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March 30, 2007

Effective advocacy

I recently had the rewarding experience of attending ASAE's American Associations Day Legislative Fly-in. Wendy Kavanagh, the executive director of the Georgia Society of Association Executies, let me tag along with the Georgia contingent on four of their meetings.

It's always fascinating to see the First Amendment — the right to petition government — in practice. In our case, we saw the staffs of two senators and two representatives from Georgia. Our three main objectives in the meetings were to talk about association (or small business) health insurance plans, ethics reform, and jumping in front of any possible legislation dealing with spam and associations' ability to email their members. (For more on ASAE's public policy initiatives, see the public policy web site.)

Perhaps more interesting to a wider audience was one of the sessions led by Amy Showalter, president of The Showalter Group. Amy's presentation was called "Why Winners Win — Best Grassroots Practices from TSG's Fortune Power 25 Grassroots Benchmarking Inventory," and looked at the success and failures of some of the top lobbying groups as listed by Fortune magazine. Her conclusion is that five factors seemed to really make a difference when it comes to persuading an undecided lawmaker to vote the way your constituency would want them to.

1. The legislator's margin of victory in his or her last election. If it was close, then letting them know how many voters you have and how influential they are counts for a lot.

2. Having a "left-leaning" staff. That's the case with the Fortune 25, because most of them advocate for issues that generally fall to the right of the political spectrum, so having someone who lenas the opposite way on many other issues may be able to connect better with an undecided lobbyist. A better way to think of this finding may be to say having a lobbyists that leans toward the opposite side of the political spectrum than what your organization is typically labeled may help you.

3. Number of face-to-face meetings. Contacts count a lot.

4. Number of key influentials. Can you document the reach of your group in a convincing way?

5. And, like it or not, money matters. If you max out your PAC contributions to a candidate, Amy's research suggests they are more likely to move from undecided to your column. It's likely that the contributions help get your organization noticed — your message still has to resonate with the legislator, but getting noticed is a significant part of the game.

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March 27, 2007

Things I’ve learned

Jeff De Cagna posted a great list of things he’s learned as an association professional. I found both his ideas and the format to be inspiring, so I’ve cooked up a list of my own. I hope other Acronym bloggers (and any and all readers) will have lessons to share, too.

Hire slowly. No, even more slowly than that—Getting the right person for an open position is critical. No matter how much you’re suffering because it’s open, making hasty hires in an effort to reduce the pain will lead to greater heartache down the road. The right person is out there. (That’s not to say that you might not have to re-think your requirements, of course.)

When someone who works for you has a great idea, tell the world—Giving people credit for their great ideas encourages them to come up with even more great ideas. Hiding their lights under a bushel leads to you losing your best people, fast. And then where will the great ideas come from?

Base your structure on the people you have—Don’t be tied down by job descriptions. Let people run with what they’re passionate about; it will help tide them over during the periods of scutwork, which, let’s face it, all jobs have. (But always look for ways to automate, outsource, or otherwise reduce the scutwork, too, because too much of it deadens passion.)

Always take time to rethink your assumptions—When you’re so busy that your main focus is staying afloat, it’s very easy to just keep doing things the way you’ve always done them. Force yourself to break out of those ruts. Set aside time—actually schedule it in your calendar if you have to—to reconsider basic processes or assumptions. Talk to new staff to see what they find illogical or unnecessarily bureaucratic.

Pass good energy on—If you hear great feedback about someone’s performance, let him or her know about it. If you find yourself thinking, “Pam did a great job on that project!” let Pam know, and copy her supervisor. Do whatever you can to contribute to a positive atmosphere in your office and you’ll see the benefits in attitudes and dedication.

Always plan for communication—When you’re planning any sort of significant change in your association, spend a good chunk of your planning time considering a) who will be impacted and b) how to communicate with them about it. People who feel surprised by a change are 10 times harder to convert than people who are communicated with enough to feel a part of the change process.

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March 24, 2007

Membership is Everyone's Job

That’s one of the maxims of association management. How have you experienced it?

