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December 31, 2008

Track Speakers & Board Members

Do you have a keynote speaker or board member flying in the day of the event? If you need to know their flight status in order to gauge whether the situation reaches 'code red delays,' you can easily track flights using several tools:

http://flightaware.com/ - this site shows live flight activity on a map

http://flightview.com/ allows you to track information via your mobile device

If you don't have easy access to a computer screen (or blackberry/IPhone), send a text message to either Google (466453) or 4INFO (44636) with the airline and flight number to get the status texted back to you immediately.

Another benefit is an unlimited amount of staff can subscribe to flight status tracking so that people aren't dependant on one individual receiving updates from the speaker/board member.

Safe travels!


December 29, 2008

Cheap, Easy, Effective: A Different Kind of Education Tool

The Ethics Resource Center has a cool twist on the usual e-update to stakeholders: a regular series of e-mailed PowerPoint charts or graphics on specific topics titled EthicsStat.

This week’s subject is on “Global Reporting” and shares data in an easy-to-absorb color chart on reported employee misconduct in various countries, urging leaders to “keep their fingers on the global pulses of their organizations.”

Considering that many people learn best through visual representations of data rather than straight narrative, this appears to be a smart, unique approach that would work well for many organizations that regularly share research or trends info with stakeholders.

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Stuff That in Your Stocking—Generating Buzz Via “Naughty and Nice” Lists

Whatever your politics, I got a kick out of the 2008 Alliance for Justice Naughty and Nice list compiled from citizen-generated nominations to the list. What a light-hearted, graphic way to review the year’s golden and tarnished moments, and tie them both to the holidays and to the serious work of the nonprofit’s mission. The project also inspired lots of engagement from supporters--and it was sent to me three times by colleagues in various locales who found it amusing.

“We were swamped with your creative and thoughtful responses,” notes the staff in its introduction. “You lauded or loathed elected officials, progressive leaders, appointed judges, oil companies, champions of the 2008 campaign, and even Hollywood stars.” Hard to resist taking a peek, isn't it?

Lesson? Gift your organization with some good buzz by cleverly leveraging the holiday season to create content worth covering.


December 19, 2008

Green Your Holidays, Urges American Chemical Society

The American Chemical Society (ACS) and ACS Green Chemistry Institute are encouraging consumers to “make your holidays more environmentally friendly” and “nudge society a little further toward sustainability” by reducing “your own personal carbon footprint.”

The world’s largest scientific society shares tips around the following:

(1) Recycling (forget new--recycle old paper and ribbons; use local Christmas tree-to-mulch programs after the holidays)

(2) Reusing (find creative wrapping materials such as newspapers and children’s artwork instead of new paper; consider purchasing a live Christmas tree that can be planted later)

(3) Repurposing (old shopping bags = new gift bags; think “regifting”)

(4) Rethinking (buy organic, local foods and gifts to avoid energy consumption associated with shipping; embrace e-cards; don’t leave holiday lights on all night)

I can add a few others:

- Consider upgrading your holiday lights to the new LED lights, which save up to 80%-90% energy and last many years longer than those old strings. Take advantage of after-Christmas sales if your budget can’t handle the purchase right now.

- Talk to your friends about skipping the usual $10-15 gift exchanges and instead give to a charity in the person’s name or as a larger “in honor of our friends” donation. I know one friendship circle that made a trip to Toys R Us together to shop for children in need instead of for each other. It was fun and led to stories about the toys and games that meant the most to each of the friends when they were young.

- Rethink teachers’ gifts. This region, like many others, is out of control when it comes to teachers’ gifts. My mother was a teacher for years, and she used to lament the money wasted on ornaments and useless do-hickies that she received each year when all she really wanted was a nice note of thanks. So this year, after taking a deep breath, my husband and I decided that instead of giving $10 gifts to each of our children’s nine teachers, we would donate in all of their honor to the Central Asia Institute to send several poor Afghan girls to school for a year (Isn’t that why teachers go into the field anyway? Because they want to help children become successful and prosper? Isn’t that better than a cup or two of coffee at Starbucks?). We did the same with our work colleagues, supplementing with a few baked items as well.

There are so many other ideas. Anyone else want to share?

