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March 31, 2009

Unwinding the Healthcare Association Conference

Kristi has already covered some great content.

I want to flag the session from Shaun Flynn of NYSNA on triaging advocacy issues as one that was particularly great for me. I'm in a cultural tug-of-war with a colleague about process vs. output. I appreciated Shaun's discussion of creating a volunteer-owned process for setting issue priorities, articulating them, and understanding and communicating multi-year strategies for specific goals. He suggested offering tools for members to get them involved on issues that need attention but aren't highest priority. Most important, to me, was the notion that failures need to be discussed with members as much as successes. Finding smaller wins to build momentum and ease issue fatigue among your membership can help sustain you through multi-year fights on bigger issues.

Also amazing (and risky!) the suggestion to identify long-sacred fights to walk away from. For them, they let go of chasing every single scope-of-practice issue, which in turn opened them up for collaboration on other issues with groups who might not have talked to them before. A great example of how figuring out what's on your "stop-doing" list is almost more important than creating a "to-do" list.

As for the social media sessions - a two-part piece that I thought was just great, it was so nice to hear a reasoned discussion of the pros/cons, caveats, all that - with a much clearer sense of how to make sense of all that when I land in Oregon on Wednesday.

Great job, ASAE staff and healthcare community committee, for assembling this program. It was worth absolutely every penny to me.

[edited twice because, apparently, I can't remember how to do anything I do less than quarterly. Sorry, readers.]

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Healthcare and social technologies

I just attended the session that paid for the conference. Jeff De Cagna faciliated a panel discussion between individuals representing Mayo, Sermo, Permanente and the Massachusetts Medical Society. It was a fascinating discussion, but with not much time, I'll focus on a few bullet points:

- Physicians who were seeking community online for collaborative problem solving are moving from anonymity to full disclosure of their identity to establish their following and gain recognition for their contributions.

- GenX is not interest in the peer-review journal process. It's too time consuming. We have to find ways to engage them differently. Avoid the filter then publish process and move to the publish then filter process.

- Some are comparing the advent of social media to the way the printing press, railways, telephone and TV changed society - it's that powerful.

- When offering something online, consider whether it creates harmony or puts community members at war. What you offer has to make life easier.

- Mayo Clinic has a internal group called Mayo 2020 that examines the ongoing relationships patients and their providers have with Mayo and how that may change if they don't need to come to the campus in the future.

Sites worth visiting:

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March 30, 2009

Another perspective on the need for a healthcare conference

I was talking to a colleague tonight who was really jazzed about the sessions she went to. I had told her that I was on the fence about how necessary a separate conference is for healthcare assns, and for me the jury is still out. She replied, "No, I think it's great. In fact, we were having one discussion in a session where someone asked a question, and it was nice to actually know that what others had to say would be relevant to my issues - that there wasn't just a 25% chance that it would be relevant." I'm paraphrasing, but hopefully, it makes sense.

On another note, I'm back from dinner with some colleagues, and once again reminded of the value of networking and being engaged. I get so much value out of the ASAE conferences I've been to. I have already made a few contacts that will hopefully be good resources in my next job, and rekindled relationships with acquaintances I haven't seen in years at other ASAE meetings. It shouldn't surprise me, but it still amazes me how small the world is. If the conference was already over, it was worth the investment. And I still have another day to go!


The term "evidence-based"

The term "evidence-based" gets used a lot in healthcare. And I can appreciate it, certainly, as a patient. I like to think that the interventions that might be applied to me in the course of my own healthcare are rooted in practice and evaluated by experienced practitioners.

But, I wonder, are the terms "evidence-based" and "innovative" mutually exclusive? How do you get from innovative to evidence-based? I can see it from a knowledge management perspective - cycling from ideas in practice to refinement to publishing to evaluation - but I think sometimes the term "evidence-based" gets applied incorrectly in the association setting. Do healthcare associations, not healthcare practitioners, get sucked into the need to make sure their efforts are evidence-based, because that is what their members do?

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Tackling the insurance problem

Carson did provide one interesting analogy… he talked about how the existence of a government agency made it possible for homeowners to afford homeowners insurance. That organization is FEMA. Without FEMA, insurance companies would have to charge premiums that cover a much greater variety of unlikely catastrophes. One of the challenges, he says, that health insurers face is that they must charge enough to cover the event of a catastrophic illness. He says that the government should take responsibility for covering individuals who suffer from catastrophic injuries or illness, relieving insurers from having to factor that into their policies, and therefore, premiums.

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The Healthcare Conference: What are we doing here?

