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March 31, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #1: Firing people

In a post to his blog last week, David Gammel wrote about firing people through email. I think most people will universally support the notion that such a practice is repugnant. What I want to comment on his is third reason why it’s repugnant:

“It is too easy for the firer. Firing should be a last resort outside of extreme cases. Sending an e-mail allows the executive to terminate someone in the abstract rather than facing them personally. You are more likely to make the right decision if you are willing to deliver the message to their face.”

Each day this week, I’m unfurling an uncommon sensical HR policy. So my first uncommon sensical HR policy is to challenge the notion that firing be considered “a last resort.” I think firing someone is too hard in most organizations, and, as a result, managers keep employees that they think do the job adequately while secretly thinking the organization might be better off with someone different.

I think maybe there was a time when people showed real loyalty to their employer and maybe it was too much loyalty as companies can and did lay people off when under real or perceived financial distress . Now I wonder if the power dynamic has tilted too far in the other direction. People change jobs and employers much quicker and with more regularity than they used to, yet as long someone isn’t significantly underperforming, companies don’t seek to make a personnel change.

Now I’m not Attila the Hun or anything like that. I realize these are real people we're talking about. I also believe that most people with a passion and motivation for doing good work would never experience a non-"last resort" release. Could be that these people just don't have passion for what they do at their organization. Or it could be that they will never have passion about what they do—either way, I think your organization will be better off without them.

I think it would have to be done right. For example, a hypothetical employment policy might explain up front that the organization is always assessing the strengths of its employees and will not hesitate to make changes if it thinks it is in the best interest of the organization. To compensate for the lack of security, the company could have a relatively generous severance package for anyone released other than for gross negligence. Maybe any employee that has been there at least six months gets two months’ salary as severance. For each year of service, another month is added on up to a maximum of seven months. Of course there’s drawbacks, such as cash flow considerations. But I also think such a policy would be fair to the employee and is fair to the organization. Sorry to bust out the Jim Collins metaphor, but you have to use the hiring and firing decisions to get the right—not ok or satisfactory—but the right people on the bus.

Tomorrow: Scheduled work hours.

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March 27, 2008

Industry Message Boards as a Recruitment Vehicle

When we (the Marble Institute of America) redesigned our website 4 years ago, one of the applications that was added was a member message board. At this time, message boards were just starting to take off and we felt that this might be a nice forum for our members to communicate with each other. At the time, our staff was 4 and did not include anyone who was familiar with (or a user of) message boards. Questions and topics would sit on the board for months at a time, with only the occasional answer being posted. Our members did not embrace this technology, nor did the staff.

Enter www.stoneadvice.com. About two years ago a group of stone fabricators recognized the need for a communications vehicle where consumers could ask questions of stone experts and where stone experts could bounce ideas off of each other. Although we have never viewed this group as a threat (all of their principals are MIA supporters and members), they have been able to attract many of the smaller businesses in our industry that we were never able convert into members.

By simply and responsibly posting what we are doing (with regards to issues that affect all in the stone industry), we have turned www.stoneadvice.com into a membership recruitment tool. In the past several months we have signed up several new members who never considered joining the MIA prior to our informational posting on their site. The moderators of the forum have even added an "MIA Message Board" where we can post a bit more boldly about what we are up to.

I would highly suggest visiting the industry message boards that I imagine exist for nearly every industry and profession. In addition to staying on top of the buzz in the industry, you may be able to realize some unexpected returns.

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What Would You Do With $20 Million Bucks?

Gasp. “Wow!” “Are you serious?”That’s got to be the reaction of staff at the 103-year-old National Audubon Society this week as news spreads of its largest grant ever: $20 million over five years from Toyota. That’s the kind of chunk o’ change that can fundamentally alter how an organization operates—even a big one like Audubon. So how does an organization keep the deliverables required by a monster grant from overshadowing and dominating the workload of its staff—or does it?

In 1995 Audubon took the unusual approach of writing a strategic plan with a 25-year timeline, rather than the usual three to 10 years. From the plan emerged three mandates: re-focusing its then-disparate programs on its core mission of conserving birds and their related wildlife and habitats, expanding educational programs that emphasize the interconnectedness of healthy ecosystems and humans, and upgrading—through more funding and resources--Audubon’s unique but dissatisfied grassroots network to become the group’s top eco-advocacy tool.