In my time as an association executive, I’ve seen it played out a number of ways. I worked for a CEO who flatly disagreed with the notion that membership is everyone’s job. I have worked for another who assigned each staff person a letter or two of the alphabet, and each staff person was responsible for servicing members whose last names began with their assigned letter. You might not be able to find two leaders with such opposing viewpoints on the matter.

I participated in a recent ASAE & The Center Membership Section Council meeting as an interesting discussion about this concept arose. One of the participants asserted that the phrase “membership is everyone’s job” has hindered the association community’s membership professionals. The theory goes that if “membership is everyone’s job” then everyone can “do membership.” How do you feel about that? Does that de-value the work done by the membership department?

On the other hand, I keep hearing (anecdotally) that there is a shortage of qualified membership professionals in the association market. What should I make of that? Does this information somehow oppose the conclusion above?

Over my eight years as a membership professional, I’ve often struggled with what my true expertise is. Is it customer service, member experience, marketing, sales, relationship management, or engager? Is it all of the above? If so, I’m okay with it. CEOs: What do you look to your membership staff to do that you would only entrust to them?

The membership function is unique in today’s business environment. With the exception of Component Relations and Membership, each of the sections offered to its members by ASAE & The Center has at least one parallel association serving the niche. There is no association for people who manage chapters, SIGs or other types of components, nor is there one for membership professionals (someone please correct me if I’m wrong about this).

Unfortunately for the membership professional, there are very few bodies of knowledge that are directly transferable from other sectors. And even more troubling, there is little in the way of academic research and new concepts bubbling up for membership professionals, perhaps because there is no association dedicated exclusively to advancing the membership profession. Are associations falling short of their potential because of this academic vacuum?

What do you see as the membership professional’s expertise? Can everyone “do membership?” Is being a jack of all trades an expertise in and of itself? How can we raise the discourse among membership professionals to help them help our associations grow?

These aren’t rhetorical questions – I hope you will comment.

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March 22, 2007

The Blooker Awards

Jeff Cufaude kindly sent me a link to an interesting awards program—the “Blookers,” literary awards for books that started out as blogs or websites. Appropriately enough, there is a blog covering the award process, nominees, and winners.

While it didn’t make the short list for the 2007 award, We Have Always Done It That Way (which was originally published in blog format) is included in the longer list of nonfiction entrants on the right-hand side of the page.

I’m glad I had the chance to read through the list of entrants—I was personally very taken with a “blook” on volunteering in post-Hurricane Katrina Mississippi, as well as Far From the Madding Gerund, a book based on a language blog (yes, I admit it, I’m a grammar nerd).

I wonder if there will be more association entrants in the Blookers next year!

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March 21, 2007

Work/Life Balance: The Social Impact of Personal Choices

In December 2006, Senators Chris Dodd and Arlen Specter launched a bipartisan caucus on Children, Work and Family in the US Senate. The purpose of the caucus is to look at the problems faced by working families - to revive a conversation last addressed deliberately in our legislature in 1983. In their words, “The mission of the caucus is to bring national attention to the ‘kitchen table’ issues that impact individuals, families and our economic security.” To put it mildly, I think that’s a swell idea.

Since I began thinking about how we are 'missing' a conversation about associations and social responsibility my family has relocated, expanded from two people to four, and I am now a telecommuter full-time, working for an association across the country in an odd schedule (5:30 AM to 1:30 PM local time), in part to accommodate the needs of my family and to try and balance them. When I log off in the afternoon, I help my husband put the kids down for a nap, grab a shower and try to catch up on reading or housework or occasionally, exercise. To use the inadequate language of the current debate, I am occupying a strange limbo between being a stay-at-home mother, and working mother.

I am extremely lucky. I have managed to continue working full time though I have two children under age three – they are in daycare twenty hours a week, which depending on your perspective is either very little time, or far too much.

My hunch is that if you’re thinking that’s very little time, you’re a working parent with a working spouse. If you think that’s far too much, you’re either in a family where one parent can stay home, or you expect to be in that situation if and when you do have children.

