BNI or Business Networking International prides itself on being the world's largest referral organization. Chapters consist of one member per profession. As a co-founder and past president of a BNI South Florida chapter, I would like to share some of my experiences with you in order to assist you in making any business decisions regarding the organization.
BNI was founded in the mid 1980's by Dr. Ivan Misner and started in California. One of the core concepts of the organization is "givers gain". Dr. Misner grew the organization to a nationwide and soon a worldwide force in business networking.
What's it all about?
Whether you start a new chapter of BNI or join an existing one, your purpose, as it relates to the chapter, is two fold. The first important thing you will be doing, is keeping your eyes and ears open for business referrals to other members in the chapter.The other important function is recruiting other business professionals for membership.
On the average, members are expected to pass at least one referral per week to other members. If you don't have a referral to pass and you bring a visitor to the meeting you'll still be in good standing. If you don't have a referral or bring a visitor, you are expected to give a testimonial about someone in the group you have had professional dealings with.
How does membership benefit YOU?
You benefit when you pass referrals because the people receiving those referrals will feel an obligation to return the favor. Think of it this way, how do you feel when you receive a gift over the holidays and you don't have one to return to the person who gave it to you? Same thing goes for business referrals.
The reasons that you want to continue to recruit new members is so that the chapter will continue to strengthen.Statistics have shown that when a chapter has 20 members there are about 20 referrals passed per week. Once a chapter grows to 30 members the referrals move up to about 40 per week. You can see the benefit of having a larger chapter. Another advantage of a larger chapter is that over time you will always lose members through attrition, and with a larger chapter you will still remain strong.
BNI is a very well structured and worthwhile organization. Some chapters have difficulty because of an attitude of strict adherence to the bylaws, others benefit from them. The one member per profession can certainly be considered a strength of the organization.
Although there are few drawbacks, these are some. As a member of a BNI chapter you are not allowed to belong to any other networking groups which have a one person per profession structure. And, although BNI has a basic MLM structure itself, you are not allowed to promote a business opportunity like an MLM, you are restricted to promoting products.