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March 29, 2012

Quick clicks: March 29, 2012

Missed our regularly scheduled "Quick clicks" post last week, so we're catching up on three weeks of association management reading this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Collaboration. Jason Hensel shares a psychological study that points to one pitfall of collaboration: overconfidence.

Learning. Jeff Hurt describes the "complex and fragile" process in which learners absorb (or don't absorb) information in a lecture. (And, on a side note, this post features what is possibly the greatest piece of blog art I've ever seen.)

Membership. Anna Caraveli points to, of all things, a cement and building-materials corporation to illustrate the future of membership: "Helping Members and their Communities Succeed."

Leadership development. Mark Golden, FASAE, CAE, writes that associations are taking the wrong approach to attracting the next generation of leaders: "[I]t seems to me, what actually happens is the established board, made up of more seasoned and experienced individuals,  is looking for ways to get the next generation to change, not the system."

More leadership development. Judith Lindenau shares her experience with the "shooting fish in a barrel" style of nominations committees and suggest several ways to transform nominations into true leadership development.

Authority. Jamie Notter writes that the end of the Encyclopedia Britannica's print edition signals a larger trend relevant to associations: being the sole arbiter of authoritative information is a thing of the past.

Self-organization. Maggie McGary asks "If Your Members Organize Their Own Committee, Are You Failing Them?"

Compensation. Laura Otten urges nonprofit executive directors "to be the advocate for his/her employees, and to make the case for improved salaries."

Leadership. Brian Reuwee adds some thoughts to the eternal question, "Who Should Manage Your Organization? Industry Experts vs. Association Experts."

Social media staffing. Ryan Crowe (a grad student at the University of Missouri writing at SocialFish) thinks "engagement" has turned into useless jargon. "Do not let someone get away with just saying "engage". Ask them what they mean by it - and make sure the answer is relevant to your business or needs," he writes.

Marginalized members. Ever feel like your members are lashing out at you, like an angry raccoon? Shelly Alcorn, CAE, suggests that perhaps you, the association, put your members in that position through your own actions.

Components. Cynthia D'Amour suggests that a failing chapter might not be a sign of low demand or a dying model; its leadership may just need better training.

Web strategy. Ray van Hilst offers some tips to make sure your association's website doesn't get thrown out in your members' "digital spring cleaning."

Demographics. Seth Godin says "fifty is the new thirty." How does that affect your membership marketing?

Hybrid events. Celisa Steele shares some data from a forthcoming report that shows the majority of associations (about 75 percent) that have offered virtual events are linking those virtual events to in-person events.

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March 27, 2012

Enrich the lives of your members

Great Ideas 2012"Your members don't care about your association. They care about themselves."

This was my favorite quote from Carmine Gallo, the closing general session speaker Tuesday morning at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference. Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Power of Foursquare, shared a range of inspiring lessons from innovative companies, Apple chief among them.

We've all heard countless examples of the genius of Apple and Steve Jobs, but Gallo did a nice job showing association professionals how the lessons from those examples can be applied to their associations. Most emphatically, he urged associations to ask themsevles how they can help their members achieve their dreams.

Gallo pointed to the vision for Apple products and stores: not to sell computers, but to enrich lives. It's that relentless focus on the customer experience that makes Apple so successful (one of the reasons, at least).

For example, I don't like my iPhone because Apple made it, or because it's shiny and chic. I love it because it helps me stay more connected with friends and family, gives me faster access to information, and even helps me be more creative. Think of every iPhone or iPad commercial you've seen; they always show people doing things with them, like finding a nearby restaurant or creating music or video-conferencing with family. That's how lives are enriched.

And so the lesson for you as an association professional is to think beyond benefits. Think outcomes. Think dreams. Whatever will enrich the lives or professional careers of your members, that's where you should focus. Help your members achieve their dreams, and they'll love you for it.

For more insights from Carmine Gallo, see Kristin Clarke's interview with him, "The Game of Life: Engaging Members Through Foursquare."

Flickr photo by ahissrich.

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Tweets from #ideas12, day 2

Another day at the 2012 Great Ideas Conference provided countless thought-provoking tweets with the #ideas12 hashtag. Here is a sampling of what you can find on the full hashtag stream.













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March 26, 2012

Big lessons from small presentations

Great Ideas 2012 Ignite

Lowell Aplebaum shares "Associations Lessons from Dr. Seuss."

At the Great Ideas Ignite session Monday evening at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference, an audience member described the Ignite presentation format as "the Twitter of presentations." Speakers must keep their messages to five minutes long, with 20 auto-advancing slides to accompany, so that description is a good one.

