28 Mar Forbes Council: Same Business Model as Trump U, You be the Judge
Before proceeding, please know that it’s not my intent to label the Forbes Council as a scam. If you are considering joining the group, I encourage you to do your own research before arriving at a conclusion.
Forbes Councils was launched as a partnership between the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC) and Forbes Media (the publishers of Forbes Magazine).
The organization is comprised of multiple invite-only business communities. Each Council caters to a different industry.
In addition to the Nonprofit Council, other communities include:
• Forbes Legal Council
• Forbes Technology Council
• Forbes Coaches Council
• Forbes Agency Council
• Forbes Communication Council
• Forbes Finance Council
• Forbes HR Council
• Forbes Executive Finance Council
Each council promises concierge benefits, high-powered networking, and the opportunity to publish articles on Forbes.com.
Recently I was invited to join the invitation-only community known as the Forbes Nonprofit Council. What follows is a summary of my experience, along with a brief wrap up.
Shortly after submitting my application to join the Nonprofit Council, I received a ‘congratulatory’ communication notifying me that although I’d met the Nonprofit Council’s ‘qualifications’, I might be a better fit for the more prestigious Young Entrepreneur Council.
The letter stated,
‘I want to be the first to congratulate you on being accepted into the YEC. I know that you will be an amazing addition to our elite organization. I know the application you filled out was for our Forbes Nonprofit Council, but our selection committee thinks YEC is a better fit’.
Admittedly, I was elated at the prospect of being considered for the more elite YEC—until digging deeper. Entrance to the Nonprofit Council ‘only’ carries an $800 annual price tag, while a YEC membership is $1400. I only learned this because included in the message asking me to consider joining YEC – instead – was the purchase link which revealed the larger fee.
In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk away at this point, the lure of becoming a Forbes.com contributor was enough to offset any lingering doubts.
As someone who reads Forbes the ability to ‘provide an article for consideration’ caught my interest. But there was one little thing, I’m a contributor to several major publications and couldn’t recall any of them capping my articles to one per month.
After looking for answers, I learned that members are only allowed one article per month due to the lengthy review process. However, Forbes.com contributors are usually able to get their articles published in two weeks or less. Of course, as an isolated occurrence, this really isn’t a big deal. The problem is that the more I tried justifying the membership, the more other issues piled up. In my final analysis, there were just too many inconsistencies to ignore. Hence, I asked for a refund to which they kindly obliged.
If you’re wondering what could make me squander the opportunity to have my articles published on Forbes, here are my concerns.
Questionable Contributor Status
Although accepted articles display your picture, along with a short bio and a link to your website, technically, Forbes Council is the contributor, which makes you the co-contributor. Hence, I found this part of the pitch misleading.
Credibility of the Concierge Service
A cursory search of the Nonprofit Council’s concierge director revealed several Tweets that called the validity of the service into question. Essentially, the director be seen expressing the same frustrations with an airline that an ordinary consumer might experience. Note: This observation was made after requesting my refund and only served to reinforce my decision to withdraw from the community.
Aggressive Promotions and Affiliate Offers
Although it took several days for the community to respond to my support emails, my staff and I began receiving promotional emails immediately upon joining the Council. Furthermore, as Jason Tannahill mentioned in his article on the Forbes Council, most or all of the discounted offers contained affiliate hoplinks. Again, in and of itself, this isn’t a big deal. However, considering that the deals were not much better than what someone with average negotiating skills could achieve it raises questions nonetheless.
It doesn’t take much research to begin seeing some startling similarities between the Forbes Council and the infamous Trump University, started by President-Elect Donald J. Trump, which ended in two class-action lawsuits and a reported $25 million settlement.
For starters, just like Trump University this Council sells the idea of being part of an exclusive circle that will open many doors for its members. Not only will you be a part of a highly-prestigious, invite-only club, but you will network and share knowledge with top level Business executives from companies with at least $1 million in revenue or financing. With their concepts of VIP exclusivity and high-end networking, the Council and Trump University indeed have much in common.
Pay to Play
Although advertised as “invite only”, it has been reported by Forbes Council members and invitees that this “invite” came with a membership fee. Although the fees are much less than they were for Trump University, the pushing of membership benefits for a price should ring instant alarm bells for anyone familiar with the practices of Trump University.
The “Benefits” Of Council Membership
Just a cursory look at the literature and practices of the Forbes Council shows that the Council they could share the same business model as Trump University. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing so long as the Council delivers the promised benefits. Unfortunately, as stated above it appears that many of the touted benefits can be easily refuted.
Also, when an invitation to join the Council comes at a membership price, with membership dues appearing to be a major part of the business model, then just how “exclusive” is this allegedly VIP club? Will invites to VIP Council gatherings truly be filled with high-end executives or will these shindigs be watered down with lower-level employees or nobodies who did nothing more than cough up the fee? Keeping this in mind, suddenly all the promised major networking opportunities begin looking a bit shaky.
A Trump University Sequel?
While it is yet to be seen if the Forbes Council will suffer the same fate as Trump University, the similarities between the two cannot be ignored. With high membership costs, the selling of exclusivity, and the promise of significant benefits, the two businesses certainly have much in common. When you factor in the concerns regarding these benefits and the easily contested exclusivity of the Council, even more red flags begin popping up which should give any prospective Council member pause.
While the Forbes Council does offer some benefits and opportunities for members, the Council may want to be careful going forward to avoid the many pitfalls that befell Trump University.
The Council must either revise some of its advertising to paint a more accurate portrayal of their membership rewards or work to truly provide the exclusivity and benefits currently advertised for their members.