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June 30, 2009

The best managers

Business schools, law schools and management classes of all kinds spend a great deal of time and effort teaching us how to get what we want through a variety of what I would call “hard” management tools and techniques. They are “hard” like a tool of any kind is hard. You do this, and this is the result you can expect….. This approach is a black and white world that aggressively seeks to stamp out gray areas.

But what about the very best managers…the ones who inspire us to do better than we thought we ever could? You know the ones…the ones we would do our utmost to please, the ones that make coming to work an absolute pleasure--a humanly and professionally rewarding experience. Hopefully all of us have had the experience of working with or for someone like that at least once in our lives.

You can feel it in the atmosphere of the organizations that are run by such people. It is refreshing, energizing and inspiring. Some small organizations of a few employees have this; but so do some large, multinational organizations. What characterizes such places? Here are some thoughts, please feel free to add!

- They are attuned to the markets they serve—in fact they are so attuned they are sometimes seen as trend setters. They are what others want to be.

- The managers of such organizations walk the talk. And what’s more, they somehow attract and create other managers just like themselves. The whole place takes on their personality!

- A person’s word is their bond in such organizations. If you say you are going to do something, everyone knows you will—or die trying.

- They are high energy places that stimulate creative thinking. They are FUN places to work.

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June 29, 2009

Support vs. Sales

Let’s face it, many of us sort of fell into association management. Not to detract from our profession, but I remember wanting to be a Marine Biologist, not an Assistant Executive Director, when I was 8. I fell into association management because I am well-rounded, am personable, and like the idea of working for a cause greater than simple profit from making widgets. I have had some success in my work also because I’ve learned the difference between ‘sales’ and ‘support’, and why, in associations, the “support” model takes you much further.

Let’s start with definitions (from dictionary.com):

Sale: The exchange of goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent.

Support: To maintain by supplying with things necessary to existence.

Here are some tips on how to implement supporting your members, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers, and even your staff:

Ask One Question: How can I (we) support you? It sounds so nice, and it actually means something.

Focus on those you can support, not those you have to sell: Driving revenue is our goal, and I’m not saying that you should turn away money that walks through the door. What I am saying is that you should focus on the core group of people and companies who you can support, and cultivate those relationships to be mutually beneficial, symbiotic ones.

Support = Following Up: Adapt to their modes of communication, but make sure you do follow up with them. A short email or note, a quick phone call, that makes the difference.

Ask Questions: You can’t support if you don’t know anything about them. You can learn all the superficial facts on a website, and plug a few lines into your pitch, but you still don’t know the person, or the company, you only know what they do. Find out what they love, and what they hate, and what they are passionate about. And take good notes.

Meet Them Where They Are: We are all in different places, and you’ll get an instant impression from them, whether they are bored, in a hurry, engaged in your conversation, etc. If they are very detailed, than supporting them means providing many details. If they shoot from the hip, than so do you!

Here are some other examples of Sales vs. Support:

Sales is trying to make someone pay for some kind of ketchup Popsicle with, um, gloves on? Support is finding out what their favorite condiment is, and handing them a cheeseburger slathered in it, with a napkin and a nice little wet nap.

Sales is making loud jokes, talking a lot, and generally acting like you know everything. Support is facilitating, encouraging, and listening.

Sales is a fake personality making a standard pitch. Support is your real self (polished nicely), meeting a specific need for a specific client.

Sales is a method and a tool, and useful in many situations. Support is a paradigm that you use to approach all your interactions with people who support you.

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June 28, 2009

Member Relations: A Core Association Service?

Last week, I attended a golf outing sponsored by one of my Association’s five regions (chapters/components). Including travel time, the event lasted a majority of the day and prevented me from spending an eight-hour workday in the office.

My duties on-site primarily included networking with members. The question, however, is whether member relations is a core association service or if spending an eight-hour workday in the office would have been a better use of my time?

We have a small staff and I wear many hats, including that of member retention, outreach and engagement. Although to some – including a handful of coworkers that spend less time out and about with members – it may seem that member relations is unnecessary fluff.

I mean, stepping back, it is quite easy to see how one full workday spent out of the office during a beautiful, summer day could be confused with playing hooky; however, I believe that showing an interest in our members, attending regional events, networking with key stakeholders and remaining visible is paramount to active, engaged and happy members.

Like marketing, member relations is sometimes the first service to be trimmed from an association’s budget during tough economic times; however, I believe that staying connected to members allows associations like mine to gather and utilize valuable intelligence.

Attending this golf outing allowed me to network with members, informally question them about satisfaction with a variety of Association products/services, demonstrate progress on current initiatives, identify current member challenges and the list goes on.

So, my question to you is this: Do you believe “member relations” is a core association service? What does member relations look like in your association? In what ways does your association leverage member intelligence?

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June 26, 2009

Quick clicks: More to learn

Happy Friday!

George Siemens at the elearnspace blog links to an article on designing education in the "new economy of attention" that could inform some of the discussions happening in associations about Twittering and texting during conferences. In a related post, he announces a new project on social media trends and their implications for learning that sounds like it could be interesting.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel at the Thanks for Playing blog posted some food for thought on simplicity, inspired by engineering principles.

Deidre Reid at the Reid All About It blog has some in-depth thoughts on authenticity, what it looks like, and what it is.

I love this: The Association Rat blog suggests that everyone develop a "bucket list" of what you want to accomplish during your time in any given job.

Elsewhere, Wes Trochlil talks about some of the ways things we now have in abundance are creating new scarcities.

Jamie Notter tells us that leadership is not comfortable, and why it's important to accept that.

The Digital Now blog wonders about the cost of free lunch.

Some interesting social media case studies: Lee Aase talks about what they're doing at the Mayo Clinic, Mark Buzan describes a nonprofit's successful viral video campaign, and Rohit Bhargava analyzes a recent online scavenger hunt held by Virgin America.


The future of learning: Get serious

Offering another perspective on the future of learning for associations is Jeffrey Cufaude, a former association executive director and now president and CEO of Idea Architects, where (among other areas of expertise) he facilitates and designs conferences, workshops, and other learning opportunities. Jeffrey also blogs at the Idea Architects blog, where he’s currently writing a great series of posts about developing powerful presentations.

Here’s some of the many great things Jeffrey had to say about where associations are with regard to learning, and where we need to go.

I’ve heard you talk lately about issues related to diversity in association learning events. What should associations be doing to hold themselves accountable for greater diversity and inclusion in their learning programs?

I think you can start with the presenters. I think associations have an obligation to be doing due diligence about what messages they send based on the presenters that they are selecting.

