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Sharing: Four Ways It Pays

January 1, 2008

by Bridget McCrea

Keeping information and resources close to the vest can pay off for some business professionals, particularly when it comes to protecting territories, retaining clients, and gaining an edge in a competitive industry. And although real estate itself certainly ranks as a competitive field, seasoned association executives agree that in the long run, information sharing leads to more payoffs than drawbacks.

Whether they’re mentoring each other, creating programs that other associations can model, or simply sharing valuable insights at an NAR convention, AEs are reaping the rewards of collaborative relationships. Here are four AEs who have fostered an exceptional environment of sharing and expertise.

Have Resources, Will Share
Mentoring younger AEs comes naturally for John Fridlington, executive vice president of the 160,000-member Florida Association of Realtors®. In association management for 23 years, including stints in California and Massachusetts, Fridlington sees the network of Realtor® association heads as a “wonderful resource through which people can rely on each other, share information about key issues, be emotionally supportive, and mentor in a meaningful way.”

“When I talk to people from other associations outside of real estate, they’re very envious and awestruck at the amount of sharing and support that takes place here,” says Fridlington, whose own efforts include helping new AEs plan their career paths and assisting other associations in setting up their own political strategy committees as a way to influence policy and get members involved on key issues.

“We came up with an organized way to interface with NAR, and some of the other state associations asked us to provide them with the parameters, and how it all works,” explains Fridlington, who sees the advent of technology as both a blessing and a curse for the “sharing” atmosphere. For example, although advancements like e-mail allow people to communicate across geographical barriers, they also cut down on the valuable “face time” that takes place.

“If the only interaction you’re having is taking place online, it’s just not the same level of sharing,” says Fridlington, who speaks from experience. He made numerous friends and learned of career opportunities by serving (in person) on the Association Executive Institute planning committee. He urges other AEs to reach out and try to do the same. “Sharing is a two-way street that helps you grow your own professional capacity and become a better AE,” he says.

The Three-Legged Stool
Sharing information and resources with other AEs is an important part of Bill Malkasian’s job as president of the Wisconsin Realtors® Association. “We’re part of a three-way agreement that includes the local, state, and national boards,” he says. “Members pay dues to all three factions, making it advantageous to create efficiencies of service between all three levels.”

In association management for 32 years, Malkasian served as legislative director for three years and has been president of the 18,000-member association since 1979. He says there’s almost no operational area in which he hasn’t either given or received valuable information and resources from other AEs, be it legal, communications, or government affairs. Along with in-person meetings and phone calls, Malkasian finds e-mail, online bulletin boards, and blogs to be good ways to give and receive quick responses on key issues.

On several occasions, WRA’s government affairs programming, specifically its local issues mobilization program, has served as a model for other associations, as has its educational program. Malkasian, who learned the ropes of association management from a handful of mentors, says he often returns the favor, working with AEs around the nation on an as-needed basis.

Now he’d like to see more AEs pulling together to share their vast resource pools for the good of their members. “Overall, Realtor® organizations do an excellent job at creating an atmosphere for sharing through both formal and informal groups,” says Malkasian. “But there’s no ceiling on sharing—there’s really never enough.”

From Rookie to Pro
When Christine Todd was a rookie AE in 1978, she relied heavily on the experience of those around her as she paved her way. “In those days there was no e-mail, so I just picked up the phone to ask advice of the industry veterans,” says Todd, CEO of the 12,000-member Northern Virginia Association of Realtors®. “Everyone was very willing to provide information.”

Now looked upon as an industry veteran, Todd says she often helps younger or less experienced AEs overcome challenges, particularly the personality conflicts inherent in organizations with annual presidential turnover. She has shared NVAR’s innovative paper-ballot program, which is used by numerous organizations today, and revealed her motive for—and the results of—forming a regional MLS.

Interested in seeing more formal mentoring programs within the AE community, Todd says she’d be willing to repay the kindness of her mentors by taking a few new hires under her wing. “It would be great to serve as a coach,” she says, “particularly for someone who feels like he or she is imposing by posting questions on a blog or picking up the phone.”

We All Serve the Same Members
“The best way to use members’ money is not to duplicate efforts, but to join forces and share information with one another,” says Benny McMahan, president and CEO for the 94,000-member Texas Association of Realtors®. In association management for 25 years, McMahan doesn’t believe in reinventing the wheel, but rather in borrowing initiatives, information, and resources from one another in an effort to create a cohesive group that “serves the same members.”

In the spirit of sharing, TAR launched a leadership development course about three years ago, then handed the formula off to its local associations. Under TAR’s guidance, those associations honed the program to meet their own needs and began using it at the local level. McMahan says TAR has used a similar approach with out-of-state associations, helping them adopt new models and develop programs that replicate what his group has already done successfully.

For example, one Realtor® education program developed by TAR in conjunction with Fannie Mae a few years ago was duplicated by various organizations around the country. In 2000, the association was also one of the first in the nation to create a statewide, dues-based form contract for its membership. “Everyone was using form-fill-type systems, but we were dealing with several different vendors and felt the need to negotiate a better price for members,” says McMahan.

McMahan, who at national conventions often hears horror stories from AEs who haven’t found the right formula for working with their local boards, calls TAR’s relationships with its local entities “are about as strong a partnership as you can find.” He’d like to see other organizations achieve a similar nirvana but says competitive natures tend to get in the way. “Sometimes people get into cocoons and feel like they don’t want others using their programs or ideas,” says McMahan. “That’s when an attitude adjustment is needed.”