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October 30, 2007

Board Retreat: Insane in the Membrane

Having a board retreat is a fast way to quadruple your to do list, and melt your brain in the process. In recent years, the IGDA has instituted a board retreat to be held each fall. It is part long-term goals/strategy setting, part planning for the year to come, and part team/rapport building among directors. All parts intense.

I just got back from another year's productive retreat. And, despite having a fried brain, three meta things stuck out for me.

1) The Power of Play:
In past years, we'd eat breakfast and then dive right into the agenda at 8:30am. This year, one of our new board members pushed to have us play a game before diving into the agenda. Despite the fact that most of the board members are game creators, we're always so serious at the retreat, and didn't really put much credence in the usual "trust fall" model of team building. However, convincing this group to play a game was not hard. So, we brought in Cranium, which we dutifully played at 8:30am on the first day.

Wow, what a difference. We were rolling on the floor in laughter and giving high fives after every point. The favorite was certainly the "puppet charades" tasks where one member severed as the puppet, who had to be moved by another member while others tried to guess the word. Aside from just having some pure fun for an hour, it got everyone revved up and excited and happy to be there with each other working on stuff they were passionate about.

2) The Risk of Not Spending:
When it came time to discuss budget and other fiscal matters, the question of "what is the IGDA's greater risk" came up to help build some context. I was floored when our very frugal/prudent Treasurer said that (and I paraphrase): "Given the IGDA's rapid growth, our biggest risk is that we don't spend our money fast enough on the programs/services needed to deliver the expected value." In short, spend more and spend faster!

And, it makes total sense. For many years, we've been so careful in managing our funds and being so cautious with new programs, etc. But, given continued growth and overall "doing the right things to attract members", our growth is out-pacing are ability to deliver programs. The last thing we need is for members to feel that their dues are going into the org but never "coming out"...

3) Data is Worthless:
Despite the need to have/crunch data and generally have systems that enable data-mining, showing most directors a pile of numbers is a waste of time. This was the first year we took the extra step to "chartify" all of our stats and performance numbers, etc. We even took somewhat subjective information like grading the health of chapters, and coded it in such a way that the info could be graphed. Seeing the colorful pie charts, bar graphs and obvious line trends enabled a depth of reflection and strategic discussion that I've never seen on the board before. Without getting into details, here are couple of the graphs we explored:

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October 29, 2007

3 reasons why we don't do anything new

1. Approximately 6 months before the fiscal year ends, we turn in our first crack at the budget. If we happen to have an interesting idea that is likely to cost money after that -- say 2 months into the fiscal year -- then anyone in the chain of command can basically kill it with the words "we didn't budget for it." To overcome that, it had better be a whopper of an idea.

2. We don't have time. Middle- and lower-level staff are swamped executing the plan (I love the double meaning of the word execute -- you be the judge of what's happening in your organization); senior staff spends gobs of time as personnel managers -- both for staff and committee/council/task force volunteers; and CEOs are mired in board and component and funding traps. Thinking about the future, if it happens at all, comes in tiny, disjointed bursts.

3. We've built an entire culture around painfully slow-to-change organizations. A group of consultants likely well known to readers of this blog even wrote a book about it: We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change. We've made making big decisions extremely hard. Maybe that's livable, but we've made making small decisions extremely hard, too, and that leads to stagnation.

So what can you do about it?

Well, you could come with an alternative to the annual budget cycle (here's a previous rant on that). Something less radical, but just as hard: set aside 5 percent of the budget for unbudgeted ideas -- and develop a process to ensure the money gets used and is not cut the first time financials start to look a little iffy. (That should handle part of the time issue, too.)

As far as time and culture -- if you're a CEO you have tremendous power to affect your organization's culture. Start now as it will take time – years – for a change to take hold. Other staff people can still have major effects on culture, though without support from the CEO, you may be pushing boulders uphill. To steal from Jim Collins and use what has become a cliché, I think it comes down to having the right people on the bus. Set up structures and procedures that force future thinking, and use the hire-and-fire authority to get the right people thinking for you.

And then there's the volunteers. Sometimes it's the board or members whose collective inertia are the real culprits. CEOs have to convince them that the best interests of the organization (and industry/profession/interest) necessitate looking beyond what the organizations is doing and asking "what if...".

I know all of this is more easily said than done, but we have to try, don't we?