I love that the plan doesn’t flinch from Audubon’s internal and external problems, acknowledging such problems as corrosive in-fighting, off-the-menu programming that strays from core competencies, and the need for a “manageable number of campaigns” and more partnerships. This is 34 pages of “stop the madness” laid out raw, a near starting over with everything on the table and everyone pulling up a chair. Even new accountability mechanisms are apparent in the revised governance and operational provisions. I found the plan to be excellent, thoughtful reading.

The Toyota grant reflects just how hard Audubon has “worked the plan” by launching what Audubon calls “TogetherGreen:”

(1) Innovation Grants to fund dozens of annual on-the-ground conservation projects—many of them pilot approaches (plan: increased flexibility, decentralization, local component engagement, core mission focus);

(2) Conservation Fellowships for 200 emerging eco-leaders who can engage diverse audiences (building stronger component management and leadership), and

(3) Volunteer Days at the community-based Audubon Centers (local focus, component engagement, showcasing facilities born from the strategic plan).

Will the money and the efforts it funds allow Audubon to stay focused on its 2020 goals? From the outside, it looks like this enviable news marks a solid step in the nonprofit’s makeover.

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March 26, 2008

Making raw data meaningful

A fellow young professional I know is writing an article for her association’s magazine on what appeals to 20-somethings in print and online media. A group of us recently gathered to talk about how magazines, e-newsletters, and websites can grab our attention and keep us reading. All of us agreed that the creative use of graphics helps us stay engaged, but we’re interested in more than just decorative images. We like the option of absorbing complex information through combinations of standard text and pictorial representations of trends and ideas.

The interactive graphs in USA Today and fact-rich charts in Good magazine are great examples of publications taking raw data and making it meaningful. The imagery serves multiple functions: an eye-catching device, a tool for comprehension, and a gateway to engagement, leading readers to build affinity for the publication.

In today’s world of information bombardment, I think the preferences expressed by my 20-something colleagues are actually shared by readers across generations. People seeking either professional development or personal enrichment in print and online media need access to learning tools that fit into a busy schedule while still imparting real meaning. Association publications can increase their appeal to 21st Century readers of all ages by thinking progressively about interactive content.

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So You Want to be an Executive Director?

Colleagues: As you many of you may know, I am retiring effective July 2. Today I have uploaded two files to the shared documents area of the ASAE CEO Community that I created to assist in my own executive succession. If are you progressing towards becoming an Executive Director or Chief Staff Officer position, or are a first time or newly hired ED or CSO, these files may be of some future use to you. Even if you are a long-tenured ED/CSO, the two files may be helpful as you need to communicate about the ED/CSO role with your volunteers.

Of course, each of our organizations is different—different cultures, different governance models, different business processes. Nevertheless, you may find some topics or information that is useful in your situation.

The files are:

“A Day in the Life of an Executive Director”: A 29-slide PowerPoint presentation designed to help our volunteer search committee have a common understanding of what an Executive Director does, and the knowledge and competencies required. The deck includes some strong graphic slides borrowed from Tom Peters public web site and his file of publicly available slides.

"Executive Director Succession Manual”: A 70-page Word document designed to support the succession of my replacement. It will be much longer and focused specifically on the role of the ED in our Society, but may be a useful reference tool for others in terms of “hands-on” roles, responsibilities, processes, etc.for an Executive Director, as well as a useful transition document.

Enjoy. Let me know if you find the information helpful. Cheers!

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March 25, 2008

Quick clicks: All atwitter

The association blogging community is debating the usefulness (or lack thereof) of Twitter:

- Cindy Butts asks if Twitter is the ultimate in boredom and interruption;
- Kevin Holland says, "Who cares?";
- David Gammel also sees little value;
- Maddie Grant argues that there is real value in the Twitter platform, and provides examples of why;
- And Dennis McDonald, on a somewhat related note, wonders if all of these social media tools are fragmenting the web and reducing the benefits of web-based communication.

Elsewhere, Peter Turner at the Growing Globally blog hosts a very interesting guest post about doing business in Dubai.

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March 24, 2008

Balance of power

One thing that really interests me as I watch the development of the Internet is the constant shifts it can create in the balance of power. For instance, as just one example, music fans who had to listen to the radio to discover new bands can now find a band’s music (and website) directly without radio or record label intermediaries. Those kinds of changes have a ripple effect that I find fascinating.