My husband also has a flexible schedule – he is employed full-time and then some, a professor teaching a full course load at his primary employer, and two distance-learning classes every term for the institution he left in Georgia. Half of his work is completed from home while the kids are sleeping, or while we watch a movie on the weekends.

You don’t come here to read personal blogging, however, but bear with me just a bit longer, because I do have a point in telling you how I balance work and family.

I hope I can make it clearly: For too long, families like mine have been juggling the demands of childrearing and work in relative isolation. A recent study from UC Hastings shows that when articles surface about women in the workforce, they don't tell the whole story, and they talk of personal ‘choice’ – as in, feminism was about women having the ‘choice’ to work or stay at home. That language has put us in a complicated place.

Since I became a mother, I’ve determined there is another conversation we are missing, and it’s related to my first conviction: associations have a role to play in finding peace in the so-called ‘mommy wars’, and it’s in our best interest to lead employers towards fixing this enormous social problem. In the coming months, and the coming posts, I’ll be exploring how we got here.

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Introducing a new guest blogger

Please extend a warm welcome to our newest guest blogger, Betsy Boyd-Flynn. Betsy is a senior specialist in communications and marketing with the American College of Rheumatology and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Association Leadership. I've personally gotten a lot out of her contributions to ASAE & The Center over the years, and I'm looking forward to hearing what she has to say on Acronym.

Thanks for joining us, Betsy!

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March 20, 2007

Smart posts from smart people

I wanted to point you to a couple of great blog posts that I've read recently:

- Ann Oliveri’s blog has a wonderful post on leadership, inspired by Ernest Shackleton and Abraham Lincoln. I’ve been meaning to read The Endurance; now that I’ve read Oliveri’s post, I think I’m going to have to move it up on my to-be-read list!

- Jeff Cufaude has some thoughts that everyone with concerns about getting younger members (and younger leaders) involved in their associations should read.

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March 16, 2007

A case study in associations and Web 2.0

I visit a number of blogs that aren’t association related, because I’m geeky that way. This morning I was surprised to come across a very interesting case study in the ways association members can use Web 2.0 to change how things are done.

John Scalzi, a writer and a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, recently received the ballot for the upcoming SFWA elections. SFWA (like many associations) apparently presents members with a slate of candidates on their ballots, along with an option for write-ins. Scalzi is unhappy with the slate and where he thinks those leaders would take SFWA, so he is running for president as a write-in candidate.

It’s a great example of the power of social media and how they change the entire dynamic at membership organizations. Scalzi has a very popular, well-trafficked blog; he doesn’t need access to an association magazine or newsletter to communicate with other members about his vision for what SFWA should be. Your members don’t, either. Imagine how powerful it could be if all of us tapped into the power of social media to build a vision for the future together with our members.

(The comment thread following Scalzi’s original post is long, but it is interesting to see association members and volunteers discussing questions about what an association should be, what membership requirements should be set, what associations should do for their members, and other big-picture issues.)

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March 15, 2007

A major pet peeve and gross sign of silos

There is one thing that people just absolutely need to give up. And that is thinking of how ideas or opportunities or issues will affect their budgets.

I'm not saying don't think about finances at all. Far from it. But as a senior member of staff, it is too common to think of budgets under your control first. "Will it make my department's bottom line better or worse?" I've seen people whose judgment I value a lot fall into this trap. If we are to truly move our organizations forward, this hard evidence of the silo mentality must be cast aside. When assessing anything — idea, problem, anything — use your mission first. A close second consideration is financial, but the only financial assessment that matters is the impact on the organization's overall bottom line.

Many times I've seen and heard of good ideas being beaten down, because the expense may come out of one side of the budget and any expected revenue comes out of another. When I've experienced these conversations, I've always thought they were so petty. But I've come to see them for what they really are: highly destructive to the health of the organization.

And CEOs—you're not off this hook. True, I'd hope that any CEO would look at the organization bottom line rather than how individual programs are affected. But if your senior people are going to overlook the affects on their budgets, your culture and practice must be that senior management is not held accountable for the financial performance of individual programs. Instead, senior management should be held accountable for the whole organization's bottom line. It seems to me that's the only way to have a healthy, functioning senior team.

