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July 30, 2008

Associations Call for Peace During Olympics

Associations and nonprofits are once again involved both behind the scenes and overtly in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in China, starting August 8.

In particular, a number of organizations are concerned about the safety of athletes, organizers and spectators. Tomorrow, for instance, the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) is calling on “the world travel and tourism industry to join in solidarity with both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United Nations in a call for a cessation of conflict and all acts of violence in an observance of the Olympic Truce.” IIPT has held several media panels at past conferences to explore “The Role of the Media in Building a Culture of Peace through Tourism” and related elements of that theme.

“We now have an opportunity … to demonstrate the global impact possible through the travel media acting together towards one worthy goal,” urges Louis D’Amore, IIPT founder and president.

Dozens of Chinese American associations have also taken to the streets of New York and elsewhere in rallies and media events aimed at preventing “the hijacking of the Olympic Games” by special interests for “their own political gains.” The Beijing Association of New York even hired two planes to fly over New York City with banners that read "Go to 2008 Beijing Olympics" and "CNN, Cafferty, Shut up!" (a reference to the “goons and thugs” commentary about the Chinese chaperones sent to accompany the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco). Expect to see more associations in the Olympic coverage of the coming weeks.


The secret session on social media that’s not secret.

I know social media is hot. Hey…I might even be staking my career on it. But multiple social media sessions during every timeslot? Whoa.

And yet, with all the hype and even a secret session, the best kept secret is a social media session that's neither a secret, nor about social media.

Media Relations is Dead...Long Live Media Relations! on Tuesday at 2:15 pm features three new media veterans. And one of them is a true social media star.

Who are these veterans? I first met speaker Frank Fortin, communications director for the Massachusetts Medical Society, two years ago as he was launching a feature-rich online community. He was ahead of the curve then, and he's ahead of the curve now. Chris Jennewein has nearly 20 years of experience developing online sites for U.S. newspaper groups. 20 years! And Brian Solis--besides being an AdAge Power 150 blogger (#38) and author--is one of the original thought leaders who paved the way for social media. He continues to be one of the most influential voices in the emerging social media industry.

This is a must-attend session for everyone with marketing, communications, media relations or public relations in their title. And since I tend to be late...could you save me a seat?


A Super Bowl for Associations

Many of us are gearing up for San Diego in a couple weeks. It occurred to me as I sat down to write that the mark of a truly great meeting is the 'event-ness' that it creates. I can't speak for anyone but me (and sometimes I'm a poor spokesman for myself!), but in contrast to many of the other events I attend over the year, this is the one conference that I really anticipate. It is always educational and relaxing--a vacation of sorts that also gives me 15 or 20 good ideas that I can put to work in various projects. The meeting allows me to put faces with names of people I correspond with throughout the rest of the year ... and it gives me a chance to say hi again to semi-familiar faces from Tampa, Houston, Brussels, Los Angeles, and Chevy Chase. Most of us get so immersed in our work that we never take the time or have a reason to contact our peers, old coworkers or our competitors--thankfully ASAE assembles 'em all in the same place so we can see them all at once.

In my initial guest blog post, I wanted to plug the basic concept of friendliness to strangers. Attending a conference is at its core a passive act--ergonomically speaking, we spend the majority of our time in a chair and listening rather than walking and talking. Yet as spectators we have great control over our quality of experience, and we also have the potential to affect the quality of experience of those around us. As you know from the conferences that you plan and conduct, what appears in the Program Book constitutes maybe 40% to 60% of the value you'll take home with you between your ears on your plane ride back. The rest is up to you, and it's the discussion and interaction with peers—new friend sand old friends—that can make or break your experience.

Most of us reading here are probably long-time ASAE people, but I think it's helpful to think back and remember how it felt the first time we were new somewhere. The conference is not only an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but also to make new ones, and there are a lot of new friends to choose from! I personally find that it's hard to get 20 years of staff work out of my blood--I catch myself walking the exhibit hall and asking the personnel 'how's traffic'--but I think if we all take a little responsibility to say hi to the person who looks a little tentative when they enter a reception or just to say hi to the people next to us in the hallway, we'll all have a richer experience.