Those of us who hire employees may see similar power shifts coming soon. Jeremiah Owyang has an interesting post on LinkedIn’s new company pages, which LinkedIn bills as “a new research tool that helps you find and explore companies that you might want to work for or do business with.” Based on the data LinkedIn has on a company’s employees, the company profile page shows all kinds of things a job seeker might want to see—the schools attended most often by current employees, the median age of employees, names of new hires, average employee tenure, and more.

As Jeremiah points out, LinkedIn’s sample is limited to employees that participate in LinkedIn; and for smaller organizations (like most associations) there’s a lot less data for LinkedIn to work with. But it’s a shift in the balance of power for job seekers who want to find information on your association that isn’t filtered through the hiring manager or the HR department. (I wonder if someday companies will actively encourage their best employees to join LinkedIn or a similar platform to make sure that those employees’ experiences are reflected in their organizational profile?)

Of course, power can shift both ways. For example, Michele Martin recently posted some interesting musings on whether resumes are losing their power to get your foot in the door with a particular organization. (Of course, there’s an argument that resumes were never that effective a job-hunting tool, but that’s a different post.) And the Global Neighborhoods blog links to a company that’s experimenting with hiring a new employee entirely through social media—skipping the traditional hiring process entirely. For certain kinds of jobs, your hireability could be increasingly determined by the quality of your work that’s available online.

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March 21, 2008

TIME Devotes Lead Article to Jeffrey Sachs, Economist and Global Summit for Social Responsibility Participant

According to renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, if we want to resolve the world’s toughest problems, we need to get over our extreme cynicism and get on with looking for global solutions together in new, inclusive ways. We also need to forget that “passe” notion of competing nations for markets, power and resources because the sheer scale and complexity of sustainable development required for our future existence affect us all.

Sachs, who will be guiding part of the discussions at ASAE & The Center’s Global Summit for Social Responsibility April 30-May 2, outlines a comprehensive sustainable development agenda that relies heavily on “the dynamism and creativity of the nongovernmental sector” in his new book, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, and in the lead article of this week’s TIME magazine (“10 Ideas That Are Changing the World”). You might also have caught his appearance this week on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Sachs urges us all not to underestimate “the power of one.” (Yup, he’s an FOB –Friend of Bono’s.) By studying the problems; engaging with people across cultures, relations and regions; activating our businesses, communities and groups toward sustainable development; and demanding delivery on political promises, “our generation’s greatest challenges [become] our most exciting opportunity,” he concludes. Many people believe Sachs will one day win a Nobel Prize, so we’re thrilled to have him onboard with us.

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March 20, 2008

6 Billion Paths to Peace Takes First Step

The Shinnyo-en Foundation is trying an unusual visibility event to launch its global Six Billion Paths to Peace initiative today: a full-day Path to Peace event in New York City’s Times Square that asks people to pledge to promote harmony and peace through meaningful acts of service. Those pledges are streaming live on the Reuters interactive screen above Times Square, where they can be viewed and added to later on www.sixbillionpaths.org. Simply text PEACE to 334455 and reply to the message received with your “personal path commitment,” if you want to participate. A literal “path to peace” has been built in busy Times Square and will stay open until 6 p.m. EDT as a way to show that regardless of the world’s seemingly anonymous bustle, you can find simple ways to positively influence others around you.

Research by the foundation found that 69 percent of people already believe that individual acts of kindness promote a sense of peace in their communities. Six Billion Paths to Peace aims to raise awareness of how such daily actions by each of the six billion people on this planet can lead to peace. The organization hopes its effort will focus people on our interconnectedness and the tremendous impact of creating a positive ripple. The initiative aims to inspire one million people to pledge their Path to Peace in one year.

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Quick clicks: In with the new

- There's a new association blogger in town (at least, relatively new): Bob Wolfe of the Young Association Professional blog. I enjoyed his recent post on how he's using wikis to improve committee workflow at his association.

- The Association Forum of Chicagoland has launched a new YouTube channel. If you haven't seen the "Association Professionals Through the Ages" video they did a few years back, now's your chance (it's hysterical), but there are also more serious videos on topics like creating a business continuity plan and data mining. (Hat tip to Sue Pelletier, who linked to this from the face2face blog.)

- If you're interested in communications, the Institute for PR has started a new "Essential Knowledge Project" that may be of interest to you. So far they've collected papers on crisis communications, ethics and public relations, and trust and credibility--all publicly available.

- If you're interested in the relatively new idea of widgets, Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog has kindly collected links to more than 50 of them.

