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August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

As always, I am proud to report that many associations have already sprung into action in response to the serious threat of Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 hurricane heading toward New Orleans, and the potential threat of Tropical Storm Hannah coming toward the Florida coast. Here are some of the actions associations are already taking:

· The Air Transit Association of America (ATA) has released a statement explaining evacuation processes for residents in the New Orleans area. You can read it here.

· The Humane Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, local and national food banks, and numerous faith-based community organizations have partnered in Nashville, Tennessee, to open shelters, distribute meals, and support evacuees from the hurricane.

· The American Red Cross is urging people in the potentially affected areas to register themselves its new Safe and Well Web site at www.redcross.org, or call a loved one and ask them to register you. This online tool helps families and individuals notify loved ones that they are safe during an emergency. You also can read and link to the organization’s advice to evacuating families by going here.

· The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants is urging people in the affected areas to “financially prepare” for the hurricane, using its tip list, which includes the need for having plentiful cash on hand, documenting household goods and valuables, and gathering important documents.

· The National Association for Amateur Radio (ham radio folks) has developed guidelines for potential volunteers interested in responding to the hurricane emergency, warning them not to “self-deploy” and noting that the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition has been relaying reports online since Friday.

· The Texas Hotel & Lodging Association sent an alert to members last Thursday, repeating a local government estimate that 45,000 evacuees could arrive if Gustav hits Louisiana. Local restaurant associations and members have been stocking up as well.

· Social media also is coming into significant play in terms of sharing storm information, relaying community/government emergency operations, organizing nonprofit relief and assistance responses, checking on association members, monitoring local chapters/components, and rallying volunteers on standby.

· Bossier City Firefighters Association is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to find housing for IAFF members evacuating the area. Like the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, many local associations have turned to their national associations and leaders for help—and emergency housing is just one such request. Others I’ve seen relate to transportation advice, pet care in the region, and reinforcing communication strategies.

· The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is actively tracking the storms on the Hurricane Preparedness section of its web site and has the latest NOAA and other weather updates, the status of various airports, an emergency preparedness checklist, and many more resources available to help members and the public stay abreast of rapidly changing weather conditions.

· Various electrical power associations are urging the public and businesses in the potential hurricane zones to review their virtual brochures on preparing for power outages and surges as a result of poor weather. Here’s one example from Coast Electric Power Association.

· A number of associations also are encouraging members to access the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness page, which contains emergency plans for businesses and families, emergency supply lists, and background on hurricanes in general.

Thanks, y’all, for once again stepping up to make a real difference in the lives of both your members and the larger public. Please know that ASAE & The Center stand ready to assist you in your efforts!

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August 29, 2008

Nonprofits, Associations Rallying Around 9/11 Day of Service

So many associations and nonprofits are considering or expanding their employee volunteer programs that I thought I’d share when many are doing all of this community giveback: on 9/11, in honor of the victims of the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. They’ve heard about a growing initiative called MyGoodDeed.org that wants to designate 9/11 as an annual national day of charitable service.

The effort got a big boost today when ServiceNation, a new coalition of more than 600 nonprofit organizations, backed the idea, and the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation added its official support. Even presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are in on deal, agreeing both to appear in a forum on civic engagement on 9/11 in New York and to suspend nasty campaign ads and indeed all campaigning for that day.

Since its 2003 founding by friends and family of 9/11 victims, MyGoodDeed.org has attracted involvement by a range of prominent leaders from the nonprofit, corporate, and government sectors. These include Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, Citizen Corps, Youth Service America, Points of Light & Hands on Network, and every major 9/11 family and support organization. Last year, more than 300,000 good deeds were posted on the MyGoodDeed.org Web site by participants from every state and 150 different countries and territories.

And, honestly, if you’re have a blue moment when all that is bad in the world seems overwhelming, you’ll certainly get a lift from perusing even a few of the thousands of posts, which capture through personal stories the details and spirit of volunteerism in America today. You’ll feel better, I promise.

That personalization and easy interaction are among the strength’s of the organization’s Web site. It invites visitors to “plant a cause tree” that allows logging (no pun intended) and tracking of “good deeds” you or your organization have done for the community, planting of a “cause garden” to identify your pet causes to others, and use of free social media outreach tools to “grow your garden” with the addition of invited friends, find-like-minded-friends opportunities, and even a personal blog.

You can meet up with those pals and make new ones if you decide to join the expected 500 delegates from nonprofit organizations who will be advocating for positive social change and increased volunteerism during a September 11-12 summit on national service, parts of which will be televised to encourage a larger nationwide discussion. The New York City event, hosted by ServiceNation and its many nonprofit members, is being co-chaired by Caroline Kennedy and Alma Powell.

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August 28, 2008

Strategic planning: Are you for or against?

The editors of Associations Now want to get our readers thinking--but every now and then an article gets an even stronger reaction than we had expected. In August, that article was "The Perils of Strategic Planning" by James Hollan. Here's how the story begins:

"Most strategic plans don't work. They involve too much paper, too much time, too many nodding heads, and far too many poorly informed so-called experts. I know that many association CEOs believe the same, but we exist in an environment where it is anathema to even question the validity of the strategic planning process. You might just as well stand up at the next board meeting and suggest everyone strip down to his or her underwear as question the usefulness of the strategic plan you have in place.

"It's all right to discuss ways to improve the plan or actualize the plan or even modify the plan. You can certainly pay consultants or facilitators to help set up a strategic plan or improve the one you already have in place, but the nonprofit sector currently has little room for questioning the usefulness of the strategic planning process itself. It's time to challenge that reality."

Since the August issue came out, we've heard some vehement (but thoughtful) reactions from strategic planning supporters. (One factor that probably increased interest was the fact than article on strategic planning also appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of Association Leadership, which also came out in August: "The Development of Consensus Guidelines for Strategic Planning in Associations," by Michael Gallery and Susan Waters).

From what I've heard, it seems that there are two main camps responding to James Hollan's article:

1. Those who think strategic planning is a powerful and important tool; sometimes it is used poorly or improperly, but the fact that some groups use the tool incorrectly doesn't mean that it should be tossed out.

2. Those who think strategic planning is so misguided that using it at all is a mistake.

I'd be very interested in hearing from both camps here. Feel free to lay out your strongest arguments for or against strategic planning. Should strategic planning be part of our organizational toolboxes--or should we find a new tool to work with?


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Vodcast: In defense of AMS

Mary Bowie, VP of Finance for the American Association of Museums, says software is no where near good enough at supplanting people in building relationships with her members. Give her a good transaction system built by people who know what associations do and that evolves as association needs evolve, and let staff and volunteers handle the business of analyzing and using member data. See the video on This Week in Associations:

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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What We Learned, What We'll Do

Here, in no particular order, are a few of the things we learned as a team at ASAE & The Center’s 2008 Annual Meeting and how we are going to apply them at The American Ceramic Society:

• We learned that while social media has enormous potential for changing the way associations build community and facilitate learning, the trick is managing implementation within the particular cultural context of your organization. We are exploring new ways to use blogs, collaborative learning tools, forums, videocasts and podcasts, and other media within the context of a community that is not as particularly accustomed to these tools.

• We learned that our newest members are probably the best people to tell us how to make for joining our Society. We are exploring ways to systematically ask new members why they joined and what they expect from their membership.

• We learned that, as Patti Digh said, you must “change the structure of the land” within your organization to create an environment that facilitates diversity. At ACerS, our first steps will be convening groups of women engineers, young professionals, and international members to ask what the new landscape should look like and what we need to do to get there.

• We learned that structures used to promote hierarchy, maintain order, and retain control are things of the past. Collaborative technologies are changing the way knowledge is created and connections are made, allowing people to bypass control-based structures. This is a difficult but necessary lesson to apply within an academic and scientific organization where rewards are based on a much more proprietary view of knowledge (patents, copyrights, the first to publish, the first to present).

• On the marketing front, we learned that contacting the same audience 5-plus times can increase response by up to 82 percent. We also heard that “brochures don’t sell.” As a result, Megan and her team just revised our corporate membership marketing plan to include more “touches” and take out the costly brochures.

• We learned (or perhaps, relearned) that a good way to achieve out of the box results is to gather feedback and ideas from those already outside your box. Laura is putting together a plan to use ACerS network of vendors, member companies, and others to come up with solutions to some specific challenges we face.

• We learned that coaching people and managing people are different skill sets. Coaching is about BEING (vs. doing) … BEING more curious; BEING more understanding; BEING more encouraging; BEING more empowering. It is about focusing on the WHO rather than the what. Both are necessary to get the most out of your people.

All of this, of course, just scratches the surface, but it is a start. Perhaps most of all, we learned that learning together is important and that being forced to write about it like this has helped to clarify our thinking. It has been a pleasure sharing it with you.

ACerS Team…Out.

- Laura, Liz, Megan, Peter, & Scott

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August 27, 2008

The Team Approach

One week after arriving home from ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting in San Diego, we are just beginning to process the things we learned and how we might apply it here at the American Ceramic Society.

For those of us who have attended more than one of these meetings, the 2008 Meeting seemed like a much more personal experience than 2007. Scott, who has a wide network of association friends and colleagues, was in hog heaven. But all of us seemed to meet more people and connect with each other more deeply. We think that the design and setting of this meeting really contributed to building a sense of community – the lounges in the member experience area, the multiple seating areas (including the outdoor lounge!), the close proximity of many of the hotels, the wonderful social events, and the beauty of San Diego all seemed to work together to get people to interact.

All of us came back buzzing about the experience, but we are also committed to applying what we learned. The day after we arrived back in Columbus, we had a full staff retreat, so those of us who attended the meeting were able to share many of the ideas in the context of our planning process for the coming year. We also started conversations within our departments about how the things we learned might be applied to specific challenges we are facing.

Clearly, for us, bringing a team to a meeting like this makes a lot of sense. We had a representative from each department, which allowed us were able to spread out to cover far more sessions, compare what we learned, and build on our shared experiences. We were also able to use the expo as a resource better than we ever have. We are already in touch with some of the companies we encountered about products and services that could enhance our annual meeting in October. We solicited proposals for upcoming meetings from more than half a dozen CVBs (we brought spec sheets with us). In addition, we are exploring specific social networking tools we saw on the expo floor that might provide good solutions for initiatives already on the drawing board.

In our next (and last) post, we will share some of the many specific things we learned at the meeting and what we are planning to do as a result.

- The ACerS Team (Scott, Laura, Liz, Megan, and Peter)

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New association bloggers

Ben Martin at the Certified Association Executive blog beat me to it, but I've been meaning to post a welcome for some new association bloggers who recently threw their hats into the digital ring:

- Peggy Hoffman, at the Idea Center blog

- Caron Mason, at the Musings of a New CAE blog (Caron has blogged at Acronym before--we're really pleased that she's launched her own blog as well!)

- Renato Sogueco, at RenatoSogueco.com

- Stuart Meyer, at the Associations 2020 blog

I hope you'll stop by and say hi to each of these new bloggers--and I hope all of them have fun blogging!

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August 25, 2008

Annual Meeting Hotels--Green and Sustainable

The hospitality sector has long been community-minded, and now many of them are including the planet in their “community,” with special programs, services, and operational practices and goals to lighten the environmental footprints of hotels and other accommodations. I heard about some of these actions from annual meeting attendees staying at the 15 official hotels in San Diego at the recent Annual Meeting & Expo.

Among the variety of sustainable amenities and practices—not all of which were available at each hotel--were the following:

· Reusable towel and linen options
· Biking and walking maps that help you avoid driving
· Water conservation measures such as low-flow faucets and showerheads
· Solar film on certain guestroom windows to reduce heat and UV rays
· Energy efficiency fixtures and light bulbs
· Recycling (sometimes in-room is available now)
· Wellness kits for travelers
· Organic or locally produced food and beverages
· Eco-messaging on hotel television channels
· Organic or sustainability-certified flowers and plants
· Donations to associations and nonprofits operating sustainability-oriented programs such as diversity initiatives, natural resource conservation projects, supply chain management assistance, and more

Other hotels by these leading brands are experimenting with additional options, such as retrofitting facilities for increased energy efficiencies and reduced carbon emissions, preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles and carpools, nonprofit partnerships to offset emissions or help obtain green or sustainability-oriented certifications, organic cotton linens and toiletries, grants for “volunteer vacations,” and employee/guest community engagement programs.

Attendees at the annual meeting were already been asking our staff about such practices in Toronto and Los Angeles, sites of the next two ASAE & The Center annual meetings. Please consider asking those questions at the front desks or concierge stands at hotels during your future business travels as well. Vocal customers, such as meeting planners, will help accelerate the move of hotels toward even greater social responsibility.