I'm not saying that there should be a particular message, but if we believe and we value inclusiveness and top quality education and a whole host of other things, those then should be lenses by which we filter the choices we're making about our presenters, particularly the people who get the biggest platforms.

It would be rare for an association to bring in a political speaker or a person who has a political take on a topic without having thought about the consequences of only spotlighting one particular viewpoint. They may still choose to do it and say, no, we want this Democrat or this Republican's take on this issue. But they would have done this with deliberation and understand the consequences.

I don't think the same type of considerations are going on on other lenses. What does it mean if our three general session speakers are all 50-year-old white males? I'm not saying that's inherently bad. From my value system it is; from the association's standpoint it may not. But think about what that means in relation to the overall values of the organization.

I know, having been an education director and been around for long enough, how general session speakers are often selected. Who is the biggest name that people will get excited about listening to? And then secondly, when we get down into that plenary level, who will someone sponsor or who can we get for free?

That means our only criteria are those two core values. It's not looking at the broader set of core values. I don't think that's what people who are serious about learning should be doing.

And the consequence is that we continue to elevate the same voices and the same perspectives, and we create an echo chamber that those then become the voices and perspectives that people see because those are the ones that everyone's talking about.

What are some other things that you think associations need to be holding themselves accountable for with regard to learning?

The bulk of [conference] evaluation forms still primarily focus on satisfaction with the session. We're getting better. In my experience, maybe a quarter of those, up to a third, are getting into [questions like] “How relevant will this be for you in your workplace?” “I received ideas that I'm going to be able to use.”

But we're not even, in the basic level, asking questions that measure the effectiveness and the applicability of both the content and the format. We're still [asking] “this speaker was knowledgeable; AV and handouts were good.” I feel like we haven't even made the commitment to the baby step of holding ourselves accountable, let alone having a more sophisticated assessment mechanism to find out what actually was used.

To me that suggests that we're not really serious about ensuring that we're delivering education that is actually used back in the workplace.

What would it look like if we really were serious about that?

I think you’d see that as the finish line. Right now most associations and most directors of education see the finish line as the end of the event or the end of the webinar. I totally get that. But all we've really done is get people trained for the race; the real race is back there in the workplace.

I think there has to be an initial shift of thinking: We [know we] are successful three to six months afterwards, when people can tell us what percentage of the knowledge they used, what has worked for them, and what hasn't.

If you take that as a beginning mindset, you design things very differently from the very beginning. …

Why don't people ask what percentage of the session's content is going to be relevant to you in the work that you do? Why is that so hard to get that put onto an evaluation form? Sometimes we think about it being the meeting planner, focusing on logistics versus the director of education focusing on content. But I think that's too easy to blame the meeting planner.

If we're really serious about learning, why aren't we further along in this arena? That's the same thing I've been saying with diversity. If we were really serious about it, wouldn't things look different?

My bottom-line takeaway from that is we're not serious about learning. We're serious about delivering information, and that's not sustainable 10 to 20 years from now.

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June 25, 2009

The Quality Mountain

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted and it’s been due to an avalanche of professional demands that has consumed life in the past few months. Nearly all relate to the challenging climb that I’ve come to realize as the quality mountain. Like any ascent, there is more than one way to reach the top. And, like any attempt, slipping or falling is often just one misstep away. The goal is seemingly simple: Avoid the falls that can be fatal, and learn from the near-misses that can in fact make you wiser.

In my world, quality education occurs at the intersection of great people, curricula and infrastructure. Each part compliments the others, and if one fails the rest of the pieces fail as well. This interdependent relationship is nurtured by leadership, not just by senior management but by all involved. It’s critical that everyone feels the need to fulfill both the personal as well as organizational mission, to achieve the level of satisfaction that goes along with a job well done.

It’s a challenge to maintain the direction of heading toward quality. Day to day distractions and the pressure to achieve a middle ground consensus in difficult decision making efforts can take you off course, often without you even noticing it. You have to take time out, on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly) to consciously think about where the mission is going.

So, what are some key points I’ve picked up in the past few months?
- Stay focused. When I take my “quality time-outs” and consider where the challenges have been, and consider the final goal, I often come away feeling re-oriented to the original direction.
- Know your data! It’s not enough to just tabulate and collect information. It’s how it’s interpreted and applied that counts.
- Each quality climb begins with the first step. Absolutely corny, and absolutely true. Nothing is insurmountable when you look at it this way.
- Small falls are okay. I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes. We’ve learned a lot from our missteps. We’ve applied our lessons and have improved processes because of it.
- Stay true. What is the goal? Do the decisions you make contribute to the goal? Are you will to settle for less than what you originally wanted? Give yourself a chance to think about these questions, and commit yourself to the sometimes difficult choices you make in order to achieve your goal.


Good marketing or just deceptive?

I have recently become aware of organizations (associations and for-profit organizations) reaching out to popular bloggers in their industries asking them to endorse/promote a product, service, or event. This has really got me wondering about morals and ethics and how social media plays into these two areas that are truly critical for an association to maintain.

Here is an almost actual example......The meetings department of the ABC Association is struggling to reach their attendance goals for their annual conference, despite several new features planned for the conference that should be of great value to their members. Their marketing budget was also cut, so they are thinking of creative ways to get people to attend. To really start some buzz and not spend a lot of money, the meetings marketing manager contacts several industry bloggers and personally asks them to post something about the conference on their blogs. Over the next couple of weeks information on the conference starts to show up on many of the blogs written by people the meetings manager has reached out to personally. The posts are very similar and nowhere does it say that the information was posted because the association reached out to the author and asked for it to be mentioned.

All I keep hearing is that one of the keys to being successful in social media is to be authentic and then your audience will spread your message for you. That means you need to be honest, truthful and ethical in what you do in these areas. To me what the association did in the example above flies right in the face of authenticity. I agree that it is a very smart marketing tactic but is getting an endorsement without a disclaimer saying the mention was requested really the best way to promote something? Isn't it slightly, if not completely, devious and underhanded? What would happen if word got out this was done? Would the reputations of both the meetings marketing manager and the bloggers be tarnished?

What is your opinion? Is this just good marketing or is it, for good reasons or not, something that should be reserved for other marketing mechanisms? Please reply with your thoughts or suggestions on how an organization could do something like this but still have full disclosure.

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June 24, 2009

Is relevance enough?