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October 25, 2007

The shocking truth behind exit surveys

When you survey members who have left your association, do you often hear, “I’m leaving because I can’t afford to maintain my membership anymore?” (Or, for that matter, do you ever hear "I'm not attending this year's meeting because it's too expensive"?) If you do, Seth Godin has a great reponse: What they’re really saying is “It’s not worth it.”

I’d recommend reading his entire post on this subject—it’s short, and a great reality check.


October 24, 2007

Tips for Dealing with Staff Distress about the California Wildlifes

The American Psychological Association has published five tips to help people handle their distress about the Southern California wildfires. These may be helpful to distribute to staff or, at least, your human resources department.


Associations Pitch in to Help Southern California Fire Victims

We have learned of many associations that have stepped up to offer expertise, volunteers, donations and even temporary housing to the hundreds of thousands of displaced wildlife victims in Southern California. As in past catastrophes, associations are finding creative ways to apply their skills, imagination and members to addressing this crisis. You’ll find a growing list of examples on the ASAE & The Center site, and we encourage you to let us know of others. Thank you all!

Let me mention two partnering associations in particular: the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) and California Teachers Association (CTA). Despite limited operations, SDEA staff and members has "overwhelmed" the group with offers of help when it called for volunteer tutors, donations, childcare and coordination help for families sheltering at Qualcomm Stadium and a local high school. The association also is housing numerous displaced educators at its offices, auditorium and meeting spaces.

CTA, meanwhile, is helping coordinate and is urging displaced members to tap into its “CTA Disaster Fund." Established years ago, the fund offers emergency grants of up to $1,500, with an additional $1,500 grant possible. Monies come from voluntary contributions by CTA members and periodic fundraising drives. The FACT Foundation provides administrative services.

For a model disaster assistance resource for members, visit CTA’s disaster resources page


October 23, 2007

Career Contacts

Ann Oliveri recently posted on financial incentives to pursuing an association career. Let's talk about how to nurture that career once you've begun. We know there is healthy talent-sharing activity in the association industry. As a vendor, I have watched individuals move through several associations, sometimes as lateral moves into larger organizations and other times to take on executive posts at smaller ones. I even saw a department head transition to another association and bring an entire team along.

How do you ensure that you're staying in touch with the valuable contacts you've developed along the way, so that you're top of mind when an opportunity arises? With social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, it's never been easier.

Facebook now has around 40 million users, with another million signing up each week. Photos, messages and "pokes" are just the basic ways of reaching out to your friends and contacts. With the introduction of third-party applications, there is an explosion of widgets you can use to make an impression in your virtual community.

LinkedIn is a more formal way of maintaining a roster of contacts, requesting recommendations and reaching out to contacts of your contacts. The site is working to find additional ways to interact with its network, in order to fend off the encroachment of Facebook onto its turf.

In the association world, where "interactive member directory" usually means that it's searchable rather than a mere list, applying social networking features to an organization's Web site is a way to empower members to connect and share ideas above and beyond hosted events.


October 18, 2007

Quick click: Why we don't practice good leadership

Michael Wade at Execupundit asks, "Why don't we practice good leadership?" and lists 21 possible answers. There's a lot of good food for thought.

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Be cautious when crunching

David Gammel has posted a note of caution about data crunching on We Have Always Done It That Way. It's a useful counterpoint to some of the data-crunchy posts Jason and I have made lately ...

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October 17, 2007

Crunching the words

Building on Jason’s excellent post yesterday on "Crunching the Numbers," we’ve been experimenting with using ManyEyes to analyze the content in Associations Now. I’ve only just started playing with it, but so far it’s been interesting.

A tag cloud shows me that some of the most commonly used words in our August-October 2007 issues (other than the obvious “association” derivatives) include “board,” “member” and its derivatives, “open,” “leader” and “leaders,” “questions,” “information,” “power,” and “responsibility.” I’m comfortable with that (although I think the word “responsibility” was somewhat skewed by our social responsibility coverage in the September issue).

Word trees are fun to play with, too; you enter a word or phrase and you can trace its uses in their immediate context. For instance, in August-October 2007, our authors talked about how associations are …

- "much more influential with the political sector than the economic one"
- "starting to look more and more like businesses serving a consumer niche"
- "obviously different from public companies in important ways"
- "going to experience higher membership growth"
- "heavily invested in maintaining their prominence and influence"
- "capable of addressing the practical needs of individual members"
- "pretty good at managing internal issues"

We’re going to continue to upload data until I have a year’s worth of issues up there, just to see what we can see. And of course, since ManyEyes makes all data publicly accessible, you can work with the data sets as well—search for “associations” under data sets. Are there other analyses that might be worth doing? Ideas are welcome!