In that spirit, I'll share a lesson from each Ignite presentation tonight, and I'll keep them nice and short.

"What Seven Jobs at Three Associations has Taught Me." Beau Ballinger, certification programs manager, Investment Management Consultants Association. Among Beau's lessons learned: be passionate. You have the responsibility as an association professional to act with as much passion as your members do, he said.

"So What if it Feels Uncomfortable?" Elizabeth Brisson, association and affinity marketing consultant, MetLife. In her life, Liz has overcome fears of flying, public speaking, and heights. But she says she always remembers that, if you are growing, you will always be out of your comfort zone.

"Speaking of Great Ideas." Christine Smith, CEO, Boxwood. Christine shared five ways associations can recognize their staff and members and closed with this note about the importance of recognition: "Think about a time you were recognized for a job well done and how it felt, and ask yourself when was last time you made your employees feel that way."

"Associations--Let's Date First." Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA, president, Meeting Change. Mariela likened the association-member relationship to a courtship. She said she would never date someone who sent her a lot of email spam, and that she doesn't like it when her significant other [association] forgets about her when someone new [prospective member] shows up.

"What Attending Eleven Different Schools Taught Me About Change." Shelly Alcorn, CAE, principal, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting. Shelly moved a lot in her childhood, and she said the ups and downs through that experience taught her that change can be: empowering, enlightening, stifling, courageous, chaotic, overwhelming, defining, accepted, inevitable, and survivable.

"Quick PR Tips and Tricks: Lessons from Teen Idols." Adele Cehrs, president, Epic PR Group. Adele loves Elvis, and she pointed to several of his qualities that association PR pros can learn from. My favorite: embrace imitators.

"Associations Lessons from Dr. Seuss." Lowell Aplebaum, director, membership & councils, International Facility Management Association. From reading bedtime stories to his son, Lowell has learned some association lessons. He reinvisioned a Dr. Seuss classic as "Green Eggs and the Private Social Media Site," and turned a rhyme that encouraged associations to build member buy-in for a private social networking platform rather than forcing it upon them.

As is custom for Ignite, the presentations were video recorded. Check them out on the Great Ideas Conference website or ASAE's YouTube channel.

Flickr photo by ahissrich.

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Can you change your association's culture?


Organizational culture is a hot topic at Great Ideas this year. In a well-attended Idea Lab session Monday, attendees took a look at both the ideal and the real.

Led by Jodie Slaughter, FASAE, of McKinley Advisors, the group started by listing characteristics of an association culture they aspired to: one that is "professional without being stodgy," collaborative, respectful, and helmed by leaders who value inclusiveness, ensuring that all members and staff have opportunities to contribute to the mission.

Then came the reality check. With Slaughter's guidance, attendees undertook an assessment of their own organization's culture, ultimately determining which of four types it most resembled (described by Bruce Tharp in his white paper, Organizational Culture):


  • The Clan: a collaborative culture

  • The Adhocracy: a culture marked by creativity, innovation, and risk-taking

  • The Market: a culture driven by competition

  • The Heirarchy: a controlled culture that puts a premium on stability

"There's no right or wrong culture," Slaughter said. "There's only whether the culture fits the mission of the organization."

But when the two don't fit, how to bring change, especially when culture is ingrained in an organization? Some attendees questioned the ability of association staff other than the CEO to change the organization's culture; others suggested that the belief that change can only come from the top is itself a cultural assumption.

Although an organization's chief executive and top volunteers clearly have the most leverage to bring about change, "cultural influencers need not be those officially in charge," Slaughter said.

Ultimately, she said, "culture is largely a function of what you pay attention to. It's changed by what you measure and monitor. That's what your organization values." For example, she asked, does your organization pay as much attention to staff retention as member retention? Should it?

And pretty talk about fostering a healthy culture has to be supported by action and modeling. "You cannot fake it. You have to embody the values that you want to promote," Slaughter said.

Does your organization know what kind of culture it needs to accomplish its mission? Does it walk the talk? And can positive change be a grassroots effort, or does it have to come from the top? Tell us what you think.

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Learning to measure the value of next-generation learning

I sat in on two Idea Labs in the "Next Generation Learning" track this morning at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference, and in each one, a comment from the audience near the end of the session captured the challenges associations face in adopting new methods for professional development.

