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November 27, 2008

To BlackBerry or Not to BlackBerry

Am I the only one who is watching the whole thing with Barack Obama and his BlackBerry and is really intrigued to see how it all turns out? I am intrigued for a number of reasons:

1. I just assumed that government officials used blackberries or Trios or other wireless devices just like everyone else in the world so I was surprised to hear that is not the case. I understand the security issue but doesn’t this lack of connectivity potentially slow down a vital decision-maker’s ability to react in a timely manner and stay on top of things quickly and easily?

3. Are the networks that the rest of us use on a daily basis really that easily hacked? It is a really scary thought that most of us are sending our most private information across these networks all the time but the powers-that-be are concerned about security issues for the President. I do understand that Obama is definitely more of a target for hackers than someone like me, my wife or my parents, but doesn’t the same fundamental issue exist?

3. Technological advances have helped all of us work smarter and faster. Is the government significantly behind the public in their use of technology because of security concerns or other reasons that have yet to be released? If they are, that worries me because I am sure there are other sectors out there that are ahead of most of us when it comes to technology and will use it to exploit any weaknesses we may have.

I don’t know why I am so fascinated by this conversation but I am and can’t wait to see how it all plays out. Anyone else watching this like I am?

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November 26, 2008

Tutu Asks for Help in Making the World More Caring

It was a remarkable night last Thursday, when I joined 300 other association professionals at a unique “Evening of Thanks” to hear and meet a world leader whose work I and so many millions of others have admired for decades.

Hosted by the American Program Bureau in Washington, DC, we laughed, clapped, and let ourselves be inspired as the ever-charming Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged us to “lift each other up” and to help make the world “more passionate and more caring.”

Tutu noted that God “can’t do it without you” and referenced President-elect Barack Obama’s call for greater service and personal responsibility as well. He pointed to Obama’s election as “something like our Mandela moment” … despite the fact that “racism in many places is still rampant,” and recalled how he had been only 8 or 9 years old when he first saw a magazine story about Jackie Robinson’s rise as a baseball legend.

“I didn’t know baseball from ping pong, but it didn’t matter,” he laughed. “… You don’t know what you’ve meant for our struggle [for equality].” He added that, with Obama’s election, Martin Luther King’s “dream has come true. The day has dawned where his children will be judged on the basis of their character [alone].”

Mentioning activist Rosa Parks, Tutu said, “She marched so Obama could run. He ran so our children should fly.”

Tutu also shared some personal stories about his struggle against prostate cancer and how “this messenger, which could have been of doom, was instead a messenger of grace” that “suddenly awakened a sense of saying thank you” and of greater appreciation for laughter and fun with grandchildren.

He advised us all to “see yourself as a pool of serenity, letting the ripples move out to touch others [in an uplifting way]? Try it this week” … and “give thanks” for all that we have and are.

A great message for this special time of year! You can hear himself yourself, since APB has now posted the full speech online.


November 25, 2008

Understanding volunteers

In two previous posting Nick Senzee and I have asked questions about the volunteer dilemma facing associations. In response, Bruce Hammond in his posting on the Volunteer Experience observed that if we "made the effort to understand our volunteers' needs and desires, we can and will alleviate ourselves from having to deal with 'a volunteer problem.'"

Nick Senzee and a team of ASAE members who started a volunteerism wiki entry on Associapedia expressed a similar observation saying "as a staff person, putting yourself in your volunteers' shoes is essential to ensuring proper volunteer management practices . This should be done reflexively and at every step of this process."

I don't think many associations are doing this and it could be because we don't know how to effectively or because we just don't have the time. But yet I see first hand as the chapter administrator for several organizations, tasks being asked of chapter leaders that don't address needs and desires.

For example, asking volunteers to fill out lengthy reports or call delinquent members. (I know, before you cast the first stone, someone needs to call delinquent members but there are very few volunteers who relish this task and are much more likely to call new members.)

So the question is how do we effectively do this - systematically track volunteers' needs and desires? Is there a Net Promoter Score equivalent for volunteers?