When I think back to past Annual Meetings, the people who stick out most in my mind are the random people I meet: on the bus ride over to the Convention Center, outside the bookstore waiting for someone else, or the person sitting on my left at the only lunch table with an open seat on the exhibit floor at noon. Mind you, I'm a somewhat quiet but not a shy person at heart, but that's mostly training with some positive reinforcement. I actually kind of wish the world the other 364 days was like what downtown San Diego will be for 4 days—that if I turned to someone and introduced myself, they wouldn't find it terribly odd, and within a minute or so we would find something in common and have a nice conversation, and we'd each walk away feeling good for having met the other. I get that feeling at ASAE and I hope you do also. So, here's to the Meeting, and to random meetings. Hope to see you in San Diego!

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July 29, 2008

Secret shopping your inclusiveness

In one of the classes I attended today, the subject of "secret shopping" came up, and one chamber executive shared an interesting story: She knew two people that were considering moving into her area and were coming to visit for a few days. Since they were new to the area, she asked them to play the part of newcomers at one of her chamber's networking breakfasts. Acting the part, they sat by themselves at a table to see if any of her members--and more specifically, her volunteer ambassadors--would welcome them. She was shocked to see that no one, including the ambassadors, greeted the visitors or sat with them.

Based on this secret shopping experience, she was able to revitalize her ambassador program--she had a very specific example to show them of how the program wasn't working, and that gave everyone involved a better understanding of what it would take to make the program a real success.

Have you considered secret shopping to see how welcomed and included a newcomer might me when attending one of your association's events? What do you think the outcome of such an experiment would be?

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Abundance and impact

I'm attending the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management program this week (for the first time as a volunteer rather than a student--a very different experience). I'll be posting some of the interesting things that I pick up this week on Acronym.

To start with, I wanted to share a quote with you that I heard from Amy Showalter of The Showalter Group:

"Abundance dilutes impact."

Amy was referring to the overuse of e-mail as a grassroots advocacy tool--if your senator/state representative/whoever sees 10,000 e-mails a day but rarely sees an in-person visitor arguing for your position, the in-person visitor will have more impact than the 10,000 daily e-mails. But the same holds true for so many kinds of communication. Are you overusing e-mail marketing? (Are there are any associations that aren't in danger of overusing e-mail marketing?) Direct mail? Ads in your association magazine? If you're abundantly using any one communication method, consider the impact a different method might have.

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Rate of Change

As I am getting ready for San Diego, with my first learning lab presentation, a council meeting, and the numerous general schedule choices, I noticed that I missed signing up for the thought leader sessions. That’s likely because I was working from the preliminary program and just read the final program, which has a real nice framed banner at the top of the page, stating “New this year! … ” Well, shame on me, so I’ll read closer, and more, next time. I’m probably the only one who made this mistake.

This leads to the perpetual “rate of change” conundrum. How do we know what is new – not just at the annual meeting, but with all our electronic and paper interactions? Sure, we rely on the distributor to tell us about the latest improvement on a website or a special situation at a conference. But how do we really adjust? How do we keep up with our “old” things, while adding the improvements? So if there is one new thing added, that’s OK? But if there are 2 things added – or “double the rate of change” – is that too much?

This morning I provided – yet again – a document to a member, who is notorious for losing things. Not that I mind a bit, of course. In this case, I suspect that I’m not the only person who has such requests. Well maybe this person keeps up with the change rate better than saving old documents. Somehow I don’t think so.

But then again, I missed the “new this year” statement.

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July 26, 2008

Introducing your Annual Meeting bloggers!

We’ve started to enter the countdown for this year’s Annual Meeting in San Diego—and we’re excited to announce to you the team of volunteer guest bloggers who have agreed to share their thoughts on what they learn and experience at the conference. I’m really looking forward to seeing the meeting through their eyes.

This year’s guest bloggers for the Annual Meeting will be:

- Patti Digh, a speaker, writer, and blogger (as well as a former association executive), who will be one of the experts participating in our opening general session on workforce diversity and inclusion

- Lindy Dreyer of the Association Marketing Springboard blog

- Miriam Miller, director of membership for the United Fresh Produce Association

- Ladd Smith, president of the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials

- Thomas Stefaniak, executive director of the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization

- Kevin Whorton, principal of Whorton Marketing and Research

- And last but not least, the ACerS staff team, who will be blogging as a collective entity; this is something we haven’t tried before on Acronym, but I think it’s going to be a very interesting look at how a staff team can learn collectively during an event like the Annual Meeting. The ACerS bloggers will include Executive Director Scott Steen (who was also one of the founders of Acronym), Megan Mahan, Director of Marketing and Member Services, Liz Roehl, Meeting Planner, Laura Vermilya, Director of Operations, and Peter Wray, Director of Communications.

