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March 31, 2011

Quick clicks: Opening Day edition

For your sake, I hope right now you're sitting in a stadium somewhere with a hot dog and box of Cracker Jack, enjoying the return of America's pastime and not thinking about associations at all. (That's what I did last year.) But if you're hard at work for your association like normal today, here are a few important articles and blog posts from the past week to help you do that job a little bit better.

Web sharing. Google is getting into the social web-page-sharing game with its new "+1" button. You can't add the "+1" button to your web pages yet like a Facebook "Like" button or a Twitter "Retweet" button, but you'll be able to soon, and you can sign up to be notified when it's ready.

Member recruitment. David Patt, CAE, asks why member-get-a-member campaigns always feature incentives. The underlying question is, "If your members aren't recommending your association to others on their own, are you really that valuable to them?"

Membership models. Jamie Notter on The Common Thread blog sums up this week's association chat on Twitter (#assnchat) and asks, "Are You Still Collecting Dues?" The debate over paid membership rages on.

Staff meetings. Jeffrey Cufaude passes along an insight from a colleague: "Scheduling a meeting is not the same as planning one." He suggests a rating system for staff meetings. Makes sense. We ask members to rate our conferences, so why not ask colleagues to rate our staff meetings?

The Stars and Stripes. Does your association open meetings with the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem? Cindy Butts, CAE, tells some stories about problems associations run into involving the display of the American flag, and she offers six tips to avoid some of those common pitfalls.

Bacon (the email kind). Maddie Grant shares a great infographic about bacon, a term for spam that you sign up for, which describes a lot of email that associations send to their members. (Just like the real thing, "Some bacon is good, too much clogs your arteries.") She says she'd even pay an extra fee to get less bacon. Would you? (Would your members?)

Member communication. How can you know what innovations your members will find useful? Listening. Listening closely to your members about their challenges, hopes, fears, daily lives, and so on, says Eric Lanke, CAE.

And if you're a baseball fan, here are MLB.com's predictions for the 2011 season. Best of luck to whichever team you'll be root root rooting for this year!

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March 30, 2011

Us vs. Them

Not too long ago, I lost my temper on the Acronym blog. I shouldn't have. It never advances dialogue. It didn't help.

What set me off was a blog post in the "I've got social media ... who needs an association?" genre. The posting itself was no doubt sincere, and it wasn't as arrogant or doctrinaire as other examples from the genre that I could cite. I unfairly vented on the poster when what really bugged me, and has been bugging me for a long time, wasn't anything he explicitly said. Rather, it is a notion that I have seen flourish in online forums, a notion that assumes social media makes traditional associations obsolete.

My vent came across as "nothing good in the way of collaborative, real-world impact can happen outside of the traditional association model." It wasn't what I meant, and certainly not what I believe. But there it was. It provoked the predictable response accusing me of denying the power of social media to serve as a platform for concrete action and making excuses for the failure of traditional "brick and mortar" associations, which have lost all relevance in today's digital world.

So let me correct any impression I may have given that I am anti-social media or a defender of the status quo in associations. Social networking has changed associations in major ways. Associations that might have been coasting along on their prior reputations have been challenged to deliver real value and create new and more open opportunities for member engagement, because if the emperor has no clothes, the web will make that apparent immediately. Social networking has created whole new capacities for service, action, and involvement.

But I still maintain that the idea that either form (virtual or physical) of associative activities is unnecessary and disappearing (or ought to) does a disservice to both types of community. It isn't a case of "either/or." The proper conjunction is "and." Virtual and traditional aren't mutually exclusive. Both elements bring something unique and valuable to the constituency they share. And together they achieve synergies that add member value that is beyond what either could achieve separately.

There are certainly examples that could be identified of utterly failed traditional associations and equally unproductive social networking initiatives (the space outside the red lines in the diagram below). There are probably examples that could be cited of associations having real impact and delivering real value without any significant virtual component, as well as examples of purely virtual movements that are changing the world in significant ways (the green and yellow spaces between the red lines). But there is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, where virtual and traditional overlaps. That's where we ought to be focusing.

Us vs Them.jpg

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The Great Divide

I recently attended a presentation by Bob Wendover from the Center for Generational Studies on communicating between generations. It was a very odd experience, as the entire room was filled with "Generation Xers" (those born from the 1960s-1981) and "Baby Boomers" (those from 1940-1960). I was the only "Millenial" in the room, the group of people born between 1982 and 1999.

The presentation made me realize that we focus way too much on the generational "divides". Why? Because the presentation discussed how attention-deficit, impulsive, and unprofessional "Millenials" are. But really, I'm on the cusp, being born in 1982. I've been taught how to write a professional business letter. I remember life before the Internet. My See-N-Say had a string cord, my Slinky was metal, and my Easy-Bake Oven actually baked.

But yet formal "generational" divides lump me into a class with people such as my 14-year-old cousin, who despite living down the street from me only communicates with me via Facebook status messages and abbreviated chat-speak text messages. He asks his friends if they want to hang out.. and despite them living down the street, what he means is "let's play Xbox from our respective homes while talking on the phone". He and I have pretty much nothing in common at all.

The reason I share this is to warn you NOT to look too much into age or generation stereotyping. After all, our grandparents are joining Facebook, and my mom has an iPhone while my husband can hardly text message. Be sure you're communicating in every way with every member, instead of making generalizations based on age. You know what they say about assumptions.

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New guest bloggers

It is my pleasure to introduce a couple of new guest bloggers to Acronym.

Mark Golden, CAE, is the executive director and CEO of NCRA: The Professional Association for Reporters and Captioners based in VIenna, Virginia. Mark is long-time thoughtful commenter on Acronym, and we're thrilled he's going to be writing some guest posts for us.

You've already seen a post from our other new guest blogger: Lauren Hefner. Lauren is director of membership, marketing, and communications for the Laboratory Products Association in Lorton, Virginia. Lauren is the latest representative from the young association executives to blog on Acronym, a partnership that has led to some great commentary in the last couple of years.

Thank you both for joining us, and we look forward to reading your posts!

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March 28, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro's Diversity Message Still Rings True

I was sorry to read about the death of former vice presidential candidate and longtime political activist Geraldine Ferraro this weekend. I recalled when she co-authored an article for GWSAE's Executive Update magazine back in July 2000, and oddly enough, I had just had it posted as a resource onto the ASAE Diversity & Inclusion Conference attendee site because its content remains relevant to today's discussions of the subject.

Titled "Reaping the Bottom Line Benefits of Diversity", the article is a warning by Ferraro (Democrat) and President George Bush's Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin (Republican), who jointly write that associations that ignore diversity risk extinction in the coming years. They urge ways that organizations can use training and leadership to leverage the business benefits of diversity and inclusiveness.

The article remains especially timely in light of last week's release of the 2010 U.S. Census results. Among its important findings are data showing that the numbers of Hispanics have grown by more than 43% since the year 2000, or 16% of the U.S. population. That increase means Hispanics have overtaking African-Americans or blacks (at 13% of the U.S. population) as the largest minority group in America. Will organizations or the business community be able to adapt to this level of change in their membership/consumer/worker bases?

Ferraro defined diversity broadly, although she often wrote about women leadership simply because that seemed to be what folks asked her about most. She had many friends within our sector, especially among women's organizations and political groups, and I often saw her on the speakers' lists of a range of nonprofit and association events, despite her battle against blood cancer.

Hopefully, the message she shared in Executive Update 11 years ago and throughout her 75 years of public service, along with new data confirming some of the trends she foresaw, will inspire association leaders to revisit her words and take action accordingly.

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Does charging for membership hurt diversity and inclusion?

Time for another wrinkle in the debate over the sustainability of the membership model. Associations Now has featured two associations in the past few months that have moved to a freemium membership model:

In both of these articles, the word "open" comes up in significant ways. For ADEA, the marketing campaign for the new model was titled "Open Wide," and internally they call the model "open membership." For AWM, Fuller makes a strong conclusion: "We believe this change makes us as open and inclusive as possible ... ."

In each case, an increase in perspectives, ideas, and knowledge sharing was a major goal the association sought to achieve by lowering the barrier to access to its community. By becoming more open, they've aimed to become more inclusive.

The underlying statement here is that the opposite—maintaining barriers to access—hurts an organization's level of diversity and inclusion, which suggests that the answer to the question in the title of this post would be "yes."

For whatever reason, I don't often see membership models and diversity and inclusion discussed at the same time, even though they're clearly intertwined in real life. We tend to have discussions about them in separate buckets. With membership models, we focus on hard results, namely revenue. With diversity and inclusion, we talk about soft results such as engagement, community, and leadership development.

Of course, generating revenue and increasing diversity are both positive goals with positive results, but the traditional behavior of associations would put them at odds: Preserving membership revenue hampers inclusion by limiting access; advancing inclusion by expanding access puts membership revenue at risk. That's a genuine dilemma, one that requires creative solutions.

The two associations highlighted above may have found a way to solve this problem, but a freemium model likely isn't feasible for every association. I'm curious about other potential solutions. Associations couldn't succeed if revenue and D&I were mutually exclusive, could they?

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March 25, 2011

Innovation: Let the defining lead to the doing

This post from Jeffrey Cufaude is the final in the short series of posts from members of ASAE's Innovation Task Force on how association leaders need to be thinking about innovation in their organizations.

One of my takeaways from serving as a member of ASAE's Innovation Task Force for the past year is how difficult it is for many in our community to: (1) define innovation, (2) label any of their own work as innovative, and (3) appreciate the real value that incremental innovation can play in advancing mission and vision.

Peter Drucker once defined innovation as "change that creates a new dimension of performance." A lot of meaning and guidance can be unpacked from this simple definition:


  • What is the new dimension of performance that our members (future members) would value? Answers for this question often start in the form of "Wouldn't it be great if you could ..."

  • What change, if implemented, might make that new dimension possible? Producing enhanced value and a new dimension of performance may require approaching the work from fundamentally different premises or assumptions to unleash new possibilities in process or programming.


Note that the new dimension of performance might be incremental or exponential, evolutionary or revolutionary--both are a part of innovation.

Disney has institutionalized the value of incremental innovation in the form of Walt Disney's plussing strategy. Walt used plus as a verb, one defined as adding more value than the customer paid for or expects: How do we plus this? Disney cast members are daily tasked with plussing all of their efforts. Over time, the aggregated value enhanced by hundreds and thousands of plussing efforts is quite significant, but generally requires little to no new resources to produce. Think about the delight a member would experience if in every interaction with your association her expectations were slightly exceeded.

Exponential innovations often can be jumpstarted by a total overhaul of an existing program or service you plan on retaining, but such efforts often are stymied because people perceive the motivation to do so as personal or political. We can counter this be ensuring that association programs that meet a certain threshold (budget, number served, etc.) routinely go through a periodic major maintenance effort. Now your efforts aren't being singled out; it's just your turn.

During these major maintenance reviews, every single aspect of the initiative comes into question including the fundamental assumptions for the effort. It's the programmatic equivalent of zero-based budgeting, professional recertification, or institutional re-accreditation. Breakthroughs in new dimensions of performance for longstanding programs often require "re-creating" from the ground up instead of merely tinkering around the edges.