In the first session, "Next Generation Learning: Five-Minute Forecasts of the Future of Learning," five presenters each shared one emerging or evolving form of professional development practices. At the end, the audience was polled for which form it thought associations are most likely to adopt, and "bite-size education"—learning that is broken into shorter, more manageable and brain-friendly chunks—came out on top, compared to open-source education, changes in face-to-face programming, or hybrid events. When asked why, one audience member said she thinks bite-size education is most likely because it poses the least risk.

In the following session, "Next Generation Learning: Informal & Social Learning," professional host and moderator Glenn Thayer led participants in discussions on how to engage members in learning from each other. He shared Marcia Conner's definition of social learning as "participating with others to make sense of new ideas." (Kudos to the leaders of both of these sessions, by the way, as they both embraced that philosophy, with far more two-way group discussion than one-way presentation.)

Participants shared examples of online platforms for event attendees to connect pre- and post-conference, networking events that allow attendees to learn from each other, and learning sessions that embrace open-ended conversations. At the end of the session, one participant asked if anyone else in the group was measuring the return on investment of these social-learning features, specifically, in their conference evaluations, but no one said yes.

These comments made it clear that the nefarious "we've always done it that way" attitude remains a road block on the path to the future of association learning. Like any change from the norm, new forms of learning, and particularly the shift of an association's role from source of knowledge to facilitator of connections, will cause a sense of risk. But "just because it's the new wave" is never quite enough to overcome that risk.

Rather, solid metrics that show the positive outcomes of these new formats are essential. If you expand networking time at an event, are you asking attendees in post-conference surveys if they learned something valuable in conversations with fellow attendees during that time? If you build an online group for attendees to connect in advance of an event, are you asking them if those connections enhanced the value of attending?

As with any form of experimentation with new products or services, measuring the value of new learning formats can help combat the inevitable uncertainty that will arise. I'm curious if your association is measuring the ROI of new learning formats it has tried? If so, please share.

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Tweets from #ideas12, day 1

The #ideas12 hashtag on Twitter was hard at work yesterday as attendees converged on Colorado Springs, Colorado for the 2012 Great Ideas Conference. Below is a sample of the insight and wisdom you can find on the full hashtag stream.












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March 25, 2012

A better culture, from the top and bottom

burnsdorsey.jpg

Two afternoon Idea Labs on the first day of ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference offered different ideas on improving the organizational culture at an association.

First, in his session titled "Straight Talk: Creating a Culture of Creativity, Openness and Honesty," Larry Johnson, co-author of Absolute Honesty: Building a Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity, explained six rules for achieving a more honest culture:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Tackle the problem
  3. Disagree and commit
  4. Welcome the truth
  5. Reward the messenger
  6. Build a platform of integrity

The rules are all straightforward, but throughout the presentation, Johnson emphasized the importance of the leader's role in setting the example and building the culture. He asked the audience to finish the sentence "I would be more effective working with [insert colleague's name here] if...". Often, the responses Johnson hears begin with "he" or "she," but he said an effective leader completes that sentence beginning with "I." And he said building an honest culture is a manager's responsibility, like it or not. When you become a manager, you become a "famous person" and a role model. "Do you realize there are dinner conversations about you?" he said.

Later, presenters Nora Burns, SPHR, and Mark Dorsey, FASAE, CAE (pictured above), illustrated how "A Strategic Approach to Association Staffing" can improve the culture of an association.

Dorsey, executive director and CEO of the American Association of Snowboard Instructors and Professional Ski Instructors of America, shared how PSIA-AASI has broken down silos by revamping its hiring process. Burns, principal of Insightful Endeavors International, conducted an assessment of the PSIA-AASI staff using a profiling tool called Emergenetics to identify gaps in work styles and personality traits among the staff overall.

The organization used that information to decide what skills and values it needed to evolve among its staff in order to meet its mission, and it seeks those skills in new hires rather than simply filling the position based on technical skills alone. It has also incorporated more staff into the hiring process so that the people who make up the organization's culture play a key role in shaping its future.

While this new approach to hiring was a decision guided by Dorsey at the top, it shows how focusing on organization-wide, bottom-up skills and values can change the culture.

These two approaches to organizational culture, one focusing on the leader and one focusing on the ground-level staff, come from different directions, but I don't think either is right or wrong or better than the other. Rather, with culture being such an intangible, constantly evolving challenge, I think you need both.

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Open your beginner's mind


kao piano small.jpgHello, Acronym readers. Julie Shoop here, reporting to you from the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, now in full swing in Colorado Springs. This is my first Acronym post, so it's only fitting that I'm writing this with my beginner's mind switched on.