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December 18, 2008

Association Me

Here's a visualization of my 1000+ Facebook contacts (FYI, the yellow grouping in the top right are web2.0-wise association pros like Ben Martin, Jeff De Cagna, Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, etc):

[click image for larger version]

The image was created using a Facebook plug-in called TouchGraph. It's main role is to browse photos among friends, but it also have this nifty connection mapping tool, which they summarize the function as "The graph shows you your friends, the networks they belong to, and the social cliques they are part of. See who is central to a particular group and which friends are connectors between two groups."

Admittedly, I'm still reflecting on what this means in the larger context of associations/membership, when Facebook enables me to maintain my own "personal association".

No doubt, those reflections will play into the "Is Membership Dead…or Not?" session I'm co-hosting with Lori Gusdorf, CAE, at the Great Ideas Conference in February. Big surprise: I'll be taking the "yes, it's dead" position in the debate.

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Impact Versus Overhead: Charity Navigator Concedes the Question

Charity Navigator, one of the largest, most influential Web sites that evaluate nonprofits, has announced that it is developing a process by which it will rate the “outcome measurement” of a nonprofit, as well as its financial and efficiency status, the latter of which has caused controversy among nonprofit leaders.

President & CEO Ken Berger, in his December 8 message, wrote, “I believe this is a significant turning point in the ongoing development and improvement of our rating system. Once we add outcome measurement to our tool, we will be able to give you a good overall picture of not just the financial efficiency and capacity, but also a sense of the end results of the good works of the charities you care about.”

Berger doesn’t have a date yet for when the new measurement will be ready, but I suspect nonprofit leaders will be watching carefully, since many have complained that simply looking at the ratio of administrative overhead to program expenditures is misleading, that the bottom line should be whether the group is effective at accomplishing its mission or not.

Granted, measuring social outcome, for instance, can be very difficult, but groups such as Kaboom and Share Our Strength have found ways to do so and/or are piloting new types of gathering “metrics with meaning.”

The news should also cheer many small nonprofits, some of which carry considerable debt that looks grim on paper but remains manageable while the organization expands or responds to various crises in their mission efforts. Examining impact helps these organizations compete better among the ratings systems for diminishing donor dollars.

This move by Charity Navigator may finally be an acknowlegement that assisting donors in their quest to connect with organizations of true positive impact versus just organizations with low overhead is what so many people want most.

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December 15, 2008

Get One New Idea Going

If you’ve been following this series religiously (you have, haven’t you?) you’ve wrapped up the 110th, prepared your team, helped your advocates and started preparing for a tough budget environment. All that remains is to use this downtime to get one new idea going. Here are some options to consider:

Isn’t it Time for a Blog?: You’re reading this one, right? A blog can be a great way to provide up-to-the-minute advocacy information to that core group of people that really care about your issues. This is a great time to set something up: just in time for the new Congress.

Explore Webinars: Effective advocates always need more training. Your organization can meet that need without travel costs and expense through online webinars and audio conferences. You can use free resources like Yugma or Free Conference Call to get started.

Set up an Online Class: Many organizations are enhancing their online learning options through an online class. Look at sites like Moodle.org for free and low-cost platforms to provide this type of service. Or, you can create a simple HTML course to be made available through your website.

Social Media: Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube, there are literally hundreds of new ways to interact with your advocates – and for them to interact with Congress. Use the next couple months to pick one of these sites to explore more thoroughly. At a minimum, you’ll learn more about how citizens across the country are already using these tools to talk about your issues. Shouldn’t you be part of that conversation?

If the thought of exploring these web 2.0 tools has you overwhelmed and you aren’t sure where to begin, just drop an e-mail to webtools@advocacyguru.com and an autoresponder will send you an article with a host of free and low-cost online sites to explore. Oh, yeah, and auto-responders. That’s another one to look in to!

If you’ve followed all the steps outlined in this series of posts, you’ll be better prepared than most for the 111th Congress. Happy advocating!


December 12, 2008

Administrative business: Do you subscribe?

This is just a quick post for the wonderful people who subscribe to Acronym's RSS feed and/or comments feed. Like many organizations, we're doing our best to keep good data on Acronym's readership, and one way we're doing that is by using Feedburner with our RSS feeds.

If you've already subscribed to our RSS feeds, would you mind taking a quick minute to resubscribe through the following links? Main feed, Comments feed We appreciate you taking the time to help us with this.

(And if you don't subscribe to Acronym, we'd love it if you did!)