Welcome to all of our Annual Meeting guest bloggers! We're looking forward to having you with us.

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July 23, 2008

Vodcast:: Recognizing volunteers

The latest installment of This Week in Associations completes the 3-part series on Decision to Volunteer with an interview of Bob Farrace from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. (See the previous segments.)

In this one, Bob talks about how NASSP hopes to use their participation in the study, and offers an interesting take on recognizing volunteers—offering the idea of copying a volunteer's supervisor on a letter expressing thanks for the valuable service.

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

Note: The next installment of this week in associations will launch a new topic: association information technology—where it is, where it should be, and why. Look for it the first week in August.

Quick clicks: The survival of associations

Lots of interesting discussions are going on this week:

- If you like controversy and are interested in the future of the association sector, you should definitely be following this debate: Ben Martin at the Certified Association Executive blog wonders if associations are really the best solution to the needs they currently are filling, and predicts, "As long as people don't really care, associations will survive." Matt Baehr agrees, at least in part; Tony Rossell disagrees; and Jeff De Cagna strenuously disagrees, while Lindy Dreyer has a slightly different take on the issue. (Be sure to read the comments on each post for additional thoughts and discussion.)

- On the Beaconfire Blog, Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares a wonderful story about a visitor to her tradeshow booth at the AMA conference.

- Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog shares an interesting chart that summarizes the drivers of brand credibility.

- Lee Aase shared seven steps to help nonprofits get the most out of YouTube, which reminded me that I mean to link to Jamie Notter's post on the value of online video. Elsewhere, Cindy Butts shares a cautionary tale about an association that ended up on YouTube without meaning to.

- David Gammel offers three reasons that online communities often fail, while Michael Gilbert at Nonprofit Online News has some thoughts on what nonprofits are doing wrong with their own online communities.

- If you're coming to Annual Meeting, you may be interested in Maddie Grant's list of 10 things she plans to do while she's there.

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July 22, 2008

Two Board and Change Management Resources

Nonprofit commentator and educator Michael Gilbert of Nonprofit Online News always has relevant news and interesting analyses, but I especially wanted to pass along two resources he shares in his latest issue.

First, a helpful, free online brochure titled “People Don’t Hate Change; They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them” by corporate strategist and change consultant Michael T. Kanazawa of Dissero Partners. Gilbert agrees with Kanazawa’s research conclusion that, contrary to popular belief, people hate organizational change programs rather than change itself. In fact, some data show success rates of "strategy execution and corporate change programs” as just 33%. I’m interested in whether other association professionals who read the 13-page brochure can offer suggestions for making change programs more effective.

The second resource Gilbert shares, and one I’d run into already, is a tips-based article from Guidestar’s excellent e-newsletter, “No-Ask Fundraising: Six High-Impact Jobs for Board Members.” Based on Gail Perry’s 2007 book, Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action (John Wiley & Sons Inc.), these six suggestions might serve as fodder to start a senior staff conversation on the role of the board in fundraising or even a roundtable with board members themselves.

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July 21, 2008

50 Ways to Use Social Media for Better Marketing

I am a longtime fan of the interesting e-newsletter by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) , and one reason is because of its practical how-to and trends coverage. Check out this succinct piece titled “50 Ways Marketers Can Use Social Media to Improve Their Marketing” by Chris Brogan from the July 14, 2008, WOMMA newsletter. This would make a great education session sometime, now that I think about it. Feel free to post other tips.

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July 18, 2008

Don't be boring!

I had a really enjoyable conversation the other day with Rick Pullen, editor of Leader's Edge magazine (the magazine of the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers). Rick had a lot of interesting things to say about his approach at Leader's Edge—which is a great magazine, by the way—but one thing really stuck with me: He asked, "When's the last time you picked up a boring magazine to read?”

Of course, the question is, why would any association put out a boring magazine in the first place? I'll tell you why: to avoid controversy and negative member responses to a particular article or piece of art. I think for-profit newspapers and magazines are more used to regularly receiving reader criticism (“If you continue to publish that columnist, I will cancel my subscription!”). But it seems that in association magazines, one or two member complaints about an article can lead to that association bending over backwards to avoid any similar complaints in the future—even if it’s a subject about which reasonable people can disagree, or simply something that people with certain tastes will like and certain tastes won’t like.

