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January 28, 2011

Quick Clicks: RFPs, social media (of course) and China edition

Jumping right into this week's look at notable things from the last week (or so) of blogosphere activity...

First, 7 steps to a clean RFP process from Rick Johnston over at Ironwork's Fit & Finish blog. It was written from a Technology Conference perspective, but the tips help RFPs for nontechie things too.

Tim Arnold from Beaconfire asks, "Are your mobile assumptions correct?" The post reminds us to ask the fundamental question: what is it your users would want to get out of your organization through a mobile device?

Every once in a while I have to throw a link in because it nails my own veiwpoint so well. Lynn Morton does so on the SNAP blog in describing the great utility of RSS. She stops just short of the description I'd use, which is that RSS is magic for your website.

Here's post with a link to a presentation from Jeff Hurt over on Midcourse Corrections. I like the slides, and I like the 4Cs of social engagement (Jeff, don't be mad, please, but I want to give the 4Cs: content, collaboration, community, and cumulative value.) Jeff gives us the why. The post reminds me of a post from Maddie Grant from OCtober 2009 that I still love today. She has the 5Cs of engagement, but her post tells you how.

Stepping outside of the association-specific context: as always, Seth Godin's blog remains a must read. Here's a post that will make you a better motivator of people.

And now a few that our thought projects for you, so you can decide how such ideas may or could affect your associaiton:

The creator of Delicious social bookmarking is building a new social media platform; this one is a market where people who have talent or skills hook up with those in needs.

Every day on Facebook, people watch 150 years worth of video.

And here are two about Asia -- nothing really knew, but amazing nonetheless. The first is a blog post the brings to light the amazing fact of the size of China. Hint: If you put the entire population of North America, Central America, and South America into the Continental U.S. -- you'd still be shy a few 10s of millions. I'm cheating on the second, it's a video from the TED Conference about when China and India will overtake the U.S. in economic importance.

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January 27, 2011

New report on effectiveness of advocacy methods

A survey report released yesterday has good news and bad news for association advocacy and government-relations professionals.

In short, it gives evidence that in-person constituent contact is the top method for influencing legislators, well above the effectiveness of direct contact from lobbyists. But, it seems that wide-scale grassroots form-letter campaigns are not nearly so effective.

These are both techniques often used by associations in their lobbying efforts, so this info provides a mixed bag of advice. The report, Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill, conducted by The Partnership for a More Perfect Union at the Congressional Management Foundation, presents the results of a survey of 260 congressional staff members, mostly in the House of Representatives, in fall 2010.

My initial reaction to this is that every association that hosts a legislative "fly-in" day to bring members to meet with Congress should relay this piece of data to its members. What better way to encourage participation than to say "Your presence is the most effective method possible to represent the industry's needs to our legislators"?

But on the form-letter point, I wonder if this kind of grassroots advocacy is the best use of an association's GR resources or if it needs rethought. The report says that 53 percent of congressional staffers surveyed believe that form-message campaigns are sent without constituents' knowledge or approval. Whether this is true or not, it's a clear indicator of a lack of impact among the intended targets.

I'm not a GR pro, though, so I'm curious for your reaction to these points and to the report in general. What advocacy methods has your association found most effective?

[Sidenote: you may also be interested in "5 Ways Hill Staffers Evaluate Your Association," by Bill Dalbec, from this month's issue of ASAE's Government Relations e-newsletter.]

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January 20, 2011

Quick Clicks: Warm conversation edition

January is one of my least favorite times of the year. The holidays are over, and it's cold and dreary outside. At least there's plenty of interesting online conversation happening in the association realm to keep me distracted.

Innovation. Jeff De Cagna and Eric Lanke, CAE, have begun a back-and-forth series of blog posts on innovation in associations. Jeff kicked it off last week, and Eric followed up this week. These two have likely devoted more personal mindpower to the broad topic of association innovation than anyone else you'll find. This is a conversation to follow.

AMS ROI. Wes Trochlil explains that an association management system should benefit an association in ways beyond just enhanced data management.