December 11, 2008

Prepare for a Tough Budget Environment

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that enormous deficits and declining tax revenues lead to difficult times maintaining funding for existing programs, much less funding new priorities. Prepare for this tough environment through the following activities:

Learn the Rules of the Game: A range of online resources offer insights into the budget process. If you’re worried that this might be a really dull way to spend a couple hours, remember that those who know the rules of the game are far more likely to be successful. Take a minute to look at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ Overview of budget process or the House Rules Committee Overview materials to ensure that you know what should happen when – and how to take best advantage of the process.

Don’t Ignore the Agencies!: Many advocacy organizations focus on the Congressional process for managing the budget, but the numbers and priorities are initially established at the agency level. Take a minute to review the OMB website to learn more about what happens with the agencies.

Run the Numbers: A site like USA Spending or OMB Watch’s Fed Spending can help you figure out how your policy priorities relate to the rest of the federal budget. You can even compare your piece of the budget pie to others at the National Priorities Project site. This information can be invaluable in making arguments as to why your organization’s priorities should continue to be supported.

Got the budget figured out? Great! The last installment of this series will look at a few fun and interactive ways to get advocates engaged in early 2009 and beyond!


December 9, 2008

The Dog Ate My Board Report!

I believe that most board members intend to keep their commitments, but what sounds like a simple task while seated at board table becomes a monumental challenge when real life intervenes. This is also true for association management company executives. The difference is that we have to keep our commitments to our clients or we run the risk of losing a contract.

I have learned good minutes are the key to action and accountability. The worst boards are the ones where the elected secretary does the minutes – late and sketchy. People are confused after the board meeting about what they are supposed to do and when.

There is a simple cure! If possible, offer to take the minutes as part of the service you provide – perhaps just short term to establish a format and train the secretary. Whenever the board decides somebody (board or staff) is going to do something, write it down as an action item – with the person’s name attached. If a completion date is not mentioned, ask the board when it is due (for the minutes). If there is discussion without action, I recommend asking the board if there an action item you should be recording.

Number each action item and make them really stand out in the minutes. I indent them and make them in bold! Then at the end of the minutes, on a separate sheet, I cut and paste all of the action items into a list.

The minutes ideally should go out shortly after the meeting, especially if there are a number of action items. This jogs the memory and gives time for action.

At the start of each board meeting, after the minutes and financials, I have my client boards review the list of action items. Most people, knowing that they are going to have to report to the board, come prepared and on-time. Why? Because they don’t want to have a “the dog ate my homework moment.”

One of our client boards includes an action item completion ratio as part of their dashboard indicators report. When the action items list is reviewed at each meeting, the ratio is given. BTW—Staff actions also go on the list, so we are as accountable as they are.

This strategy, though time-consuming and sometimes ego-bruising, is really just a way to change organizational culture. After several board meetings of 100% accountability, boards begin to fall into line. Board members who are “all talk and no action” sometimes resign (and is that really such a bad thing?).

We are all little kids who don’t want to do our homework if nobody cares whether we did it or not. If it is important enough to list as an action item, it is important enough to ask whether it got done or not.

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December 8, 2008

Stopping the Silo Effect

In every association I have worked at, departmental structure determined who you met and worked with on a daily basis: for example, the marketing team held meetings together, meeting services worked on their project plans, etc. And even though departmental representatives met during Senior Team meetings, this organizational structure created silos and hindered interdepartmental collaboration. Being a member of the chapters’ team, I ran into this problem frequently since my volunteers worked with many of the departments. Currently, my team works with the Presidents while other teams work with committee chairs – my team doesn’t have communication with the chairs and vice- versa. I’ve learned that there’s nothing worse than having your volunteers know about a staff or board decision before you do.

Recently, I’ve tried to envision how the silos can be minimized so that the volunteers and chapter team works at its optimum level. I’ve met with department leads for chapters in order to obtain more information on how they do their jobs. This information will then be compared with other associations which ultimately will be included in an analysis of our association’s approach to chapter management. I will share this information with the other teams’ leads and have discussions on how our teams can work together. Afterwards, I hope to hold quarterly meetings with key staff to discuss progress made and opportunities for further engagement. I’m undecided on social activities with the group, as this may seem juvenile. I’m interested to see how well this approach works, as it has the possibility of rapidly improving our program.

How has your association dealt with silos?