Just as the 60,000-mile maintenance for your car is more comprehensive and expensive than 15,000 -mile maintenance, so might the refreshing of a 5-year program require a more significant rethinking and investment than the review of a 3-year program. But failure to do either almost certainly ensures untimely breakdowns and expensive repairs in the future. The same can be said for unexamined association initiatives.

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Associations Pledging to Participate in Tomorrow's Earth Hour

If your organization and staff are interested in an easy, fun, and free way to show support for protecting the planet and urging action on the problem of climate change, consider participating in World Wildlie Fund's global Earth Hour 2011 tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. for one hour.

A phenomenal success, in part because of its simplicity, visibility, and measured impacts, Earth Hour has inspired pledges to participate from government and business leaders in a record 131 countries, along with hundreds of major companies such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Coca-Cola, and IKEA, and even more NGOs and individuals. Association participants include Building Owners and Managers Association International chapters, sports associations, astronomy organizations, and hospitality groups. For a partial list of participants this year, go here.

I've also been seeing hotels, restaurants and local shops use Earth Hour this year to plan and promote festive events to engage guests and customers, including dining-by-candlelight dinners, s-more making in hotel lobby fireplaces for kids, glow necklace distributions at clubs, lantern walks in art galleries and shops, and glow-in-the-dark crafts and family-night gaming. You'll also find that hundreds of major international sites such as the Empire State Building, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge are participating, too.

I remember when this all started in 2007. I had heard that several associations were going to participate, and one was planning some tie-in events at its local conference since the events would overlap. Organizers were having a great time finding ways to integrate both fun and information into the single dark hour, and they apparently got rave reviews from attendees, especially about the candlelit pathway up to an outdoor stargazing event that had been put together with the local planetarium and a nonprofit chapter of astronomers.

That first year, Earth Hour drew 2.2 million individual participants and more than 2,000 businesses, according to World Wildlife Fund. Tomorrow, only four years later, those numbers have grown into the hundreds of millions of registered participants, and organizers have expanded the event by calling on each of them to go "beyond the hour" by committing to convert a single hour of darkness into a single commitment to do one regular thing that helps the environment address climate change. Suggestions include easy actions such as commuting to work or the subway station by bike one day a week, switching to CFL or LED lights, or holding "meatless Monday" dinners.

You can learn more about what people and organizations are pledging to do at www.earthhour.org/beyondthehour.

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Quick Clicks: Elite Eight

As the NCAA Tourney pares it's way from 16 to 8, I bring you this week's Quick Clicks -- an Elite Eight of posts from the past week plus that caught my eye.

If you find yourself annoyed, angry or otherwise flummoxed at some key members, Jamie Notter has the right advice: Stop Making It Worse.

Mizz Information's Maggie McGary calls them like she sees them, and she doesn't like this organization's publicity approach.

David Gammel reminds us that charging for online content can be a perfectly viable business model... but you have to do it smartly.

Acronym has been on point in innovation posts this week, but we're not alone. Elizabeth Weaver Engel has a nice take on the idea side of innovation.

The always thoughtful Shelly Alcorn also gives us a lesson on innovation, namely that governance and policy are binders, not enablers.

And another look at innovation from Radian6 blogger Amber Naslund, who tells us to Put Some Skin in the Game.

There are a ton of blogs where this title wouldn't get attention, but none of them are in my Google Reader. So when I saw "The Politics of Queering Anything" from Microsoft social media researcher Danah Boyd I had to look. I'm glad I did, and if your organization plans panel discussions and uses a demographic qualifier to describe the panel, you'll be glad you looked, too.

Finally, I must always include a Seth Godin post when I do Quick Clicks. I mean, I have a Seth Godin action figure at my desk. Don't believe me? Here, I just took a picture as I'm writing this:

seth godin action figure.JPG

The post I'm choosing this time is "Better than it sounds," in which he says:

"Is your product better than it sounds, or does it sound better than it is?

"We call the first a discovery, something worthy of word of mouth. The second? Hype."

That's 75 percent of the post, so don't follow the link to read that post; follow the link to see all the other perceptive things Godin has to say.

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March 24, 2011

The accidental classroom

Yesterday, Kerry Stackpole, CAE, president of Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic, helped provide a lense through which association leaders can look at innovation. He's back today with a second post on the importance of an eyes-open approach to innovation.

Let's be honest, you've got plenty on your plate already--maybe it's overflowing. Everyday there are greater demands for your time, association resources, and improved outcomes in all that your organization seeks to achieve on behalf of the membership. That's exactly why you should want innovation at the center of your plate. Really stupid idea, you say? Don't be so sure.

Part of the opportunity that underlies the work of association leaders is the opportunity to extrapolate from history, experience, and current events what the future might hold for our organizations. Ultimately and more importantly of course is applying those hypotheses to your organization by creating a new product or service or establishing an entirely new, more competitive position. In a word, innovating.

In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs described his life as a college dropout. "Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life.

"Ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do."
With that as backdrop consider one of this country's grand old organizations. The International Typographers Union (ITU) beginnings dated back to the 1850′s. The member's were craftsmen who set wood block and metal type by hand. Publishing in all forms flourished through the growing use of machine type and the launch of photocomposition in the 1960s. While the move to photocomposition was viewed mostly as an evolutionary change, in fact, it was revolutionary.

With a membership of over 121,000 typographers in 1964, the ITU was a powerful part of the labor force. Twenty-two years later they ceased to exist. The age of craft typography had come to an end, thanks in part to Steve Jobs and that accidental calligraphy class. What remained of the ITU was absorbed by the Communication Workers of America Printing, Publishing, and Media Workers Sector led by the man who is now the Public Printer of the United States, William J. Boarman.

It is a cautionary and parallel tale for many associations, professions and industries today. Revolutionary information technology is competing to capture market share from what were once the exclusive domain of associations and organizations in a diverse array of markets.

As leaders we are being challenged everyday by new technologies, content delivery systems, and new business methods that chip away at our organization's core value. While some of the early competition or technology-based efforts have fallen short or failed miserably, there is little reason to take comfort. These are the seeds of the future. So as a leader here's the question you need to consider now: If your association or organization went out of business today, who would miss you and why? It should be a simple question, but given serious consideration it is not so simple. Creating an innovation pathway to deliver the future is about answering this question and others more fully and with fresh zeal. How to get started? You might consider making that trip to an accidental classroom near you.

Tomorrow Jeffrey Cufaude completes this short series on innovation in which he'll take us from defining to doing.

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March 23, 2011

60 seconds to failure... or is it success?

In today's post on innovation -- the second of four -- Kerry Stackpole, CAE, president of Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic, republishes a post from his Wired 4 Leadership blog from earlier this year:

Innovation is defined as the introduction of something new--a new idea, method or device. The Economist playing off an ancient joke asked, "How long does it take to change a light bulb?" The answer was 136 years--the time it has taken civilization to move from filament based illumination to new compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL). Filament light bulbs are notoriously wasteful. They give off 95% of their energy as heat, not light, which in the summer season or in warmer climates means cooling costs are higher too. You can see the cycle. All this attention to lighting has also increased research into a whole range of new lighting methods including non-mercury plasma light bulbs, and light emitting diodes (LEDs).

It is a larger scale problem for leaders. Which innovation does one embrace? In a world of increasingly scarce resources, organization leaders are faced with a dizzying array of choices. Cloud computing or proprietary databases? iPad formatted publications or Android? Web-based applications or shrink wrapped licensed software? LEDs or CFLs? Work harder or work faster? Increasingly, leaders live in the "and" world, not the "or" world. As in, we need to support iPad and Android and Kindle. Mac OS-X and Windows 7. We need to print and we need to deliver digitally. Embracing an increasingly complex and divergent population requires laser-like focus on getting the essentials right. Our fear of missing the next great leap forward propels us, our customers, clients and members toward early adoption of all means of innovation. All at a price.

That's not as bad as it sounds. Increasingly, our organizations can experiment with new ideas and innovations for free. Chris Anderson's intriguing hypothesis captured in his book FREE: The Future of a Radical Price makes the point that this opportunity comes from a unique happenstance--the movement from atoms to bits. The cost of bits--the online world as we know it--is increasingly free. When one bit of online software falls by the wayside, a new improved application can be found. It's a point reinforced by entrepreneur Cameron Herold during his presentation this past year at ASAE 2010. Herold says he doesn't worry and doesn't think any of us need be concerned about the business model of online entrepreneurs or whether they make any money from their free applications. Free can be replaced by a better "free".

The conundrum for leaders is they are responsible for the profitable operation of the enterprise. Not to put too sharp an edge on it, but could Gillette have risen to greatness selling shaving cream as a profit-center in place of razor blades? Could Microsoft have amassed billions and created wealth by giving away DOS or Windows OS? We'll never know the answer. We do know the actual cost of delivering Microsoft Word to your desktop today as a download is miniscule. But what if your enterprise was built on controlling access, limiting distribution and constraining community to only those willing to pay an admission fee to get past the gate? Across the spectrum publishing organizations, associations, specialized information sellers, magazines, distribution companies, content producers, music labels, newspapers and movie studios all face the unending question of how to re-work their respective business models and craft workable innovations to sustain the value of creation while attracting and retaining customers. Leaders face a bold new responsibility for building new clarity about the goal of innovation. Is our goal to eliminate waste? To get our products and services to free? Or is it the cheapest possible distribution channel and the lowest possible price point? Or something else altogether? On today's innovation frontier the difference between success and failure is fleeting.

Tomorrow, Stackpole continues with a look at why innovation needs to be at the heart of what an association leader does.

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Broadening my comfort zone

Last month I presented a webinar for Higher Logic titled "Engaging NEW Members with Old Ideas". But this isn't about the webinar content itself as much as the process. I had been contacted by Lauren Wolfe, who sits with me on the AOTF board and the Young Association Executives Committee, about submitting a proposal. I did so without really thinking about it; I felt confident about my knowledge of membership and association communications, and thought I could add a new perspective and fresh ideas to the topic. But as the time came closer, I realized what I was getting myself in to. "What am I doing?", I thought. "I'm not an expert on anything."

The idea that, at 28 years old, I would be presenting content to my peer group was intimidating. I have no fear of public speaking, and if you put me on a stage I'll do karaoke in front of any crowd. I've presented to my membership at various meetings without so much as batting an eyelash. So why was I so intimidated by addressing my peers?

It got worse when I found out that it had been approved for CAE credit. I'm not even a CAE (yet)! These people theoretically know so much more than me! And then I was told that the final count was over 450 registrants. Oh, and people I've worked for in the past were registered to be on the call. JUST GREAT.

But that day, I just... stopped stressing about it. Because I knew it wouldn't achieve anything. I had written a presentation I was proud of, practiced it in my head and out loud, worked on my timing, and felt comfortable that I could answer any question that came my way. And you know what? I did just fine. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Being a young association professional can be scary, but I'm so, so glad that I took this risk and put myself out there. We all have to. "Young" doesn't have to mean "inexperienced", and we need to break that stereotype.

What has been the scariest professional experience of your career thus far?

