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July 28, 2011

Moving Beyond Your Own Debt Ceiling

I recently interviewed Jean Chatzky, financial editor of "The Today Show" and a bestselling author who specializes in helping people get real about securing their financial futures.

She has been particularly focused on helping folks--especially women--get out of debt, identify some financial goals, and stop making money management so hard and overwhelming.

As we all witness the chaos of the debt ceiling debate on Capitol Hill this week in particular, it seems timely to talk about financial crises of a more personal nature, such as not saving enough for retirement or being so fearful of investing or doing "something wrong" that you just stuff everything into a checking account and let it sit.

According to Chatzky, who will speak August 8 at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition, men and women have different challenges in terms of developing behaviors and attitudes that determine whether they are in good or poor financial shape.

"For women, investing appropriately is more difficult," she says. "For years women have been a little more reluctant about taking risks, and we need to take a certain amount of risk in our investing in order to keep pace with taxes and inflation and [to] achieve enough growth."

Men, meanwhile, often have a harder time responding to their intuition, Chatzky notes. "Listening to that gut sense and understanding when it's leading you in the right direction rather than just jumping on the bandwagon of something because it's hot [is], I think, more difficult for men."

Regardless of gender, professionals should know that associations are doing a lot of things right when it comes to helping them secure a positive financial future.

"A lot of programs that associations are putting into their retirement plans--automatic escalation, automatic enrollment, target date funds as a default--are helping immeasurably, by the way," Chatzky lauds. "They are definitely leading people in the right direction."

Now if only people could be sure that Congress is doing the same.

Read what Chatzky has to say about the debt ceiling debate and its potential impacts on your finances on her blog and mark your calendars for August 8 at 1:30 - 2:45 p.m. for her Game Changer presentation, "The Keys to Personal Financial Happiness and Success."

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July 27, 2011

Can small innovation sustain us?

Just 10 days left between now and ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. Continuing in our arbitrarily timed series of "one question" posts here on Acronym, I'd like to pose an open-ended question on innovation.

Speaking at the closing general session and luncheon will be Peter Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including his latest, Flip: How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head—and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings. One of Sheahan's messages is to focus on what he calls "non-sexy" innovation, the type of innovation that improves upon established processes to make them more effective and efficient.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows the association community has long been wringing its hands over the future of the membership business model. Some think it's doomed to failure; others think it just needs to evolve. Given Sheahan's experience and research with examples of innovation, I'm curious how he might answer this question:

Can "non-sexy" innovation keep the association membership model sustainable?

It might not be a question that he—or anyone—can answer with much certainty. Predicting the future isn't easy. But it's a question all associations are grappling with, particularly when the amount of time and resources they can devote exclusively to innovation is limited. Do they focus on incremental change or on finding something revolutionary?

Given the focus on innovation at this year's conference—there will be a quasi-track of Learning Labs on innovation (look for "Innovation Exchange" in the titles) and an "Innovation Exchange Forum" lounge that will host informal discussions on innovation—the closing general session with Peter Sheahan will be good way to conclude.

Until then, what are your thougts on "non-sexy" innovation in regard to membership? What questions would you have for Peter Sheahan?

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July 22, 2011

Value in commiseration

If you read this month's Horizons column by Betsy Boyd-Flynn, CAE, in Associations Now, you know she and her organization have been through some difficult experiences of late. This week Betsy followed up with me to mention that she'd received several emails from fellow association professionals who all said it was nice to read about a colleague facing similar challenges. She described them as "me too" messages.

This reminded me of an important dynamic that I often lose sight of: Sometimes it feels good to commiserate with a colleague, even if there aren't any answers to a problem. It's nice to know you're not alone. Blowing off some steam lowers stress, and it creates a natural bond between colleagues.

We all know that, of course, but my job is generally to find and share people's answers to problems, and I think a lot of association jobs are focused on that. And even when an association promotes a networking event, for instance, it's often played as a chance to learn from colleagues and to meet people who could become future business partners or colleagues. Those are the more tangible benefits, which is why they're easier to point to, but a lot of the value in networking is in shared experience. We talk about programs that offer "takeaways" for participants, but the simple bonding over shared experiences is what leads to the positive feelings people have when they walk away from a face-to-face event.