Meanwhile, congrats go to our partnering hotels at the meeting for communicating greener and more socially responsible options to recent attendees!




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Elsewhere, post conference roundup, part II

Now that most people have returned from Annual Meeting and caught up on sleep, I'm seeing some great posts sharing takeaways from education sessions and other parts of the conference:

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel has a great post that begins with the "Meet the Association Community Bloggers" Learning Laband a more informal discussion among association bloggers, but moves on from there to tackle bigger issues. Her post ends with a great question for all of us in associations: "What would your organization look like if your individual staff members didn't focus specifically and exclusively on your journal, or getting out the renewal notices on time, or managing the membership database, or creating press releases, or your legislative fly in day, but instead worked as fluid team of engagement specialists on increasing engagement in your organization, your industry, your profession, for your entire universe of constituents? What would that world be like?"

Elizabeth also posted some thoughts on the Expo, a conversation she had about travel to and from meetings, and her experience as a volunteer during the meeting.

- Kevin Holland shared five things he liked and five things he didn't like at Annual.

- Peter Turner posted the slides from two Learning Labs he participated in, one on crowdsourcing and one on open innovation.

- Matt Baehr lists what he saw as the good, the bad, and the ugly in San Diego, as well as his thoughts on the importance of the social aspects of the conference.

- Caron Mason talks about the ideas she got out of the conference.

- Cindy Butts uses the "secret session" at Annual as a case study on building buzz through social media.

- Tammy Hailey shares what she learned at Annual in her association's blog.

- Peggy Hoffman shared a summary of a Learning Lab she participated in on "Chapter and National Databases: Do They or Don't They Interface?"

- Ben Martin has a detailed summary of what he saw at Annual and his thoughts on what worked and what didn't.

- Mickie Rops recapped a Learning Lab she facilitated on "Knowledge Strategies for Better Meetings."

- Renato Sogueco shares a summary of and the handout from of the Learning Lab he participated in on "Technology Trends: What Association Leaders Need to Know Now."

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August 21, 2008

Speakers outside of sessions

During the Annual Meeting, ASAE & The Center's Knowledge Initiatives team sat down with a few of this year's speakers and asked them to share a few additional thoughts on various topics. Thanks to each of them for being kind enough to participate!

Patti Digh, a member of the opening general session panel, shares some additional thoughts on diversity.

Rohit Talwar, author of Designing Your Future, talks about competition in the global market.

Amy Smith, a presenter in the Social Media Laboratory, has a few things to say about virtual worlds.

(If you liked these videos, you can find more on ASAE & The Center's website.)

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Elsewhere, post-conference roundup

Association bloggers are still writing thoughtful stuff about the Annual Meeting:

- Kevin Holland was disappointed in the closing keynote, but happy with the conference overall.

- Peggy Hoffman shares a bunch of things that she learned at Annual.

- David Gammel has some thoughts on associations and the status quo, based on Thought Leader James Gilmore's remarks.

- Sue Pelletier posted about what she saw on the Expo floor, what she learned during a marketing session, and how she was inspired by a session on getting record attendance for an event. She also shared some thoughts on online gaming and associations and on the closing session.

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A few more Annual photos

While this post isn't at all comprehensive for everything that took place on the last day of Annual Meeting, here are a few photos to give you some of the flavor of the conference and San Diego:

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Riding in the Huff and Puff Lounge.

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Connecting at the Convention Center.

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A class in the Social Media Laboratory--specifically, mine and Maddie Grant's. If there was audio to go with the picture, you'd be able to tell that we're shouting to be heard over the train going by outside!

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Entering the closing night block party.

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The stage at the closing night block party.

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A place to relax at the block party.

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This little guy was at the opening night party, not the closing party. But isn't he cute?

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We're looking forward to seeing you next year!

The full Annual Meeting Flickr pool is here.

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August 20, 2008

Frank Fortin Talks Social Technographics for Associations

Following up on a post I did on the Association Marketing Springboard, here is a short video from the Annual Meeting of Frank Fortin, communications director for the Massachusetts Medical Society, explaining how he is using Forrester's Social Technographic Survey to better understand his association's social media successes and failures. Over the next six months, Frank and his team intend to apply the lessons they've learned from Groundswell and their own experience to transform the Massachusetts Medical Society's social spaces online.

Trouble viewing the video? Click here.

Here's one interesting point Frank made that didn't make it into the video. It's not just the question, it's how you ask it. For example, Some of your members might not be familiar with RSS, but they might be using it on sites like iGoogle, Google Reader, Bloglines, NetNewsWire or some other aggregator. Are we making assumptions about our members' social media aptitude simply because we're asking the wrong questions--or the right questions in the wrong way? It's something to think about.

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A Quick Look Through the Rear-View Mirror

On Twitter this morning someone said "ASAE was great but I'm glad it's over" and I half agree. Maybe part of it has been dipping a toe in the water with the event-driven social media, or for treating myself to actually staying through Tuesday night, but it felt as if the Annual Meeting this year had much more 'event-ness.' (Ending the general session yesterday afternoon with a reprise of the "Association Happy Dance" video made me wish that someone would leak this onto YouTube.) But not only was this a great conference, it exceeded what for me were already heightened expectations.

Yesterday two programs stood out in my mind. I decided to check out Ron Rosenberg's regular marketing session and enjoyed it immensely from a front-row seat. Whereas a few years ago I almost resented the incursion of speakers with a slicker stage presence (Ron is a part-time magician) and the more self-promotional, packaged DVD instructional approach, I have definitely come around to thinking everybody benefits--obviously the room is packed, and people learn while being entertained. I suspect many of us who speak could benefit from watching folks like Ron to learn how to impart a better learning experience--more content, more direct analysis, more grounded examples. So many of Ron's examples reflected the experiences of SMALL associations, far outside the Beltway, with small staff lurching from deadline to deadline. It resonated very well. (I wonder how often our association staff and consultant speakers presenting case studies and lessons learned from large well-funded associations inadvertently make their examples feel irrelevant to the types of associations that comprise the majority of ASAE membership.)

His approaches to marketing were simple and profound, comprehensive and jam-packed into the session: the magic marker and 'so what?' approach to critiquing existing copy, refocusing the messaging from I to you, evocative testimonials, varying letters to match a single brochure, listing a series of must-haves in any marketing piece ('with no deadline you have no offer'), and emphasizing the importance of a money-back guarantee. Many in the audience clearly had seen him at past state society meetings and/or ASAE and I hope they are at least part of the way on a journey of practicing as he preaches. (In style he also reminds me a bit of HG Lewis, a famous commercial copywriter who still speaks at DMA events and who also had a side career as an infamous pioneer in the early years of horror movies. Apparently directing "Buckets of Blood" and writing Colgate toothpaste ads are transferrable skills!)

As Ron (and HG) point out, these marketing tips are free to implement--especially in the sense that doing a bad job in marketing takes just as long or longer than doing a good job! And of course, any association that experiences near-100% growth in revenue or a 1500% increase in attendance by implementing these ideas was also previously incurring a huge opportunity cost through bad marketing. The program also did a great job of overcoming the 'sales objections' many associations have in making their marketing effective. Whereas someone might have done an entire session on 'defining and overcoming the barriers to your marketing culture,' Ron included it in his program as a nice, well-covered five minute 'bonus round' inside a very tight and well-packaged talk. Definitely the best and most applied session I attended, particularly compared to the blue ocean strategy closing session which, based on hall talk later, either you got into or tuned out on immediately.

The second program that hit home for far more personal reasons was the session on community-building. It featured DC and Chicago staff and volunteers who have formed and managed regular programs/communities of association execs. As an occasional attendee of Talisa's Old Town Brown Bag, a frequent attendee of the free Greater Washington Network Idea Swaps, and a participant and leader within the GWN's Member Action Team, none of the DC case studies were news to me, although learning about the scope and sophistication of the Assn Forum of Chicagoland was. We heard from the group of state society association executives present that the real challenges exist in creating community in settings where distance and population density simply don't allow groups to cluster and form easily. DC has 8,500 or 9,000 members from Frederick to Fredericksburg. The Forum has 4,000. What can and should you do when you have 250 members mostly clustered around a smaller state capital and scattered elsewhere?

It definitely helps promote the necessity of having a viable online community. Most of us are well on the way of converting communications from print to online, education from podiums to distance learning; now we see more movement from networking in-person to online. In all cases we are near or have passed a tipping point. As Greg Fine noted, you can reasonably expect 10% of your members will participate in the communities that were described in the session, maybe 1% will be avid users of the more leading edge technology. Would we normally build new services knowing we will reach 1%, or 10%? No, but these people represent the early adopters and influentials that consumer marketers seek to influence. And we would meet and do social media anyway--through our association or on our own. Either way, there is a great change in management thinking accompanying this, accepting that in this area the market is unpredictable, fast moving, hard to 'manage.' It's great to see such flexible thinking, acceptance and promotion of the newer wave of activities.

It's been wonderful to take a break, see everyone again, and to see things with a broader perspective than most of us get in our own offices. Now, back to work!

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August 19, 2008

Elsewhere, Day 3

As always, we want to make sure to connect you to the great Annual Meeting discussion that's going on outside of Acronym. Here's what I found today:

- Lindy Dreyer shared some thoughts on social media strategy based on conversations here in San Diego.

- Kevin Holland overheard some interesting things at the Food and Wine Classic and saw some interesting trends on the tradeshow floor.

- Sue Pelletier shared her impressions of her second day at Annual, as well as her thoughts on a video used in the celebration breakfast.

- Cynthia D'Amour had an interesting experience (and wonders how it relates to working with volunteers).

- Rick Johnston posted in reaction to questions about the legal risks involved in social media.

- Jeff Cobb commented on the social media buzz he heard at the conference.

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Common Writing Mistakes

I attended the Common Mistakes People Make when Writing…and How to Fix Them! learning lab this afternoon. It was great! Bonnie Budzowski was energetic and really engaged the audience. She outlined 6 criteria for effective professional writing I thought I’d share with you:

• Create simple visual appeal
• Be immediately relevant
• Provide clear, easy-to-grasp points
• Recognize the power of emotion
• Answer all the reader’s questions
• Provide clear next steps

The most important one to me was answering all the reader’s questions. Why make a member, fellow colleague, or customer email a second or third time to get all of their questions answered if they were asked in the first email?

--Liz Roehl

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Expo Connections

Trying to be the good networker, I had a couple fruitful discussions, while walking around the floor.

Niagara Falls exhibitor knew my former private sector building manager.
Holland representative's father worked for same company/division as I did.
Interel principal worked with Brussels sister association while at previous company.
Maryland CVB people knew convention "house" I used for external scientific board retreat.
Saw life insurance vendor where our daughter worked.
May have found 2 job leads for our daughter.
Learned close hotels and one "connected" to convention center in Toronto.
Referred two "green" vendors to sister association planning fall workshop on sustainability.
Found possible meeting site - to be open in 2010 - in Loudoun County, VA.

Not earth-shattering perhaps, but connections nonetheless.


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The dangers of competitive escalation

In today's Learning Lab "The Paradox of Success: Learning From Failure," presenter Kerry Stackpole used a very interesting exercise: He offered to auction off a $20 bill. Anyone in the room could bid, with one twist--the second-place bidder would have to pay the winner's bid.

The auction started off slowly, but rapidly gained momentum. In the end, the second place finisher paid $26 for the $20 bill (proceeds went to charity). Kerry said that he's used this exercise many times, and the all-time high he's reached was $240. For a $20 bill.

He used this exercise to illustrate the dangers of competitive escalation--when you, or a group (like your board) makes irrational decisions because they feel like they're trapped in a particular course of action and must keep moving forward. The auction Kerry ran created a situation where the second-place bidder might have continued to escalate his or her bids, in order to get out of second place and hopefully avoid paying for the $20 bill. Your association could get into a similar situation where you could continue to double-down your investment in a particular project or program in an effort to make it successful--and hopefully to avoid losing the investment already made.

The question I'd like to learn more about is: How do you pull a group out of a competitive escalation tailspin?

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Knowledge sharing on Twitter

One question that came up in the social media session I contributed to yesterday was "What uses could an association have for Twitter?" There's a good example going on among various Twitterers right now; they're sharing new things they learned at this year's Annual Meeting. So far, the association Twitterers I follow have said:

- "get lists of reporters and media types at www.cision.com"
- "personal branding is becoming singularly important in career development"
- "loyalty is more important than satisfaction"

I'm really interested to see what other learnings are shared--and I hope commenters will feel free to share here as well. What new things have you learned here in San Diego?