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October 16, 2007

Non-Profit Leadership: A Maturity Model?

Whether one is in the non-profit or for-profit world, effective and successful leadership is an important capability—so much so that it is the subject of frequent discussion, workshops and publications. Non-profit leadership involves volunteers, staff and a host of external stakeholders, including customers, business partners and leaders of alliances/affiliations. Within each of these constituencies, and certainly across them, leadership is critical for organizational success, as well as for a rewarding and enjoyable personal association experience.

Are there levels of learning, experience and capability that characterize the levels of maturity of successful non-profit leadership? Can we identify a reasonable non-profit leadership maturity model? For example, are there identifiable distinguishing performance characteristics representing an emerging volunteer leader and a mature one? What about the important performance characteristics of staff at entry level, mid-level management and senior executive management? Would a maturity model help communicate and improve leadership performance in non-profit organizations?

Maturity Models

Maturity models are generally credited to the early work of Richard L. Nolan in 1973. The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) was subsequently funded by military research. The United States Air Force funded a study at the Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute to create an abstract model for the military to use as an objective evaluation of the rapidly expanding software industry. Today, there has been further development and expansion of the use of maturity models to develop and refine an organization's processes. The maturity model may also have some other useful application to individuals, such as leadership capabilities.

CMM uses a scale of five levels of maturity for an organization that may also be applicable to individual leadership. The levels are 1) Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, heroic), 2) Repeatable (project management, process discipline), 3) Defined (institutionalized), 4) Managed ((quantified) and Optimized (process improvement).

An Initial Non-Profit Leadership Maturity Model

How could we formulate a non-profit leadership maturity model using the scale of five levels? Here’s a hypothetical example using Super Woman/Man. How does it relate to your experience with mere mortals such as you and me?

For the table and hypothetical data, go to: Download file

Your comments are invited.

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Crunching the Numbers

Especially since the 7 Measures book, the idea of being a data-driven association has gotten a lot of play. No doubt, there's been a growing fascination with numbers culturally (the extreme popularity of the TV show Numb3rs being a prime example). The new book, Microtrends (itself a book all about seeking insights from numbers) has as one of its micro trends the growth of "Number Junkies".

The Freakonomics endorsed Super Crunchers looks to be a fascinating read and it's next on my to-read list. Even the Freakonomics blog is still bustling with activity.

As a personal/practical example, a few years back at a board retreat, I was asked how many hours I worked per week and what my breakdown of tasks/areas were during that time. Sadly, I had no clue - I could only proffer a bunch of guesses (which, BTW, turned out to be way, way, off). This wasn't because they were trying nit pick at my work habits or justify my pay, or whatever. They just were really curious to know how my time was spent, and how that lined up against our organizational priorities (and staffing needs in other areas). Fair enough. (Well that, and also my estimates were being used by accounting to allocate/divvy my salary across different program areas.)

So, for the past few years, I've been using "stop watch" style time tracker called TimePanic (though, there are many other similar style apps). For 2006, my time broke down like this (where 1 PD = a standard 8 hour work day, and average time worked per week was about 50 hours):

Activity Duration Percent
Conferences (other) 53 PD, 5 h, 28 min 18.09%
Email (random) 45 PD, 7 h, 3 min 15.46%
Admin 31 PD, 7 h, 2 min 10.74%
Trip/Travel 25 PD, 7 h, 7 min 8.72%
Board Relations 24 PD, 2 h, 34 min 8.19%
Surfing/News/Forums/etc 17 PD, 3 h, 18 min 5.87%
Annual Conference 16 PD, 3 h, 5 min 5.52%
Montreal Chapter 14 PD, 2 h, 40 min 4.83%
SIG Support 11 PD, 3 h, 40 min 3.86%
Awards 7 PD, 6 h, 11 min 2.62%
Consultation 7 PD, 3 h, 0 min 2.48%
Advocacy Work 6 PD, 2 h, 47 min 2.14%
Chapter Support 6 PD, 1 h, 34 min 2.09%
PR/Interview 6 PD, 0 h, 38 min 2.05%
Web Dev 5 PD, 6 h, 50 min 1.97%
Newsletter 5 PD, 2 h, 32 min 1.79%
Professional Development 4 PD, 2 h, 57 min 1.47%
Staff Meeting 3 PD, 7 h, 45 min 1.34%
Sales 1 PD, 5 h, 58 min 0.59%
"Member Care" 4 h, 8 min 0.17%

So, aside from now being able to give my board accurate data (and to keep accounting accurate as well), I am able to crunch these numbers in many different ways. From ensuring I don't overwork in a given week/month (!), to making sure I don't spend too much time surfing news sites on the web, to analyzing the impact of one activity from month to month, or year to year, etc. Doing more where needed. Less where not needed, and so on.

