re smart. They know providing knowledge to others gets their name out there in the community. That’s why they write articles, blog posts, and white papers, and speak at conferences, workshops, and webinars.

Many of them are also blessed with a good heart. They get a kick out of helping others. Why hoard knowledge when you can share it? They’re driven by relationships and are sincerely passionate about their professional community. It’s why you always see them smiling and laughing at conferences despite the grueling hours spent traveling, exhibiting, and speaking while getting up too early and staying up too late.

I know these vendor secrets because I work closely with several of them in the association community, and I’m friends with many others. I see what makes them tick, and it’s not just the prospect of new business. It’s the prospect of helping someone.

So the next time you’re tempted to write “NO vendors, please” in your request for help, please remember, there may be a vendor out there who has exactly the information you need. As a matter of fact, they may be the only one paying attention who has what you need, and they’re willing to provide it without any ulterior motive, but unfortunately you just blew him or her off.  

association vendors

Photo by Max Wolfe (Flickr)

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