If you run a restaurant and you know that some people don’t like cilantro (I personally think it tastes like soap), should you stop using cilantro at all? Should you go even further and stop using spices, to make sure you don’t run into a customer who dislikes cumin or coriander? Or should you accept that tastes differ and try to make a variety of great tasting foods, appealing to people of different tastes?

That’s why I loved Rick’s question. You can try to seek out and remove anything from your publication that any member could be upset about. But in the process, you’re almost certainly making your magazine into a food without spice. You’re taking your focus off of creating the highest-quality publication you can. And then how many members aren’t reading it at all—and therefore missing out on important information about your industry/profession, and your association?

A little spice may lead to some readers disagreeing with a particular story—perhaps vocally so. But the alternative is to be bland. Be boring. And when was the last time you read a boring magazine cover to cover?

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July 17, 2008

Helping Sandwiched Employees

I was talking recently with a longtime friend and association professional who—like 27 million other workers in America—is challenged with the classic “sandwich” situation: caring for children and parents simultaneously. She was exhausted, stressed, and worried about her work productivity as a result.

I know how difficult it is to deal just with childcare when you’re working—I actually keep an Excel program to track the seven camps and five babysitters that my daughter alone is needing to get us through the summer months, and don’t even start me on my son’s schedule—so I can’t imagine throwing multiple parents into the mix.

I felt badly for my friend, but beyond dropping off a meal, picking up a few grocery items for her, and taking the kids sometimes, what else could be done to help? I turned to AARP—something few under-50s likely do regularly (or admit anyway!)—and found not only a nice page of suggestions and resources called “How You can Make a Difference to Caregivers,” but an entire Caregiving Channel.

The channel also links to a two-hour PBS special, “Caring for Your Parents,” that covers the most sensitive subjects surrounding this issue and includes a 30-minute panel discussion. Other features are a Navigating the World of Caregiving tool, with nifty “expert videos,” eldercare checklists, books, and pages that are easily e-mailed to others. Materials also are available for human resource departments, including a CD-ROM and binder of 43 tips for sandwich-stretched employees.

Loads of other eldercare resources are online, of course, but I found AARP’s to be one of the easiest to navigate. Here are some other good possibilities, though:

- The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers is composed of “health and human services specialists who help families care for older relatives, while encouraging as much independence as possible.” Its site has lots of helpful tips for confused consumers.

- Eldercare Locator is a free service of the Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Look, too, under www.eldercare.gov.

- Eldercare Online is a free Internet community stockpiled with practical resources for caregivers.

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July 16, 2008

Great comment conversations

Just in case you haven't been watching our comment threads, I wanted to point you specifically to two comment discussions that are going gangbusters:

- Jason Della Rocca's post on a free-to-join model for associations has sparked some debate, with comments ranging from "I think you've hit on something that association execs need to take very seriously moving forward" to "I've been wary of the unbundled membership model for years, and as time passes, I become more convinced that while seductive, it is a mistake." If you're at all interested in the potential of new and different business models for associations, you should definitely take a look.

- Commenters on my post on telecommuting have shared their own stories on why telecommuting has worked well for them, as well as some thought-provoking cautions on telecommuting's drawbacks. And I'm still hoping for a commenter or two who will speak up on behalf of organizations that allow no telecommuting at all--can you help me better understand that approach?

Thanks to all of our commenters for sharing their thoughts with us!


Giving Back Through a Community Day of Service

For the kazillionth time in the past two months, I’ve run into questions or requests from associations and nonprofits interested in exploring or organizing a “Community Day of Service.” Here’s the short version of my answers:

Yes, loads of associations are now doing this—and many have been doing them for years.

Yes, some do not spend a whole day on the event. You can always start with a half-day of service or even, as one association does, an “hour of power” (members sign up to donate at least one hour per month of free phone counseling).

Yes, many days of service are scheduled next to annual meetings, conferences, or events. Attendees and local host cities do a wide range of volunteering on such days, everything from mentoring local students to improving public facilities to bagging food for the hungry. New Orleans, in particular, appears to be the focus of the most service days and legacy gifts from organizations meeting there.

