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June 27, 2008

Insanely cool conferences

Over at the Principled Innovation blog (as well as a post on the Beyond Certification blog), there's a great discussion going on about what makes a conference "insanely cool." Based on the comments so far, "insanely cool" is being defined as a conference where you meet great people, there are great speakers/content, your assumptions are challenged, it's interactive and immersive, innovative technology is used to enhance the experience, attendees are all together in one place, and there are surprises everywhere.

Should every association aim to have an "insanely cool" conference, I wonder? Or are there some professions or industries where "insanely cool" either wouldn't work (or where the definition of insanely cool is very different from that listed above)? And if you do want your conference to be insanely cool and it isn't there yet, what can you do to create that kind of experience? (If any meeting planners or learning folks out there have stories about insanely cool things they've done at their own conferences, I'd love to hear them ...)

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June 25, 2008

Social media studies

There's a lot of discussion at association events (and on association blogs) about social media and its impact on membership organizations. If you've been wondering how those discussions are being reflected in actual practice, there are two studies going on right now to try to quantify that:

- The Angerosa Research Foundation is conducting a study to track trends and build benchmarks on associations’ practices and future plans related to Web 2.0. Topics to be surveyed include common uses of social media platforms like Facebook and Second Life, social networking best practices and member participation trends, wikis and tools for electronic knowledge management, benefits and uses of blogs, and strategies for minimizing liability and expanding participation. All participants will receive a complete summary of the research results. You can participate in the study online.

- Principled Innovation LLC and Omnipress have launched a survey designed to capture information on the state of social technology adoption in the association community. The study aims to capture information on how associations are using social technologies today, and how they plan to use them going forward. All participants will receive a complimentary copy of the full survey report. More information is available on the Principled Innovation LLC blog; you can fill out the survey online. Note that the deadline for participation is June 30.

I'll look forward to seeing the results from both of these surveys. Thanks to the Angerosa Research Foundation and Principled Innovation LLC for their hard work!

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June 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Program killers, campaign thinking

A few links for your Tuesday afternoon reading:

- The Association Marketing Springboard blog has been on fire lately--if you don't subscribe, you should! My favorite quote this week: "But in a realm where member evangelism is our highest goal, campaign thinking just doesn't cut it." Read the whole post here.

- Kevin Holland at the Association Inc. blog talks (in a very inspirational way) about how associations should be giving their members something to aspire to.

- Should the person in charge of your association's strategy also be in charge of killing things that don't work? David Gammel has some interesting thoughts on this.

- Association Meetings posted some stories from readers about wild and wacky requests from meeting attendees and speakers.

- Wes Trochlil is posting some intriguing case studies on association business intelligence efforts on the Effective Database Management blog. The latest one is here.

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June 23, 2008

ASAE & The Center's new vodcast

Catch ASAE & The Center's new vodcast: This Week in Associations.

This is the first of three segments on The Decision to Volunteer, a new study and book to be released at this Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego. This segment features study coauthor Beth Gazley, who highlights some of the interesting findings from the study, which gathered responses from 26,000 people.

The next two segments will feature the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the American Association of Secondary School Principals, two organization who participated in the study.

One of the main points Gazley makes is that many in associations may think that a primary reason that people volunteer for their professional association is for career advancement through networking, resume building, and the like. It turns out, the desire to give back to the profession is a stronger motivating factor. I'm curious how association execs feel about that information (agree or disagree?) and what it might mean to the types of volunteering assignments being developed. I'd love to hear any ideas, or any feedback on the content or the format from Acronym readers. Let us know what you think!

[Note: Posting updated to replace video player with link.]

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June 20, 2008

Is "Un" the New "2.0"?

I've been seeing a lot of "un" things lately (and so has David Patt, who writes about it here). Unconferences are becoming more common, unsessions are in, and now KDPaine & Partners are proposing an "unstandard" for measuring success in the social media sphere.

So what does the "un" mean? It could just be excitement about something new--we're not just any old conference, we're an unconference! But I think there's something else there, too.

A lot of these "uns" involve taking something that used to be static or set by a single primary authority and making it participatory, crowdsourced, user-generated. (To use more buzzwords.) The unconference agenda is set by attendees; the unstandard recognizes that different organizations have different needs and may not wish to judge themselves by criteria that aren't important to them.

