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November 30, 2010

One big push vs. chipping away

In any member-engagement effort, which style of outreach is more effective: a single, major call to action or sustained, long-term repetition?

Or, if both can be useful, how do you decide which one is appropriate in any given situation?

Fundraising is a simple example to draw a contrast between the options: If your association trying to draw donations for a cause, you could post a "Donate Now" button on your website and regularly remind potential donors about the need for donations, or you could host a week-long or month-long pledge drive with a specific goal to reach (and possibly a big thermometer poster that you color in as the donations come in). Or you could do both, perhaps.

I have zero experience in development, so I wouldn't know what the best option or balance would be in the example above. Fundraising, though, is just one specific kind of member engagement, and I find that I run across this choice of methods constantly in working with member volunteers. After all, to volunteer is to donate one's time and energy, rather than one's money.

Just in my slice of association work, I seek contributions from members in the form of

  • Interviews;
  • Writing articles or blog posts;
  • Submitting sample documents;
  • Rating and commenting on online articles;
  • Commenting on this blog;
  • Submitting story ideas.

Heck, even just reading an article or blog post is a contribution of one's time.

This big push vs. chip away decision can take a lot of different forms. Take our "big ideas" month theme here on Acronym last December. We could have made "big ideas" a theme throughout the year, planning one or two posts each month on that topic. In that case, though, we went with the big push, focusing nearly every blog post for a month on that topic. Given the level of member discussion online that month, the choice worked, but in retrospect, I'm not sure if we made that decision on anything more than a gut feeling.

My gut tells me, though, that a gut feeling probably isn't the best way to make the decision between a big push or chipping away when it comes to engaging members. This is a decision that any association faces, whether it's choosing between ad-hoc taskforces and standing committees or between a single-theme meeting and a series of wide-ranging conferences.

So, I'm curious what ideas you have. To our expert marketers, member engagers, and volunteer relaters out there, any guidance to share on how to balance big-push calls to action and long-term open opportunities?

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November 24, 2010

Quick Clicks: Pre-Thanksgiving edition

Good morning! For those of you in the States, I hope you're looking forward to a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow (I personally am looking forward to my sister-in-law's pumpkin cheesecake). Here are some quick clicks to enjoy before you enter any kind of food-related coma:

- Several association bloggers have gotten into the Thanksgiving spirit with posts related to thanks. Bruce Hammond has some advice for properly and effectively thanking volunteers; Jeff Hurt gives thanks for his community and others like it; Colleen Dilenschneider at the Know Your Own Bone blog considers the power of public thanks; and here on Acronym Carolyn Hook shared a few associations she's thankful for.

- I'm thankful for all of Jamie Notter's thoughtful and thought-provoking posts throughout the year. He has a great one about the importance of keeping your perspective under pressure on the Common Thread blog this week.

- Holly Ross of NTEN is another blogger I admire, so it's great to see her posting on the associationTECH blog. She wonders if we need more managers or more leaders to thrive in today's tumultuous climate. I've have never loved the distinction between "leadership" and "management" (and there's a whole other blog post), but Holly has some interesting points to make, and I'll be curious to see how that discussion develops.

- The GrowGlobally blog has an interesting look at three global megatrends.

- I'm a sucker for a good flowchart, so I love the ASCE social media triage chart that's up on the Socialfish blog.

- Joyce McKee attended the virtual side of COMDEX and returned with good advice for associations considering a virtual component for their tradeshows.

- Tony Rossell has a great list of the top 25 lessons learned in membership marketing.

- At the SmartBlog Insights blog, Deirdre Reid suggests that conference attendees bring their own meeting evaluations.

- Laura Otten fears that nonprofits may be in denial about the "new normal."

- Rebecca Thomas at the Money and Mission blog shares four questions to ask to determine if a nonprofit is ready for change.


November 22, 2010

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

It's bulb planting time. You buy these brown objects that look like misshapen shallots, put them in the ground, wait until the spring, and ...Voila! Bunches of amazing colored blooms all over. There's an obvious analogy here about sowing seeds for the future and planning a colorful garden. What are we doing now that will yield something better in six months? I'm convinced the bigger challenge is how messy are we willing to get to make it happen? Unlike those bulbs, our challenges don't lie dormant for months and suddenly burst into colorful landscapes.