In a time when so many challenges have no immediate answer—economic woes, evolving technology, and shifting demographics come to mind—associations will do will when they provide their members and customers with opportunities to commiserate, to share stories, to understand each other, and to feel understood.

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July 21, 2011

Quick clicks: So hot right now edition

If you're in the eastern half of the United States, you'll understand why it's just too hot for me to think of any kind of interesting intro to this week's edition of quick clicks. Several interesting articles and posts below. Enjoy.

Argument. Mark Golden, FASAE, CAE, asks "Have We Lost The Ability To Argue?" One should hope not, as it's an important capacity for association leaders to maintain.

Creativity. Virgil Carter points to an article that suggests creativity might be a quality that prevents one from reaching the CEO position of an organization, particularly associations that tend to be creatures of habit. "Typical leaders in such organizations are expected to have traits that reduce uncertainty and promote stability," he writes.

Staff communication. Tom Morrison doesn't like meetings, but he does like effective staff communication at his association. That's why he created a private online group for his staff called "Staff Meeting 24/7" that serves as the central location for inter-office communication.

Fundraising. Laura Otten highlights research that shows that more than half of nonprofits that ask or require board members to raise money provide little or no training in fundraising to the board members, which she calls "sad." "The state doesn't tell children turning 16 ... 'Okay, get behind the wheel of a car and drive!'" she writes.

Pricing. Jeff Cobb shares a brief note about the power of a small price increase, citing research that shows a one percent price increse results in more increased profits than a one percent increase in volume or decrease in costs.

Groupon. Maddie Grant, CAE, urges associations to be cautious before jumping on the daily-deals bandwagon.

Web experience. Jeff Hurt argues that a poor conference website experience will set up your face-to-face event for failure.

Social media exhaustion. Maggie McGary is a social media professional, but even she finds herself overwhelmed with the number of networks and social outlets to explore and engage in. "Google+ has tipped the apple cart for me and I find myself just wanting to avoid the computer altogether," she writes.

Boards. Eric Lanke, CAE, continues a thread about boards being out of touch with members. He suggests association staff or other active members or volunteers are the ones more in touch and should be conveying that knowledge to the board.

Emotions. Jamie Notter explains why recognizing your own emotions and understanding how they affect others in the workplace is one quality of skilled leaders.

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July 14, 2011

Train more or expect less?

Two weeks ago, C. David Gammel, CAE, discussed the pros and cons of the annual cycle that most associations follow. A primary element of that cycle is the yearly turnover of volunteers and board members. Whether you view that as a positive or negative likely depends on your own experience.

Around the same time, The Chronicle of Philanthropy blogger Rick Moyers posed a question: "Do We Expect Too Much From Boards?" This was based on data from the "Daring to Lead 2011" report, which showed that just 20 percent of nonprofit executive directors said they were "very satisfied" with the performance of their boards of directors.

That's a pretty sad number, so Moyers' question is an appropriate one. Given a structure in which a nonprofit organization must be led by a group of volunteers with widely varying interests, motivations, and levels of skill or comfort in organizational leadership, perhaps it is indeed foolish to expect much.

So, as the association executive in that situation, you have two options:

  • Accept the ineffectiveness of the board, and lower your expectations accordingly.
  • Train the board with the skills needed in order for it to meet your expectations.

Judith Lindenau shared a story on her Off Stage blog recently about a grantmaking foundation that requires its beneficiary organizations to display skill in leadership and execution—or go through training to develop it—before receiving a dollar. The foundation wants to see its grants spent well, of course, but, as Judith notes, it is also a reflection of the its belief that effective leadership comes first.

"The interesting part of this solution … is that the foundation's process begins with a trained leadership and staff—not with the money or the strategic plan," she writes.

In other words, if you don't have your proverbial ducks in a row, don't bother with anything else.

I think that applies to this question of board expectations. If you don't make board training (and perhaps structure) your first priority, then of course your high expectations won't be met.

I'm no executive though, so I'm sure I'm oversimplifying. What's the nuance here? Why else is the mismatch between expecations and reality for association board performance so persistent?

