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June 29, 2012

Aiming for the wrong goals

Here's a list of words that sound great but are extraneous to your mission: first, most, fastest, tallest, biggest, loudest, easiest.

These words can be distracting. You see them often on trophies and blue ribbons and press releases. But they're superficial, especially for a mission-driven organization.

Thursday around 10 a.m. eastern time, major media outlets were reporting the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act. They all wanted to be first. They wanted it bad. So much so that some of them even got it dead wrong. And they even nitpicked over who was first by mere seconds.

Later in the day, American Journalism Review's Rem Rieder asked the right question: Who cares?

"[T]here's no doubt the scoop is a time-honored tradition in journalism. Breaking a big story is a big deal. … But worrying about being first on reporting something that is handed to you and everyone else? By 24 seconds? To borrow the Gail Collinsism, I think I speak for everyone when I say, it's really not important. Worse than that, it's dangerous."

This is a prime example of forgetting what matters most. Or not noticing when what matters most changes. For media in the age of Twitter, chasing breaking news is a fool's errand; it's harder than ever to do, and the returns for doing it are less than ever. Time does not honor traditions forever.

Associations can heed an important lesson here. Don't get lost in the traditional metrics: more members, more attendees, more web visits, more ads, and so on. These can all be indicators of success, but they're not goals on their own. If your mission is to advance your profession or effect some specific social change, you have to decide first whether more members will help you reach that goal. In some cases, it might not. A relentless focus on more members or more attendees could lead to results that undermine your mission. Do you have the resources to support more members? Do all those new attendees have interests and needs different from what you're able to provide?

Focus first on what matters most: your mission. Then act in alignment with those goals. Most, first, and fastest won't always be what gets you there.

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June 28, 2012

Quick clicks: June 28, 2012


  • Andrea Pellegrino takes a couple swings at the association governance model: "The practice of allowing a small group of atypical members to 'drive' the association is helping to drive many organizations toward irrelevance and decline."
  • Steven Worth says association governance is growing more difficult because technology is fracturing groups into smaller and more numerous "tribes."
  • I was hoping someone would draw some lessons for associations from the controversy at the University of Virginia. Mark Golden, FASAE, CAE, came through: "Thirty-plus years in the association business has taught me that a board needs more than just the legal authority to take action … it needs to get buy-in from enough of its constituency to make the decision stick, and the UVa Board of Visitors clearly failed in this regard."

Online community. Ben Martin, CAE, explains the prevailing trends in naming practices among associations for their private online community platforms.

Legal trouble. Citing a case of a Realtors association being sued, Judith Lindenau shares some tips for associations to avoid becoming the target of a lawsuit.

Diversity and inclusion. Joe Gerstandt writes that a lot of people miss the point of D&I: "Inclusion is not the goal. Greatness. That is the goal. Inclusion is simply something that can help us get there."

Volunteer management. Jeffrey Cufaude proposes a model for associations to pre-qualify volunteers to create a "pool of available talent; and their skills, interests, and availability captured in a searchable database to facilitate matching them with current and future opportunities."

Membership marketing. Tony Rossell says the latest MGI benchmarking study shows "an alarming lack of using even the basic marketing measurement tools available" among associations.

Data security. Is your association PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant? Shannon Otto offers a rundown of the potential risks and shares a useful infographic.

Social media ROI. Dwayne Flinchum recaps a great morning roundtable discussion on monetizing social media at the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting.

Benefit corporations. Did you read the June cover story in Associations Now on benefit corporations? B Lab profiles the National Cooperative Grocers Association, which became Certified B Corporation last fall.

Change management. Seth Godin shares the perfect five-word response to someone who "attacks, dismisses or trolls" your new idea.


Human resources. Exit interviews are a common practice at all sorts of organizations. But Jason Lauritsen argues that exit interviews are a waste of time. Do you agree?


June 22, 2012

Executive Volunteering: A Conversation That Matters

I like the new Fast Company interview with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited CEO Barry Salzberg, who was recently named chair of the board for United Way Worldwide. I wish that more association CEOs would talk about their volunteering and what it brings to their professional and personal development so publicly and passionately.

While Fast Company briefly mentions the interesting business model "flip" at UWW in terms of moving the powerful nonprofit's "international agency" from affiliate status to the organization's primary structure, it focuses instead on Salzberg's journey from simple philanthropist to active nonprofit volunteer and recruiter.

"Before volunteering, I thought that all I could do was give and raise money," he says in the piece. "That's important, and I'm happy to do that. But then that morphs into intellectual capacity and idea generation, and then pro bono service, and that becomes very meaningful. It's become a way of life."

He credits his journey with his greater understanding of how executive volunteering and social responsibility strategies can drive charities and associations toward greater success.

"Business strategy and social impact are a powerful combination, especially when companies fully align and integrate the two," says Salzberg in the interview.