Last week, Steve Worth posted about the thorny issue of relevance--how associations can achieve relevance and maintain it over time. His post sparked several interesting comments, but I wanted to highlight one in particular, from Jamie Notter:

"Of course I understand the concept behind the importance of relevance, and maybe I'm just word-smithing here, but the word "relevant" bugs me (and I've been hearing it a lot lately). It feels like we're setting the bar too low. As Maddie Grant has said, having the goal of relevance is like living your life with the goal of being "not dead." Maybe Rebecca's comment about future-focused is part of it. Is relevant really enough?"

What do you think? Is it enough for associations to be relevant? If there is a higher bar we should aspire to, how would you describe it?

If others have thoughts on Jamie's question or Steve's original post, I'd love to hear them! The discussion is here.

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June 23, 2009

Fact-based decision making

When I was a staffer on Capitol Hill I recall hearing two different stories told quite often during debates on the Senate floor.

One was: There are three types of lies in the world—simple lies; damn lies; and then there are statistics!

The other was: As the Bible says, “Come let us reason together.” We all have our points of view on which we differ, but we should at least be able to agree on the facts—they are what they are. Facts are stubborn things….

Both assertions are true of course. No one needs a course in statistics to know that the gathering and presentation of facts is a serious matter and that a lot of pseudo-science underlies a lot of the “facts” we see cited in advertising that bombards us every day. But it is also true that no rational debate can occur and no sound decision can be made that is not founded on the facts. This is true in all cases and particularly true in board of director meetings—those groups of leaders made up of “type A” personalities, all of whom are quite certain they know the way forward…..

As association managers, we have all had to herd cats on occasion, haven’t we? In this, facts have a way of focusing attention in the right direction. Lacking this compass, we are faced with rule by the most dominant personality, the loudest voice, or the one most skilled in Machiavellian intrigue.

But what are these facts on which your organization makes its decisions? Are they what is true for your board of directors, according to their experience?--your membership, according to their needs and perceptions?—or are they what is true for the market at large? When they differ, which set of facts weigh most heavily on the scales for your organization?

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June 22, 2009

9,000 E-mails? Association E-Marketers Face Tough Competition

E-mail marketing has never been so popular, thanks to the weak economy and increased use of the Internet by consumers and members. What stopped me cold as I skimmed a press release about a new report from Forrester Research Inc. was the company’s prediction that “in five years, consumers will be deluged with more than 9,000 email marketing messages annually.”

More broadly, the report predicts spending on e-mail marketing will jump by almost 11% annually to $2 billion by 2014.

But gosh, am I seriously going to have to delete or respond to 9,000 e-mail pitches a year? The vision of my graying self, hips wider than a boat from camping out in my desk chair trying to empty an in-box exploding with don’t-ya-want-it e-mails, is very depressing. Life is too short.

And that’s just the receiver’s viewpoint. What about us as the senders? Many associations are already taxed with complaints from members about sending them too many e-mails. How will we compete against 8,900-odd other messages?

“By 2014, direct marketers will waste $144 million on e-mails that never reach their primary target,” says Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst David Daniels. “Successful direct marketing pros will alter their tactics to overcome inbox clutter and increase relevancy.”

So there’s the challenge. It’s not a new one, but now it seems more urgent than ever. Association marketers, not to mention the entire staff, must explore new ways to showcase our products and services through memorable, persuasive language and vehicles that make clear their true value.

And it’s not a one-step process. The Forrester report also predicts that so-called “retention emails”—those that consumers have agreed to receive—“will account for more than a one-third of all marketing messages in consumers’ inboxes by 2014, representing increased competition for marketers.” That means we have to first keep ourselves on the permissions list of our people and stop annoying them with e-blasts in which they have no stake or interest.

And we have to be more assertive about training our staffs in the art of using social media as a legitimate business tool. Several recent conversations I had with members reminded me how tentative our sector can be, even about piloting something such as a conference Twitter stream, a CEO blog, or an education session held in Second Life.

According to Daniels, “The use of e-mail in social networks will be one of the biggest challenges for direct marketers. Over the next five years, marketers must bridge the gap between social and traditional inboxes with social sharing tools.”

So let’s keep the conversation flowing about how to ensure that our members keep us on their “permissions” list for our marketing materials—and then act accordingly. Ideas?

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Remote Staff as an Asset

In this century, more and more individuals are moving toward working part-time or full time from a remote location. This trend will continue, as we begin to integrate personal and business lives into a more cohesive, and perhaps even healthier, lifestyle. Associations are uniquely positioned to view this trend as an asset, not a liability.

Let’s not forget that productivity has nothing to do with proximity, it’s a function of culture, good management, and personality. If you are confident that the intersection of these three items at your association is strong, then read on!

Realizing remote staff as an asset will allow you to see the following opportunities:

Communication can be maintained, and in some ways enhanced, by distance. For example, two personalities who are extremely diverse may actually work better together if they have some distance, and communicate less in person and more via email/chat, or by phone. In-person meetings are still important and can be arranged based on proximity/need.

Use the remote location to further your interests. Is the remote employee on the other side of town closer to the printer that you use? Are they in a different state that allows them to travel to other industry events for less time/money?

Less interruption can lead to increased productivity. We are all constantly interrupted, and the office atmosphere is one of the most invasive spaces to work in many places. A remote worker at home may be able to schedule more interruption-free time.

Expect extended availability. It seems like a fair exchange that if a remote individual receives some serious bennies, like working in their pajamas, having a more flexible schedule and being able to save money on gas, that you can realistically ask and expect them to be more available for phone calls and other issues during non-business hours.

Managing traditional and non-traditional employees does pose some challenges. Some tips are:

Treat them differently. It’s okay to do this, because the goal is to re-align their job descriptions and duties with their remoteness; they are satellite offices, and should have different expectations than in-house staff.

Barter. Any staff member who works remotely will not be able to, for example, answer the phones constantly or do specific admin tasks; trade these out with other tasks that they can do from anywhere, for example asking them to update the website more often, etc. Being proactive and showing the in-house staff that they aren’t expected to double their workload may help alleviate any feelings of unfairness.

Accountability knows no bounds. Proper accountability, in the form of defining the task and responsibility, setting parameters, providing a small set of boundaries, and asking staff to report back, really does not have anything to do with distance. If you really think about it, there have been remote employees in many industries for decades, in the form of outside salesman. Now we just have more tools to make it easier.


June 19, 2009

Quick clicks: No whammies!

Some links for weekend reading:

- David Gammel argues for benevolent dictatorships, at least when it comes to website design.

- Blue Avocado has an interesting article on the portrayal of nonprofits in popular culture, with a number of comments providing additional examples. (Although I can't think of many pop culture references to professional or trade associations. Can anyone else think of some?)

- Tony Rossell imagines what he'd do if he was building an entirely new membership marketing program from the ground up.