(Post edited to add quote marks for clarity. Thank you!)

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Straw poll success

APAC is running a straw poll in the Connection Central area at this year's Annual Meeting, asking attendees who they think will win the presidential election (McCain, Obama, or another candidate--write-ins accepted). They've had hundreds of votes cast so far, and the poll isn't closing until this afternoon.

I pass this along not as a promotional item (although I'm sure APAC would love to have your vote as well ... vote early, vote often!) but to point it out as a tool other associations might use in their own conferences. It's a great way to draw in politically-interested members and bring them together with information on your government affairs activities or PAC. And I wonder if a straw poll could work just as well for a non-political topic--maybe a straw poll related to trends in your industry could bring together members with an interest in environmental scanning, or a poll related to your magazine could bring together potential contributors. I love to hear about new ways to connect with members with an interest in contributing who may not have found a way to make themselves known through the "official" channels in an association.

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Last Call...ASAE Conference

Today is the last day for most of us in San Diego…what a great, GREAT venue! Here are the ups and downs of the conference through my lens…

Sunday, I was unable to get to my first or second choice learning lab (no room!). I settled for number three but it ended up not having relevance to my society nor my position. Then because I am a Circle Club member, I did not know that I had to register for Thought Leader Sessions in advance and by the time I got my tickets, they were full. I have tried to get into one, unsuccessfully the last couple days. HOWEVER, I grabbed six other people (two I knew, four I didn’t) and asked them if they wanted to do a renegade session with me out in the beautiful sunshine near the air hockey table. All I can say is…WOW! With ideas flying, solutions spilling over and an exchange of business cards….this is what ASAE Annual Conference is all about. Meeting people, connecting, sharing and solving. And on a personal note, it didn’t hurt that two of us are horse girls and afterwards, exchanged tips and techniques on our riding habits.

The ideas that I have gotten at the conference have exceeded my expectations. Chicago was great but San Diego truly brought the WOW factor. At a party hosted by San Diego Sunday night, I saw things that were so amazing that I never could have dreamed them up. Wooly go-go boot dancers spinning lighted hula hoops, electric bands and laser light shows, ladies suspended in mid air doing acrobatics that would give a daredevil a run for his money. San Diego, as one of my teammate, Laura, put it is truly “a destination city with a homey, Midwest feel.”

The wine and food classic last night was incredible. I had the pleasure of attending the classic with some of the most hospitable people in town, the representatives from Louisville. I have been to Louisville a few times for conferences and it is also a great venue. Easy to get around, great for entertaining and there is a wonderful brick street area right by the convention center which highlights restaurants, street bands and performers and my favorite, good shopping!

And yes, I admit, I am a “Diamond Girl”…I have heard rumors of a Neil Diamond Cover band playing tonight…if the rumors are true…be sure to see me close to the stage…”Forever in Blue Jeans.”

Finally, let me just comment on how important and effective it has been to come to the conference as a team. As a staff, most of us have met everyday and shared sessions, built upon each others observations and helped each other to expand our network in the association world. We will be meeting to debrief early next week and share with each other and our staffs. One other tip that I found helpful, we sent a list of conference vendors out to our staff before we came and coordinated on which booths were of great interest. I am armed with lots of information for people back home so many more than just the five of us who came to ASAE will continue to benefit from the information that we have gotten here.

I ‘m off to practice “Sweet Caroline” and “I am I Said” just in case I get to hear some Diamond tonight. I’ll see you tonight in the Gaslamp district where I’ll Have my “Heartlights” turned on! :-)

-Megan Mahan

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Idea Swaps and Information Exchange ...

We had a great session yesterday, extending the "idea swap" structure we regularly use in the Greater Washington Network to Annual. In contrast to our normal sessions back at headquarters or the Marriott learning center in the Reagan Building (depending on whatever is available that day), we had the opportunity to meet outside, overlooking the bay and the Embarcadero. In addition to our table on marketing, other tables covered technology, membership, communications, other key disciplines. To me one leading indicator of a good session is how many people vote with their feet and I think we lost one person out of perhaps 60 (including stragglers). It was great to see such a good turnout and to have a great opportunity for give and take that is often missing in the sessions themselves. It made me think of the session that Lori Ropa, Sue Bowman & Christy Jones did on Sunday and probably many of your experiences as well--once we get started with the interactive, roundtable portion, it's hard to get us to start. With the Idea Swap format the programming begins and ends with facilitated discussion--everyone at our table came armed with at least 2-3 questions and they left with them answered to at least some degree.

Given the fact that our discussions ran the entire session length and then some, I wonder if we shouldn't have more programming in the form of roundtables to supplement the amazing range of concurrent sessions that feature traditional podium speakers. The interactive roundtable format certainly works for those of us who belong to ASAE in the DC area, and it works well for some of the state societies that I know.

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ASAE08: YAP Attack

Who could resist a Monday night disco party? Organized by YAP (Young Association Professionals), the young - and young at heart - came to dance to 80's "classics".



YAPster queen bees Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant.


The still photo simply does not do justice to Ben Martin's 360 spin move.


Jamie Notter commands the center of the action.


Lots of hand waving during the Beastie Boys.


The Whisky Girl was packed from end to end!


Alas, I could not keep pace, and figured I'd need a decent night's sleep to function on Day3. Don't be surprised if there are fewer "young" folks in the first session...

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August 18, 2008

Social media links

Thanks to everyone who came to today's session on "Leveraging the Power of Real-Time Communications"! Maddie and I appreciate your time and engagement. I promised to put together a list of the links we discussed during the session; I hope these are helpful to you. Feel free to add others in the comments as well.

The session handouts

The Twitterfountain

Technorati, to help you find blogs related to your industry or profession.

Alerts to let you know when items related to your association are posted online: Google Alerts

Commoncraft videos that explain social technologies (scroll down to see the "Most Viewed" and "Most Popular")

Wiki platforms: Wikispaces, PB Wiki

Blogging platforms: Blogger, Typepad, Wordpress

Last but not least, Associapedia, ASAE & The Center's wiki, has a good entry on Web 2.0 tools.


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Elsewhere, Day 2

Lots of great commentary about the Annual Meeting today:

- Peggy Hoffman was inspired by the 10 commandments for volunteer management.

- Sue Pelletier posted several times, about her arrival in San Diego, the opening general session, and the rest of her first day at the meeting, as well as Susan Sarfati's new position,.

- Kevin Holland learned about planning for failure today.

- Rick Johnston shares an insight into what makes great nonprofits great.

- Greg Hill has some kind words about the social media sessions at Annual.

- Maddie Grant, my amazing partner from one of the social media lab sessions, gathered up a lot of insights from the "Meet the Association Community Bloggers" Learning Lab.

- Cynthia D'Amour comments on the importance of making members feel welcome.

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How to Make Sure New Members Aren't Soon-To-Be Ex-Members

This morning, I attended Dale Paulson's session "Increasing First-Year Retention with Target Marketing." I got some very interesting ideas from this session, but I would have liked to discuss more about new members. I'll get to that in a moment.

Some of the takeaways are very helpful for overall recruitment and retention. I appreciated Dale's statement about the importance of creating resonance in communications, and how we, as association staff, need to ask our members what they want from us, rather than just assuming we know what their membership expectations are. Sometimes, during the recruitment process, we're lucky enough to have extended conversations with our members, so we know what the specific ROI will be, and we can service them accordingly. But what about the impromptu and proactive joiners? They may need just as much customized service as the members we worked weeks to recruit. Find out what they want and how they want it.

As I mentioned above, I would have loved to hear more about what you need to do in the first year to ensure you have a lifelong member. Making sure you are delivering on benefits and communicating in a targeted fashion is indeed crucial. But what steps should you take to make your newest members engaged, satisfied, and active from the moment they make the decision to join? How do you move them from signing a check to an active user and volunteer? Granted, those who have worked with me know that this is one of my favorite tasks as a membership director. I touched on this a bit in the Engaging Young Professionals presentation I participated in at the 2008 Marketing and Membership Conference. Does your organization have a welcome message to new members that they get within 24 hours of joining? Is there a new member welcome section on your website? Do you facilitate small group interactions between new members and member leaders at your meetings? Do you have special materials designed to orient your newest members to volunteer oppportunities? Do you have a schedule for outreach efforts so that new members receive content and value prior to that first renewal notice?

Capitalize on the positive momentum a member starts with the action of joining. As Dale said, once a member renews for the first year, they will most likely remain a member for the next three to four. Ensuring that new members renew at their anniversary is essential. Getting that same new member to be a passionate advocate for your association is essential as well. You're not going to make everyone a champion, but by reaching out to all of your new members when they're excited and eager about membership, you'll find champions who might otherwise get lost in the shuffle. Do everything you can to keep that first year member, and do everything you can to make them a positive voice for your association and the industry.

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Fun in the Expo

I've been hearing plenty of kudos for the exhibits in the Expo here in San Diego, especially those with those awesome Wii set-ups where you can jam like Santana on a multi-lit guitar to high-score your rock concert. Don't worry, y'all--we won't be posting any of THOSE videos on YouTube any time soon!

I've also witnessed some impressive "speed Sudoko," rapid poker, magic, stuffed animals (Those crabs are great!), rubber ducks, myriad stess relieving gadgets, spa items, a Harley-Davidson "ride" and tattoo, mega regional food specialties, and prize sweepstakes galore.

Oh, yeah, plenty of great info is around the joint as well....

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Conversations in the Social Responsibility Lounge

Informal programs and chats in the Social Responsibility lounges have produced some wonderful stories of what associations and business partners are doing to move their organizations forward toward greater social responsibility (SR). Here are some snippets:
“How do we move from being successful to being significant?” That’s what a woman from the Project Management Institute said her organization began asking recently, eventually developing a program that moves from caring just about test passing metrics to caring about the whole child.

Richard Moore of the Texas Community College Teachers Association shared that his organization is focusing on four social responsibility (SR) endeavors—community involvement, democracy building, incorporation of SR in educational content, and greening of educational facilities and operations. In addition, since first embracing ASAE & The Center’s SR Initiative a year ago, the association has launched the theme “Community Colleges—Building a Better Texas.”

“This Social Responsibility Initiative fits in completely with what we’re trying to do,” he said.
The Society of Neuroscience had to review its supply chain management after leaders were questioned about whether the copywriters to whom some of its many journals were outsourced in India were being treated and paid appropriately. They then had to give a presentation that showed such outsourcing “validated enhancing of social values,” according to the society’s Marty Saggese. The huge organization also adopted an element in its strategic plan that requires all three SR elements—environmental, social, and economic—to be considered in operational decisions.

Look for Marty’s cool handout at today’s session on greening your organization’s culture: a flash drive made of bamboo.

Other items prompting discussion are two tools being distributed in both SR lounges: a how-to piece on creating a multicultural board, and a checklist/guide for developing a more socially responsibility family lifestyle.

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Annual Meeting, day 2 in pictures

San Diego is a photogenic city, and a lot of photographers here at Annual Meeting are taking advantage of it:


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Reading the Daily Now.

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The top of the Omni.

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A digital caricature taking shape in Connection Central.

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Decision to Volunteer coauthor Beth Gazley at her book signing.

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At the healthcare reception.

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At the Hard Rock.

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San Diego at night.

The full Annual Meeting Flickr pool can be found here.

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Congratulations, new CAEs!

I was just backstage at this morning's celebration breakfast, helping with "CAE wrangling." First, I have to say that this class of CAEs was enthusiastic, polite, and really great to work with as we asked them to move here and there while dodging waitstaff with huge trays of food. Congratulations to everyone who walked across the stage today! And I'd like to give a special congrats to our Acronym bloggers who walked today: Scott Briscoe, CAE; Scott Steen, CAE; and Thomas Stefaniak, CAE.

Congratulations also to the new CAEs who couldn't be here in San Diego today. We hope you get a chance to celebrate your achievement, wherever you are.

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ASAE08: Forced Entertainment

Who out there actually enjoyed the opening "entertainment" from the first general session? What committee or planner actually thinks this is of any value or interest? It is forced, cheesy, and most importantly - to me anyway - totally inauthentic. Complete barf.

I was hoping they'd move all the singing and dancing, etc, into the breakfast celebration. Sadly, not the case, and we had to endure another 8am performance. Really, I'd be totally fine to just hear from the chair/etc, and move into the program.

Also, from a social responsibility point of view, how is the funds spent on the 48 piece orchestra and custom written song actually serving us/society?

I just to know why ASAE thinks they need to "put on a show".

(Though, despite that rough start to the morning, I had a day full of awesomeness!)

