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February 27, 2009

Choose your partners wisely

It is really scary to me that the longer I am a consultant and the more involved I get with social media, the more I realize how much of what we see in our daily lives can translate into smart business practices for associations. Here is an example:

In the spirit of going green, I do as much of my banking as I can through my bank’s Online Banking System. I recently signed up for an e-bill service that would replace my paper statements with email notifications alerting me to when a bill was available so that I could review and pay it online. I thought this was a fantastic way to do things—until I didn’t receive a statement from one of my credit cards for about 3 months. Since this was a card I don’t use frequently and honestly was trying to use less, I didn’t catch the problem until I went online to check something else and saw that I was now 2 months delinquent and had late payment fees as well as interest charges piling up.

I immediately called the credit card company. They informed me that they had not made a mistake; their job was just to make sure that the e-bill partner had received the bill. If I then didn’t receive it, that wasn’t their fault. They refused to waive any fees and told me to call the e-bill company.

My next step was to call the bank where I originally signed up for the e-bill service. They told me that they understood the problem but that they needed to conference me in with their e-bill provider. Once we had the e-bill partner on the phone, they told us that they had not received a bill from the credit card company in 3 months. We then tried to conference the credit card company in as well, but they continued to be adamant that they did not do anything wrong and literally hung up on all of us.

The good news is that the bank and their e-bill provider agreed to jointly reimburse me for the charges. The bad news is that it took me almost 90 minutes and quite a bit of frustration to get there.

All this could have been prevented if my bank and their e-bill provider had predicted the credit card company’s reaction to such a problem and had more detailed procedures in place to make sure something like this did not happen. The bank and the e-bill provider handled it very well, but the situation could have been avoided if the bank had chosen their partners a little more wisely.

Partnerships are a great way for associations to extend their offerings and serve their members in a cost- and time-effective way. But we must all perform due diligence and set up as many procedures as we can so that situations like the one above do not happen to our members. Members want to know that they are getting good service and do not want, or need, to see “behind the curtain.” It is our job as association professionals to make sure they experience good (and seamless) service when working with us and with our partner organizations.

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Carpooling to Your Meetings?

The Green Convene, a coalition of 60 businesses and organizations in the Louisville, Kentucky, area, set up a tool on its Web site that allowed meeting attendees to find others interested in carpooling to the event. (The tool was taken down following the event.) The Green Convene also provided attendees with a link to another site that maps the most efficient routes for drivers to get to the meeting.

Event planners are finding that member interest in carpooling to events may be on the rise, as associations seek ways to cut costs while still conducting core business. Carpooling also can boost camaraderie.

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February 26, 2009

Post-game analysis, Great Ideas style

Conversation about Great Ideas is continuing online:

David Gammel wants to empower you to make changes to your website! In a recent post on the High Context blog, he shares his Great Ideas slides about how to do just that.

Jeff Cobb of the Mission to Learn blog was inspired by Dan Roam's presentation at Great Ideas (I particularly like the drawing Jeff shares).

At the face2face blog, Sue Pelletier continues the conversation about Twitter at Great Ideas.

More Great Ideas videos are now available online, including Patti Digh's general session presentation, as well as Bob Carr of SHRM talking about meeting strategies in a down economy, Howard Horowitz of the American College of Healthcare Executives on taking education programs online, and Carolyn Fazio of Fazio International on creating contracts with your volunteers.

Ann Oliveri has some thoughts about being human at the Zen of Associations blog, inspired by Patti Digh’s talk and other conversations she had at Great Ideas.

And last but not least, a bunch of new photos were added to the Great Ideas Flickr pool since we all returned from Miami.

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Business is booming, huh?

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Remember that famous opening line from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities?

I turn on the TV at my lunch break and the Dow is down, or when it up, it doesn’t seem to stay up!

Everybody is talking about how awful things are, but strangely in the association management company business that seems not to be the case--at least based on my experience over the last couple of months and most especially the last couple of weeks.

Seems like every few days I get another call from another struggling association looking to cut costs by going with an AMC. The reasons for their troubles are as varied as the associations, but the common denominator is, they have to reduce costs! And the word is out--association management companies can save big money.

The AMC model, of course, makes lots of sense, especially for smaller organizations. Economies of scale, reduced overhead, shared resources, and smart use of technology can make the difference between folding and flourishing.

I think that those of us who run AMCs need to brace ourselves for a sudden influx of new clients--especially if the economy continues to tank for an extended period. What was a slow moving trend has become a potential tidal wave. We had best be prepared!

Some AMCs will choose to say “no” to prospective new clients because they simply can’t reconfigure their operations quickly enough to take them on. Others will be highly selective, only choosing those organizations who are the best fit. Still others will take on as many clients as they can, and worry about how to service them later. I plan to be in yet another group with a flexible operational model, access to skilled contractors to add quickly to my team, and good tools for assessing compatibility between our firm and the prospective clients.

For each day that the Dow falls, some board president is looking at an income statement and saying, “We can’t go on like this!” And some task force is comparing operational models and concluding, “Maybe we should get a quote from an association management company.”

I suspect, however, that we will not be simply seeing an increase in organizations wanting full management. What I am seeing is organizations that want to outsource some of their functions, while maintaining some staff and/or having volunteers take on more jobs.

The wise AMC will work closely with the board to define staff, board, volunteer and AMC responsibilities. The new economy will make “strange bedfellows.” The key to sanity has to be clearly defined roles and responsibilities and strict accountability of all parties.

We also must understand that the clients we get in times like these may be in an apparent death spiral. Some we can save, and some simply can’t be saved because they have become irrelevant. In my experience, organizations that are really desperate start to clutch at straws. They have a new idea a minute and want staff to implement each of them--at no additional fee, of course.

For an AMC, scope creep is the enemy of profitability. We are doing ourselves and our clients no favors when we spend our time in a reactive mode. In order to really help our struggling clients we must focus their energy and our energy on the things that really can make a difference to the client's bottom line.

While AMCs may not suffer the usual ravages of a failing economy, we have our own unique set of challenges. The test will be how we react, both as individual firms and as an industry.

(Note: This post was corrected thanks to a commenter's sharp eye. Thank you!)

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February 25, 2009

Are you taking advantage of the passion of your members?

I am the assistant coach of my son’s 3rd grade basketball team. We are very lucky as we have a good group of boys that take the game seriously. As coaches we try to make sure they have fun, learn and follow the rules while doing so. We hold the boys to a very high standard and have a lot of passion for the game of basketball, the team and working with the boys as individuals.

Recently my passion showed when we were in a tight game and the refs were not exactly calling a good game. I questioned a call from one of the officials and instead of using my passion to their advantage the scorekeeper got an attitude, got up in my face, told me how wrong I was for questioning a call, told me how that the kids were only in 3rd grade so it really doesn’t matter, etc, etc. Instead of telling me calmly how he understood that I had a certain level of passion for the game and expectations for everyone involved and talking to me about ways to use that passion to help everyone involved he confronted an already frustrated and passionate individual and made things worse.

This situation got me thinking—do we, as association professionals, do this to our most passionate members? Do our attitudes and frustrations and processes cause us to want to shut people down because what they are expressing is not exactly what we want to hear or see? Or do we turn things around and use our members’ passion to our advantage?

What would have happened if the scorekeeper had told me that he understood why I was frustrated and suggested that I calmly talk to the refs during a timeout or after the game? What if he calmly told me that if I wanted to address the rules and the referees I could volunteer to serve as a member of some committee that plays that role? Wouldn’t that have been a better use of his energy and lead to better things for me, him and the organization as a whole?

I realize that we all have emotions and some times we do get carried away. Shouldn’t we as association professionals who ultimately succeed or fail based on the way we serve and treat members understand that we do have lots of passionate members that need us to help them focus that passion in a positive way? Are we doing that? Based on my experiences with some organizations and when I was working at an association myself, I am not really sure.