I recall in one association we prided ourselves on creating a "well-oiled machine." You know: no real glitches, smooth services, everything meets expectations. Technology upgrades anticipate the next market curves and drop onto our system running exactly how the vendor showed us in the demo. Members read each and every email we send, and they eagerly await our every communication. (OK, so I exaggerate a tad.) We made great strides toward that "Jiffy Lube" goal but it didn't happen without disruption. The dilemma was to negotiate how much mess was tolerable to achieve the changes?... how much of the well-oiled machine is allowed to squeak while staff and volunteers are busily re-tooling, re-organizing, replacing, downsizing, and upgrading? Fundamentally, our model was that we essentially controlled the structure and the pace of change.

Earlier this week I was listening to a presentation by Clay Shirky on leveraging social media for charitable cause organizations. The audience wrestled with the notion that struggling organizations with too few staff could unleash a donor base to spread the word about the organization, reach donors and attract media far faster now than with conventional communications. It can seem overwhelming - especially when we already wear so many hats and now think about adding hats for tweets, friending and blogging. How riskier is it to sow a few seeds and pretty much get out of the way?

We're in the flat world now. Not the one with the map that kept explorers in check, but the one that has lifted the veil and the firewall. What hasn't been zapped has been "apped. "With new tools are new opportunities. What keeps me up at night is not whether we intellectually understand it...it's whether we can mobilize our organizations to embrace and lead rather than succumb to fear that the current environment is too scary for bold action or be afraid of what would happen if members really exercised their power.

If there's a silver lining in the economic roller coaster, it may be that we realize things aren't going back to the way they were...so neither can we. If we team up with enough 20- somethings with no pre-Internet/pre-smart phone memory, we may get there. Entrenched behavior is completely changing because it can. Our fee- for- service -with- the- opportunity -to- comment model isn't participation. Our members are posting stuff everywhere and generating content at a pace we can't keep up with. But are they doing it in our organizations? (It should be more liberating, but I suspect there's enough Type A in most of us that we're avoiding this as long as we can.)

Give me the hand trowel, the hose, and the garden gloves. And throw in a sample of people with passion for planting. Make sure there are enough tools for everyone. Are we really that afraid that some squash might show up among the hyacinths? Half the fun is in choosing the colors, designing the beds. The other half is in the mud pies.

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November 19, 2010

Forget what you knew about healthcare in the United States

The 2010 Healthcare Association Conference ended this afternoon with Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS, associate professor of pediatrics and the associate director of Children's Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine. His session, "Looking to the Future of Health Care Reform: Myths Versus Facts" picked apart some of the often-heard statistics about healthcare reform as well as outlining the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Some of the more interesting statistics had to do with how the United States compares with other industrialized countries (he used G8 countries for comparison) when it comes to healthcare spending and quality. It's not surprising to hear that for healthcare spending per capita versus GDP per capita that the United States spends most. But when it comes to metrics of quality, the United States has the lowest life expectancy among other G8 countries; the highest infant mortality rate in any industrialized country; the highest maternal mortality rate than any other country; and middling quality disease care, including treating cancer. People cherry pick which statistics to tout, said Carroll. The United States is great at treating breast cancer and colon cancer, but more people in the country die from lung cancer than those two cancers combined. Carroll summed it up by saying that for a healthcare system that costs a fortune, middling- or low- quality healthcare doesn't make sense.

Carroll also presented five myths in healthcare. Myth one: We're older, we smoke more, we drink more, and we eat more. In fact, the United States is comprised of a younger population, smokes the least out of G8 countries, drinks less ... but we do eat more. But, Carroll explained, though obesity leads to a slightly sicker population, obesity is not driving the cost of healthcare in the country. Obesity is part of the myth that disease is prevalent in the United States, but it actually accounts for about $25 billion which is small compared to other healthcare costs.

A final myth of interest from Carroll is that tort reform will impact the cost of healthcare. In fact, he said, tort reform may lead to a 10 percent reduction in malpractice and is only a sliver of the pie.

Timely for today's session, The New York Times picked up one of Carroll's graphs he presented.

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November 18, 2010

Speaking with one voice

The first day of the 2010 Healthcare Association Conference in Chicago ended with an Oxford-style debate. Two opposing teams of three represented each side of the argument that the successful implementation of healthcare reform is dependent upon healthcare associations speaking with one voice.
While the views that each team member weren't necessarily reflective of their personal or organizational opinions, each participant took to the stage to passionately argue in favor of their team's stance.