I’m attending the first ASAE Healthcare Association Conference today and tomorrow in Baltimore. I have to admit that, at first, while intrigued by the idea, I wondered why such a meeting was necessary… other than the continuing education issues that we face, is much else really different from other associations in other industries? Then I heard today that 25% of ASAE members are employed in healthcare associations – that is a large membership segment. And, it is a segment with, I think, a very general common goal – the sustained, improved health of the general public – a BHAG when you have such a diverse and varied group of interests with very strong opinions.

Having worked for a variety of health-related associations, and even some providers, I think that the commonality extends beyond issues of CME to the structure of the healthcare system and healthcare reform. After just one education session, it is painfully obvious what a tangled web we face in terms of healthcare reform. Those of us here already “get it”; the question is now, what can we do about it? How are we going to fix it? There is something very interesting about having this conference right now in the midst of what could be the biggest reform agenda ever.

I sat in a discussion group this morning of people who represented nurses, physical therapists, hospitals and physicians. Even there, a colleague looked at me and suggested that one of the problems we were discussing wouldn’t be such a problem if the hospital administrators weren’t pushing their members to do more with less. Which I understood, but I can also hear administrators complaining about reduced insurance payments. It is really a sick cycle.

This morning’s keynote came from Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurologist at Johns Hopkins (more on him later). On one hand, this problem of healthcare reform seems so big, so unwieldy that I simply can’t comprehend a fix that is going to meet every associations’ constituents’ needs. On the other hand, Dr. Carson reminded us that our brains are capable of handling and processing an infinite amount of knowledge.

Reform is going to happen. We can do this.


Chapter websites and donors: Food for thought

When I started reading today's Alertbox column from Jakob Nielsen, I definitely wasn't expecting it to touch on component relations. (Nielsen, for those of you not familiar with his work, is a web usability expert and researcher; if you have any involvement with your organization's website or online presence, I highly recommend his columns.)

Today's Alertbox focuses on a study Nielsen's group did to discover how to design nonprofit websites to encourage donations ... pretty important for any organization that is partially or largely donor-supported. It didn't surprise me that Nielsen's research showed that many of the nonprofits studied had poor usability for donors--so many websites (not just nonprofits) have terrible usability issues. But I was fascinated by the study's implications for nonprofits and associations with chapters or components.

According to Nielsen, the subjects of this study indicated that, when making a decision to donate, the number 2 most important factor in their decision was the organization's presence in their own community. (Number 1 was the organization's mission, goals, objectives, and work, not surprisingly.)

However, the column says, "the worst user experience erosion in this study was caused by heinous integration of local chapters with the higher-level organization. As mentioned above, users wanted information about a non-profit's activities in their communities, but the experience of actually visiting local chapter websites was stunning. Typically, such sites looked completely different than the master sites ..."

In other words, the fact that the chapter websites looked nothing like the national website was causing visitors not to donate--because they weren't clear on whether the organization was really involved in their local community or not.

If you work for a chapter or component, does your website look like your national's website, or do they look different? Nationals, do your chapters have a continuity of look and feel among their websites and yours? How do you think such consistency or lack thereof impacts your donor or stakeholder community?

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March 28, 2009

A Mentor Remembered

One of my longtime mentors and former nonprofit bosses, Jack Lorenz, will be buried In 12 hours, dead at the too-young age of 69. He was executive director of the conservation organization Izaak Walton League of America for 18 years before retiring, and he hired me as a magazine editor and media manager way back in the late 1980s after I moved to Washington, DC. I stayed there for more than six years, learning and erring as all overworked young professionals do in this sector.

Jack was not organized or formal when it came to mentoring staff. As the "Ikes'" former magazine editor himself, he did a remarkable job of not micromanaging me in his old role. Like IWLA's members, he was of salt-of-the-earth stock, rarely losing his temper and always operating with an open-door, excuse-the-mess style. He wasn't perfect, and he let me be the same. I appreciated that--not many mentors are comfortable acknowledging their own weaknesses. He tried to be gentle when he pointed out mine.

Together we would attend the annual Outdoor Writers Association of America conference, an extremely male-dominated event at the time. It was intimidating for any woman, especially one in her 20s. Everyone always thought I was someone's daughter along for the ride. At my first conference, I almost went home after the first night. The level of sexism and, at times, blatant harassment was quite unnerving.

Jack, though, would get his back up about it, and he was determined that I succeed despite the good-old-boy atmosphere. Because of him, I finally agreed to run for OWAA's national board, which I didn't make the first time. The second run was a ringer, though, and I still count that board experience and its painful challenges among my best professional learning experiences. I never would have taken the risk if he hadn't told me that he believed I could and should go for it.

I'm thinking of Jack tonight, and it's still hard to believe I won't ever see him again. Although I have not gotten together with Jack for many years, I have still felt connected through his crazy e-mailed jokes and the hilarious fishing stories that I'd sometimes run into in outdoor publications.

