NBFAA’s Cry for Unifying Associations Leaves Some Behind

The National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) decided in September to no longer accept the applications of state Affiliated Alarm Associations (AAA) and will end current agreements with AAA states by Dec. 31, 2004. The change has been criticized by some, praised by others. To present both sides are guest commentaries by two leaders of state alarm associations – one who supports the move and another who does not.

One industry association!

That was the cry we heard from the executive leadership of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) just a year ago. Efforts to merge the NBFAA, Security Industry Association (SIA) and the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) were unsuccessful because each group catered to the individual needs of their respective members.

Somewhat simplified, the NBFAA follows national trends, policies and alarm ordinances for alarm companies; SIA is the organization comprised mainly of manufacturers and equipment and service providers; and the membership of the CSAA is central station alarm companies and those affiliated with central station monitoring services. Each one of these organizations does a terrific job of providing services for their members. That was until September when the NBFAA decided that if it couldn’t have the entire pie, it wanted none!

Just a few short years ago, the NBFAA instituted a program they believed would help the individual states and the NBFAA. The program was called the Affiliated Alarm Association program, or AAA. But instead of allowing the AAA program to mature and enhance membership – and instead of reviewing what might have been some pitfalls with the program – the NBFAA decided to cast aside those states that had joined as a triple A state. One industry association? I think not.

Members in five states who had some representation at the board of directors, and whose leaders could bring back information from the NBFAA, have now been shut out and told they aren’t welcome. Either your state joins NBFAA as a Charter State Association (CSA) or your state and your leadership are not welcome to participate or receive and provide input and ideas for the benefit of all.

Florida: A Case Study of an Affiliated Member Being Shut Out

Florida was a CSA member of NBFAA for several years, but had some problems and its membership voted to drop out of NBFAA. In 1998, I took over as the president of the Alarm Association of Florida (AAF). We had a membership of about 130 members that was dropping steadily, down from a high of about 225.
While some were promoting hiring a lobbyist with a price tag of $30,000 a year, the AAF’s Executive Committee (acting as a team with equal voices) decided to find a new executive director to try to keep the group from going bankrupt.

Now six years and two presidents later, the AAF has a membership of more than 625, a strong budget and a revived trade show.

Our members decided to drop out as a CSA and join as an AAA. The consensus was that the members objected to being forced to join the NBFAA simply because they wanted to join the AAF.

The NBFAA should have looked at its own internal structure to determine why membership was dwindling and why several CSA states decided to switch to AAA. Instead, it cut the cord with five states. One industry association? I guess not.

Affiliated Member Program Should Have Been Modified, Not Nixed
In our business, we all know that every manufacturer has a variety of control panels because one product doesn’t suit the needs of all. When one category of membership didn’t work for the NBFAA, it implemented a second. But rather than modifying the AAA program, it chose to drop it.

Today, Florida is strong enough to survive without the NBFAA. But what about those smaller states? Giving someone an ultimatum may make them join as a CSA because there is no alternative, but it’s not the way to build a strong and happy cohesive team of people.

NBFAA Vice President Scot Colby said the AAA program was the cause of the erosion of membership and morale. The erosion of membership and morale is simply the manifestation caused by other problems within the NBFAA that have not been addressed. The AAA program is not the cause of the decline in membership. I fear that it is because the true cause of the declining membership has not been discovered. While the board acted with all good intent, it did so with insufficient information to make an educated decision.

While the NBFAA was preoccupied with the five AAA states, there has been no discussion about the 13 other states that have had no affiliation whatsoever. Why? Isn’t some involvement of those five states beneficial to the NBFAA? Isn’t it better than no affiliation at all? How much is collected in dues from those members who reside in an AAA state? Will that revenue stream remain? Will it diminish?

There is certainly reason to believe that a good probability exists that the NBFAA will see a decline in membership in those AAA states because those alarm companies will now have no representation at the NBFAA table. To paraphrase Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, the needs of the many (alarm companies) outweigh the needs of the few, or the one (industry association).

Perhaps other state associations will also decide to withdraw from NBFAA. Should this happen, the NBFAA could ultimately no longer exist as we have known it, making one industry association closer to a reality than ever before.

Roy Pollack is vice president of the Alarm Association of Florida.

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