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Seeking guest bloggers at #asae11

A quick blog service announcement: just as we have in past years, Acronym is looking for guest blog posts from attendees during the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo, August 6-9. The assignment is simple: you'd only need to write one post (though you could write more if you'd like), anyone is eligible, and no prior blogging experience is necessary.

The theme we're following this year is "one question." We want you to think of a single question that you want answered during the meeting or in a specific education session and then share the answer in a blog post. Pretty simple.

We're hoping to line up a handful of volunteers before the conference, so if you're interested in contributing, email us at acronym@asaecenter.org. Thanks!

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July 12, 2011

Looking beyond the board for leadership

Time for more insights from a content leader at the upcoming 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo. Today, we've reached out to Jeff Beachum, CAE, executive director at the Interior Design Educators Council, Inc., who will lead an Annual Meeting Learning Lab titled "Love our Mission: Moving from Board-Centric to Extended Reach!" Jeff shares an interesting story about managing significant change at IDEC.

How did you get your board to buy in to a new structure and culture that focused on discovering leaders outside the traditional pipeline?

Beachum: About five years ago, the Interior Design Educators Council, Inc., began to see significant growth. In just five years, we have experienced an 80-plus percent growth of members, with more than 50 percent of our membership having been a part of the organization for five years or less and another 35 percent expected to retire within the next 10 years. The combination of healthy growth and the clamoring needs of an expectant membership was creating tension on several pressure points within the organization.

IDEC has survived for more than 40 years with a board-centric organizational flow, resembling a "good old boys" network. Everyone in the organization felt compelled to connect with the president and the board. Real pain kicked in when the membership surpassed 400. It was common for board members to feel significant relief when their term ended.

So, recognizing the trail of bloodied board members left in the wake of their service, the leadership began serious work: an already-strong mission statement was restated and simplified, and a new organizational structure was subsequently birthed that included almost all of the activities previously established but within new "organizational homes."

By the time we arrived at this point in the reorganization discussion, an inordinate amount of receptivity to the vision was being celebrated. Leaders were now willing to engage in a bit more risk, and the process was becoming a challenging adventure. Success was begetting success. Challenge to change was greeted with anticipation, and courage came easier.

The board quickly recognized that the traditional pipeline of leadership was woefully inadequate. There were not enough "good old boys" to fill the new roles. In fact, the reorganization required leadership to think and lead differently, and some of the membership would not be able to make the mental transition as leaders. The board began to embrace new initiatives and policies that would allow for the discovery of new, innovative, and emerging leaders. These initiatives and policies included:

  • A formal policy requiring a call for leadership to be posted for all vacant or changing leadership positions, allowing all members to volunteer or be nominated.
  • Accepting successful experience outside of the organization to hold more weight than it once did when selecting candidates for leadership.
  • Enabling leaders at the grassroots level to be more confident that their ideas will be listened to and heard.
  • Purposely creating smaller leadership roles for the next generation of leaders in hopes that they will emerge with experience under the tutelage of proven veterans.

Significant change requires significant leadership with vision, courage, and resolve. Once the grip of leadership had been relinquished, it produced a positive and powerful result, moving IDEC from being board-centric to having extended reach.

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July 7, 2011

Board assessment for long-term improvement

Next up in our series of questions on lessons to be shared at the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo is a question for Thomas C. Dolan, Ph.D., FACHE, CAE, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, and Vernetta Walker, director of consulting at Boardsource. Dolan and Walker will lead an Annual Meeting Learning Lab titled "Board, Assess Thyself."

How do you establish board self-assessment in a way that carries forward year to year, so that the insights gained from the self-assessment don't roll off the board as directors' terms end?

Dolan and Walker: Board self-assessments are an important tool that enable boards to cultivate a culture of good governance. To ensure a continued focus on governance issues over the long term, it is important for board leadership to nurture an environment of accountability and continuous self-improvement. The chair and CEO should reinforce the idea that board transformation occurs over time and that progress will be made only if the board makes governance a priority and works consistently and conscientiously on building and maintaining sound practices and policies. Positioning self-assessments as a priority to help the board identify strengths and necessary changes will help ensure that this best practice is carried forward, even when the leadership changes.