I'm so happy that he accomplished his lifelong personal goal of fishing every U.S. state and territory, and all of Canada's provinces. And I'm so grateful that Jack lived his professional goal of serving as a strong role model when it came to professional ethics, self-sacrifice, tireless optimism, true passion for mission, and generosity of spirit.

Most mentors never know how fundamentally they touch those they coach--so often their teachings aren't drawn from until a relevant situation arises much later. Maybe that's why good mentors seem in short supply--they just don't realize they're change makers.

I know you're up there watching me type right now, Jack, so I thank you again, and I wish you the best bass fishing Heaven has to offer.

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Associations Participate in "Earth Hour" to Call for Action on Global Warming

ASAE & The Center’s headquarters will join thousands of other organizations, businesses, cities, towns, major historic landmarks, and other sites in 84 nations in shutting off all non-essential lights during the second annual Earth Hour Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Sponsored by World Wildlife Fund with support from the United Nations and myriad global leaders, the one-hour event aims to be a call for action to address harmful global climate change. The event has attracted massive support, with everyone from the World Organization of Scouts to Hollywood celebrities signing on as a participant, sharing commentary and self-shot videos on social network sites, and detailing to others what they plan to do during their hour of darkness.

Earth Hour 2009 has special meaning since the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and leaders will meet later this year to discuss the issue.

Kudos to World Wildlife Fund for coming up with so many social network tools and outlets for its promotional efforts. For instance, you can download an Earth Hour iPhone application, upload a YouTube video, blog, and more. Go to www.earthhour.org for details.


March 26, 2009

Coalition-building Requires Good Bedside Manner

As many association leaders in the healthcare sector prepare to attend ASAE & The Center’s first Healthcare Association Conference in Baltimore next week, they likely will hear more about the rash of healthcare-oriented coalitions underway to address a wide variety of system-wide form, research, education, and other related problems and challenges.

One of the newest coalitions is Stand for Quality, whose 165 organizations have developed a “framework to improve the quality and affordability of health care for all patients through a public-private partnership” focused on promoting and executing six recommendations, which you can read about here.

My point, though, is that this coalition is a good representation of the slow but deliberate shift by healthcare leaders to move out of their professional and industry silos toward a much more inclusive strategy. World-famous surgeon, nonprofit founder, and Opening General Session speaker Dr. Ben Carson Sr. talks about this in my recent interview, which will appear in an upcoming Associations Now, but I’m guessing attendees will run into the term “multi-stakeholder” and phrases such as “inextricably linked” more than ever before during the Baltimore event.

As a result, healthcare leaders will need to set aside ego and commit to further developing their collaboration, conflict resolution, and overall “people skills,” as Carson says. (A great book that examines the role of ego in leadership development and life in general is Egonomics (Fireside; Reprint edition, September 2008) by David Marcum and Steven Smith.)

I look forward to hearing more about this sector’s creative efforts to resolve the complex health problems of the nation and world.

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More influence than you think

It's easy to forget how much impact you have on the people around you. After all, you're not really thinking about them; you're thinking about what's gone wrong with the project you're working on, your plans for the weekend, an argument you had with a friend over last week's American Idol elimination. (Alexis Grace was robbed, by the way.) You're focused on your own priorities and not thinking about the fact that those around you are seeing your face and body language, and wondering what's wrong.

In this economy, the sensitivity is that much greater, especially for those of you who are CEOs or managers; your bad mood can cause a wave of worry. A series of bad moods can create a negative atmosphere in your entire office.

A quote comes to mind from Gershom Gorenberg's excellent book The End of Days, which I just recently finished: "You have to think not only about what you intend to say, you have to think about what people will understand you as saying." In context, the book is talking about the power of a religious leader. But I think there's a lesson here for association leaders as well.

What I take away from that quote is that it's not enough for us to think about what we're saying, whether to staff or to members. We have to think about how our body language, voice, and overall attitude communicates as well. And we have to think about alternative interpretations of what we say; "We're going through a rough time" can be interpreted as "We're all going to lose our jobs" by a nervous employee. It can never hurt to take the time to consider potential unintended readings of your words and actions, and how they can impact those around you.

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Change your bolts

During a discussion I helped to moderate earlier this week (the results of which will appear in the May issue of Associations Now--keep an eye out!), a CEO told a great story about a factory she knows of that makes bolts. Previously, the factory had focused on making bolts for yachts, but, clearly, the yacht market isn't what it was a few years ago. They're still a factory--they haven't gone into business as a call center or a hardware store--but they've changed their focus to start making bolts for another an industry that's growing rather than shrinking.