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It's not an idea, but it sure is a great line

This from Matt DeMarco from the American Farm Bureau Federation at his session on engaging volunteers:

When someone asks you to volunteer, "what's the politically correct way to say 'no'?"

Pause.

"I don't have time."

Love that line, by far my favorite of the conference.

And there was an idea attached to it—a really good one. You're getting the politically correct version of "no" because the ask isn't right. You need to engage the prospective volunteer in conversation, ascertain if they are most likely to volunteer because they want:

-to make a difference
-personal or professional development
-social opportunities

From there, tailor the ask to the desire.

See the handouts from the presentation for the next month.

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Another way of looking at Great Ideas

Wordle: Great Ideas

MariAnne Woehrle (@agnewfarms) created this Wordle based on the Great Ideas Twitter stream, and kindly gave me permission to post it here. Click on it to see it in better detail.

It's an interesting way of zeroing in on the central issues discussed over Twitter during the conference. I really like that "members" jumps clearly to the forefront ... what do you think?

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Post-Great Ideas quick clicks

- Steve Drake at Association Voices shares his impressions of Great Ideas.

- Ann Oliveri looks at Great Ideas as an ideas ecosystem.

- The Great Ideas Twitter stream hosted a lot of interesting feedback and discussion around various conference sessions; new ideas have been posted since the conference ended, so it's worth checking out again if you haven't visited recently.

- Speaking of Twitter, Cynthia D'Amour wonders what future impact Twittering will have on conferences like Great Ideas, while Ben Martin shares some tips for speakers on how to handle an audience of Twitterers. (I've also heard them called Tweeple, but that makes me imagine an audience full of Weeble people for some reason ...) And Julie Hewett shares some thoughts on her experience following the conference via Twitter.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfishing blog saw some themes emerging over the course of the conference.

- Peggy Hoffman has an update on the volunteerism unsession at Great Ideas.

- On a related note, Dave Sabol's post for the unsession attracted some great discussion in comments, which lead Dave to post a follow-up with his thoughts on what it means to volunteer.

- Tony Rossell has some analysis of the ASAE & The Center economic impact study that was presented at Great Ideas.

- For anyone who was interested in the "Success From Failure" session at the conference, some good thoughts on how to learn from organizational failures (and successes) are available in this article on the Army's After Action Reports (via The Bamboo Project).

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Blogging About Great Ideas Was a Great Idea

I don't know which was worse yesterday: having a truly a fabulous 3-day exchange of great ideas, positive energy and optimism end, or being forced to leave the sun and palm trees and return to frigid DC. But then again, it was of course great to be back home with my husband and kids, and armed with a bunch of great ideas to explore and share.

I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to blog for Acronym throughout the conference. Not only was it nice to be able to add to Lisa and the other conference bloggers’ perspectives, knowing I had to blog about my impressions really enhanced the value of the meeting for me. As I sat in sessions, I had to do more than just listen and take notes; I had to be thinking of how I could weave the information presented into blog posts that were (hopefully) worth reading and would add value to both attendees and people who weren’t able to attend in person.

If my task had been just to take notes and write a report about the information presented, it would have been all about summing up the facts logically and in a set format—the equivalent of a book report. I would have been focused on making sure I got every word down correctly and not missing any detail. But blogging is about more than just presenting facts; it’s about taking information or experiences and looking at them from a different angle. It’s about weaving facts and personal opinions into something (hopefully) worth a person’s reading time. After all, the handouts and session recordings are already available; the posts on Acronym need to offer something more than just a recap of what’s already available.

I have to say one of my biggest takeaways from the conference was realizing that if you experience things as if you have to blog about them, it’s a lot more interesting and enriching than just listening, taking notes as if for a test, and, as also with tests, probably forgetting most of it as soon as you close your notebook.

One of my favorite sessions was “What Do You Think? Are You a Genius?” Not only was Nancy Reisz a captivating presenter, but the ideas she presented relate directly to what I’m trying to say here. She talked about avoiding “I have to…” “I can’t….” and “I shouldn’t….” thinking. She said, memorably, “Stop shoulding all over yourself.” (sound that out loud to understand the humor). Totally true with regard to not only blogging but social media as a whole.

With so many sessions about social media, one resounding sentiment was the notion of giving up control and not letting the “what it?” component keep your association from embracing new ways of engaging members. As we all hopefully learned, the reality is that, like it or not, we don’t have control so there’s no sense in worrying about it. Just as “should” and “can’t” limit your effectiveness, productivity and success, not embracing social technologies will yield the same results: stale thinking and, ultimately, member offerings that don’t meet their evolving needs and expectations.

Even if your association isn’t quite ready to embrace social technologies, how about starting to delve into them yourself if you already haven’t? If you’re not on Facebook, sign up and check it out. If you didn’t follow the #ideas09 twitterstream, take a look at it now and see how it worked and why it was valuable. Do a blog or twitter search for keywords that relate to your association and see what your members may or may not already be saying about you. And, if you don’t already have a personal blog, how about starting one? Even if nobody reads it, it will help you explore and flesh out your own great ideas.

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February 24, 2009

Nonprofits Identify $10.6 Billion “Shovel-ready” Infrastructure Projects

In addition to state and local government projects, “America’s 1.4 million private nonprofit organizations also have significant ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects that have been put on hold due to the credit crisis,” starts a survey analysis at John Hopkins University’s Center for Civil Society Studies. “Indeed, nonprofits have long faced special barriers in generating investment capital due to their nonprofit status and their inability to access the equity markets, and the current credit crisis has simply added to their woes.”

More than 1,835 organizations responded to the survey, identifying an impressive $10.6 million of “shovel-ready but stalled” infrastructure projects that they hope will move forward with recovery support from the U.S. economic stimulus package signed last week. Almost 40% of respondents acknowledged that they had delayed at least one infrastructure project due to the weak economy.

The study is a joint project of the center, Alliance for Children and Families, American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, American Association of Museums, Community Action Partnership, League of American Orchestras, Lutheran Services in America, Michigan Nonprofit Association, National Council of Nonprofits, and United Neighborhood Centers of America.

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Creativity at the farm bureau: Getting volunteers engaged

The folks at the American Farm Bureau Federation had a problem. Their membership has grown and grown and grown—every year for 40-some years. Their problem obviously wasn’t about getting members, it was about volunteers at the local level not being engaged.

To combat the problem, as Matt DeMarco and Margaret Wolff from the federation explained in their Great Ideas learning lab, they developed a series of training sessions, with a board game (Make It Magnetic: How to Attract and Keep Unbeatable Volunteers) as both ice breaker and educational development. The board game is rigged, of course, and has cards with scenarios, but all the scenarios are bad and no one can make any progress. Here a few of my favorite scenario cards from the game:

When you show up to volunteer at the annual meeting, someone hands you a stack of envelopes to stuff and says, “You should be able to handle this. It’s a real no-brainer.” Go back to start.

Your shoes get ruined because at the last minute you are asked to give tours of the dairy barn instead of working in the refreshment stand. Lose a turn.

At your first meeting, one of the board members leans over to you and says, “Being a Farm Bureau volunteer is easy work. All you have to do is show up and sit through the meeting. Then you get free cookies and coffee.” Go back 1 space.

What a joke! Every year we talk about new ideas for the annual meeting. But when it comes time to plan, we do the same thing, right down to the green beans and chocolate cake. Go back 2 spaces.

No one talks during the board meetings. They wait until they get to the parking lot, then trash the president behind his back. Go back 2 spaces.

(Don't worry there's a different set of cards to play with for the end of the training. A sample: "Your child comes home from school with a Farm Facts booklet donated by the county Farm Bureau.")

A snapshot of the game:

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Great Ideas day 3 in photos

We all enjoyed our last day in the warm Miami weather at Great Ideas. Here's a few snapshots from the Great Ideas Flickr pool:

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Getting started in the morning takes fuel.

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General session speaker Patti Digh.