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March 22, 2011

If you build the culture, the results will come

This is the first of four posts on how associations can or should be thinking about innovation from members of ASAE's Innovation Task Force exploring how innovation can be fostered in the association community. This post is from Jeffrey Cufaude from Idea Architects.

Innovation in associations often starts down the same path as diversity and inclusion: as a freestanding separate initiative with its own designated resources or champions. It may be somewhat natural to go this route--let's focus attention and resources on something specific--but it postpones the inevitable. Success requires that innovation be infused in the association's DNA and integrated into all of its efforts--it's culture.

Volumes can be written on culture so let's just use the following definition from noted organizational development guru and MIT professor Edgar Schein in Organizational Culture and Leadership, 3d edition:

"A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems."

In short, culture is defined by "just the way we do things around here" and the way we think about them. Culture is reflected in the stories you tell, the examples you champion, the language people use, the patterns of communication, the way meetings occur, and the lessons used to orient others. So perhaps the easiest way to get started on the innovation path--and get out of being stuck in neutral--is to infuse an innovation lens into the way you think about the things you're already going to be doing.

Have an interview with a prospective candidate next week? Include questions that assess their innovation potential. Staff meeting tomorrow? Include a few questions about how the value of a particular program on the agenda can be enhanced. Planning orientation for new volunteers? Build in a component charging them with upping the innovation factor in their efforts and discuss they key organizational priorities they should aim their efforts at improving.

While such steps alone won't completely transform your association into an enduring engine of innovation, they certainly move you in that direction while you engage in more significant overhaul of some of your major processes (idea management, budgeting, new initiative development, etc.). Culture is learned through what we do and what we say, so simply start talking the innovation talk better and walking it in every incremental way you can. Over time, looking to create new value will become the way things get done.

What are simple steps you've taken (or can take) to integrate an innovation commitment into your existing efforts?

Tomorrow: Kerry Stackpole, President, Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic, offers a perspective on innovation choices.

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Tradeshow move-in sticker shock

Over the years, I've helped manage our national tradeshow, and I've traveled to many other tradeshows across the country, many of them including heavy equipment. One thing they've all had in common: a sense among exhibitors that the rates charged by companies that help move folks in and out of the show border on excessive and aren't based in any type of reality. I'd like to address this disconnect briefly, as I feel there is room on both sides to clarify this relationship, and I think it is the duty of the association managing the show to work with exhibitors and service companies to bridge this gap.

I think this stems partially from perspective. Exhibitors see only a small portion of what actually transpires before, during, and after a show. Understandably, they are focused on their booths and their budgets, while show management and their exhibit services partner must focus on all exhibitors. The challenges on a tradeshow floor include a great deal of diversity in terms of the type of equipment and products displayed and how those items arrive onsite, not to mention how they are moved onto the floor safely and efficiently.

Second, I think the disconnect comes from poor communication. It seems most exhibitors feel that they should only be charged for the exact amount of time it takes and for one specific piece of equipment (e.g., a forklift). Meanwhile, most exhibitor service companies, or show management for that matter, don't do a good job of making sure that exhibitors understand that there is a great deal of cost and overhead built into this pricing, more than just one worker and one forklift for 20 minutes. On the other side, high fees from service companies and unclear and confusing invoicing and service kits need to be improved, as well.

It comes down to this: without an exhibitor service company managing this entire process, tradeshows would be complete chaos for move-in and move-out, people would likely get hurt, and it would move much slower. There is value to the organization and management of a show, but that value is hard to communicate on a hectic tradeshow floor, and especially hard when the bill comes to the booth at the end of the show. It's hard to prevent sticker shock.

For the exhibit services company, moving items on the tradeshow floor is their revenue center. It's what keeps them in business and generates profit for their companies, pays their employees, and puts food on the table. They face substantial risk and cost, including initial site inspections, hours of planning site logistics, warehousing costs and storage, signage and shipping costs, admin costs, labor costs, and more.

Aside from those hard costs, there is also a personal cost and emotional one as well. Over the years I have personally seen our main exhibit services contacts manage through union strikes, inadequate labor and staffing, extreme requests, angry customers, smashed booths, broken-down trucks on loading docks, and countless other extremes. Also, many of these folks who help manage the process are on the road a great deal, as much as any hard-traveling outside salesman in some cases.

I'd love to hear perspectives from other associations who manage tradeshows. How do you handle these challenges?

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March 15, 2011

Diving into tradeshow trends

During the last Deep Dive of Great Ideas, "The Time for Tradeshow Innovation is Now," Amy Ledoux, CMP, CAE, senior vice president, meetings, expositions, and special events, ASAE, and John Parke, CMP, president and CEO, Leadership Synergies LLP, led a three-hour session where participants debated tradeshow models as we know them and hypothesized about the future.
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Parke noted a few key trends when it comes to the future of tradeshows. Here are three:

  • Technology. The impact of social networking and the virtual meeting.
  • Financial. The high stakes of meetings, often representing 50 percent or more of an association's income.
  • Globalization. How are we making our meetings accessible in terms for international members.
An interesting stat Parke offered from CEIR on virtual meetings is that 40 percent of corporation brand managers are interested in investing in virtual media. That's a decent percentage, so if you're thinking of going virtual, don't discount the amount of buy-in you might be able to receive.
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Tweets from #ideas11, part 3

Beware the Ideas of March. #ideas11Tue Mar 15 16:10:39 via TweetDeck

Despite what Ben says, it sounds like the exchange of ideas at day three of the Great Ideas Conference has been very positive, judging by all the great tweets that have been filling the #ideas11 stream today. Here's a sample of some interesting ones that caught my eye from back at the DC office.

Diversity trumps talent. Diverse groups will get better results though they need to work harder to get there #Ideas11Tue Mar 15 18:04:16 via TweetChat

Go for success for the org. Not for success for the silo.#ideas11Tue Mar 15 16:58:52 via Twitter for Android

mind you, i've actually been inundated with TONS of brills ideas, but it's that whole "getting others to sign on" that concerns me #ideas11Tue Mar 15 16:27:10 via TweetDeck

Google the questions your members are looking for - what comes up, what of it is free? Impact to u? #ideas11 #Asae @adriennebryant...Tue Mar 15 16:34:16 via HootSuite

What could you do if your job title was "catalyst" and your role was to inspire change? #ideas11Tue Mar 15 15:00:13 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

For big change agree on one goal. #Ideas11Tue Mar 15 16:32:24 via TweetChat

No budget for failure? How do u find budget for innovation? #ideas11 LB8Tue Mar 15 18:19:16 via HTC Peep

Free trial memberships -- 5-day resulted in 14% conversion; 3-month in 34%. I like either of those numbers. #ideas11Tue Mar 15 16:22:26 via web

Ordinary won't change the world. Dare to be extraordinary. @kckatalyst #ideas11Tue Mar 15 15:19:44 via Ping.fm

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Culture change framework

When people talk about changing organizational culture, I usually scoff a little bit to myself. It makes me think of the cliché/metaphor of taking miles to change the direction of the ship and I think that's not near close enough to explaining how hard it is and how long it takes to actively change a culture.

Fast forward to a Great Ideas session this morning, "Spotlight on Innovation: First Who, Then What: Creating a Culture of Innovation," in which American Speech-Language-Hearing Assocation (ASHA) Arlene Pietranton, CAE, offered an idea I think is very interesting. ASHA has an aspirational tool it uses to help create the culture they want their organization to have. It's a one-pager with 16 statements on it, such as:

  • Managers are seen as coaches and team leaders. They are valued for these skills. Leadership is participative and flexible.
  • Nonconformity is accepted. People are expected to present innovative ideas. People feel free to brainstorm.
  • People are highly motivated. They seize opportunities for personal growth. People view work as important and fun.

This isn't necessarily going to speed up culture change, but it does give staff aspirations and a clear idea of what the desired culture is, even if there is always work to be done to get there.

You can access the entire document for the next few months in the handouts for the session. (PDF)

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Think like a kid again

What's your red rubber ball? What inspires you? This is what Kevin Carroll, author of Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, What's Your Red Rubber Ball?!, and The Red Rubber Ball at Work asked attendees at this morning's closing general session at Great Ideas. [For more from Carroll, read Samantha Whitehorne's interview with him in the August 2006 issue of Associations Now.]

Carroll says play is serious business, and assists us with imagination, creativity, communication, teamwork, and doing more with less. We have to be able to sustain agility and nimbleness of thought and behavior. The way we do this, he says, is to hold on to the behavior of childhood and "exercise your play muscle on a regular basis."

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Thinking back to my own childhood, I have to admit that I was especially curious about everything. I asked a lot of questions, to the point where I heard "because I said so" from my parents on a regular basis rather than the science behind Cheetos. As I got older, I learned there is a time and place to ask questions and that minding my own business is often better than being curious. But maybe this isn't the best approach to keep carrying into my adulthood.

Carroll talked about an art installation, a building with a huge, red ball stuck under the awning. He said that all the children who passed by the oversized red ball were curious about it, while many adults kept their eyes on their phone screens or to the ground.

Instead of ignoring your surroundings, Carroll says you must stay curious, be present, and take it all in the way children often do: "If you would just raise your head up from time to time, you could change your perspective to see things differently and see possibilities that you couldn't see before. Make an effort to look around."

Today, wherever you are, I challenge you to look away from your smartphone and instead at your surroundings. It's going to be easy for those of us still surrounded by the mountains in Colorado. But I have a feeling that even if mountains don't surround you, taking in your scenery with an open mind will show you something you hadn't noticed before.

And if anyone knows about that Cheeto thing, I'm still searching for answers.

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Members ≠ Members

In Monday's Idea Lab "Managing Resistance to Change," Chris Clarke-Epstein, CSP, said "mostly, people are people" in response to a question on the need for cultural awareness when managing change in international organizations.

Meanwhile, attendees identified stakeholders critical to change and evaluated and planned approaches based upon the Support for Change questionnaire (which I highly recommend downloading.) Other Great Ideas sessions on Monday included discussions on:

  • Recruit young professionals to the boards of directors;
  • Whether associations should enhance programming for the top one percent of contributors in order to keep high-value members;
  • Going beyond personalized member outreach;
  • Building relationships with unofficial leaders in your organization.

These sessions point to the perspective that members ≠ members. In other words, not every member is the same. We customize marketing campaigns, target nominations toward experienced leaders, support special interest groups, and so on. We constantly tweak our approach to target the ideal member.

What I've mulled over the past day is whether associations do this too much. At what point does customization become detrimental to our organizations?

Past work with database experts prompted this idea, as the bane of their existence during an upgrade was all of the unique customizations they were asked to make. They agreed some were necessary but often disagreed with the amount of customization. Come time to change governance structure in our associations, don't we feel this same angst? That concession made to a specific group or support of a specific area suddenly feels like a burden as opposed to a strategic priority.

Could we learn from our database experts' approach of envisioning the upgrade to reduce future angst? Is this possible with the people-focused side of the business? After all, it's common knowledge that it's best to keep to "off the shelf" functionality for the inevitable future upgrade. The people-side is more difficult, as I'm unsure if "off the shelf" exists or if we understand what the next upgrade will be.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, as I haven't found a satisfactory conclusion myself. Do you think we over-customize? Should we move more toward a "members = members" approach?