That led me to wonder: What are we doing in associations that's (essentially) building bolts for shrinking markets rather than growing ones? And how can we change our internal machinery to make it possible for us to build bolts for new, growing markets in addition to, or instead of, the shrinking ones?

A few thoughts occurred to me:

- Take a hard look at your programs and products for the next several fiscal years. Do you realistically expect growth (even after the downturn ends)? If, realistically, you expect flat or shrinking revenues, should you consider dropping or restructuring the program or product? After all, you can almost certainly expect expenses to rise over time rather than fall.

- Look at what slows your association down. Once, in a meeting, I made a comment about associations not typically being "blindingly fast." The other attendees laughed in agreement. But at the time I started to wonder, why can't associations be blindingly fast in our responses to the business environment? What's holding us back? Find ways to be more nimble, and your association will be able to aim for those new, growing markets quickly once they're identified.

- Create an early warning system. Social media offers some great opportunities in this area, but more traditional research could be helpful as well. What are your members and nonmember prospects spending money on (especially if they're not spending it with you)? What ideas does that give you for ways you could change your own offerings to better provide them value?

What other ideas do you have?

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March 23, 2009

Mentors for Laid-off Professionals: An Idea Worth Modeling

Journalists are among the professionals who have taken a hard hit during this economic downturn. Just look at the closing of such revered newspapers as The Seattle Post-Intelligencer or the bankruptcy filings of The New York Times and many other media outlets.

As a result, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) has been finding creative ways to help members “cope with the media transformation.” Like numerous associations, it permits unemployed members a one-time deal of discounted dues (many other organizations offer a 100% dues waiver for six months or a year), has expanded its jobs listings site (and disabled all password access requirements to allow any journalist anywhere to search the job postings site), and even launched a freelance market to unite editors with freelancers. A new listserv enables editors and media organizations to distribute work proposals to 100-plus freelance subscribers.

However, SABEW is offering something I haven’t seen before but think is a terrific idea: “a mentor for business journalists who accepted a buyout, was laid off, or otherwise put out of work by workforce cuts.”

“The aim is to help these journalists by providing advice, networking opportunities, and career development suggestions,” writes the organization.

I bet many other professional and trade associations would find significant support for such a program within their ranks. If your organization is doing something like this, I’d like to know about it. Please email me at kclarke@asaecenter.org. I’m hoping this catches on and further strengthens the mentoring programs so many organizations already have.

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March 20, 2009

Guiding Members through Economy-Focused Media Interviews

In response to the down economy, the League of American Orchestras has created a free, downloadable Support Kit for members that could be a helpful model to other association and nonprofit leaders.

The kit includes special management advice, a 24/7 free financial management webinar by the League’s chief financial officer (who based it on a popular presentation at the group’s 2008 conference), and—of most help to all associations—a media guidance document to help members relay the organization’s most important messages to business reporters.

“The key is to take the time to prepare and practice delivering clear messages … for making the most out of a media opportunity in this environment,” states the document. It then spends five, clearly written pages walking a member through the process of identifying and voicing confidently the desired points.

Frankly, I’m surprised more associations haven’t done more quick media training with their members—I’m certainly seeing many additional materials offered in online newsrooms by national staff. Kudos to the League for coming up with inexpensive, informative materials that will help members cope with the economy at the community level.


March 19, 2009

How to win

Sure it's a cheap link to pop culture, but sometimes you just have to take it. So in homage to March Madness (which really starts today, play-in games are prelim)...

A couple of Wharton professors crunched the numbers of thousands of college basketball games and found that a team that is only slightly behind at half is more likely to win the game than a team that is slightly ahead at half.

See the release, or, if you're really geeky like me, check out the PDF of the actual paper.

In it they make the point that the motivation of being so near a goal but being just short of it is the difference. I think it's also true that this correlates to Jim Collins' Good to Great. One of Collins' key points is that good is the enemy of great. Good companies (those leading by a little at halftime) become complacent and succumb to aggressive, motivated companies.

Now, I don't mean this an endorsement of Good to Great or even ASAE & The Center's 7 Measures, neither of which really need any extra kudos. In fact, maybe I'll do a post sometime on my thoughts of books of that business genre that seek define what makes successful companies successful. (For a sneak peak, read up on The Halo Effect.)


March 17, 2009

CAE Candidates Seek Advice

Last year, I set out to become a certified meeting professional. After reviewing the required texts and researching my study options, I settled on a study regime, stuck with it and passed the exam on my first attempt.

The fact that I passed the exam is not important. The real story follows.

On March 6, I posted the following status update to my Facebook account: Aaron became a certified meeting professional today! Within one minute, I had received the following comment: Good for you! Next is your CAE!