Let me explain: I'm a relative newbie to ASAE (having joined the staff as Associations Now editor-in-chief nine months ago), a first-timer at Great Ideas, and a complete rookie blogger. So imagine how perfectly right it felt to spend an hour this afternoon listening to self-described "innovation activist" John Kao tell attendees at the Opening General Session that one of the keys to organizational innovation is to adopt "the beginner's mind"--an attitude free of preconceptions, a mindset that says, I don't know, and that's OK.

Hey, I thought, he's talking to me. I suspect most of the 600 other folks in the room, who may have some misgivings about trying whatever scary new thing they know they really need to do back at the office, were thinking the same thing.

Tackling the new and different, Kao said, means getting comfortable with improvisation, a little dissonance, and the idea that you'll never be finished practicing.

The music metaphor wasn't accidental. Kao, chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation and a former professor at Harvard Business School, is also an accomplished jazz pianist, and he draws a direct parallel between the work of jazz improvisation and innovation of all kinds. In an interesting twist for a keynote address, Kao shared the stage with a grand piano, which he used to show his audience the difference between following a set of rules or instructions--the "sheet music"--and improvising to create something far more pleasing and valuable.

You had to hear it to really get it, but imagine the difference between your perfectly workmanlike rendering of a familiar old standard and, say, what Miles Davis would do with it.

"What's going on is a powerful illustration of innovation as a capability," Kao said, after using the piano keyboard to create his own version of "All The Things You Are," displayed above him in its sheet music form. "Innovation is a series of capabilities that allows the creation of a desired future. Practice builds the capability."

In organizations, as in jazz, he said, being innovative without being random or chaotic means finding the sweet spot: managing the "creative tension between risk taking and risk avoidance."

"People have the misconception about improvised music that the musician is just playing whatever they feel like," Kao said. "Jazz is not the absence of structure. It's the balance between structure and freedom, between what you have and what you're reaching for, between your expertise and your beginner's mind."

We all have organizational "sheet music"--our org charts, our standard operating procedures, our meeting agendas. We need those, but they can become straitjackets. To break free, Kao said, organizations need to create workspaces separate from their mainstream activity where innovative ideas can emerge and be explored, unencumbered by business as usual. Organizations need Charlie Parker's woodshed. (Read more of Kao's thinking on organizational structures that promote innovation in this recent interview in Associations Now.)

In other words, even though associations may become experts in doing certain things, they need to develop a culture where the beginner's is mind alive and well.

"It's important to learn the sheet music and the harmonies," Kao said, "but after you've learned them, it's equally important to throw them away."

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March 22, 2012

The Word on Associations and the Economy in 2012

Meh.

I don't like that word. Whenever somebody uses it to describe how they responded to a movie or TV show, I figure they're being a little too quick to dismiss something, or too timid to admit they enjoyed it. But for the past month or so I've been looking at some findings from two recent ASAE Foundation economy studies, and the strongest conclusion I can draw is that you---association members and staff alike---are feeling pretty meh about things.

You can read the PDF that the ASAE Foundation published last week on the findings from two surveys, one of association CEOs, another of members. (Previous studies and more resources are at www.asaecenter.org/economy.) I'll call out just a few details from the survey to show why I'm detecting some meh-ness going around:

  • A larger proportion of CEOs (39.9 percent) expect total revenue to increase in 2012, which is good news. But the uptick is only slight: 36.5 percent of CEOs felt that way looking ahead to 2011, after stronger growth in previous years.
  • Members are less worried about layoffs, about their employers not paying their dues, and about travel cutbacks. But they're also less likely to feel their association is responding effectively to a down economy, and less likely to feel that their association is providing them with tools to help weather it.
  • Attendance at multiday tradeshows is up, but attendance at all other association events is down compared to last year. For instance, the percentage of members who said they attended a program that was one day or shorter dropped from 62.6 percent to 56 percent.
  • Robust revenue growth in most categories has been hard to come by, and many association CEOs are banking on online education growth without much evidence that there's revenue to be had in that area. For instance, a majority of execs (56.8 percent) expect increased revenue from online education programs, but only 35.9 percent actually experienced increased revenue from them last year.

How does that jibe with what you're seeing? Are you feeling optimistic as we move deeper into 2012? Pessimistic? What bright spots are you seeing to counter a general mood of meh-ness?

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March 14, 2012

Who Owns an Idea?

I had an idea yesterday. Came up with it all by myself!

I confess it's not a brilliant idea---I was just thinking I should rake the leaves that have piled up in my backyard over the winter, now that it's warmer out. Well, I guess it's not really my idea, come to think of it; recent visitors to my untidy, leaf-strewn backyard have shot me looks suggesting to me that, yes, raking the lawn would be a very good idea indeed. And isn't it arrogant of me to think that this whole raking-leaves business is something I came up with? I can't really claim the ingeniousness required to invent a device instilled with so much domestic utility and obvious slapstick hilarity.

What I mean to say is, identifying who came up with an idea can get messy. Not crediting that person can get messier.

I have all this in mind after reading about the Curators Code, a supremely well-intentioned and surely doomed proposal to get people to behave better when it comes to citing sources online. The idea, co-created by Maria Popova (whose Brain Pickings website I couldn't recommend more highly), is largely motivated by the rise of ruthless aggregators that have a habit of taking other sites' content, summarizing it, and, placing the link to the original source somewhere in the web equivalent of deepest Antarctica.

"Discovery of information is a form of intellectual labor," Popova told an audience at the South by Southwest Interactive conference last week. "When we don't honor discovery, we are robbing somebody's time and labor. The Curator's Code is an attempt to solve some of that." Right here, according to the Curator's Code, I am obliged to place a sideways "s" to show that I pulled this quote from a New York Times article, and that I was not actually in Austin at South by Southwest myself, scribbling notes. It its allegedly easy to insert this sideways "s," but I'm still not going to do it. I have my old-fashioned way of crediting---linking and stating the source---and I'm sticking with it.

That said, the announcement of the Curator's Code provides an opportunity to think about how we credit people for their ideas, online or off. We've all been burned on this front, I suspect: The proposal made in a meeting that somehow became a superior's genius move six months later; the casual thought related at a cocktail party that somebody ran with and made a bundle on; the blog post that got all but thieved by an aggregator, which in turn inspired clunky new crediting system that gets dismissed and mocked. Uncredited ideas fill courts with cases and cubicles with fuming employees.

There is no correct system for crediting people with the ideas they have. But there is an incorrect one, which is not crediting people at all. To his, well, credit, Simon Dumenco noted that his idea to launch a Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation, also announced at South by Southwest, was inspired by guidelines promoted by the American Society of Magazine Editors. (Please read Maggie McGary's smart take on this, asking why the initiative didn't come from ASME itself.) So what works when it comes to crediting members and staffers with ideas---and, perhaps more important, how do you mend fences when somebody feels their ideas were poached?

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March 8, 2012

Quick clicks: March 8, 2012

Two weeks ago, I titled the last quick clicks post "So hot right now edition." As I discovered later, that's the same title I gave to a quick clicks post last July. So, it seems I'm running out of clever (well, if you consider a Zoolander quote to be clever) titles for quick clicks posts. Perhaps more telling, no one seemed to notice. And as the association blogosphere continues to expand and diversify, finding a theme among a mix of posts to serve as a title is increasingly difficult. So, from now on we'll just label quick clicks posts with a date. While the titles will be a less interesting, the blog posts and articles shared will remain as compelling as ever. Enjoy.

Shareworthiness. Deirdre Reid, CAE, offers several suggestions on generating content that your members will want to share with their colleagues and peers.

Board management. Brian Reuwee rounds up advice from several association pros on how to fight board apathy.

Bad management. In The Washington Post, the authors of The Progress Principle provide a quick, four-step process on "How to completely, utterly destroy an employee's work life."

Member demand. Rather than you asking questions of your members, Craig Hornick suggests the opposite: "[O]ne of the first steps to becoming a demand-driven organization is to … provide a means through which customers, staff, partners, and volunteers can ask as many questions as possible."

Social media and HR. Mark Alcorn offers some words of caution to managers who see social media as an easy way to check a prospective employee's background.

Portable content. Mark Armstrong, founder of Longreads, explains how, perhaps counterintuitively, mobile technology is giving online content a longer shelf life (as long as it's good content).

Online community. Terry Coatta gives three tips for associations that have built an online community for their members but have struggled to drive participation.

Career development. Rosetta Thurman says blogging can help you advance your nonprofit career and lists 16 different ways.

LinkedIn. Susan Kistler explains how the American Evaluation Association analyzes its member engagement on LinkedIn with the platform's Group Stats Dashboard.

Content strategy. Steve Drake makes a case for the reuse and repurposing of content in the "oldies but goodies" category.

Advocacy. Joshua Paul explains how an online community platform can be used to support and advance an association's advocacy agenda.