- The Nonprofit University blog talks about survival, sustainability, and the differences between the two.

- Frank Fortin was inspired by Jim Collins' new book.

- The Busy Event blog shares what your exhibitors, attendees, and sponsors are thinking--and not telling you.

- The Vanguard Technology blog has four reasons why mobile matters to associations.

- Jeff De Cagna has a podcast interview with Alan Webber, co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine and author of the new book Rules of Thumb: 52 Principles for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.

- Cindy Butts reminds us all to be kind.

- Ken Zielske at the Association Media blog asks if your association has a "whammy bar"--something really cool that sets it apart. (Clearly I don't know guitars, because all I could think about as I read the post was that 1980s game show where the contestants would yell "No whammies!")

- Peggy Hoffman asks, "What's the difference between social networks and communities?"


The cost of free

Free is an attractive word; it gets attention. But it can also be a dangerous word; one that should probably be avoided much more often than it is.

Researchers led by Michael A. Kamins (Stony Brook University-SUNY), recently published an academic article on the effects of bundling products together and calling one of them free. (You can access a press release or purchase the article here.) The basic findings: consumers devalue anything that is labeled free. They found that if you bundled two products together without using the word "free," then any devaluation is significantly less.

Something to think about as associations bundle products and services together as a revenue-generating tactic in a tough a economy.

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June 18, 2009

The future of learning: The (global) crowd, part II

This is part II of a two-part interview with June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media; part I is here.

What's fascinating about that is that the volunteers took two steps. Not only did they identify that the translation was problematic, they actually stepped in and said, “I'll fix it.”

Exactly. Yeah, and were eager to, happy to, almost insistent about it. "Let me fix this. You can't have this on the site." And so we learned both to trust in that and also not to underestimate the desire of people to be involved and a part of something greater than themselves. I think that's actually sort of a fundamental human need, and that's one of the things that crowdsourcing, overall, online delivers. It creates community and it offers purpose and reward, which are things that everyone needs.

Are there any trends or interesting demographic information that you’ve seen in the project?

In the first three weeks, 2,500 translators volunteered, of which I think there are around 800 currently working on translations. There's like 1,500 translations in motion in 56 languages. The major thing I've learned in watching what talks have been translated into different languages is that I never could have predicted the talks that are chosen. If we had tried in a top-down way to decide which talks get translated into each language, there's no way that we would have guessed correctly, partially because so much of it is personal preference.

For example, we have maybe ten talks that have been translated into Farsi, or Persian. And among them are included Helen Fisher's talk on why we love and why we cheat, Richard Dawkins’ talk on militant atheism. And those are pretty interesting and controversial topics to be introducing to an Iranian audience. Now, of course, along with those are other ones which are not controversial at all, things like Ken Robinson on creativity and education, or Liz Gilbert on cultivating genius. But I find those kind of controversial examples just interesting and interesting to watch.

It seems like this has the potential to be transformative in how the meetings themselves are held. Does it make TED think maybe it can get non-English-speaking presenters integrated into the conference more?

Currently, we do think that in the next year we will likely have at least one speaker at a TED event that is speaking in another language and translated simultaneously. But we don't think that this will be a strong direction for us. We still believe that sitting in an audience through a speaker talking in another language, whether it's with supertitles or with a translator, is a bit tedious. It's actually a little bit hard to sit through in the room. Also, we think it's really important for the conversation at a conference to be in one language, to have a kind of coherent experience that can be shared.

But we have a new program that's not completely rolled out yet, called TED X, which allows people around the world to license the product's name and hold small, independent TED events in their own area. So we have a TED X Tokyo and a TED X San Francisco and a TED X UCS at the University of Southern California. It's a slightly different brand but a TED event that has at least 50 percent TED content, recorded TED talks, and then 50 percent live speakers. What this allows us to do over time is find some of the best speakers in other languages—capture those talks at events in that language and then put them up on the TED website with English subtitles. I personally would love to see some of the best speakers around the world who don't speak English and who I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

It seems like what you're telling me is that you really still can't sacrifice the personal interactive experience that the people actually onsite are having at the event.

Right. Exactly. We are constantly trying to balance preserving the integrity of an intimate live event that works with the people in the room with the creation of talks that will have a much longer life online and many, many orders of magnitude more of people online. The conference itself, the live event, is still the nucleus. It's the absolute center of what we do. And we just can't sacrifice anything there. The event has shifted actually since we've started putting the talks online and since we've gained such a large online presence, but we've been extremely careful about preserving the quality and integrity of that experience, even as we started to begin having five cameras in the room and professional lighting and professional staging.


The future of learning: The (global) crowd

If you haven’t heard of the TED Conference, TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”—and originally, the conference was intended to bring people from those three worlds together. Today, TED has evolved into a small, invitation only conference with a global following online. More than 400 of the conference’s TEDTalks, 18-minute presentations by people from Seth Godin to Jane Goodall, are available online. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.

Last month TED.com launched its Open Translation Project, which invites viewers to translate the talks into various languages. The effort has already been a remarkable success, and June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, spoke with Mark Athitakis (senior editor of Associations Now, who kindly contributed this post to Acronym) about its evolution into a crowdsourced project, how to channel users’ enthusiasm, and how crowdsourcing has sparked future projects.

What inspired TED to begin translating its talks?

We launched TEDTalks online nearly three years ago, and pretty much as soon as we put TEDTalks out to the world we started to have people ask us to translate them. People were asking us to translate them into other languages, but actually more frequently people were offering to translate them. We would get at least one or two offers a month of somebody saying, “I've translated Ken Robinson’s talk into Polish." They would say, "Well, we did this translation. Do you want it?" But we didn't know what to do with them. We didn't have a system for dealing with them.

So we knew pretty early on that there was a lot of demand and, more interestingly, that there were people who were kind of clamoring to translate for us. So we began thinking about the project at least two years ago. And we committed to it around a year and a half ago. It's been a very long time in development. As we've discovered more and more, it was just an extremely complicated project to create an architecture for what we wanted to do.

Was crowdsourcing always part of the plan? You had people who were willing to volunteer translations, but was it always designed to open the doors to let people contribute?

Yes and no. Crowdsourcing was always going to be a component of it because we knew from the beginning that there were volunteers who were interested and motivated. But initially and for a very long time, I believed that the crux of the project would be based on professional translation, because we take very seriously the task of faithfully translating our speakers' words. For some time I really believed that professional translation was the only way that you could guarantee that kind of quality. I also thought that by having professional translation it would set the bar at the proper level. It would provide an example to the volunteers of the kinds of quality we were shooting for.