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March 14, 2007

Becoming a founder

Virgil Carter made an insightful comment to my last entry that I wanted to make sure wasn’t missed. (Also, don’t miss his comment on Peter’s last entry…)

I wonder if “good deeds”, and worthy achievements are less about 1) available resources; 2) having done it before or not, and more about individual vision, initiative and commitment. I don’t know Steve Wozniak, but from what I know about him and Apple, it strikes me that he has all of these qualities, enabling him to overcome most obstacles.

I wonder if the role of a “founder” isn’t a strong contributor to innovation, achievement, and overcoming great odds? Do you suppose that if more of our volunteers and staff had the self-image of being a “founder” that all of our organizations would be much more (successful) results oriented?

I wonder how we could empower more folks to think of themselves as “founders”. Hmmm.

To continue along that train of thought, I wonder what you would see if you compared relatively new associations where the founders are still active with older associations where the founders have departed (especially if you can compare apples to apples in terms of resources available). Is there more innovation in one than in the other?

I wonder, too, if it’s harder for association staff to think of themselves as “founders” when they can be doubly removed from that role—both as staff (instead of members) and as contributors to an organization that (in many cases) was there before you started work and will be there after you leave.

Just as a personal example: When I was the senior editor/manager of an association technical journal, the journal was significantly older than I was (founded in the 1930s). While I had ideas for radical changes that could be made, I was concerned about potentially doing serious damage to a publication that had become such an institution, and didn’t pursue those ideas as fervently as a “founder” might have. How do you overcome such fears?

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March 12, 2007

Wisdom from Wozniak

Guy Kawasaki has posted a review of an interesting new book, Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. I don’t know that I normally would plan to read a book on startup companies, but Guy’s enthusiasm certainly has me sold.

Guy’s review cites one quote in particular that inspired me:

“All the best things I did at Apple came from (a) not having money, and (b) not having done it before, ever.”—Steve Wozniak, Apple

Think about all of the discussions we have in the association community about either not having enough resources or not having enough information to implement Great Idea X. What if we looked at our lack of resources as a strength instead of a weakness? Could we come up with ideas as great as some of the things that have come out of Apple (I ask, while protectively clutching my iPod)?

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March 9, 2007

MySpace is so last year

I just spoke with a friend of mine who is a youth leader in his church, and he happened to mention that he joined Facebook to better communicate with the teens he works with. Apparently, when he notified the youth group members via e-mail about upcoming events, no one would come. Turns out that the teens (at least at his church) aren’t checking e-mail anymore; to reach them, he needed to communicate with them through Facebook.

When asked if any of the teens were on MySpace, he scoffed, “No. MySpace is passé to them now.”

Associations interested in reaching out to young people might need to adjust their plans …

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The manager's apprentice

Continuing the topic I discussed last week: So many of us have had anti-mentors in our past lives. And in my experience, many of the anti-mentors I hear about have been managers and supervisors. It's even been demonstrated that most people who leave a job leave because of poor experiences with their direct supervisor.

So why aren’t there more good supervisors? Why don’t companies (and associations) put everything they have into making sure that the managers supervising their staff are the best they can find?

I’ve often wondered about these questions, so when I came across a post today from the Three-Star Leadership Blog on “Why So Many Managers Do an Awful Job of Management,” I was immediately interested.

The whole post is worth a read, but I’d like to call out two quotes I think are particularly compelling:

“… managers get little to no training in how to be good managers. In most companies it’s sink or swim, figure it out for yourself. Actually it’s worse than that. It’s sink and take your whole team down with you, or swim.”

This just underscores the importance of making sure that no one is put in charge of other employees unless they have the capacity and commitment to be a good manager. It’s not just themselves they’ll impact negatively—it’s every single person that reports to them. And, if any of those people leave, it’s their replacements as well.