I'm wondering: Shouldn't we strive for that in regular programs, too? Can we look at the un-versions of things and be inspired by them to change the non-un-version? Maybe your 7,000 attendee meeting can't be as unstructured as an unconference. But there have to be ways you can tap into attendee input and be more nimble. (And while I still love Matt Baehr's idea of offering an unsession room at larger conferences, I think it's important to not let that be the end of the search for ways to get participants more involved. You don't want to wall that involvement off so that it's only taking place in that one room.)

What un-ideas can you implement to increase member and customer engagement in your already-existing programs?

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June 19, 2008

Deviant leadership ideas

I'm at the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum today, an educational event that Sam Lippman, founder of Integrated Show Management & Marketing, produces every year and that Associations Now sponsors.

The keynote address was delivered by Greg Reid, the chief marketing officer of YRC Worldwide -- they're the huge transportation and logistics company that you likely know from the "Yellow" truck force on the highways. As the CMO of one of the largest transportation and logistics companies, he gave his insights on how tradeshows are part of the current mix in large corporations, and where it's going.

He gave some advice -- what he calls deviant leadership advice -- that I thought resonated, and while he tailored it to tradeshows, I think it has pretty broad applicability. He gave six points to the exhibition and conference executives:

1. Create change - There are three things that you can do about change: resist it (if you choose this course, good luck), embrace change (better, but not where you'll find success), create change. The deviant leader will drive change and thrives in change. It's about creating the change you want to see.

2. Let go - YBR used to shun less-than-truckload (LTL) deliveries, it simply wasn't profitable. Rather than leaving it at that, with pricing and process changes, they made the change happen, with LTL becoming a dominant delivery format. This meant letting go of current business models and their underlying assumptions.

3. Realize you're not in the exhibition business - when he meets with Walmart, he doesn't talk about transportation and logistics, he talks about the retail business. His goal is to understand the business his customer is in and what challenges they face. Same should be true when you approach potential exhibitors -- work to understand their business.

4. Get me there without the need to go there. Travel will always be a part of business, but there is just too much to do and too many places to go -- people can't cover all the ground that needs to be covered -- so be prepared to work with people and companies virtually.

5. Stop selling booth space -- this goes hand in hand with number 3. "When you meet with me, don't tell me the great booth space you have for me. Tell me who's coming and why I care about them and how I can reach them and what it will mean to my business. How will you improve my ROI? How can you help me calculate my ROI? The booth space -- that's why you're there, I need to know why I should be there. It will come up in conversation later, but don't lead with it." Note: quote is paraphrased.

6. Educate. Don't entertain. - we all know that it is important to create an experience for attendees, but the real nuts and bolts of meetings are what is most important. In the larger sense, whether you're talking about a board meeting or dinner or a magazine or a website, some pomp and circumstance, some razzle dazzle is nice, but under the flash is the real constructive meat of what you are trying to do, and that's what's really important. If I'm designing Associations Now and I put a beautiful illustration with a dud of an article, it's still a dud of an article.


The Future of Association Publishing?

For someone like me who works in association periodicals publishing, there have been some ominous rumbles to listen to for a while. Newspapers are contracting and even shutting down; I just read recently that U.S. News and World Report is dropping down from a weekly to a biweekly after taking a huge hit in ad pages.

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft predicts, "There will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form." Of course, part of the problem newspapers and other publications are facing is that online ad revenues just aren't replacing those that had been generated by print ads; as print ad sales go down, the online ad sales aren't making up the difference.

In the same interview quoted above, Ballmer notes that in 10 years there will be many more content developers than there are now. So I'm wondering how many association publications are asking questions like these:

1. Who will be our main competitors as content developers in the next few years?

2. What can we offer that's of greater value than straight-up content? U.S. News and World Report is planning to focus on its special package issues, with more regular news updates available online only. Seth Godin's recent post on Amazon's Kindle offers a number of ideas for ways traditional text content could become more valuable.

3. How can we partner with individual content developers (members who write, authors, bloggers, podcasters, etc.) for the benefit of our industry/profession? Publications that already work with volunteer authors should have a strong base to build on in this area.

3. If our publication was available only online, would our members read it? If it came in e-mail, would they click on it right away (or ever)? What can we offer that would make them want to click right away?

4. What additional value does our print publication bring as a print publication? If we want the print version to still be viable in 5-10 years, what steps do we need to take to make that happen?

What other questions are you thinking about, association publishers?