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Meetings Overseas--When Members Won't Go

At a roundtable in one Learning Lab, a hotel business partner asked an association professional why her organization never held meetings outside of the U.S.

She said her members think all foreign travel is a "boondoggle" and an excuse for a "pleasure trip." Do many others still have that problem? Seems so '80s to me. Usually it's a money concern or the hassle over visas or government travel approvals. I'd like to hear what other meeting planners, past or present, would advise to counter this mindset.

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August 17, 2008

Honest Words about Diversity--for a Change

I've lost count of how many diversity programs I've attended in my career, but I thought this morning's General Session on "Looking Through the Lens of Others" was especially terrific. Here are some samples I valued:

--Nadira Hira, the impressive 20-something journalist for Fortune, is an articulate mouthpiece for young and younger workers. Her advice: "Be authentic. Don't try to pretend you're diverse when you're not." In other words, forget the BS.

--Doug Klein, executive director of the Association for Conflict Resolution, noted that the reason race or ethnic-based professional and trade organizations still exist is "because there's a need not being met" by the broader association in that profession or trade.

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with--of all people--actor Louis Gossett Jr. backstage at the last Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series. He had told me about the evolution of racism from a black professional's perspective, and I had asked him if the time had finally come for the association community to make a commitment to facilitate mergers of broad-based associations with similar niche groups grounded in race or gender as well as the profession or trade, such as the Society of Professional Journalists with the National Association of Black Journalists.

The actor, who founded and actively guides a New Orleans-based foundation to help at-risk youths, said no. He urged associations to instead focus on youth--the next generation of workers--rather than try to overcome the prejudices of the current workforce, which he said was essentially fruitless. Klein's comment today seemed to reiterate those conclusions on an organizational level.

--The always-blunt, always-superb Patti Digh laments that "people aren't focused on retention at all. They just want to 'get 'em in the door.' This lack of "diversity succession planning" was raised at ASAE & The Center's last diversity forum. Basically, no one knows how to do it or even what such a plan looks like. Perhaps that's a project or research idea for our Diversity Committee or for a select task force.

--Co-moderator Cokie Roberts noted, "At some point we have to be the token," but then that representative should "bring others in." That implies a responsibility, not a choice, on the part of the, say, female executive about actively attracting other smart, accomplished women into the organization.

I have mixed feelings on that. I think we should do what we can to attract all smart, accomplished people to our association IF that organization is best set up to leverage their talents and knowledge for the benefit of the members. I'm uncomfortable screening candidates primarily because they look like me or share a cultural commonality. That said, I'm likely to be a more successful recruiter within those desired demographics because of that reality. Comments? I need to think about this more.

A "Say what?" moment: Patti was called by a company that said its white employees were putting nooses on the lockers of black employees. Patti said she could design an intervention, etc. The response? "We're thinking of a two-hour training session."

Quotables from the General Session:

"We talk about diversity as an end in itself, not what that brings us.... Diversity is not a problem to be fixed.... We've damned ourselves in this country by being too PC [politically correct]. You can't know if you're talking to yourself only." --Patti Digh

"We're afraid of [diversity], even though we know it's good for us."--consultant Steve Hanamura

"Powerful" and "moving"--just some of the high praise I heard about the "Peer Perspectives" video clips of diverse association executives.


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Diversity

When I first heard about the planned diversity general session, I have to admit I was a little nervous. There were just so many ways this session could have gone wrong: too preachy, too strident, too politically correct, too trite, too “we are the world.” I had images of someone back at ASAE & The Center frantically trying to wrestle up a gay Asian American who uses a wheelchair.

Fortunately, my skepticism was ill founded. One of the things I appreciated about the session was that all of the panelists conveyed a sense of intellectual honesty about the issue. No one offered ten easy tips to diversity success (even when prodded to do so) and all seemed to imply that this required a serious mindshift for organizations, not a quick programmatic fix. I also thought the eloquent personal stories captured on video added richness to the discussion. These were really smart people discussing a complex, deeply human issue. And while there wasn’t time to do much more than scratch the surface, they did it in a way that I think moved the conversation forward.

- Scott Steen

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Change the Structure of the Land

In today’s opening general session, I mentioned a concept that holds a lot of meaning for the diversity work I do. Because the panel format allowed for only brief mentions of concepts such as this—and because a good number of people asked me about it afterwards—I’ll say a bit more about it here:

We know for a fact that water follows the structure of the land. If you go to any valley and look at the way a river winds through it, you’ll see that the water must follow that structure.

Behavior, like water, follows the structure of the land.
So while we spend millions of dollars in this country on diversity training, the vast majority of that work is focused on behavior, not the structure of the land.

So while I can make a group aware of diversity issues and provide them with some tools for navigating difference, once I put them back into an organization whose structure hasn’t changed, it won’t take long for that behavior to start following the structure of the land again.

The real work of diversity is to look at that structure of the land. That’s the work of second-order change. That’s the work of dissembling power inside organizations. That—for most people in the dominant culture—is fearful work.

As Paul Watzlawick so brilliantly tells us in his book, Change, there is a difference between first-order and second-order change. First-order change is what I hear in most conferences and most conversations about diversity in associations. We will just tweak things, make some adjustments, create a “program.” With first-order change, the system itself remains unchanged. Over time, it will self-correct and go back to where it was before.

Second-order change transforms the system. So if you are an association leader looking at diversity at your institution, you should ask yourself, "Is this a first-order change that I'm putting into place, or is it something that is going to go deeper?"

Dean Ornish, author and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, does a lot of work with heart patients and how they change their lives to become healthier. We all think that change has to happen incrementally: "I could lose 20 pounds, if I just drink one more glass of water per day." But Ornish says that huge, massive change is the way to do it, because if you just start eating better in small incremental ways, you are not going to get the immediate health benefits that will keep you on the right path. So, whether as human beings or as institutions, we should make sweeping changes. We should make them big and systemic. We should change the structure of the land and risk our significance.

A lot of discussion this morning centered on the business case for doing this work. I think it’s the wrong discussion. I think focusing on the business case ad infinitum is a deflection from doing the work itself. I think that if association executives don’t step up to this challenge, their organizations will become irrelevant and they will die. There's your 30 second business case. I don’t believe the innovation required for growth and health can come from homogeneity any longer.

-patti digh

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Elsewhere, Day 1

Acronym isn't the only blog covering the Annual Meeting. Here's what else I've seen out there:

- David Patt muses about paper handouts.

- Rick Johnston reports on the discussions at the Technology Section Council meeting; he also shared some photos from the opening reception and the "secret session" and a quick take on the opening general session and the secret session.

- Kevin Holland shares his thoughts on landing in San Diego, as well as his impressions of the opening reception and the takeaways he got from a Learning Lab on international partnerships.

- Bob Wolfe posted some tips for preparing for a Annual Meeting presentation.

- Jamie Notter thought about the opening general session and the issues it raised.

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How to impress the unimpressable at Annual Meeting

Well, I am the type of attendee that you really don't want in your session. Bluntly, I am at the ASAE annual meeting for the networking and the trade show. I tend to be the type of person that just lurks at the back and, if not impressed in the first 7 minutes, will quietly slip out of the educational sessions.

So when I tell you that I was rooted to the spot by session D-10 "Incorprating new Media Into Your Communication Plans" you can take that as praise indeed.

If you missed this session I urge you to:
a.) Hunt down the presenters and let them shower you with awesomeness about what they are doing - sometimes of a shoestring budget.
b.) Find the slides of their session or get the audio

This was pitched for both newbies and those well versed in web 2.0, and the only negative that I can find to say about it is that is was up against some other pretty decent-sounding sessions.

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Important (secret?) debate

I heard during lunch about this possible happening but thought it was going to be outside. It wasn't (thank goodness) but I did stumble onto it in the "theater in the round" area sponsored by the Cincinnati CVB. Because I came in late, I didn't catch all the intros and premise, but knew it was probably good when I say Andy Steggles in a referee's shirt.

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It featured an pertinent debate between Terrance Barkan and Jeff De Cagna about the future structure-value-governance-interaction of association membership.http://www.blog.omnipress.com

The positions each took were fairly broad generalities, but necessary in a polemical sort of way in that they were each trying to take on each other's best arguments. Now, supposedly the whole debate is going to appear soon on omnipress so you the option of ignoring the rest of this post and drawing your own conclusions from the video. On the other hand, you can read this synopsis:

Jeff argues that their is some qualitative change going on that for the first time will allow (depending on the actual membership) what he call's a more distributively organized association, i.e., one that is broadly participatory and less centralized, rigid and impenetrable. For lack of a better term, "social networking" represents a more accessible, less-moderated form of interaction that engages members. Things are evolving this direction, whether anyone likes it or not. Associations must be prepared for large changes in relationships and value proposition with members, especially as gen X becomes the majority in the associations.

Terrance is skeptical. Strongly skeptical. He sees Jeff as advocating less governance and being overly optimistic about association self-organization. Formal by-laws, etc. will still be important and long term change is more incremental than qualitative. Social networking (at least as currently conceptualized) may be short lived.

Jeff acknowledges that specific apps may be short lived but the trend is long term. Formal by-laws and governance documents are becoming less important than organic structures and informal agreements. Even if they eventually are superceded by other apps and formats, association professionals need to be familiar, at least, with how current community and social net apps operate, and be listening for spontaneous community developments within our associations.

I brief show of hands at the end indicated that the majority of the audience sided with Terrance, but I, for one, found Jeff's overall arguments more compelling.

No doubt, the debate will continue for the next two days.

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The Rising Need for More Powerful “Number Two’s”

I’ve always been interested in the people who are second-in-command at a nonprofit or association. The influence, responsibilities, and visibility of that slot varies widely from organization to organization and from field to field. People are often hard-pressed to even name the number-two at an organization, if there is indeed one, and they seem to operate in the shadow of the CEO rather than stand and be recognized in their own light.

But number-two’s are rapidly becoming the number one concern of top leaders who are exhausted, distracted from “the important things,” and feeling the brunt of a tough fundraising climate and a sometimes tougher board culture. Many leaders are complaining that they don’t get to use their strengths—which often include vision, strategic alliance-making, and environmental scanning—to a full degree because they’re burdened by internal oversight responsibilities, human resource challenges, and the constant quest for fresh revenues.

As a result, some are starting to re-examine and/or introduce the role of a chief operating officer (COO). They’re smart to do so, according to Leslie Crutchfield, co-author of Forces for Good (John Wiley & Sons, 2008) and a Monday morning speaker at this annual meeting. Her research leads her to confirm that the number-two position has evolved into much greater significance in the past decade, something many corporations have already concluded and acted upon.

“There are more than 1.5 million operating nonprofits in the country [U.S.], and 80% of them operate on less than half a million dollars a year,” Crutchfield said in a pre-meeting interview. “They’re focused locally, and they don’t necessarily have the staff. [But as they grow] beyond a one- or two-person shop, we’re encouraging leaders to say, ‘Okay, how can I share those responsibilities so that I can have the external, sharing leader and the internal, more systems-focused leader?

“It’s important, because it frees up the top person to do more of what he or she can do best, which is bring in more resources and partners,” she continued. “But it’s hard, too, because you have to invest in it.”


Crutchfield sits on three nonprofit boards, one with a staff of five and an executive director who is already seeking a COO. “Looking five years in the future, the executive director realizes that if he has a strong partner internally, then he’s free to look externally. Think about building that capacity earlier than you normally would,” Crutchfield advised.

She also balked at the term “number two,” saying, “That is the wrong way to phrase it. It’s your complement. That person must be as strong on internal operations management as you need to be externally. That’s especially true with these emerging visionary entrepreneurial founders and leaders--they’re just not going to be strong in this area.”

This “complement” cannot be a “glorified executive assistant” or just another senior vice president, she warned. “The number-two has to be empowered to make decisions. You’re entrusting into that person a lot of authority,” possibly even the future of the organization if he or she succeeds you, although that’s not a given.

As the sector experiences ever-shorter tenures of top nonprofit leaders due to dissatisfaction and burnout, perhaps one remedy is to seek more and stronger “complements” to help carry the heavy burden of organizational leadership and maintenance. Please share your own stories and experiences with number-two’s to start a discussion.

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Crucial Conversations and Cheesesteaks

This afternoon, I attended David Maxfield's session "Crucial Conversations: Communicating the Best Ideas When the Stakes are High." David reinforced that human beings are not physically designed for confrontation. What does that mean, you may ask? Well, physiologically, we are still similar to our ancestors from 10,000 years ago. When you faced a "predator," the two responses were "fight" or "flight." Now that we're facing "predators" across a conference room, our natural inclinations, when we feel "threatened," are still fight or flight. We may flee the situation, not protesting the conflict or not commenting on it, or me might lash out. David called it "silence or violence."