Anyway, I realize that when we talk about being data-driven, it is mostly in reference to finances, member numbers, product sales, etc. And sure, that's all important. But, don't ignore other ways to take advantage of crunching the numbers.

(Though, as an aside, I wonder how many other executive directors track their time precisely - or would even be willing to do it...)

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BlogClump blogger Matt Baehr is experimenting with a new medium—webcasting. He’s launched a new videoblog, 501cTV. The first episode is up, with Matt’s take on a recent Acronym post as well as paperless meetings, the value of board service for association professionals, and a bunch more.

I’m sure he’d appreciate your comments and feedback!


October 12, 2007

Fatty diets aren't so bad and the reputational cascade

New York Times science writer John Tierney wrote a column and a couple of interesting blog posts (here and here) on a sociological phenomenon known as a "cascade." In the column, he uses the evil of the fatty diet as the example, saying a few highly regarded scientists first made the argument that fatty diets led to shorter lives. Turns out just about all rigorously researched studies since the initial claims could find no correlation, yet the myth that a connection between an early demise and a fatty diet is scientifically accepted persists today.

The reason, Tierney says, is a cascade. (Disclosure in case you don't go to my source material: Tierney's column is about a book, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.)

The connection I want to make is how Tierney dumbed down the explanation of a cascade. He used the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, noting that when asked, the audience usually arrived at the correct answer. The reason is because they are all voting essentially in isolation. If instead each audience member was asked one after another, the answer would likely be vastly different as those who were unsure or mostly unsure would choose who everyone else was choosing. Everyone will recognize this a classic groupthink behavior.

Groupthink itself generally leads to poorer decisions than a situation in which there is no groupthink. Where this gets even more dangerous is when the groupthink leads to, for example, an entire association putting its reputation behind faulty conclusions. Now we have the beginnings of a reputational cascade. A scientist in high regard publishes a finding that is then endorsed by an organization, which leads to more endorsements and so on. In Tierney's example, it's the Surgeon General who promulgates the myth, making it seem almost unimpeachable. Politicians and organizations don't like going back on their decisions, but I think organizations have to be more open to skepticism without summarily dismissing it. It's ok to be wrong, as long your intentions are good and you continually try to be as correct as you can.


New Incentive to Pursue an Association Career

Recruiting recent graduates to association careers just got a little easier. In case you missed it, there is a valuable provision in the new College Cost Reduction and Access Act that directly benefits association employees--forgiveness of college loans. For those who qualify, their monthly payments are reduced and the balance of their debt is forgiven after ten years.

According to the October 11 Wall Street Journal article, New Incentives May Bolster Public Service, "The legislation broadly defines public service to include a wide range of occupations, such as public health, public education, working for a nonprofit organization and serving in law enforcement or as a public-interest lawyer."

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October 11, 2007


I just finished reading a shattering novel for young adults called Sold (Hyperion, 2006) about a Nepalese girl who is sold into prostitution. While attending the recent National Book Festival in Washington, DC, I was compelled to buy the story after hearing its best-selling author--investigative journalist Patricia McCormick--share her emotional experiences from a month spent researching the child sex trade in Nepal and India. Bear with me while I explain the relevance to associations and their business partners.

During the Q&A, I asked McCormick both if she still communicated with the girls and women who described their horrific existences to her, and if she had been moved to activism by her findings. She affirmed both, noting that part of her earnings go to nonprofits that fight child trafficking.

More important than money, though, has been the simple fact that, despite post-trip trauma, she managed to write the book at all. Further, it just won the prestigious Quill Award for Best Teen/Young Adult Book, which will raise the visibility of this under-publicized social atrocity even more.

Association executives may not feel particularly connected to child trafficking as a business issue. But some of our sector’s largest industries—such as tourism organizations concerned that this crime is often conducted in hotels--are among the leaders working to stop the abuse. In addition, since associations hold events in many cities and nations that have become major centers for child trafficking—India, Korea, Thailand, San Diego, London, Sydney and New York, for instance—the problem has grown more relevant.