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Attendees at the general session.

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Patti Digh's presentation notes, back-of-the-napkin style.

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One of the many panels of experts who presented at Great Ideas.

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Attendees at an Idea Lab.

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Attendees at a CEO Bootcamp session.

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The group's last lunch together.

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A final look at Miami.

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February 23, 2009

Great Ideas Day 2 - A TRUE Share Point

Day 2 of Great Ideas had a great deal to live up to…and certainly did. Today I spent some time going to sessions to further my own development. Attending the “I Think I Know What I Think You Said” with Paul Endress completely opened my eyes. He started off with a true stumper. “The result of the communication is the responsibility of the communicator”. So many times we get frustrated with people for not understanding how something we said could be misinterpreted without ignoring the best way to divulge the information to people who have different representational systems: auditory, visual, etc. If we can appeal to their systems we can build rapport giving us an even further communication advantage.

We learned ways our unconscious mind is our most important ally in communication. In doing an exercise where we tried to mirror a partner when speaking with them it came incredibly more naturally than you would think. It seems our mind takes control and attempts to make communication situations even easier for us.

Then of course “ran” to the session called “The Value of Associations in Challenging Economic Times” led by Monica Dignam, anxious to study the results of ASAE’s survey of 97 associations and how they are dealing with the difficult economic times. Now there was some bad news as well as some good news. It seems a number of organizations membership is doing ok during the time, despite everyone’s initial thought that it would be hurting. Doing a quick survey of the room you could tell the main concern with everyone is conference attendance with travel budgets being slashed or frozen. However, another fact that rose to the forefront was that one of the most valuable things members feel the organizations provide is networking and the one place we should all try to market are the networking opportunities our meetings provide. This year might require a different approach to our marketing campaigns in the past; it’s now time for us to put in black and white the “take aways” from the conference and not so much the social events. It looks as though ASAE will be doing the study again in June, so it will be interesting to see how the results differ.

The session took an interesting turn once the results were reviewed the audience began bring forth their own ideas. We learned ways groups are attacking marketing pushing education and not the parties, how they are working with hotels to avoid attrition offering scholarships for registration getting them into the contracted hotels to take up those rooms. This was truly an exchange of ideas session and looking around the room hearing the concerns of fellow association execs it’s obvious we can all learn A LOT from each other and these sessions have provided a great face-to-face "share point".

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A great close to a great conference

What would you do if you only have 37 more days?? I am sure most of us will be mentioning this morning's closing speaker, Patty Digh. Her talk was very personal and I was impressed with the emotional and intellectual response I had to her presentation. It was personal in the fact that I think, from observation, that it impacted each of us at a level much deeper than just our profession. She spoke about being able to live each day to the fullest and do those things that are a value to you. Don't do something because of fame you may receive or the accolades....do it because it means something to you. Be selfish but selfless. Realize that you are part of a larger community and that what you do impacts that community as much as that community impacts you. The greatest idea is to take a step back and look at the big picture.

If you were unable to attend the meeting and are looking for a great takeaway, I do suggest looking at a copy of her book Life is a Verb. If anything, the pictures that are included will have a small impact on you and your great perspective.

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Unsession ideas

There's an "unsession" on vibrant volunteerism in associations going on throughout Great Ideas (brought to us by the Component Relations Council). The session has included both face to face conversation in the unsession area and "virtual" discussion via flipchart. The flipcharts are set up around the area with questions at the top; attendees can leave their answers whenever they'd like.

Reading over the flipcharts, there's some interesting thoughts being shared. (For those of you who aren't here, leave a comment with answers of your own to these questions!)

In one word, list your favorite volunteer management tool.

- Telephone
- Email
- Twitter
- Conversation
- Trust/truth
- Listen
- Authentic appreciation and a hug [hey, that's not one word!]

Why do you volunteer?

- Fun
- Love
- Purpose
- Loyalty
- Improving my personal brand
- Network
- Give back

What's the most difficult volunteer skill to teach?

- Set priorities
- Delegation
- Group play
- Letting go
- Time management
- Conflict resoltion
- Culture of inquiry
- Innovation
- Doing rather than thinking
- Giving up ownership

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Living change

Patti Digh, author of Life Is a Verb, spoke to a packed and emotional room at Great Ideas this morning--her talk moved a lot of people (myself included). Reading over my notes, it's hard to pick one central point to highlight.

One comment of Patti's that really spoke to me personally was this: "We complain about the culture we're in as if we're only visitors here--but we create the culture!" It's easy to complain to colleagues about things you can't do because "our culture," "the board," or "the higher-ups" won't allow it. But, Patti argued, your choices are part of what keeps that culture stuck in that same mode.

Can you go to work tomorrow morning and announce to everyone that "We're going to be completely different from now on!" and have it magically happen? Probably not. But you can make choices that lead to the culture you want rather than the culture you have. If you make those choices consistently and are committed to the change you want to make, you'll inspire others. And once others are making choices that reinforce yours ... powerful change can happen.

Admittedly, that sounds easier than it really is; making choices that go against your organization's existing culture, and making those choices consistently over time, is hard. But it can be done. It's been done. You could do it too.

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Great Ideas day two in photos

Here are just a few of the images posted yesterday to the Great Idea Flickr pool:

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Breakfast at the Doral.

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Attendees at Cooking Up Leadership, a special program hosted by Rhea Blanken.

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Today's general session speaker, Patti Digh, with Scott Steen, CEO of the American Ceramic Society.

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A volunteer idea shared back-of-the-napkin style.

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The evening reception, poolside.

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February 22, 2009

Quick clicks from Great Ideas

Great Ideas information and commentary is popping up all over:

- For those of you who missed Dan Roam's general session talk yesterday, video is available online.

- The Great Ideas Twitterati have taken some great notes and raised some equally great questions today. To read what they've posted, visit this Twitter search page or this Twitterfountain created by Maddie Grant.

- Some additional bloggers have posted in response to the volunteerism questions raised for Great Ideas, including Bob Wolfe, Maggie McGary, and Dave Sabol.

- Cynthia D'Amour has some constructive criticism about the Great Ideas handouts.

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Member Engagement

Today I attended a session on “Building Loyalty: A Life Cycle Engagement Plan”. I got to thinking about my association’s membership………When a member calls to end membership, my first thought is “how engaged were they with the association?” In order to answer that, you need to have a way to measure membership engagement. How do you record this information? At NACUBO, our database maintains a pretty accurate record of purchases and participation. Quarterly, our director of membership and marketing ranks members based on their engagement with the association. There are 5 levels to the ranking. We know that our “gold” members are highly involved with the association and most likely will renew. The “tin” members have not been engaged at all and tend to be business partner members or smaller institutions that have a very limited budget.

At my previous association, we had noticed that members were more likely to let their membership lapse in the first to third year of membership. This point was emphasized by the content leaders today in the session I attended on “Building Loyalty: A Life Cycle Engagement Plan”. The content leaders reiterated the necessity of a 1st year of membership engagement plan. As association professionals, I think that we are each responsible for increasing our member‘s engagement. It isn’t simply the “job” of the membership staff. As a team, we can all effectively communicate the value of association membership and the impact it can have on particular industries as a whole. This session gave me a lot of ideas to bring back to my association, especially as our renewal period quickly approaches.

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Great Ideas...Great Start

The first day of Ideas kicked off with napkins and learning where the start of most great ideas come from…on the back of cocktail napkins and this is true. For example the Opening Session showed that this is how Southwest Airlines got its start just a simple drawing on the back of a napkin, many great bands have written huge number one hits that started on the back of cocktail napkins, songs we know and love today. The speaker had all of us draw on a napkin with a symbol representing ourselves and the other representing “our problem”. Then within the problem shape he had us divide it between the who, what, when, where, and why of our problem. Now, I am no artist nor do I even claim to be but I was really encouraged when I thought large companies have been founded on this principle and it sort of opened my eyes to not forget the basics. The problem may not be solved on the back of a napkin but we can at least get an analytical view of the issue. Separating all of the issues surrounding the problem might be the first step to overcoming that problem. He showed the how our mind deals with each of the questions, how for the “where” our mind will locate an object and if not moving simply disregard it but then if it begins to move the “where” mindset spots the object and tells our brain how to react…is it coming at me? Is the object walking away from me? Is it moving in a threatening or friendly manner?

