June 1, 2011

From small to mighty

It's Small Staff Week plus! Or there were a couple of stragglers that I just couldn't fit into last week's schedule -- my fault, certainly not the fault of Mary-Margaret Armstrong from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, who wrote the following post on planning for expansion.

The Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) began in 1977 with a mission to further the advancement and impact of women in healthcare worldwide. Until 2000, the organization's activities centered in one geographic location, at which point interest in the organization ascended rapidly, transforming the entire association.

People from all across the globe expressed the desire to launch new chapters, and we needed a way to tap into this passion and commitment, and, moreover, to capitalize on the momentum that had swung behind our mission.

Where to begin? At the time we had 3 staff and about 4,000 members - resources were tight, and time was precious.

We needed a process. One that was repeatable, straightforward, measurable, and sustainable.

We embarked on an 8-month journey beginning with a blank sheet of paper. In September 2008, our masterpiece was unveiled and has served as the framework for our organization's geographic expansion.

Our four phases of development outline specific activities, deliverables, and maturation milestones: Interested Party, Pre-affiliate, Affiliate, and Chapter (see the snapshot overview below). We crafted a detailed implementation plan with mapped responsibilities and oversight to individual corporate board and staff roles to ensure the process had pull through and sustainability. In only 10 years, the organization has expanded into 15 chapters, including overseas, with more than 6,000 members, holding nearly 300 programs around the world, and drawing more than 14,000 program participants.

HBA Chapter Dev.jpg

Our next challenge is to embrace new ideas for building communities beyond geographical boundaries including leveraging technology and social media. I invite you to join in this conversation to share ideas on how you are expanding your association's reach, the challenges you face, and solutions you have found to advance your mission.

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May 27, 2011

What it takes to improve yourself

This Small Staff Week post was written by Marianne Fray, CAE, also from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association.

It takes a village to get an advanced degree or a credential. Is it worth it? I suggest knowing what you want to achieve before taking the plunge!

I am one of nine professional staff who works for the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA). The HBA is dedicated to the advancement and impact of women in healthcare worldwide. We have more than 6,000 individual members, nearly 120 corporate partners, 15 chapters throughout the U.S. and Europe, and nearly 250 volunteer leaders. We have enjoyed significant membership and product growth in the past three years. The time commitment to achieve this success, with so few staff, is significant. So, where did I find time to pursue certification, and was it worth it? There is no question the answer is yes, because I wanted to better understand the not-for-profit world.

I grew up in the for-profit sector, holding positions in marketing and sales in the telecommunications industry. My previous employer offered to pay for my MBA, so I thought, "Why not?" The discipline of balancing my workloads at school, work, and home served me well as I pursued other professional and personal goals. The MBA opened doors for me and gave me confidence to serve my clients even better.

When I transitioned from for-profit to not-for-profit, I quickly learned that there were different lexicons. I was introduced to governance, membership, component and government relations, Roberts Rules of Order, motions, bylaws, etc. I could read a balance sheet, but felt lost in this new world. I needed a more focused understanding of this new sector.

I decided to pursue my CAPM, Certified Associate in Project Management, as I was working with project managers. A CAPM helped me better understand and speak their language. Preparing for this exam was very different than earning my MBA. A certification or credential tests for specific knowledge and proficiency in a particular area or related areas. An advanced degree, on the other hand, focuses on building broad knowledge in a functional area, while strengthening critical-thinking and team-building skills.

With the required 5 years experience in not-for-profits under my belt, along with the experience of earning my CAPM, I was now qualified to sit for my CAE. If I thought pursuing my MBA and CAPM while working full time was hard, balancing the workload in a small association while preparing for the CAE exam was almost unbearable. There was no team to back me up at work. It would have been easy to put it off, thinking I would get to it one day. I got through, literally, a day at a time. I allocated most of my personal time to study.

In December of 2010, I earned my CAE. Yes, it was worth it for me, and professional development is essential for you as well. Whether you thinking about a certification or other training or education, it will always look insurmountable when you think of yourself as being alone. But the unifying thread between all of my post-baccalaureate achievements was the full support of my family and team members. I'm convinced that no one earns an advanced degree or credential on their own; it takes a village. I am grateful for my village, and I encourage those thinking of taking the plunge to look to their village for support too!


Hold hands, don't slap them

This Small Staff Week post is another from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association. This one is from Carol Meerschaert, who is their director of marketing and communications.

Like every association, the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) needs a website that speaks with one voice, not one that reads like it was written by 28 different people, even if it was. It doesn't really matter if you think the word should be written "e-mail" or "email;" what does matter is consistency. Is the event a "kick-off," "kickoff," or "kick off"? Is that flagship event a conference, annual meeting, or national meeting? How is everyone to know?

Ignorance is not bliss in communications, unless you love editing out the same errors ad naseum. The communications version of antacid is education for your staff and volunteers. Write, distribute, and reiterate constantly a set of clear communication guidelines. When I began to tire of correcting common errors in our member's writing, I asked my communications intern Julie Zeglan to write a blog post about writing. Her post, 21st Century Writing: From Typewriters to Keyboards is one of our most popular blog posts because it gently instructs the reader on the difference between the style of writing we use today and what was expected in the days of carbon paper and carriage returns. I often send a link to that post when I am working with a volunteer who is writing something for the HBA.

I also send our style guide (pdf). A style guide did not exist when I started working here, so I went right to HBA member Nancy Connelly who wrote a fantastic style HBA Style Guide. Getting volunteers to help write the guidelines not only gives you the help you need it increases buy-in from all members.

Guidance should be instructional, not punitive. Lower the fear; scared people make more mistakes. My Mom told me that one of the reasons she married my Dad was that she admired the way he could gently correct his little brothers and sisters when they did something wrong. He left them with their pride intact and feeling loved. Correct what you need to, but leave the writer with a very positive feeling, knowing that you appreciate their efforts.

Finally, fan the flames of good work. Lavish praise on what people do that is 'on strategy' and within your guidelines. Working in a small staff association where you are the entire communications department allows you to accomplish a great deal if you reach out and hold the hands of your volunteers.


May 26, 2011

Investing in volunteers

Nikki Jones is the director of finance and administration for the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, and is the latest author in Acronym's Small Staff Week.

If you are a staff member at a small staff association, I don't need to tell you that you can't do it all by yourself. I've been the staff director of finance and administration for the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for a year and a half and I can tell you that even if you are a department of one, you'd be wise to invest in the volunteers who are your unpaid staff.

The HBA's model blends a small paid staff with hundreds of volunteers across our 15 chapters. We offer them experiential leadership, meaning they have an opportunity to learn new skills in a safe and supportive environment. That is the professional advantage of HBA membership. What that means to me as a staff member is that my team of treasurers on the chapter boards vary greatly in accounting skills, and it is my job to support and nurture each one while maintaining business accounting standards.

Some of my chapter treasurers come with years of professional finance experience, others not so much. While my job is demanding, I always make time for training and supporting my volunteers. I think spending time up front training is a far better investment than cleaning up a mess later.

A piece of advice I offer is to invest in technology. After careful research we chose a cloud computing system that offers our chapters in-depth budget and finance information that each treasurer can access from a computer. We work with a bank that offers online banking. We have just instituted an online system for ordering marketing materials and stationery. I trained staff and volunteers to enter expenses, examine budgets, and track spending as they go. I also created step-by-step guides with screen shots where needed to serve as an initial training and ongoing resource for staff and volunteers. A large amount of time went into setting up these systems, but that investment will pay off in time saved in the future.

At HBA we offer both group and one-on-one training. Our Leadership Institute, offered each fall for volunteers, enables them to start their year of service with the knowledge and resources needed for success. One part of that day of training is a session where all chapter treasurers are trained together. This is our only face-to-face formal meeting, and it is great to have the volunteers meet each other. Each month I lead a conference call with all of them to discuss issues, share best practices, and offer support. We also use these calls to celebrate successes.

Another investment I made was to provide one-on-one training via web conferencing to each treasurer. This allowed me to gage their skills and, maybe more importantly, get to know each one as a person. This rapport is needed to assure each chapter treasurer feels she can come to me with questions or problems.

When it comes to finance, I'm gentle but firm. I'm responsible for the HBA's finances, and I take that seriously. My association counts on my expertise. I need to know that I can answer every query the auditors have each year at tax time.

I'm very busy, but never too busy to add to the investment I've made in the HBA volunteers. It gives me such great satisfaction to see my treasurers grow in skills and confidence as the year progresses. Being part of a small staff association is demanding and not always easy, but the rewards are truly great.


Working virtually: A benefit or a barrier?

Small Staff Week continues on Acronym... this post is from Laurie P. Cooke, CAE, CEO of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association.

As a very small-staff organization, starting with just me in 2006, I started out in a spare office in Philadelphia offered to me by a generous board member. When I found my first employee - a perfect hire - who lived in North Carolina and considering that the organization's members were spread across the U.S., I decided to try out the growing trend of working virtually. When the second hire - again a perfect hire - lived in yet another state, I accepted that this business model was something to embrace.

We now have 10 perfect-hire employees from northern New Jersey to North Carolina and each employee is working from their home office. This has allowed me to hire the best person for the job regardless of their geographic location. Having five years of working as a virtual organization, we are now well placed to reflect on the benefits and barriers that an association faces.

We have found many benefits to this arrangement including significantly lower overhead costs for office space and equipment; employees have the ability to work from home and manage their work-life activities with more control over their time and choices on priorities; and our multiple locations gives us more access to our members and chapter leaders with ability to attend events and have deeper relationships with volunteers.

We have found many barriers including technology challenges when an employee has technical issues and has to resolve much of this themselves which as non-technology folks can be time consuming and frustrating; difficulty to manage work-life balance because your work becomes your life as your office is in your home; and the ability to bond as a team when you are not co-located so no chance to share small talk over the water cooler.

What have you found to be the case working virtually - is it a benefit or a barrier?

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May 25, 2011

One small step for the busy executive

This Small Staff Week post is from Caryl Garais Tynan, director of membership services at the American College of Phlebology.

Small staff associations struggle with a huge list of duties, juggling multiple hats with limited resources, and time. Recently, I attended a time-mangement class, and they had great motivators and ideas, but one idea that stuck with me was an email management tool called RAFT.

The instructor said that we should strive to have clean in-boxes and regardless of how you manage your tasks with flags or by printing out emails, this principle can help you quickly get through to the core of your email/file system.

As many of you know, we hear many great ideas, but how many of them do we truly implement. My email intake is very large, so I decided to give it a shot.

RAFT stands for Refer, Action, File, or Throw away. The principle is to apply these four categories to each email and each piece of paper that hits your desk. It is simple, easy to implement, and, even though a messy desk is a sign of genius, this can change your work life. When I read email, I can refer it, which means to forward (or print and forward) then delete it. Emails that require action can be flagged (with a color) or printed for a to-do or action pile. When the action item is complete, it is either thrown away/deleted or filed for history. Emails that need to be saved for archive/history can be filed accordingly. Emails that are just simple responses or do not require referral, action or filing can be thrown away/deleted. This leaves your inbox virtually empty except for action items that are flagged.

I never thought it could happen, but my desk and email has reached a new organization level. Staff thought I was quitting because of the lack of paper on my desk. That made me chuckle.... keeps people on their toes. There are moments when I lax on the RAFT method, but quickly realize that I have to get back on track to keep my efficiency at a high level. This was just a 5 minute portion of the day-long, time-management presentation, but it made the entire meeting worth while. It is hard to find what works for you, but when you do find it, you can't help but share the wealth!

The RAFT method is a survival technique that is integral to my organization. I hope it works for you.

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Small staff organization, big staff workload

Small Staff Week continues with this post by Amy Guzewicz, membership coordinator at the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators.

Small staff organizations have their perks; the large workload isn't one of them. One of the most wonderful things about my organization, to me, is the size. This gives me the opportunity to expand my skills, knowledge, and expertise in ways in which I would never have the opportunity at a large organization. However, having a small staff organization can also be a negative thing.

Don't get me wrong, small staff associations shouldn't be saddled with a negative connotation. In regards to workload, however, working at an organization with only a few staff can be challenging at times.

I work for a company of two organizations: one is the parent organization and one is the child organization. I work for the child organization--a staff of five, including the executive director. Together, our two organizations put on our annual congress and symposium every year.

One of the most frustrating things that large staff organizations don't realize (a parent company, for example) is that while the small staff organization may only have 5 people, each of us is critical to our organization and we carry a very full workload that often spans across content boundaries (network in the small organization circles and you're going to run across the government relations-IT-HR person or the editor-marketing-membership-designer person).

Because the workload is just as intense as at a larger organization, and because of the variety of roles thrust on each staff, our work lives can seem chaotic. Workers at small staff associations have to be ruthless in their approach to organizing their work. We have spent considerable time developing systems to keep our staff organized--and happily the effort is noticed. However, it remains chaotic. Just when things seem to be coming into balance, something new will fall onto our plates. Being rigorous in our approach to organizing is the only hope.

Related to the workload, a second frustration is innovation. We are a bright, creative staff, and we come up with tons of interesting ideas. I'm not exaggerating--we literally have file cabinet drawers labeled "Projects 2012 and on." We love jumping on new projects and bringing them through to a final product or service. Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of the work we do, and I'm constantly amazed at all that we are able to accomplish (thanks in no small way to staying organized). But I still think about the ideas in the drawer; the things we could accomplish if there was more human capital to work on them.

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May 24, 2011

Building a culture of acknowledgement in your association

This Small Staff Week post is by Peggy Hoffman, CAE, owner of Mariner Management, an association management company and consulting firm:

A little while ago I read Patricia Morgan's post "To Appreciate, First Acknowledge" on SmartBlog on Workforce and felt as though the message was doubling important for those of us in the small staff association world. You see while it focused on paid staff, it hit the nail on the head for unpaid staff too. And as we in small staff org know, our unpaid staff is as critical to us and to achieving our mission as our paid staff.

She points out a curious statistic from "How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life," that indicated 65% of Americans say they receive no recognition at work. That's not unlike what we've heard from volunteers via ASAE's Decision To Volunteer study. We saw that while the issue of acknowledgement wasn't a deal breaker, it also wasn't seen as a done deal. Volunteers rated it a C+ when asked how satisfied they were with it. When I've asked association execs how they feel they do, they say of course we acknowledge our volunteers. Interesting, the employers said the same about paid staff.

I wonder if that last belief is simply a case of not being in tune. If you run a Volunteer Appreciation Day or program or event, you are likely to think you've got it covered. Same if you regularly do a thank you to volunteers in your newsletter. But acknowledgment at that level is much like our "call for volunteers" - it's a task list item, a basic. As volunteers told us in DTV, a "call" is not asking me to volunteer. A direct, personal request is asking. A direct, personal recognition is the same idea.

Patricia makes the observation "appreciation has the biggest impact when it is given randomly," drawing from B.F. Skinner's discovery that random reinforcement more strongly anchors behaviors than consistent reward. I'd add that it's not just that it's random, but that it usually means it is also personal. Stepping up to a more meaningful level of acknowledge really means creating a culture of acknowledgement in our associations. This rich culture is characterized by both the task list items like the Volunteer Appreciation Day or thank you's in our newsletters and the random acts.

Patricia offers her 10 tips for building a culture and I'd add to those:

  • Be sure to attribute ideas, tips, editing help, resources, quotes to members - even the smallest ones, e.g. "this article was culled from conversations with ...."
  • Incent your staff to "pay if forward" by giving them a budget or supply closet of trinkets and thank you's they can use at will to acknowledge volunteer efforts - and then make them accountable to use them.

For some more reward & recognition ideas, check out High Performers Have Enough Coffee Mugs.

How are creating a culture of recognition in your org - for paid and unpaid staff?

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The nimble advantage

Small Staff Week continues on Acronym... this post is from Joseph Normandy, executive director of the Vermont Insurance Agents Association.

Small associations, thy name is nimble...

How many times have you heard that? What? Never? I get it, but it's very true.

I have run both large and small groups, and the advantage small groups have for a quality exec is that you get to touch each operation point and trust each employee that shoulders the various efforts.

That is where the long-range plan comes into play. Created by current leadership, past chairpersons, and staff, this critical give-and-take session will separate the pie-in-the sky dreams from the realistic goals a small staff and small budget can accomplish (and they should be able to accomplish a lot, or you have the wrong team). Small organizations do have resource constraints but being nimble in those long-range plans is a huge advantage. You're not dragging around all the momentum that a large organization carries with it. Often, a large organization will lose focus because an elected leader will see it as "their" year and they are going to adjust the ship in a different direction and thus any long-range planning document is useful only as a doorstop. Small staff organizations can build flexibility into their planning; they can analyze their environments and change appropriately with staff and elected leadership working together to chart the best course. The key is planning smartly.

You want to have a good year, your staff wants to have a sense of success, and surely your leadership team, especially your chairman/president, wants a good year, and that can only be achieved through a working long-range plan. Such a working plan is one that everyone follows and is flexible enough to enable the organization to capitalize on circumstances, but provides enough guidance and support to thwart outcries from singular individuals that want the group to address their pet issues.

Being nimble is fun, and used wisely, it is one of the greatest advantages of working for a small association.

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May 23, 2011

The advantages of knowing how to cook a burger

The first post for the Small Staff Week on Acronym is by Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, deputy director, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Be sure to read all the posts from the week.

Last year Joe Rominiecki blogged about the CBS TV show Undercover Boss and posed a question to small staff association executives: is there an advantage to being more familiar with the work of the staff because of the size and lack of resources in a small staff association? Or would you prefer to hire someone to man the burger and fries station while you handle the "typical" duties of the CEO?

In the time that I've worked for a small staff association, I have found myself juggling the duties of a full-time Communications Director, Membership Director, Acting Executive Director, Social Media Guru, Trade Show Coordinator, Conference Planner, and Dog Behavior Consultant (Ok, I work for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, so that last one is not as odd as you think!) While I would love to have a large enough staff that could handle all these duties so that I could find out what that thing called "sleep" is, I think the experience of being able to understand your association from the ground up is invaluable.

For one thing, I believe anything that helps you gain empathy for your staff's day to day realities keeps one humble and open to taking input from all levels of your staff. Years ago in my first jobs after college, I hated working as an administrative/executive assistant, but now I look back and see those years as the best sort of training ground for learning how to think on your feet and solve problems quickly. When our association creates new programs and membership benefits, the plans are circulated to all our staff, from administrative assistants to directors, so that we can determine how the program will affect the membership and the association through everyone's eyes and experiences.

Another advantage is that I find small staff association personnel tend to have a strong grasp of the bigger picture of an association because, while they have their own specific duties to focus on, such as accounting or marketing, they are not as ensconced in those areas as staff in larger associations can be. The constant exposure to issues outside their own particular sphere, whether it be membership retention or marketing the annual conference or using social media, tends to create staff who consider all departments when making decisions and builds a stronger sense of mission for the organization. I've experienced less turf battles in my small staff association than in larger organizations and more cohesion among the staff.

Of course there are obvious disadvantages. The constant influx of work and need to multitask as an executive director can be exhausting, and the lack of resources and points of view can contribute to an insular world view when it comes to your association. Given the choice, I prefer knowing how to cook a burger, or in our case, handle a membership phone call, do the page layout for our latest member magazine, or answer a reporter's question about the best way to house train Fluffy.

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Small association staff week

We've got another themed week for you here on Acronym--this time we've asked people who work at associations with 10 or fewer staff to provide guest posts. We've got several posts over the next few days offering this perspective, including several from different staff at the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association out of Fairfield, NJ.

We may have a post or two this week from outside the theme; you can access all the ones from this week in the Small Staff Week 2011 category (will add the link after this is posted). I'll be putting them all in the system, but each one lead with a quick identification of the author.

As always, please jump in and provide your thoughts, tips, and experiences--we welcome conversations on Acronym!