At the time, I was sort of surprised by the comment. I mean, really? I’m an “emerging professional.” I’m not yet ready for this, right? Wrong.

As I think about it more and more, I’m warming up to the idea. Why couldn’t I take the CAE exam? Although I consider myself an emerging professional, I do have six years of association experience under my belt. I mean, I at least qualify to sit for the exam.

What’s more, the association community feels like home. I’ve found a place where my experience, skills and talents can be put to good use. Specifically, I feel like my enthusiasm and innovation create value for members of my association each and every day.

And so I’m wondering if there are others out there, like me, who aren’t completely convinced that the CAE designation is within reach. On behalf of these individuals, I seek your advice.

If you’re a certified association executive, what advice do you have for those of us interested in sitting for the exam? Where should we start? What resources do you recommend? How much time do we really need to prepare? How would you study differently if you had to do it all over again?

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Being prepared when members have too much time

Here’s a Times article relevant to associations that might be easy to miss as it’s buried in the local New York news section. It highlights how charities are seeing an influx of volunteers.

The idea this sparked in me was the need for associations to tailor a short-term volunteer package aimed at raising the profile of a jobless member while giving the organization a boost of knowledge for content.


A Twitter experiment

As you may have seen, Twitter is becoming an important part of more and more conferences--providing instant audience feedback as well as serving as a kind of combined discussion and group notetaking tool. But, as some bloggers have pointed out, it can be difficult to sift through large and sometimes chaotic Twitter streams to find the most important information, especially at conferences where active groups of Twitterers are posting throughout the day (and, in many cases, the night as well).

We were lucky enough to see some great Twitter activity during the recent Great Ideas Conference, so we decided to play with it at bit and see if there's a way to boil the information down and present it more simply. Summer Faust, an editor here at ASAE & The Center, went through all of the Tweets marked with the #ideas09 hashtag and tried to organize the "notes" Tweets (as opposed to more social ones) into a format that Great Ideas attendees and those who didn't attend could find useful.

You can see what she came up with on the Great Ideas website. You'll notice that she's separated them into several categories: "Conference Takeaways" is for notes that don't seem to be connected to a specific education session, while "Attendee Feedback" is for comments about the conference itself. The remainder of the Tweets are organized under the name of the education session they're based on.

The whole point of this experiment was to find ways to add value to the great Tweets posted during the conference, so we'd appreciate any feedback you might have. What do you think? Is this reorganized version more useful than the raw Twitterstream? Less useful? Is it worthwhile to provide a boiled-down version of the Twitterstream in this way? Are there ways it could be better--or entirely different approaches that you would suggest? (If there are any other associations doing something similar that have advice to share, that would be great too!)

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March 13, 2009

Time to expand global reach?

There's been quite some activity on the International email list on what it means to be global and some additional chatter on how the economy is affecting U.S.-based outreach internationally.

I wanted to point to the latest series of videos on This Week in Associations. The first features Project Management Institute CEO Greg Balestrero who talks about how PMI has found success in becoming a truly global organization. He's followed by John Peacock, who leads the Association Forum in Australia (think of it as the Aussie's SAE) and Supratik Bhattacharyya, CEO of Association Management Initiatives in India. The videos were shot several months ago just as the world appeared perched on economic freefall, so they talk more about the how the market opportunities are different in different places than on what the global recession means. Still there is useful tips for organizations that have begun or are thinking of a more global perspective.

The opportunity to penetrate deeper into global markets quickly probably exists now more so than a year ago. But obviously there are barriers. First, despite the talk of opportunity, most associations seek to contract rather than expand in tough financial times. And when the global economy is as bad as it is today, I've heard of trade associations exerting pressure to curtail international initiatives, not just as a cost-cutting measure, but as a protectionist measure.

Watch the videos, and then share your thoughts: what should an association's international role be in such times of economic crisis?

See the other two videos.

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March 12, 2009

Can We Talk?

Bestselling author and thought leader Meg Wheatley has created a provocative blog post on the BK Communique Web site—“The Five Conversations We Need to Have Right Now”—to move society toward positive change. What conversations might we in the association sector need to have, in Wheatley’s words, “for the sake of our future?”


March 8, 2009

Now how did THAT happen?

I am a CEO and Education Director of a small staff association. For most of my professional life I have been a licensed health care provider and educator; in some ways I am an “accidental” chief staff officer. A couple of years ago the executive committee of the association approached me to help troubleshoot some issues. The organization had recently lost a key staff person and was struggling to stay upright during a very rocky transition. A business manager had been brought in but resigned after only a few months, leaving the association in a worse position. Having served as the board president of the organization four years earlier, the exec committee thought I could provide some insight about the association and help assess its situation. A few weeks as a consultant turned into a year as chief operating officer, and transitioned to the chief staff officer a few months ago.