Then I decided to venture into the 15 strategies for Legally Hiring, Motivating, and Retaining Only the Best Employees. This session was a HUGE EYE OPENER! Just when you think your experiences are the craziest that could be out there, someone walks in and tops it immediately. We learned of people who “fudge” entire resumes and experience…even fake references with friends posing as former employers/employees. Jeffrey Pargament outlined several methods to keep your association safe from potential legal situations. Methods the interviewer should use or be trained in as well as some red flags to look for, the room held a somewhat of a group therapy vibe where if you think your problem was bad…listen to these examples an excellent session by far!

With Social Media being one of the main buzzwords at the moment and wanting to learn more about using them on a professional level since I’m well versed in how to use them on a social level I decided to attend the Social Media Lab: Leveraging the Power of Real Time Communications with Lindy Dreyer as well as the representative from ASAE & The Center Social Media content. The session mainly focused on two very specific aspects of Social Media blogging as well as “Twitter”. Lindy Dreyer the resident Twitter expert was incredibly animated to follow during the session, now knowing Twitter I had more specific concerns with a professional use of the software. We have started a Twitter feed for my association and because I use Twitter personally am suddenly in charge of the Association Tweets. I learned a great deal of things to try and things to keep in mind when using Twitter as a tool for the association. There was hesitation in my association about losing some of the branding if we had too many twitter feeds, but listening to Lindy and ASAE I think it is a GREAT idea to get the twitter pages to feed into each other, having separate ones for the larger conference and one for the association as a whole that sort of guides visitors to those pages for the most up to date information.

There was a book mentioned about Being a Purple Cow? This book sort of helps drive you or your organization to be extraordinary and with these times we all want to stand out and be extraordinary not only to our members but to our industries we service. I’m anxious to get back and start putting as much effort into these Twitter pages as I do my own. Hearing that others have had to sort of help their associations buy-in to the program was a huge relief! I truly thought I was the only one that had to convince anyone of the potential possibilities this could hold for associations.

All of this JUST from Day #1! I’ll post another tomorrow with all of the buckets of ideas I’m carrying around from today’s session. Happy Napkin Drawing, Happy Employing, and Happy Tweeting until then.

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Strategies for a rough economy

Monica Dignam, vice president of industry & market research for ASAE & The Center, presented findings from the just released: Impact Study: Beliefs, Behaviors, and Attitudes in Response to the Economy.

(See the full white paper on our new Economy Resources Online, a constantly updated new web page devoted to leading associations in a turbulent economic climate.)

Here are some of the ideas/suggestions for what associations are doing from session attendees:

- Waiving dues for a year for unemployed members.

- Expanding the “retired” member status with lower registration fees and less expensive dues to unemployed members.

- Enhancing the career services offerings, including adding mentoring opportunities, resume critiquing and commenting, and information on how to do a job search (in a profession where people may not have had to look for employment in a long time).

- Invite a group of members to a roundtable discussion to find out what issues they are having, bring in experts/economists to talk to them, and develop a white paper or other product for members.

- If attrition clauses are kicking in, use it to provide “scholarships” in the form of free housing to selected or hard-hit members. Involve chapters to help add value and possibly share cost burden.

- Rethink the annual meeting, replace big, expensive bash with low-key networking opportunities designed to get attendees talking with each other.

- Give attendees a $20 Visa giftcard instead of offering an expensive lunch or dinner.

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Are Virtual Challenges Really More Challenging?

I’m the first to admit the idea of virtual meetings kind of freaks me out. The sheer number of things that could go wrong and set members into a tizzy is almost enough to put me off it entirely: what if they aren’t computer-savvy enough to even log on? What if there’s a technical glitch that brings the event to a grinding halt? What if they aren’t able to sit in front of a computer for an entire day’s worth of sessions? A million what-ifs, all culminating in an avalanche of irate members demanding their money back.

I contemplated this stuff as I sat in yesterday’s session, Making the Transition from Onsite Conferences to Virtual Sessions. Which I arrived at 15 minutes late, by the way, because first my room wasn’t ready, then the elevator was out and I couldn’t get to the room, then I had to rush back to the main hotel where the meeting room was. Then it was hot in the room; then cold. I was following Twitter while listening to the presenter and listening to the side-conversations that were going on throughout the session.

It dawned on me that maybe the challenges of virtual meetings aren’t all that different than those of live meetings. While there are many distractions when you’re participating in a meeting from your desk at home or work, there are equally many—if different—distractions at live meetings.

Or am I just too ADHD for live meetings?

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E-learning: Do something!

I am at a Great Ideas learning lab this morning on developing e-learning programs from face-to-face programs. Lots of ideas and strategies, but one message was certainly clear:

Howard Horwitz, VP of education for the American College of Healthcare Executives, made a great comment: “When you think you are riding the curve, you may already be behind it.” It’s ok to not be on the bleeding edge, particularly if your members don’t demand it, but there is a real danger with the wait-and-see approach, and that is falling behind.

When talking about an experience at a previous position, he says, “We could have gotten product out faster. We should have looked at early adopters faster and we would have been even more successful.”

Tony Ellis, CAE, director of education for the National Association of College Stores, echoed a similar sentiment: “Do something.” He says he succumbed to the urge to want to get it right, and he studied and researched and tested. As months stretched into more than a year, he realized he just had to do something. Technology, it’s use, formats—all of it is changing really, really fast. Accept that you won’t be fully informed, decide on something that you think is right for your organization, and be flexible enough to adapt based on results and future trends.

The excellent handouts for the session will be available online for a month or so from now.

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Great Ideas day one in photos

There was a lot going on at Great Ideas yesterday! Here are some snapshots from the Great Ideas Flickr pool, just to give you an idea.

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Morning in Miami.

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Waiting for the general session to begin.

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General session speaker and Back of the Napkin author Dan Roam.

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The view from the audience, and, below, some napkin sketches from attendees:

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Dan Roam signs books following his presentation.

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Getting ready for the reception.

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In the middle of the action at the reception.

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A view of Miami's South Beach.

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February 21, 2009

Financing Your Professional Development in a Downturn Economy

As I sit in my Michigan apartment, watching inches upon inches of snow fall, I can’t help but admire those lucky individuals attending the Great Ideas Conference and enjoying the warm Miami weather this weekend.

In an article I wrote last September titled, “Transitioning from Young to Young Professional: An Uphill Battle,” I gave five recommendations to help facilitate a smooth and successful transition into the role of “young professional.” Recommendation number five follows:

Manage your professional development. Seek out opportunities to enhance your knowledge and skills. Work toward achieving a professional certification or designation in your field. Stay informed of the latest trends and best practices.

Unfortunately, it’s not a standard practice at my current association to budget for professional development. In fact, my colleagues rarely even express an interest in attending a local, state or national conference. I, on the other hand, am hungry for knowledge. The problem is, as a young professional – or perhaps as an inexperienced, shy young man with a strict upbringing – I’m not very good at asking for things, especially when it comes to money. Therefore, I don’t know what best practice dictates.

So, my questions this week are many: How are you financing your professional development, especially in this downturn economy? How much do you expect to personally kick in this year? What’s a reasonable dollar amount to expect from your association? What’s the best way to garner association support?

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Opening your mind

A great idea can be completely wasted if you can't open your mind to it. The session I attended this afternoon, "Are You a Genius?" really drove that home to me.