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Who am I today?

Being an AMC exec is a little different from being a direct employee of an association. I serve as executive director, president, or administrator for a total of 11 entities, with three more in the works. Thank goodness for my amazing team. I have staff focused on accounting, membership, programs and events, and communications. With their help I can focus on my role of working with boards – a role I truly love.

My clients are diverse for sure. We have entrepreneurs, oncologists, psychiatrists, community leaders, dancers, carwashers, Parliamentarians, and more. The good news, however, is that all of our clients need the same services. So we focus our energy on continually refining our systems and adding value. When you do that, the differences are less important than the similarities.

But there are a few practical issues, not the least of which is business cards. When people ask me for a card, they are not impressed if I fumble through my stack looking for the right one. I know some folks wonder – “Is she some sort of con artist?” Finally I invested in a nice, red metal snap case with seven pockets. That is not enough for each group to have their own pocket, but some co-habitation in the pockets is allowed. For me it is a solution, though it won’t hold too many of any one card. So when I am headed out to a psychiatric conference, for example, I fill a compartment in my purse with my psychiatry cards.

Another frustration is that just managing a professional association does not necessarily mean that I am deeply knowledgeable about the professions I serve. So while I know much more about carwashing, psychiatry, oncology, and Roberts’ Rules of Order than the average person on the street, I am not an expert in any of those fields. I have to content myself to be forever the “master of none.”

I think in order to be a good AMC person, you have to live in the moment and be totally consumed by what you are doing at any given time. Some days I ask myself – who am I today? I have to say I love having a choice and the opportunity to be someone different today than I was yesterday. But you also have to take time to plan and to readjust priorities.

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Welcome Pat Troy!

I'd like to introduce a new Acronym blogger today: Pat Troy. Pat owns Next Wave Group, LLC, a Maryland-based based AMC focusing on diverse, small associations. She has been managing associations since 1992 and has worked in the world of nonprofits since 1980. (She also owns Bay Media, Inc., a publication management firm.)

In 2007, she took her companies "virtual." Her team of employees and contractors works remotely, taking advantage of Web-based applications.

We're looking forward to Pat's great ideas here on Acronym. Please help her feel at home!


November 24, 2008

Remote Troubleshooting

We've all experienced technical difficulty with our computers at some point and some of us have had the opportunity to experience remote assistance. In my case, while offsite, I called my company's IT department and requested assistance. They connected to my computer remotely and solved the problem right in front of me - I was thrilled because not only was the problem fixed, I saw how he fixed it and could therefore avoid the issue in the future!

While browsing the web, I came across a download that could revolutionize how we deal with member support. Ammyy Admin allows PC users to connect to other PCs to navigate on their system. This means, if a member can't figure out where conference registration is or has trouble logging in, they could grant you access to navigate it for them in front of them. Not only will this help make members more tech-savvy, it also help members feel more connected to ADA headquarters.

More information on this tool is below. For those of you interested, I found this on lifehacker.com.

Ammyy Admin Shares Screens in Three Steps
Windows only: If you're eager for a simple, non-browser, quick-starting app that will let you get remote desktop access to your mom's desktop, your struggling friend's laptop, or nearly any other machine, Ammyy Admin is just about perfect for your needs. The 128KB, no-install app opens and gives you a dedicated client ID number. To connect as the administrator, you simply enter the client's ID's number, choose a connection speed optimizer (if needed), and hit "Connect," while the client only has to hit "Start." Unless you use its sister private router product, Ammyy Admin will route its screen-sharing traffic over the developer's servers, so work that requires privacy shouldn't rely on Ammyy. Still, for keeping it simple with one-time connections—or even regular hook-ups, through Ammyy's Windows service option—Ammyy is worth checking out. Ammyy Admin is a free download for Windows systems only.
Ammyy Admin [via FreewareGenius.com]

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November 18, 2008

Can Policies and Volunteer Enthusiasm Get Along?

