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July 01, 2010

DSA News

Guidelines for a Better Tomorrow

by Neil Offen

Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” No finer words can be used to describe the evolution of your association over the first 100 years of its life. Challenges identified and met. Opportunities shared and nurtured. Relationships created and valued. All hallmarks of the DSA.

Because this is a people business, more than any other industry or business in the world, the DSA has tried to reflect those same special values. Time and again, the association has done so. But the true strength of the association comes from its members.

The DSA—from its start in 1910 in Binghamton, N.Y., with 10 companies, to its decades in Winona, Minn., to its move in 1969 to Washington, D.C.—has been dedicated to protecting your businesses, promoting your interests and policing your ethics.

How has the DSA helped our industry and our members over the decades?

First, by protecting your business. The DSA has been there for you in dealing with government regulators and legislators on the federal, state, local and international levels. For our first few decades, the DSA fought on the municipal levels against town, city and county ordinances that would have required our salespeople to register with the local authorities, often to be photographed and fingerprinted by the police, have a morals check run and pay a license fee.

As the years went by, ordinance proposals didn’t go away but were expanded in reach by state legislation. Proposals were being made to cover your firms with sales and use taxes. Licensing and registration bills seemed to abound. The cooling-off period was introduced, along with general consumer-protection measures that often didn’t distinguish between legitimate companies and fraudulent pyramid schemes.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) weighed in by challenging our business model while the IRS sought to destroy the independent contractor status. Through the DSA’s efforts, the industry has been saved literally billions of dollars and protected tens of millions of salesforce opportunities.

Second, by promoting the industry. We have sought to provide an environment that will grow the industry’s capacity and sustainability. In 1910, we were strictly a lobbying organization. In the last 50 years, we have broadened our scope and added professional education offerings for member-company executives; a research program that offers data based on professional research, generating credibility and third-party validation for both the association and the industry; as well as an image-enhancement and reputation-building program that has reversed a 35-year-old reactive, as opposed to proactive, approach to branding and public outreach. We are committed to telling the story of direct selling the way it should be told—speaking for ourselves instead of letting our detractors do it for us.

And lastly, by policing the industry, primarily through our self-regulatory Code of Ethics. This code is the focal point of the association’s commitment to the highest standards or marketplace behavior. A living document, it has been amended significantly during its 40-year existence. First adopted as a code to protect the consumers of our products, it contained several unique and progressive provisions. Foremost among these was the establishment of the office of an independent Code of Ethics Administrator. In effect, the Administrator is a consumer ombudsman committed to enforcing the code to protect our customers.

The code’s concepts have now been taken worldwide. The Word Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) requires each DSA in the world that wishes to belong to the federation to have a code complying with the provisions of the World Codes, including having an independent code administrator. In addition, our code provisions are now becoming the global standards for industry regulations and legislation.

Protect, Promote and Police—three appropriate guidelines under which to operate. Add in operating with integrity, transparency, equality and mutual respect, and the result is a strong community that exemplifies the notion that there is strength in unity. The DSA has been blessed over the last century by being led by outstanding men and women—competitors working together for the common good—who work alongside staff members and outside counsel, who are driven by a passion for this industry and their own commitment to excellence.

Our industry does so much for so many. With 65 million salespeople around the world and hundreds of millions more to come, we can­—and are—changing the world. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” What better way to describe what your companies are doing? What you are doing. The DSA’s second century will see strides in what we do that are hard to imagine. You will be changing the world for the better, one person at a time. What a great century it will be! 

Neil OffenExcerpted from Neil Offen’s State of the Industry speech at the DSA 2010 Annual Meeting.