It’s been amazingly busy and I felt overwhelmed at times, learning the skill set of organizational management. Resources such as ASAE, especially the Diversity in Executive Leadership Program (DELP), and other association professionals have been very helpful (lesson number 1: no one goes at this alone!). I’ve been able to come to place where, while everyday is still daunting in challenges, it becomes a bit easier to see the brass ring - all of the intricacies of fulfilling the organization’s mission from a broader perspective. It’s easy to become lost in the minutiae of day-to-day operations - and sometimes that’s really important to do. Yet staying down in the weeds can be disorienting; the CEO can’t afford to lose the crucial sense of direction.

Membership is a key example. Our association has had a steady number of members for the past 5 years. No contraction yet no growth. The staff and board have had meetings to talk about why this is the case. Many reasons have been cited - not enough advertising; not enough benefits; few outreach efforts, to mention just a couple. In thinking this over, larger questions came to mind: Just who is our membership? Why do they join? Is there a need that we not meeting? Is there a segment that we are not thinking about? As simple as these questions are, we have actually few answers - no surveys, no data crunching. The mechanics of attracting new members becomes easier if the organization is clear about whom it really serves. We’re working on finding the answers to these questions right now, going through our database and asking existing members about why they joined. We hope to also ask those folks who are NOT members why that’s the case.

We’re using low-cost tools to do this, and it’s slower-going than I would like, but I also know this information will help us in the long run, and make us stronger in the process.

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Finding Retention in Unexpected Places

Our staff sat down this week to discuss member retention. We’re just now beginning to feel the affects of this challenging economy. It’s not as though we’re experiencing a mass exodus. To the contrary, only a very few members have dropped membership in the last six months. Although it’s probably a discussion we should have had before now, now’s as good a time as any to ramp up our retention efforts.

Certainly, we offer dozens of products and services that could take center stage in a retention campaign. But how would we narrow these down? As a highly-regulated, government-funded industry, a number of critical issues are important to our members. Luckily, we didn’t have to decide. Our members have told us loud and clear – and, for us, the answer was somewhat unexpected.

What we know is that Michigan health care professionals look to our association for quality education. Among all of the intangible services we offer, it’s one thing that we do very well and is seen as a valuable takeaway. Even though they may be financially strapped and dues may not be in the budget this year, our former members are committed to attending our education programs, even if this means paying the non-member rate.

Knowing this, we are taking steps to feature our education programs in a new member retention campaign. We are pulling articles about upcoming education programs from our biweekly newsletter to launch a separate publication on the off weeks. We’re also creating a buzz with our “Providers Pick the Topics” project, as well as planning a Virtual Open House for the launch of our new web and audio conferencing services.

Additionally, we’re taking this opportunity to say, “thank you.” Our president/CEO will be writing a letter to our members thanking them for their loyalty and commitment to the association despite the present financial hardships they are experiencing. With this letter, we plan to offer a gift certificate inviting our members to participate in an upcoming education program at no charge.

So, my question to you is this: Are you finding retention in unexpected places this year? Of the dozens of products and services your association offers its members, which would they say are the most valuable in a downturn economy? How do you know? Does this correspond with the products and services you’re investing valuable time and money to offer?

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March 5, 2009

Great Ideas, one more time

I've been gathering up Great Ideas-related links over the last few days to share with you:

- The vibrant volunteerism unsession is continuing on Facebook.

- The unsession also continues online: Lynn Morton at the SNAP blog is the latest person to post her thoughts about ad-hoc volunteer opportunities.

- The Hourglass Blog writes about generations at Great Ideas.

- Alli Gerkman at the Next Generation Event blog has some comments on one of the videos shot at Great Ideas and what it says about repurposing education content online.

- Some notes from the wiki session at Great Ideas have been posted in the Associapedia wiki.

- Jamie Notter posted twice about the results of the Idea Lab on leadership lessons from 80s music. Warning: If you remember these songs, reading these posts will get them stuck in your head.

- Our newest Acronym blogger, Art Hsieh, posted on his own blog about what he learned from Patti Digh's general session presentation.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel posted twice about her Great Ideas experience, once on the Beaconfire Wire blog and once on her own Thanks for Playing blog.


Proposed Charity Impact Criteria Prompts Vehement Debate

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s new report, “Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best,” has set off lively debate within the nonprofit community about the group’s proposed set of benchmarks for charities’ effectiveness. While NCRP Executive Director Aaron Dorfman says the report aims to foster conversations about “standards of excellence in charitable giving,” the Alliance for Charitable Reform—a project of the Philanthropy Roundtable—warns that the benchmarks “have nothing to do with measuring effectiveness. In fact, the natural consequence of these benchmarks will be to reduce the scope and diversity of the foundation sector to one that serves a more narrow set of highly politicized interests.”