The proponents of speaking as one argued that the healthcare community must work as a strong unit to improve care for the individual patient. One loud voice, they argued, makes legislators listen and it's the duty of a collective of healthcare associations to work for healthcare reform before it's too late. "The power of associations is our diversity and the power which we represent. We come together strongly. When we speak together, we can solve problems," said Paul Pomerantz, CAE, worldwide executive director for Drug Information Association.

On the flip side of the discussion, debaters argued that diverse discourse is the key to making changes to the flawed healthcare reform bill. There is no piece of legislation is perfect when it is passed and spirited debate is how you make improvements.

Murray Sagsveen, CAE, general counsel for American Academy of Neurology, likened the issue to being a CEO. As a CEO, he said, you should accept diverse opinions and not just praise for good ideas, which can be disingenuous. "That kind of robust discourse always leads to a better decision, in my opinion. In healthcare reform it should lead to a better fine-tuning of the current law. We all represent diverse interests, and we should not abandon the diverse interests of our members to speak with one voice."

Countering Sagsveen was Frank S. Wilton, CAE, IOM, senior vice president, membership and marketing for AdvaMed, who said that the work with healthcare reform is not done and that "we have an obligation to show leadership. To talk to our members, to listen to our members ... . What if the leaders in this room through ASAE came together and agreed on one principle? ... And say we stand for patients? We represent our members and this is what we stand for. I think we should think big."

Moderator David M. Romanelli, instructor/director of debate at Loyola University of Chicago took questions from the audience for the panels during the debate and ended with taking a standing vote to determine the winners. When it comes to creating alliances with other associations to impact politics or public opinion with one voice, which side would you stand for?

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Are you an uninspiring leader?

The 2010 Healthcare Association Conference kicked off this morning with Lance Secretan, Ph.D.'s session "The Spark, the Flame, and the Torch: Restoring Inspiration in American Healthcare." Secretan, author of The Spark, The Flame, and the Torch, says that inspirational leadership has three main components: serving others, helping people grow, and making the world a better place. But before you can create an inspirational organization, you need to start with yourself. Why are you here? Create a mission statement and assess your own purpose and meaning in life as a step toward being an inspiring leader.

Secretan says 65 percent of the current workforce says they would leave their current jobs if they could. With eight percent of uninspiring leaders, it's not surprising that employees have one foot outside the door. Secretan says uninspiring leaders are:

  • Cowardly;
  • Inauthentic;
  • Self-serving;
  • Dishonest;
  • Unfeeling
  • Ineffective.

And it seems simple enough, but inspirational leaders do the opposite of the six attributes above. To be inspirational, consider what he calls the CASTLE Principle:

  • Courage;
  • Authenticity;
  • Service;
  • Truthfulness;
  • Love;
  • Effectiveness.

As you lead today, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you make breakthroughs quickly to exhibit courage?
  • Will you be authentic about your work and will you admit when you make a mistake?
  • Are you willing to serve others, even if it seems inconvenient?
  • Will you make an effort to tell the truth more often?
  • Will you love between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.?

When you put those pieces together you become more effective, and maybe a little more inspiring.

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Quick Clicks: "Friend management" edition

This week's links offer some provocative opinions on emerging technology for associations, plus some excellent recommendations for managing expectations among boards, speakers, colleagues, and more. Enjoy.

To app, or not to app? That is the question Lindy Dreyer answers on the SocialFish blog. Her perspective is clear: "Mobile apps are a waste of time for associations." The ensuing debate (24 comments so far) is excellent reading.

All your message are belong to Facebook. So Facebook's next step in taking over your life is the new, email-ish Facebook Messages. The best analysis of this week's announcement that I've read comes from Charlene Li, who will speak at the Association Technology Conference & Expo in December. (Sidenote: Li uses the term friend management in this article. I long for simpler times.)

Board micromanagement. Jen Masaoka at Blue Avocado gets to the heart of why boards sometimes micromanage their staffs: confidence. She offers some great advice for making such situations better.

Thou shalt giveth your speakers guidelines. Jeff Hurt shares the TED Commandments, the ten guidelines for speakers at TED Conferences, and he recommends associations adopt them (plus two more that he suggests).

No is the new yes. David Patt, CAE, tells two short stories about how being able to say "no" when appropriate is a benefit to your association.