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June 18, 2008

Soft Economy Affecting Fundraising Auctions

I’m seeing lots of nonprofit and association fundraising auctions going on right now, especially in kinship with annual meetings. Therefore, I was concerned to read the results of a new survey of 255 online charity auction managers, 22% of whom reported a drop in funds raised between January and April compared to last year, and nearly all of whom “are bracing themselves for an even tougher nonprofit fundraising environment” in the coming months.

The survey, conducted by the firm cMarket, found that auction managers are having a harder time obtaining items (68%), convincing auction participants to raise bids (32%) and attend auction galas (21%), and demonstrating “tangible marketing benefits” to corporate sponsors and commercial item donors (39%).

Analysts say that even nonprofits that did well with their auctions were reporting “some softness, particularly on the supply side in terms of item donations and acquisition.”

"In this environment auction committees are well advised to revisit their assumption around their goals and what is attainable," says Jon Carson, CEO of cMarket. "If you plan on matching last year’s goal or even beating it, you may need to think about what you'll do differently [since] the headwinds appear to be much stronger this year."

In response, online auction managers reported that they would try some different approaches next year:

- 62% will “start the process of getting items earlier.
- 35% will use the Internet more.
- 31% will gather items with higher price tags.
- 16% will recruit additional lower priced items “to appeal to more people.”

Some nonprofits also plan to use more social networking sites to grow their contact lists, as well as to do more personal asking instead of mass mailings or e-mail blasts. Others said they would work harder to develop more creative packages such as unique experiences, rather than slower-selling items such as art and collectibles.


Free Gas for Good Volunteers

Aware that the challenging economy is slowing charitable donations in some areas, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is offering its citizen fundraisers a trendy incentive—free gas cards and a chance to win a free vacation for four to Orlando, Florida. Clearly, the organization wants to help ensure that these important individual moneymakers are doing their best to raise money from their participation in the group’s annual Light The Night Walk this fall.

Light The Night walkers who fundraise online via personal Web pages provided by LLS can earn $50 worth of free gas for every $500 they raise during July and August. For every $250 raised, they will receive $15 in gas cards.

Says Nancy Klein, LLS chief marketing and revenue officer, "The goal of finding cures and helping patients is a great motivator, in and of itself. But with gas prices so high this summer, LLS saw this 'Save at the Pump' promotion as a great added incentive to do something good and get something good!"

Not every nonprofit whatever-a-thon offers incentives to volunteer fundraisers, but those that do appear to have grown their incentive programs to impressive levels, because the revenues raised by these a-thons are so large and vital. LLS’s incentive program, for instance, goes way beyond a tank of gas or T-shirt, though. Folks who raise more than $10,000 get a 26-inch LCD high-definition TV or GPS unit or $500 e-Store card. For fewer amounts, fundraisers can get digital cameras, camcorders, portable DVD players, printers, radios, and more.

This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but personally, I question the effectiveness—and more importantly, the message sent—with all of this giving-to-get. Does this really focus attention on the true message of such an event—finding a cure or solving a serious social problem?

To me, it seems counter to the core values behind why people volunteer. I’ve never heard, for instance, of someone anxious to walk 20 miles just for a DVD player or, ironically, to fill up their cars. Maybe it’s time to re-examine such incentive programs to consider other ways to reward excellent fundraisers that respond more basically to the core values of both the nonprofit and the volunteer. Anyone for sending a teddy bear to a lymphoma patient if you raise $200, for instance?

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June 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Meeting ideas, customer service

Happy Monday!

- There have been some interesting meeting ideas up for grabs in the blogosphere lately. Matt Baehr suggests offering an "unsession" room at every meeting, while Nancy Wilson points out that reusing conference bags can be both green and a creative networking tool.

- Ben Martin ponders whether the process of becoming a board leader tends to squash productive dissent among those future leaders.

- Wes Trochlil has a great question for associations out there that are conducting surveys or other data-gathering projects.

- Bob Sutton shares a wonderful story that shows how a customer's problem can create an opportunity for even better customer service. On a related note, the 37signals blog reminds you that the customer just doesn't care whose fault it is.

- Jeremiah Owyang shows some really interesting examples of how to track a particular issue and how it's being discussed among bloggers, Twitterers, and on the web more generally. (Note that the issue in question relates to the Democratic nomination battle, but, setting politics aside, I'd think these same techniques could be useful to any association.)

- How often do you get to see association management presented as a dream job? (Admittedly, this article focuses more on the industries these trade associations represent than on the profession of association management, but still, it's nice to see some association professionals recognized in this way.)