- Last but not least, this isn't really new, but it's good stuff: Jeff De Cagna and Cindy Butts have both posted their thoughts on mission statements. If you've ever suffered through hours of mission-statement wordsmithing, you might want to see what they have to say.

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March 18, 2008

On your guard

I was reading Jamie Notter's post on his blog about an education session that ASAE & The Center delivered on board-staff communications, when a thought occurred to me.

I don't think it was the case with that meeting, but often we specifically tell participants in a workshop or breakout session that it's a safehaven where they can discuss anything or get advice on anything without fear of their need getting out--which if you're talking about what an SOB your board chair is or how a person on your staff is irritating you, could be embarrassing. I'm a member of the media so I've always been sensitive to what should be reportable and what shouldn't be -- and I think most attendees get that and can be reasonably assured that the staff of the organization holding the event would be sensitive to such things.

Could the advent of social media and "everybody's a journalist" change that comfort level? Could it change the candor with which people are willing to talk about their problems and their experiences at such meetings?

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March 17, 2008

Next Traditions Discussion Thread

cover2-1.jpg

It is a great honor to be the author of this month's cover story for Associations Now. In the print version of the magazine, the article is called, "Beyond Today," but you can find it online under its original title, "The Next Traditions of Association 3.0." I hope you will take the opportunity to read it, and share your ratings and reviews. (The rate and review area appears at the end the article on the website.)

This week, my hope is that we can engage in some dialogue around the article and the implications of the argument I make for your association. To get the conversation started, please take the oppportunity to reflect on the following questions:

+What role does tradition play in your association?

+How does/can your organization use tradition as a platform for innovation?

+Among the six "next traditions" discussed in the article, which of them does your association embrace? Which does your association find it difficult to embrace?

I look forward to our discussion. Please share your insights, as well as any questions, in the comment box below!

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March 16, 2008

Overseas Meetings - Why not Japan?

It's a very good question. I have just got back from a trip to review meeting facilities in Japan, and, amongst all the hype about China and India, they seem to have been forgotten.

This was my first trip to Japan (other than changing planes there - which my wife says does not count) and I have to say how impressed I was as a location for events.

First, cleanliness. It took me two days to see a piece of litter. Second, safety. I never saw a policeman, and only heard sirens once - of course, it many heave been an ambulance. By the way, their murder rate is 1/10 of the US! The total crime rate is 1/4 that of the US. Third, efficiency. every time I doubted their ability to do something like deliver luggage to the right location, I was proved wrong. Fourth, friendliness. Yes, they are a little formal, but very open and accepting of our informality! Fifth, facilities. From the large cities of Tokyo and Osaka down to the smaller convention cities, they are geared up to receive groups from 50 - 5,000.

Issues? Costs. Let's get this one up front, with the $ at about Y100 again, this is not a cheap place - move away from Tokyo for better deals on everything. Language. English is widely, if inexpertly spoken, and to get up to a rudimentary level in Japanese would take a huge effort. But, I would say that is no different in China.

Although our goods may now be manufactured in China, a lot of this activity is controlled from Japan. Ignore Japan at your peril!

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March 15, 2008

Avoiding Maslow's Basement

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath is a great book chock full of aha moments and tangible take-aways (and the simulated duct tape cover is brilliant). Rather than rehashing their SUCCESs model or discussing the book more generally, I'd like to highlight the concept of Maslow's Basement that is introduced in the book.

Most are familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, where people tend to focus on satisfying baser needs (like food, shelter, etc) before moving on to fulfilling higher order needs (like love, self-esteem, respect, etc). The Heaths lump/label those initial lower-oder needs into the "basement", and suggest that our ideas/communications/products/etc are overly focused on this basement - to our detriment, of course.

They point to research that uncovers a paradox in human reasoning: we generally refer to a high-order need as the motivation for doing something (eg, sense of achievement), while we assume that a lower-order need (eg, money) is what motivates someone else to do the same thing. Think of all the possible areas this thinking can permeate the association world!

I see this kind of thinking first hand within my board. Of course, they are all part of the association because it is the "right thing to do", while everyone else really just wants free stuff and discounts and access to new job opportunities. The board's motivation is purely altruistic/intangible while the motivation of the membership at large is purely tangible - and much of the board's thinking is spent on how we can just provide more and more tangible value to members.

Given this common logic, is it any surprise that most association leaders seemed stunned by the Decision to Join research showing a slightly higher weighting towards intangible "good for the order" benefits over more tangible personal benefits?

No doubt, folks like tangible stuff, but let's not assume that everyone is stuck in Maslow's Basement. What would happen to our products/services, and our associations more generally, if we realized that members were motivated by the same things we were?

PS: While we're on psychology, the Heaths reference the "availability bias" (aka availability heuristic) as a cognitive bias in guessing probability. This concept states that we estimate what is more likely by what is more available in memory, which is biased toward vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged examples (and often overrides the credibility of statistics). I see this one all the time in how one special case example (eg, a member complains about something truly exceptional at the annual conference) ratholes the entire org as they view the one vivid example as the rule as opposed to the exception.

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“Blown Away” case study discussion

Those of you who have seen the March Associations Now may have noticed several new columns and departments making their debut. One of those departments will be directly connected to Acronym: a series of Associations Now case studies.

Click below to discuss the March case study, “Blown Away," where an association wrestles with what to do when its annual meeting is threatened by a hurricane.

What are your thoughts about Melissa and her approach to the potential crisis? Has your association (or a client of yours) ever dealt with a potential meeting cancellation?

A few questions I’d like to throw out there to get the discussion started:

- What else could Melissa have done to help her executive committee make its decision?

- If the executive committee decides to cancel the annual meeting, what should Melissa do first?

- If the board decides to move forward in the hopes that the hurricane won’t hit, what should Melissa do to prepare for the worst?

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March 13, 2008

Two Heads Are Better Than One

As the publisher of essentially a one-man magazine, StoneDimensions, I face of myriad of issues on a day to day basis. Add to this, the fact that prior to the conception of this project, I had never worked a day of my life in publications; and you start to get the picture that publishing this magazine has been an extraordinary learning experience for me.

Sitting at my desk this morning to begin processing orders (we sell this magazine in bulk to our members for distribution to their customers and design partners) for volume 2 issue 1, I was really hoping to develop a more efficient process for entering orders, running credit cards, emailing receipts, etc. It was time to streamline this process, but I kept returning to the comfortable method I had fallen into more than a year ago.

I decided that I was going to do something I had rarely done before…ask for help. I figured that asking someone to critique a process that I developed would be a terrifying experience…and it was. However, after about 10 minutes my boss stopped me and we reviewed everything that went into entering an order by putting it on a whiteboard. There were several steps that could easily be consolidated and several more which could be eliminated all together. AWESOME!

It is now 4:06, and those 100 orders for 20,000 or so magazines have been processed in literally half the time that it took me to enter the orders for any of the previous 3 issues. Swallowing my pride and realizing that two heads were better than one saved me at least one day of mindless order processing. I learned a life lesson today.

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Optimize for less stress

Michele Martin’s comment on the “Interesting juxtaposition” post addresses the need for a shift in the way U.S. organizations think about their employees. The field of association management has a unique opportunity to compete for today’s most valuable human resources by taking the discussion about compensation to another level. Associations can build on their appeal to talented, socially-conscious workers by creating satisfying job environments where all factors affecting an employee’s well being are taken into consideration.

Fritjof Capra, a brilliant scientist and major voice in the discussion on sustainability, applies the principles of ecological systems to human communities. His emphasis on dynamic balance seems particularly significant for managing teams: a healthy system is flexible and has the ability to right itself after facing stress, but “trying to maximize any single variable instead of optimizing it will invariably lead to the destruction of the system as a whole.”

Creating the right mix of employee takeaways—both tangible and intangible—may be an answer for recruiting and retaining talented staffers. Beginning to understand our teams, organizations, and the broader industry as part of interconnected networks will provide a leg up in the increasingly complex work world.

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March 11, 2008

Quick clicks: Learners taking over learning

There are a couple of interesting posts about learning up today: Sue Pelletier at face2face blogs about attendees rebelling during a session at the SXSW technology conference. She links to video of the session as well; once you've watched it, I'd be curious to see what the meetings folks out there think. What if something like this happened at one of your events?

Elsewhere, at Mission to Learn, Jeff Cobb blogs some thoughts about a world without courses. How could we tell whether someone has officially "learned" when they are doing their learning unofficially, with no diploma or certificate awarded by an accredited learning provider? Jeff has a few ideas.

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March 7, 2008

Something that will make me hate you

Ran across the WikiHow entry "How to Communicate Bad News Effectively" and I absolutely hate it. It offers "The Spin Technique," "Compare and Minimize," and "The Sandwich Method," which is delivering positive news, then the bad news, then more positive news.

I call out this bad article because I've run across this too many times, and I think it's one way I've seen associations hurt themselves. My position is, don't worry about delivering bad news. Just come out with the news, have a discussion about it, decide what action if any to take about it, and move on. Sugar coating things is a huge disservice. In the unlikely event that you successfully minimize the issue, your association is missing the opportunity to make appropriate changes, and the bad news will still be there. Far more likely, your audience will see through your spin and begin to pick it apart. The bad news conversation then takes twice as long, because you have to unravel the bad news first. Have more respect for the people you're talking to than that.

When I'm in a meeting where someone uses the spin technique, the compare and minimize technique, or the sandwich method, I end up daydreaming about the speaker having one of those invisible fence dog collars on, and I have control of the zapper.

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Interesting juxtaposition

Sixty-two percent of Americans believe the typical nonprofit spends more than is reasonable on overhead expenses (according to an Ellison Research survey of 1,007 U.S. adults). But a Meyer Foundation study of 6,000 “next-generation leaders”—staffers of all ages who have committed to the nonprofit sector and who are actively developing the skills needed to hold management positions—found significant concerns about salary and compensation.

When those future leaders consider spending the rest of their careers in the nonprofit field, the following percentages of respondents said that

• I will not make enough money to retire comfortably: 48%
• I will not make enough money to support a family: 37%
• I will not make enough money to pay off all debt in a reasonable time frame: 24%

These studies are both aimed at the philanthropic community, but I've seen similar concerns coming from professional society members too, especially when the industry the society represents falls upon hard times. What can we do to educate donors, members, and stakeholders so that they can understand the difference between investing in the future of a nonprofit or association and wasting money on unneeded overhead expenses? (With the caveat that we as staff should always be on the lookout to cut unnecessary overhead, like any business would?)

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March 6, 2008

Not Located in an Association Hotbed?

At times (read: most of the time), working for an association located in Cleveland makes me feel like I am snow-skiing in Hawaii or surfing in Aspen. While I have enjoyed every moment of my employment at the Marble Institute of America, it is hard not to feel removed from the associo-centric environs of DC or Chicago. Not having to explain what an association is would be nice for a change…

Recently, two things happened which dramatically changed my feelings of relative isolation:

1. Participating in the Greater Cleveland Society of Association Executives. Attending monthly meetings with the 30 or so others devoted to the GCSAE has really opened my eyes to the fact that there is a vibrant, albeit small, association community here in Cleveland. As a younger association executive, having the opportunity to lunch and mingle with experienced executives and CAEs has been very rewarding.
Look into joining your local society of association executives.

2. This year, the Marble Institute of America joined the ASAE Circle Club. At first glance the price tag seemed high, but after crunching some numbers it became crystal clear that after dues and education seminars for our staff were factored in, this “club” would be a wise financial investment. What has resulted is a situation where more staff are able to attend ASAE education seminars and ultimately new interest in what it is we are all part of has been generated.
Look into the Circle Club; it may afford you additional opportunities for association related education.

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More Than Just a Pretty Website

This week marked the launch of a new website for my association. We’ve been working with developers since last November to craft a new look and feel for the site and develop a streamlined structure that would not only put a fresh face on the organization, but also make information accessible enough to cut back on the volume of calls and emails we receive. After being live for only a few days, the new design has received positive feedback. I get the sense that even the most tech-shy of our members will be giving the site another look.

The transition from our old website (and my anticipation of how members will relate to the new one) got me thinking about the major role that design plays in our use of the internet. Each time we visit a site we make initial judgments about its content based on its graphic interface. Contemporary graphics, colors, and fonts, along with up-to-date navigation and menu conventions engender an immediate and basic level of trust that we’ll find what we’re looking for. Clashing colors and poor organization on a site’s homepage quickly make us doubt we’ll read anything of value within its pages.

As manager of our website’s words I’m all about communicating value to members and other constituents. I realize that the articles, issue summaries, and event descriptions I’ve worked hard to gather and post will be viewed differently now that our site looks fresh and new. The real test will come several months down the road when a little of the shine has worn off and members expect our site’s content to live up to its pretty face. It’ll be my challenge to ensure they find the value they’re seeking.

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New blog with an international twist

We've had a lot of new association blogs lately! This one, however, has a special focus on establishing and sustaining international business for your association: GrowingGlobally.org. Peter Turner of the opensource.association blog is the featured writer, so you know there's going to be some great and thought-provoking posts. As a good example, check out this recent post in response to Acronym's series of posts from the Study Mission to India.

Peter, good luck with this new endeavor!

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March 5, 2008

Welcome, new bloggers

I'd like to welcome two new bloggers to the Acronym crew: Brynn Grumstrup Slate and Garen Distelhorst. Brynn is manager of communications and programs for the National Association of Women Business Owners in McLean, Virginia; Garen is accreditation manager for the Marble Institute of America. Both are active members of ASAE & The Center's Young Professionals Committee.

We're excited to have Brynn and Garen as part of Acronym. Please welcome them both!

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March 4, 2008

Quick clicks: Free, annual meetings, volunteer management

Association bloggers have been putting up great posts lately:

- Mike Mason of Communicatio has been busy for a while, but he's back with some great lessons learned at his annual meeting (note that the links go to two separate posts).

- Several association bloggers have read the new article "Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business", a preview of the upcoming book by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail. (Based on what they have to say, I have to make time to read it myself.) Ann Oliveri reacts here, and Cindy Butts shares some notable points from the article as well.

- The Dear Association Leader blog shares some ideas for using good personnel management techniques to be a better volunteer manager.

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March 3, 2008

Study Mission to India: Last day

Today was an amazing day with content presented by the diplomatic editor of The Times of India (one of the largest newspapers in India, if not the largest), and by a former ambassador of India who now is currently working at a think tank. Both presenters gave a very candid view of the political picture as well a look at societal issues.

Their presentations really put things together that we've heard during the week and brought into clearer focus all that is happening here in India.

Today was also the presentation of the budget by the finance minister. It is really a big deal here and everyone is glued to the TV because this is how they find out how their taxes will change. In any event, we watched some of the budget presentation and it was extremely interesting after hearing all of the presentations during the week involving healthcare, education, the tax laws, etc. Of interesting note, two people, the finance minister and the prime minister, develop the budget that 1.1 billion people depend on. Amazing!!

In any event, one can see how this country is changing so fast -- so much money is being spent in the rural parts of the country involving the farmers, more money for education and healthcare, more focus on transportation, etc. Being here has given us a great appreciation for the rapid pace this country is moving, although of more of course needs to be done.

On a cultural note, we toured Delhi in rickshaws, which was a lot of fun and saw beautiful Hindu temples and the Red Fort. This has been a tremendous learning and cultural experience.

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Study Mission to India: Small world

Susan Sarfati sent us a note from India to share an interesting story:

Late last week, Susan had the opportunity to meet with John Davison, Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs, at the U.S. Embassy. When Susan started briefing John and his colleague Atul Keshap, Depty Minister Counselor for Political Affairs, John said that he knew about ASAE & The Center, because he worked at ASAE in 1982 managing the conference center. According to Susan, "We couldn't believe it."

The world gets smaller all the time ...

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SNAP, blogging, and associations

I recently was honored to moderate a panel on “Blogging: The What, the Why, and the How” for the Society of National Association Publications. The panelists were Kevin Holland, Jeff De Cagna, and Ben Martin—three long-time bloggers with a great understanding of how the medium can work for associations. Each one of them gave an informal presentation, and then the event’s attendees kept things going for nearly an hour (and then longer after the panel officially ended) with questions.

I jotted down some ideas from Ben, Kevin, and Jeff that I found insightful, and I wanted to share them with you. (Note that Ben and Jeff have also posted about the event, if you’d like their takes on it.)

- Association magazines should stop being something members read and start being something they engage with.

- One measure of success for a blog is the number of converts you make—individuals who were actively disengaged from your association who now are engaging with it in a positive manner.

- “Social media” has both a social aspect and a media aspect, and you need to understand both. Just understanding how to write for and post to a blog won’t have much value if you don’t also learn how to engage with your readers.

- When working with blogs, you need to balance the amount of time you spend reading and the amount of time you spend writing. Ben recommends spending about three times as much time on reading as on writing.

- Communications isn’t just about writing anymore. Communicators should also be the technologists and the futurists at their associations.

If anyone from the SNAP event drops by, and you have a question that wasn’t answered during the event itself, feel free to leave that question in a comment to this post. I’ll do my best to get you a helpful answer.

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