I do think in every volunteer project it's important to set examples. But it turns out a lot of my assumptions were wrong. Around six months ago we shifted from a project that was going to emphasize professional translation with some crowdsourced translation, to one that was entirely focused on crowdsourced translation but was seeded with a small amount of professional translation.

I can give a great example of why we've come to really trust in the idea of crowdsourcing. As we were about to launch the site it turned out that one [translator] actually submitted to us a small amount of work that was machine-translated. And within two hours of opening up our site, just our beta site to just our translators, we had three different volunteer translators come to us and say, “There's a problem with this translation—it seems to have been machine-translated. But just give it to me, I'll fix it.”

So we had these errors that were introduced because of a rare, dishonest translation vendor who had submitted to us machine-translated work. And within hours it was identified and corrected by volunteer translators. That really turned on its head everything I thought going in about the roles of volunteers versus professional translators. I really thought that in all cases the professional translators would be leading the way in terms of the quality.

(See part II of this interview for more, including a glimpse of TED’s new “TED X” program.)


June 17, 2009

If You Build It

We’re all familiar with the concept popularized by the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams,” which suggests that if you build it, they will come. I’m wondering how many association professionals actually believe this to be true.

Several months ago I researched web and audio conferencing solutions, selected a very reputable company and began work customizing an interface that is both user-friendly and cutting-edge. All this, of course, after piloting a series of virtual education programs that were very well attended.

We then surveyed our members and identified more than 150 different program ideas that were both interesting and appropriate for health care professionals statewide, all of which lend themselves to either web or audio-only formats.

I worked diligently to select the most innovative topics and to secure the most respected thought leaders in our industry. We also identified a very reasonable and affordable rate at which to offer these programs to our members.

We then launched a new biweekly education newsletter, as well as a monthly education-at-a-glance e-mail, to help promote these programs. We also mailed a memo from our president/CEO outlining our newly-expanded educational programming and provided our members with an easy reference tool intended to assist them in navigating our complete education suite.

In 30 days we’ll send another mailing with more literature and a fun promotional item to help create additional buzz. We’re also sharing our reference tool with anyone and everyone who’ll listen to our spiel.

And still we have low participation during our newly-launched and very professionally-produced virtual education programs.

My question to you is this: Have you experienced a similar situation with a new product or service? How long did it take to “catch on” with your members? What else can be done to encourage “early adoption”? What advice do you have for others who may be experiencing this same predicament?

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More Resources Help Associations with Pandemic Flu Contingency Planning

With the World Health Organization’s June 11 decision to upgrade the global pandemic ranking for H1N1 influenza (swine flu) to its peak phase 6, some associations, nonprofits, and business partners are developing new contingency and crisis communication materials for their corporate members, as well as the public.

Please note that in announcing the status change, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, Ph.D., spoke calming words: "The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic. We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch. No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning. The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness."

Here are some of the ways associations and business partners are responding with practical advice and information:

- The Conference Board has released a downloadable report, "Key Questions in Pandemic Planning", and is regularly updating its Web site with news, resources, and case studies about how organizations responding to a pandemic threat.

- The American Veterinary Medical Association pandemic site has developed a comprehensive FAQs list to address public inquiries and share breaking news about swine flu.

- Marketing and technology firm Varolii has released a list of eight practices that should be part of any pandemic-related crisis communications plan: Be proactive, rather than reactive. Update employee contact information immediately. Use multiple communication channels to ensure everyone gets the word. Leverage two-way communication, so employees can keep you informed of their status. Don’t assume a single message will do. Communicate the way your employees want you to, which means you need to ask them how they prefer to be kept informed. Communicate with customers, too, so they know what’s going on. Consider outsourcing the creation of a pandemic communication plan if your organization is "too busy" or inexperienced to develop one—don’t wait until it’s too late.


June 16, 2009

Growing older…

Unfortunately, we all do it, it can’t be helped! But, if yours is a professional society or an association that has individual people as members (as opposed to organizational membership) and you have noticed that the average age of your members is going up, then this should be a wake up call that your nonprofit has gotten off track.

What is the secret of eternal life for individual membership associations?—relevancy, a simple concept but deceivingly difficult sometimes to achieve. It is difficult because relevancy is a moving target--one can be relevant one year and “old news” the next. Keeping your members is nice but not enough. Instead, your membership year-to-year should reflect the profile of the work force at large for the sector you serve--ideally a bell-shaped curve with a bulge over that age group that is in the prime of their careers. In a free market economy, such a membership profile is the best affirmation that your organization and the programs and services it offers have been judged by the marketplace to be relevant to its needs.

So, how does one achieve and keep relevancy? Anyone care to share?

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June 15, 2009

Armchair Psychiatry & Your Association

Our lives are filled with so much noise that it’s hard to filter out the important from the not-so-critical. However, as humans, our filtering process is exceptionally important. The better we understand what our personal filters are, the more we gain more insight into how we interact with (and manage) others.

My conversations with my psychiatrist wife have had a profound impact on how I think about this topic. Here are some concepts that I’ve learned from her that have helped me better understand my own filters:

Projection: In the most basic sense, this is when one person’s unwanted feelings or thoughts are projected onto someone else. For example, as a manager I may be insecure that my work isn’t as detailed and organized as it should be. Instead of realizing or addressing my own anxiety, I may focus more on the shortcomings I perceive in the work of those who report to me, micromanaging them in the process.

Personality: Some doctors say it can’t be changed after a certain age. People often say ‘that’s just the way I am, don’t try to change me’. The Buddhists say that we hold to ideas about who we are that are unrealistic, as we are made of infinitesimal pieces that are constantly changing. Others say they can measure it and tell you if you are a networker or an introvert. Who is right? The truth may be that they all are; it is extremely hard to change certain pieces of ourselves or others, but it’s also extremely possible. And isn’t that what great leaders do, change people?

How does this apply to association management? If I could practice what I preach in this blog entry, I’d have a way bigger ego than I already do—but I’ve found that if I can absorb some of these concepts into my filter, it helps me navigate a bit.

Here are some tips for rethinking how you approach people in your day-to-day relationships:

- Treat people as you’d like them to be. Note: Use this concept only with positive feedback, never criticism. Constructive criticism is a management tool, not a way we interact with those around us on a day-to-day basis.

- People behave the way they do because they are getting something out of that behavior—even negative behavior provides results. Look for the results a particular behavior is providing.

- When you interact with someone, especially someone you dislike or are having a disagreement with, picture them as they may have been as a child. Think of them when they were 10 years old and got their feelings hurt. Think of them in the sense of a composite of all of their experiences—some they could control, most they could not.