All associations have policies and procedures as well as volunteers. In the ideal world, these two would work in tandem and complement each other. For example, policies and procedures would increase the volunteer’s enthusiasm because it helps them make their idea a reality. Unfortunately, this seldom is the case. Policies and procedures bog down the creative process, frustrate volunteers who only have a limited amount of time to devote to these details and cause tension between staff and volunteers.

What can be done? (A quick disclaimer – I have not implemented policy light, but this seems like a plausible approach.)

First, volunteers in their first 1-2 years should have little interaction with the policies and procedures, if possible. This approach provides them time to learn the organization and volunteer structure. If they begin a project that necessitates policy involvement, pair them with a higher-level volunteer. Second, once volunteers are more mature and ready for additional responsibility, they should be introduced to ‘policy light (pl).’ PL would include a high level summary of the policy as well as high-level bullets of action items. These easy-to-read documents would help the volunteers to turn to staff for full details and in turn, develop a positive working relationship with staff. Lastly, if the volunteer is ready for a higher level of commitment, send them the full policy and procedure manual, ask them to serve on the board of directors or hire them!

How does your association foster volunteer enthusiasm while enforcing policy?

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Does the Volunteer Program Have No Clothes?

Nick Senzee in his posting “Is there a volunteer problem?” intends to take the private, internal conversations we’re having in our individual association to a public conversation on how to change the volunteer model we in associations are saddled with at this time.

We know from the Decision To Volunteer (and if we’re honest from our own trends in volunteerism) that the model is indeed changing. It’s not that members don’t want to volunteer. The research underscored that volunteers are motivated to help associations accomplish change for the greater good and in doing so feed their own professional development. What is changing is how they volunteer and what they need to volunteer. That’s what’s behind the struggle for associations. We’re expecting volunteers to do the same jobs and carry the same loads with the same support and training that we’ve given them for the past 30 years. I think Decision to Volunteer is our version of the story of Emperor’s New Clothes.

You see, I would argue that the emperor (association) isn’t wearing any clothes in that the vast majority of associations don’t have established, formal volunteer management programs. We haven’t spent the time or focus as have our c3 cousins (charitable, service organizations) on assembling volunteer management programs that have robust recruitment, activation, training, evaluation and recognition programs. It may be because our c3 cousins recruit volunteers that become members while we’re focused on selling memberships and then suggesting members can get more from their membership by volunteering.

Also, did you notice that associations focus on just one small group of our volunteers: the leaders? These are the volunteers who form our committees and governance boards. For them we hold leadership conferences, listservs, webinars, conference calls and the like. But, they only represent about 18% of our national leaders and 23% of our local leaders according to Decision To Volunteer. Meanwhile, 60% of our volunteers are episodic and fall below the radar in many ways.

Before we complain about our volunteers, shouldn’t we first dress up the emperor? How can we reach out to all of our volunteers, not just volunteer leaders? What would a volunteer management system for episodic volunteers involve? How would it be different than what most associations do today? Who’s been to the tailor?

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November 17, 2008

The benefits of free benefits

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the challenging times that may be hitting many associations and how it will impact our membership strategies. In addition to changing our messaging to even more directly point out to our members why the hard times are the worst time for them to let their membership lapse, I have been wondering whether it would make sense for us to provide some free benefits for a period of time to certain segments of members who have not renewed.

My thinking is that if there are certain segments of your membership that you know have a high likelihood of coming back once the economy improves doesn’t it make sense to tell them, and show them, how much you value them as members by providing them a limited amount of their benefits for free for a limited period of time.

I think it is critical that you figure out what benefits you can afford to continue to provide for free (e-newsletters, access to members-only portion of the website, member pricing at conferences or webinars, etc.) and make sure that as you deliver them you remind recently lapsed members that you are doing this for free for a period of time in the hopes that they will eventually return to the organization. You can put subtle, or not so subtle, win-back offers in everything you give them in case they decide they want to renew before the end of the free period. Of course, once the free period is over, you will want to reach out to them and remind them it is over and that you want them to re-join.