Open GR. Stefanie Reeves, CAE, interviews Maddie Grant, co-author of Open Community, about how the concepts it the book apply to association government relations professionals.

Facebook. Maggie McGary explains why the thought of Facebook fully replacing websites sounds like "the worst idea ever."

New products. Seth Godin asks, Why the need for a big splash? Perhaps a quiet, obscure launch for a company or product is best. That's how Google and most major web companies started, after all.

Online groups. Maddie Grant points to a new Pew Internet Research study about the effects of the web on how people form groups. Obvious implications for associations.

Microvolunteering. Robert Rosenthal at the Engaging Volunteers blog explores the varying definitions of microvolunteering and asks whether the definition really matters, as long as organizations are experimenting with it.

The over-50 crowd. Dan Pallotta at HBR writes on the value of age and experience, which often goes overlooked in the fuss over young "potential."

Website landing pages. Copyblogger offers five common mistakes made by organizations that build website landing pages, whether it be a "sales page, an email opt-in page, a video landing page, or even a content landing page designed to rank well in search engines."

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January 19, 2011

Online Community Cacophony

Okay, so a long time ago I wrote several blog posts related to Goplow.com, our associations new content+community website, and I promised more...and then I didn't get you anything else because nothing great happened for a while. But I am here with an update as our small association pushes itself hard to build this resource we've created. And I must say that creating and growing an online community is the wild west of the association world; one must stay true to the association's goals and fight through the cacophony of noise that is out there relating to creating and fostering a digital community.

Thanks to great resources at ASAE and some solid colleagues met through the annual meeting, I was emotionally prepared for the initial LAL (lull after launch, just made that up). Since then, we've made some good headway, here are some things we have done:

A Great Story: We launched a video contest for our publication in the fall. Each issue we feature a snow professional on the cover, and it's a great honor, so we created a contest where folks could submit videos explaining why their story should be told. We got a whopping 8 entries, 2 of which didn't qualify, so sounds like a drag, right? I disagree; we got 6 great companies to share their stories with us, and the winner especially had a powerful story that I think will resonate with our magazine readership, and we probably would have never known of it...and we doubled our traffic to the site BTW and people really watched the videos.

Partnering: We forged a new publishing partnership, believe it or not with our main competitor online in our market. We strategically built our site to differentiate it from this site from the start, so together we complement each other and offer better choice for our advertisers and end-users. This allows us to spread our message via email and in print to new audiences, at much higher numbers then previously; we provide quality content links, they feature their diverse community, and both sites drive traffic.

Synergy: In the past year we launched an online marketplace with another partner, linked to our site homepage. In 2011 we hope to take this a step further, pulling the sites closer by creating a sub-domain on our site for the marketplace, which will allow us to leverage the high-SEO potential of a site like the marketplace (tons of links to other sites!), and make it easier to market the sites (instead of separate URL's) to drive traffic, and make it more intuitive for site users.

Constant Review: We just finished a user's survey, and thanks to a very strong financial start for the site in terms of ad sales, we are able to re-invest a portion of that revenue into the site in 2011. Concept is: launch, implement, review, rework, and the process starts all over again.

Would love to hear how others are building their online communities in any function, or if anyone has advice for us as we grow our fledgling community!

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January 18, 2011

Why Do We Fear Failure?

A great article came through my feed recently (thank you, Maddie Grant, for sharing) -
"Experimental Marketing: 1 out of 20 Ain't Bad" outlining the failures of the infamous Office Max "Elf-Yourself" campaign. Yes, the failures.

I couldn't help but think about my experience to date as an association professional. How many of our organizations work from a mind set and culture that would see 19 campaign or pilot program failures as a success?

Obviously, most of us don't have budgets that come close to the scale referenced in this article, and it may be a bit extreme to try and compare this Office Max case study to any organization in the association landscape. However, the mind set of association work seems to be what holds many organizations back.

  • Are we conditioned to fear failure, rather than embrace it in the assocation landscape?
  • Even if we operate with an acceptable amount of risk, do we truly have the ability to respond with agility, given the approval process and volunteer oversight?