I think a lot of us are hesitant to protest when we feel a situation is the wrong direction for our associations or if we're being put in a position that may result in negative consequences. We're taught from an early age--don't complain, don't whine, please your elders, etc. But David said something that I've championed for a long time--festering resentment will ultimately only aggravate a situation to the point where the result is extremely negative. This could be anything from a shouting match to a failed project to the loss of staff. If something isn't sitting right with you, speak up. Just do it constructively, and anticipate others' concerns and stake in the situation. I know, easier said than done. Especially coming from me. You see, when David said that, according to studies, most people don't call out people who cut in front of them in line, I turned to my neighbors and said, "Oh, I sure do." (Here's a hint--never try cutting the line at the 17th & P CVS. My neighbors and I will eat you alive.) Assertiveness is not easy, and not everyone comes by it naturally. But I've been happier in my career and in other endeavors when I've been able to speak candidly. Professionally, graciously, and empathetically, but also candidly. It hasn't always been a positive experience--I've been told I have a "strong personality" and that I am "direct" (I usually take it as a compliment, but, trust me, in this case, it was a slam). And worse. Some people do not like being challenged ever, even in a solution oriented manner. But the best leaders and professionals accept it, and they welcome it.

This was a very good session--I felt very engaged. And I hope that those people in the room that might have been hesitant to approach uncomfortable situations in their personal lives now have the confidence to approach conflict constructively. However, I have to wonder if the "predators," aka the office bullies or the "jerks" (David's term) would be receptive to change. I think most of this is them not seeing how their actions might affect others. Ultimately, not all office "jerks" are mean-spirited. Some of them just have blinders on, and they need to be gently, but firmly reminded to remove them.

***

How do cheesesteaks factor into this post? This is my third ASAE & The Center Annual Meeting. It's become sort of a ritual for me to enter the exhibit hall and make a beeline to the Philadelphia CVB booth where I greet the staff, proclaim how much I love the city of my birth, and eat a bite sized cheesesteak. This year, I looked up and down the center aisle areas and couldn't find the Philly booth. I checked my exhibitor map, and they'd scaled down to a 10 x 10. And, no cheesesteaks, to boot. I admit to feeling a bit derailed, but if that's the worst thing that has happened to me today, I am clearly in a good place. Here's hoping the cheesesteaks make a return in Toronto . . .

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First Day, Still Standing! (barely)

As a first time ASAE Annual Meeting attendee, my first day has been a whirlwind. I’m currently catching my breath and resting my already sore feet while my fellow ACerS colleagues are in session or maybe working on their own blogs. Actually, Laura just sent me a text message. She must have succeeded in getting a seat into her desired Thought Leaders session despite not having a ticket.

I just got out of the Business of Meetings: Family Feud for the Meetings Industry session. Suppliers and meeting planners sat at rounds and the networking started immediately. Introductions were made, business cards were exchanged, and the program was under way. Gary Hernbroth had a very energetic opening to his presentation and explained how we were going to play Family Feud (planners verse suppliers) to learn how to communicate better with each other and gain useful insight to how the other side really thinks. It was an interesting dynamic. I am not sure the Family Feud game actually played out the way that Mr. Hernbroth originally thought it would but the interactions between the supplier and planners teams really spawned some great round table discussions.

Here are some things that I noted from some of the discussions that took place that I think we all could benefit from:

- Listening is the number one desired skill across all industries. We all want to be heard.
Take the time to really listen to what your colleague is saying. Mr. Hernbroth mentioned
the 90/10 rule; 10% talk and 90% listening.
- What is the best way to communicate (email, phone calls, face to face interactions)? Well
many comments were made around the room with some preferring phone calls over email
or face to face meetings over phone calls, we decided we’re all different. It doesn’t hurt to
ask a person what method of communication they prefer best or which is easiest for them.
- A “no update” update is preferred over no update period. The suppliers all said they would
prefer us planners to touch base from time to time and let them know a decision hasn’t
been made rather than just keep them guessing and having no communication.
- Challenge your assumptions.

Well, it is off to get ready for the next whirlwind of dinner and receptions. Sometime tonight, I need to organize my plan of attack for tomorrow’s trade show time since I only made it down three aisles of CVB’s today.

Liz Roehl

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Hightlights and an Invite

Been having a wonderful time so far. San Diego is gorgeous. Yesterday and today, I reconnected with a bunch of old friends and coworkers. I also got to meet a bunch of internet friends from my LinkedIn page and elsewhere. I celebrated into the evening with the CFMA. They are a close team and a lot of fun to hang around with.

Nuggets I enjoyed from Sunday's sessions:

Cokie and Steve Roberts: Treat others like they want to be treated, not how you would like to be treated. Men mean to, women do.

Small Staff Challenges: The new 990 form is absolutely scary for a small association.

Build Your Personal Brand: Everyday you should do at least one thing networking related. Purchase the URL for your name.


Everyone reading this blog entry is invited to the Wine and Wisdom wine tasting being held at 5:00 in the Omni San Diego. The event is hosted by the Professional Development Section Council which I am a member of. Come one, come all.

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Connecting 08 Disconnects

Really nice opening ceremony - good lights, nice atmosphere, not too cold in the room (unlike others later in the day).

All content leaders received helpful notes on how to open a presentation - one admonishment was NOT to say "good morning" and wait for a response. Yet, that is exactly what happened today. So maybe the plenary speakers didn't receive the notes?

In the meeting book we received succint bios on the opening panelists. Yet, Cokie and Steve Roberts read them to us, thereby reducing their time with us. Suggestion - either don't give us the information, or respect that we will digest it on our own.

On the positive side, panelist Steve Hanamura made a terrific quote referring to diversity. He gave us the memorable sound byte of "humanly respectful" instead of the awkward and overused "politically correct." Thanks Steve.

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Social Net Two-Step

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In pre-planning, I knew I wanted to take some time to attend a few of the Social Networking learning labs, but which ones? The Sunday post-lunch block offered two: "Continuing the Conversation – Implementing Social Networks" and "Incorporating New Media Into Your Communications Plans." Okay, I thought, the first was obviously going to address SN, but I wasn't sure about the second, so that helped me make up my mind.

I was wrong about both.

For me (but not necessarily for every attendee), the presentation and discussion at the "Continiung the Conversation" was too basic. It seemed, based on initial audience participation, that some attendees had yet to make the decision to make the plunge. The probably delayed presenter Robert Wolfe from getting beyond his important premise: Leverage real conversations, not pre-manufactured ones. Because the discussion kept coming back to moderating/editing, my impatience got the better of me and I bailed out and went searching for Incorporating New Media.

I'm glad I changed labs. I came in during Jason Della Rocca's presentation, so my comments are limited to that. My intuition is that Jason and the game developers' group know what they are doing. They seem eager to experiment, choose action over proposal development, opt for open source versus custom systems and – importantly – assert that Web 2.0 bells and whistles have to be matched to the membership base and many may not be appropriate or end up failures. It was fascinating to hear him acknowledge that Facebook and Twitter had not been a big emphasis, not for lack of trying, but because other things were, well, working just fine among his group.

Just to balance things out, I would have like to have heard a case history of how a group integrated a Myspace/Facebook-type app into their online efforts, but maybe I missed it during the first part of this lab.

-Peter Wray

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Annual Meeting: Day 1 in pictures

Quite a few photographers are sharing their impressions of Annual Meeting and San Diego on Flickr. Here are just a few:

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A San Diegan rainbow. (Photo by Peter Hutchins.)

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Skywriting at the opening reception. (Photo by Steffanie Feuer.)

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The Navy Band plays at the opening reception. (Photo by Steffanie Feuer.)

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A welcome arch. (Photo by Steffanie Feuer.)

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A ship at sunset. (Very pretty photo by Steffanie Feuer.)

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Don't forget your ribbons! (Photo by Amy Hissrich.)

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The view from a Convention Center escalator. (Photo by Amy Hissrich.)


And thanks also to Jason Della Rocca for sharing his pics earlier today!

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Green computing in associations

Social Responsibility Initiative Director Chris Wood and I were just putting finishing touches on the Social Responsibility Lounge in Connection Central when we got a drop-by from Norm Hawn, VP of IT for Prison Fellowship Ministry (PFM). Norm raved about the Global Summit for Social Responsibility, saying that it "opened new communication channels" between him and a colleague he had taken.

Norm told us that he is overseeing the "greening" effort of the 300-staff organization (budget, an impressive $50 million-plus), particularly streamlining and greening its computing operations. The work will make a great case study for sharing with others sometime soon, but in the meantime, anyone interested in "green computing," as it has become known, can visit such sites as the blog www.thegreenlounge.org.

Generally, the focus is on cutting or eliminating hazardous materials used in computer equipment (during manufacturing, use, and post-use), developing and marketing computer product recyclability and/or reuse, innovating for greater biodegradability of e-waste, and examining a product's lifetime to maximize energy efficiency.

Adoption and development of green computing practices has grown rapidly in the past 5-8 years in the corporate world, but it's less common in associations. This is a problem, especially since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says "servers and data centers today consume almost twice the amount of electricity they did in 2000."

I'm interested in finding other associations that have started green computing practices and set related goals in this regard. Please share your progress with others here or email me at kclarke@asaecenter.org. We'll almost certainly be uploading some green computing tools or articles to ASAE & The Center's Social Responsibility Web site in the coming months.

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Tales and Tributes to Susan Sarfati

It was a poignant evening of tribute tonight at The Witherby in San Diego as Susan Sarfati, outgoing CEO & President of The Center for Association Leadership and Executive Vice President of ASAE, was toasted by more than 400 industry and association professionals, many of whom had known her for decades.

Lori Derkay, who has served as a right arm and longtime staff advisor to Susan, called her “a force of nature” who inspired women and men throughout the association world by using her unique leadership skills to forever pursue the “wow” factor, in part by shunning incrementalism in favor of the bold move.

Lori’s list of wow accomplishments included moving the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives from a small DuPont Circle townhouse to the prestigious Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, launching the Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series that ran 13 years and featured everyone from U.S. presidents to Hollywood celebrities to top leaders from every sector of influence in the world, and pioneering the innovative Center for Association Leadership.

Susan’s many friends, staff, and peers lined up to laud her devotion to the association community, her gift for mentoring others—particularly women—into leadership positions, her endless energy and optimism, and her ability to convince people to do things they “wouldn’t do for anyone else.”

Her daughter, son-in-law, and grandbaby also spoke from the heart about Susan’s commitment to family and friends, her passion for furthering social responsibility within the association sector, her strength as an individual and professional, and their belief in her continuing success in the future.

Susan received a custom-designed diamond pendant and responded to the high praise with words of wry humor, love, and enthusiasm for both her past involvement in associations and her anticipation of the next stage of her career.

I’ll let others share the details of the new professional direction on which she’ll embark, but I want to echo the love and respect shared tonight for a woman who has influenced so much within our sector and our organization, within her colleagues and her staff. No one can truly take her place. I can only hope that the ideals and faith that she always demonstrated in the ability of associations and the people running them to better the world will remain and grow.

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Random Shallow Observations, ASAE '08 Day One

Onsite I find it hard to write a reasonable narrative. Things happen all day and it feels more appropriate to share the random thoughts that occur to me. I can't write a haiku, so please forgive my prose!

- The casual 'three guys in chairs' format worked very well for the leadership at our volunteer breakfast yesterday. I loved Clark's line about his year in office about being a "speed bump."
- I also liked his line "I tell my incoming chairs they don't get to have 'an agenda'" ... I wonder how many of us are able to express it that clearly to our own chairs and boards!
- Is it just me, but is using Twitter from the front table in a meeting a lot like being able to pass notes back and forth in high school knowing you'll never get caught doing it?
- I never knew Paul Pomerantz was from Antarctica--he truly helps to expand the definition of 'global' (and perhaps 'diversity').
- John uses some interesting (good) metrics for the associations' performance. I wonder how many of us can actually pull up and cite the number of cumulative education program participants we get in a year (buns in seats, eyeballs online). It's nice to know it's being tracked.
- It might be just me, but the interaction in our committees and councils seems to be getting better--when we talk projects it's focused, when we talk programs we have a good process orientation. I remember years ago when it felt we were meeting to be meeting.
- The great thing about hanging out by registration before the event begins is you get a chance to meet many of the people you've only seen online. The bad thing about hanging out is that people get to meet you when they only know you online. (I am pretty sure by now I have a 'face made for radio.')
- The orientation for first-timers was a great idea, particularly the concept of free ice cream.
- ASAE staff are really cool people. I always have the best conversations with them although I'm still intimidated to come too close to the staff table (anything with more than 80% papaya colored shirts). To me, that's their private time. I definitely remember what it was like to be tired of members at the end of a day (not that they are of course)!
- Oh, and I personally miss the go-go dancers. Situational humor can be a good thing, too, even if unintentional.
- Hard to believe people are gearing up for the fun run this morning. I had to leave the last reception by 9 last night. In contrast to the young professionals, I need to pace myself!

