« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

May 30, 2008

The plan for dealing with the crud

So this is my idea for how associations might go about managing centralized and decentralized content—a way of sifting through the "90 percent" crud of yesterday's post.

I like the idea of separating information into three buckets: (1) bad, uninteresting, or unexplored; (2) interesting, potentially useful; and (3) the good stuff. I think associations should offer as many decentralized opportunities as there is a call for from its constituents (and I think you have to keep in mind that it's ok to tinker, it's ok to build something with high hopes only to see nobody comes—as long as you do it smartly, the more resources you put into it the more sure you should be that it will work).

Where associations add value to their members is both by giving them the tools to create content and collaborate, and by categorizing and presenting that information. The good stuff should be explored and appear in education sessions, magazine/newsletter articles, white papers on the web or in some other way that signifies it as association-approved. With the good stuff, you're saying "read this—it may be very important to you and your job/company/interest."

Making the good stuff fit for wide consumption is a resource-intensive task. As a result, some interesting stuff will simply not be turned into good stuff. Maybe this takes the shape of peer recommendations or is vetted in some other way, but it doesn't get the same stamp of approval from the association. With this stuff, you're saying "there may be something here you find interesting." This stuff is in some way accessible and designated as this middle category on your website.

The last category is the biggest. You admit that you can't review everything. You also admit that while the association tries its best to pull out the good stuff and interesting stuff for special treatment, there is always subjective evaluation involved, and what is good to one person may be unremarkable to another. In this category, you're saying, "It may not be easy to wade through all this stuff, but it's here for you if you want to. (And let us know if something looks interesting to you.)"

How do you capture and categorize the stuff? There's tons of ways, from volunteers to focus groups to staff to technology. It's really going to depend on the resources you have or could develop. Maybe that's another post sometime, or maybe some people have thoughts or experiences to share. The important thing is to start. You don't have to try to capture and categorize everything. Start with your listservers or with the q&a's that happen after education sessions or chat in your online education courses. Start there, capture some of it, and begin to analyze it, categorize it, and use it.

| | Comments (5)

May 29, 2008

90% crud

Here's a single q&a from today's wonderful WashingtonPost.com chat with professor and author Jonathon Zittrain:

Pot Falls, Va.: Now that more people than ever can make their voice heard, are we doomed to listen to partially informed, bitter, angry vitriolic rubbish the rest of our online lives?

Cynical in Va.

Jonathan Zittrain: I don't think so. (Lee Siegel has written a lot about this, by the way, in his book Against the Machine.) Theodore Sturgeon, the science fiction writer, was once told that 90% of SF was crud. "Yes," he said, "90% of everything is crud."
So there's a lot of stuff out there that isn't that inspiring -- or that's downright hurtful or deceptive. But our technical architectures for letting people express themselves online are all over the map, and those attached to natural gathering points like online newspapers are (with apologies to WaPo) primitive. That's why I'm intrigued (but not cyberutopian) by Wikipedia: it's a genuinely new technology that makes possible a culture of discussion and moderation that's today often vitriol-free.

For those who haven't done so yet, check out an article of your choice on Wikipedia and then click on the "discussion" link at the top of the page. Chances are good that you'll like what you see. (Mileage may vary, of course.)

This is an old debate on Acronym, and I'm not really trying to reopen it here... at least not in the same form. I wanted to use the quote to talk about the idea of what I refer to as centralized vs. decentralized content. Associations have long been purveyors of centralized content—that is, content that goes out with the stamp of approval from the association. It's a book or a magazine article or a committee report, etc.

We've actually been in the decentralized content game a long time, too, with chat boards and listservers (not to mention the infamous "hallway conversations," which associations seem to universally point to as a prime reason for attending a large conference). However, members—and those who would be our members—are increasingly expecting more outlets for decentralized content. In some ways, those associations on the forefront who are able to capture this content are creating their long tail. The main argument against putting resources behind fostering decentralized content and its capture is that if it is not good, it will make the association look bad.

I think people are realizing that 90 percent of everything is crud. I think associations should continue to produce centralized content, and work hard to turn the crud ratio on its head (make 90 percent of it good). But open up and strongly encourage decentralized content—being sure the two kinds of information are apparent to those who access it—and let the crud come with the good. Find the 10 percent that is good, and use it. Tomorrow, I’ll write some thoughts about what this might look like.

| | Comments (4)

May 28, 2008

Quick clicks: Stand ups, co-creation

A few links and recommendations for your Wednesday morning:

- Hugh McLeod of gapingvoid.com posted a valuable thought to his blog (originally something he posted on Twitter): "Word of mouth is not created, it is co-created. People will only spread your virus if there’s something in it for them."

- Jeff Cobb of the Mission to Learn blog has launched a second blog, focusing on business and marketing strategy: Hedgehog & Fox.