What do you think?

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January 14, 2011

Haiti: Where And What Are Associations Still Doing?


The first Haiti earthquake anniversary this week has prompted myriad progress reports from the many associations and nonprofits who responded with volunteers, professional guidance, money, and resources. With almost 500 projects and 80 major NGOs doing on-the-ground work in the devastated region, it's easy to get confused about who's doing what as our community continues to respond to the crisis.

Luckily, this week also marks the release of a helpful free tool that aims to foster partnerships among nonprofits and associations, "strengthen corporate and NGO relationships, and increase transparency and accountability." It's called the Haiti Aid Map, and it's a who's-doing-what-where map with snapshots of projects and their coordinating groups. Created by InterAction in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center, it was funded by FedEx, a master of organization and mapping.

I encourage you to refer to it, whether you have ongoing projects there or not, because so many of your peers are making a difference in that challenging zone, and you may find something that would inspire your organization to get involved as well.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things that associations are doing right here in the U.S. that are improving life in Haiti. If you're mostly interested in philanthropic giving, perhaps some of their projects will prompt you to write a supportive check.

The American Library Association (ALA), for instance, has distributed $25,000 to clear and prepare land and complete designs for one of three libraries it plans to rebuild and equip through its Haiti Library Relief Fund . Its needs a lot more money, though--just one library will cost an estimated $325,000-$350,000 to rebuild and equip.

The Haiti-inspired partnership between the American Dental Association's Division of Global Affairs and Health Volunteers Overseas has focused on raising $300,000 through an innovative Adopt-a-Practice program to rebuild 30 dental practices, almost one-third of all dental health facilities in the region. ADA also has developed an International Disaster Assistance Volunteer Inventory based on a survey for members interested in volunteering in the aftermath of an international natural disaster.

The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, in collaboration with the ABA Family Law Section and Section of Litigation, and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, hosted a free webinar on "How Attorneys and State Court Judges Can Aid in Finalizing Adoptions for Haitian Children Now in the U.S" and is offering its materials for free downloads to anyone interested.

Also, for the record, as a result of such outreach work, many organizations also have found that they've galvanized members, boosted innovation, and added meaningful value to their brand and membership offerings. Please accept my personal congratulations for your efforts and commitment. I've heard astonishing stories of what your members and staffers are doing even a year after the earthquake.

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Do association CEOs have what it takes to lead in the reset economy?

Let's face it: none of us have really been here before. Yes, we've all navigated tough times, but not like this. The foundations of our economy have fundamentally changed, and things may never be exactly as they were.

A while back, Paul Pomerantz, worldwide executive director of the Drug Information Association, shared with me a Business Week article titled "Is your CEO recession capable?" It suggested that many for-profit executives weren't equipped to lead in these times and that a rethink of competencies and behaviors is essential. While the U.S. economy is now growing, it's clear that things are very different—and difficult.

It struck me—and a number of my CEO colleagues—that we need to start a new conversation about what's really different and how we may need to grow and develop to ensure that we're able to help our organizations fulfill missions and goals and realize personal fulfillment.

After initiating the conversation with the ASAE Fellows group, Paul, Henry Chamberlain (president and CEO of BOMA International), Pamela Kaul (president and founder of Association Strategies) and I joined about 50 CEOs at the 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo in Los Angeles for a conversation on what it takes to lead in these crazy times. It was a beginning. First, a couple of assumptions that framed our conversation:

  • This isn't like any other downturn we've ever seen, and reprising past practices won't be enough.
  • Nobody is perfectly equipped to lead now based purely on experience in tough times.
  • A new mix of competencies and behaviors will be necessary to lead effectively.
  • It's time for CEOs to grow.

Rather than list all the takeaway points from our conversation, I'd like to share three key themes that emerged. Your thoughts are welcomed.