- Don’t worry so much about being taken advantage of.

- Trust people until they give you a reason not to.


Welcome Brian Birch!

I'd like to take a moment to welcome Acronym's newest guest blogger, Brian Birch. Brian is the assistant executive director of the Snow and Ice Management Association, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After earning his master's degree in e-business, Brian joined SIMA as membership administrator. He briefly served as interim executive director for the association during the search for SIMA's current executive director.

Over the next few weeks, Brian has some creative thoughts to share on management (both personnel management and association management) and more. Please make him feel welcome here on Acronym!

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June 12, 2009

Quick clicks: You live, you learn

In honor of our "future of learning" theme this month, the first links in this week's list are learning related:

Jeff Cobb shares his own definition of learning in a recent post on the Mission to Learn blog. Do you agree? Disagree?

Cindy Butts of the AE on the Verge blog shares the story of an association educating its members through weekly quizzes on Twitter.

Interested in improving your presentation skills, or helping you association's presenters improve theirs? Jeffrey Cufaude has started a series of posts about "powerful presentations." Here's the first three posts.

The Associationrat blogger describes instituting a code of core values in his/her department.

Judith Lindenau at the Off Stage blog has a great post on transparency in associations.

Does your association want to build an audience or a community? Chris Brogan nails the distinction.

On the Socialfishing blog, Maddie Grant posted a few weeks ago to ask, "How can associations be more like Google?" More recently, two great comments have been posted in response to her question.

Pay very close attention to second-year members who don't renew, advises Marilyn Rutkowski in a recent post on The Forum Effect.

I've wondered in the past why some organizations don't allow telecommuting, and finally, an article answers my question (at least in part); the Dear Association Leader blog has more.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog wonders if association publishers might have a leg up on for-profit publishers in the current economy.

Beth Kanter posted an interesting list of nonprofit CEOs who are active on Twitter. (The list is expanded greatly in the comments to her post.)


Volunteering: Prom Queen Status Continues

You can’t open a newspaper these days without reading a major article about the popularity of volunteering, whether it’s how to use it to find a new job, where to go for opportunities, or what the true impact of volunteers is. Here are a few observations and resources:

- The nonprofit NeighborWorks America has activated thousands of volunteers for its week-long NeighborWorks Week of community service events in more than 300 U.S. urban and rural areas. The organization, a leading trainer of community development professionals, also has launched a social media tool called LeadersforCommunities.org to enable virtual networking, job hunting, and information exchange among emerging and established community development leaders and volunteers. The tool aims to address the “crisis in leadership across the nonprofit industry and a lack of diversity in the leadership of the field.”

This site gets personal fast with its ever-changing slideshow of images (you can load yours up as well), its list of relevant blogs, news, events, and more.

- The United Kingdom just wrapped up its 25-year anniversary celebration of Volunteers Week, which ran June 1-7 and sought to “raise the profile” of volunteers and encourage others to join in. I especially like that the Web site enables visitors to share “thank you” stories that detail what volunteers actually accomplished. Why don’t more organizations do that? And this is the first time I’ve seen this number: According to TimeBank, a volunteering nonprofit in the UK, “73% of employers would employ a candidate with volunteering experience over one without.” That ought to inspire some folks to get out and give back.

- And finally, buzz continues to grow for the world’s largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders-- the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in San Francisco June 22-24—which has the theme “Civic. Energy. Generation.” Co-hosted by Points of Light Institute and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the conference is running a steady stream of stories, news, retrospective videos, and insights on its Facebook page and Twitter.


June 11, 2009

The future of learning: Un-learning

One quote that really struck me as I was transcribing my interview with Rhea Blanken last week was “That blank room is my canvas, and I can paint anything I want with it.” What if that blank room was your attendees’ canvas, and they could paint anything they wanted with it? One way to do that is to hold an unconference.

Michele Martin is a learning expert, as well as the author of the excellent Bamboo Project blog. She recently organized an unconference (using a format called Open Space) and was kind enough to speak with me about the experience.

What led up to the decision to use the open-space format for this particular conference?

This is part of a larger project that I’m doing with the Department of Human Services for the State of New Jersey. They had done what they’re calling the Discoverability New Jersey Plan for looking at how they’re helping individuals with disabilities find and keep employment.

I had done an open-space forum in December for some youth services practitioners in Pennsylvania, so I suggested that we think about doing something along those lines, to engage people in more of a problem-solving, best-practice-sharing kind of conversation, as opposed to the typical conference where you have people doing presentations.

How well did the open-space format work for the goals that they had for the conference?

It worked extremely well. We got great feedback.

The goals were to bring people together to have conversations and start talking about different ideas. For example, we had a session that was on myths and challenges—stories that people are telling themselves. So a group talked about what the general public thinks about people with disabilities, another group talked about what people with disabilities themselves think, parents and families and so forth.

It’s getting different perspectives and then [asking], how can you address some of those issues?

Several attendees had disabilities themselves. How did you make sure there were no barriers to their participation?

Some people had physical disabilities. We had to give a little extra time to make sure that they could get to the room [for each session] and also think about what rooms we were using and how accessible they were.

Some people had visual disabilities: Some people were completely blind, other people were partially blind. Obviously, since we were having conversations, they could participate in that, but we also had to make sure that we were always summarizing things, rather than just relying on flipcharts.

We are also putting stuff on a wiki. We’ve had some challenge with that, because we’re getting feedback that not all wiki platforms are accessible with JAWS [screen reading software for visually impaired users]. So we’re looking at ways to share the notes through PDF.

What else did you learn that you could apply to future Open Space events?

One is that it’s an incremental process. We actually used a modified Open Space. In real Open Space, you come together with a larger theme, like “individuals with disabilities seeking employment.” Then people take responsibility for coming up with subthemes, pulling people together into their own conversations, scheduling, all of that. It’s a much more participant-controlled process.

I didn’t think they were ready for that, so we used a modified version. I would always suggest doing that unless you know you’re dealing with a group that’s really willing to take charge.

Make sure that you give your facilitators good guidelines and information on how to facilitate, how to take notes. That is really critical, so that you get everything back in a good format, and so people know what their role is and what they’re supposed to do.

The other thing is making sure that you give people clear expectations before they get there. We advertised it as something that was different. We sent out the Open Space guidelines prior to the session and said, “Do not come here expecting PowerPoint because you will be sorely disappointed.”

Even with that, we did get some complaints. Now part of it is that some people are just not going to get a clear picture until they participate. But those multiple stages of prep were something that we found we needed to do.

What are some ways that you think associations can best take advantage of the Open Space concept?