Weekend reading. Deirdre Reid, CAE, asks if your association is publishing content over the weekend, and suggests you should consider it, if you're not already. The conversation in the comments is interesting, as well.

"Make it fun!" How do you present a catalog of project ideas to an audience of organization leaders who want to find which ones might fit their needs? Turn it into a game. Judith Lindenau explains how the National Association of Realtors did just that.

Sadness. By the looks of this picture, it appears Philadelphia-based AMC Fernley & Fernley lost a bet on the World Series with San Francisco's LoBue & Majdalany Management Group. From one die-hard Phillies fan to another, I feel your pain, Kyle Fernley.

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November 17, 2010

Harry Potter on Leadership

"The end begins." That's the pithy tagline for the launch of the two-part blowout marking the end of the gazillion-dollar Harry Potter movie series, a wrenching reality for those of us who have embraced the boy wizard and his eclectic assortment of friends, mentors, and enemies for the past 11 years.

Tomorrow at 12:01 a.m., I'll be sitting with my son and other hardcore fans watching "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" as the scarred hero, now age 17, attempts to take his leadership skills to--putting it mildly-- the next level in a battle against evil Lord Voldemort that will determine the fate of the entire wizarding world. No pressure there, eh?

But frankly, many association CEOs can relate to the saga and to Harry in particular as he awkwardly fails and succeeds throughout his own leadership journey. Push yourself out of secure positions into unknown territories? Listen to friends and colleagues? Trust the advice of an older mentor? Have faith that your skills are enough to avoid disaster? Put your life (okay, job) on the line to choose "what's right over what's easy"? Been there.

While no Dark Lord threatens us with the Avada Kedavra killing curse, we certainly feel the fear caused by a weak economy, an anxious board, and an absence or overload of information on which to ground our next move. Real courage--the trait that J.K. Rowling states she values most in leaders--and resourcefulness are needed to scramble through all of that.

The Harry Potter series is so rich in its what-makes-a-good-leader theme that it has sparked thousands of articles, blog debates, books (try If Harry Potter Ran General Electric if you're interested), and even entire college courses and conferences.

Only recently did I talk with the young daughter of a close friend and longtime association fundraiser who had written an entire paper for her Cornell University literary class about women leaders in the Harry Potter series--their virtues, failings, opportunities, fears, insights, and talents. That type of leadership debate, even outside of the wizarding world context, continues to keep us in the association community--forgive me--spellbound.


Cholera Outbreak Highlights Changing Association Disaster Attitudes

If you've been watching the news the past week, you've probably noticed that associations and nonprofits are again attracting headlines as important and fairly nimble responders to the current battle to stop the cholera outbreak in Haiti.

Such stories, in which associations are showcased as trusted, immediate responders, differ from media coverage of associations and disasters in the past. Suddenly, associations are being perceived with greater authority in emergency situations, in part because our community's own attitudes toward disaster relief appear to be shifting.

I've been covering association responses to world disasters for more than eight years. During those terrible events, association CEOs would generally appear on air or in print as predictors of the long-term impacts of a disaster or as experts on the latest science surrounding the emergency.

Today, more media seem to be tapping association CEOs for moment-to-moment stories because

(1) the 24/7 news cycle demands a steady supply of "new news," and the outlets for sharing information have grown dramatically, so they are needier of fresh faces and insights;

(2) association members appear to be volunteering for drop-everything disaster "missions" at a record rate, thus providing on-the-ground updates, stories, and--especially important--images that CEOs can release to media;

(3) governments are reaching out more assertively to professional and trade groups to better leverage transportation systems and partnerships, share local knowledge and technical skills, and obtain needed supplies and volunteers; and

(4) the smartest post-9/11 associations already have multi-scenario disaster response plans scenarios in place, so they don't have to waste time wondering what to do or whom to call.

While in decades past our community has tended to wait for our help to be requested specifically, and even then provided help primarily on a local basis via components/chapters, now associations seem to be recognizing that members expect them to do much more. And "more" means "beyond the checkbook" philanthropy that has such a rich and laudable tradition within most associations.

"More" now means "more action"--more proactive opportunities "to use my skills and expertise, not just my money, to help make a positive difference in this particular situation."

Increasingly, associations are "getting" that disaster relief is a huge engagement opportunity for their organizations, a chance to build loyalty and value, strengthen partnerships, increase their influence, and help fulfill an increasingly expected "social obligation" to help others in need.