“… we think you learn leadership and supervisory skills from a book or a class. Wrong. Very, perniciously wrong. Leadership is an apprentice trade. A manager learns 80 to 90 percent of it on the job. He or she learns by talking with peers and mentors, trying things out, and getting feedback.”

If management is an apprentice trade, let’s find ways to connect new managers with great, experienced managers for one-on-one mentoring. Both within our own organizations—but also within the ASAE & The Center community (especially for small-staff associations that might not have a lot of apprenticing options internally).

And, for even greater impact, we should make those connections in our associations as well. If your members manage people, you could connect newer managers with more experienced managers among your membership to create those mentor/apprentice relationships. How many associations are doing this right now?

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March 2, 2007

Association Research and Development

I had the unfortunate displeasure of traveling last weekend through snow, ice, wind, and a never-before seen dust storm in Dallas (who says business travel ain’t glamorous?). As is always the case when I travel, I had the opportunity to catch up on my reading. A short article in the March 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review caught my eye. It was an interview with Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella, who talked about his company’s research and development program, in particular as it related to China. While no association can possibly have a $33 billion budget (!), it caused me to wonder how many of us might be setting aside money to invest in short- and long-term projects not usually covered under an operating budget.

At AIHA, we set aside $50,000 annually in a bucket we call the “Opportunity Fund.” Based on guidelines we created for this fund, my chief staff officer and I approve, or not, money that goes toward doing something outside of our typical budgeting process that will generate a needed member service or benefit and that may produce revenue in the next three fiscal years. We started funding this line item three years ago and have had some successes, and some failures.

Our biggest success has been the initial funding of an online digital library that we are now in the middle of implementing with the American Institute of Physics (AIP) as a partner. Our biggest failure was the launch of an online auction site for our members to exchange gently used equipment. Despite our best efforts and solid market research, it simply didn’t succeed.

Further on in the March HBR, I was reminded that the Opportunity Fund also serves another purpose for us in that it enables us to retain what HBR calls “clever people.” In this article, HBR authors Goffee and Jones state that “… clever people have one defining characteristic; it’s that they don’t want to be led.” It didn’t occur to me before reading their article, but we actually use the Opportunity Fund in a way that allows our staff to lead the organization down paths that we might not have identified on our own.

If you know of other organizations doing something similar, I would be curious to know more about them.

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March 1, 2007

Go In Style


I visited New York City for the first time in December. The hotel where I stayed was directly across from the Charmin's Pottypalooza restrooms on Times Square. I remember reading about it at the time as experience marketing, or "experiential marketing" if you prefer longer words - letting customers interact with the Brand.

I heard the Charmin song. I did the Charmin cha cha cha. I got my picture taken with the Charmin bear.

But it never hit me until this morning while reading about a new white paper on experiential marketing that these Charmin restrooms are just like our annual meeting - customer interaction with a brand.

Wikipedia defines experiential marketing as: "Experiential marketing uses brand relevant experiences to engage key audiences while creating a forum where these audiences interact with a brand. It involves high levels of interactivity and sensory impact and seeks to elicit an emotional response among the target through a more personal level of engagement than other media."

High levels of interactivity. Sensory impact. Emotional responses. Engagement. It's our annual meeting. (Be gentle, meeting planners. I'm sure many of you are shaking your head, rolling your eyes and thinking, "Duh." But I'm not a meeting planner, so this is a salient moment for me, OK?) ;) I just had never thought of our annual meeting as experiential marketing before today.

I knew it was an experience economy. I knew we were creating an experience. I had just never thought of it as a three-day marketing campaign with intense, hands-on brand interaction with our top customer base.

And experiential marketing is not the same as event marketing. It's a different animal.

I'm still pondering on how to use my newfound knowledge to the betterment of my annual meeting. In the meantime, go check out the blog of Max Lenderman, Experience the Message. Lenderman was one of the founding board members of the International Experiential Marketing Association (IXMA).

See. I already have one thing to be thankful for today...at least I'm not having to experientially market to the members of IXMA this coming June. Sheesh. Talk about a tough crowd! It's making hospital administrators seem like a cakewalk into town now.

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