Yes, examples abound. Here are a few:

- NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network, an organization of nonprofit technology professionals, organized a Day of Service in March 2008 that included free strategy consulting services for 27 nonprofits, as well as installing a wireless network at a community center. See how they set it up here.

- Volunteers of America’s Day of Service in June 2008 involved restoring a local high school and church with its 350 volunteers “to help rebuild parts of St. Bernard Parish that remain devastated by Hurricane Katrina.”

- Myriad state legal associations host community service days targeting everyone from immigrants to needy senior citizens to nonprofit organizations.

- Many athletic, health, and fitness associations have long histories of a Day of Service. For instance, this year, more than 2,500 people in the National Basketball Association united in June to build houses and playgrounds, and to clean up schools and neighborhoods in New Orleans. You’ll find more info and some cool videos here.

For advice on organizing and partnering for a Day of Service, visit http://www.nationalserviceresources.org/node/17140 and read past the Martin Luther King Day of Service sections to the bulleted lists of tips.

Yes, information is out there about ways to identify and reduce possible legal liabilities associated with “doing good.” Tyra Hilliard, CMP, an assistant professor in the Event and Meeting Management Program at The George Washington University, spoke at ASAE & The Center’s 2008 Springtime about this topic, as she has at several other association meetings. This good article summarizes her recent MPI presentation, including her plea not to back away from community service projects and her description of laws and measures that reduce potential legal risks associated with such activities.

Yes, an ever-growing list of corporations, from Wal-Mart to Marriott International, have conducted a Day of Service that involves thousands, even tens of thousands, of employees with great success and results. In the latest issue of the Journal of Association Leadership (summer 2008), which just mailed, I describe how three corporations—United Parcel Service (UPS), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and Motorola—use social responsibility as major drivers within their businesses. One element of that strategy? An international Day of Service for employees. Check it out, especially the one by UPS. Sorry, it’s not online yet, but it will be shortly, and I’ll include the link then for non-subscribers.


July 15, 2008

Let in some light

Okay, somewhat cheesy metaphor alert:

In my backyard, we have a Japanese maple (which just happens to be my favorite kind of tree, although it was already there when we moved in). In the years we've lived in our house, the maple has been somewhat stunted--it was overshadowed by two large pear trees and always had to struggle for sun. But a few weeks ago, a windstorm damaged the pear trees and we had to take them down, leaving the maple standing by itself. I swear to you, that maple is already standing a foot taller, just because it no longer has to reach sideways to get at the light.

Watching that tree stretch itself out after years of living in shadow made me think of some of the programs that I've managed in the past. There have been times when I've had far too much on my plate (as an association professional? never!), and I've shamefully neglected some of those programs just because I didn't have time to do anything with them. Every time I thought about them, I winced, because I knew they had potential that wasn't being realized.

But in some cases, I had the good fortune to hand those programs off to another staff person with interest and time. And it was amazing to watch the programs (and the staff person) take off running.

Are there anything on your to-do list that could use a little more support than you have time to give to it? Is there anyone else who could do more with its potential than you're currently able to? If you have twinges of "I really should do it myself" or guilt for delegating, ignore it. Just think about what those programs (or products or services) will look like once they've had a chance to get a little light.

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July 14, 2008

Quick clicks: Sharing Slideshare

- Several association bloggers shared Slideshare presentations this week, including Tony Rossell's presentation on the levels of membership engagement; Ben Martin highlighted a presentation by Marta Z. Kagan on Generation Y and social media.

- The Association Social Media Wiki is back--and completely redesigned. If you're ever interested in seeing what other associations are doing with blogs, podcasts, mashups, wikis, Facebook, and in many other social media categories, visit the wiki to quickly find examples. (And if your association is active in any form of social media, you can share a link to your site(s) there, too.)

- I found a few new (or at least new to me) association bloggers recently: The Mind of a Generation Y Association Executive, by Ryan Tucholski; Thanks for Playing, by Elizabeth Weaver Engel; and the Challenge Management blog.

- Do you ever have a great idea that withers on the vine, waiting for buy-in from all appropriate parties? Jeffrey Cufaude has some thoughts on improving the idea approval process in your organization.

- FOLIO has an interesting case study about the relaunch of a 116-year-old association magazine.