  • We need to rethink our teams and how we function. We must become effective at getting more minds with diverse skill sets into the game and encourage them (and ourselves) to "challenge authority" in a constructive and effective way. The consensus was that we need to encourage and support our teams by promoting development and sharing authority and visibility.
  • We need to rethink how we develop ourselves and spend our time. According the Business Week article I referenced above, the optimal "recession CEO" time allocation may be 20 percent CEO, 40 percent COO, and 40 percent CFO. Given that many of our groups have enjoyed the fruits of long, continuous growth, I wonder if many of us have grown to become strategic thinkers and visionaries who are less connected to operational realities. Is it time to get back to basics and all the development or choices that come with it?
  • We need to exert even more future-focused leadership while not being perceived as controlling or overly directive. Now that boards are expecting more than ever before—while sometimes, paradoxically, being more risk averse—successful CEOs will need to deliver more creative and practical approaches to vexing problems than ever before. Many of us have done as much as possible on the expense side, and the expectation is that we will need to grow our way out. One participant suggested that, in order to succeed, we need to demonstrate "vulnerability to our boards and staff while at the same time exuding confidence." Like I said, we need to grow.

In a future post, I'd like to share some thoughts that emerged about the concept of "fail fast, fail small, learn, and adapt."

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Welcome guest blogger Joel Albizo, CAE

Please welcome new guest blogger Joel Albizo, CAE, executive director of the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards in Fairfax, Virginia. Joel led a Learning Lab at the 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo titled "Do You Have What It Takes To Be a 'Recession CEO?'" with colleagues Henry Chamberlain, CAE, Pamela Kaul, and Paul Pomerantz, CAE, and will offer some insights over the next few weeks on that very topic. Welcome Joel!

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January 10, 2011

Imagining association doomsday (or not)

I wrote the bulk of this post in December but sat on it until after the holidays. In light of the discussion spurred by Joe Flowers' post about not renewing with ASAE and Scott's follow-up post about social media changing the future for associations, I'm glad I waited.

Anyway, some other online discussions that actually preceded Joe's post already had me wondering what the world would look like without associations. Frankly, I have a hard time picturing it, but that might just be because I'm not very imaginative. In addition to the posts ensuing from Joe Flowers' post (which Scott is compiling as they arise), also see:

  • On ASAE's Executive Management listserver, in response to a request for guidance about starting a membership organization, Steve Townsend posted a lengthy message about the challenges that the membership model faces today. "If we all had the option of starting from scratch ... we might explore other alternatives to that model," he says.
  • Eric Lanke, CAE, wrote last month that members of associations greatly underestimate the true costs of the services associations provide.
  • Back in October, Diane James, CAE, wrote an excellent post here on Acronym asking why associations haven't adopted new business models, despite an apparent consensus that the traditional association model is doomed.
  • Also last month, Jeff Hurt asked how associations will transition from push economies to pull economies.

The question we all seem to be struggling with is, more or less, "It's getting so easy for people to self-organize and to find what they want for free, why would people need associations in the future?" But Eric Lanke's post struck a particular chord with me, on which I'd like to expand here.

I'm not convinced that free stuff and self-organized groups (the internet's two-pronged menace) would fill the void that associations would leave if they disappeared tomorrow. (Poof!) The question that's always stuck in my mind is, "Where's the business model?"

Here's what I mean by that: if self-organized groups were to inherit the Earth, how will they (or who else will) pull off the most resource-intensive services that associations currently provide? Things like conferences, advocacy, and certification. Despite the forward march of technology, the value of all of these is still quite high. I've just never been able to make the leap in my mind from self-formed groups to large-scale products and services. When a group of like-minded people finds it can no longer bear the burden of serving itself through the goodwill of volunteers, it hires a staff to manage these things, and it turns to bundled or unbundled fees to support that overhead. At its very basic, isn't that how every association gets its start?

Don't mistake this for an argument against the need for change, though. I'm with you. We all need to evolve. But rather I put this forth as a challenge: Paint the scenario in which what associations do today is fully replaced by emerging social dynamics and new business models tomorrow.