Member participation. Jeffrey Cufaude relays some more lessons learned from the Super Bowl experience in Indianapolis, this time showing how great event activities appeal to a simple human desire: "people just want to be a part of the action."

Facebook Timeline for Pages. If your association has a Facebook Page (or wants to build one), you should check out these posts for more advice now that Timeline has been rolled out to Pages:

Agility. Someone asked Jamie Notter what would be the top benefit of an association becoming more human, in one word. His answer: agility.

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March 7, 2012

Are Your Internships the "Best on Earth?"

I'm sure I'm not the only parent scrambling to set up a summer full of camps, nanny-sharing, sibling-sitting, and bartering in order to cover childcare for the summer months. For those parents with high school and college-age kids, though, the key word is "internship."

Thus, I had to laugh when I saw Sierra Club's funny "Best Internship on Earth" video pitch, designed to recruit older students and young adults to help with everything from trail maintenance to nature education.

I wondered how many organizations--whether associations looking for project assistance this summer or charities needing event volunteers--had taken time to develop creative outreach materials about their internships. I can tell you: Not many. Interns have the strike against them that they are temporary employees and therefore can be worked hard, cheaply, and without too much thought.

As a veteran of many internships in my younger days, I can say that the while the experiences of working briefly in various organizations vary wildly, the impressions made by those companies and nonprofits on me have lasted a long time and have been discussed with many people. Are you leaving your interns with terrific memories of their short time with you? What are they saying to their friends--your potential future employees--once the summer or fall comes?

Make it "good gossip" by asking the intern what he or she hopes to gain from the experience and what he or she most enjoys doing (talking to people? Problem-solving? Working on a team? Generating ideas and then being given appropriate freedom to execute them? "Trying out" a career in association work?). Try to ensure that at least half of the internship allows the individual to do those things while still completing your necessary work.

Give lots of feedback--frequently! Make the person feel like a welcome addition rather than another chore competing for your time. Listen and ask questions. An objective set of eyes and suggestions may be just what's needed to make a project exceed expectations.

Watch the Sierra Club video and think about what you might do to generate buzz and excitement (humor doesn't hurt either) about an often-underpaid temp job. You never know when you may be working side by side with that person on a much more long-term basis.

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March 6, 2012

Dude, that association is so flawsome!

The latest trend profiled on trendwatching.com is titled "Flawsome." Despite the painful portmanteau, it has some interesting implications for associations. (Hat tip to Jeffrey Cufaude for pointing me trendwatching.com.)

Trendwatching defines "flawsome" as such:

"Consumers don't expect brands to be flawless. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are flawsome: brands that are still brilliant despite having flaws; even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity."

This idea builds on Mark Athitakis' post in January, "Resolved: Embrace Your Messes," in which he suggested that "Maybe this is the year you stop trying so hard to apply order to things and instead spend more time acknowledging life's inherent messiness."

I see this idea as a welcome but tricky one for associations to follow. At face value, consumers embracing an organization's flaws seems like it can only be positive for associations because, well, every association has them. But there's a limit to how flawed something can be, beyond which it's just crummy.

Knowing exactly where that line is located is likely more art than science, and to venture near it comes with some challenges that present themselves in unique ways for associations:

Human versus haphazard. One danger I see for associations is in equating being under-resourced with being flawed. Consumers will embrace flaws when they're the result of being human, not when they're the result of haphazard execution. In other words, you can't aim high, miss by a mile, roll out the product anyway, and then hope your members will understand "because we're a nonprofit."

Two different audiences. Associations have their engaged members and their mailbox members, and the degree to which each will embrace an association's flaws is likely to vary greatly. The engaged are more likely to know and understand the challenges the association faces and likely already put a human face on the organization because they've directly interacted with its people, both staff and volunteers. Mailbox members might see the association from a distance, as a monolithic brand that they judge by the same criteria they judge any other brand, for-profit or non.

More people equals more messiness. An association brand is a particularly squirrely beast because it's built upon the value of a community. The community is the brand, and vice versa. There's inherent value there, of course, but it also makes for a lot more inconsistency or non-uniformity to embrace.

Trendwatching briefly hinted at one strategy for embracing flaws at varying levels, suggesting that "many brands could learn lessons from the software industry and their 'beta' approach. Customers will of course often appreciate and even enjoy helping you improve." I certainly agree. I also know a few members of the association community who would have some recommendations on how to be flawsome. But I'm also curious for your recommendations. Does your association try to embrace its flaws? How have you presented that message to your members and customers?

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