I also think it is critical to determine what segments will receive this offer and how you will promote it. Will you offer it to long-term members who you noticed have dropped after extended tenure with the association? New members who you really want to help get through those first few years so you have them hooked long term? Will you promote it widely? Will you do it on a one to one basis? Personally I feel it really needs to be done on a one to one basis based on likelihood to renew which could be determined by past participation, volunteer status, etc. Otherwise you may end up extending the offer to many folks who never really intend to come back but really want the free benefits.

What do you think about this strategy? I think that if it is done right, the staff effort and minimal cost involved in doing it could position an association way ahead of its competition once things turn around.

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November 13, 2008

Is there a volunteer problem?

I get to go to a lot of board meetings of different chapters around the country. Some are great, some are a little frustrating, and some are out of control (you know, in a good way). But in all of them, I have to think there’s a better way for us, as headquarters staff, to support them and make the whole experience more usable for everyone.

So many issues we have in small organizations stem from lack of time. Sometimes I wonder if we’re seeing a sea-change among our chapter leaders. Life has gotten super busy. Headquarters organizations can’t afford to saddle volunteers with our own sloppy, "just-because" processes or workflow. I’m telling you, these people (just like me and probably most of you reading this) do not suffer busywork gladly. And why should they?

So many basic principles of volunteer management are ignored or just plain violated that folks can be forgiven for not filling out our forms on time. As with just about any professional society, our folks are likely to volunteer to improve their career options, because their friends are involved, to explore their strengths and to use their skills and experience in a different context.

We should really feed these needs a lot more than we do. But the issue gets really weird when you consider you have volunteers managing other volunteers. So then you get to teach the volunteer to manage other volunteers, who have to manage other volunteers. And it’s pretty common for people to volunteer for the wrong reasons. So you can see where the whole thing can be a bit unwieldy.

Back at the ranch, I’ve been working with ASAE’s component relations section council and we've been taking a serious look what makes chapters tick. We've gotten behind "the decision to volunteer." The curiosity stems in part from the proliferation of communities just about everywhere you look. (And the fact that mainstream folks in lots of fields explicitly talk about the benefits of community can take one aback.) But why oh why does it seem to take more and more work to get the same level of participation back at the ranch? How can we harness the power of community that Facebook and Twitter and so forth seem to have captured so effortlessly? Is that possible or have we missed the boat?

Anyway, we've decided that looking at the volunteer issue could clarify some of this. Is the definition of volunteering changing, do we need to adapt our model to the hectic, bottom-line-focused society we live in? Do we need to just build online communities and never have a conference? Or do we just need to focus on building nice, cozy in-person relationships and let the chips fall where they may?

We tried to make a start in our associapedia entry but we’d like to have a broader conversation and listen to what you folks have to say. Any thoughts?

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Welcome Peggy Hoffman and Nick Senzee!

I'd like to introduce two new Acronym bloggers to you today--Peggy Hoffman and Nick Senzee. Peggy is president of Mariner Management and Marketing; Nick is assistant director of constituent organization resources at the American Academy of Physician Assistants. (They're both bloggers, too.)

Together, they're going to be sharing some of their thoughts on volunteer management with Acronym readers. What are some of the current trends in volunteerism associations and components are facing? What do they mean for the future of our organizations? Peggy and Nick have some ideas, but they're interested in yours too--and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of the discussion.

Thanks to Peggy and Nick for joining us on Acronym.


November 7, 2008

Politics versus Politicking

I like to believe everyone always acts to the best of their ability. However, upon reflection of past board of directors, local and state governments, I realized this may not be the case. Individuals may compromise their best in order to garner a favor for later. This ‘values stock market’ hinders healthy discussion; to truly represent members and the best of an association, board members need to each share their individual views and concerns, not those views fed to them.

Not to say organizations can, or should, exist without politics. Any organization has politics and its employees and volunteers should work to persuade others. It keeps the organization viable. Oppositely, politicking, or the practice of collecting favors for future use, understanding of the membership and of issues.

How does your organization work to discourage politicking?

