RAISING A HAND
October 28, 2008
By Martin Barnett
I remember as a bakery owner in Victoria, B.C., feeling disenfranchised
by the Baking Association of Canada (BAC). Now, as an active member of
the association, I am frustrated when I get a less than enthusiastic
response from potential members.
A strong national association requires an industry commitment — and it requires you
“Ask not what the Baking Association can do for you, ask what you can do for the Baking Association.” (With revered acknowledgment to JFK)
I remember as a bakery owner in Victoria, B.C., feeling disenfranchised by the Baking Association of Canada (BAC). Now, as an active member of the association, I am frustrated when I get a less than enthusiastic response from potential members.
In this article I would like to explore the meaning of a trade association and specifically the Baking Association of Canada and its mandate and chapter activities. Following that, we can take a look at the problem with meeting times and how to attract and keep new members. Finally, I offer a friendly challenge to our chapters and membership committees on one hand and fellow bakers on the other, to make our BAC a strong, progressive and inclusive trade association.
A trade association exists to represent members of a common trade and promote their interests through discussion, education and as a catalyst for change, mutually benefiting all. It is a conduit for all voices to be heard by those that influence the trade, from all levels of government, to suppliers, to the general public. The association can arrange educational seminars, engage in lobbying, fundraise for common causes and operate as a social and networking vehicle.
The Baking Association of Canada is our national organization. It fulfils all of the above mandates through the hard work of a very small staff: at the national level, that’s three full-time staff members; at the provincial level, chapters are administered through the dedication of volunteers.
There is a certain complacency in today’s world that we can no longer afford — we have too many issues facing us to shrug our shoulders and say, “Someone else will do it,” or “I can’t make a difference.”
One of the complaints I hear from potential members is the perception that the organization does not represent them: that the meeting times and locations are not convenient, that it’s inconvenient to take time off work or too difficult to balance work, family and social life to commit to the organization. Lastly, many feel that they have nothing to offer.
As the organization is a group representing its members, the members who put the time in are able to drive the agenda, on the local and national levels. There are two responsibilities here. First is that existing members have some kind of outreach strategy to seek and welcome new members and, second, the new members have to be willing to bring their issues and needs to the table. In Canada, we are a diverse group of people, from specialty dessert shops to in-store bakeries to large manufacturers and ingredient peddlers. We all have common issues in our $3.5 billion industry, and this unique diversification is what makes our organization interesting and dynamic.
Meeting times and locations are never convenient to all people at all times. It is always a compromise. Bakers tend to work strange and long hours. It is definitely easier to get bankers together than bakers! Perhaps the local chapters could hold workshops on a Sunday and arrange meetings early on a Monday evening. And what about changing the location of the meetings? Rotate between different shops if a common neutral location is not convenient. Bakers are always curious to go and visit a colleague’s bakery, and bakers are always proud to host a small gathering. As for you bakers, why not schedule a staff member to close the shop for you on meeting days? Often the information gleaned from a meeting is worth much more than the cost of a couple of hours’ labour.
There is also a perception that our organization is just for business owners or executives. In fact the life-blood of the trade (and therefore the association itself) is the rank-and-file artisans who work in the shops or sell the product. Our trade relies on the people who have their hands in the dough (or chocolate) or talk to our customers every day. If, as a business owner or production manager, you are not able to attend a meeting, try sending a delegate instead. It is a way of rewarding and validating a loyal and interested staff member, and keeping the connection with the association going.
It is also important to balance the content of the meetings. Lectures on trans fats are not always going to attract a big crowd, although they may be necessary. A sourdough workshop may not attract a chocolatier, although there will of course be interest from some parts of the industry. A hiring guru may make a production baker yawn, but may entice a bakery owner or HR manager. Short, varied presentations, along with a social component, tend to work well. As for bakers, the power and value of basic social networking with your peers is not to be understated, let alone what you might learn from the presentation that evening.
In order to ensure the health and viability of the BAC, it is necessary to encourage new blood to join (or old members back to the fold). One suggestion is that a delegation from the local chapter goes and visits a potential new member. This is non-threatening and doesn’t make demands on anyone. It doesn’t have to be a ‘welcome wagon’ affair, just an introduction and a brief, friendly chat about local and national chapter activities and a genuine interest in the new or recently acquired enterprise. Don’t force the issue of joining at this time – that subject can be broached at another time – but feel free to drop an information folder. Try to include a baker and a supplier in the delegation.
There are many disenfranchised pastry cooks working in resorts, hotels and fine dining. Try reaching out to these people as well. They may not be as keen to come to regular meetings, but would support workshops and other chapter activities.
Compile a detailed contact list for the area (most people have e-mail now) and keep it up to date. Arrange a meeting just to welcome new members and discuss the direction of the local chapter. Use suppliers’ invoices to attach a flyer about upcoming events, and never forget the power of a personal connection or phone call!
Maybe delegates from different provincial chapters can communicate with each other and share ideas on a national membership drive. Should we have a national membership challenge?
Our industry has gone through some difficult times recently with commodity prices, trans fats, low carbs and labour and training issues. It has also seen resurgence in traditional skills and purer products, with a customer base that is willing to pay for quality. It is now time to shore up our membership with new blood, so we can move forward together as a strong and viable trade organization.
The individual needs to get involved – make his or her voice heard. It is the
only way to truly affect change in our own lives, our businesses and the government.
So, as mentioned in the heading: Ask not, “What the Baking Association can do for you.” Ask, “What you can do for the Baking Association.” / BJ
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