2010 marks the centennial anniversary of the Direct Selling Association (DSA). As such, member companies are the beneficiaries of a rich legacy in the United States and around the world. It’s a history of competitor collaboration, information exchange, united lobbying efforts to protect our model of distribution, and public awareness campaigns designed to dispel myths that sometimes impede our growth. Although the DSA enjoys more than 200 member companies, this represents a mere fraction of businesses eligible for membership. For current members and those considering membership, the DSA offers an unlimited opportunity for involvement.
4Life’s experience as a DSA member is one of quantifiable return. Over the years, we’ve leveraged our membership to build distributor confidence in the field by effectively communicating our commitment to the DSA Code of Ethics and engaging our network with DSA lobbying efforts. All of our field communication campaigns are designed to strengthen our distributor partnerships, thereby increasing retention. Due to our role as DSA members, we’ve enjoyed numerous speaking engagements, committee invitations and national media opportunities that aren’t available to non-members. And thanks to the many relationships we’ve developed through the DSA, 4Life® enjoys a seat on the CEO Council of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) and is a participating member in numerous international DSAs.
The DSA’s mission “to protect, serve and promote the effectiveness of member companies and the independent businesspeople they represent” is a commitment that 4Life extends to our independent distributors in more than 50 countries around the world. We communicate our DSA membership to express our commitment to the principles set forth by the Association and to train our distributors about what they should expect from 4Life—or any direct selling company.
Upholding the DSA Code of Ethics
As a living document, the DSA Code of Ethics is extremely valuable, both in terms of the principles it seeks to uphold and the protections it affords. Although I don’t intend to provide an analysis of the Code, it is worth encouraging all direct sellers, DSA members and non-members alike to read it (dsa.org/ethics/). One point that the Code of Ethics makes early on—and a theme that resonates throughout—is the responsibility we have to provide honest disclosures and accurate information:
“Information provided by member companies and their independent salespeople to prospective or current independent salespeople concerning the opportunity and related rights and obligations shall be accurate and complete.” (Code of Conduct, A.1.d.)
At 4Life, this basic directive governs all our brand marketing, distributor training, customer services and operations. Moreover, our general commitment to the Code of Ethics, as set forth by the DSA, is ingrained in our corporate culture. By example, we hope to educate and inform distributors on how to represent the 4Life brand, while effectively promoting their home-based businesses.
The DSA has a long history of working with the U.S. Congress, different government agencies, consumer protection organizations and others on behalf of its member companies. Over the past several years, our team at 4Life has participated in a variety of DSA-driven lobbying efforts in support of the direct selling industry. We’ve engaged the FTC with regard to a proposed Business Opportunity Rule (R511993) that would have had serious consequences for direct sellers and lobbied the Judiciary Committee of Nebraska in support of anti-pyramid scheme legislation (LB 801).
Like many DSA member companies, we’ve also mobilized our distributors in the state of California to oppose a measure that would withhold income taxes from payments made to independent contractors. Rightly so, the DSA’s position has always been that withholding on direct sellers would cost the state more revenue than it would receive. Still, the measure seems to resurface whenever the state begins to look for alternative revenue streams.
We at 4Life consider our DSA membership as much a responsibility as it is a privilege, as the DSA is the industry’s watchdog on Capitol Hill. As anyone who’s attended a DSA event will point out, companies in our industry have repeatedly overcome adversity through unity. For this reason, 4Life also works with the Utah state legislature to ensure fair representation of the dietary supplement industry in the state of Utah.
Events and Committee Assignments
DSA events play an important role on the 4Life calendar. The information we take away empowers our team with industry intelligence, competitor best practices and legislative insight, and offers us a unique, open forum for dialogue.
4Life was a Platinum Sponsor at the recent 100th Anniversary Celebration in San Francisco, Calif. Likewise, the DSA offers a variety of event sponsorship opportunities for member companies throughout the year. These sponsorships represent a real win-win: They’re an important revenue stream for the Association and provide participating companies with industry exposure and great stories to build confidence among the salesforce. At 4Life, we repurpose every sponsorship as a communications campaign. Every campaign gives us another opportunity to engage our field with the DSA Code of Ethics and our commitment to it.
In addition to event attendance and sponsorships, 4Life corporate representatives sit on the Communications, Education and Government Relations Committees. These assignments provide us with an ongoing voice. They allow us to network in effective ways with many of our competitors. They provide professional-development opportunities for 4Life employees. As a result, our employees are better equipped to serve our distributors.