The group also is worried that the benchmarks will be “distracting” for the sector at a time when they must stay focused on responding to dramatically increased public needs for assistance in light of a weak economy.

"On average, foundation assets have dropped 20%-40%, and The New York Times reports an unusual number of charities filing for bankruptcy. It is incomprehensible that the NCRP is proposing criteria that could further ravage the charitable sector," says Sue Santa, senior vice president for public policy, The Philanthropy Roundtable.

NCRP, meanwhile, says its research shows that grantmakers “are not delivering as much social benefit as they could” and notes that more than 120 nonprofit leaders and foundations have already endorsed the criteria.

"What we offer foundations are reasonable principles and attainable goals," explains Niki Jagpal, research and policy director at NCRP and primary author of the report. "It's important for foundations to know that some of their peers already are paving the way for the rest of the sector."

To hear more about this conversation, visit www.acreform.com and www.ncrp.org.

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March 4, 2009

Dipping the proverbial toe, or jumping into the deep end?

Hi and thanks for taking the time to peruse through a first time blog entry. As a later-comer to the not-so-new world of social media I wanted to find out first hand how to relate to these forms of communication. I am not entirely sure how integrative I want this all in my professional and personal lives. Yet the potential of social media to interconnect people in new ways is both intriguing and exciting. At the Great Ideas conference I decided to go “all in” and really follow other association bloggers who were present, listen to the discussions and try my hand (okay, pecking fingers) at tweeting content during the sessions.

Thinking about it afterwards, I felt both exhilarated and a little overwhelmed about the experience. On one hand, listening to the live discussion and watching it translate into an online event through Twitter was amazing. At times there were discussions happening outside the classroom regarding the topic; then the occasional question came from the online world back into the session itself. Amazing! Here was an ability to engage an audience without significant high tech engagement and still carry the significance. Simultaneously I was following other folks tweeting about the other sessions I couldn’t attend. Wow!

On the other hand, at times I simply couldn’t keep up with the flow. I am a bit older and a bit set in the ways I absorb information; as I clumsily worked my smartphone keyboard I would be distracted and miss part of the live discussion. The twitter stream was hard to grasp too - having to scroll back up to track the online comments, or doing a search for a hashtag were cumbersome tasks. Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t do justice to what the speaker was trying to communicate in 140 characters, resulting in an inadequate comment or not sending one at all. As a regular presenter and educator I wanted to not denigrate the information, even as the topic was ironically about social media.

So, a week after my own internal experiment, where am I? Still interested and intrigued - heck, I’m even willing to embarrass myself through the occasional blog. I’m tweeting less, for which my nonassociation friends are grateful. My posts are more directed, working on content as well as style. I haven’t yet begun to figure out how to integrate/separate pure personal from pure professional. I’m not feeling as unconsciously incompetent (not knowing what I don’t know) as I did two weeks ago; yet I’m not sure if I’ve reached conscious incompetency (knowing what I don’t know). I certainly do thank the ASAE folks who helped me to work and understand this technology, whether in sessions or online. That’s the wonder and power of associations - getting great ideas from folks willing to help out!

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Welcome Art Hsieh!

I'd like to welcome Acronym's newest guest blogger, Art Hsieh. Art is chief executive officer and director of education at the San Francisco Paramedic Association, a nonprofit training institution specializing in emergency medical care and prehospital medicine. He is also certified by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians as an NREMT-Paramedic, the organization's highest level of certification, and serves as an exam representative for the NREMT examination.

Please welcome Art to Acronym. We're glad to have him on board!


Coach Marshall Goldsmith on Leadership in an Uncertain Economy

A fabulous 13-minute podcast of learning guru Elliott Masie interviewing world-renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith on “Leadership in Uncertain Times” is available free and is well worth getting a cup of coffee and having a listen with pen and notebook in hand.

Goldsmith starts off with some firm advice: “What not to do is fake it … There’s nothing to be embarrassed about” in terms of not knowing what will happen. But subordinates do need to know “where am I going now?”

Goldsmith urges leaders to pursue a six-question dialogue that should help reveal some sensible strategic options:

1. “Where are we going? (And where do you think we should be going?)”
2. “Where are you and your part of the business going? And where should you be going?”
3. “What are you excelling in?” (This is called the “doing well” question, and Goldsmith wishes leaders would ask it much more frequently, regardless of the economic landscape.)
4. “If you were the coach for you, what advice would you have?” (Prepare to be shocked at the honesty of these answers, which are often more substantive and relevant than anything the leader might suggest, according to Goldsmith.)
5. “As a leader, how can I help?” (The answers help you shape an action plan for yourself to best support others.)
6. “What suggestions do you have for me as leader?”