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Saturday Round Up

As a volunteer on the Membership Section Council, my Annual Meeting experience actually started Friday evening, with the annual Council reunion dinner. I noted in my last post how the Council has really given me a sense of community at ASAE & The Center, and the dinner really reinforced that for me. Being able to gather smaller groups of members with a common interest really enhances an Annual Meeting experience in any type of association. I look forward to helping my new association form small group networking opportunities.

Today, ASAE & The Center volunteers from across the association gathered for a volunteer breakfast. In addition to catching up with colleagues and making new connections, I also got to learn what other councils and committes accomplished last year. The diversity council noted that they have developed a cultural guide to various nations around the world--this will be helpful for me to refer to as I work with the council on updating a membership publication, as well as when I begin working with and developing recruitment and retention programs for my association's members.

As an outgoing member of the Young Professionals Committee, I was glad to hear Bob Wolfe's update on the Committee's accomplishments, and especially his statement that young professionals are the leaders of tomorrow. At some point, the volunteer leaders at ASAE & The Center were young professionals as well. I am positive that there are future board members and section chairs in the young professional membership as we speak. It's extremely important, for the future success of ASAE & The Center, that young professionals continue to be nurtured and encouraged as volunteers. I think the forthcoming leadership academy will be a great way to continue this trend.

After breakfast, like many other volunteers, I headed to my Section Council meeting. We have a number of ambitious goals for the year, and I'm excited to be working with my colleagues to update 1,001 Membership Trends. It will also be a great way to engage ASAE & The Center's ad-hoc volunteers. I'm looking forward to seeing the Council's work on membership-related educational programs, the membership section newsletter, and contributions to the knowledge center and associapedia.

After a great day of work, it was a pleasure to head to the opening reception on Embarcadero. This was the best opening reception I've been to in my three years of Annuals. Once of the best things about San Diego is that you really don't need a rain contingency plan! So, it was a nice, rare treat to be outside, with a great view of the water. And the plentiful margaritas were also a nice touch . . .

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ASAE08: Opening Reception Quick Shots

After a delayed flight and lost baggage (and buying way too many books at the ASAE bookstore as a stress coping mechanism), I made my way to the opening reception. Overall, very nice spread - and certainly a more appropriate vibe than last year's go go dancers... Was hoping to bump into Ben Martin and Lisa Junker and Lindy Dreyer and Jeff De Cagna, etc... No luck. Did manage the cross paths with Greg Fine, and finally met social media firecracker Maddie Grant.



On my way to the Embarcadero; Seemingly happy association people across the waters.


Indeed, happy association people eating, drinking and connecting.


Funky art on display, which I'm guessing will end up in the silent auction...


Nifty sky/puff printing.

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August 16, 2008

Coping versus Influencing

Many of the conversations occurring here in San Diego this week will center around human behavior and the challenge of changing it. One of the most effective and least used—at least to its full potential—is the power of influencing people. In fact, just the phrase “influencing people” can call up negative connotations—control freaks, scaremongers, fat-salaried lobbyists, your local bully, etc.

“The fact that many of us don’t realize that it’s our duty to become good at exerting influence causes us a great deal of grief,” writes Joseph Grenny, researcher and co-author of Influencer (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). “Instead of owning up to our responsibility of becoming effective agents of change and then going about the task of improving our influence repertoire (much like an athlete running laps), we grumble, threaten, ridicule, and, more often than not, find ways to cope.”

And it’s the coping thing that’s the kicker. People are just plain better at coping than at influencing, Grenny laments. He points, among other examples, to the poor schools we don’t fix, instead choosing to complain to friends and hire tutors to keep our children challenged.

Most organizations also are better at coping than influencing—and it doesn’t take long to think of examples from our own professional lives where that proved true. But some organizations, such as the nonprofits Grenny cites (Delancey Street Foundation, The Carter Center, several AIDS charities), have finally spurned the expensive media campaigns, celebrity public service announcements, and even education sessions aimed at changing a range of detrimental behaviors and instead done something more radical.

“The breakthrough discovery of most influence geniuses is that enormous influence comes from focusing on just a few vital behaviors. Even the most pervasive problems will often yield to changes in a handful of high-leverage behaviors. Find these, and you’ve found the beginning of influence,” writes Grenny and his research colleagues in Influencer.

So these groups have stepped back, taken a breath, and refocused on identifying the one or two behaviors most responsible for the specific problem. Then, they’ve asked one question: To improve our existing solution, what must people actually do?

“Discover a few vital behaviors, change those, and problems—no matter their size—topple like a house of cards,” they write. Not dozens of behaviors, just a few, they emphasize. I look forward to hearing more about why, if behavioral change can be broken into such simple steps, so many organizations have yet to embrace this approach and solve everything from climate change problems to member apathy.

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Collegiality

Connection Date: Saturday, August 16

For me, annual meeting events so far, have consisted of yesterday's golf "challenge," today's EMS Council meeting, and a focused trip to the ASAE bookstore for CAE study materials. That's the objective part.

The subjective part includes a very interesting international seat mate on the bus ride to the golf course, meeting the other 3 guys in my foursome, a friendly "ambassador" on my way into the convention center who insisted on walking with me to pick up my badge holder, saying hello to existing and new members of the Council during our meeting, personal, yet again, help from Esther of the ASAE staff at the bookstore and greeting several fellow Prometheans along the way.

Back at the office, we all have "interesting" board members, "complex" staff members and high maintenance association members. Isn't it nice to come together in a collegial way and actually get help from others, who have lived through similar situations, and who provide some examples and "work-throughs" that actually pay off?

Lest you think I am all rosy, know that I could have written this out by the pool, if only the Marriott Gaslamp had one.

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Your favorite question

I had the opportunity to attend the Journal of Association Leadership's Editoral Advisory Board meeting today, and as the board members introduced themselves, a great theme popped up in the introductions: favorite questions. Here are a few of the questions they mentioned:

- "Why?"
- "How do you know?"
- "What if?"
- "Tell me more about that."

I thought each question was a great insight into the person who said it was their favorite--and together, they're the start of a great list of questions to ask at the start of a new initiative. (Or whenever you decide to continue an ongoing initiative). I'm trying to think of my favorite question ... certainly, if you look at it in terms of the number of times I've asked it, "Have you read [X book]?" is certainly a favorite of mine.

What is your favorite question?

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Free Social Marketing e-Books

With so much interest in the Social Media Lab here at the ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting, I pass along a link to a list of 20 e-books -- all of them FREE--about social marketing, per the always practical Word of Mouth Marketing Association e-newsletter.



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August 15, 2008

Two Conferences in One

It has been a good day so far. I breezed through registration (very few people here at 2PM on a Friday). After registration, I checked out a home show being held in the convention center. I am an idea guy, so being a new home owner I am always looking for new project ideas. I am particularly interested in paving stones and hot tubs. I saw a gigantic combination lap pool and hot tub. Totally amazing. I have a picture of it on my Flickr page.

I also toured the USS Midway. Probably the best museum experience I have ever had. You could actually feel the history and all of the conflicts the aircraft carrier fought in. An estimated 4 million people have toured the Midway so far this year. Do yourself a favor and be the next. You will not regret it. A note though for taller guys, watch your heads. As a guy that stands 6'3" I quickly discovered that the Navy does not build corridors for my height.

Here is my Flickr page uploaded to via my iPhone 3G:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/14376883@N03/

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Friday Fun: Twitter Backchannel Gets Humming

Already, the Twitter backchannel is humming along. Just do a search on ASAE to see all the folks who are posting about the Annual Meeting. If you feel like being social, post an @reply to introduce yourself to folks you don't know.

Here's a fun visualization of the Twitter backchannel right now, thanks to Maddie Grant. (It also includes the ASAE & The Center Flickr stream, which isn't very active yet...but soon will be.)

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ASAE 08: That Darn 'Down Time'

In speaking with many association people over the past couple days, I can honestly say that for many of us, preparing to attend Annual is also accompanied by another time-honored ritual: the last minute scramble to get as much done as possible before hitting the road.

So it was interesting for me to log in and read everyone's posts in anticipation of the meeting, critiquing the schedule, etc.--things I often think about on the plane at the earliest, or at the first blast of AC in my face as I enter the hall for the first time at the latest. I was very proud of myself for leafing through the schedule to find attractive programs in advance of the event... but also struck by how challenging it is to bet in advance where my time will be best-spent over the course of each day.

On site, I am often the guy you'll see who, five minutes from the end of the program you're sitting in, opens the program book to 'go session shopping,' crossing out a few programs I pencilled in earlier, checking a new one, basically making up my schedule as it goes along, sometimes prompted by need, a negative reaction to the last program I attended, or the simple realization of just how far room 18A is from oh, 19B in this particular convention center. (I also am one of those people who needs track shoes to match my suit as I employ my exit strategy ... if a program doesn't seem to live up to its billing and I had an attractive second alternative, my Type A attitude and degree to which I value my time almost always leads me to sacrifice the five minute walk to get to the other session, even if I wind up standing for it in the back of a crowded room.)

But my real point today is that as attendees we need the right attitude to make the best use of the 18 or so waking hours we spend each day at or near the conference, including what looks like 'down time.' My own Outlook calendar looks scary over the next 4 days despite my lack of planning: 9 receptions, 8 labs, 2 councils, 2 general sessions, 1 stint in a booth, and 8-10 appointments. If I don't get a real 'payback' in terms of learning, social, and reconnecting, I'd be really surprised. But outside those commitments, there is also 'down time' that I've come to appreciate more and more over time. The expo exclusive hours, the 'long' gaps between each session are things I used to resent back when I had hair and was (even more) impatient (than I am now),

On the flights back from Boston and Chicago I wasn't remembering my programmed time so much as I was the people I met in what I used to regard as down times--chatting across a round table waiting for a session to begin, meeting someone randomly in the expo hallway, or just waiting for the shuttle bus. To me these times and the overall ASAE community are an education too. Sometimes we stereotype the hall as being packed with CVB's (and I too appreciate the contribution they make to the overall health of ASAE) but I find many other vendors there and find almost every conversation enlightening. Even if they do something totally unrelated to my work, I learn something--they know the same people, share a common practice, or have a unique perspective. ASAE feels unlike other very large shows I attend, in that most booths are populated by company owners and senior personnel. I hope I am not projecting my own attitudes on others, but unlike the Kevin Circa 1993 who would walk an expo hall avoiding eye contact and mouthing 'no thanks. I don't do that' I now allow myself at least 90 minutes of free time to walk the hall and chat up people. I'm courteous enough to recognize the well coiffed who just want to sell sell sell, but often I get more out of this than I do hearing a first-time speaker do their best to describe his program from a podium. The expo time is utterly unstructured, a bazaar with hundreds of stalls, possibly even intimidating, but personally I've come to find it just as rewarding and educational as the educational programs themselves. I'm kind of glad the schedule isn't even more crowded than it already is!

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Think Like a Member

When you think of education at ASAE and the Center's Annual Meeting, the first thing that likely comes to mind are, of course, sessions. We're attending Annual to get top notch education - learning labs, general sessions, thought leaders sessions, etc. I myself am looking forward to attending learning labs on how to market government relations as a member benefit, as well as on the value of trade associations to the international community. These are new areas for me in my professional career, and I am sure that these sessions will make me a more effective director of membership.

That being said, my education at Annual will go beyond attending sessions and then sharing my new knowledge with my colleagues back in DC. As association members attending Annual, we have the unique opportunity to step out of our daily work as association professionals and directly into our members' shoes as attendees. From stepping on a shuttle to the convention center, to browsing the ASAE & The Center's newest publications, to attending networking events, to printing materials, and so on, we can observe the details of an convention with a member's eyes. In doing so, we can take our own experiences from all aspects of our time in San Diego and enhance own annual meeting planning.

On my end, I'm going to keep an eye out for how ASAE & The Center sets up its membership booth in the exhibit hall, and also keep my eye out for other eye-catching exhibits. I'll apply my observations and reactions as an attendee to how my association will set up our own booths at industry trade shows and our own conventions and meetings (yet another new challenge for me).

What are some of the aspects of the Annual Meeting that you will be keeping an eye on to apply to your own association?