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July 11, 2008

Improving Teamwork

I'm a big fan of the best-selling biz book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, so recently I’ve spent some time on the blog of co-author David Maxfield. Maxfield is in the middle of a thoughtful series of posts about “improving teamwork within your organization,” pulling from the six “sources of influence” explained in his book. They’re worth a read, especially for association leaders interested in accelerating culture change within the workplace.


July 10, 2008

Telecommuting--why not?

I've been meaning to write a post on telecommuting for a few days now, so I was pleased to see the responses to Kristin's post on alternative work schedules. I personally am telecommuting two days a week this summer, and not because of gas prices or environmentalism--it's because it makes it possible for both my husband and me to maximize our work efforts without maximizing the time our children spend in day care. (Ah, the joys of a DC-area commute.)

I've been surprised to hear from several people lately who have told me that their associations or companies don't allow telecommuting at all. Really? I have to admit, I don't understand it. I can see not allowing a particular position to telecommute (the receptionist at a local association, for instance, might be required to be physically in the office to greet members and guests who stop by). I can even see not allowing particular people to commute, because they are having performance problems, are brand-new and still need a lot of training, or because they've proved to be an ineffective telecommuter in the past. But having a blanket prohibition on telecommuting? What would be the argument for that?

As Tammy Erickson over at harvardbusiness.org noted recently, "How much of our work today, really, is synchronous?" Other than for a few meetings, does it really matter if I tend to start work before 7 am but another editor in my department prefers not to greet the dawn? Or, if synchronicity really is needed for a project, does it matter if we're not physically located in the same place?

Managing telecommuters is different than managing people on-site, and it does require someone who has never managed a telecommuter to adapt his or her management style accordingly. And, of course, telling one person that they cannot telecommute while someone else can is never fun. But isn't our job as managers to handle challenges like that?

So, is there anyone out there who can explain to me the argument against telecommuting? I'd really like to understand that perspective better than I do.

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July 9, 2008

Free Association

There's an emerging trend in the video game industry called "free-to-play". In short, this is a business model whereby people can play a game for free (instead of going to the store to buy a $60 disc), generally via the web. Revenue is generated by other means, usually from advertising dollars or by selling premium items in the game (eg, fancy sword, access to a special level, etc).

This model was pioneered in Korea as a means to get over the piracy/blackmarket hump. As Korea had/has no retail market for games, companies had to find other means to generate revenue. And, for the most part, this approach is bringing great success. Some of the more successful games have player bases in the 15-million range, generating millions of dollars in monthly ad and item sale revenue.

Could such a model work for a large scale professional society? Membership dues are zero, and revenue is generated purely via "premium items" (ie, conference reg, book sales, DVD content, etc). Some of that discussion has come up as part of the whole "unbundling" trend, sure, but I've not seen it ever taken to the extreme of coupling it with a no-cost membership.

What issues would be solved or benefits accrue with a free-to-join model? Some thoughts:

  • potentially much greater membership base
  • broader reach into given industry/profession
  • better leveraging of network effects
  • more attractive to advertisers/sponsors
  • never have to debate/question "value proposition"
  • association output becomes more directly "market driven"
  • likely easier to deliver on mission (since you don't ever have to exclude non-members)

Possible side effects or negatives:

  • need to replace funds gap!
  • likely a more pronounced level of participation inequality
  • free = worthless perception
  • huge reliance on web/tech tools
  • likely more chaos and loss of control by staff

Admittedly, this is also very much inspired by Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations", as well as Chris Anderson's preliminary writings on "free" as the business model of the future.

Anyway, guess I'm getting bored with the yearly dues status quo... Hmm...

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Vodcast: Making Volunteering Easy

Here’s a quote from the second installment of “This Week in Associations,” which continues a look at the upcoming ASAE & The Center publication, Decision to Volunteer. This segment’s guest is former Acronym guest blogger Peter O’Neil, CAE, who talks about what his association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, got out of its participation in the study.

“Governance structure is probably the biggest overlooked opportunity for most trade and professional societies. We did shift our volunteer structure, governance structure about four or five years ago and what we did was move our technical committees, which for us is the hallmark, the backbone, of what we do through what our volunteers do through that structure. We shifted them to work groups and off of these work groups there were various project teams. And, the project teams enabled individuals to come in and do some very discreet pieces of work, say write a chapter in a textbook and then leave.”

So the question I want to leave readers with is, what changes have you made to make volunteering for your organization easier?