We've fidgeted over business-model innovation for associations for a while; let's red-team it and create the anti-association business model. Then maybe we can learn from it. So, please, tell me: what does association doomsday look like?

[Sidenote: Lisa Junker, CAE, got this started in her "A World Without Associations" vignette in the "Visions for the Future of Associations" feature from the January 2010 issue of Associations Now. The only reason she wrote that essay herself, though, is because she couldn't find anyone else to write it. Here's a new chance to step up, people.]

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Can We Provide a Personal Board of Directors?


board-of-directors.jpg
Photo credit: www.coach2accomplish.com

An HBR post from a few months back discusses the advantages of employing a personal board of directors. I don't think there's much debate on the validity and value of this concept, and many association professionals embrace it for their own professional development needs.

The thought that lingers in my mind is how associations can provide this as a member benefit? How many organizations are adequately equipped and capable of doing so? Depending on the industry, size of the membership, and desire for mentor programs, it may be a logistical nightmare to create an offering like this. Thankfully, many AMS systems have the capability to handle complex list management, demographic data mining, and matching criteria and package it into an efficient process for each member. Reading the great discussions around the now infamous Joe Flower's post, it seems timely. Isn't this a unique and highly valuable membership benefit?

Granted, many professionals will proactively seek and develop their own relationships and identify colleagues of interest regardless of a structured mentorship program or other offering. But what about those that are more reserved or hesitant to reach out (i.e. the majority?) We've quickly become conditioned to prompts from social networks, guiding us towards "people you may know" and other recommended actions that keep us engaged. Wouldn't it be great for an organization to guide a member's connections and career development as well?

What do you think? Better yet, does anyone know of an organization leading the way in this area?

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January 7, 2011

What Leading a Girl Scout Troop Taught Me About Blind Spots

Following is a guest post from Carolyn C. Lanham, CAE, senior director of executive operations at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC, and a member of ASAE's 2010-2011 Executive Management Section Council.

Have you ever had a moment when you realize that you had an incorrect impression or opinion? Did you ignore that thought in support of your current thinking, or did you seriously recheck your thoughts? How often do you consciously evaluate your inclusiveness when exploring possibilities or seeking solutions? Do you personally seek other opinions from diverse populations?

Joe Gerstandt's article, "Check Your Diversity Blind Spots," in the January 2011 Associations Now Volunteer Leadership Issue, reminded me of one of my blind spots. Gerstandt states that diversity is a catalyst. "It drives change because it always brings tension, and when you introduce tension into a social group … you change some of the patterns of behavior within that social group," he writes.

Four years ago I took on the responsibility to lead a new Girl Scout troop. These twelve girls were from three different schools. They collectively represented two age groups, four religions, and seven nationalities. It took several meetings before I realized that, while there were differences in demographics, there was little difference among their opinions, thoughts, and preferences.

The Girl Scout mission is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. If these girls are going to make the world a better place, then they need the courage and confidence to voice unique perspectives and ideas. Was peer pressure and groupthink holding them back, or was it something else? My assessment uncovered a likely reason. We had stumbled into a culture of conformity. As the leader, I was contributing to this culture by not proactively soliciting and incorporating different ideas. I praised the girls for the quick decisions and for getting along so well. But without challenging them in any way, I was inhibiting the girls' ability to engage in healthy disagreement and to value differences.

I now challenge the girls to identify or express other possibilities. I ask each girl to help the group understand why she offers a particular thought or suggestion. I look for opportunities to stretch their imaginations and to think outside the box. I proactively connect the value of the diverse thought with improved decision making. As a result, the girls are more confident to share unconventional ideas. They understand that those with different opinions or approaches are not "against them" but simply looking at the situation through a different lens.

As it turns out, the troop does possess the power of diversity. I was the one with the blind spot. However, once recognized this, I was able to tap into a wealth of creative thoughts and ideas that are often quite different one from the other—now that is sweet!