June 11, 2008


We're proud to announce that Acronym has been honored with an EXCEL Award from the Society of National Association Publications, in the category of online publishing--blogs (surprisingly enough). We're very happy to have hosted the kinds of posts--from volunteers like Virgil Carter, Jason Della Rocca, Betsy Boyd-Flynn, Garen Distelhorst, Brynn Gumstrop Slate, Kevin Mead, and many others--that SNAP's judges found to be worthy of recognition.

We're especially proud to have been put in the great company of our fellow category winners, ShopFloor (the National Association of Manufacturers' blog), BoardBuzz (the National School Boards Association's blog), and The Penn Stater's Italy blog (from the Penn State Alumni Association).

Congratulations to all the winners of the Excel Awards--and congratulations to SNAP, for putting on a very enjoyable awards program this year.

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June 10, 2008

Great Place to Volunteer

I recently spoke at a conference specifically targeted to HR execs/staff in the video game industry My bit was more on macro-level game industry structure/economics, but ahead of me was a rep from the Great Place to Work Institute.

The game development industry is notorious for having an especially bad reputation when it comes to working conditions and work/life balance. So, the HR folks wanted to hear from an expert on making your company a great place to work. Some details on their framework are at their site...

At one point, the rep had audience members huddle into small groups for various exercises. Being a non-HR person who just so happened to be in the crowd, I huddled up with the group next to me to observe. Then they turned to me and asked, How does that work in your association?

Caught off guard, I said in half jest that we outsource all our operations and so we don't actually have staff and hence don't have to worry about being a great place to work. Hmm, but wait, our volunteer base could certainly be viewed as workers. And, using the various frameworks, how do we stack up as a great place to volunteer, or even just a great place to join? Through that lens, looking at the various trust factors (respect, fairness, credibility) and the pride and camaraderie components, I could see places where we do really well (like pride) and others we don't even think about consciously (like credibility).

Will be interesting to see what the upcoming The Decision to Volunteer research/book will cover... (Anyone have a good link to that?)

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June 6, 2008

Stop doing that


Reporting from the Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management in beautiful Vancouver.

I have two thoughts to share about one of yesterday's sessions with Franck Schuurmans, coauthor of Blue Ocean Strategy.

First is an exercise Schuurmans asked attendees to do, assessing the key attributes of their top products. He got some attendee push back when he suggested that if you gave yourself top marks -- and were honest with yourself -- then that is something to look at as perhaps something that could be cut back. The idea is to not do more than you need to do. If you cut back a little, would your members just as willing to engage, and then you could use those resources to raise your scores somewhere else. The idea was counterintuitive to many in attendance--if you have a differentiator, something that works really well, why would you even consider cutting back on it?

The other thought is the idea of where to turn when looking to develop new products, services, or processes that can serve members. Schuurmans said many times: don't go to your members. One idea is to look at other organizations that do similar but different work than what you do. For example, if main reason your association exists is to create community and networking, look at the way growing churches foster community building; if your association is primarily into advocacy efforts, look at the tactics that good, creative marketers and PR specialists use to affect how people think about the products they are promoting.

Another place to turn is completely unlike areas and sectors. For example, are their any lessons in how "American Idol" became the pop fad that it is? Or look at the presidential campaigns and how they deal with trying to get their message heard--what is effective and what is not?

Finally, he says, ask your noncustomers. These are the people who maybe were a member for a year, did not participate much, and did not renew. It's also the part of the market that you have never captured. Engage these people in conversation, and you're likely to hear things that you'd never hear from your members.

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June 2, 2008

Associations Now June Case Study: Deadline Pressure

When I first started writing the June 2008 Associations Now case study, I wanted to explore a situation I've personally seen multiple times in my career: the issue of the "difficult" volunteer. I know it's a truism of association management that you should never say anything negative about a member, but in the day-to-day reality of member service, there are some members who can drive you crazy--whether through the best of intentions or just because they're not particularly nice people. (That's my experience, anyway.)

Dalia, the main character in this month's case study, is dealing with one of those members. But is she doing everything she can to manage the situation properly? Some of the people who read the article for me before publication think she is, but this month's excellent commentators, Cynthia D'Amour and Lisa Sidletsky, don't necessarily agree. They both have a lot of suggestions for ways the situation can be improved.

This month's case study, "Deadline Pressure," is now online. What do you think about Dalia's situation? How have you handled similar issues in your own work? Do you agree with Cynthia and Lisa's commentary? Let us know!

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