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Scenes at Great Ideas

Some photos from the Great Ideas Conference day two -- including from the predawn photography escape session. See more photos at the Flickr group for the meeting.

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March 14, 2011

Rolling out the Association 990 suite

Tonight at the Great Ideas conference, the ASAE Foundation launched two products within its Association 990 suite, a database of more than 26,000 tax records of various membership organizations. Nat Bartholomew, CPA, principal at LarsonAllen, LLP, offered a test drive of the database to attendees at tonight's wine and cheese reception to launch Association 990 Key Ratios Interactive Tool and Association 990 Agenda Items. He also explained to me what you should know about this new product.

In case you skimmed above and missed it, the database has tax records of more than 26,000 membership organizations, such as c(3), (c)6, (c)19, and more. Each Form 990 includes information on how much an organization pays its CEO, the number of employees it has, or its invested balance. Within the Association 990 Key Ratios Interactive Tool, users can sort this data and compare their organizations with similar ones and output a report into Excel, PDF, or a Word document. And even if reading financial statements or understanding the data seems overwhelming, there is information within the tool that explains line items and the data that you're researching.

Bartholomew offered up a few scenarios where you could use this information, the most important being a board presentation. For example, in 2008, knowing that other organizations similar to your own were losing money in investments, at a similar rate, may have saved you a headache during a financial presentation. Or, maybe you want to know if you are paying staff members enough and want to make a case for upping salaries. You can sort information and offer some hard data to make your case.

The second product, Association 990 Agenda Items, is a PDF or PowerPoint slide deck of aggregate data from the organizations in the database, something you can use to present with.

Bartholomew says the suite is a great tool for the finance-minded staff members, but I can see some potential in it as an editorial staffer to use as research for articles.

There are two types of subscription to the Association 990 suite: monthly and yearly. There will be new iterations of these products released tonight, as well as some newer functions to look forward to, such as trending data as the database acquires more tax forms from more years (right now it has 2008 and 2009). Yearly subscribers receive each new update, while monthly subscribers will have to renew to get latest versions.

This is just the start of the Association 990 suite. Bartholomew tells me there's more on the horizon, such as generating reports on a refined level, like comparing organizations with interest areas similar to your own. Look for more Association 990 products to be released throughout the year, but in the meantime, let us know what you think.

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Cookin with Crepe Paper

If you've met Rhea Blanken, you are unlikely to ever forget it. She's a Type A, moving forward, having fun, jump-to-the-next-thing person. And that's why I love the message she consistently unleashes at the Great Ideas Conference. Her message: take the time to get to know yourself. Really get to know yourself.

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Several years ago, she ran a play room--games, puzzles, Play-Dough, what have you. Come, create, be yourself, and, more importantly, learn about yourself. Last year she ran a Cookin Up Leadership cooking class here at the Broadmoor, where people worked in teams to create a meal experience, from preparation to cooking to decorating.

This year, it was an arts and crafts Cookin Up Leadership, the food, the decorations--it was all made from pipe cleaners and tissue paper and glue and other crafty supplies. I asked Blanken, why the change:

"It was faster and less expensive for participants," she says, "I wanted to create an experience that would have a lot of the same lessons, but would give the participants the time to go eat lunch with everyone else and wouldn't cost them extra."

And the lessons were similar. "The same things happen," Blanken says. "Resources get shared and they don't get shared. You have to repurpose things. You have to interpret directions." And the most important lesson, you have to learn about yourself and how you give and follow directions, how well you communicate.

"Maslow said transformation comes with self-awareness," she says. "Plato talked about how you discover a lot when you play. These sessions give people an opportunity to note things about themselves. 'How well do I communicate? How well do I make requests? How well do I share?' [In the session today, black ribbons were doled out to those who didn't share.] It's an opportunity to discover things about yourself in a safe environment."

And what was different, other than the obvious, when you cook with pipe cleaners and glue than meat and gravy? Creativity.

"This is a more creative way to do it. When you have to make chicken out of felt and salad out of crepe paper, it forces you to be really creative. This group was amazing--look at this stuff, it's incredibly creative."

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Tweets from #ideas11, part 2

Tweeps at the Great Ideas Conference are churning out the nuggets of wisdom faster than I can keep track, and the day's not even quite over yet. It's all made me sad to miss the conference, of course. (If you see my fellow editors Scott Briscoe or Summer Faust, tell them I said hello). None the less, here are several tweets that caught my eye from afar today:

Getting ready to learn more about managing resistance to change at #ideas11. Where's my cheese again?Mon Mar 14 14:58:53 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Three types of resistance: "I don't get it." "I don't like it." "I don't like YOU." Know yours or be overcome. #ideas11 LC4Mon Mar 14 15:56:09 via web

Technology moves at the speed of thought. People move at the speed of people. #ideas11Mon Mar 14 15:36:54 via Twitter for iPad

People can't learn while in their comfort zone; can only learn in their stretch zone. #ideas11Mon Mar 14 15:36:04 via Twitter for Android

#ideas11 - 69% of members in professional societies will be 55 or older in 10 years; 39% 65 or older ("assn at a crossroads" session)Mon Mar 14 15:20:15 via Mobile Web

coming this yr! RT @deirdrereid: RT @kpaffhouse: Anyone successfully launched incentive program for online participation? #ideas11 #assnchatMon Mar 14 19:24:28 via HootSuite

Average American changes jobs 8-12 times and switches careers 3-4 times. Traditional credentialing doesn't work so well anymore! #ideas11Mon Mar 14 19:45:29 via TweetChat

#Ideas11 get away from focusing on the "association infrastructure" to just enabling the human experience of associating.Mon Mar 14 19:49:41 via Twitter for iPhone

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Together is better

This morning during day two of Great Ideas, staff from the International City/County Management Association and Alliance for Innovation shared how they partnered to create the Local Government Knowledge Network in their session "Open Door Partnership to Drive Content." The Knowledge Network allows members of ICMA and the Alliance to utilize the same content and resources and interact with each other, plus nonmembers, who sign up online. One of the aspects of the Network allows users to create profiles and tag interests, communicate with each other via a wall (similar to Facebook), and create user-generated groups and topics.

Since its launch in May 2010, the Knowledge Network has more than 4,200 new profiles, questions and wall posts added daily, and high traffic in topic areas such as leadership and smart growth and sustainability. Members are excited about the project, and ICMA and the Alliance view it as an iterative process, with hundreds of features and fixes still in the works and plans for a mobile version to come.

So how did ICMA and the Alliance create buzz for their members to engage within the Knowledge Network? Presenters Brian Durr, CIO, ICMA, Tracy Miller, Florida regional director/learning coordinator, Toni Shope, CAE, East regional director, and Karen Thoreson, president, the Alliance for Innovation, offered up their marketing strategies:

Joint marketing plan. ICMA and the Alliance want a consistent message.

Educate staff. Staff was taught how to use it and its functions so they could help users as the Knowledge Network launched.

Beta tests. The organizations used feedback to make fixes.

Staggered launch. The rollout took place over a weeklong period.

Virtual training sessions for users. The training sessions show users how to access and update various parts of the site. In the beginning, the virtual training sessions were weekly and now they occur each month. The registrant numbers for these training sessions have increased over time.

Regular communication with users. Certain features are spotlighted and e-blasts include questions that users can respond to in discussion forums with, follow-up responses in the following month's e-blast.

Ask active members to engage. The greatest challenge in this request is that ICMA and the Alliance's members are busy, but will take the time to post on the group wall. Less clicks to get to where action must take place is key, so sending members a direct link to a particular dialog is a strategy they are using to encourage participation while driving traffic to deeper areas of the site.

The presenters pointed out that creating a partnership such as this one is a commitment. There's no turning back when you decide to partner to share content, but so far both organizations have successfully kept their branding while boosting their content for members.

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Great Ideas Sunday in Pictures

Some scenes from the Great Ideas Conference at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs:

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Creating Your Own Competition

In Sunday's Idea Lab "Embracing the Unofficial Leaders in your Membership," led by Peggy Hoffman, CAE, and Peter Houstle, attendees explored the association conundrum of how to relate, ignore, or handle the "unofficial" association organizations.

Often some of the brightest and most dedicated members of an association form these groups in order to meet a need they identify and "split" from the association because they feel the association:

  1. Is not in a position to respond quickly enough to meet the need;
  2. Would not see the activity to key to the association's mission;
  3. Would not support the activity to the extent they desire it be supported;
  4. Or some combination of the above three.

Most likely you all have experienced both sides of this scenario: being the association and leading or participating in the unofficial group. For instance, have you attended a YAP party or a small regional meet-up?

Many associations' knee-jerk reaction is to be threatened by such an activity. But, don't! Or at least, don't be threatened immediately. Attendees mulled over the idea that these groups may in fact be vital or, at the very least, helpful, to their associations for the networking opportunities they provide, the awareness they create of the organizations, the missions they help support, and so on. Therefore, it behooves association leaders to pause, consider the dynamic, and determine how to approach the unofficial group, if at all. View draft questions to consider in the "Embracing the Unofficial Leaders in Your Membership" page in Associapedia. Peggy and Peter strongly encouraged all of us to contribute to the wiki entry as we move forward, so please contribute likewise.

In summary, I found this session especially enlightening since we left with a framework on how to identify the potential unofficial groups (as opposed to reacting once they are discovered) and create strategies for future involvement. Associations can't spend every day preparing for the what-ifs; however, given the frequency of unofficial group creation, preparation for such what-ifs seems a valuable use of an association's time.

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Tweetalicious

It's no surprise that ASAE meeting goers like to Tweet. And the Great Ideas Conference has always attracted the Twitter kind of crowd. So I shouldn't be amazed at the use of the tool, and yet I still am. With roughly only 10 percent the attendance of the Annual Meeting, you would not be able to tell from the Twitter traffic.

From 1pm until the opening night reception ended at roughly 8, there were 1,056 Tweets using the #asae11 hashtag. That's 2.5 Tweets every minute for 7 straight hours. Don't you people eat?

In any event, here are a few of the Tweets that caught my eye:


"A great piece of art is composed of not just what is in the final piece, but equally what is not " Jim Collins via @matthewemay #ideas11less than a minute ago via TweetDeck



You're legit now! lol RT @SimplyLeapCoach: Holy moly I'm wearing my first wireless mike! #leap #Ideas11less than a minute ago via TweetDeck



A solution without a well-understood problem equals a dead end #ideas11less than a minute ago via HootSuite



More do's, less don'ts . . . A theme I'm sensing here #ideas11 #ld1less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®



#ideas11 new phrase: "it's Charlie Sheen viral" in ref to social media. Ewww on so many levels.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

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Seeking out new frames of reference for decisions

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I spent the afternoon of Great Ideas in a new style of session, the "Deep Dive," which is three hours going in-depth on a topic. The session was led by Jennifer Riel of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

To summarize the session in one paragraph, I'd say the idea is the most successful leaders one ones who understand that their frame of reference is no more valid than someone else's. They use this understanding to seek out other frames, which leads to solutions that would not be possible otherwise. For example, if you are faced with a tough decision between two alternatives, the strong leader is able to see the desirable traits in both alternatives and craft an entirely new solution that captures more of those traits.