At one point during the session, presenter Nancy Riesz asked us how many times we've heard a new idea from someone else and shot it down. I know I've been guilty of that from time to time! Often, when it happens, I find myself thinking something like "We've tried that before" or "That just doesn't work with our production schedule/workload/etc."

Her question was a good reminder to me that I have to constantly build the habit of listening to new ideas with an open mind--trying to focus on how they could be possible rather than why they're not. Which can be a difficult habit to build at times ...

Another interesting concept she shared with us was the idea of graphing the obstacles you face in implementing a particular idea. She suggested graphing them within a four-quadrant box, with "illusionary" and "real" on one axis and "flexible" and "rigid" on the other. Riesz told us that only five percent of obstacles fall into the "rigid" and "real" box--and the rest can be dealt with. I might give that graph a try the next time I'm trying to decide if we can fit a new project into our schedule.

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Member Databases

As an association professional, how do you use your membership data? As the membership manager at NACUBO, I use our member data on a daily basis. This can include updating information, downloading reports or queries, adding a new member, and merging profiles. How well we use our data can determine how effectively we are communicating to our members.

I’d like to highlight one of the programs I attended today called “Get Personal with Your Database to Provide Relevant Messaging”. How are you communicating to your membership using your database and are you effectively using this information to increase renewals and attendance? By using purchases, event attendance and survey data, you may be able to ‘predict’ your renewal rate. At my association, I am currently working to update the data that we use to process dues in April. Because this is my first year in this position and with this database, I am learning as I go. I used to be adverse to data….’how boring’ I used to think, but now I understand the relevance and importance of correct data.

This session gave me some GREAT ideas about innovative ways to retain our members this upcoming year. It also reminded me to revisit our newest members (1-3 years). I think that in the current state of the economy, membership professionals are looking for creative ways to retain members and increase their ROI on membership.

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The power of clarity

Dan Roam, the author of the book The Back of the Napkin, is speaking now at the opening general session of Great Ideas. He argues that pictures have the power to solve problems--and we all have the power to solve problems using pictures.

He shared some examples of "napkin pictures" that have solved problems: a sketch of the intial routes flown by Southwest Airlines, some presidential sketches, and the "Lafferty Curve" that launched supply-side economics. One thing jumped out at me: In nearly every case, the problem-solving sketches were simple ones. Not complicated, not pages of data, but very simple sketches of at most a few lines.

To me, this demonstrates the power of the simple. More complicated pictures wouldn't be as persuasive or as powerful.

As I was typing the sentence above, Roam quoted Bill Gates, saying, “The barrier to change is not too little caring, it is too much complexity.” Is complexity a barrier to getting things done at your association?

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Early morning Great Ideas photos

Some of the Great Ideas Flickr users started posting early today. Here's some of what they saw:

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Time for some great ideas!


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February 20, 2009

Great Ideas RSS feed

For those of you who would be interested in getting Acronym posts from the Great Ideas Conference piped directly to your RSS feed reader, the wonderful Amy Hissrich in our web department has set up an RSS feed: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/AcronymGreatIdeasConference2009.

(And if you're interested in subscribing to all Acronym posts, the more general RSS feed is available at http://feeds2.feedburner.com/Acronym.)

Happy reading!

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February 19, 2009

Quick clicks: Talkin' about Great Ideas

A bunch of bloggers (and others) are talking about Great Ideas this week:

- The #ideas09 hashtag is already in use on Twitter. You can see the latest Tweets related to the conference here.

- Peggy Hoffman is organizing an unsession on volunteering at Great Ideas, so she asked some other bloggers to write about some short-term, ad-hoc volunteer opportunities they'd love to have. Bruce Hammond, Maddie Grant, Jeff De Cagna, KiKi L'Italien, and Elizabeth Weaver Engel have responded with their ideas.

- Maddie Grant started a similar conversation focused around word of mouth; here's a good roundup of the responses so far.

- Peter Turner shares his thoughts on the biggest mistake associations make when trying to go global in advance of his session at Great Ideas.

- David Gammel is getting ready to present at Great Ideas, as is Maggie McGary, Elizabeth Weaver Engel, and Jamie Notter.

- Jeff De Cagna has reposted podcast interviews with the Great Ideas keynote speakers, Dan Roam and Patti Digh.

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February 18, 2009

Stimulus Bill Signing Including Association Shout-outs, New Resources

Associations were front and center during speeches before and during the signing of the much-debated economic stimulus bill—the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act--yesterday by President Barack Obama in Denver.

First, Blake Jones, president of the small but rapidly growing Namaste Solar company, cited statistics by the Solar Energy Industries Association that estimate the stimulus package will create 69,000 new jobs this year and twice as many in 2010. He also emphasized the organization’s stance that solar energy provides “one of the most important and fast-growing job sectors in the U.S…. Green jobs are good for everyone.”

President Obama followed later with a shout-out to a variety of the bill’s bipartisan supporters, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the AFL-CIO.

He also urged Americans (and I’m sure this will prove valuable to associations as well) to monitor progress created by the legislation at a new web site—www.recovery.gov—and to find a state-by-state breakdown of where the money will go and how many jobs it will create in each sector and industry. The package of $789 billion aims to create or save 3.5 million jobs during the next two years, with job creation occurring in a wide range of industries from clean energy to health care. More than 90 percent are expected to be created in the private sector.

“It is a plan that will be implemented with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability," said President Obama. "And we expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results.” You can read the President’s and Vice President’s full remarks here.

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So Many Choices, So Litte Time

This morning I realized I've been so focused on the fact that I'll be presenting at Great Ideas, I hadn't actually given any thought to what sessions I plan on attending. After a quick glance through the program I realize it's going to be a tougher decision than I'd thought. There are so many great sessions covering such a wide variety of subjects--I need to figure out a way to clone myself so I can attend them all.

As I said in my previous post about Great Ideas, this will be the first ASAE conference I've attended. Up until now, any conference I've been to has been strictly of the one-track variety; I showed up and sat in the same room from 9-5 each day (barring breaks and lunch, of course). While those meetings are obviously very useful and I've learned a lot from them, the idea lab format is actually much more my style. Let's just say that sitting still and paying attention for hours at a time isn't my biggest strength.

But, as with all things in life, being presented with a bunch of choices and having to pick from them is usually not an easy task. In this case, do I stick with sessions that deal directly with my current job—web and/or tech—or do I expand my horizons and go with things that are totally outside scope of my current position, such as leadership, membership or marketing? If the whole idea of this meeting is to spark creativity and new ways of thinking and operating, is attending sessions on things I’m already involved in on a daily basis counterproductive? Or is that the way to go, since even though those are topics I’m immersed in every day, I know the presenters and attendees will shed new light on them? Maybe I'll try the close my eyes and see where my finger lands on the page trick--that would probably yield an interesting schedule.

How do you decide which sessions to attend?

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Anyone can have a big idea

As I'm looking ahead to Great Ideas, I've actually been thinking a lot about Chris Sacca's presentation at last month's Technology Conference. A lot of the advice Sacca had to share is directly relevant to how we pursue great ideas and turn them into a reality.

I was particularly inspired by a comment Sacca made while he was talking about some of the startup companies that his venture capital firm works with. "On $6000, which is basically rent and ramen noodles, these guys build companies," he said. His argument was that, thanks to today's technology, you don't need to be a big company with big resources to build something big. What you need is an idea and the will to pursue it.

A few pieces of advice from Sacca about pursuing great ideas:

- Start now!
- "Don't waste time on picking off the low-hanging fruit."
- Keep your eye on the possibilities, not the problems; "what prevents innovation in most cultures is focusing on the obstacles to the process," Sacca said.
- Be humble and avoid hubris. Let others do what they do well; you should do what you do well.

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February 17, 2009

Gearing Up for Great Ideas

In gearing up for what is my first Great Ideas Conference, I wanted to be ready for when that great idea hits. I bought some brand new pens, a notepad for my thought-provoking notes that are sure to come of the meeting, highlighters to mark around as well as decorate around the great idea that will surely come as a result of this conference, even a brand new thinking cap (aka excuse to buy a new baseball cap).