Most of all, Goldsmith warns leaders not to become paralyzed, especially by the big, scary numbers that may result in a feeling of helplessness. “What is, is,” he quotes a Buddhist mantra. “Ask yourself, ‘Given the reality of now, what’s the best step forward? …’”

Don’t hide from what is, he continues. Realize this reality can be hard to face, but you need to let go of the past, the anger, the grief…. "It may all change tomorrow.”

My own interview with Goldsmith on how the weak economic climate has affected board and CEO attitudes of succession planning, as well as guidance regarding what association leaders should do to help successions succeed, will appear in the next week or so on ASAE & The Center’s new economic resources site.


March 3, 2009

Figuring Carbon Offsets for Business Travel

GreenBusiness.com has a 3-minute “top tips” video about how to figure carbon offsets of business travel. It also describes briefly what is happening internationally to help standardize the metrics used by common online carbon offset calculators that are in popular use by businesses today.

According to the American Society of Travel Agents, many of its member agencies now offer a range of carbon offset calculators as part of their booking processes, so you can offset travel when you purchase a ticket. It’s worth asking next time, because people continue to be surprised at how inexpensive the offsets usually are.


March 2, 2009

Great or Challenging?

A little late to the post Great Ideas discussion, sorry. So ya, was out in Miami last week, and co-presented in two sessions (one on wikis and one debating the death of membership). On the whole, I massively enjoyed the trip and got a lot of value from being there. So, Great Ideas was totally ROI positive.

That said, I found the content to be insufficiently challenging. Not that the content was of poor quality. It was good content, say on par with Annual. But, I guess I was expecting every session to be really out there in terms of level of innovation or controversy of ideas (like my debate on the death of membership). In short, I was expecting way more heretical content than solid status quo content.

There were a few gems... The Dan Roam visual problem solving keynote was great. The '80s music leadership session was way out there. The volunteering unsession was a cool experiment. And a small few others...

Different definition/expectation of "great", I guess.

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Virtual Open House

In my new role, I will be managing a host of member outreach and engagement initiatives, including the association’s web and audio conferencing services. Virtual education is a new venture for us; however, we’re excited about the many opportunities it will open up for our members and their employees.

The process of researching and selecting a technology solution has been slow; however, we are nearly ready to sign on the dotted line and move full steam ahead.

While the technology is being put into place, the staff is being sufficiently trained on how to use it and I’m being apprised of industry best practices, we’ve decided to spend the next four weeks surveying the long-term care community about the topics they’d like us to tackle with our new virtual education capabilities.

Our survey process has the look and feel of Associations Now’s special May 2009 issue where readers pick the stories. My project, called “Providers Pick the Topics,” will be conducted in three stages. Following is the planned timeline for this project:

This week, providers will brainstorm topic ideas for our virtual education offerings. Responses will be collected via e-mail survey.

In two weeks, we’ll ask providers to vote for their favorites among the ideas suggested. Again, responses will be collected via e-mail survey.

Finally, we’ll unveil a list of recommended web and audio conference topics based on readers’ votes. We’ll ask providers to read over the winning ideas and, where possible, suggest innovative experts and resources we should utilize in the planning of these programs.

This process has at least three intended outcomes:

1. I hope to collect at least 100 viable topic ideas (all of which I’d like to tackle in the next two years).
2. I’d like this experience to help engage (and to some extent retain) our members.
3. I want this project to create a buzz. I want our members – and the greater long-term care community – to be excited about our new web and audio conferencing services.

Speaking of buzz, this project will conclude with a launch party in April. Because we’re unveiling virtual education, I thought it would be most appropriate to hold this event online. Our “Virtual Open House” will introduce the community to our new technology; help individuals who are not technologically savvy become more comfortable with navigating a webinar; and create additional buzz and excitement for our association.

My question to you is this: What should I know about planning an online launch party? What’s the best way to market such an event?


March Associations Now case study: Starting from scratch

For those of you in the East who might be snowed in today, it's the perfect time to discuss a case study! This month, Associations Now explored a situation where a small-staff CEO is left to pick up the pieces when a long-time volunteer suddenly departs. Did the CEO handle the volunteer poorly? Should the association have either rotated volunteers more often or created a more formal succession plan for such an important volunteer role? How should staff move forward when a volunteer possessed of important institutional knowledge is no longer available (for whatever reason)?

Peggy Hoffman kindly provided some thought provoking commentary on this month's case study. The scenario, and her comments, are available here. I look forward to your thoughts as well!

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