We are shifting toward first-responder mindsets. And with 1.5 million Haitians still struggling in tent cities and now fighting a highly contagious disease that already has killed 900, sickened thousands, and put at risk tens of thousands more, I hope this attitude change continues to spread.


November 10, 2010

Why wait for moving day (or a crisis)?

Two interesting links Monday about taking a serious look at what your organization is doing right and what it's doing wrong:

  • "How efficient is your association?" by Shannon Otto at the Splash! blog. Shannon writes about moving to a new apartment (more than once in the past year): "In my effort to make my move easier, I got rid of unnecessary and excess items, and it did indeed help my move go (relatively) smoothly."
  • "How Microsoft Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on Windows Phone," by Brian X. Chen on the Gadget Lab blog. The lead: "Microsoft staff refer to December 2008 as 'The Reset' -- the month that the company killed all progress on its Windows phone project and started over."

These two scenarios feature some trying circumstances: a relocation and a severe product-sales decline. However, they both talk about the healthy process of reflection and action that the situations demanded.

I posed a similar idea last year when I asked if an association could ever blow it up and start over. But that might have been the wrong question. It might be more important to ask, "If we wait until our circumstances force us to take stock and make significant changes, might it be too late?"

Inspired by the two posts above, I'd suggest a healthy practice for associations would be a yearly (at least, or more frequent) "spring cleaning" day. It wouldn't be about physical cleaning, of course, but about cleaning budgets, processes, and products. It would be a day to ask every staff member and volunteer two questions: "What one thing should we stop doing?" and "What one thing needs to be reinvented?"

Call it "spring cleaning day" or "moving day" or "reset day"--whatever resonates with your staff and volunteers. Just make sure you're doing it regularly rather than waiting until you're packing up to relocate or staring up at your competition from the bottom of your market.

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November 9, 2010

White Like Me

We talk a lot about America and its businesses being world leaders, but I have to say that I am extremely disappointed that, as a result of elections last week, the U.S. Senate will include not a single African-American member. That should be of major concern no matter what party you prefer.

The three African-American candidates--all of which happened to be Democrats this time--lost, and the single black incumbent is retiring. According to CNN, "only six black senators have ever served in the U.S. Senate: three Republicans and three Democrats, including President Barack Obama." That raises a mighty serious question about how we as Americans view leaders from minority populations.

And sadly, this problem extends to the power positions within associations and nonprofits as well. I try not to roll my eyes when I hear someone say, "We can't find any minority members willing (or qualified or whatever) to run for the board," or "we don't have many minority members, so our board tends to stay white." Really? I don't see recruitment problems at associations whose names depict a certain race, gender, or other defining demographic--those leadership pipelines appear to operate quite well.

Minorities exist in every field and profession, but maybe they haven't heard about your association, or feel welcome there, or feel like it is relevant enough. Or maybe not enough effort has been made to focus in on tracking down these types of perhaps behind-the-scene members or nonmembers and finding methods to help them engage in ways that they find valuable.

Like the federal face we are now showing the world, we have failed to reflect the true diversity of our nation and our business community. As both parties gear up for the 2012 presidential race, which will again feature wonk talks about the tipping-point capability of voting minority citizens, I hope discussions about current leadership pipelines (or lack thereof) for African Americans and minorities will become much messier and disruptive. And I'm hoping that discussion carries over into the association community because we must take this issue more seriously.

Census data show that an estimated 14% of our population is Black, and that number is growing. We must purge the old excuses about minorities' "apathy toward associations" and try new thinking, new models, new outreach efforts. The world is predominantly nonwhite, and they are watching--both our country and its business community.

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Associations I'm Thankful For

As we approach Thanksgiving, I thought I'd praise three associations I'm thankful for. Of course I'm thankful for ASAE and my employer, The New Jersey Society of CPAs, so I'll leave them off the list. These are three associations that have impacted me outside of the office in different ways.