McCormick’s story of Lakshmi, the 13-year-old main character from an impoverished family, depicts a tale similar to that of millions of children ages 10-18 who are trafficked for sex annually in what has become a multi-billion-dollar business. Brazil alone is home to 500,000 child prostitutes ages 10-17, with some as young as six, according to UNICEF.

The author’s Web site links to some association efforts, including an international Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism” project by the World Tourism Organization and nonprofit End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).

Created in 1998, the code outlines six conduct criteria based on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Children. It also helpfully includes model language that associations can add to contracts with global suppliers of everything from accommodations to tours.

Members of the Code Steering Committee include the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, Federation of International Youth Travel Organizations and Tour Operators’ Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development, among others. In August 2007, the group helped gather support for 21 congressional leaders who sent letters to CEOs of the four largest U.S. hotel chains, urging them to sign the code. To date, two of them—Choice Hotels and Starwood—have responded with interest in the code, and Hilton Hotels noted that its soon-to-be-issued Global Code of Conduct “will specifically address issues of child exploitation.” Regent International Hotels and Radisson are among the 50 companies that have already signed.

Here’s hoping that other associations and industry partners “get” Sold.

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Strategy at Amazon

In line with Virgil’s post on strategy yesterday, I’d like to recommend an article that appears in the October issue of Harvard Business Review—an extended Q&A with Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos. (Full disclosure: I spend way too much time adding books to my Amazon wish list.)

It’s an interesting interview all the way around, but I was particularly drawn to what Bezos says about the methods Amazon uses to develop its corporate strategy:

- “We have a group called the S Team—‘S’ means senior—that stays abreast of what the company is working on and delves into strategy issues. It meets for about four hours every Tuesday. Once or twice a year the S Team also gets together in a two-day meeting where different ideas are explored …”

- “We are willing to plant seeds and wait a long time for them to turn into trees … when we plant a seed, it tends to take five to seven years before it has a meaningful impact on the economics of the company.”

Both of those quotes demonstrate a key virtue, at least to me: patience. Could your association plant small seeds now and have the patience to wait five to seven years to see them succeed? Bezos wasn’t talking about betting the reserves on a single new idea, but about making multiple small investments based on trends you think are developing and committing to nurture those small investments over time. Can your association make that commitment? (If you’re wondering how to come up with ideas for those seeds in the first place, there was a good related discussion on Acronym earlier this year).


October 10, 2007

Strategy Redux

OK strategy buffs—and you know who you are—here’s a very interesting take on the subject by guru Richard Rumelt in this month’s The McKinsey Quarterly. See http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_abstract.aspx?ar=2039&l2=21&l3=37&srid=253

Here’s a typical quote: “Most corporate strategic plans have little to do with strategy. They are simply three-year or five-year rolling resource budgets and some sort of market share projection. Calling this strategic planning creates false expectations that the exercise will somehow produce a coherent strategy.”

Want more? “Now, lots of people think the solution to the strategic-planning problem is to inject more strategy into the annual process. But I disagree. I think the annual rolling resource budget should be separate from strategy work. So my basic recommendation is to do two things: avoid the label “strategic plan”—call those budgets “long-term resource plans”—and start a separate, nonannual, opportunity-driven process for strategy work.” I think the key thought here may be that strategy is an on-going, episodic or opportunity-driven process that ebbs and flows, but never ceases. What do you think? Is this what your association does?

The McKinsey Quarterly is a free email newsletter, which can be obtained here: http://mckinsey.com/ideas/mck_quarterly/?cm_re=Dotcom-_-McKQuarterly-_-Top%20Nav
Happy strategizing

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October 8, 2007

Better Communications: Make A Plan, Stan!

Have you been caught in the communications trap? I have and it’s not pretty. It goes like this: At the annual meeting, a long-time member (often a respected past president) says into the microphone, “This organization does a crappy job of communicating. I never know what’s going on, except for my annual dues invoice! Why should I renew when this organization can’t communicate any better than that?”

Someone has to respond (why is it always the exec?) even though no response can possibly suffice—right? “Blah,” interrupts the member, “Not good enough.” With a straight face the past president sticks in the final pin, “I don’t read the (no-good) magazine, I travel too frequently to read my (junk) association mail, my fax is broken and I don’t use a computer!” Then the coup de grace: “This organization has gone to Hades—it never used to be like this in my day!” The meeting concludes with smiles and general agreement that this meeting was one of the best in recent memory. Does this ring a bell?