As association leaders, we know that innovation comes from disruption, change, and new ways of thinking, sometimes purposeful and sometimes by happenstance. Innovation is more likely to happen when like-minded individuals purposely seek others with differing views or ideas and integrate those ideas to create new or improved products and services. Therefore, an organization that intentionally creates and maintains a culture of diversity and inclusion will reap greater benefits than those who do not. And just like I learned in leading the Girl Scout troop, the leader's role is to make sure that culture happens.

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Quick Clicks: New Year's Edition

Welcome to this week's edition of Quick Clicks! If you're following the discussion on association membership that began on Joe Flowers' Unhatched blog, be sure to check out Scott's post about it. Not only is there a great discussion going on in the comments, Scott is adding links to other blog posts related to the discussion as we find them.

Here are some other interesting tidbits from the association blogging world and elsewhere :

- This post of Jamie Notter's is a few weeks old, but it's really resonating with me right now: The Hard Work of the Middle.

- The Interactive Meeting Technology blog has 5 wishes for the meetings industry in the coming year (hat tip to Sue Pelletier for the link).

- Jane Cravens at the Coyote Communications blog describes how mapping your volunteer intake process can help you engage volunteers more successfully.

- Erik Schonher asks if 2011 will be the year of customer service.

- Tony Rossell proposes three membership marketing New Year's resolutions.

- Cindy Butts compares life as an association executive to the new movie Black Swan.

- Sarah Ruzek at the Associations Live blog is doing a whole series of short posts with three tips on a variety of topics, including collecting bad debt, meeting marketing, RFPs for speakers and meeting venues, and more.

- Erik Lanke is looking for Gen-X association professionals to join the Hourglass Blog as guest posters.

- Jeff Hurt discusses the challenges for associations navigating the transition from a push economy to a pull economy.

- Kathi Edwards at the Learning Evangelist blog has some ideas for how webinars can become more interactive.

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January 5, 2011

On member value

I'm sure many Acronym readers have seen Joe Flowers' post on his blog, "Why I won't renew with ASAE in 2011." If not, you should read it, and the fascinating discussion that follows. The discussion also continues on the SocialFish blog, again, worth a look. (If others have posted on the conversation, my apologies for the oversight - let us know in the comments.)

As I've said many times, Acronym is not the place to give an official ASAE position on things or to deliver messages ASAE wants delivered. It's point is to foster discussion and debate about leading and managing associations. I think the points that Joe and the commentators make are much larger than ASAE; I think they're talking about a wide swath of associations. So first, I want to give my definition of what we're talking about.

Associations have many different primary reasons for existence. For some, the primary reason is government relations. For others, it might be a certification or an exclusive product offering or even a golden handcuff, affinity-style benefit. I'm on record saying that the social web is transforming all associations, no matter their primary reasons for existence, and that is most acutely true for organizations with the primary reason of fostering peer interaction, or networking, and information exchange. ASAE is such an organization, as are thousands of other associations.

So putting it another way, if the primary value your organization provides is networking and information, the social web has changed the rules of the game you're in. It's obvious, right: by definition the social web makes information sharing and building connections easy and free. Here's a dirty little secret: ASAE hasn't figured out what associations should do about this. Neither has anybody else. Some of the models are intriguing. There are several associations who have dropped the whole dues-paying part of membership. Another model is the exclusive model; the Third Tribe as a possible association model is fascinating to me. The comments to Joe's post are rich with ideas for ASAE and all associations--these exchanges, whether through ASAE channels or other means, enrich us all.

I think where we are now is that each organization has to look at its attributes, its possibilities, its limitations, and figure out its own approach. I don't think it will be a simple, cookie-cutter operation. It didn't feel like it, but believe it or not, it used to be easy: provide really good information and a means for smart, interesting people to talk to each other and you would be successful. That's not enough anymore. The social web has transformed that from a scarce resource into an abundant one. As I said, I don't know what's next. But here are some thoughts as we think about it.

1. It's ok for the Joe's of the world to question their involvement with an organization. Just because they can publicly proclaim their thoughts doesn't mean organizations should change and accommodate them. To be sure, we should listen, debate, and try to learn from such experiences--they truly are gifts to an organization--but should the organization make a change based on it? Maybe, maybe not.