However, the more I thought about what makes a “Great Idea” the more I realized I may be putting a bit too much pressure on myself before even arriving in Miami. A great idea can come in the shape of any size; I don’t need to walk away from Miami having discovered a new fuel source or the newest cooking appliance for a late-night infomercial. Even a small cost-saving idea can become a great idea, especially in these times. Conferences like the Great Ideas Conference are so vital; they are an important avenue to engage with peers about how they are handling the economic downturn and how they feel they’ll come out after the smoke clears. The Great Ideas Conference just might be able to provide some tools that will help our associations continue to weather this storm.

One thing I am looking forward to is being able to network and connect with fellow association professionals to not only to engage in learning at the various sessions but getting a chance to connect on a personal level to understand how things are going in the rest of our industry and outside of my own backyard. What new initiatives are associations doing as a response to the difficult times that are lay ahead? What OLD initiatives have weathered the test of time and continue to work today?

A great idea doesn’t have to be a BIG idea or even a new one and I look forward to walking away with mine, big or small, new or old…but most certainly incredibly decorated on my new notepad.

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Great Ideas

As in most of the programs I have “attended” at ASAE, I fall into the young professional end of the spectrum. I entered the association world about 4 years ago after beginning a career in higher education administration. Now instead of working FOR higher level college administrators, I work WITH them. I have attended multiple Membership Idea Swaps, Membership/ Marketing conferences, online programs, and the Future Leaders conference 2008. I have learned and gathered a wealth of information from each experience and I am looking forward to attending my first Great Ideas conference and sharing all that I learn.

As a young professional, it is all about putting in your time. It is all about challenging how things are done, suggesting new innovative ideas, and taking on those projects that you hope will provide learning opportunities for the future. I value the fact that at any program or conference, we are each surrounded by so much experience and knowledge. Through each interaction, we are expanding our network and pool of resources. In reflection, my most valuable take-away from the Future Leaders conference was the close network of fellow young professionals and their ideas and insights. I continuously use them to bounce ideas around, ask for suggestions to problems, and use as a sounding board. In essence, they are a “mini” Great Ideas group.

I am looking forward to Miami and to all of the Great Ideas I will be able to pass along to my colleagues and to all of you through Acronym.

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February 15, 2009

The Power of a Professional Network

I was recently asked to research and recommend a technology solution for my association. The specifics regarding the technology are not important, except that I knew nothing about what I was being asked to research and that my association had no previous experience with such technology during its 60 year history.

The real story here – the lesson learned – is about professional networks.

In an article I wrote last September titled, “Transitioning from Young to Young Professional: An Uphill Battle,” I gave five recommendations to help facilitate a smooth and successful transition into the role of “young professional.” Recommendation number four follows:

Develop a network. Find others with whom you can exchange problems and ideas. These individuals should include young professionals both locally and nationally, as well as others doing similar work at other associations.

Last week, I followed my own advice. I reached out to friends and colleagues serving with me on ASAE & The Center’s Young Professionals Committee. Thanks to great people like Garen Distelhorst, Beau Ballinger, Katie Paffhouse and their colleagues, as well as ASAE & The Center staff members Frances Reimers and Alyssa Thomas, I gained valuable insights and takeaways that made my research both easier and more informed – and all in a matter of days. That’s the power of a professional network.

So, my question to you is this: How has a solid professional network saved you both time and energy? Also, if you’re a seasoned professional with an extensive professional network, how would you suggest the rest of us go about growing our own professional networks?

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February 13, 2009

Quick clicks: Great ideas from other bloggers

In the spirit of the upcoming Great Ideas conference, I've collected some links to great posts by other bloggers:

- New blogs are great ideas, right? Jamie Notter and Eric Lanke have launched a new blog to facilitate discussion on generational issues, called the Hourglass blog. Some other new blogs in the association space that I've found recently include Steven Davis, CAE, on Leadership, and Association Voices.

- What if your association had a meeting where members could feel totally open and free to ask any question? Cindy Butts wonders on the AE on the Verge blog.

- Kevin Holland suggests another brilliant "unspoken truth" for association leaders.

- Also from Kevin Holland, an interesting post on communities as commodities--with a whole bunch of interesting comments on associations, networking, community, and more.

- The GrowGlobally.org blog has an interesting post on profiting from a green meeting strategy.

- Tony Rossell has eight important tips for membership marketing campaigns.

- Frank Fortin has posted a very interesting example of an un-RFP.

- The i on Nonprofits blog shares three examples of inspired fundraising/awareness campaigns.

- Michele Martin at The Bamboo Project blog has some thoughts on the tyranny of dead ideas.

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A second welcome to the Great Ideas blogging team

I’d like to welcome one more guest blogger to our Great Ideas blogging crew: Matthew D’Uva, CEO of SOCAP International. I’m looking forward to his perspective on what he sees and hears throughout the conference.

We’re grateful to Matthew, Maggie, Kristin, and Steven for sharing their time and insights with us over the next few weeks. Welcome to Acronym!

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Re-Emerging at Great Ideas

Even though the weather has been decent in DC this past week, I still can’t wait to be in Miami! I’m really excited about being invited to blog for Acronym and am looking forward to sharing my experiences at Great Ideas. While I already feel very much a part of the ASAE community, thanks to this blog, YAP, and all the friends I’ve made in the Twittersphere, this will actually be the first ASAE meeting I’ve attended “IRL” (in real life).

Are my social media junkie colors showing yet?

In line with Aaron Wolowiec’s post last week emerging professionals, I’d classify myself as a “re-emerging professional.” In his post Aaron proposed the term “emerging professional” as a label for someone with limited experience yet striving to take his/her career to the next level. In my case, I am not young (I’m 40) and actually have many years of experience in the association world. After I graduated from college, I spent seven years working my way up the career ladder and establishing myself as an association professional. I then took an eight-year detour to stay home with my kids. Five years ago I re-entered the association world and, with my ego firmly in check, started back at square one as a part-time editorial assistant. After a lot of zigging and zagging I’m slowly but surely making progress…but the operative word is SLOWLY.

In the same way a young professional’s lack of experience is hard to overcome, it is perhaps harder still to overcome and stomach the notion of having to “put in your dues” when you’ve already been there, done that. On one hand, titles don’t really matter—it’s more about what you have to offer and what you actually put into a job; on the other hand, titles still totally matter. While you may have all the knowledge and experience in world, having the word “assistant” in your title isn’t exactly a clout- enhancer when it comes to networking.

That is, in “real life” it’s hard; in the world of social media, all bets are off and the concept of titles defining authority, intelligence or experience pretty much goes out the window. If anyone is the poster child of this reality, it’s me. I’m presenting at Great Ideas solely by virtue of online networking. When Debra Stratton contacted me about joining her in her session, “From Boomers to Millennials: Tapping Social Media to Engage (and Excite!) Your Members,” she said I’d been recommended to her by two well-known and respected association professionals. While I was, by sheer coincidence, in a book group with one of them some 10 years ago, both of those people’s sole professional connection with/knowledge of me came from my comments on Acronym, my “tweets” and my blog posts. I’ve never met either of them in real life (save the book group connection, which doesn’t really count).

I love the fact that job title is irrelevant in the social media world; what matters are the thoughts and ideas you share. After all, from a member’s perspective, it’s not your title that matters; it’s the enthusiasm and dedication you—at any stage of your career--bring to the association.

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February 12, 2009

Resources Regarding Closure of a 501(c)3 Foundation

We received a recent request to our Knowledge Center about the ramifications of dissolving an association’s 501(c)3 subsidiary such as a foundation. It coincided with a discussion I’d had recently with two fundraisers who said they were struggling to generate revenues for their associations and had “all but given up” on raising money for their subsidiary foundation as well.