Thanks, Thomas and Vernetta. Readers, please share your thoughts: How do you encourage your boards to make a long-term board transformation a priority?

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Quick Clicks: It's beginning to look a lot like #asae11

Believe it or not, the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo is less than one month away, and it makes its first appearance in Quick Clicks this week, alongside several other must-read posts. Enjoy.

The yearly cycle. C. David Gammel, CAE, makes no mention of Annual in his post "The Association Cycle," but it hit home for me as we're all busy preparing for our biggest event of the year. I'd never thought of it this way before, but he makes a compelling point: "Associations, more than any other type of organization I've seen, are defined by their annual cycle."

Tips for #asae11. The Annual Meeting-related posts started with Joe Sapp, who will be a first-time attendee to this year's conference. He asked for some tips for a first timer, and he got some good advice both in the comments to his post and in separate posts from Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, and Shannon Otto at MemberClicks.

Membership increases. Tony Rossell shares some data from the forthcoming 2011 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report that show substantial improvements in total membership, new members acquired, and membership renewals among respondent associations.

Complaining. Do you or your colleagues complain about your association's members? Is that a healthy practice? Eric Lanke, CAE, thinks not: "If [your staff] don't see your members as partners in your mutual success, you probably won't succeed in anything you set out to do," he writes.

Google+. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with every new development in the realm of social media. Fortunately, in the case of last week's roll-out of Google+, you can find some initial reactions from Maddie Grant, CAE, at SocialFish, who shares an introductory video, and Maggie McGary, who explains "Why I'm not Giddy Over Google+."

Presentation formats. Jeffrey Cufaude warns association conference planners to "Be Careful of Format Fetish," arguing that new waves in presentation styles (think Open Space, Pecha Kucha, IGNITE) should be adopted if they match the event's needs, not just because they're the new cool thing to do.

Expo halls. In many ways, they're a lot like shopping malls, Jeff Hurt writes. In "Mall Science: What Your Conference Can Learn From The Mall," he shares six lessons expo planners can learn from the shopping-mall experience.

E-learning. The downside of in-person education is often that space is limited. But starting a waiting list isn't the way to go, says Ellen Behrens. Rather, on-demand online learning can let your members access education on their time, not yours.

Leadership before strategy. Judith Lindenau shares a story about a grantmaking foundation with an interesting approach to ensuring its donations are spent well: it requires its beneficiary organizations to display skill in its leadership—or go through training to develop it—before receiving grants.

Control. Jamie Notter revisits the pitfalls of seeking control over everything we do within our organizations. This time he shares a perspective that says humans are wired to seek control even if they know it's just an illusion of control. No wonder it's so difficult to overcome.

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July 5, 2011

Building blocks of small-staff association staffing

Time for another installment of "Posing a Question to an Annual Meeting Speaker." Offering their perspective today are Michael Gardner, CAE, executive director of the Gypsum Association, and Lydia Middleton, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration. Gardner and Middleton will lead a Learning Lab at the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo titled "Small-Staff Association Staffing Models."

After the executive director, what is the most important staff position to create in a small-staff association?

Gardner: I think the most important person other than the executive director is the person you hire who monitors your involvement in any organizational financial transactions. For fiduciary transparency purposes, you have to have at least two individuals involved in your financial process. If I am hired tomorrow to start a new association, one of my first tasks is to hire someone who can put a wall between me and the organization's money. The same person needs to have the authority to alert the board if I attempt to misappropriate any funds.

Middleton: I agree with Michael's answer 100 percent. It is critical to have some checks and balances around the financials. That said, I'd take a different perspective, as it is possible to entirely outsource your financial management to a firm that can provide many checks and balances. What is not so easily outsourced is member service. At the end of the day your association is made up of your membership, and keeping them happy and engaged has to be the primary priority of most associations. If I was an ED and could only hire one person, it would be someone who would focus on member recruitment, retention, and customer service. I think I could find a way to outsource or contract for almost everything else, but that piece is critical.

Gardner: Good point. Really highlights that, while we are both small staff, our specific points of emphasis can be radically different based on the make-up of our membership.

Middleton: Absolutely!

Thanks Michael and Lydia. Readers, who would you add to your small-staff association next?

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