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August 14, 2008

ASAE08: Scheduling - 2 steps forward, more needed

As a follow-on to Ben's "schedule fail" post, I can't help but vent a bit on the Annual Meeting schedule/structure. But, before I do, just want to say that I get a massive amount of value each year from attending the Annual Meeting. So, take this vent as constructive criticisms from a devoted customer...

In regards to steps forward, kudos to the event planners who listened to complaints about the commingling of awards and keynote speakers in past years. Folks would show up for the speaker and then "suffer" through an hour of singing and dancing. This year, the solution has been to put all the awards action into a breakfast celebration. Perfect! No confusion or mixed expectations. Another step forward has been the inclusion of much needed social media related sessions (one of which I'm co-presentingg).

In terms of gripes, well the first one is the classic "good problem to have": there's too much I want to attend! With an average of 20 sessions per slot, argh, it is painful to just pick one - and frustrating to know you are missing out on so much more.

What's bewildering is that, to Ben's point, there's actually a lot of overlap within any given time slot. For example, during my slot there are three other social media sessions, plus the BloggerCon meeting. My sense is that this has partially to do with using the CAE "areas of knowledge" as the framework for sorting content. And, if it is, I'm ready to debate why that's the wrong approach... But I digress.

Further, the most frustrating element is the "forced" herding onto the expo floor. I look at my schedule and all I see are massive gaps for when the exhibits are open. Personally, I don't care much to see 101 different CVBs, etc, and would much prefer cramming in another learning session on each day. Most conferences I attend have content and expo running in parallel. This gives the option to the attendee to determine where to spend their time.

Also, what was the idea behind putting Learning Labs up against Thought Leaders? And, do I really need a "mid meeting break" on Monday?

Anyway, surely there are all good rationalizations for my above gripes. And, I'm still super excited to attend and have no doubt that my brain will be exploding with new knowledge and inspiration.

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August 13, 2008

Paying Tribute to a Legend

The 2008 Annual Meeting will be a strange one for me (and others) because it will be the last one helmed by Susan Sarfati, president & CEO of The Center and executive vice president of ASAE. Susan is moving on from ASAE & The Center after a truly remarkable career with ASAE, GWSAE, The Center for Association Leadership, and now ASAE & The Center. While she is not retiring, it still feels like the end of an era.

Susan offered me a job in 1997 when she was president of GWSAE. She did this despite the fact that there really wasn’t a job opening, there was no formal job description, she had no title in mind. Susan told me my job description was “to make us better.”

At GWSAE, she created the most dynamic, engaging, and stimulating staff culture I have ever known. Creativity ran rampant, everything was on the table, and ideas quickly led to action. Major meetings, like the first Great Ideas Conference, were developed in a matter of months. We decided to launch the Journal of Association Leadership over the course of a single week, culminating in a press release announcing its creation. Big ideas like building a learning center morphed into even bigger ideas, like launching an entirely new organization – The Center for Association Leadership. During all of this, Susan laid down a constant drum beat of innovation, risk-taking, excellence, and teamwork. For those of us caught up in the whirlwind, this was Camelot.

Obviously, Susan has had a profound impact on me. We haven’t always agreed, we’ve had our share of arguments, and my New England WASP reticence can contrast sharply with her take-no-prisoners exuberance. But she is, without a doubt, the greatest mentor of my life. Now that I lead my own organization, I frequently fall back on some of the lessons she taught me. Here are four:

1. Go for the big move. While incremental change has its place, the biggest rewards typically come from bold, visionary action.

2. Surprise, delight, and challenge. This was our staff motto at GWSAE and it is still one of mine today. We didn’t talk about exceeding member expectations. Our goal was to blow them away and, at the same time, find new ways to challenge the profession as a whole. We didn’t always hit the mark, but Susan always urged us to aim higher.

3. Don’t compromise on standards. Susan frequently expected people to move mountains. She routinely came up with huge ideas and set impossible deadlines. She wanted the biggest, the best, the most. And she frequently got it.

4. Sizzle and substance. Susan taught me that a little (okay, sometimes a lot) of flash is a good thing, as long is it is combined with substance. Details matter. Inspiring language, strong design, and wow experiences can create great momentum for an organization and bind a community together in surprising ways.

Susan will no doubt be feted throughout the Annual Meeting, which is only fitting. Even if you don’t know her, you might want to raise a glass in San Diego to her nearly 30 years of innovation and service to the association profession. She is one of a kind and worth celebrating.

- Scott Steen

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How High-Impact Nonprofits Measure Success

In an environment where “excellence” is a top business goal, it’s unusual to read that the “good-enough” organization may trump everyone in terms of actual positive impact. But that’s one of the key underpinnings to the research captured by Leslie Crutchfield and coauthor Heather McLeod Grant in Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), who will speak Monday morning at the ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting.

Crutchfield hastens to explain the “good enough” statement: “We mean that every nonprofit has to be able to raise money and develop diverse revenue streams, attract and retain top talent, and do all the things any organization needs to survive…. But even if you’re excellent at doing all those things, it’s not enough to have the greatest amount of impact. What we’re saying is that we think internal excellence is admirable and something to strive for, but it’s not going to get you the social change that you’re looking for if you’re looking to be a great nonprofit…. You have to do that and be excellent outside the four walls of your institution, and do things beyond just the internal metrics.

I asked her whether redefining greatness means eschewing less meaningful metrics such as overhead-to-program ratios, those annoying ratios so beloved by charity rating Web sites and organizations. If so, that could be pretty tough, since the public increasingly uses these ratings to determine their donation choices, and it’s not like foundation folks and corporate philanthropy officers aren’t monitoring to them, too. And then there are the nonprofit/association leaders themselves—they’re keenly aware of those metrics, too, so are we talking about a major mindshift?

“Absolutely,” Crutchfield responds. “There’s important information in the conventional metrics. Let’s take the classic one—the overhead-to-program ratio. That’s where a donor or board member or volunteer can look at a nonprofit and say, ‘Okay, how much percentage-wise does a nonprofit spend on the development office and marketing versus actually feeding the hungry?’ Our point is that some organizations can look very lean and efficient--they can have that less-than-10% ratio--but if you look at the overall results, how many lives are they saving? How many people are they feeding? If you look at the outcomes, often the efficiency ratios don’t really line up with the organizations achieving the greatest outcomes.”

That statement may be just what some leaders need to take to their boards and donors to start a discussion about “real success,” piloting new metrics processes, and moving away from traditional measurements that diminish and distract from the true bottom line: positive, long-term change.

For instance, when Crutchfield interviewed Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, one of the 12 “high-impact” nonprofits depicted in the book, he talked about the defensiveness of many organizations when it came to the overhead-to-program ratio, asking, “Which organization would you rather fund—the one that has less than 20% overhead ratio but isn’t saving many kids or the one that has a higher overhead ratio but is saving millions of lives? You have to look at outcomes.”

I grumbled that this seems obvious, but it breaks down at the prove-it point. She agreed. “The reason why we don’t have a better system is because it’s very hard to measure relative roles or impacts,” she says. “What we’ve gravitated toward is measuring what’s measurable and what’s easy to measure, and we rely on that instead of challenging the sector to find ways to measure what really matters. For example, impact. That requires more qualitative types of assessments. It requires judgment. It requires obtaining a lot of different kinds of information. It hasn’t happened for a lot of good reasons. It might even be impossible to develop a measure that would be a holistic way to rank nonprofits based on holistic results, and many groups are trying to figure this out. But I don’t think anyone has grabbed the Holy Grail yet, although it’s a quest that many thought leaders are on.”

I hope that’s true, but frankly, I’ve heard of few organizations on that path. Kaboom!, the playground-building nonprofit, is one of them, and Teach for America is another. It’s hard to think of many more. Anyone else out there ready to lead a mindshift in the name of true change?

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Pencil it in!

So our posse of five ASAE Annual Meeting attendees – two first-timers, two repeater offenders and one seasoned veteran – met yesterday to plan our trip. If you are attending the Annual Meeting, here’s a chance to learn something before you even get there: PLAN. Whether you are the only one from your association attending, or if there is a gaggle of staff going to San Diego – planning can maximize the value you and your association will get from the meeting.

I don’t want to assume (because you know what happens then) about your association, but if it is anything like ours, we are always looking for innovative ideas, ways to do more with less, leveraging what’s worked at other associations, and stretching our personal development dollar. Planning before hand enables us to identify which sessions are important to our organization, as well as interesting to us personally. Once we identified the sessions, we “divided and conquered” and utilized the “My Planner” scheduling tool on the Annual Meeting website http://www.asaeannualmeeting.org/home_att.cfm to track our individual schedules. We also reviewed our expo strategy (besides gathering our fair share of mints, pens, and lip balm) what items are we really in need of – fundraising software, an exciting location for a new conference, non-dues revenue ideas. Next, we had to be sure to schedule the opening and closing receptions, general sessions, Gaslamp After Dark, and finally sift through the vendor invitations to receptions and dinner ... I hope it’s not too late to RSVP. Hey, did we save a time slot that our posse could meet for refreshments or dinner – yes! – Monday 4:30 pm. Pencil it in!
Laura Vermilya

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August 12, 2008

The “Wow” Factor and a Memorable Experience

I have been planning meetings and functions of sorts for four years now; however, I’ve only been in the association world for two years. This will be my first trip to ASAE’s Annual Meeting. I am excited to be attending and ready to observe the operation of such a large scale meeting…one that I don’t have to plan or operate logistically but actually get to enjoy as an attendee! I have heard that all the stops are pulled out at the annual meeting and that the surprises and “wow” factors keep an electrifying buzz in the air. I have heard of the clap lines at previous annual meetings who applauded passing attendees, the opportunity to take a picture on your way to a reception with a Rocky Balboa impersonator after you climbed the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or the chance to sing along with Martina McBride or Natalie Cole at closing receptions.

As a meeting planner, one of my responsibilities is helping to identify how we are going to create a memorable experience for our attendees and then making sure the attendees leave the meeting with a lasting impression that will make them want to come to future society meetings. Some of the biggest obstacles I have in creating an impressionable meeting experience are budget restrictions and identifying what will “wow” my attendees.

One of my missions of attending the annual conference is to observe the different ways ASAE will enhance their attendee experience and then try to incorporate these concepts into my own society meetings. I want to talk to you and see what you are doing to create the buzz at your meetings. And of course, I can’t wait to see what surprises ASAE and San Diego have in store for us this year!

Liz Roehl

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Do associations overreact to criticism?

The August Associations Now case study has sparked some interesting discussion here on Acronym. Thanks to everyone who's shared their thoughts on the scenario presented in the article!

I was particularly struck by comments by several commenters: Kevin Whorton noted that "many times in organizations we dedicate excessive resources to micro-focusing on board perceptions; to me addressing Ed the negative blogger's comments in a very serious way is focusing on something that is one step more removed from the mission critical functions of the association." Later, "The Other Kevin" (Kevin Holland) commented that "On the whole, I felt this particular case study was about people expending a lot of energy worrying about something that ultimately wasn't very important." And Maggie McGary compared the flurry of negative blog comments depicted in the case study as similar to a negative conversation you might overhear in the hall at your annual conference: "While obviously Lynn, Bryan, and Stewart wouldn't have been pleased to overhear this same conversation, would it really have been taken as seriously as the same comments expressed on a blog?"

I found all of these comments to be fascinating, because they're so different than my own experience in the associations where I've worked prior to coming to ASAE & The Center. I've seen a single letter from a member become the basis for a year-long task force examining problems with a product. I've seen five negative messages on a member listserver lead to board calls, senior staff meetings, and communications plans. I'm not saying that these were proportional responses, but those and similar experiences led me to expect most associations to be fairly sensitive to a few critical letters, e-mails, or blog posts from members.

Is my experience out of the ordinary, or are other associations likely to react strongly to a relatively small number of complaints from members about a particular issue? If you have worked at an association that had thicker skin, how did you handle member complaints when they arose? I'm really curious to hear what others have seen in their own organizations.

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August 11, 2008

Secrets of getting published

Jeffrey Cufaude recently wrote a wonderful blog post on getting a “first look”—that foot in the door for someone who hasn’t been visible in a profession or community.

As the editor of an association magazine, I’m always seeking new authors that our readers should give a “first look” to. I’m also frequently contacted by new authors with an interest in getting that first look. So I’ve been meaning to share with you some of the secrets of being published in an association magazine:

1. Tell a good story that no one else has told before. Really, that’s all there is to it. If you do this, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you work—I will want to publish your article.