Oh yes, and check out the video, too:

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

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Redesigning Work Schedules

I remember people laughing when Executive Update magazine, a precursor to ASAE & The Center’s Associations Now magazine, ran a 2004 feature by Brazil’s two-time businessman of the year Ricardo Semler, who had just written a book called The Seven-Day Weekend. The article, “Where Radical Design Meets Effective Business,” details Semler’s “crazy” but highly successful approach to generating tremendous organizational growth while simultaneously creating “the happiest employees on the planet.”

One way he did that was to leave all work scheduling—whether manufacturing shifts or executive work sessions—to the employees themselves. The focus was on the work—not the when or how, but the what—as in, “What were the results, and did they achieve our goals?”

Today, though, the laughter is long gone, and in its place are serious discussions of how to conduct work differently to achieve a wider range of goals. High on the agenda are flexible work schedules. Just this week I saw that the Birmingham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is piloting a voluntary four-day work week program through July and August to help employees and the business reduce fuel and energy expenses and commuting time.

State governments, too, are re-envisioning work parameters, with Utah Governor Jon Huntsman leading the way June 26 with an announcement that the state’s non-essential service agencies will move to a mandatory three-day weekend (employees will work four 10-hour days) to conserve energy, cut in-state vehicle miles, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Other states pondering (West Virginia, Vermont, Oklahoma, and Arizona), piloting (Kentucky, South Carolina), or even mandating (New Mexico) work schedule alternatives have found great enthusiasm among their employees.

And are associations following this lead? Eh, some are, some aren’t. What I don’t understand is that in a period of such high concern about retaining talent, cutting expenses, reducing environmental footprints, and doing-too-much-with-too-little, doesn’t it make sense to at least try some fresh approaches to getting work done? And that’s no joke ...

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Mobile Web Site Aims to Serve Two Billion People

Although associations are notoriously reticent to take new risks, I’ve been collecting stories and examples of organizations and nonprofits that could be considered incubators or that have “Skunkworks” projects underway. The latest to join this pioneering group is the San Diego-based Autism Research Institute, which announced today that it has launched a mobile Internet Web site specifically for users of mobile devices and mobile phones.

According to a press release, the site emerged “in response to consumers’ desire for ‘practical’ mobile content” and is the first mobile Web site by a national autism nonprofit.

"There are almost two billion mobile Internet users today, and we're tailoring our organization's services to better serve those needs," says Director Steve Edelson. In addition, more people have mobile phones with Internet access than computers with online access, the group notes.

Among the content are reformatted major papers and studies from the group’s Web site, autism treatment information, advice for parents, and answers to frequently asked questions. The group is especially keen to promote its Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) to parents and specialists. The tool helps “evaluate cognitive, communication, sensory, and social skills--as well as the physical health--of individuals on the autism spectrum” and can now be completed on a mobile phone and forwarded to a physician for review.

I’ll be interested to call back this group in a year to see what the uptake has been and whether the investment was worth it. If you know of other organizations that have deliberately developed incubator projects, please post them here or e-mail me offline at kclarke@asaecenter.org.


Incubating social media

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Ben Martin of the Virginia Association of Realtors (and the Certified Association Executive blog) and two Realtor members of VAR about VAR's social media incubation efforts. The article I wrote based on our conversation tells the story of an association jump-starting its social media presence through good old-fashioned relationship building--but it only covered the initial stages of VAR's efforts.

Ben kindly spoke with me again to bring me up to date on his association's ongoing outreach efforts through social media. Here are some interesting ideas he shared with me:

- Looking for sticky ideas. Earlier this year, VAR experimented with the idea of a "Blog Brawl," a contest to determine the best real estate blog. Beginning with 70 real estate blogs, the contest went through six rounds of voting to determine a final Blog Brawl winner--and you had to go to VARbuzz, VAR's blog, to vote. Ben said that the contest got "great buzz" and generated lots of comments--more than 60 in one comment thread alone (a special thread created for Blog Brawl participants to talk to each other). VAR will be holding a second annual Brawl next year, and they will be upping the ante with prize money.

- Helping bloggers meet bloggers. Both of the Realtors that I spoke with for the original article spoke very highly of VAR's first "bloggercon"--a meeting of bloggers held at VAR's 2007 annual meeting. They enjoyed the opportunity to meet other bloggers face-to-face and discuss issues that matter to them as bloggers. VAR found the event to be successful enough that Ben is planning to hold two bloggercons per year moving forward--one at the annual meeting and one in cooperation with a local Realtor association somewhere in Virginia.