One of the ways to make it work is to think: What are the big questions? What are the big issues of the day, and how can you frame that in a way that’s going to get people interested, engaged, and talking to each other? Present those questions in a provocative way, because that gets people talking. Working with a planning group to come up with good, engaging questions for the issues that are facing you is a good strategy for getting [an Open Space conference] going.

I think [Open Space is] a good way to share best practices and start moving on some things. Part of what we tried to do was pull that from people, so that when we then put it up on the wiki, people can follow up. Having that follow-up is a way to connect back to the workplace or back to their daily lives.

(Note: Michele has posted more reflections on the Open Space experience on her blog. Association blogger Ben Martin has also posted about planning a successful unconference.)

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June 9, 2009

The future of learning: Be brave!

On Friday, I shared some insights from Rhea Blanken on the future of learning in associations. Following our conversation, Rhea sent me some additional thoughts via email; she's agreed to let me share them here:

"In the future (and in the now), what is needed, beyond venue, delivery, and tools....
The willingness of people to be more courageous, especially regarding their own development.

"More is being expected of both Right & Left Brainers—do more with less, be more creative and innovative, be faster, be more adapt in solving yesterday's problems today while focusing on the future. The human brain (plus the body) needs to be refreshed, rejuvenated and renewed regularly.

"We need to be more courageous in finding ways to do just that for ourselves, our staffs, our volunteers, and our organizations. As we train, learn, and develop—being courageous and taking that next step to engage in those development opportunities will be critical."


Wishing the time away...or not

As we gaze into the tea leaves to see when this “Great Recession” is going to fade into history, you might find yourself wishing, as I do on occasion, that time pass by more quickly so that we can get this disagreeable period behind us sooner rather than later…..

But before we push the “fast forward” button maybe we should reflect a little on what we might be missing by leapfrogging the next six months or twelve or eighteen months—depending on which economist you are listening to.

What I have found in my own firm as well as with many of the clients we are helping these days, is that this recession has stripped away veneers that had been comfortably hiding certain structural and strategic weaknesses that could once be ignored but now can’t. These weaknesses in fact are the real sources of our pain and need to be corrected—why wait, why not now? Once we have staunched the bleeding the best we can, perhaps a useful investment of time is to examine how these once ignored weaknesses can be addressed so that we emerge from this trial stronger for having undergone it.

I know, I know, this is easier to say than to do. It is like building a plane while flying it. So, is there anything easier to do? Well maybe.

The principal strength of the nonprofit community is its rootedness in issues and purposes that are intended to better society as a whole. Look around; society’s needs are crying out. If organizations that were created to help better society cannot now rise to the occasion when there is so much need, then who can? It seems to me that now more than ever could be the time for the nonprofit community to shine. This may mean looking at your mission in a new way…aiming higher, thinking differently and coming up with strategies and programs that make a difference for society and for yourselves.

Well, what are you waiting for?

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June 8, 2009

Social networking and choices

As we all become inundated with information on the why and how of social networking, (the choices: should we become LinkedIn, join Twitter, or find ourselves on Facebook), and hearing what we can gain from our time online, I realize that I must now look at my own time and make some personal decisions. When online, am I using social networking as a personal or professional tool? Do I want to share what I’m doing at work or on my home-based business while on Twitter? How much time can I spare from the many other chores I should be working on to stay connected?

After joining Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook I was like many of you and spent far too much time eavesdropping on others. I occasionally posted a message about what I was doing, sometimes even taking time to ask or answer questions and chat with others online, but generally, I was an outsider watching others post. Now, I find I’m ready to make some of the decisions that determine if Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are a benefit or a detriment to my daily life. I’ve analyzed the people I “follow” on Twitter and realized that many don’t interest me. I simply don’t want to read the daily inspirational quotes they pass on. I am working to change those that I follow and see if my interest grows. I find I benefit most from LinkedIn by reading the group discussions that take place and occasionally joining in and sharing my views. I also have determined to keep Facebook for personal use and will use it to keep in touch with family and friends.

With this basic outline I can now move forward, adding social networking to my day at my discretion. I plan to talk with my association about making a Social Networking Business Plan soon, to see if we should be utilizing its potential to benefit or reach our members, and I’ll keep reading the articles that cover the why’s and how’s to give me clarity on the subject. Have you had to face these same issues in your daily routine? How did you deal with the time, the question of personal and professional use, and the use of these online tools for yourself?

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June 5, 2009

The future of learning: Experience it

As I mentioned earlier this week, this month we’re going to be exploring several different perspectives on the future of learning, much like we did last month with community. Our first conversation was with Rhea Blanken of Results Technology, a passionate advocate for learning in general and new learning formats in particular. And by nontraditional, I mean nontraditional: At a recent event, she convinced a hotel to pile every possible kind of seating in the corner of the room—everything from standard conference room chairs to sofas and chaise lounges—so that attendees could select their own seats and decide where they wanted to put them. And that was just the beginning of their learning experience.

Here’s some of what Rhea had to say.

You’ve long championed the cause of nontraditional learning formats. What motivates you to be so passionate about new ways of approaching learning?

The first experiential learning design I did was over 35 years ago. It was an all-day training for fundraisers; I was a volunteer training for United Jewish Appeal. Back in the ’70s, Russia said you could to immigrate to Israel, but it was going to cost you $10,000 a head. So we needed to raise a lot of money, and we needed to raise it fast. And that kind of fundraising isn’t about having a nice conversation with someone. You needed to experience what we were doing it for.

[Participants] got the experience of leaving Russia, got the experience of immigration, got the experience of deprivation, got the experience of welcome. These were very proper Southern Jewish women, and the effect was startling, because they were immersed in what we were talking about. What we needed to do is respect their time, respect how they would absorb things. …

As learners, we’ve changed, and one of the ways we’ve changed is, I want the entire experience. Let me have it. Back in school, you hated being talked to; what you learned was when you were involved in it, either by actually experiencing the idea of it, or in the construction of a learning lesson. …

Get people involved in their own learning. Don’t give them a book. Even a webcast can get them involved. Virtual doesn’t mean you don’t have them involved. But if you just have them sitting down and listening, they will not walk away with much.

Are you seeing more associations experiment with different learning formats?

Yes. You had at Great Ideas a session where one of the guys did a board game about training volunteers. There have been a couple of reports in Associations Now where different staff at associations have created board games to train staff at that organization. What I know to be true is there is experimentation going on. There are individual staff people getting it.

Has the association community turned the corner? No. But individuals are getting it. It’s these little moments, but they are learning, they are seeing how to do little things on their own. They just need to be encouraged that it’s OK.

