The Bottom Line: What Is Your Why?
In one sentence, explain why your organization exists.
The other day a colleague and I were in getting our morning coffee, and we started talking about AFCEA’s purpose. We don’t work in the same department, so we bring different perspectives to the topic.
I said all associations needed to ask themselves why they exist. I brought up a TED talk I’d seen a while ago about the reasons some businesses succeed and some don’t. The presenter, Simon Sinek, proposes that businesses that succeed ask why they are doing something: “What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? … Why does your organization exist, and why should anyone care?”
On this basic premise, we agreed, but our answers to “Why?” for AFCEA’s purpose, cause and beliefs were quite different. I’ve been around AFCEA for quite some time—go ahead, try to guess. As a result, I believe we are an organization that, in some respects, is grounded in the idea of the military-industrial complex, a term coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together,” he said in his farewell speech.
Although he described this need when AFCEA was a mere 15 years old, he was essentially describing why it was established in the first place. By offering an ethical forum—devoid of lobbying efforts—for the military, industry and citizens to meet and converse, AFCEA ensured access to knowledge, debate and insights. And it continues to do so today.
While my colleague agreed with my rather lofty thought, she believes that AFCEA also exists to help its members boost their businesses and their bottom lines. This may sound a little less noble than my reasoning, but it is no less true. Our association also is an ethical forum for government to explain their requirements and for businesses to create, display and demonstrate possible solutions to meet them. Once again, the fact that AFCEA does not lobby for one product or approach over another but rather opens the arena so all options can be considered fulfills the need to keep the lines of communication open.
Although it was a short conversation, my colleague and I concluded that AFCEA has evolved over the past nearly 70 years into an organization that exists for both of these reasons. They are just two of many answers to why the association exists. And, over the years, how AFCEA fulfilled mission also has evolved. When meeting in small facilities to discuss specific problems was no longer enough, it created chapters so its outreach could increase. Then commerce grew and businesses needed a place to display their products and services. And of course the information age changed the term “networking” from discussions around tables to videoconferencing with people around the world.
The bottom line is that, although the question “Why?” remains the same, the reasons organizations exist must continually change. If they don’t, their existence will no longer be relevant.
Can you describe why your business exists? What’s your answer why AFCEA exists? In an age of omnipresent and instant communications, what makes your business and the association relevant?