Building an Organization with Trust


Organizations continue to transform and change.  Part of the reason for the decline of unions has been their reluctance to change and willingness to cling to an outdated system built on an industrial model.  Creating and sustaining a culture of high performance while leading organizational effectiveness is one of most complex challenges facing non-profit and organizational leaders.  An imperative question that any organization should ask is: Do your members trust you?

Organizational leaders must understand the processes necessary to incorporate performance improvement, membership focus, professional learning, and necessary change to achieve a highly effective organization. Organizational members have a world of data at their disposal, but what they truly desire is to be a member of an organization that knows their needs and gives them maximum value for their investment.  For example, our organization is able to keep our dues  under $200 dollars ($189 to be exact), while unions are priced in the $600 dollars plus range.   And many teacher union membership forms now authorize them to charge an unspecified amount of dues in perpetuity.

Organizations that are recognized as exceptional providers of customer service are the ones that have incorporated member-focused behaviors into their daily operations. A vibrant, energized organization is one that interacts with its members across every potential outlet of communication. Members want to know what you can do for them and they will engage your organization in ways you might not have imagined even six-months ago.  You have to work to keep ahead of your membership.

Even with a dynamic plan and an unambiguous vision for implementing high-performance and effective systems, the foremost question members and prospective members may ask is, “Why should we look to you instead of your competitor?”  It’s simple.  As a professional educators need to remain informed as to what is happening in their chosen field.  Educationally, they need to keep current with all developments in the scope of their work.  Learning new models and methods does not stop in college or graduate school. Educators often need benefits that school districts are not providing.  And as we have known for years, educators may need legal assistance—which we provide by our staff attorney who understands education law.  Educators need to know what laws affect them and their profession.   They need to know what legislative initiatives are being considered that have an impact on their field, and what they can do to effectively influence legislation to promote the profession— without the partisanship.

We have discovered that our most devoted members want to have a relationship with us. Just like we want to know who they are, they want us to know who they are as well. They want to identify how our organization can help them. And once they comprehend that your organization understands and has viable solutions to their particular set of problems, as well as a vision for making them successful in their chosen field.  That is how you gain loyalty.

But how do you build that loyalty? By building a relationship with your members based on openness, effective communication, value and trust.

We strive try to engage our members constantly.  Nearly half of our members now utilize our website ( on a regular basis.  We believe in being interconnected and actively engaged by keeping membership simple and uncomplicated, focused on an approach that is “bottom up,” not “top down,” and on our core business mission of education.  If you want to be recognized as an outstanding provider of member service, you have to consistently exceed the expectations of your members.  Once you adopt this approach, you will find a growing commitment by members.  But once you connect, how do you build loyalty?  You build this loyalty by building trust.

Organizations must strive to embrace openness and transparency in how they interact with their members.  For us, this includes how we build our legal services and member services and benefits.  It also includes vibrant professional learning and development for our members, based upon needs identified by educators, state and local district.

Consider this simple formula for creating a loyal membership base: Openness drives accountability. Accountability builds trust. Trust is the foundation of a relationship. Every organization must have a relationship with its members if it wants to be sustainable.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee ( 

Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.  Check out his Blog at  Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman