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October 27, 2011

Quick clicks: Innovation, volunteers, and technology

This week's links offer insights the skills and challenges inherent in innovation, managing volunteers, and new developments in technology. Enjoy.

Innovation. Virgil Carter recaps a Harvard Business Review article on "innovators' DNA."One of the five common skills of innovators: associating.

More innovation. Erik Lanke, CAE, shares a recent experience that illustrated exactly why innovation is so hard.

Volunteer speakers. David Patt, CAE, sums up why it's important to sign agreements with your event speakers, even if they're unpaid.

Volunteer management. Engergize, Inc., links to several stories about how the Occupy Wall Street protesters are organizing themselves and draws some lessons to be learned for volunteer managers.

Tech trends. Jeff Hurt looks forward to 2012 with a nice rundown of the top ten stategic technology trends that associations should be monitoring in the coming year.

Mobile publishing. It's hard to keep up anymore, but here's another new development in mobile publishing: Apple's Newstand feature in its newest mobile operating system is already "hitting it big with traditional media publishers"writes Christina Bonnington at Wired's Gadget Lab.

Human resources. Leslie White explains why HR pros should view social media as an opportunity for better personnel management, not a threat.

Getting unstuck. Jeffrey Cufaude offers seven questions that will help jumpstart thinking and restart conversation when progress in a group or organization is slowing or at a standstill.

Headquarters. This is an old link (from August), but it was passed along to us just recently and I thought it was worth sharing: the headquarters of ASM (American Society of Metals) International in northeast Ohio recently was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places and underwent a $7 million renovation and restoration. The building sits beneath a "cloudlike geodesic dome designed by R. Buckminster Fuller"and is considered a hidden architectural gem in the region. (What does your association's building look like?)

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October 26, 2011

Would your annual report ever sound like this?

My RSS feed from Wired magazine doesn't typically bear much relation to association management, but Maryn McKenna's summary of the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative caught my eye: "Scathing Report: Polio Eradication 'Not... Any Time Soon'."

Maryn writes that the report "is striking for its brutally frank and even frustrated tone." She later writes that the report "identifies problems that extend throughout the worldwide effort. The board is strikingly candid in asking pointed questions about them."

The nature of the report isn't exactly parallel to an association annual report, but I couldn't help but compare them. The truth, though, is they don't really compare at all. The association annual reports I've seen have typically been positive, light on genuine analysis, and rather dull. Anything but brutally frank.

This disparity could be a byproduct of vague missions and goals. Clearly, eradicating polio is a "big, hairy audacious goal." Bigger goal equals more room for failure, which an honest report will identify. But a vague goal, like "advancing the industry," means there's more room to be just as vague in assessing results.

The disparity could also result from who writes the report. In the case of the polio initiative, the report was written by an independent board convened specifically "to monitor and guide the progress" of initiative's strategic plan. In the case of most associations, an annual report is assembled by staff, possibly with involvement or sign-off of the board—two parties with a clear bias toward highlighting an association's success and downplaying its shortfalls. Perhaps a committee of at-large members tasked with authoring an annual report would offer more honest analysis.

Of course, the actual substance of the polio initiative report is disappointing, from a global-health perspective. But sugarcoating the lack of progress toward the initiative's goal would have been a disservice to the people dedicating their energy toward eradicating the disease and to those who still suffer from it. The report's honesty is exactly the kind of kick in the pants that can motivate people to fix problems, and it's exactly the kind of analysis that has to take place when measuring progress toward a mission, whatever it may be.

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October 21, 2011

Can't or won't?

I was going to put this in this week's quick clicks post but decided I had more than a sentence to say about it. Yesterday, the always-insightful Seth Godin defined the difference between stupid and lazy:

When I was in college, I took a ton of advanced math courses, three or four of them, until one day I hit the wall. Too many dimensions, transformations and toroids for me to keep in my head. I was too stupid to do really hard math so I stopped.

Was it that I was too stupid, or did I merely decide that with my priorities, it wasn't worth the work?

The post is short, so you should go read the whole thing right now. It's great advice for anyone who's ever faced a challenge.

I think you could replace "stupid" and "lazy" with "can't" and "won't" and apply the same message to associations. In the face of change, opportunities for innovation in associations are often met with "we just can't do that." We don't have the time, the money, or the resources; we can't change our member benefits; the board (or CEO) will never take that kind of risk; and so on and so on. But the truth is that, in any situation, there's always a choice. We can find the time and the money, we can change a membership model, we can manage risk, but only if we're willing to reallocate or reinvent or kill some sacred cows.

Godin goes on to say "Isn't it amazing that we'd rather call ourselves stupid than lazy?" Likewise, isn't it amazing that many associations would rather say "we can't do it" than admit that they're just not willing to put in the work required to change?

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October 20, 2011

Quick clicks: Whack-a-mole edition

Sometimes work and life feel like whack-a-mole: as soon as you handle one task, another one pops up nearby that you hadn't planned for. Four of this week's links discuss the challenges of seeing the big picture and operating on that scale.

Unintended consequences. Jay S. Daughtry shares three stories of one action leading to unexpected results and the lessons to be drawn for associations.

Details. Small changes can have big effects. Eric Lanke, CAE, shares the concept of the "Chief Detail Officer," who would be "responsible for finding small things that cost little that have tremendous impact and making sure they are done right and consistently."

Competition. Mark Golden, FASAE, CAE, suggests that competing with for-profits sounds good, but it makes associations more like for-profits and thus less unique and less competitive.

Systems. Jamie Notter says silos in an organization are OK, but you need good systems thinking to know how to keep them from causing problems.

Member innovation. Anna Caraveli explains that we're moving into a new era in which consumers are a major source of innovation and how associations can adapt.

CEO evaluations. Jen Masaoka sums up the common deficiencies in nonprofit boards' evaluations of their executive directors and suggests some methods for improving the process.

Creativity (or not). Shelly Alcorn, CAE, uses this past Sunday's Dilbert comic to analyze the ways in which creativity is often stifled in associations.

Boards and staff. Skip Potter shares lessons from a personal experience in which, as a new association CEO, he misjudged the passion and interests of his board of directors and they steadily began quitting.

Tweets and statuses. Shannon Otto offers five tips for effective posts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks. The point about the negative effect of URL shorteners was a new one for me.

LinkedIn pages. Lindy Dreyer asks whether your website links to a group page or a company page on LinkedIn (assuming it links to LinkedIn at all), and suggests that one is a much better option than the other. (You'll have to read her post to find out which.)

Social memory. For you brain-science geeks out there, Jonah Lehrer at Wired reports on a recent psychological study that shows humans often rewrite their memories based on input from peers. Ever more evidence of the power of community.

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October 17, 2011

The catch-22 of volunteer recruitment

Reaching back a few weeks to a post by Shari Ilsen on the Engaging Volunteers blog, "Why I'm Not Going to Volunteer with Your Nonprofit." She adapts seven reasons people cite for not donating to a nonprofit and equates them to why they also don't volunteer. Great reading for anyone in the business of volunteer recruitment.

One of the reasons stuck out to me the most: "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you." From a personal standpoint, this probably isn't the excuse I'd give out loud for declining a given volunteer opportunity, but it's the one I'd be feeling in my gut, most strongly influencing my decision. I'm an introvert, and I don't think I've joined or volunteered for anything in my life without doing so with a friend. That sounds sad to me now that I've typed it out on a screen, but I'm just being honest.

The truth is, though, that there are a lot of introverted people like me in the world, including in your membership or pool of potential volunteers. (The Decision to Volunteer supports this dynamic: "I was asked by another volunteer" was the third-ranked channel through which volunteers first learned about volunteering with an organization, while "I didn't know a current volunteer" was among the top reasons cited by nonvolunteers.) So it's clear that asking your current volunteers to recruit potential new volunteers through word of mouth is a method that must be employed to overcome the "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you" hurdle.

But this presents another problem. Many associations lament that their volunteer leaders aren't diverse, and they struggle to find new potential leaders from beyond the networks of members who already participate. Asking your board to recruit people they know as new volunteers just gets you more people who look, think, and act the same as the leaders you already have.

So there's your catch-22:

  • Potential volunteers feel more comfortable volunteering when they know a current volunteer, but …
  • Potential volunteers who know a current volunteer are probably a lot like your current volunteers.

No one said volunteer recruitment was easy. I don't have a magic solution to offer for this dilemma, but I think the underlying strategy to break free of this problem focuses on fostering new connections. So, rather than asking volunteers to recruit a friend, challenge them each to make a new friend at your next event. Conversely, when you do identify strong potential volunteers, connect them with current volunteers as quickly as you can, so they can no longer say "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you." Interested to hear your thoughts on volunteer recruitment. How have you tried to solve this problem?

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October 13, 2011

Quick clicks: Practical lessons edition

The blogging community often leans more toward the think piece, but several of this week's links happen to offer practical lessons, tips, and advice to help you be more effective and efficient. For the thinkers out here, fret not; there's still a few think pieces toward the end.

Membership. Tony Rossell shares 25 open-ended responses to a question asking for lessons learned in membership marketing on MGI's 2011 Membership Benchmarking Report.

Productivity. Shannon Otto shares three cloud-based tech tools that can help small-staff association professionals manage tasks, notes, and files and save time.

More productivity. Deirdre Reid offers a handy list of tasks that make for useful time killers at the end of the day, when it's almost quitting time but too late to dive into lengthy tasks.

Better writing. Even non-writers are tasked with writing from time to time: memos, reports, product summaries, and so on. Carol Saller at The Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca blog shares several tips for self-editing.

LinkedIn for member recruitment. Maddie Grant, CAE, shares an example of social customer relations management in action: one association that generates new members via LinkedIn more effectively than in any of its other recruitment pools.

Social media. Using a lot of social media channels? Colleen Dilenschneider recommends providing a central "hub" to connect them all and drive members/readers/users to each.

The unmeasurable. Joe Gerstandt says "don't believe the hype" about the importance of metrics.

Conference innovation. Jeff Hurt outlines five traits of innovators and explains how these qualities can help meeting planners create better conferences.

Association (r)evolution. Following up on Deirdre Reid's post about The Race for Relevance, Jamie Notter suggests that the changes recommended in the book might be insufficient to save associations from eventual doom.

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October 12, 2011

So You've Discovered a Paradigm Shift, Have You?

Last month researchers at the CERN research laboratory near Geneva delivered some big news: They clocked some subatomic particles as moving faster than the speed of light. I studied English in college, not physics, so I won't pretend to understand the intricacies of this, but I can grasp the fact that This Was Not Supposed to Happen. Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity says that objects cannot move faster than the speed of light; if they do, they would be going backwards in time. (I'm not sure what the implications of that might be, besides providing fodder for bad movies.)

In any event, for the purposes of this blog I'm not interested in the science so much as how it was discussed. Faced with some earth-shattering news that undoes physics and we know it, the scientists at CERN announced their findings with remarkable humility. "We cannot explain the observed effect in terms of systematic uncertainties," Dr. Dario Autiero said. "Therefore, the measurement indicates a neutrino velocity higher than the speed of light."

Dr. Autiero added, in a sentence that suggests more bafflement than celebration, "We present to you this discrepancy or anomaly today."

As somebody who gets plenty of emails every week, both in and out of the nonprofit space, celebrating a "revolutionary" this or "paradigm-shifting" that, I find that kind of care with language refreshing. It also speaks to something that often goes unspoken when big changes are discovered, be they in science or management: Those changes, if they are genuine, can be messy. People long in comfortable positions might wind up marginalized; vendors' services might be no longer needed as an association changes tack; association leaders might discover they're woefully ill-equipped in terms of staff and board leadership to make the necessary adjustments; those same leaders might realize they themselves are ill-equipped to manage through that change.

The reason we use the term "paradigm shift" so much today is thanks to Thomas Kuhn, whose 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, discussed how unsettling seachanges in physics could be, from Copernicus to Newton to Einstein; Kuhn himself absorbed no small amount of flak for his book. I don't mean to suggest that leaders should shy away from addressing paradigm shifts when they see them; just that they should see them as opportunities for reflection and serious thought about what to do next. It's a time to get to work, not break out the champagne; no revolution worthy of the name ever got announced in a press release.

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October 6, 2011

Quick clicks: Complexity and simplicity edition

A couple of this week's links illuminate the eternal struggle for simplicity in a complex world. A fitting theme after the death of Steve Jobs, who was about as good as anyone's ever been at turning big, complex ideas into elegantly simple products.

Learning. Jeff Hurt offers some neuroscience that explains how much info a human can absorb at any one time and why conferences should focus on delivering less information, not more.

Change. What stands between your organization and your long-term goals? A giant hairball of complexity, writes Eric Lanke, CAE.

Online community. In the wake of Steve Jobs' passing, KiKi L'Italien reflects on how social technology allows people to gather and share in both good times and bad. "Blog posts that assume technology makes us colder make me angry," she writes.

Volunteer value. Susan Ellis suggests that nonprofits undervalue their volunteers, and she offers eight tips for volunteer managers to promote the value of volunteers to their organization's senior executives.

Board meetings. Andy Freed suggests five ways to improve association board meetings, based on his experience visiting 200 of them each year.

Shifting demographics. Jeff Cobb points to data that shows more and more professionals are choosing to work on a freelance basis, and not just because of the economy. This change should prompt associations to think in new ways, he writes, because "we don't currently have sufficient social/economic infrastructure in place for supporting these people."

E-newsletters. Shannon Otto shares some advice from her MemberClicks colleagues on creating compelling email newsletters.

Facebook changes. Maddie Grant relays a summary from Tonia Ries of all the upcoming/in progress/just happened changes on Facebook, complete with links to further insight on how these changes might affect your organization's use of the platform.

Private social networks. Joshua Paul shares several mistakes to avoid in designing the functionality of a private social network for your association's members. This is Part 4 of a series that I've somehow missed, but Joshua conveniently links to the previous segments at the top of the this post.

Sponsorships. You're doing it wrong, says a new study. Dave Kovaleski at Association Meetings offers a nice summary of the findings of the report on association sponsorships, which says "Given the highly targeted nature of association audiences, this sector is underperforming …"

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October 5, 2011

Which comes first: policy or culture?

We all know the old "chicken or the egg" question. I'd like to adapt it to the case of managing change in an organization, in which policy is the chicken, and culture is the egg. Or maybe it's the other way around. You see where this is going.

The August and September/October issues of Associations Now have each shared a story about the Society of Critical Care Medicine:

(Two-pronged side note: I've mentioned this case here before, and while two articles and now two blog posts on the same story approaches "milking it for all it's worth" territory, I think the story and lessons to be drawn are worth a lot. So there. Also, I learned of SCCM's story when I sat down next to David at breakfast at the 2011 Digital Now conference. Dumb luck, but that kind of serendipity is what face-to-face meetings are all about, right?)

As David explains this month, getting his staff on board with housing all member data in one database and making all specialized IT systems integrate with that database was no easy task. He had to build buy in. The staff needed new tools to keep the rule from becoming burdensome. Some staff who couldn't get on board were let go. And throughout, the change was based on a formal policy that was endorsed and enforced at the top of the organization.

Now SCCM is seeing the benefits of the rule, so in this case an organizational policy led to a culture that believed in its value. But I'm not sure it always works that way. There's a famous management motto that says "culture eats strategy for breakfast." I'd guess it eats policy for lunch. Without a driving force for change, policy often falls flat when it collides with an organization's culture. And while an organization might have a number of written policies, they're likely outnumbered by unwritten policies, the "we've always done it that way" rules instilled by company culture.

SCCM could have pursued better data management without a policy, rather by building support for it among staff from the ground up. But would it have worked as well? I don't know (though I'd guess David would say no). But not every desired change or practice can be summed up nicely in a short policy to add to the handbook, either.

I'm curious for your thoughts, particularly those of you who have put some kind of new idea or practice into action across your organization. Which came first? Did you enact a policy and then get people on board, or did you work on shifting the culture until you could establish an organizational policy that you knew could work?

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