What is your vision for the future of learning in associations?

We’re still going to have meetings, and I think we’re meant to meet. We’re relationship based. I don’t know if cows have meetings, but human beings meet; it’s what we do. That is not going to change.

If I had my druthers, it would be that the venues we meet in would let us use them to their fullest capacity, and wouldn’t say “No, we can’t do that here.” They would say, “How can we do that?” … That blank room is my canvas, and I can paint anything I want with it. Stop saying no, and start saying “Yeah, let’s look at that.”

Number two is that the people presenting that learning, they get supported. You can be a great expert, but if you’re never taught how to present, you’re not going to be successful. …

We’re still going to meet, online and in person. I don’t want to say there’s only going to be one way [to meet]. There’s not. We’ll always need venues, delivery systems, and deliverers of content. But we need to be more creative, more inclusive, more inventive.

(How can we become more creative and inventive? Rhea spoke about creativity and how to create a culture that nurtures it in a recent ASAE & The Center video.)

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Quick clicks: Deal 'em

Some links for your Friday morning:

The Signal vs. Noise blog has a great short post on "doubling down" in business. Are any associations pursuing a "double down" strategy today?

On a related note, Jeff De Cagna asks, "What should we be doing to make innovation a more significant strategic priority in associations and in our community as a whole?"

The Nonprofit University Blog worries that associations are so focused on surviving today's tough times that they're hurting their chances of success long-term.

Speaking of which, Rosetta Thurman says, "Nonprofits will never be respected until we start respecting ourselves."

Jeffrey Cufaude pointed me to an interesting post by Seth Godin on an alternative MBA program Godin has established, and the lessons he's learned so far.

A few weeks ago, Jamie Notter started a discussion about leadership, asking, "What are your top 3 things people need to do, learn, focus on, etc. in order to become more effective leaders?" He's collected all of the answers in one post, and it's a great one.

The Wild Apricot blog has collected 30 links from their new Association Jam site, a community bookmarking and rating site for association-related stuff. There are a lot of interesting articles in there, as well as some bloggers I wasn't aware of.


June 4, 2009

Is National Geographic Society’s Social Media Strategy Helping Their Image?

The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association is pointing members to an excellent analysis of the National Geographic Society’s social media strategy. Evaluated by Lisa Braziel of a company called Ignite Social Media, the extensive piece highlights the best takeaways for other organizations, such as wise use of those little tabs on Facebook pages. It’s interesting reading and a fair critique for folks seeking great models to consider.


June 3, 2009

What have you learned?

At my son’s school, the teachers’ lounge has a whiteboard that always asks a question; the teachers (and occasionally other passersby) write in their answers. The question changes regularly, but the answers are always interesting for me to see.

This week’s question and answers really struck me, since we're working on a series of posts for Acronym this month about learning and what the future of learning in associations will look like:

Question: What have your students learned this year?

- To take risks
- To treat others with respect and care
- To understand and appreciate differences
- To love learning
- To trust their own ideas
- That failure is a kind of learning
- That they can make a difference

What have you learned so far this year? (Or, to flip it around, what have you tried to teach others this year?)

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June 2, 2009

Tragedy of the Commons

The "tragedy of the commons" is a social phenomenon characteristic of human activity throughout the world. Its thesis is that individuals take care of what personally belongs to them; but they tend to abuse and rush to exploit resources that are shared in common in their haste to get what they can for themselves before these resources run out entirely.

This human tendency to see no further than our own limited interest has always existed of course; but, apart from a few sociologists and environmentalists, it did not attract a great deal of attention until relatively recently. Now with global warming reaching a tipping point, global fisheries in full collapse and every other shared global resource in crisis, even ordinary citizens are starting to realize the impact six billion human souls are having on our planet. Something has to give…..

The tragedy of the commons manifests itself in other ways as well. When given a choice taxpayers everywhere vote to reduce their taxes, even while wondering why the public services they are used to and expect are struggling to make ends meet…. The human brain does not seem to be wired right—or at least wired in a way that can ensure our long term survival.

It seems to me nonprofit organizations could be/should be especially involved in all of the critical issues stemming from these “tragedies of the commons.” Nonprofit organizations are by definition enterprises that are intended to benefit society; in this they are or should be the antithesis of the tragedy of the commons, aren’t they?

Can human behavior be changed in a democratic society that respects individual rights and free enterprise? In this regard, corporate social responsibility (CSR) offers interesting possibilities for nonprofit-for profit collaboration, but does this have staying power and is it enough to make a difference?

Nonprofits that are membership organizations have their own tragedy of the commons of course whenever there is discussion of membership dues. Members don’t like to pay them as a rule…. Are there lessons that can be learned here that might have application in a broader context?


June 1, 2009

Keeping Membership a Value

When working with members, it’s easy to concentrate on the members that demand the most attention, pay the most dues, or seem to be the best fit for the association. When talking with one of our members recently, one who has remained a faithful member for over thirty years, I realized again how important it is for all the members to feel important, to feel they are a value to the association and that membership is worth more than the dollars they spend each year on dues or the time they volunteer on committees.

At times like this, when the economy is shaky and companies are questioning their expenditures, it is more important than ever to make sure our members feel the value of association membership. It is helpful to know not only why they joined, but why they continue to pay their dues. Some no doubt do it out of an obligation to the industry

that supports them, some do it to make valued connections that could bring additional business their way, and some continue their membership without even thinking about why. “We’ve always belonged,” they say when writing the check. But under what circumstance will they decide they are no longer getting value for their money?

We need to make sure we never stop asking our members what is it that they hope to gain from being a member. Is it the association logo on their cards, serving on committees to make connections, the networking opportunities, or did they simply join on a recommendation and really aren’t sure why they keep their membership active? How can we support them through the good times and the bad? We need to ask, we need to know. We must never fall into the trap of making assumptions about our members. Don’t assume we know why they joined, or we know what we need to do to keep them on board, or how to bring them back when we lose them to hard times. There has never been a better time to become a good listener and invite your members (or potential members) to open up and share. Everyone can win if we ask and then listen.

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How to Lose a Volunteer in 3 Months or Less

Have you ever tried to get involved with an organization and felt like you just couldn't break through? This month's Associations Now case study explores the perspective of an association member having just that experience.

What went wrong, and what could her association have done differently to retain her as an engaged volunteer? Sharon Kneebone and Deirdre Reid do a great job of answering those very questions in their commentary. Thanks to both of them for taking the time to review and comment on this month's scenario.

The full case study and commentary are available online. What are your thoughts on this fictional volunteer's experience? What lessons can associations learn from her to help retain their own potential superstars?

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