2. Read the publication, and be aware of the topics the publication covers (and doesn’t cover). You’d be surprised by the number of queries we receive from people who clearly have never cracked the covers of Associations Now, and the same was true at other publications where I’ve worked.

3. It doesn’t matter who you know. As long as you’re telling a great story that our members need to read, you don’t need to know a single member of my association, or be a member yourself.

4. Help me find you. One of the challenges in increasing a publication’s diversity is that we can’t know who we don’t know. We read other publications, attend meetings, talk to colleagues, and scour listservers for potential authors. But if you (the potential author) don’t attend meetings, write for other publications, or know someone I know, it can be challenging for me to know you’re out there. And we want to know you’re out there! Come up and say hello to one of our editors in San Diego. Just e-mail if you need to.

5. Bloggers do have an edge. Not because editors are biased toward or against bloggers, but because blogs are something we can easily find that gives us an idea of how you write and what you write about. It’s a way for us to find out about you, which gives you a leg up over someone who may be harder to find.

6. Although it’s a wonderful surprise when a great feature story arrives unexpectedly my e-mail, it’s usually better to e-mail your story idea before you start writing. I feel terrible if your article arrives and I’ve just agreed to publish someone else’s article on the same subject two weeks ago.

Association publishers, what did I miss? Are there any “secrets” you disagree with?

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August 7, 2008

Plug in to the Annual Meeting backchannel on Twitter.

Are you on Twitter? The last three conferences I’ve attended have all been “powered by Twitter” so to speak. And they weren’t all techie conferences like SXSW. In fact, a fairly large group of ASAE Twitter-folk were following both the Marketing & Membership Conference (where we organized an impromptu “unsession”) and the Social Responsibility Summit.

For all you folks wondering if a tool like Twitter could help your attendees break through that glass wall at your association’s meetings, here’s your chance to try it first-hand. Whether you like to talk or prefer to listen, the conversation on Twitter will be worth following. Here’s how you plug in.

1) Sign up for Twitter.

2) Follow asaecenter08.

3) Go to asaecenter08's followers page.

4) Follow as many asaecenter08 followers as you like. I'm following everyone.

Thanks to Scot McRoberts, who e-mailed me for the steps. Great feedback, since sometimes I forget to explain important details.

For a list of the speakers I’ve found on Twitter check out my blogpost, First-timer’s guide to cracking the ASAE Annual Meeting.

Having @asaecenter08 to follow has made it really easy for us all to connect around the meeting…the rest is up to us.

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The Importance of Being an Ambassador

When Lisa Junker contacted me about guest blogging for the Annual Meeting, I was excited, but also a bit nervous. Even after five years in associations and nearly ten years as a (gulp!) working adult, I wondered if my perspectives and insights might be interesting enough to my colleagues in the association world. I've been checking Acronym and trying to screw up the courage to write something. But what?

Inspiration struck this morning, when I got an email from Rebecca Myers thanking me for volunteering to be an Annual Meeting Ambassador. I responded immediately. Professionally, I know these programs make a difference. At my last association, our member representatives formed lasting friendships from the colleagues they met at the Annual Conference. So many of our members fondly recounted to me meeting more tenured members at their first meeting, and how just one person making the effort to personally welcome them and offer assistance set them on a path of involvement and leadership. I'm still getting my feet wet here at my current association (I’ve been here one month officially today!) but I'm sensing it's the same type of environment here. Making new members feel welcome and valued isn't just the right thing to do from a human perspective. It also grows your potential pool of future leaders, as well as drives loyalty to the Association.

But being an ambassador also touches me on a personal level. I remember my first Annual Meeting in Boston. I got off the plane, checked into my hotel, and, while trying to get my bearings in the convention center, somehow missed new member orientation. Oops. In the hustle and bustle of my first Meeting, I felt a bit lost and not sure who I should approach for dinners or at sessions. I spent a lot of time on my own. However, I was also determined to be a part of the ASAE & The Center Community, and I introduced myself, exchanged cards, and learned how I could volunteer.

Cut to Chicago, a year later. I’d been involved with the Membership Section Council and the Young Professionals Committee for much of the year. I’d made connections with a number of colleagues, and it was such a joy to spend time with the colleagues I’d been chatting with on conference calls, exchanging emails with, etc. I felt what my members must have felt—a sense of community and connection. And I made an effort on my end to informally check in with people who, like me, might have felt a bit overwhelmed at their first Annual Meeting. Sometimes they just wanted to be left to their coffee. Other times, I’d like to think they were grateful for the company, and for someone taking the time to see how they were doing.

So, yes, I am so ready to be an ambassador for the San Diego Annual Meeting. I know keeping new members active and excited is essential to the success of ASAE & The Center, and I’m happy to do my part to make this happen. But, mostly, it’s because I know somewhere out there, there’s someone coming alone to their first Annual Meeting. They’re excited, but maybe feeling a bit daunted. They’re me, circa August 2006, getting off the plane, riding over to the convention center, and saying, “Gosh, what do I do now?”

I hope they’ll come find me.

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How-to videos

You've quite possibly already heard of CommonCraft, well-known for their videos explaining the uses of social media ("Blogs in Plain English," "Wikis in Plain English," "Zombies in Plain English"). But their new video on the U.S. presidential election process, above, is a great demonstration of the ways that video can be used to explain things other than social media.

I was just last night reading about an association that's considering a series of "how-to" podcasts for their members, on things like applying for certification/accreditation and arranging an education session at their annual conference; video could add a visual element (and visual interest) to such how-to demonstrations. And associations with an interest in spreading the word about their professions or industries to the public could also take a page from the CommonCraft book. Could a simple how-to video show YouTube users the value of the profession you represent--or show students why they should consider your industry for their future careers?

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August 6, 2008

Hiring and the MySpace - Facebook conundrum

About a month ago, there was quite a bit of chatter on ASAE & The Center's membership listserver on researching the social media profiles of job applicants. (Any ASAE member can access it by logging into the website and going to the listserver archive -- leave the search field blank and look at messages beginning July 1, 2008.)

I think there were some responses that went too far, such as weighting their online presence even more than their interview. And there were some that were what I would consider absurd, such as using their profiles as a factor in a decision being a violation of the applicant's privacy. But I thought the bulk of those who responded hit the mark.

I think the dividing line of that gray area in the middle is the degree to which people make their nonwork lives public. There were some on the listservers who advocated that it shows poor judgment to let it all hang out on such sights, which reflects poorly on the applicant. Of course there are limits. An obsession with pornography, for example, should set off alarms for the hiring manager. However, I believe these people are looking at this through their own biased lens. A lens that sees a professional persona and a nonwork persona. But I believe that the idea of work-life balance is more and more giving way to just balance--meaning the lines between work and nonwork are becoming less and less structured by time and place. We are who we are, without separate work and life personae—and I believe our organizations are more productive, more enriching, more diverse, and more fulfilling because of it.

My advice is: job seekers—be aware of how others (prospective employers) might see you based on what they can find out about you online. If you're comfortable with that, then don't worry about getting passed over because somebody doesn't like what they find, you don't want to work for them anyway. For employers—be aware of the assumptions you are making based on what you find, and be doubly aware of what biases you have that might preclude diverse and inclusive hiring practices.

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August 4, 2008

The Two Meetings Dilemma

Kevin’s post on friendliness touched on something I have been kicking around for years. I think of it as the “two meetings dilemma” and I struggle with it in my own association.

When I first started attending the ASAE Annual Meeting in the early 90s, I was impressed with the size and scope of the event and the quality of the sessions, along with the sense that this was a big league meeting with a big league budget. But other than the occasional conversation on a bus or in a line, the meetings for me were pretty lonely experiences. I felt like I was at one meeting with the unknown masses, and a handful of very special people were on the other side of the glass at another meeting, knowing everyone and known by everyone. For me (and many others), the meeting was almost entirely about what value I could derive from the sessions, and while that value was considerable,those on the other side of the glass also benefited from the advice, ideas, challenge, and support that comes with being deeply part of a vibrant community.

In 1997, I started a nine year journey of working for GWSAE, The Center for Association Leadership, and finally ASAE & The Center. Within a year, I was on the other side of the glass. Suddenly, the ASAE Annual Meeting was an incredibly richer and more valuable experience. Now, just going to the meeting gives me a wonderful sense of belonging, of being among “my people.” I still learn things in the sessions, but I learn at least as much from being with my friends and peers, and the advice and counsel is a whole lot more personalized.

My gut feeling is that there are still more people outside the glass wall than inside at our meetings. Although I walk pretty close to the introvert-extrovert line on the Myers-Briggs, I got lucky. I happened to find a job that virtually guaranteed I would meet lots of people in our community. But for most folks, this isn’t an option. Given that meetings are a core association offering, I believe one of the best things we can do to add value for our members is to tear down this glass wall, or at least make the door between the two meetings as wide as possible. Some people may choose not to walk through and that’s okay. But I think we need to be as deliberate in how we facilitate social connection – how we welcome people into our community and provide an environment in which they can form meaningful relationships – as we are about planning quality sessions and memorable food functions. It may not be easy, but boy would it be powerful. I’d love to hear your ideas.

– Scott Steen

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The core of communications

One of the sessions I enjoyed the most during my time at the U.S. Chamber's Institute program last week was a talk Bill Graham of Graham Corporate Communications gave on the keys to good communications. A few takeaways I got from what he had to say:

- Graham asked participants to think about the best speech or lecture they'd heard in the past year. "Now," he said, "tell me the 10 most important points you got from that speech." I have to admit, off the top of my head, I couldn't come up with 10--or even five. In fact, no one in the room could come up with 10 points from a recent talk they had heard. Which led to Graham's central point: When preparing to speak to an audience, you need to focus. "What is the one idea want your audience to remember a year from now?"

- Another comment of Graham's really struck me, as an association communicator: "Helping the person you're talking to is the number one concept in good communications." Is "helping our members" or "helping our stakeholders" the true core of your association's communications efforts? When you measure the success of your communications plans, are you really measuring how much your members or stakeholders are helped--or are you measuring the (often easier to measure) number of registrations, items sold, or grassroots activities undertaken?

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August 1, 2008

Vodcast: The need for a new management system

In this installment, ASAE & The Center's Chief Technology Officer Reggie Henry talks about the current state of association management systems and says its time for associations to look at systems that are based on building relationships, not tracking transactions.

Want to challenge Reggie? Ask him a question?

Drop a comment, and Reggie will respond with a post next week.

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.

Next installment, which will be released in mid-August features an association executive who says her association management system is just fine, Reggie, and it will continue to evolve as association needs evolve. Plus, it has the added trust factor because it was built for associations by people with a knowledge of what associations do.

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Associations Now August Case Study: Blog Brushfire

Those of you who read this blog and others are probably already aware of how fast bad news can travel on the internet. (For that matter, those of you whose associations have listservers probably knew that long before the first association blog was launched.) But when your association is the target of that negative blogger reaction, what’s the best way to handle it?

This month’s Associations Now case study, "Blog Brushfire," looks at a fictional association facing a wave of criticism online. Commentators Maddie Grant and Barbara Hyde did a fantastic job of peeling away the layers of the issue and looking at the many factors involved in responding to a communications crisis of this sort. What do you think? Has your association ever dealt with a similar situation—and if you have, what advice would you share?

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, not the Holiday season, it is pre-ASAE Annual Meeting season! And as a marketer, it is my most favorite time of the year because, well, I have to admit – I am a junk mail junkie! I love all of the postcards, packages, folders, letters…all of the beautiful, wonderful mail that I can get. Today I received something in the mail in a cushy, black, bubbley square envelope. What does it hold inside? The possibilities are endless! It could be a chance at winning a wii. (a favorite this year among vendors attending the Annual Meeting) Or a shiny new laser pointer key chain just for me. Or maybe a fun shaped stress ball for Laura who is also going to annual meeting. It is Peter’s first time so he is savoring every piece of mail he gets so that he can go and have cocktails at the Toronto booth or stop by QMDI to win a trip. Liz is also new to ASAE…maybe she’ll bring the top of a water bottle with her so that she can present it for the rest of the bottle at some special booth. Scott has spent 32 hours pouring through the ASAE mail and synching appointments and invites with his phone so that he can get optimal time with colleagues and friends.

Just this morning, Laura, Liz and I talked about the mail we got and which events we are going to attend – we made sure that we all got our GasLamp After Dark Passes. Laura and I spent a couple minutes reminiscing about the expo from last year and I have to admit, it brought a little tear to my eye. Just remembering all of the schwag that we got, yes, Christmas was good last year at the Mahan house. Thanks Exhibitors for all of the gifts to my family and friends. And as I am digging my way out of the annual meeting mail, I am humming to myself…”It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

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