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Help Your Advocates Help Themselves

In earlier posts I outlined two key strategies for preparing for the 111th Congress, specifically closing the books on the 110th (to the extent possible) and preparing the team. This posting provides a list of a couple “quick and easy” things advocates can do in the next couple months to build and strengthen relationships with new and returning members. They are:

Fill out a Legislative Profile: Information is power, and advocates can enhance their knowledge of elected officials by filling out a Legislator Profile form. By filling out this document, they’ll learn important things about the legislator, including his or her policy priorities and previous position on the policy issues that matter to your organization.

Send an Introductory Letter: Now is a great time to provide advocates with a template “introduction” letter they can use to send to new and returning members. Sure, the letter itself may get lost in the shuffle of an elected official’s office, but it does offer a great opportunity to engage advocates. Once they agree to send the letter, encourage them to follow-up with a phone call or in-district meeting.

Review Online Resources: It’s not always clear how the priorities of a new Administration or Congress will impact the policy issues your members care most about. Help them get up-to-speed with resources like Congress.org (where they can read about new members) or the CNN politics page. These resources will help them become better informed advocates, while making your life easier as well.

Once you’ve helped your advocates with a few activities, it’s time to think about ways to prepare yourself for a tough budget environment, the topic of the next post.


December 5, 2008

A different kind of bookkeeping

We’ve been talking a lot about the big picture of volunteer management. But it’s important to remember the details—and the individual volunteers—too.

We should take the time to sit down and map out all the people involved in running our associations. How long have they been around? Who have they recruited to join them in the leadership group? Are people starting to burn out because no one’s around to shoulder part of the load? Is leadership capacity slowly dwindling and dragging down the organization?

Someone just resigned—does the president know what to do or does she just start performing that function herself? A new member writes an email wanting to get involved—how do you answer?

So often, we focus so singlemindedly on our programs and technical issues that we forget what I call “people bookkeeping.” It’s a little more qualitative, but in the long run, no less important than keeping the finances in order. Taking time to think through what will make volunteers happy and productively engaged has a tremendous ROI, even if that means scaling back other programs or initiatives for a time.

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Talking to volunteers about volunteer management

In an earlier post, Peggy talked about how c-sixes are different from c-threes when it comes to the issue of volunteer management. C-threes are much more apt to have a thought-out process for volunteer management, and to discuss volunteer management explicitly among staff and leadership. C-sixes are less likely to have a plan, even though trade and professional groups are equally dependent on the work products of members donating their time. I’ve looked at a lot of leadership training programs in my tenure as a chapter relations person and the issue is generally in the background, left for people to infer.

This is a complicated issue: leaders don’t like to think about themselves as just “volunteers.” Although staff people see the value in this word as a term of art, people in most industries think it means something you do in a soup kitchen—not in a boardroom. So, for political reasons staff might beat around the bush as a shortcut for the education and persuasion they’d have to do otherwise.

You also have to sell volunteer leaders on the importance of leadership development. As leadership progresses through the ranks, they may forget their days when they were lower down on the totem pole. They forget to put themselves in the shoes of the newer leaders. A conscientious staff can help with this problem, but with limited success unless the volunteer leadership truly gets it.

Another problem is the audience. In a national or other parent organization’s efforts to develop its leaders, we’re training the trainer—training volunteers who will then train other volunteers at the component or local level. Sometimes when preparing leadership development programs, we forget that at headquarters we’re teaching our folks to go out and lead others, not necessarily how to do everything themselves. Staff, committees, leadership and so forth sometimes make a hash out of their chance to communicate with this group by coming at leaders with information that is clearly out of context for their interlocutors.

My take is that we should be explicitly talking about volunteer management to our leaders and future leaders. We should work through the challenges and figure out how to meet them and still get the job done. We should contextualize our training to help volunteer leaders help other volunteers. (Some principles can be found here in the seminal article by yours truly.)

How does your organization handle this? If you are a national organization, are you in a position to help volunteers help other volunteers? If so, how? Let me know in the comments, I’m interested …

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December 4, 2008

Preparing Your Team

In my first post in this series on preparing for the 111th Congress, I talked about clearing the decks from the 110th (OK, granted: it seems like the 110th Congress will NEVER END!). Nevertheless, try to arrange some semblance of order for the last Congress. Once you do, you’ll be ready to prepare your team for next year. What does that involve? I’m glad you asked:

Review Priorities: The next Congress will see a host of new faces, not to mention a new administration. At the same time, a difficult economic situation will limit the investments that can be made in new or even existing programs. Now is a great time to review that legislative agenda to see what might be possible – and what may be more difficult to achieve.