The Deanna Durbin Society. Deanna Durbin was a child actress in the 30s and 40s who sang opera. Old movies and music are two things I love. Durbin worked for Universal Studios and is credited with saving it from bankruptcy; but, she quit Hollywood in her 20s. Yes, it's a fan club and I don't really know if it's an official association. I discovered Durbin on public television in my teen years and wanted to know everything about her. In college (mid 80s) I pored through old movie reviews on microfiche and books about the golden age of Hollywood and happened upon this organization located in England. Other people who actually heard of Durbin! I had to be a member. First I had to write a letter, send it air mail to ask how to join. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. Then I received an application and had to pay with a money order in English pounds. I had to look up the exchange rate and calculate it. Send in the application. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. Received my welcome packet and then wait for my quarterly magazine. Not counting the National Honor Society back in high school, this was the first association I joined. Every magazine brought a smile to my face as it shared her memories and recapped movie insights. I imagined myself traveling to England one day to attend their convention and view movies with stuffy English folk in regal old movie houses. Thank you, Deanna Durbin Society, for showing me the value of joining an association of like-minded people and sharing my passion.

American Automobile Association. I lived with my mom after graduating college. My folks had recently divorced and that meant my Dad and car expert was no longer in the household. So, 20 years ago I joined AAA in case I ever had to be rescued. Prior to my first long road trip, I upgraded to AAA Plus for extra coverage. While I've only needed their rescue three times in those 20 years (one embarrassing keys-locked-in-car incident, one tow after an accident and once for someone else in our driving caravan), I keep my membership. Even with online maps, destination websites and GPS devices, I keep my membership and go to AAA and pick up maps and a personalized TripTik. I trust their reviews more than Travelocity, Expedia or TripAdvisor; so, I keep my membership. Oh, they have other stuff too - discounts, advocacy, travel agency - sometimes I forget there's more. Thank you, AAA, for making me feel secure on the road and good about my membership.

The American Fertility Association and Resolve. These two associations offer resources on reproductive health, especially for those struggling with infertility. When we encountered difficulties starting a family, we didn't know what our options were. Working for an association, I knew the first step: find an association to help. We went to conferences held by both groups during our road to parenthood. We talked with compassionate people who knew exactly what we were going through. We had our questions answered. We found the services, resources and experts we needed. We got free tote bags and pens. We joined Resolve's New Jersey Chapter and got a magazine filled with the latest medical, legislative, insurance and adoption information. And while we're not members, I've recommended them to many people. Thank you, AFA and Resolve, for knowing our needs before we did and meeting them so we could make the best decisions for our situation. (P.S. Our daughter just turned 4!)

I hope you'll share which associations you're thankful for too.


November 8, 2010

Q&A with association CTO Susan Nouse

As we approach ASAE's 2010 Association Technology Conference & Expo, here at Acronym we're reaching out to a few association IT officers this month to pick their brains about the latest challenges and practices in the field. First up is Susan Nouse, chief technology officer at the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials:

Acronym: What is the most challenging part of training staff on technology, and how do you try to overcome that?

Nouse: The most challenging part is the speed at which technology is now changing. It feels like, about the time people are comfortable with something, it's time for the new version. Every time a new version comes out, they add a lot more features and a lot more functionality, so then people still just use what they know because they don't know to take advantage of those additional pieces.

Also, there's the cost involved with training, and with most technology training, even if it's at the application level, it's pretty costly. I'm personally a trainer by trade—I was a trainer before I came here—so I put together a list of topics based on feedback from staff, and I offer an hour-long training session on some application usually once or twice a month.

When it comes to things like a database, for instance, is it easier to train staff around a technology or to try to build a service or a system around what the staff's needs and capabilities are?

What's most important for me is that I choose the solution that best meets the business need. If that means purchasing a product or if that means developing it in house, I'll go both ways on that, because I have done both. But as opposed to trying to base the decision on how people will learn the technology, I try to base it more on what is the purpose of the technology. So what I typically try to do is pull in the people that are going to need to use it and get their input, and if I'm looking at a shelf product then I let them see demos of the product and let them be fully involved in the process of the selection, so then at least they know what they're going to be expecting as we move forward.

With so many emerging technologies, particularly in publishing and communications—with smartphones, iPads, social networking, and so forth—how do you go about picking and choosing which ones to target and which ones to leave aside for both your staff and your members?

That is based on a couple different things. If we hear a call from our membership about something—for example, one of the things that there had been an interest in is having some sort of tool or technology to allow members to communicate in between face-to-face meetings. We have research committees for each of our major functional areas—technology, transportation, facilities, accounting—and a number of those committees said it would be nice if they could continue committee work online outside of the regularly scheduled meetings. So we started by using Ning as a product, because that allowed us to create groups and they could have discussions, and they could post documents. Because Ning has changed their model, we're in the process right now of switching over to a private social-networking product. So that one was a call from the membership: here's a need that we have, here's what we want to do.