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November 4, 2008

Not strategic planning again

I am often surprised by what generates reaction on the part of readers. There are some things you just know are going to get the words flying—most thoughtful arguments against social media on this or any of the other association blogs, for example.

And I admit to deliberate attempts (which sometimes work and sometimes don't) to fan the flames.

But I was surprised at the vehement reaction that "The Perils of Strategic Planning," an August Associations Now article, generated. It was so strong, we had to create a blog post about it to let people vent/converse. I was surprised by the reaction because, frankly, I didn't think what Jim Hollan wrote was particularly controversial. I thought the idea of strategic planning having lost its vitality and usefulness in favor of a more nimble, open planning process was pretty well set.

This is a long way of getting to the point of this post. I may not have given this a second thought, but when I ran across a video of the authors of Fast Strategy: How strategic agility will help you stay ahead of the game, it reminded me of that big debate. I have not read the book yet, so I can't give my thoughts on it, but their basic message seems to reinforce Hollan's point. This is from an article about the book in the Insead Knowledge newsletter:

Kosonen says he faced the challenges of strategic agility for years in his roles with the Finnish telecoms firm as head of strategy and chief information officer. At Nokia he became familiar with two dimensions of strategic agility, he says, namely strategic sensitivity – that is, the way in which an organisation views the world and whether it is ‘open-minded’ and attentive enough to sense new opportunities and discontinuities– and secondly, ‘resource fluidity’ which relates to whether companies can redeploy resources rapidly enough to quickly exploit emerging opportunities in a complex and fast-changing environment.

This says to me that a planning process that takes 9 months or a year or (gulp) spans multiple years to develop a plan is useless. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be thinking about what the world will look like in 6 months or 12 months or even 36 months. But I do think that the further forward you look, the more you have to realize that it is highly unlikely that the world will actually turn out that way.

For associations, plans in the next 2 to 4 months can be pretty well set, with only major, unforeseeable events causing major changes. To me, that's really execution.

Plans for things 6 to 12 months away are where association leaders (and for large organizations at least, I mean staff and task force level volunteer levels) should be doing the bulk of their planning, and making changes to plans as the environment calls for.

More than 12 months should just be future plans, more ideas or outlines than plans really. And I think all leaders—board, task force, staff, other interested constituents—should be engaged in the development of those outlines.

And finally, more than 24 months — this is the realm of the big picture. It's where, for example, the Realtor organizations might contemplate the future of their profession given how online sources may change how people buy and sell homes. I think it's important to have these conversations, but I don't think they result in anything resembling a plan. Too much is going to change before any actions would matter—some changes will come faster than expected, other things may not change at all, and, no matter what, the change that does in fact come will have significant unpredictable components. But having the conversation can and should affect things in all the other planning time horizons.


November 3, 2008

The headline was a no brainer

This is how it read on The Washington Post website:

"Online social networking sites, or socnets, are changing how people get their political news."

First, and most importantly, I think everyone will agree that the term "socnet" should be banned with perpetrators subject to slow torture.

With that out of the way, the article is interesting in its underscoring of the changes in the ways people get and provide information. It's not really a new idea, and the fact that it is especially true for political information will surprise no one reading this blog. What the article made me think about was that it's one thing to believe that change is occurring, it's quite another to be doing something about it — what are associations doing about it?

If political advocacy is a major part of your mission, do you know the quantity and quality of the involvement of people affiliated with your organization in social media? Are they pushing forward ideas that synch with your organization? How are you training members to get involved in these areas?

If you think social media is just a bunch of navel-gazers — a group of people all blowing hot air at each other — I tend to agree with you to a point. I think it's probably ok if you can't answer the above questions right now. However, I do think the time for ignoring it is past. The circle of people who are engaging in these online communities has grown too large, and the circle who read without engaging is also larger still. The 2000 presidential election was dominated online by The Drudge Report. In 2004, Dean's fundraising and major media (perhaps most notably ABC's The Note) were the major signs that political news and ideas were traveling differently than before. In 2008, it's too numerous to count in both large and small ways. The next page is already beginning to turn; you need to make sure your organization has something to say about what is written on it.

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