- Gathering information. Ben is planning to study social media adoption in the real estate field, releasing results once per quarter or so. The planned research is intended to determine who is using what forms of social media in the real estate field, the average number of subscribers to a real estate blog, the average number of comments real estate bloggers receive on their posts, and so on--very useful benchmarking information for those in the real estate field.

The original article on VAR's "social media incubator" is available online as well as in the July issue of Associations Now.

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July 7, 2008

Listening and Loyalty

Sean O’Driscoll, general manager of community support and MVP for Microsoft, has a helpful blog called Community Group Therapy with a recent post about top takeaways from recent social media workshops he has been giving. Among his points are that “features are not user experiences,” that consensus is just a “nice to have” in terms of cross-functional participation, and that “‘participating in the conversation’ is hollow advice for a large” organization.

I found interesting O’Driscoll’s differentiation between listening systems (feedback + organizational understanding + responsive action + communication about that action back to the feedback giver=listening) versus hearing systems (feedback + responsive action, no communication to original feedback giver).

It immediately reminded me of a recent brand advocacy study by ExpoTV that found “55% of consumers want an ongoing dialogue with brands.” The firm concluded that “the willingness of a company to engage with consumers directly impacts loyalty and can even lead to increased purchase intent. In fact, 89% of respondents would feel more loyal to brands that invited them to participate in a feedback group, and 92% of those who have a positive experience communicating with a brand will recommend purchasing a product from that brand to someone they know.”

Also interesting is that almost 50% of respondents “expressed a desire to share their ideas on new products and services” and to communicate about brand efforts to “improve existing products and share positive experiences.”

Researchers said that news is especially encouraging for smaller, perhaps newer brands or brands entering new areas because consumers were just as keen to communicate with less-familiar brand.

I wondered, not for the first time, if associations are as good at dialoguing with and listening to customers and members as many seem to assume. I’m talking about metrics beyond the speed with which an individual receives a response back from a staffer, beyond the murky satisfaction ratings of members, who rarely are asked to judge feedback quality in specific. Have we set up processes and cultural norms to ensure good listening or just good hearing? And do staffers and leaders understand the importance of that difference to the potential levels of loyalty within our members?

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July 3, 2008

Quick clicks: A crowd of crowds

Some reading material for your holiday weekend (at least, for folks who celebrate July 4 as a holiday):

- I've seen a lot of discussion about groups and crowds lately. Ben Martin has an interesting post on self-forming groups (and whether such things truly exist); Matt Baehr ponders why associations should continue to exist when the internet makes it so much easier for groups to form without intermediaries like associations; and Bob Wolfe notes that it takes more than just social networking technology to create a strong group. Elsewhere, the Read Write Web blog explains why crowds aren't always that wise (and how to help them be wiser) and the Wikinomics blog has an interesting post on changes in one of the most famous self-forming groups of all, the Wikipedia community.

- If you are planning for how the changing economy could affect your association, you may be interested in Tom Peters' 26 rules for recessions.

- Cindy Butts at the AE on the Verge blog has a must-read post on honestly communicating about mistakes.

- Jeremy Epstein points out the difference between saying that you want to create a strong, positive workplace culture, and actually creating one.

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July 1, 2008

Associations Now July Case Study: Caught in the Gears

One of the biggest challenges in beginning a new job as a manager is getting to know your new team. Sometimes your management style is very different from what they're used to--and sometimes their work styles are very different than what you're used to. It can be a great learning experience for all concerned, or it can lead to a lot of frustration.

In this month's Associations Now case study, "Caught in the Gears," a new CEO is struggling to find the best approach to working with a management team and staff that appear to be caught in a culture of conflict. But is his approach making things better or worse? (And is conflict in the workplace really a problem?)

Cedric Calhoun, executive director of the Academy of Certified Hazardous Materials Managers, and Jamie Notter, a conflict resolution expert (and blogger), kindly shared their thoughts in two commentaries on the case study. I learned a lot from both of them.

What do you think? Should the CEO in this case study continue down the path he's started, or is he headed for disaster? The full text of the article and Jamie and Cedric's commentaries is available online, as well as in the print edition of this month's Associations Now.

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