Communications are vitally important. The challenge is that most associations have a wide range of audience segments. These segments are interested in some messages (and media) and not others. This is a case of “I want what I want when I want it (the way I want it).” If there is one predictable constant it must be that there is no simple, single solution for communications with diverse members and customers. We are not all a size 6 and living in one geographical area!

What to do? One useful proactive tool is an annual communications plan. Conceived at the outset of each fiscal year, the plan contains a small number of high priority messages for the year. For example, the messages might focus on new technical information, strategic priorities, and/or association achievements improving the value proposition for members and customers. A communications plan also includes a schedule of key events and appropriate media to reach desired audience segments during the year.

For an annual communications plan to work, it must have the understanding and support of senior volunteer leaders, senior executives and communications staff, because these are the folks who will be doing most of the communications during the year. Volunteer and staff leaders must understand that their personal messages are secondary to key consistent messages from the organization each year.

Another tool for successful communications is repetition. Repetition enables audiences to become aware of and understand important communications. Have you ever wondered why commercials are so repetitive? One-time messages simply don’t have much impact.

If you want to improve your association’s communications, try working with your volunteer and staff leaders to create an annual message plan, and update it every year.

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October 4, 2007

Narrowing the membership focus

I encourage folks to read Noel Capon's article in the October issue of Associations Now: "Picking Markets That Matter." (And while you're there, please give it a rating and/or review -- we'd love to know what you think.)

Here's a small quote about one of the things he says membership organizations have a tendency to do wrong:

They stretch themselves too thin. The organization tries to satisfy too many diverse needs but has insufficient competencies to do so. As a result, rather than serving some defined set of needs very well and having satisfied customers, it gives the same lousy service to all and no one is satisfied.

I think it's similar to my growth post from a few weeks back, I get concerned when associations pursue increased membership roles by defining their audiences more broadly. I'm sure it's been done in the past with great success, and can still be done. But I see a serious danger of diluting your message by broadening your audience. I like the idea of being absolutely the best in a niche. It may not lead to astronomical member numbers, but I bet you'd find a highly engaged membership that truly values what you do.

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Live conference chat

During ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, there was a healthy amount of chatter going on through a text-message backchannel set up by Ben Martin of the Certified Association Executive blog. Ben set up what amounted to a cell-phone listserver—where backchannel participants could text message all other participants with their thoughts and opinions during the meeting (and set up face-to-face meetings as well).

On the Logic + Emotion blog, there’s a related idea that I found quite interesting: Allow text messaging as part of a panel format. Blogger David Armano will be hosting a panel discussion where attendees can text message directly to an interactive screen—so that everyone in the room can see the text messages that appear, and the panelists can address questions that the texters submit. Will it lead to chaos? He freely admits that he doesn’t know, but he’s interested in trying something new and finding ways to increase the interactivity of the panel discussion format—certainly worthy goals!

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October 2, 2007

Contradictory impressions

During a recent training event I attended, we saw an interesting video presentation on customer service. The narrator told a number of great stories, including one about how the common practice at banks of attaching pens to chains was a terrible idea. The chains imply that the bank thinks the customer is a thief, he said; it would be wiser to provide unchained pens with the bank’s name on them, so that if the pens did wander off, they’d be advertising for the bank as they did so.

Makes sense to me. But the whole thing struck me as funny, given that the video started with 10 seconds of focus on a single dark screen with large red writing at the top: “Duplicating this video is STEALING!” Which undercut the narrator’s point somewhat.

I’m not here to argue for illegal DVD duplication, but to point out that it’s important to consider the impressions you make on members and customers. I’m sure the narrator of that video was sincere in his arguments; I’m also guessing that he never saw that “Duplication is STEALING!” screen, or, if he did, he didn’t think of it in connection with the story about pens at banks. It’s easy to do that when planning a big project—you can get very focused on details and not realize that Detail A contradicts Detail R, and that members or customers will be annoyed or even angered by that contradiction.

One example I’ve seen several times recently is that of advertising a conference as “paperless” after eliminating an on-site program or education session handouts, while not considering the amount of paper used elsewhere at the meeting. Once attendees have the expectation that the conference is paperless, they will notice every time you use paper throughout the event, and question it. You should too.

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