2. It may not be better for the bottom line (at least in the short run), but all associations would be stronger if each and every member that received a renewal notice carefully considered the value they received--or could receive-- and then decide whether or not to pay it.

3. When I read the comments of Joe's post, there are clearly ASAE supporters and those that are less supportive. As organizations, we need to have a better understanding than we do of how people become engaged and involved in what we do. All organizations have the pathways to engagement, but we tend to focus on the people who find those pathways attractive (or find them at all) and dismiss those who do not as if they didn't want to be involved. That's a mistake - clearly associations will not be successful with such an attitude. If somebody paid dues to your organization, it's likely that they want one of those pathways to entice them. We need to have a better understanding of why and how these things happen in our organizations.

So that's three things to think about. What would you add to this list?

UPDATE:

Some additional blog posts on this topic, I'll keep updating as I see them (or you let me know of them)
Just What Am I Joining from Get Me Jamie Notter
The Scarlet F of Freeloading from Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects
Why Being Anti-Indispensability Is Pro-Membership from Shelly Alcorn
To Be or Not to Be a Member from SmartBlog Insights
Paying the Price for the Failure to Innovate from Jeff De Cagna
Why I renewed with ASAE in 2011 from Moving Through the Association World

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January 4, 2011

Parading Around Your Message

I'm a sucker for a parade, and so, apparently, are some associations and nonprofits that see these traditionally small-town events as lesser used but still effective methods of marketing themselves and their messages.

Parades = hokey. Right? While the Macy's Parade on Thanksgiving is likely the main parade that pops in your head when you think "parade," don't discount the likes of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, which was watched last weekend by millions on TV and online, or even something local like the annual Halloween Parade in Vienna, Virginia, which pulls a crowd of 10,000 and is one of the largest events in the state.

If you watched the Rose Parade, for instance, you saw at least seven nonprofits and about a half-dozen associations represented among the 47 floats, including the Alzheimer's Association, which won the President's Trophy "for most effective use and presentation of flowers" for "It's Time to Face Alzheimer's." The network broadcast of the parade included more than three minutes of primo airtime by the narrators, who discussed Alzheimer's disease and the nonprofit's resources, along with a link to the Alzheimer's website from the TV station's news site.

Another committed participant was the nonprofit Donate Life America, which has created Rose Parade floats for years, winning the Theme Trophy this year for "best presentation of the Rose Parade theme" with its "Seize the Day!" approach. The project attracts a loyal volunteer base of builders and donors, while driving people to the Donate Life website, according to the group.

So set aside your possible bias against parades as marketing vehicles and enjoy this slideshow of the different way your colleagues captured their message in moving flowers.

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Beyond Blather

I like listening to association CEOs talk to each other once they find a way to move beyond the weather, traffic, and the usual "Hey, how are you? I'm fine, yup, fine" openers. Trouble is, often they don't get beyond such superficial exchanges.

They're NOT all "fine;" they're challenged bigtime in many ways--it's just hard to feel right about blurting out, "Well, actually, I'm having trouble finding someone to fill a key position on my senior team," or "Pretty good, but I'd be better if I could just figure out how to tap into more federal funding. Have you had much luck with that?"

The latter statements actually start a real conversation, a potential peer-to-peer learning experience. And yet, some leaders seem more comfortable making bland and polite replies that go nowhere.

That's why I like watching the TV show of one of our community's most visible leaders--Jonathan Tisch, chair & CEO of Loews Hotels--who interviews leaders from a wide range of fields on his CNBC show, "Beyond the Boardroom."

Over the weekend, I watched him interview George Bodenheimer, president, ESPN & ABC Sports, about everything from brand management to entertainment technology advances to shareholder concerns related to ESPN's parent company, Disney. You could tell that Tisch was really listening, learning, considering.

Like a fly on the wall, it was a great viewer experience to watch those two get into some difficult topics.

