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Dues Talk: AEs Explain the “How” and “Why” of the Dues Increase and Political Initiative

October 1, 2011

“From the very beginning, I decided to take the bull by the horns,” says Karen Becker, AE of the SouthEast Minnesota Association of REALTORS® about explaining the dues-increase funding of the REALTOR® Party Initiative (RPI) to her members.

Becker used several avenues to relay the message—from sending out an e-mail newsletter to brokers, to including articles in her weekly publication, and arming her board of directors with talking points so that they could explain to inquiring members the importance of the dues increase. Additionally, she spoke at education sessions, membership meetings, networking events, and face-to-face broker visits. “I always start with the bad news (your dues are going up) and end with the good news (how this is going to be a benefit to your business) so I can leave the conversation on a positive note,” explains Becker.

Jean Beck, EVP Hilton Head Area Association of REALTORS®, says the meetings at brokers’ offices explaining the initiative were a personal touch that went a long way. Based on NAR’s Q&A of the initiative*, Beck’s in-office presentations highlighted the value of membership. “I focus on the importance of the professionalism, political advocacy, and education the association maintains,” she says. “Then I talk about the political issues at the national, state, and local level, and that the changes and challenges keep coming.”

Beck’s presentation also explains the changes the Citizens United Supreme Court case ushered in and how the association will work in tandem with the initiative. “I reiterate that every day, at all levels of membership, while you’re listing and selling property, we are advocating on issues that impact your business,” she says.

Advocacy and the Bottom Line

It is important that AEs provide three to five key outcomes that demonstrate how political advocacy helps each REALTOR® succeed, Beck advises. For example, she tells members that the REALTOR® organization’s political involvement safeguards members’ ability to do business, enhances the value of home ownership, and reduces the business liability risks of real estate professionals.

Although Beck invites questions at the end of each presentation, she rarely gets any, which was “not at all what I was expecting,” she reflects.

Likewise, Karen Becker says she expected a bigger reaction than she received, but feels her strategy of being upfront, speaking early and often about the increase, and simultaneously explaining the value members receive, has paid off.

“There was one broker who threatened to move to another association with lower dues over this increase,” recalls Becker. However, the broker changed her mind after Becker pointed to several community issues the association had championed. “The first thing I do is listen—actively. I needed to hear what she had to say and she needed to know that I cared. I believe once they see the value—and I’m talking real value, not fluff—they understand the ‘why’ behind the RPI.”

In general, AEs say the more information you provide, the less resistance you’ll encounter. Still, members may have questions.

Taking the opposite approach, Lisa Noon, CAE, RCE, CEO of the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® says, “In my experience with dues increases, the less said is generally better. In other words, the more you try to explain the minute details of why there’s an increase, the more questions members have. That goes against my belief that transparency is always best, but in this regard, members often pay their dues routinely and don’t question the amount.”

That’s not to say that REALTORS® in Oklahoma have been kept in the dark about the dues increase and the RPI. Noon and her staff have participated in statewide, in-person presentations to explain the issue and gauge member reaction. Their approach, however, is focused on membership value and why additional funds make for a better association membership experience, rather than RPI detail.

“Because we don’t sell widgets, we provide services,” says Noon, “it’s imperative that our members understand the value of those services. Our members have not been vocal in questioning their membership value. Perhaps it’s because we’ve provided the information to them without overwhelming them with too many details and explanations.”

Elizabeth Coffey, communications director at the Portland Metropolitan Association of REALTORS®, says her association hasn’t publicized RPI at all and doesn’t plan on it until dues bills go out. The association is developing an online area that will address the difference between RPI and PAC, but to date, no other communications are planned.

Whether associations decide to get out ahead of the RPI and dues increase issue or take a slower approach, the general consensus is that membership value is the key to getting buy-in.

* Information to help associations communicate RPI, the dues increase, and membership value are online at MyRealtorParty.com.