Develop a Calendar: One great way to get organized for 2009 is to develop a calendar of advocacy activities. Download a sample / template here (note that the dates on the calendar are for a previous year and will need to be changed for 2009).

Identify the “Power Advocates”: Take a look at your database to identify anyone who advocated frequently (or at all) during the year. These will be the individuals you’ll want to cultivate early in 2009.

Train, Train, Train: Use the “advocacy doldrums” of November and December to train advocates through audio conference calls and webinars. Now is a great time to set up a “Preparing for the 111th Congress” session designed to help advocates understand the impact of the elections on your policy concerns – and what they can do to position the organization for success in 2009.

In the next posting, we’ll take a look at quick and easy tasks to assign advocates during the next couple months to help them strengthen their relationships with new and returning members.


December 2, 2008

Resources for Thriving in a Down Economy

Techsoup.org has a list of nine helpful articles and sites to help nonprofit leaders weather the down economy. Registration (free) is required at some of them.


December 1, 2008

Preparing for the 111th Congress

Welcome to the first in a series of five posts outlining strategies for preparing for the 111th Congress. Believe it or not, the elections are finally over and we’ll have a new Congress and a new Administration in 2009. Regardless of whether your party was wildly successful or not so much, it’s important for advocate leaders to be fully prepared with their grassroots, grasstops and coalition building efforts as early as possible.

Why are the grassroots so important this time around? Well, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that “Joe the Plumber” is in and “special interests” are out in Washington, DC these days. Only those organizations that have effectively incorporated their own “Joes” (i.e., citizen advocates) into their government relations plan will have their message heard and even perhaps acted on in this environment.

That’s why this series of posts is designed to help you hit the grassroots advocacy ground running in January 2009. We’ll look at five different strategies for preparing the network, starting with our first strategy, which is to wrap-up the 110th Congress. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

Advocate leaders should take some time now to close the books on the 110th Congress. Take a moment to undertake the following three activities:

- Clean out and update your database list: Review e-mail addresses, advocate address information, affiliation information and grasstops contacts and connections to be sure that you have the right advocates communicating with the right elected officials. Remember that it’s better to have fewer active advocates in your database than thousands of individuals who aren’t interested in policy debates – or worse, aren’t receiving your communications! Now is the perfect time to update and clean out.

- Update your legislative agenda/advocacy materials online: When was the last time you took a really good look at all the materials available on your site? Even if you update information regularly, much of the older information is often left on the site for search engines to find. For many organizations, the advocacy section of the website is the first impression a potential advocate will see. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

- Create a list of successes from the 110th: Most organizations will want to put together a legislative summary outlining the work of the previous Congress. Be sure to include in that summary a clear section highlighting successes – and be sure to define success as broadly as possible! While an ultimate success may be passage of a particular piece of legislation, incremental accomplishments such as increasing the numbers of cosponsors for legislation, expanding the reach of the grassroots network or even getting a bill to the hearing stage should be celebrated. Given the length of time it takes to move legislation through the process, it’s important to stress when some progress (even limited progress!) is being made.

Once you’ve finished wrapping up for the 110th, you’ll be able to move on to our next strategy, Preparing Your Team.

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Welcome Stephanie Vance!

I'd like to extend an Acronym welcome to Stephanie Vance, who is joining us for the month of December to talk about how associations can prepare for the new presidential administration and the new Congress coming in January.

Stephanie is the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, Inc., and has more than 15 years of experience as both a lobbyist and a congressional aide. If you enjoy her posts here, you'll want to check out her work at the Advocacy New Approaches blog, as well as her posts last month on the Association Forum of Chicagoland's Forum Effect blog.


December Associations Now case study: Good person, bad employee

The decision to fire an employee is one of the toughest decisions a manager ever has to make. The decision becomes significantly harder when the employee in question used to do great work--but doesn't any more. The December Associations Now case study explores this dilemma from a manager's point of view.

Thanks are due to Peter Sursi, who developed a detailed and thought-provoking case study for us, and to Dale Silverman and Betsy Davis, who provided great insights in their commentaries.

What should Parvati do about the problem of Phyllis? Read the case study and commentary, and then share your thoughts here.

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