Why not commit in 2011 to cutting your standard chitter chatter at receptions, coffee breaks, and even in the elevator to a minimum and instead perfect ways to delve deeper faster into the topics that matter. You will likely find an enthusiastic, even relieved conversation partner who doesn't care about interstate hang-ups or a bit of rain either.

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Were you born to do this?

My father-in-law Gus is 100% Greek, and he is by far the master at haggling price, on anything. It is truly a national pastime, I swear. This last week he and I have been looking at a new vehicle for my wife and I to purchase...and I've had the opportunity to see a maestro at work, conducting a symphony of insults, incredulousness, straight-talk, soft talk and sweet talk, and plain old storming out...wow.

He played 3 dealers off each other, literally pounding these people on price, bludgeoning them down with the sheer righteousness of a man on a holy mission. He was, I promise you, born to do this, and he pursues it with a glee that is only rivaled by hunting with his dogs. My upbringing, coupled with weak shoulders and a tendency to look at the ground, causes me to literally cringe at how he managed to work these sales people down at least 20% more than I ever could have...a master chess player, 3 moves ahead, at all times.

While I took a nice test drive and ask poignant questions about power windows and other things I know nothing about, he pulled the sales manager into her office and played good cop/bad cop (both roles simultaneously!), coaxing her down to a rock bottom price...after we walked out abruptly with little warning to this poor woman, he then phoned another dealer in the area whom he knows and pounded that port chap down another 15%, divulging just enough information to get him to bite, but holding key information in his pocket. My favorite line, which rings true with a sweet, simple truth, was 'This is what you must do for me to buy the car. I save a buck, you make a lotta bucks'. I literally was sitting next to the Buddha of haggling at that moment in time. And I realized something: You see, it's not about the end price at all, it's all about the game--and he was the star player who wanted to be there, handling a role that neither me nor my wife had any desire to fulfill, or had any true skill, experience, or knowledge to play.

All of this has made me really think about the association management world and our 'I wear many hats' dogma (which I am tired of hearing, being honest). If we are all so busy doing so many things, I wonder if we are taking the time to make sure that all of us are a good fit for the work we are doing, and that we excel at it. There has to be a better way to manage ourselves and highlight the strengths in all of us. There is nothing challenging about being too busy or wearing a bunch of silly hats. Let's stop that charade and find our core purpose, challenge ourselves, and grow.

So my question to you is; in your association, or in your life--with your employees, or with the friends and family around you--how are you empowering people to do that which they love and that which they were born to do?

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January 3, 2011

What will 2011 bring?

My personal and mostly unqualified perspective of the current state of the economy is that we're now in the "Waiting for a Sign" stage.

We know the economy is cyclical, so we know the economy has to get better someday. We just aren't sure when. Maybe this year will be the year.

(What has always fascinated me about economics is not the numbers but rather the psychology. If enough people think the economy will get better soon, they'll start acting like the economy will get better soon, and those actions will cause the economy to get better soon.)

A handful of new reports make me think 2011 might be a good year.

First, in a short survey of nonprofit executives conducted by financial consulting and search firm Beyond The Bottom Line, about two thirds of respondents (68 percent) say they expect economic growth in 2011. While most say they expect "slow growth" (1-9 percent), the total expecting growth at any rate is up from 58 percent in BTBL's 2010 survey.

That trend is similar to what ASAE found in its Winter 2010 Economic Impact Study. That study showed that the revenue outlook of association executives improved from 2009 to 2010:

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The BTBL and ASAE studies aren't apples to apples, but they do indicate a sense of improvement. ASAE is conducting another follow-up survey to its Economic Impact Study reports, and results are expected to be available next month. I'll be interested to see if association executives' outlook improves again in the ASAE study, as well.

Taking a broader look:

I'm no economist, but the first business day of 2011 seemed like a good day to take a look at what the economy might bring us in the coming year. My sense is that each of us is just waiting for some signs that everyone else is feeling better about the economy. Maybe some of these notes above fit the bill. I'm curious what your association is expecting in 2011. Please share in the comments.

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