Obviously, the Internal Revenue Service has a number of guiding documents about closing down a charity, including “Dissolving a 501(c)3”, IRS Rev. Proc. 82-2, "Life Cycle of a Private Foundation," and "Termination of Private Foundation Status."

If you subscribe to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, you can access a June 1, 2006, article called “Engineering a Foundation’s Demise,” or if you receive Trusts & Estates, you can look up the more recent article June 2008 article, “Breaking Up Is (Not So) Hard To Do.”

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New Study Shows Sustainable Organizations Faring Better in Poor Economy

I’m hearing an avalanche of “greening” stories from association and nonprofit professionals who are either eager to leverage the frequent cost savings, increased efficiency, and positive brand-building of such efforts, or are already seeing tremendous return on investment for such actions.

It seems that anecdotes and solid data about associations and other businesses saving serious amounts of money through their efforts to become more eco-friendly in their IT operations, publishing, direct mailing/fundraising, and other functional areas are starting to spread more rapidly now that the economy has been sinking.

Still, some leaders who may not have much experience in creating sustainable value may be tempted to push the pause button on their organization’s social responsibility initiatives. They may want to think twice. A new study by the consulting firm A.T. Kearney finds that “companies committed to corporate sustainability practices during this [economic] slowdown are achieving above-average performance in the financial markets. … So before tossing out those sustainability practices and initiatives, it might be wise to first determine the real value of the efforts—especially the possible rewards for staying the course.”

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Welcome Great Ideas bloggers!

Now is the perfect time for associations to embrace some great ideas, don’t you think? We’re excited to share the Great Ideas Conference with you on Acronym.

Scott and I will be blogging from the conference, but we’re also being joined by some intrepid guest bloggers, who will be sharing their takeaways and insights over the course of the next several weeks.

Please welcome our Great Ideas guest bloggers: Maggie McGary, assistant content developer for the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association; Kristin Witters, manager of member services at the National Association of College and University Business Officers; and Steven Stout, director of meetings and special events for the Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals.

Thanks to Maggie, Kristin, and Steven for being a part of the Acronym team, and for sharing their great ideas with us. I’m looking forward to seeing all of their perspectives here on the blog.

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Like Santa Claus Quitting Christmas

So ya, after nearly 9 years of serving the International Game Developers Association, it is time for me to move on. As noted on my personal blog, the move is partly my own desire to strike out and try something new. But, partly also my sense that my style of leadership is not what the org needs now.

When I came on board, the IGDA had just 500 paying members, and nothing else. I was able to grow and learn along the years, and build it up to 15,000 paying members and 120,000 "free" members (just as one metric). It was a wild ride.

I came from the game industry, and was the first to admit that I had no clue what I was doing. We just focused on serving the members and listening to their needs. Actually, a few years in, I was struggling with governance questions and non-profit legal stuff. My wife kindly suggested, "Maybe there's a book on this stuff." Duh!

When I found the ASAE, it was like the clouds parted and rays of association enlightenment came raining down on me. It was a massive learning and growth phase for me and the IGDA. (Indeed, a big endorsement there for the ASAE, despite the fact that I've been somewhat critical/confrontational over the years...)

Anyway, it's going to be odd stepping away from something that I poured 9 years of my life into. The response from the game community has been super positive, with hundreds of emails/comments/pings saying thanks and wishing me luck. The best of the bunch was a tweet simply saying: "Jason Della Rocca leaving IGDA is like Santa Claus quitting Christmas." Ya, I had some fans, I guess ;)

Somehow, it all makes me feel like I need to be even more over the top for my "Is Membership Dead" debate at the Great Ideas conference next week! Hmm, though that'll probably kill my chances of getting any consulting gigs in the association space. Ha!

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February 11, 2009

Half a Million Micro-Nonprofits Could Lose Federal Tax Exemption by May 2010

GuideStar is reporting that 500,000 nonprofits could lose their tax-exempt status in May 2010, if they haven’t yet filed the required Internal Revenue Service Form 990-N and continue to not do so for several more years. 2008 was the first year when this specific set of small nonprofits—groups that didn’t meet the income threshold for filing an IRS Form 990 “or its variants”—were required to file a new IRS form, according to the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

“Nonprofits whose exemptions are revoked will suddenly be required to pay federal income taxes -- and subject to financial penalties if they fail to do so. Hundreds of thousands of charities … could find them themselves no longer eligible to accept tax-deductible contributions,” Guidestar states. “Nonprofits that wish to have their exemptions reinstated will be required to re-apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status, a process that can take several months.”

"If you volunteer with, work for, or give to a smaller nonprofit, make sure its leaders know about the 990-N,” urges Bob Ottenhoff, GuideStar president and CEO. "… Smaller nonprofits make up as much as three-quarters of the nonprofit sector. They are the local animal rescue societies, the neighborhood groups that tutor elementary school students, the all-volunteer organizations that drive cancer patients to chemotherapy. Collectively they have a tremendous impact, and society will be the poorer if these organizations lose their federal tax exemptions.”

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February 10, 2009

Some Nonprofits Report Record Number of Volunteer Inquiries

A number of major nonprofits are reporting a large surge in new volunteers for community-based projects in an apparent response to President Barack Obama’s National Call for Service. The latest is Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which credits Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for an impressive 25% increase in volunteers during its annual Mentoring Month in January—a new record.

In January 2009, nearly 32,000 Americans inquired about becoming Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors compared to just over 25,000 last year. A recent national advertisement featured the president endorsing National Mentoring Month, while the First Lady had been encouraging Americans to “consider mentoring at-risk children for ongoing service.”

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February 9, 2009

Emerging Professional Success Stories

In my mind, emerging professionals have a lot to offer the association community. In fact, part of the fun of fulfilling this role is spewing our endless supply of new and innovative ideas; tackling difficult and time-consuming projects that might otherwise go undone; challenging tradition; questioning “the way it’s always been done”; and applying what we’ve learned in the classroom to our work.

So, this week, I want to hear about emerging professional success stories. If you’re an emerging professional, tell us how thinking outside of the box has positively affected your association and/or your members.

I’ll start. I serve as a staff liaison to my association’s membership committee. In 2007, I led this committee’s review of our associate membership program, including both benefits and annual dues. As a result of this review, we recommended restructuring. Following about nine or ten months of discussion and collaboration, we devised a tiered associate partnership program (a structure that is becoming more common in the association community, but one that our association had not considered in its 60 year history). Today, this program provides our vendors—whether a small, start-up company or a large, well-established corporation—an opportunity to develop a partnership with us that best meets their organization’s needs. In addition to increased revenue for the association, relationships with our vendors have never been stronger.

So, tell us about your brainchild. What important project have you managed? What lasting impact have you had on your association and its members?

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February 6, 2009

February Associations Now case study: Strategy session

I'm sure I'm not the only one going over my budget with a fine-toothed comb right now; we're all keeping a close eye on revenue and expenses in the current economic climate. But some associations have been hit harder than others.

This month's Associations Now case study (available online) takes a look at this issue from the perspective of three small, local philanthropic groups, all of which are partially funded by their local government due to the nature of their work in the community. When their local government is considering major funding cuts to balance the budget, how should they respond?

Thanks are due to Barbara Bingham and Catherine Brown, both of whom provided insightful commentary from their perspectives as philanthropic executives.

What do you think associations and nonprofits facing budget shortfalls should be doing? What do you agree with or disagree with in this case study?

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Nonprofit Appointees to New Presidential Partnership Program Announced

Nonprofit leaders from a diversity of organizations continue to be tapped as President Barack Obama begins selecting members for his new President’s Advisory Council at the freshly created White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office “will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs.”

The group, composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds, also will be “a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith-based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.”

Obama signed the executive order establishing the 25-member office Thursday, February 5; only 15 had been publicly announced by today.

“There is a force for good greater than government,” Obama said in a White House press release. ”It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."