- Jeffrey Cufaude talks about the value of stand-up meetings. (I remember reading somewhere that the best way to have an effective meeting is to remove all of the chairs from the room ...)

- A bunch of other association bloggers have already linked to this, but I really feel like Acronym should as well: Seth Godin tells us that the bar has been raised for meetings and conferences. "And here's what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement." Do your association's meetings deliver on those expectations?

| | Comments (1)

May 23, 2008

Start with the problem, not the solution

Here's a post that's been mulling around in my brain for a while: Why do people jump straight to the end of the decision process, rather than working through from the beginning?

As an association communicator, I've seen this play out more than once. Someone comes to me and says, "We need a brochure/new publication/book/website/blog." I ask why, and they give reasons ranging from sharing information with members to promoting a profession to the public, and many things in between. Unfortunately, then solution they've chosen isn't the best one, for whatever reason; perhaps it's more expensive than they realize, perhaps it's not the best vehicle to accomplish their goal. But when I try to explain this, the person angrily says that I'm just being a naysayer.

Wouldn't it work so much better if we started with the problem instead of the solution? Let's start with "We want to promote our profession to the public. No one knows what our members do, and their work is important. How do we raise awareness?" From there, there are a number of directions you can go--almost infinite options, depending on the budget and time available. But when you start with "We want a book" or "We need a blog," there are only two real answers--yes or no. And when the answer needs to be no, it can create bad feeling.

I'm thinking that the same rule can be applied outside the realm of communications, too. What if your board president comes to you and says, "We need to launch a new specialty conference in a resort location." There may be all sorts of reasons to say no, which can put you in an awkward position. But if your board had committed to starting with problems instead of solutions, you could start with "Our last member survey shows that Specialist Group X in our membership is dissatisfied with the options at our annual meeting, and I've spoken with several members in that specialty who are very interested in meeting with their peers in an exclusive location. What can we do to increase that group's satisfaction?" Then you look at your options--which may include a specialty conference.

Admittedly, you can still end up with a solution that won't please everyone (that happens no matter what), and you may still wind up saying "no." But going through the process gives everyone an opportunity to feel heard and to buy in to the eventual decision.

| | Comments (6)

May 19, 2008

New Outreach Strategies Strive to Relieve Hunger

America's Second Harvest, the largest U.S. hunger relief nonprofit, has developed an unusual public and policy maker awareness tool—a week-long photo essay—to “spotlight the many faces of hunger in America.” The daily images depict one of the 25 million Americans who depend on a local food bank to survive. The vehicle sought to push Congress and the White House to pass the revised Farm Bill; legislators did so May 14, but a presidential veto was expected at press time.

The virtual photo essay appeared right after Stamp Out Hunger!, the nation’s largest single-day food drive, which was organized May 10 by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). The group partners with the Campbell Soup Company, healthcare organizations, local food groups, and many other community-based organizations and businesses to pull off the massive effort.

Like America’s Second Harvest, NALC tried some new public awareness and engagement tools this year in the 10,000-plus cities and towns holding food drives. While the 16-year-old campaign has generated more than 836 million pounds of food, campaign leaders were especially focused on increasing donations in 2008 because of the jump in demand for food bank assistance and a drop in food donations, especially at this time of year.

To break last year’s distribution record of 70.7 million pounds of food, NALC is trying to leverage some surprising findings it discovered after last year’s drive and to introduce new engagement experiments:

(1) Giving doubled or even tripled when people were given a simple plastic bag with the postcard. In Florida, for instance, the Publix food chain donated more than 8 million plastic bags, and the pounds of food donated are “big numbers,” says an NALC spokesperson. “We found tremendous success in areas that put out plastic bags…. People seemed to react more to a bag than a postcard. You can’t miss it. You save it, look at it, get a guilt trip, and then fill it.”

(2) NALC took more advantage of the massive public relations power of lead partner Campbell Soup, which increased the number of announcement postcards to 124 million, developed a TV public service announcement that features the Harlem Globetrotters, ran special coupons and dozens of full-page advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and placed notices on Web sites. It also helped produce inflatable soup cans and yard signs for NALC sites.

(3) While NALC always produces a video of some kind, the latest 10-minute DVD, “The NALC Food Drive: Making America a Better Place,” includes an original song about the drive, “Feed the Nation,” written by a local letter carrier. A major rollout of the new logo incorporates the organization’s name and the highly recognized Stamp Out Hunger slogan. The logo has been put on everything from t-shirts to posters.

(4) While syndicated Family Circus cartoonist Bil and Jeff Keane have delivered an original cartoon that promotes the drive for the past decade, this year NALC noticed a major surge in the number of corporate, media, and organizational Web sites that wanted copies for their own Web sites.

(5) NALC doubled the scope of its award system recognizing the most successful drives at the local levels. The group hopes the heightened recognition will inspire more branches to do more than simply deliver postcards and devote themselves—like the top-producing branches and organizational partners do—to an all-out planning and promotion effort customized to the community, such as involving more school districts.

Whether these changes will pay off with a record total donation won’t be known until June 2, but staff are hopeful and have seen some record numbers reported in certain locations already, despite the economy.


May 17, 2008

The Lecture Sketch

Despite having zero artistic talent, I’ve gotten into the habit of using sketching software and a small tablet for my conference lecturing (ie, instead of PowerPoint).

I have the tendency to use a lot of photos and discuss diagrams and charts. Actually drawing the charts live seems to be more engaging than throwing a complex chart up on screen.

And now, looks like there is a book to support this: The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam. Which, by the way, I came across via the speed review in Convene.

Anyway, I’ve done it this way a for about a year now and have gotten very positive feedback. And, actually, presentations are much easier to prepare since I'm not wasting time formatting bullets and whatnot... Below is a stitch of all of the “sketches” from one of my past lectures.

| | Comments (4)

May 15, 2008

Anyone Need Closed Captioning on Their Videos?

VITAC, a provider of closed captioning and other accessible media services, is launching a “CaptionsON” awareness campaign that includes providing up to 150 hours of pro-bono captioning service to nonprofit organizations who respond between now and June 8, 2008. Given that the lengths of videos vary, the company projects that 600 to 1,300 videos could be captioned.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for nonprofit organizations nationwide to ensure that their audiovisual material, intended for general audiences or their clients, students, or employees, is accessible through captions," noted Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which also administers the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) and co-founded the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). "CaptionsON will have a positive and profound impact on the deaf and hard of hearing and hearing communities alike."

Visit the CaptionsON site for details.


May 13, 2008

Quick clicks: Advice for young leaders and more

- If you've enjoyed Virgil Carter's insights on Acronym as much as I have, be sure to leave a comment in his farewell post. Virgil, we'll miss you!

- Lindy Dreyer at Association Marketing Springboard has posted a passionate argument for opt-in, versus opt-out, listservers.

- For emerging leaders and those with an interest in encouraging them: Bob Wolfe has thoughts on how non-senior-management staff can promote innovation in their organizations. Kevin Holland has a great post on growing your association career. And Bill Taylor, author of Mavericks at Work, has a post for those who are taking that step from non-management to management-level work: “Memo to a Young Leader: What Kind of Boss Are You?”

- The Non-Profit Marketing Blog hits the target with six great steps to social media success. In contrast, Sparkplug CEO has 10 social media blunders that can destroy your brand.

- The Association Forum of Chicagoland’s blog, The FORUM Effect, is adding new guest bloggers each month. This month’s guests include Claire Darmanin (on teaching members the business of associations), Mariana Toscas (on retaining Gen Yers), Mark Dominiak (on getting the most out of advertising), and George Rounds (on successful meetings in a weak economy).

- “Make big promises; overdeliver.” A recent post from Seth Godin that says it all.

| | Comments (1)

Greening Your Direct Mail in Canada

Canada Post, which delivers more than 11 billion pieces of mail a year, has launched a national initiative to “help educate marketers and consumers on responsible usage of direct mail and its impact on the environment.” Marketers who visit www.canadapost.ca/green will find “greener” options and ideas about direct mail strategies that better target their messages.

I especially like the handy tip sheet for businesses, which includes a suggestion that marketers visit the Canadian Marketing Association’s “Do Not Contact” service prior to acquisition mailings. On a consumer level, the “What You Can Do” section of the site urges people to recycle more, since many municipalities now take glossy flyer paper, catalogues, magazines, and even windowed envelopes, according to the Paper Recycling Association of Canada.

The effort arose after Canada Post studied results from its latest public poll and whitepaper, "The New Environmentalism," which finds that three-quarters of Canadians consider “environmental conservation and preservation as a matter of personal importance.” The organization also released its first Corporate Responsibility Report today.

Laurene Cihosky, senior vice president, Canada Post’s Direct Marketing Division, speaks today at the Canadian Marketing Association's (CMA) annual convention on "The ROI of Green." She is emphasizing “the risks of environmental inertia, how to make direct mail programs more environmentally friendly and how going 'green' can increase campaign ROI.”


May 12, 2008

Moving On—Again!

Well, it’s time to move on—again! After six years at ASME, I’m retiring July 2, and my wife and I are reinventing ourselves for a fifth time. After a year’s participation on Acronym, this will be my last article. I have this perspective that every 5-8 years I need to move on and find something new and innovative to do. All of us are different, but this is one way I stay challenged and energized. Between now and July 2, there are many final activities at ASME to conclude, including taking my president to Western Europe in a few days for development of alliances and outreach activities. Thus, my time to blog new thoughts will be very limited.

Merle and I are going back to our place in Chadds Ford, west of Philadelphia, where I will do some things that I have long wanted to do: paint full time, teach art, self publish guide books of historic areas in the western Philadelphia area (with my paintings as illustrations), redo the herb garden, design a new house, and maybe, just maybe, do some consulting in association management. We’ll see. One thing is for sure: it will be an exciting and wonderful time of exploration and new discovery.

Folks have asked me what I consider to be my major achievement. It’s one of those common questions asked of retirees. My answer is simple--association management is a wonderful field, full of extraordinary people. Working with so many wonderful volunteers and staff is the achievement I treasure most.

Association management is not for everyone, of course, but it is an important and rewarding endeavor. I’ve been an army officer, practicing architect, university administrator and tenured faculty member, and, thanks to the invitation of a good friend in 1989, a senior association executive. I can’t think of anything as challenging and rewarding as association management. The non-profit sector is an important and significant contributor to the improvement of work, quality of life and personal well-being. Non-profit leadership is hard, but worthwhile and important work.

I want to thank Lisa and Scott for allowing me to participate as a contributor to Acronym. It’s a great blog and fine resource for ASAE. I’ve enjoyed my time here and the many conversations with colleagues.

Merle and I send all of you our very best wishes. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with and learned so much from so many of you. Keep up the fine work.

If you are interested in painting or need a guidebook for the historic areas in Delaware, Chester and Lancaster Counties, just let us know. If you’re in the area of Chadds Ford, stop by and we’ll have some lemonade on the back porch. Cheers!

| | Comments (7)

Cross-sector Coalition Takes on Greenhouse Gas Standards-setting

A coalition of 240 environmental and other nonprofits, associations, corporations, and state and local governments have joined The Climate Registry, a nonprofit created to establish unified standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement, verification, and public reporting that “are accurate and consistent across North America.” Already, 39 U.S. states, nine Canadian provinces, six Mexican states, three Native American tribes, and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards, which are a mixture of mandatory and voluntary provisions at the local, regional, and federal levels.

According to Gina McCarthy, board chair and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Quality, "The depth and variety of the Founding Reporters from all across North America and in so many different sectors -- cities, auto manufacturers, wine makers, and the post office -- is a testament to the breadth of ongoing climate activities and the Registry's ability to assist in these efforts."

Coalition members include the American Public Transportation Association, World Resources Institute, Natural Resource Defense Council, Cornell University, NativeEnergy, and The Climate Trust. Others are welcome to join.


May 9, 2008

Responding to Cyclone Nargis

I’ve gotten some inquiries about which nonprofits and associations have been able to overcome the many political and operational barriers and actually provide aid to communities devastated by Cyclone Nargis in Burma/Myanmar this week.

I have already heard about associations that are making donations to these and other aid groups, offering technical expertise, holding fundraising events, and keeping members informed. Association business partners also have been working to help aid groups respond. Hilton HHonors members, for instance, can donate their Hhonors points for cash to the IFRC.

While I can’t recommend one group over another, and the list varies by the day for political and operational reasons, I can say that the ones with staff already in the country pre-cyclone appear to be furthest along in their relief efforts and in their appeals for specific types of assistance. Already, online videos of their work and the difficult conditions facing staff, volunteers, and community leaders are on many of the Web sites listed below.

In related news, three of the largest charities in the United Kingdom—World Vision, Save the Children, and the Red Cross--set aside historical attitudes toward competitiveness and addressed the sheer scale of the relief response and political maneuvering needed to deliver workers and supplies on site. The powerful trio launched an unprecedented national fundraising appeal this week and pledged to work together on relief efforts, under the oversight of the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group of the largest 13 UK charities.

Nonprofits on the ground in Burma include the following:

- World Vision: Its 500 in-country staff have reported that the situation is “worse than in the [Asian] tsunami” of 2004 as they try to track down and help feed and shelter sponsored children and families who survived the 15-foot sea surge in the delta region.

- Save the Children: They report that they have supplied “food, plastic sheeting, water purification tablets, kitchen equipment, rehydration salts,” and more to 63,000 displaced children and families.

- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): A special section of its Web site is devoted to daily updates, videos, and photos of the response effort.

- Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): With 43 international staff and 1,200 national staff throughout the country, “teams are treating wounded, distributing food, and providing water and relief items,” according to its Web site. Planes with 160 tons of supplies were scheduled to depart today.

All have been rushing more staff and supplies into areas already suffering from deep poverty and local health challenges. Access to safe, clean water is a major concern, along with poor sanitation, exposure and the risk of outbreaks of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Nonprofits and their allies have been urging the government to accelerate visa paperwork for aid workers.


| | Comments (1)

Voter protection coalition kept busy

Many people at the Global Summit for Social Responsibility last week asked me about coalitions and industry-wide efforts that are underway and how they can learn more about them. I’ll be blogging more about such efforts in response, and anyone can access an ever-growing list of association and nonprofit coalitions working on a wide range of social, environmental and economic issues on ASAE & The Center’s Social Responsibility website.

One joint effort I’m hearing about relates to voting—not the usual voter recruitment campaigns but the access to and ability to cast your vote. In this week’s North Carolina and Indiana primaries, for instance, a Voter Protection Hotline created by the Election Protection Coalition—the largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition in the U.S.—took almost 800 calls about voting problems from residents in both states.

The coalition also uses hundreds of volunteers to monitor polling places during primaries, answer questions from confused residents, and most recently paid close attention to problems related to Indiana’s controversial new requirement that a voter produce a government-issued photo identification. The group is especially concerned about voters who were turned away by undertrained poll workers giving incorrect information, voting machine problems, and outdated or wrong voter registration rolls—the most common problems found in numerous state primaries, according to the coalition.

Participants in the coalition vary state-to-state, but national partners include the nonpartisan National Campaign for Fair Elections of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Right's Voting Rights Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

| | Comments (1)

May 7, 2008

Associations Now May Case Study: When the Chips Are Down

The May issue of Associations Now featured the first article in our case study series to be written by a volunteer author; thank you to Jeff De Cagna for bravely taking the plunge!

Jeff's case study focuses on an association (the National Association of Chief Happiness Officers, or NACHO) facing many challenges: a strategic plan that doesn’t address the important issues facing his association, a board that voted down his best ideas, and a competitor eagerly gobbling up market share.

What should he and his association do to face down these problems? Virgil Carter and Nancy Green provided some great commentary from their perspectives as CEOs; I'd be very interested in Acronym readers' thoughts as well. Can NACHO be saved?

| | Comments (2)

May 5, 2008

Having an engaged board

I'm at the Exceptional Boards program for CEOs and their incoming board chairs in San Francisco today. One of the early questions that presenters Nancy Axelrod and Paul Greeley asked was what was the single most important governance issue that they were facing. There was a myriad of answers, but one of the recurring answers was board engagement.

A little later in the presentation, Axelrod described the work of David Nadler as written in the Harvard Business Review in May 2004. He described board engagement on a continuum. On one side is the "Passive Board" -- the rubber stamp board that doesn't really deliberate at all. Next on the continuum is the "Certifying Board" -- one where the extent of board activity is fiduciary and other executive functions. In the middle is what most people think is board nirvana -- the "Strategic Board," which is engaged in strategy development, then steps back and lets others do the tactical things. Moving on the continuum is an "Intervening Board," which can be seen at organizations in crisis mode, to an "Operating Board," which does the work of the organization.

As Axelrod pointed out, while there is a lot of talk about having a strategic board, it's important to think about what you mean by that. In practice, different situations call for different levels of board engagement, and one is not necessarily inherently bad. Greeley later added that, in fact, most boards are probably operating at all different engagement levels even at a single board meeting.

I was wondering what readers think about the idea of differing levels of board engagement depending on what the board is working on.

| | Comments (1)

IDEO on Innovation

Creativity and innovation came up repeatedly during last week's Global Summit on Social Responsibility, and those of us at the event watched a six-minute video about the innovation process as executed on an updated shopping cart by the world-famous IDEO design firm. Anyone interested in learning more about how associations might incorporate its process can check back to a feature by IDEO leader Tom Kelley called "Innovation Personified," which appeared in the February 2006 Associations Now.


May 2, 2008

Report from Singapore

During the opening session on the third day, they reported this feedback from the Singapore site:

Asian culture is such that Asians are relatively modest and do not share accomplishments so innovations that happen at the individual or small-group level are not shared. The group at that site thought there was a real opportunity to increase awareness and the spread of these innovations through storytelling and other ways.


Social responsibility projects

Wrapping up Day Two of the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, many different projects were proposed as things associations could begin to work together to undertake right now. These ideas were boiled down to about a couple dozen. At the opening of Day Three, live participants were asked to gather around the proposals they wanted to be a part of discussing. These are the five ideas that garnered the most participation:

- Designing the organizational alliance to carry the movement created at the summit forward.

- Personal and individual local action.

- Branding initiative -- spreading the word to bring more people on board.

- Using technology of collaboration for knowledge sharing and to create an innovation bank.

- Guiding principles for social responsibility and the global compact.


Day 2 in pictures

As we did yesterday, we wanted to share a few photos with you to give you an idea of what we're seeing here at the DC site of the Global Summit. These photos are all from the "speed-dreaming" phase of yesterday's events.

Reporting out


Reporting out

Attendee laughing

Reporting out

Reporting out


Morning roundup: Day 2

Acronym isn't the only place blogging about the Global Summit this week:

- Ann Oliveri connects what she's hearing to associations' codes of ethics;

- Cynthia D'Amour asks chapter leaders what social responsibility efforts they support;

- Sue Pelletier is interested in how the format of the Global Summit is working in connection with the Summit's goals;

- David M. Patt has some thoughts about the term "giving back";

- Joan Eisenstodt shares her reflections and questions from the day;

- Jeff De Cagna has several observations about the Summit so far.


May 1, 2008

Ego versus Idea

One suggestion in the "dream and design" phase of the Global Summit's Thursday session is for associations to look around them and see if it might be worth....disappearing. Seriously. Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists (and--full disclosure--my husband), suggested that association leaders examine where overlapping associations exist and needlessly compete when they could simply merge and "create half the number of associations with twice the memberships and eight times the influence."

It's an interesting thought. Certainly I've been part of organizational coalitions in which external stakeholders such as corporations or government agencies have complained that they could hardly keep track of which organizations may be the best partners in, say, the environmental sector because so many have similar agendas, duplicate programs with different names, and murky leadership within their field.

Call me cynical, but I think ego would be the biggest barrier to even a discussion of what widescale association mergers might mean to society and the earth. In the fascinating book Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability), authors David Marcum and Steven Smith look at business success and performance from the standpoint of ego. Their extensive research concludes that unbalanced ego "becomes the ultimate blind spot," with more than one-third of all decisions in failed organizations driven by ego. they note that unbalanced ego slows change and innovation, and "there is a clear difference in the power of knowing versus the discipline of becoming."

However, nearly two-thirds of executives "never explore alternatives once they make up their mind," and "81% of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the value of their idea." A surprising 63% of surveyed businesspeople report that ego harms "work performance on an hourly or daily basis, while an additional 31% say it happens weekly." That's a lot of poor productivity and decision making, as well as lost opportunity.

Might the research differ among association employees? What would you think if your boss walked into a staff meeting and said, "For the sake of the planet, let's do a competitive analysis in our industry with an eye toward potential mergers?" Would you think, "Oh, my gosh, my job's in trouble." "Has he lost his mind?" "Finally!" "Whoopie!"

I remember one small trade association whose CEO actually requested that the board let him shut down the organization because the programmatic and mission overlap with industry competitors had led to unsustainable financial hardship. The board was appalled at the idea. He suggested merging with another group instead. Still they balked, citing the organization's long history and criticizing all possible merger candidates.

I don't recall what happened to the association in the end, but I do know that the CEO eventually left, and at some point, I stopped receiving press releases from the organization. Perhaps if leaders--whether volunteer or paid--move their egos more to the side of humility, they will find that exploring potential mergers would indeed lead ultimately to accomplishment of their broader mission.

| | Comments (1)

Speed-dreaming a Better World

Wow--what an amazing afternoon of what I'll call "speed sharing," which reminded me a bit of speed-dating but with people exchanging ideas instead of personal phone numbers. Some of the ideas are natural extensions of the exciting momentum we've been building during this Global Summit on Social Responsibility (SR): an SR listserv, an association SR blog and monthly Idea Swap, create a "Social Responsibility in a Box" how-to toolkit, and a new requirement that SR strategies are integrated into CAE knowledge domains.

But here are some of the larger-vision ideas that got me personally jazzed during today's "dream and design" exercise:

Use ASAE & The Center as "innovation incubators."

Create a "Retired Association Exec Corps" to help coordinate and contribute to SR efforts by associations.

Develop an offshoot version of the United Nations Global Compact that allows associations to sign on in agreement to meet specific SR metrics and standards.

Create a "Bright Light Network"--a coalition of associations that want to work together on social, economic and environmental challenges.

Create a "Seven Wonders of a Socially Responsible World" committee structure in ASAE & The Center to focus on global problem solving in the areas of education, environment, health, prosperity, innovation and technology, peace and security.

Friday we'll be breaking into groups to begin creating something tangible from the best ideas in the various categories generated by our "dreaming." Keep checking back for news of our progress!


An Association Pledge on Social Responsibility?

We’re on break at the Global Summit and have been enjoying the report-outs from the “Dream and Design” phase of the Appreciative Inquiry process. Today we’re imagining what the world would be like in 2020 if associations had become active in social responsibility efforts this year.

The formats in which these dreams have been presented have caused a lot of laughs—“Global Idol” for Associations, “Association Olympics 2020,” “CNN Reports” from space and the Amazon. My group of nine picked up on the comments of this morning’s speaker, former Girl Scouts of America CEO Frances Hesselbein, who explained that a wearying debate about change—in this case, the mere redesign of the Girl Scout pin--was quelled only when Frances promised to continue manufacturing the pin if any member wanted still wanted to order it.
Gripping the ancient Girl Scout Promise and Law as models, my group “dreamed” of a universal pledge that every association in the world would make to become more socially responsible.

Here is our quick draft:


I, [stakeholder such as CEO, board chair, member, and business partner] pledge to integrate social responsibility into the core values and mission of my association, and to that end, I pledge to…..
• Lead by example;
• Be responsible stewards of our resources and operate 100% greenly,
• To educate and train our staff, board, and members on SR principles;
• To increase the strength and speed of global connectivity and collaboration across all industries and sectors and with partners, competitors, critics, and regulators;
• To evaluate our social and environmental footprint on an annual basis as stringently as we do our finances;
• And to recognize and honor those who make a positive difference.

Let me know what you think about the idea of a sector-wide pledge that might build on elements of the United Nations Global Compact, for instance. Maybe I’ll even reward the best responses with a box of ThinMints!

| | Comments (2)

Socially responsible lobbying

One of the ideas that sprung out of my table discussion was the idea of socially responsible lobbying. The idea is that a stigma be attached to any person or group lobbying for something that may be good for their interest but bad for society as a whole. The direct quote was that it be considered "bad form."

How to create such a culture for the lobbying sector?

That kind of fed into another idea--that as part of the outlook or mission of the association, the globe, or society, should be first, the interest being served by the association is second.


On Connectedness

Yesterday's participation was an exercise in zen mindfulness. Fabulous technology connected us to the "other" Washington from where I sat in Seattle, but there was alas a buffering delay that made the video feed stop every few minutes.

Sometimes the pauses would catch the speaker mid-utterance, faces frozen with mouths open, hands wide in mid-gesture. Surprisingly, rather than irritate me as it might have done, it gave me time to pause, reflect (especially during Jeffrey Sachs' presentation) and really commit again and again to being in that moment.

As Sachs spoke, I wanted to raise my hand and ask him "Knowing so much about the depth of the world's woes, how can you keep from despair?" But he answered my question: he is hopeful because he knows the solutions exist. It's just a matter of putting them in the right place.

As to Lisa's question of how organizations can and should define social responsibility, I'd repeat what Sachs said: everyone can add in his own way. So one definition will not work, but I believe common principles should frame it. It's not by accident that some of the biggest multinational corporations, which by some measures are the 'worst' actors on many indexes of social responsibility are also the organizations doing the most profound work in CSR. They have the most power. Should they do less "bad" and more good? Sure. But let's let them do good too, and just keep holding their feet to the fire.

For example, I blanched at the idea that Monsanto is donating seed and so on to Africa - great, I thought - bring pollution from fertilizers and pesticides to the places with even less ability to manage it. That's only a solution that creates more problems. But is it a step? Can we hope to hasten them through our developmental pains, perhaps skipping some steps? Or is planting GMO seed in places that can least afford crop failure even less responsible? I don't know - but what I admire about Sachs is that he advocates finding a solution. Asks the powerful to "take a look". We need more looking.


Innovation vs. fear of change

Frances Hesselbein spoke at the Global Summit this morning based on her reflections from Day 1 of the event. (If you're not familiar with her work, she is the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Leader to Leader Institute, and served as founding president of the organization back when it was called the Peter F. Drucker Foundation. She also served as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. from 1976-1990.)

Just to share one anecdote from her speech, she told the audience that, when managing major changes like those being contemplated during the Summit, she always kept in mind Peter Drucker's definition of innovation: "Change that creates a new dimension of performance." Who's going to be afraid of new dimensions of performance? she asked.

"Can you imagine when we changed the Girl Scout pin?" she said. "Women clutched it and said, 'My grandmother wore this pin.' So call it innovation!"

(She also noted that the old pin continued to be manufactured for anyone who wanted one even after the change to the new pin, so in their case major change was combined with allowances for those who weren't ready to make the leap.)

The next time you're managing a major change for your organization, maybe that definition could come in handy for you.


Definitions of social responsibility

To kick off Day 2 of the Global Summit, Soren Kaplan of iCohere shared some reports on what other (non-DC) sites discussed yesterday. Interestingly, both the Shanghai and Brussels sites had discussions about the definition of social responsibility. According to Soren, the Shanghai attendees wondered if China did or should have its own definition of social responsibility, while the Brussels attendees discussed the definition of social responsibility in the European Union vs. that in other parts of the world, wondering if social responsibility was more culturally encoded in the EU than in other places.

There's an interesting discussion beginning in the comments on a recent Acronym post about what the definition of social responsibility really is. Clearly it's a big-tent kind of word--and I'd guess that some definitions of the term would be really unpalatable to certain associations, while a different definition might be something they could more readily embrace.

How do you (or your association) define social responsibility? Should the term be strictly defined, to avoid watering the concept down, or should it be broad, to bring in more people?

| | Comments (1)

JFK at the social responsibility summit

One last thing from me on Sach's general session yesterday. He quoted John F. Kennedy:

"So, let us not be blind to our differences - but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved."

He used it to illustrate that at the most basic level, humans have much more in common than we have different. We all inhabit the same planet, we breathe the same air, we're mortal, etc.

It was interesting that earlier in the day when David Cooperrider had us answering questions in the appreciative inquiry process, I also turned to JFK -- probably to his most famous quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I changed a word--from country to world.

To me, that's what it's about. Linking back to a post of mine from yesterday, I do think it's about changing the culture of the way we live and work. The point I was making was that in general we need to stop thinking about what we can get out of life and start thinking about what we can give back to society. And, we need to do this while keeping our individuality.

| | Comments (4)

Notes from emerging leaders

During the afternoon yesterday at the Global Summit in DC, attendees were organized into homogenous groups (trade association executives, consultants, philanthropic groups, etc.) for discussion. Notes from those conversations were posted on the Summit's virtual site. Reading through them, one particular entry intrigued me.

Summit leader David Cooperrider asked a table of emerging leaders to talk about the qualities of the ideal association to work for. They said that their dream association would be:

What kind of association do you want to work for? The ideal association is...

- Bottom-up
- Multinational
- Technologically savvy
- Fluid and flexible
- Less bureaucratic
- Run like a business; fiscal responsibility, efficient and lean operations
- Collaborative; willing to work with other associations
- Mission focused; doesn't want to do all things for all people ("you have to say no" being something that has to go away)
- Aware of its membership and what they think (market driven)
- Providing real responsibilities and challenges for staff
- Does not reward people for doing there jobs; only awards staff for going beyond

What do you think? Would you add or subtract qualities from this list? Does your association come close to this ideal?

| | Comments (2)

Serving or leading members - social responsibility angle

Should an association serve or lead its members? It's an old debate here on Acronym. I'm on the record saying that I believe there is a difference and, while you need to do some serving, an association is at its best when it is trying to lead.

I was speaking with Petra Mollet yesterday, new to the American Public Transportation Association fresh from the International Association of Public Transportation.

"When the idea of social responsibility came up, our members were telling us, 'oh no, we already do that. We're part of the solution,'" Mollet said.

However, a handful of advanced members said that, yes, mass transit is part of the solution, but it can be done smarter and with more social conscience. The association used these members to launch a social responsibility program that challenged its members to do more and think in new ways. The focal point of their work was their charter that they asked members to sign, and they were asked to identify one or a few things that made sense for them to work on in their own systems.

To me, this is exactly the example of leading vs. serving. The international society could easily have rested on what most of its members were saying--that they would be a part of the conversation only in so much as they were getting patted on the back for being part of the solution. But by using a few forward-thinking members to push the rest, they led the organization to a better place.


Mind Mapping

At the DC location of the Global Summit, Michelle Boos-Stone is creating an amazing drawing wall or mind map as the discussions progress. Since (to steal a line) writing about her drawings is like dancing about architecture, I thought I'd share a few photos from the Summit's virtual site:

Mind map begins.jpg

Mind map halfway done.jpg

Mind map completed.jpg

Mind map completed.jpg


Day 1 in photos

The virtual site for the Global Summit is hosting a bunch of photos from Day 1 of the Summit, both from the DC site and from participants at other sites. I thought I'd share a view to give you a visual look at what you've been reading about (captions are below each picture):

David Cooperrider.jpg

Summit Leader David Cooperrider

Speaker Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs

Attendees in Los Angeles

Attendees in Los Angeles

Attendees in Charlotte, NC

Attendees in Charlotte, NC

Attendees in Shanghai

Attendees in Shanghai

Attendees laughing

Attendees in DC laughing...

Attendees listening

listening ...

Attendees reflecting

and reflecting.


Morning roundup: Other bloggers on the Global Summit

Acronym isn't the only blog covering the Global Summit this week:

- Ann Oliveri talks about her experience at social responsibility conferences, including the Global Summit, and becoming a social responsibility officer.

- Jeff De Cagna feels that the first day of the Summit raised more questions than it answered, and talks about the questions in his mind. (Patti Digh of the 37 Days blog posted an interesting comment in response.) Jeff also posts a quote cited by Jeffrey Sachs in his talk yesterday, and asks others to share quotes that inspire them.

- Joan Eisenstodt is energized and exhausted.

If there are other bloggers out there that I missed, please share your links in comments!


American Chemical Society and its ROI on Social Responsibility

In his opening remarks at the Global Summit on Social Responsibility Wednesday, Center for Association Leadership President Mark Golden highlighted elements of the impressive return on investment achieved by the American Chemical Society's carefully aligned social responsibility strategies. You can now read the full case study, including more information on how and what the organization did that led to higher member engagement, greater influence with policy makers, increased credibility with the public, expanded knowledge for the industry, and better trained emerging leaders, among other payoffs.