As a good-standing member of the DSA, 4Life is the recipient of many media opportunities. Some of these, like the current “Direct Selling Marketplace” advertisement in Military Spouse magazine, require a nominal investment. Others require nothing more than the time it takes to respond to the inquiry of reporters who contact the DSA for positive distributor stories.
In 2007, 4Life Co-Founder Bianca Lisonbee appeared on the Today show in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. 4Life’s appearance on national television was a result of the DSA’s participation in the Today show holiday toy drive, which is once again under way. As reported in a recent DSA InTouch newsletter (Volume 2, Issue 37), “During our six years of participation, DSA members have donated more than $50 million in products, services and cash to be distributed to deserving families across the country—accounting for nearly one-quarter of total donations to the drive since it began in 1994!”
This is a testament to our industry’s public service and good works. It’s also a testament to the myriad ways in which the Association works to identify positive, image-building opportunities that benefit all direct selling companies. It was an honor for our co-founder to represent the DSA and 4Life distributors alike on the Today show. The story resurfaces every holiday season in conjunction with 4Life’s commitment to service. This opportunity represents just one of many unforeseen benefits of DSA participation.
International DSA Membership
Several years ago, 4Life Founder and CEO David Lisonbee was invited to serve on the WFDSA CEO Council. The WFDSA is a non-governmental organization that represents the direct selling industry as a federation of national Direct Selling Associations. Membership consists of 60 national Direct Selling Associations and one regional federation, the Federation of European Direct Selling Associations. For the past year, David Lisonbee and his wife, Bianca, have been on a service assignment for their church in Milan, Italy. During this time, I have had the pleasure of filling the seat on the WFDSA CEO Council. On Oct. 1, 2009, I stood with DSA President and CEO Neil Offen and other WFDSA members at the ringing of the New York Stock Exchange bell. This was a wonderful opportunity to represent the DSA and all independent direct sellers around the world.
As a global company with offices in 19 countries, 4Life enjoys membership in a number of international DSA organizations. We recognize the vital role we play in supporting and working with as many in-country direct selling organizations as possible. Over the years, we have made significant strides to procure memberships. Most recently, we announced our membership of CAPEVEDI in Peru, and before that, the iDSA in India. These associations work closely with their local governments on policy issues important to member companies and distributors alike. They also strive to create and further an environment conducive to the growth of direct selling. As always, we enjoy the reciprocal nature of our association, and from time to time, reach out to DSA staff for information about policy changes, legal counsel, importation policies and other operational insights. These hit on one point that all direct sellers should know: Whether operating in the United States or elsewhere around the world, the DSA is a valuable resource for information and professional expertise.
Direct Selling Education Foundation (DSEF)
I think DSEF Executive Director Charlie Orr would agree that it’s important to recognize that the DSA and DSEF are autonomous entities. While the DSA is a corporate membership organization that is funded by member dues, the DSEF relies on voluntary contributions.
The DSEF was established in 1973 as the direct selling industry’s goodwill ambassador and concentrates on public education, consumer rights and protection, ethical leadership and individual economic empowerment.
In March 2010, 4Life served as a sponsor and partner with the DSEF and the University of Utah for an educational awareness project, as part of National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW). NCPW is a coordinated consumer education campaign that encourages individuals across the country to take advantage of their consumer rights.
In June 2010, 4Life joined industry executives from dozens of companies to clean up Ocean Beach, a part of Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco. This beach is home to the western snowy plover, a small and endangered shorebird whose native habitat is the Pacific Coast beaches along the U.S. coastline. The service project took place as part of a DSEF campaign during the DSA Centennial Celebration.
Most recently, the DSEF has partnered with the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and launched the new “What Is Direct Selling?” DVD. 4Life is a proud contributor to the important work of the DSEF and looks forward to future campaigns.
A Rich Legacy and Promising Future
What began in 1910 as a small group of like-minded companies has grown into a thriving national and global-minded association. For the past 100 years, the DSA has been lobbying, communicating and fighting to further the efforts of independent direct sellers throughout the United States and the world.
In “Reflections on 40 Years in Direct Selling” (Direct Selling News, Volume 6, Issue 10), DSA President and CEO Neil Offen argues that, as direct sellers, we’re more likely to concern ourselves with ethical issues than other businesses. Offen is correct. Not only are we in the “person-to-person” business, but we’re in business with family and friends.
Offen goes on to distinguish the public’s stereotypical opinion of our enterprise as drawn from a misperception and not an actual experience. True, but even if the experience of independent direct sellers is positive, public opinion is no less damaging as a misperception than as a reality. It is vital that we unite as colleagues and competitors to support the ongoing efforts of the Direct Selling Association for the benefit of generations to come.
Steve Tew is President of 4Life Research.