After the session, I had the opportunity to ask Riel a few questions:

You are trying to think through a tough decision, trying to see alternative frames of reference--how do you know you've reached a point where the thought exercise is no longer productive?

I don't think there's actually an algorithm, sadly. If there was, life would be a lot easier. It's taking steps back every once in a while and reminding yourself of the problem you're trying to solve and saying does this feel like I'm working on that problem or am I getting stuck on an aspect that is different. And so it's giving yourself permission to reframe what you're working on, but I think we often have that moment where we feel the progress has stopped and we can't push further. I think in part it's intuitive but also just giving yourself that moment to reflect.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell famously wrote about research that indicated oftentimes our best decisions are made with just an instant of observation. How does that reconcile with seeking opposable views?

In Blink, which I think is a great book, he talks about the power of the split second decision, but there are also limitations to that right? Sometimes we make that split decision correctly, and sometimes we don't. And the challenge is without a process--without a way of working through, you don't have a way of reproducing the great decisions, and not reproducing the bad ones, [or] in fact teaching people how you made the great decisions. So while I have a lot of sympathy for that idea that we can learn a lot in a very short period of time, for me it's more about saying for those bigger, more complicated decisions, can we create methodology where people can actually learn what we're doing and what our thinking was?

Other than just finding the time to think about it, what techniques can you offer people who want to try to make decisions in this way?

One is going back to finding people who disagree with you, finding people who see the world differently, and trying to find genuinely what that's about, and where it comes form. The other thing that seems simple but can be complicated is turning an issue into a dilemma. So I have an issue that, man it's really hard to get keep my members. It's really hard to keep memebers engaged and that's an issue you can talk about for the rest of your life, that it's hard to keep members engaged. Turn it into a choice. If I'm going to engage members, I can either invest a million more dollars a year in programs, or I can say paid membership doesn't matter and I'm going to engage people entirely outside of the paid membership mechanisms. That's a much more concrete thing to think about and work your way through than "it's hard to engage my members." So the technique is turning an issue into a dilemma or a choice and then working through that choice to sort of go back and solve that problem.

Decision making in the association context, particularly big decisions, is unlike decisions in other sectors. Power is often widely diffused between a CEO, a board, other important volunteers, and so on. So often we have to work to build consensus. How does such a decision-making dynamic affect the ability to make decisions with this technique?

It's about what are you going to do with the opposing views. We get ourselves in trouble when we think our job is to minimize our disagreements and to drive toward some sort of compromise . That's one way of thinking about leveraging that diversity. It's about saying can we tease out where we disagree, dive more deeply into it understand the nature of those opposing models and choices and do something better? I think the fact that you have a diversity of views positions you better to actually apply integrative thinking in groups. I think it's actually easier to apply integrative thinking in groups if you genuinely have respect for other people's views and a position that [a solution] is possible, and then leveraging those other people is going to make it easier than trying to do it by yourself in the dark with a piece of paper.

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March 13, 2011

Resource constraints as innovation catalysts

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Just going to add my quick takeaway from Matthew May's general session to add to the one Summer wrote earlier. The point that made me think was when May said, "Resource constraints spur sustainable innovation." May didn't do me any favors in terms of applying this principle to association work when the example he used was of the PlayPump:

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It's merry-go-round playground equipment that solves the very real purpose of providing water to African villages desperately in need of it. The resource constraints you have in running your association may seem trivial in comparison--I know mine do, but it's still my takeaway. Too often we use lack of resources to squash things. I've seen it countless times, and, yes, I've been a willing advocate of such a position many times. What May is saying, however, is essentially you're being lazy. If you have a goal and you can identify what your constraints are, then you can work to design a solution. Nothing is going to be that simple, of course, but I am going to make an effort to turn resource constraints into innovative solutions.

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Responding to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Amazon.com is one of a growing number of companies that are partnering with nonprofits and associations to help raise funds via their websites for disaster relief agencies such as Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Red Cross in response to the record 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit March 11. The Japanese Red Cross has been assessing damage, activating volunteers, and communicating with emergency response organizations overseas that have hundreds of volunteer professionals on standby.

Charity Navigator has issued a tipsheet to help donors avoid charity scams related to the disaster, as well as a list of organizations already involved in relief efforts.

You'll also find a serendipitous article in the February issue of Associations Now titled "How Your Organization Can Help with Disaster Relief" that talks about the process four associations went through to be ready with member volunteers, a crisis communications plan, and other resources that may be urgently needed anytime worldwide.

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Notable quotes from Great Ideas Ignite sessions

One of the newest learning formats at Great Ideas is Ignite, where speakers have five minutes to present 20 slides that autoadvance. The format has been popular in nightclubs and coffee shops, but that didn't stop the Broadmoor from creating a low-lit, intimate meeting room for two Ignite sessions today. Here are a few quotes from the six speakers from the second Ignite session of Great Ideas.

"The world needs the real you ... it needs you to fly your freak flag."
—Joe Gerstandt, speaker, facilitator, writer, joegerstandt.com, "freak-flag flying (what, why, and how)"

"When I lost my big brother and all of a sudden I had to think back on our time together ... I discovered that I had to find my core group of people."
—Gary Rifkin, chief energizer, Gary Rifkin Presents, "The Story of Your Life"

"Everything I've learned, I've learned at the feet of my mentors."
—KiKi L'Italien, senior consultant, technology management, DelCor Technology Solutions Inc., "Don't Judge a Mentor By Her Shoes"

"What's holding you back from making your dreams come true? I believe in you."
—Ann Oliveri, CAE, Ann Oliveri Consulting, "Make It Happen—Today"

"Try stuff, see what works, leverage the power of the small win. ... If we can't fail at something, how can we ever hope to innovate?"
—Jeffrey Cufaude, president & CEO, Idea Architects, "Failure Must be an Option"

"Instead of fitting the meeting to the place, we should be fitting the place to the meeting."
—John Nawn, founder, The Perfect Meeting, "The Meeting Environment of the Future"

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A slow solution and innovation redefined

To kick off the first day of the Great Ideas Conference in Colorado Springs, Matthew May, author of several books including In Pursuit of Elegance: Why The Best Ideas Have Something Missing, presented "Designing Elegant Solutions," and gave us seven lessons from his journey to making elegant solutions.

One thing that stood out to me was lesson number seven: Taking a break is a big part of any breakthrough.

To be honest, I know I could have written a better blog post if I'd had a chance to take a run and clear my head, completely removed from the project that is writing this blog post. Instead, I'm writing up a few quick takeaways from the opening general session before heading to the first Idea Lab of Great Ideas. I've noticed that some of my best writing ideas come when I'm not dedicating my time to brainstorming them, and May says that removing yourself form a problem (for my purposes, my problem is writing a blog post that captures your interest) is one of the best ways to solve it. Taking a break from a big task at hand is OK, and sometimes slowing down will lead to a better solution. But let's be honest. Sometimes you won't be able to do that. In my case, I want to make sure that those of you who couldn't sit in on May's session this afternoon can read about it now, rather than waiting hours for me to clear my head and come up with a punchy lede. But when you have the opportunity to take time and come up with a slow solution, it's worth it.

Another idea that resonated with me had to do with innovation and how we define it within our associations. Stop for a second and think about how you define innovation. What did you come up with? Who are the innovators among your staff? Are you an innovator?

If your definition of innovation doesn't apply to everyone within your organization, it's time to think about innovation from a different perspective. May says we typically think about innovation in the wrong way, defining it as the outcome of a project or a tangible product or service rather than the creative process and input. As it turns out, everyone you work with can be innovators if they can figure out a way to do their jobs better than before. May says if we don't think of ourselves as having innovative capabilities, we won't be able to innovate. Same goes for your coworkers. If you don't think of them as innovators, it will be harder for them to think of themselves that way, too. Empower your employees and even your members to be innovators for your organization and you'll be one step closer to designing elegant solutions.

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March 11, 2011

Lessons from geocaching

My personal hobbies don't often intersect with my professional duties, but since it's Friday I'll make an exception and introduce you to geocaching. It's a fairly new hobby with a growing community facilitated mainly by a single for-profit company, which offers some interesting lessons for associations.

But first, some background. All over the world, people have hidden small containers and posted their geographic coordinates online. Anyone with a GPS device can find a cache and sign the log inside. The fun is in the hunt and in feeling a bit like a secret agent. I once found a cache inside a hollowed-out bolt on a street sign; others might be hidden in stumps or rock walls deep in the woods. It's also a great excuse to get outside, and the barrier to entry is low. All you need is web access and a GPS device, which these days includes most smartphones.

The geocaching community is an active one, with a few million people that participate, ranging from novices to highly engaged enthusiasts who blog about geocaching, discuss it in forums, and hide caches for others to find. Does that engagement curve sound familiar?

The geocaching community's leading facilitator is a for-profit company, Groundspeak, Inc., which operates geocaching.com, by far the largest repository of cache locations. The people who founded Groundspeak a little more than 10 years ago could have established a nonprofit to oversee the activity, and, in fact, there are competing geocaching sites run by nonprofits, such as Navicache.com and Opencaching.us, but the one run by the for-profit has been the most successful.

So what can association professionals learn from Groundspeak's success in fostering the geocaching community? Here are a few thoughts:

Get out of the way. On the geocaching.com homepage, Groundspeak isn't mentioned once "above the fold," which is a sign that the good of the geocaching community is the company's primary goal in managing the site. Of course, Groundspeak sells its geocaching gear and accessories below and alongside the functional areas of the site, but none of those offers are pushy or in your face. This allows the community and hobby to thrive without overt interference.

Freemium and products. That's the business model for Groundspeak. Access to the hobby and the community is free, and I'd bet that the majority of geocachers in the world have never spent a dime with Groundspeak. But the ones who are enthusiastic can opt for a Premium Membership or can purchase geocaching gear that Groundspeak sells. By aggressively and skillfully facilitating access to the hobby, Groundspeak grows the geocaching community and, thus, its pool of potential customers. It's important to note, though, that this approach takes a great amount of faith in the "get out of the way" philosophy.

Smart, useful tech. Geocaching.com is a powerful but easy-to-use site. The tools and info geocachers need is front and center and easy to find, which is why users keep coming back and why, in turn, it's the dominant site in the community. Meanwhile, Groundspeak hasn't built everything from scratch. Its cache locator map is a Google Maps mashup, its videos are all posted via YouTube, and its forums run on a licensed platform. Once again, this all arises from a dedication to providing what the geocaching community finds most useful, not what might benefit Groundspeak most directly.

We often hear that "associations need to behave more like businesses." I'd argue Groundspeak's model and methods are the type of business behaviors associations should emulate.

Anyone out there a geocacher? Know of other examples of communities fostered by for-profits that associations can learn from? Please share.

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March 10, 2011

Quick clicks: The good, the bad, and the board

Board size. Dave Phillips, CAE, suggests the size of association boards can and should vary greatly, depending on the needs of any given organization. (His organization's board has 200 members!) Some interesting discussion has arisen in the comments, as well.