Some of it comes from evaluation of what our peer groups are using. We are a state affiliate of the national ASBO [Association of School Business Officers], so we take a look at what other state ASBOs similar to us in size are using. I talked to one of the people from New York ASBO and asked what they were doing so that I could see what had worked and what hadn't for them, and then I could go about making a decision for us. Those are the two techniques I use most.


November 4, 2010

Quick Clicks: Random acts of kindness edition

Happy Thursday! Here's some of the latest and greatest reading from the association blogging community and elsewhere:

- On the Coulter Companies blog, Thomas Coulter Gibson writes about the big impact of small gestures of kindness, and lists his top 10 "small kindnesses." What would you add to his list?

- On a related note, Bill Taylor asks, "Why is it so hard to be kind?"

- Rebecca Leaman suggests one possible cause of member retention issues: other members.

- Carol-Anne Moutinho points out another potential culprit: engagement erosion (or, put another way, too many hands for too few volunteer opportunities).

- Jamie Notter and Acronym's own Joe Rominiecki kicked off a discussion on collaboration last week. Mark Bledsoe as AssociationOkie adds his thoughts on why people sometimes don't collaborate when they could (or should).

- Jeff Cufaude picks a fight with Yoda. (Apparently he never saw Yoda's big lightsaber duel scene in Attack of the Clones.)

- Rebecca Rolfes wonders if "efficiency" and "productivity" are really just euphemisms for "understaffing."

- Blue Avocado's Jan Masaoka posted a very useful example of a board-staff agreement around issues of financial accountability.

- David Gammel at the High Context blog suggests a simple plan that could help you fast-forward improvements to your website.

- The Nieman Journalism Lab has an interesting post summarizing a report from the Society of Professional Journalists' Digital Media Committee on how SPJ can stay relevant in the digital era. While their conclusions are intended for an association of journalists, I think much of what they have to say can apply to other associations as well.

- Bruce Hammond takes a look at some career advice that he used to follow and wonders if it's still a good idea.


Minding the Gap

Next week the Greater Washington Network of ASAE will be holding its "In Honor of Women Program." It seems timely to note there are some women's professional organizations that are doing some very heavy lifting in the transition from aspiring to advance women in the professions to quantifying and measuring real progress. It's heartening to observe that within one adult lifetime, we have gone from watching the first women enter prominent and formerly all-male colleges and universities to seeing 50%( and over) female graduating classes. We've gone from petitioning to get women in the door to getting increasing numbers seated at the board tables and heading corporations. Now, studies indicate we're stuck in a place that needs some different thinking, and associations - as usual - are rising to the occasion.

My personal new favorite is the teaming up of the American Society of Women Accountants and the American Women's Society of Certified Public Accountants with research firm Wilson-Taylor Associates for their MOVE Project. One would think these number crunchers would have long had all these figures down, but they are about to launch their second year of the project to gauge progress from their 2010 results. The key driver? Firms know that women have strengths needed in obtaining and retaining clients. For transportation, what better acronym than MOVE? So my current organization is working to launch a similar project.

Women in Cable Telecommunications launched its benchmarking PAR program in 2003 with membership and program growth and development that can be linked directly to their research. The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology found that "Women comprise an increasingly smaller proportion of the workforce at each successive level (from entry to mid to high)" in its research "Climbing the Technical Ladder: Obstacles and Solutions for Mid-Level Women in Technology." Delve into any and all of these studies, and the results are predictably similar: women opt out/are discouraged from/find barriers to success in the top echelons of organizations.

Aside from numerical equity, a pronounced gap appears to be in the view of whether the disparity matters. In a study of corporate boards conducted by Heidrick and Struggles, only 56% of male directors felt women brought a unique perspective to the table, while 90% of women thought female board directors provided something distinctly different. Also evident were gender differences regarding the effects of diversity on board behaviors such as trust and transparency.

Once we successfully knock down obvious barriers to entry, the challenge for women changes from addressing diversity issues as a minority group to much more complex issues of organizational behavior and innovation in order to remove barriers to equity. Solutions are starting to surface based on the science: moving from mentors to sponsors who invest in success of their colleagues; changing evaluation criteria; recruiting women specifically for P&L oversight; evaluating flexibility options; and targeting mid-level women to move upward. I suspect my colleagues who are addressing other diversity issues in their organizations find comparable challenges. This is a true opportunity for associations ...and who better?