Appointed to lead the office is Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and Obama advisor during the president’s Senate days; DuBois also served as Obama’s campaign director of religious affairs. All appointees will serve a one-year term.

Working in tandem with the president’s Cabinet secretaries and 11 government agencies, the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four priorities: “making community groups an integral part of America’s economic recovery;” serving as “one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion;” supporting “fathers who stand by their families….,” and working “with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.”

In addition to forming the new office, the Executive Order also sought to add “a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.”

Among the council members are Judith Vredenburgh, president and CEO, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America; Richard Stearns, President, World Vision; Fred Davie, President, Public/Private Ventures; Rabbi David Saperstein, director & counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Father Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA; and Eboo Patel, founder/executive director, Interfaith Youth Corps.

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Messaging Through Manicures

I’ve got to hand it--literally--to the American Fertility Association. Its unique Manicures & Martinis infertility prevention program at a Manhattan nail salon gets this month’s applause for most creative outreach event.

The event, which drew long lines of young women “not quite ready to conceive but who might [want to] one day,” “exceeded all expectations,” according to the organization’s press release. As part of a unique-venue series that features health care professionals in conversation about infertility protection, attendees hear the message and “enjoy a complimentary manicure and martini or a Fertilitini, an all-organic, alcohol-free beverage, whose recipe is the winning entry from a nationwide contest.”

I love that AFA spurned traditional conference facilities in favor of identifying hot hang-out spots by the young women they want to target. Similar events are scheduled at other salons, health clubs, and boutiques.

Says Executive Director Ken Mosesian, "We were hoping to have 20 women register for the event. We registered 25, had an additional 25 show up, and had a waiting list of 34. I was taken by the thoughtfulness of the questions…. This was a clear demonstration of just how much this information is lacking and desired."


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February 4, 2009

Quick clicks from Tech: One last round

There's been some additional commentary from the Technology Conference posted online over the last few days:

- Twitter continues to be a big item of discussion, in a variety of ways. Lynn Morton at the SNAP blog had concerns about some aspects of the ASAE & The Center @Tech09 Twitter stream; Lindy Dreyer responded with some thoughts of her own, and Lynn responded to Lindy's response. (Still with me?)

Meanwhile, Maddie Grant provides a look at one slice of the Twitter activity during the conference, and David Patt points out that he'd be more interested in the Twitter posts from the conference if someone would repackage them in a more readable summary.

- Bob Blonchek has three posts in response to the conference: wondering why he didn't see more of an urgent desire to change the association status quo; discussing Chris Sacca's keynote and innovation; and thinking about associations that embrace disruptive technologies.

- Matt Baehr has a few reactions to the conference, as well as links to some materials he found helpful. Maddie Grant also posted the slides and a bibliography from the "Shiny New Web 2.0 Objects" session.

- In posts related to the conference's general session topics, David Gammel has a short definition of crowdsourcing and Jeff De Cagna talks about how association boards could be inspired by Google's 20 percent time.

Did I miss anyone? If I did, please drop a link in comments!

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February 3, 2009

Stand Out in a Crowd

According to associapedia, “There is no single way to define who is or is not a young professional.” In fact, “there are many different definitions and every organization may have a unique one depending on the dynamics of their specific membership. Some of the ways to distinguish young professionals include age/generation; years in the work force; years in a specific career field; years from graduating; and self defined. Under any definition, this group tends to be a subset of the membership that due to age or years in a career has less experience than the overall membership demographic.”

Although I identify with this definition, I think a more appropriate label for me – and others like me – is “emerging professional.” For me, this denotes someone who has made a conscious decision to take his or her present career to the next level; someone who is actively seeking out opportunities to advance. This could include engaging in a professional association, identifying a mentor, developing a network of professional contacts and/or managing a professional development plan.

Labels aside, the factor that unites these individuals is a general lack of experience, especially when compared to more seasoned professionals in their field. Unfortunately, this lack of experience can sometimes be difficult to overcome, as others may be skeptical of their knowledge, skills and experience.

As an emerging professional myself, I have recently taken steps to help me stand out in a crowd. Two years ago I went back to school to earn a master’s degree. Last year I began serving on ASAE & The Center’s Young Professionals Committee. Earlier this year, I took the certified meeting professional (CMP) exam. (I’m still waiting for my results. Keep your fingers crossed.) Now, of course, I’m gaining knowledge and experience by blogging for a professional association.

So, my question to you is this: If you’re a seasoned professional, what are you looking for in an employee or a colleague who also happens to be an emerging professional? What should we know to help us stand out in a crowd?

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February 2, 2009

More Tech Conf. Thoughts - Twitter vs. blogging

Have a few more thoughts coming from my participation in ASAE & The Center's Technology Conference -- here's one, more of an observation, really.

There were dozens of people using Twitter at the conference, leading to at least hundreds and hundreds of Tweets, and I wouldn't be surprised if the number reached four figures. Conversely, I believe we saw less formal blogging (I say formal because Twitter is sometimes described as microblogging) from folks.

Is this a sign of a migration, and if so, what does it mean? There are some things you can do with Twitter's 140 characters, but it's difficult to express a considered opinion or offer critical analysis under those constraints.

Of course, there could be other reasons, too. The Technology Conference Notes Wiki, for one, which exceeded participation expectations. But again, the design behind this was to offer notes, though users could certainly put in their own analysis if they wanted.

I'm concerned about losing the opinions and analysis... should I be?

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Defining (or redefining) the profile of your board

Does your association’s bylaws or board policies lay out the desired qualities of effective board members?

At the Project Management Institute (PMI), the board of directors recently approved a “Board Future Profile” to describe the expected characteristics of future board members. A task force of current and former board members, reporting to the PMI Governance Committee, prepared the recommendations on board candidate criteria, which are now included in the PMI Rules of the Board, as follows:

a) “An appreciation of the value of the profession served by PMI.
b) The visionary strategic thinking capability to be able to understand the interests of diverse stakeholders, to assess the impacts of environmental and marketplace trends, and then to translate those interests and impacts into strategy.
c) The ability to operate effectively in global environments.
d) The experience of assisting in transformational change driven by strategic issues in a similarly-sized or larger organization.
e) The willingness and experience to serve others.
f) The experience and appreciation of working in a collaborative, collegial, respectful, and productive way with people having diverse backgrounds and viewpoints.
g) The experience of performing governing duties to meet legal and regulatory requirements inherent in the fiduciary oversight role of a board.
h) The ability to use, in an appropriate manner, a network of contacts for the purpose of serving as an advocate for PMI and the profession.
i) The willingness and ability to be an ambassador for PMI and the profession served by PMI.” *

A complete description of these candidate criteria can be viewed in Section 6.0.3 of the “Rules of the Board” at http://www.pmi.org/PDF/Rules%20of%20the%20Board.pdf.

While the language of these characteristics may be more thoughtful and comprehensive than most qualifications for board members, I wouldn’t recommend that you simply adopt or adapt them. The source of power of PMI’s nine characteristics derives from at least two important processes:

• The deliberate and thoughtful way in which the entire PMI board of directors engaged in crafting, exploring, revising, and approving these characteristics provided the intellectual capital and buy-in that are essential to this kind of governance initiative.

• The way in which future nominating committees enlist these characteristics to screen board candidates.

The PMI board also clarified that it expects the total composition of the board to be reflective of the diversity existing in the global project management marketplace in respect to gender, culture, geographic location, and stakeholder groups.

In years to come, the governance committee will be tasked with an annual assessment of how well the existing board members possess these characteristics and how well diversity is reflected within the composition of the board, and it may recommend that the board provide additional guidance to the nominationg committee in any year.

Any association that wants its board to consist of leaders who are fully capable of leading the organization into the future could do well to follow the lead of PMI by crafting and adopting a similar set of characteristics that apply to its specific needs.

(*Project Management Institute, PMI® Rules of the Board, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008. Copyright and all rights reserved. Materials from this publication have been reproduced with permission of PMI.)

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