Bad boards. Eric Lanke, CAE, points to a list of characteristics of a bad board at a for-profit and offers an equivalent list for association boards. (And board size comes up again.)

Innovation. Last week, Jeff De Cagna interviewed Matthew May and posted the full interview podcast to his blog. May is author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change and will speak at this week's Great Ideas Conference.

Association (r)evolution. Shelly Alcorn, CAE, believes associations must change their behavior, and in the first two parts of a series of posts, she examines associations from a sociological perspective and argues that membership creates harmful barriers to pursuing common good.

Museums as associations. Colleen Dilenschneider makes the case that museums should adopt the association model and many of its best practices.

Cash or volunteers? The UK's Directory of Social Change asked nonprofits last month if they'd rather get a £10,000 cash donation or the equivalent in volunteer hours, and 91 percent said they'd take the cash. I could see a healthy debate there, so I'm surprised the results were that one-sided. The summary shares some interesting quotes from respondents.

Wisdom. David Patt, CAE, shares a story from early in his career about the pitfalls of being a board chair at just 26 years old.

Like. Nieman Journalism Lab points to new research into the most-Liked links on the web (and by "Like," we mean the Facebook vote of approval). The most popular articles tend to be opinion-based, ones that are "implicit invitations to discussion and interchange." Member engagement FTW.

[By the way: we're looking for volunteers interested in book blogging. (See past book blogging series here.) It's pretty simple; you read a book from which you can draw some lessons about association management (or organizational leadership in general), and you write a series of three or four blog posts for Acronym. It's a great way to contribute to the community discussion. If you're interested, contact Scott and me at acronym@asaecenter.org.]

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March 9, 2011

Why don't we think it's getting better?

Finally had a moment to look through the ASAE Foundation's new economy study: Associations After the Recession: Attitudes and Beliefs Among CEOs and Members, and one of the things that strikes me is how little confidence association CEOs have that 2011 is going to be better than 2010.

Here are a couple of charts from the report:

Pub sales expectations.jpg

Sponsorship revenue expectations.jpg

There's a definite upward trend, but I'm surprised the slope of that line is not even steeper. We're coming out of the worst recession in 90 years and only a third of association executives are expecting increased revenue from publications sales or sponsorship revenue? Put another way, two-thirds of execs have no expectation that 2011 will be the year in which they start to climb out of the recessional trough. Is this the new consumerism model? Where consumers and businesses who for the last two decades (longer than that, but excessively so in the last 20 years) overextended to have more are now content to consume less?

I'm not saying execs are wrong to think this way and to have low expectations. Here's another chart from the same report, but it reports a different study. Rather than surveying association CEOs, this study went to people who belong to associations:

Association member company actions.jpg

As a trend, yes, it's better -- association members think their employers are going to cut back less than they did 18 months ago. But I'm kind of alarmed by a third saying association meeting attendance will be curtailed. Think about that for a second. It's already low. The economy hit rock bottom a little while ago. And a third of these people are saying they expect their companies to cut back even more. And staff travel cuts, at 43 percent, is a really big number. Again, you'd think nonessential travel would have already been trimmed.

One kind of nuts-and-bolts observation about the studies is that participation across the last three years has consistently dropped off. Clearly it's not a topic that is as top-of-mind as it was. But I'm hoping we can do another study in a year or maybe a little bit longer. Maybe after there is a little doubt there is a good recovery underway. We don't really have baselines for this study. Maybe the answers to these questions hit low barriers. Maybe, for example, at any given time regardless of the economy, there's going to be 25 percent of people saying that they expect funding for staff to attend professional development meetings is going to be curtailed. It will make interesting studies if we can hold people's interest long enough.

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The Road Less Travelled?

My father-in-law recently asked my husband, a fellow association professional, why he doesn't work for the government. After all, he said, my husband never WANTED to work for an association, and government employment provides great benefits, longevity, consistent tasks, and an almost hilarious inability to get fired.

But really, is "you never wanted to work for a non-profit" a reason not to do it? How many of us can actually say that we dressed our dolls or toy soldiers as Membership Managers or Conference Planners or Newsletter Editors? I didn't - I wanted to be a Veterinarian-Who-Is-Also-A-Teacher-And-An-Olympic-Gymnast.

Alas, that position does not exist at this point in time, so association work it is. I started in it part-time in college and have never looked back, and in fact I know that this is what I will do until I retire. I even get super involved with ASAE and with my homeowners' association, as if I just can't get enough of association work from nine-to-five.

In many ways, though, an association professional is EXACTLY what most of us wanted to be. Didn't you seek to do something with tangible goals you could see through to the end? Isn't being over-the-top busy better than twiddling your thumbs? Though it can be a challenge to interact with frustrated members, isn't there something intrinsically satisfying about helping a member personally and professionally? And I can't be the only one who loves the benefits - despite the vast differences in their memberships, scope, and size, each association I have worked for has truly provided for me and cared about me as an individual rather than as Employee #328.

How about you? How did you end up in the association world - and is it satisfying to you? Regardless of if this was your original career choice or "what you wanted to be when you grew up", what would you say to someone who wonders why you do what you do?

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March 8, 2011

International Women's Day: Celebrating Progress and Potential

In acknowledgement of International Women's Day today, quite a few associations are reporting about the progress or lack thereof of women in the industry or profession the organization represents. The news has been mixed, frankly.

The Society of Professional Journalists, for instance, bemoans the low number of women in leadership roles in the newsroom. The rapidly growing field of organic farming and product development, however, is celebrating the fact that women now top four leading associations in that arena--a first.

There also has been growth in "best places for women to work"-type articles and rankings among business publications, women- or workforce-oriented websites, and even some associations. These include wherewomenwanttowork.com , which focuses on companies with "progressive and diverse work practices and environments), National Association of Female Executives and partner Working Mother magazine, and Fortune's Top 100: Women.

It's unfortunate that these lists are as popular as they are. It tells me that the business world still can be sliced and diced into "gets it" versus "doesn't get it." Are there really still such prevalent ambivalence about the ability of women to lead well?

But that's not all of the story. It can be too easy to point fingers at "the man," e.g., the established organization. In truth, too many women still harm their own chances at success, in part by refusing to accept some harsh workplace realities such as believing that hard work alone, rather than connections, will lead to success.

A new Harvard Business Review Research Report talks about the "Sponsor Effect," the fact that many high-performing women "don't have political allies to propel, inspire, and protect them through the perilous straits of upper management." This includes issues such as adjusting their work and personal styles, clothing, and "executive presence."

Sometimes the sponsorship problem is blamed on an age difference. Sixty-four percent of senior men acknowledge that they avoid sponsoring junior women because they fear gossip of a possible affair. That's just plain sad--and frustrating.

How can a young woman address that directly? Or is it the responsibility of the organization to establish formal mentoring systems that ensure senior-junior mixed-gender mentoring is just part of the professional development program overall, and indeed, male leaders would be held accountable in their reviews if they did not mentor younger professionals of either gender?

The latter seems to be a manageable approach, but that assumes the association actually has a formal mentoring system in place, which is a pretty big assumption!

And finally, in the totally-not-surprising part of the study, the report also found that men "cultivate more sponsors than women because they're less constrained by family and domestic responsibilities." The vast majority of working women studied are responsible for up to 75% of the housecleaning/maintenance and almost 60% of the childcare.

That said, women have come a long way, baby, and they can go further if they--and the associations they work in--desire. But it will take work on both sides. Meanwhile, celebrate the progress and the potential by skimming through the more than 1,000 events scheduled worldwide to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women at www.internationalwomensday.com.

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March 7, 2011

Book Blogging: Shocking the system

Following a brief respite to allow the Young Association Executives to have fun storming the castle of the Acronym blog last week, I have returned with my final post on Umair Haque's new book, The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. Umair's book is an unapologetically in-your-face challenge to the status quo of organizations, business, and the 20th-century capitalist system as whole. That's why I like it, and why I know many association executives won't. The New Capitalist Manifesto delivers an intentional and powerful shock to the system, which may be the last thing anyone in the association community wants and yet the one thing our community most needs.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have adopted the phrase "build to thrive" as a personal mantra, an urgent appeal to association leaders to take responsible and purposeful action to prepare their organizations for the profound uncertainties of the decade ahead. But building our organizations to thrive is much more than a mantra. It is a choice that association leaders must make everyday. It is a choice to reject any further perpetuation of a paradigm that is clearly in decline in favor of creating a radically different future for all of our stakeholders. It is a choice to move beyond incremental improvements in our outputs to pursue revolutionary breakthroughs in our outcomes. To me, this is an incredibly exciting set of choices for our organizations. Why is it that so many association leaders find these choices so terrifying?

To explore your comfort level with making the choice to shock your organizational system out of its 20th century stupor, here are three big questions inspired by Umair's book:

Why are we really here? We will not find serious answers to this question in politely phrased and reassuring statements of vision and mission. We must look deeper and connect with the passionate belief that truly purposeful and disruptive action can lead to radically better outcomes for our stakeholders. If that's not what we're about, then why bother?

How much are we questioning the past? Every association professional expends considerable time and energy excavating and extricating their organizations from the past. These efforts are wasted, however, when we use "change containment" strategies to reduce our discomfort with ambiguity and uncertainty, instead of accelerating the pace of organizational progress to break free of the past once and for all.

What will it take to achieve the impossible? Associations operate in the world of non: non-profit, non-members, non-dues revenue, and so on. The world of non creates more barriers, boundaries, and obstacles to overcome. But will the struggle inspire us to build our organizations to thrive so we can achieve the impossible and create previously unimaginable forms of thick value?

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on The New Capitalist Manifesto, and I hope you will read the book. You will not be disappointed. Let me close with a sincere expression of gratitude to Lisa Junker, the former editor-in-chief of Associations Now, for her kind assistance in making this BookBlogging series possible. Thanks also to Joe Rominiecki for taking charge of putting these posts up following Lisa's departure last month.

[BIG NEWS! If you're planning to attend ASAE's Great Ideas Conference at The Broadmoor this week, I will facilitate an informal group discussion of The New Capitalist Manifesto on Tuesday, March 15, beginning at 2 p.m. in Colorado Hall Room E. Please contact me at jeff@principledinnovation.com if you have any questions.]

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YAE Week

It's pretty scary when a group of rogue members hijacks one of your communications vehicles!

Luckily for us, those rogues were more insightful than inciteful -- consider this a big public thank you to everyone who contributed while our defenses were down; it was a job well done.

And now we're back to our regularly scheduled Acronym programming. I think we'll have a guest post or two this week, we have the economic study to explore, and beginning this weekend we'll be reporting from the Great Ideas Conference. It's good to be back!

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March 4, 2011

Lessons Learned on Sustaining Momentum and Navigating Change in Times of Transition

Given the ups and downs in the economy in recent years, many philanthropic and charitable organizations changed their funding priorities, reflecting the world's changing landscape. Small organizations, particularly nonprofits, have been forced into a Darwinian competition of sorts, fighting to survive on scarce resources and sustain programs with limited assets and investment.