November 1, 2010

Buffett's bombshell: Succession planning "Warren's way"

It's always buzz-worthy when a high-profile, much-respected business leader names a successor, so it's no wonder that when Warren Buffett announced that he would groom 39-year-old Todd Combs, who manages a small Connecticut-based hedge fund, as his successor at Berkshire Hathaway, the business world reeled a tad.

What interests me--and is most relevant to associations--about the commentary is the following:

(1) Kudos galore are flying around for Buffett having named a successor at all, especially since he is not ill or imminently retiring. What? My question is why on earth hasn't he identified one long ago? His company oversees a $100-billion investment portfolio, and Buffett is hardly a young 'un. You'd think that with his exposure to the best of the best in the biz world, he would have identified some possibilities a decade or more ago and started nurturing them along, even though he isn't going anywhere himself at the moment.

Journalists are lamenting that more CEOs haven't named a successor, whether privately or publicly, and brought him or her in-house early enough to fully integrate into the culture, customer base, and organization. The same is true at many of America's largest, most potent associations. The CEO doesn't think an exit is in the near future, so succession planning isn't high on the priority list. As witnessed often in the corporate world, this can be a huge mistake. Still, we in the association world continue to wonder why CEO transitions are so hard. They really shouldn't be if the successor has been incorporated into the organization early enough--and that takes a mindful plan.

(2) Buffett's choice is a major surprise--an under-40 guy who hasn't handled nearly the wealth size of tens of thousands of other investment managers. However, Combs' approach--his work ethic and style, especially as they relate to researching information first-hand and not subscribing to "what everybody knows"--are apparently what captured Buffett's attention.

Again, as he has with his investment choices, Buffett bucks the "experience trumps all" assumptions on hiring and goes with his gut, essentially. Sure, he would have delved into Combs' background and numerical track record, but he obviously favors vision, personality, and approach over the details of exactly how much the guy has or hasn't yet managed. Maybe this latest bombshell by one of the business world's most revered icons will inspire CEOs within both the for-profit and not-for-profit fields to set aside the long resumes and look for leaders instead who demonstrate the values and style most needed by their organizations.

And for those incumbent association CEOs smart enough to be shopping for or already mentoring their next assumed successor, perhaps one of the questions to ask is, "What would Buffett do?"

You'll find dozens of association succession planning tools and resources on ASAE's website, (including an--ahem--"emergency CEO succession plan" in this Models & Samples Library list).


Open Community is your people

I'm pleased to post this guest post from Maddie Grant & Lindy Dreyer on their new book Open Community (we're honored to be the first post on the tour!). Be sure to follow the tour as it heads to a lot of the really great blogs we're lucky enough to have in the association space.

OC_badge_booktour.pngAcronym is the first stop on the virtual book tour Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer are doing to explore concepts from Open Community: a little book of big ideas for associations navigating the social web. This post is Lindy's take on the open community concept and why it's important.

For association executives, community is old hat. It's what we do. It's central to our work. And yet, for some reason (actually a lot of reasons) what we know about community isn't always translating well to building community online. Maddie and I have talked to thousands of association executives who have voiced their frustrations about the social web--from the overabundance of tools and the disorderly experimentation of staff and members, to the lack of organizational support and the unwieldy processes for monitoring and managing social media, and that's just the beginning. It's easy to get bogged down in the newness and the detail, and miss the bigger picture--not the 10,000-foot bigger picture, but the "just high enough to make practical sense" bigger picture.

So we started writing the book, and the idea that kept popping up is the concept of open community. We added the definition of open community on Associapedia, but here's the gist. Your open community is your people who are bonded by what your organization represents and care enough to talk to each other (hopefully about you!) online.

To be clear, the open community concept is not about building an online community platform or internal, private social network. That could be one tactic in your arsenal, but one of the most important first steps toward building community online is accepting that your open community is out there, not just on your website. Your stakeholders are connecting on their own terms in the social spaces where they spend the most time, and you need to be where they are. Sometimes, rather than hosting every conversation and leading every initiative, your organization can (and should) simply be present as a supportive participant.

It's really important that your association figures out how to connect with and support your open community, because if you don't, someone else will. I know that's not news to you Acronym readers, but it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating, again.

How is your association building community online? What's your strategy for connecting with and supporting your open community? Is it working?