As a young professional working on a grant-funded program in a small nonprofit, my experience has been filled with challenges. One of the toughest things in my career was receiving news that we wouldn't have follow-on funding to continue the implementation of our planning efforts. When a colleague at the start of a newly funded grant project asked me for advice—not only on secrets to our successes but tales of our failures—I was compelled to share a few nuggets and lessons learned with others.

Here are a few tips to guide those struggling to maintain morale and momentum in times of transition. Consider the following:

  • Keep expectations realistic. Keep in mind that funding priorities and organizational goals change. Some of the best planning goes without full consideration of circumstance. While contingency and sustainability planning are always included in the thinking and strategic process, know that surprises are possible.
  • Communicate. It is important to maintain a dialogue with any funders, but make sure that the project staff, partners, and stakeholders are talking with each other. Communication is essential to creating a healthy environment. It allows for all parties to build trust and create a neutral, trusted atmosphere for idea exchange. It is also helpful to converse with others working in your particular space. Be willing to ask questions and share information. The key to your success and avoiding common mistakes lies in the lessons learned from others. This has become positively encouraged and simple in the era of social networking. Tap into your network and get support from others.
  • Be flexible. When change happens, embrace it and adapt with it. You've become adept at clearly articulating programmatic/organizational needs, strategies, and demand for why the project will make a difference. Using this model, make this case for yourself as a valuable team member and contributor. As the business strategy changes, consider your own growth and expand your perspectives; this is an opportunity for you to become an active change agent and a catalyst for innovation.  
  • Maintain balance. It may be a natural inclination to fully immerse yourself in the job and lose focus of you. While it is important to work harder in such circumstances, it is not necessary to work longer. You may be forced to make some sacrifices, but keep in mind that your personal development is just as important as your professional development. Keep your interpersonal relationships on track by alerting people of your situation. They may be a valuable resource and able to offer advice or ideas. Put an emphasis on achieving success not only on the job but in your personal life as well.

Tia Abner is program coordinator, global health informatics partnership for American Medical Informatics Association in Bethesda, Maryland. She serves on ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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Out of Work and Relocating in a Down Economy

In our line of work, we use statistics every day to suit our needs; we use them to show how great our new membership recruitment program is doing, to showcase the growth of our industry, to track the progress of a competing meeting. We very rarely feel the need to relate to the numbers on a personal level, except as it relates to our chosen industry. Like most people, I watched the news and I heard the statistics about the downturn in the economy, and then a strange thing happened: in the summer of 2009, I became part of those faceless numbers. I lost my job due to the economy.

I got down, and then I got angry. Once the anger was over, I updated my résumé and I evaluated my options as a young association professional. I pulled out every business card I had collected over my career and I started to network. At no point in my career have I ever sent more emails or résumés, nor done more research and examined every possible nonprofit career website.

The biggest breakthrough came when I realized that it was okay to examine opportunities outside of my current geographic area. Once I felt free to look at positions up and down the Eastern seaboard, I found more and more companies willing to set up interviews. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for December 2010 was 9.4 percent; that's a lot of competition. To me, what that meant back in 2009, and still means today, is that you have got to do something to set yourself apart; whether that's relocate for the job, earn your certification, speak a foreign language, or have a skill set that nobody else can claim.

I'd like to clarify that I don't want to seem to have taken relocation lightly; I realize that it is not something that everyone can just up and do. I was fortunate to have a supportive spouse and a great network of family of friends to encourage me. In the end, I sat down and looked over the volume of opportunities where I was versus where we could be, and there was no contest between the two. I would really encourage others who have faced a similar situation to respond with the decisions they made, and how they came to the choices that they did and why. Please share; you never know how you might help someone else!

Stacy Bromley Cheetham, MPA, CAE, is operations manager at American Urogynecologic Society in Washington, DC.

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Get on Board! Young Professionals on Boards of Nonprofits and Associations

Many young (or new) professionals are interested in serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit or association. That's why a group of us (Shana Campbell, Gina McClure, Jennifer Teters, Garen Distelhorst, and I) from ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2010 developed a toolkit to provide helpful information on how you can find a board position, increase your chances for being selected for a board, and learn how you can best contribute as a board member. 

We created a survey that was sent out to young professionals to learn how they have been successful with getting on a board. The purpose of the survey was to gain insight into the tools and processes that young professionals used to get on a board of an association or nonprofit. The information from the survey was also found to be valuable for executives as it helps them understand the benefits of having a young professional on their board.

The survey asked questions like:

  • Why do young professionals want to serve on a board of a nonprofit or association?
  • How do young professionals find out about board positions?
  • What are the three most important actions that a young professional can take right now to improve his or her chances of being recruited or selected to serve on a board?
  • What assets, skills, or experiences do you think were essential for a young professional to be successful on a board?

This survey was supported by Boardsource, Humanics, Young Non-Profit Professionals Network and the ASAE Young Association Executives community. 

The results of the survey and project will be presented at the 2011 ASAE Great Ideas Conference on Monday, March 14. In addition, there will be follow-up publications released after the conference. If you're interested in this topic we would love to see your comments.

Rebecca Swain-Eng, MS, works for the American Academy of Neurology in St. Paul, Minn. She is a graduate of the inaugural class of the ASAE Leadership Academy.

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March 3, 2011

Three Ways to Connect Your Social Media Outposts

Facebook, Twitter, your website, forums, newsletters, and so on: How do these pieces fit together?  Here are three easy ways to connect your community and improve your online strategy.

  • Cross-post on a regular basis. Your outposts are one big media organism that wants to be fed. Is there a great discussion on your Facebook page? Link to it from Twitter. Is there a thought-provoking article in your last e-newsletter? Post it with a discussion question on your favorite forum. The trick is to have a 360-degree view of all of your content. For every piece of content you release, ask yourself, how can this be repurposed, and where? Before you know it, your community will start buzzing, and your number of engaged members will increase.
  • Designate a staff member. The core of the disjointed social media problem is usually behind the scenes; no one knows what's happening. You don't need to hire a whole new position or create a staffing bottleneck through your webmaster, simply appoint someone in your marketing or communications department who is responsible for monitoring your social media outposts. Over time, this person will gain the ability to see the big picture of what is happening on all platforms and keep the rest of the staff informed accordingly. He or she does not need to be responsible for content generation or even be the sole poster to the outposts, but you need someone around to say, "Maybe we shouldn't post four times to Facebook today; our market is saturated," or "Someone asked a question about this great topic over on LinkedIn; we should send them over to the discussion happening on Facebook."
  • Simplify your presence.  The natural social media tendency is to fill up as much space on as many platforms as possible. While you may increase your association's footprint, this tactic is usually counterproductive. Instead of having a separate Facebook page for every special interest group or an official page on each obscure networking site, manage a few outposts really well. When associations develop too many outposts, connecting them together becomes an unnecessary burden. Identify where you members are most likely to engage with you, and invest your resources there.

Sara L. Wood is manager of digital communications at the National Court Reporters Association in Vienna, Virginia. She is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2012 and her Twitter handle is @SaraLWood.

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Ready or Not, Here They Come: Boomers in Social Networking

Ready or not, generations X and Y, here come the Baby Boomers straight into the world of social networking! You can either prepare your association for them or not (and then experience the heartache of a lost demographic).

You've read the headlines, and despite what your internal readership surveys might say, it's probably a safe bet that even if you work at an association with a more mature membership you're still going to need to get ready for the next wave of social-media users.

The number of Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960) using social media increased by 88 percent in the last year. Almost half of all Boomers are now on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking service. And according to a recent Pew Study, the group of social media users age 65 and older has grown 100 percent; a much faster rate than those stereotypically thought of as being "connected online."

So what does this tell us young professionals in the association community? Get ready for some social-media outreach to your older audience, even if you think your core demographic isn't on Facebook or Twitter yet. Because they will be, and soon!

According to an ASAE survey, 57 percent of associations are already involved in some type of social media outreach. Awesome! But if you're part of the 43 percent who aren't there yet, start working on your strategy now, and be prepared to make your case for social media to your president or board members, because despite age being a deterring factor for nearly half of users online, it's not going to stay this way forever. Don't believe me? Check out what AARP, the authority on mature audiences, has to say about Boomers online:

Have you already garnered a huge following of older adults on Twitter, or created an active community of engaged users for your more mature members? Share those tips and best practices, and help your fellow association professionals learn from your experience!

Chrisi West is web content manager at Military Officers Association of America in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2011.

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Create a Virtual Learning Conversation for Members

Technology is changing the way we do everything: how we connect, communicate, and—most importantly—learn. Associations are changing the way they think about virtual learning experiences and creating virtual learning conversations for their members.

Event Location: Online
Platform: Webinar
Speaker/Topic: Confirmed
CAE Approved: Yes

But are you ready to host a virtual learning conversation? Does your webinar include tactics to engage attendees, or will attendees be checked into their inboxes? It's time to take traditional learning strategies and incorporate them into virtual learning environments using technology to support. Here are some ideas:

  • Start by referring to speakers as thought leaders and ask that they do less dictating to the audience and provide more thought-provoking exercises.
  • Encourage thought leaders to further interact with attendees by incorporating real-time polling, hosting quizzes, asking questions, including contests or prize giveaways, and providing handouts or worksheets.
  • They can even end with a required follow-up action or session where attendees report back to the group. Hold attendees accountable for their takeaways.
  • Also select a platform that allows attendees to interact during the session via pings in a chat log, or perhaps add a Twitter RSS widget so tweeps can follow and tag tweets.
  • Record sessions so you can market across membership materials and archive these recordings to begin building a learning portal accessible to members 24/7.
  • Request continuing education credit for your sessions; this makes the one-hour time investment digestible.
  • Lastly, ask for personal reflection and feedback; you can learn a lot for very little additional time investment.

Please share your feedback and comments. I'm trying to change the world one boring webinar at a time.

Lauren Wolfe is marketing and communications manager for Higher Logic in Washington, DC. She is vice chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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Four Secrets to Connecting with Student Members

Enhance your communication and engagement with your association's student members (and future professional members) with these four secrets. 

  • School is a student's first priority. Students will always put their education first. But no need to worry, that's what students should be doing. Therefore, it is the role of the association to be the go-to resource in furthering a student's education and understanding the profession.
  • Using technology on a daily basis does not make students tech savvy. Students use Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis; however, a Twitter-addict may not understand, for instance, how to use a fillable PDF document for an awards application. In developing member benefits or making processes more efficient, it is important to recognize the possible technological boundaries of your student members.
  • Students are younger than you. Although it may seem logical, it is important to recognize that the typical student member is younger than most of your staff members. In creating marketing materials or designing programming, it is important to make sure you are communicating with students at their level.
  • Associations should be the professional link outside the student bubble. Member faculty are a great resource in demonstrating to students the bond between their profession and the association. If shown the association's impact in professional lives, students will continue their membership as they enter the "real world."

Student members present a unique membership group, and with these four secrets, your association will enhance its student membership experience.

Lilliane Smothers is assistant for student relations at American Dental Hygienists' Association in Chicago.

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March 2, 2011

Latitude is Leverage: How a hands-off approach to management enables top achievement by driven young professionals

If your view of young professionals centers on the notion that they are merely collegiate graduates who exhibit know-it-all without the wherewithal behavior, keep reading. While most positions need to follow a full-year cycle in order to contribute value, harnessing the energy, exuberance, and creative ideas from young professionals who have not yet been tainted by the system or culture of your company may indeed aid in the execution of applying your experience. Wisdom could be explained as a combined balance of knowledge and experience.

Young professionals occupy a unique position in that they contribute their outsider advantage while simultaneously monitoring their adherence to new ties at your company. If you can cultivate young professionals to engage in a mutually respectful, challenging and trusting environment and the personality and required skill-set match your company's needs, you may gain insight from a different kind of wisdom.

I have a boss who is really more of a mentor than anything. He is there as a sounding board, and allows for idea generation - no matter how extreme. Sure, some ideas are admittedly "off the wall," but the initial spark and engaged follow-through on the good ideas trumps the rogue ones. We work at the speed of trust, and we embrace the philosophy of "punishing mediocre successes and celebrating epic failure," all while maintaining a good sense of humor and humility.

Kai Gansner is director of member services and vision scoping at Optimist International in St. Louis, Mo.

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It's a setup...for success!

"I was waiting to see if they'd do it." "I wanted to see what they'd do." Both statements demonstrate a passive approach of observation when tasked with making sure others get something done. Both make me cringe.

Observation is valuable when the situation warrants. Boundaries are tested. Levels of gumption and competence are assessed. However, when the situation doesn't warrant (new professionals), is it waiting for failure? Put differently, is it taking the onus away from the observer to set others up for success?

For an incredibly simplistic example, let's look at my puppy, Pollock. I want Pollock to ring a bell to tell me when he wants to go outside. I put the bell on the door and tell him to "touch" it to go outside. Then, should I wait to see if he'll touch the bell when he's ready to go outside? Or, do I treat him after I coax him to touch the bell every time he whines to go outside, and then gradually stop treating when I know he's got it? For Pollock, the answer is obvious.

Maybe the answer is obvious for your new professionals, but maybe it's not. Next time you're tasked with making sure others get something done, know that if you don't set them up for success, the failure is yours too. So, set them up for success by:


  • Making sure they understand the end goal

  • Giving them the necessary tools

  • Checking in with them

  • Giving them constructive feedback when they've gone astray

Then, when you know they're ready, feel free to observe...and be ready to congratulate them when they succeed!

Jennifer Johnson works in information services for Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors in Lakewood, Colo.

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The middle path

I am not only a young association professional at the age of 30 (if that's young anymore!), I am a growing association professional attempting to walk what Buddhists call the middle path between two distinct generations, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. Like many of us out there, at 30, I'm on the cusp of both Gen X and Gen Y. While I may have some Millennial traits, I'm definitely a Gen Xer through and through. So, my outlook on life and work is very different from my Baby Boomer boss and from my Millennial assistant. And yep, you guessed it...this leads to continual conflict and miscommunication in the workplace. So, I'm left trying to figure out how to make peace when it's not really in my genetic makeup to do so.

Below I describe two situations I have encountered in my professional career. In talking with my young professional colleagues, we can all relate to situations like these. There is no concrete right or wrong answer to these scenarios, but please feel free to comment on this post with your thoughts on how to handle these situations. In the comments section, I will share how I handled them and my suggestions on how to find common ground amidst these two generations. Remember, walking the middle path between two distinct generations is often a difficult journey to undertake, but it's the path we must all learn to walk as our workplaces and the world around us is always in flux.

Scenario #1
You're out of town for a work assignment for a week. Prior to leaving, you make sure to meet with your assistant to review projects so she knows she'll have plenty to do while you're out. You also make a point to note that you will be accessible by email, phone, and text and not to hesitate to contact you with questions. You do not hear much from your assistant, so you assume things are going okay. You return to the office and your boss wants to have a chat with you. While you were out, your assistant went to her and told her that she did not have anything to do and was waiting on you to complete other projects. Your boss then tells you that you need to make sure you are not the one holding up projects and that you need to delegate more. You return to your office to find things printed out and in your inbox, things that could have easily been emailed to you while you were out. Feeling at bit blindsided, what do you do to resolve this matter?

Scenario #2
This is your assistant's first job right out of college. He has a great work ethic and strong skills, but is struggling with fitting into this new world of work and starting out at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. He thinks that many of the administrative tasks are beneath him and makes that known to his colleagues, statements that you happen to overhear from time to time. On top of all this, he has taken it upon himself to delegate his work to the part-time administrative assistant and the intern. Then, one day while he's out sick, he checks his e-mail and forwards tasks to another assistant to complete since he's out. This other assistant is confused about priorities now that multiple people are sending her things and she's a bit offended. When you find out about all of this, what do you do?

Alyssa A. Pfennig, CAE, is director of membership and event services at Raybourn Group International in Indianapolis, Ind. She serves on ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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Showing up isn't half the battle

You've heard the saying or something similar, "showing up is half the battle." It's what they tell teenagers in high school to get them to go to class. By that dated logic, if you show up and do something, anything, you'll find yourself with a passing grade. In today's marketplace, that approach might get you noticed, but not much beyond that. In fact, I'd argue that if you show up and don't meet expectations, you'll be viewed as a distraction.

Members of Generation Y face several challenges that they must deal with effectively on a daily basis to prove their value, such as a limited experience base, skepticism and general stereotypes (e.g. Gen Yers don't have work ethic, they lack professionalism, they are all experts in social media, etc.). While there are also some inherent benefits that come with being Gen Y, we'll focus on what I consider the most difficult challenge to overcome: skepticism.

Skepticism is what that new middle-aged and older client has when they are meeting with you for the first time and you propose a new idea. It's that nagging feeling while that new idea you proposed is intriguing, as a young professional you lack decades of experience to take you at your word. When you are meeting with a new client, the stakes are raised, the margin for error diminishes. You haven't established a rapport with this group. Let's be honest, if you were 10 years older that new idea likely would have been far less contentious. You have to establish the relationship, prove yourself, and overcome the inherent skepticism.

While skepticism is the most difficult to overcome, it is also the most powerful. If you can make that positive first impression, back your ideas with sound strategy and proven success, and give them something they didn't ask for, you'll create a rock-solid relationship.

Darrin Hubbard, CAE, is an account executive at Ewald Consulting in St. Paul, Minn.

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March 1, 2011

Want to achieve something great? Fail!

It happens quickly and without warning. You receive that first job offer after college and progress nicely in your association career, only to find you're hit with a setback. You may have been laid off, fired, passed over for that promotion, or maybe you totally screwed up that big project--it's devastating! The failure seems like the end of the world.

Young personal finance blogger and New York Times bestselling author, Ramit Sethi says in a blog post from early last year your next actions after that point are what separate good from great. "If you want to ACTUALLY achieve something great, treat rejection as a normal step in the process. Expect it. Manage it. Take action and the next time you get shot down, remember that means you're just getting started."

Every young professional should be prepared for personal and professional failure by following his advice.

Expect it - Expect that failures will come. This does not mean viewing the world as the glass is half empty all the time, but most successes involve risks and failures at some point. Don't believe me? Take a look at history. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lack of creativity.

Manage it - It's ok to have feelings of defeat after a failure but don't have a pity party. Treat the failure as a project and manage it. Come up with a plan to resolve or fix the issue.

Take action - Learn and move on. Insanity is often referred to as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting new results. Make plans to not repeat the same mistake. After you've devised an action plan, take action.

Remember, no matter how disheartening an unexpected failure may be, it could just be the start of one of the greatest accomplishments of your life.

Irving Washington is program manager at National Association of Black Journalists in Washington, D.C. He is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2012.

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Time vs. Creativity: Four ways to win the tug of war

The opportunity to be creative presents itself often. Whether I am starting a new project, revamping an old program, or trying to do more with less, I am confronted with the challenge of finding a creative solution or idea on a daily basis. While I love the opportunity to be creative, I find there is a huge roadblock in my way that keeps me from reaching my creative peak.

My biggest struggle is having the time to be creative with the vast number of responsibilities and projects on my desk. On top of that, timelines created by eager board members and committees can be too tight, and the business of board meetings and managing committees can be a huge time consumer. This time pressure creates a tug of war between "just get it done" and "how can we do this better." So how can we push through this roadblock?

The tried and true techniques for time management can get us farther down the path to creativity. Staying organized, prioritizing your projects and eliminating time wasters all help to create more time. But, I have found this is not enough. Here are four ways to win the time vs. creativity tug of war:


  1. Be deliberate. Find opportunities to be creative. Make a note on your to-do list next to the things you would like to spend creative time.

  2. Know your goals. Understand what matters most to your board. Those are the things you should spend most of your creative time on.

  3. Know your role. Understand what your unique role in your association staff team is. Your creative energy should focus on the things you do that no one else does.

  4. Pick your battles. You will not always win the tug of war. Choose your battles carefully based on your goals and role to make your creative energy count.

Kimberly S. Paugh is director of membership at Raybourn Group International in Indianapolis, Ind.

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I'll stop the world

Leadership means many different things to many different people. Often, as volunteers, we think the more work product we churn out, the more leadership we exhibit. However, I'd like to present a competing perspective.

As chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee (YAEC), I found myself doing exactly the opposite this year. Essentially, I decided to stop the world (a phrase we often use in my office when one project must take serious precedence over all others currently in progress). This deliberate time out would allow us to focus most fervently on strategic planning.

Since August, I've been significantly less concerned about overall work product and much more focused on structure, process, and long-term goal setting. After four years of this committee's colored existence, it was time to take a step back and evaluate the following:

1. What is our mission? What is our purpose and why do we exist?
2. What is our vision? What is our future and where are we going?
3. What are our values? What do we believe in and how will we demonstrate it?

Adoption of a simple strategic plan that clearly and honestly answered these questions then prompted us to set goals. Although ideas from each committee member were considered, not all were adopted. In total, 13 macro-level goals--each supporting our new mission, vision, and values statements--were divvied up among the various subcommittees.

Next on the to-do list: committee calls. During our in-person meeting in December, we restructured the agenda of our monthly committee calls. These meetings now begin with a five-minute ASAE staff spotlight, followed by a committee member check-in that's no more than one minute each. A full 20 minutes is then dedicated to a strategic discussion topic (examples include defining the committee's target audience and opportunities for engaging YAEs at the annual meeting).

With our remaining time, we entertain questions from the subcommittees; each subcommittee provides a brief status report (updates to measurable objectives only); we tackle new business; and we encourage YAE shout outs, opportunities for collaboration, kudos, and announcements.

Finally, we've spent considerable time these last seven months talking about leadership. On more than one occasion, industry expert Jamie Notter has challenged us to think about leadership not as an aspiration, but as an accessible skill set that can be obtained through connection, clarity, commitment, and learning. We will engage him one final time in July to evaluate our effectiveness both as a committee and as individual leaders.

So, my question to you is this: Do you recognize when it's more prudent to stop the world--either in your organization or in your volunteer commitments--than it is to churn out more work product? What would prevent you from putting on the brakes? How might you overcome these obstacles?

Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, is director of education and associate partnerships at the Health Care Association of Michigan in Lansing, Mich., a Diversity Executive Leadership Program scholar and chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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