Drawing from the volunteering skills and tremendous satisfaction he developed at a series of other nonprofits, Salzberg now is helping United Way Worldwide strengthen its brand internationally to scale up CSR programs. Already, almost 120 companies are engaged in UWW's Global Corporate Leadership program, and leaders are eying ways to further grow its 600 international community-based organizations, as well as the 1,200 in America. Yesterday, they all were activated for UWW's Day of Action which sent more than 50,000 volunteers out to serve their communities.

While Salzberg urges young professionals to get involved in volunteering because it is such a learning experience, he emphasizes that seasoned executives will find they are taking ideas and practices from their pro bono work back to their "day jobs."

When I speak with CEOs at ASAE events, they sometimes tell me about their volunteer work, but it always comes up accidently. Please take a moment today to proactively discuss with someone, anyone, what volunteering has meant to you. That action alone might be all it takes to bring one more smart person into the larger efforts to address world problems.


June 15, 2012

Quick clicks: June 15, 2012

Media and publishing. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, and I learned a lot. Catch a glimpse of what you missed with:





Collaboration. How many different ways are there for nonprofit organizations to collaborate with each other? At least 10, ranging from issue advocacy to fully integrated mergers, according to Craig Van Korlaar.

Meetings. Lauren Mangnall shares seven ways to put board members to work engaging with attendees at your conference or tradeshow.

Online communities. Social networking has not killed email. In fact, email is a great way to keep people engaged with a social network, and Joshua Paul suggests seven ways to use email to improve your virtual communities.

Technology. NTEN has released its annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Survey Report. Annaliese Hoehling shares some of the key findings.

Learning. Celisa Steele recently led a webinar on virtual events and asked participants for their predictions for the future of virtual events. She shares five of those predictions plus a couple of her own.


June 14, 2012

Three Questions on Leadership and Management We Don't Have Answers To

pamela meyer.jpgGreetings from Vancouver, British Columbia, where ASAE's Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management is taking place today and tomorrow. Borrowing a page from my colleague Joe Rominiecki's smart post about questions he still doesn't have answers to, here are three questions, all missing clear answers, that stuck out to me after listening to Thursday's speakers.

Can a CEO ignore the board and get away with it? Associations need strong leaders, a sense of urgency about change, and data to underscore that urgency, Race for Relevance coauthor Harrison Coerver told the audience. But some in attendance pointed out that the real world isn't made up of hard-charging CEOs that work with highly engaged boards. What if the board is disengaged to the point that initiatives could be rushed through without pushback? And, to flip the problem: What if the board is supportive of a CEO to the point that it doesn't ask hard questions about a CEO's vision? The ongoing struggle may be to build a board that doesn't aggressively stand in the way (especially if you can't reduce your board to five members) but also plays a role that prompts a CEO to be on his or her toes.

How much are you personally implicated when your culture becomes dysfunctional? Pamela Meyer (pictured above), author of the book Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception, delivered a host of examples, from Bill Clinton to A-Rod to Sarah Palin, that show how people subtly show their hand when they are being deceptive or outright lying. (She hit on some of these examples in a 2011 TED Talk.) We're swimming in lies: Meyer said that we're told upward of 200 a day, and likely do a bit of lying of our own. We've come to accept that deception is just part of the culture now, and leaders may be passively allowing it to happen. You don't need to be a bad cop with staff to, er, police this, but Meyer says leaders need to be better at identifying baselines---the normal behavior in an organization's truthful environment. That way, you can have "an honest postmortem when something's gone wrong."

Why are we still doing annual performance reviews? During his talk, Kevin Kruse, coauthor of We: How to Increase Performance and Profit Through Full Engagement, took a few whacks at the notion that regular performance reviews motivate employees to do more. What it's more likely to do, Kruse argues, is encourage managers and their employees to spend months stockpiling complaints until the review, and sow disappointment when they don't quite measure up on five-point scales. "All they do is enable non-confrontational management," Kruse says. So what do you do instead? Instead of thinking about the tick marks on a chart, leaders create more engaged team when employees feel like the people in charge are actively supporting them---giving them time to learn more and try new things. "What gives people a sense of growth is when you invest in the development of their career," Kruse told the audience.

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June 8, 2012

Is Polling Still Worth It?

I feel like I've been buried in poll numbers even more than usual, from Wisconsin governor recall results to public confidence in the economy to American Idol. But are polls really trustworthy anymore, when you have one-third of the public living cell-phone-only and most of the rest using caller ID on land-lines to help them avoid any surveys, even when they support the cause or campaign (guilty as charged!)?

Because so many associations poll members and potential members on everything from dues raises to advocacy positions, I turned to the man who knows more than almost anyone about the veracity and challenges of accurate polling: Bill McInturff, co-founder & partner, Public Opinion Strategies.

Bill, who is speaking today as part of the "Decision 2012" General Session at the ASAE Financial and Business Operations Conference, leads--along with partner Peter D. Hart--the largest polling company in the country, Public Opinion Strategies. The firm handles polling for NBC News/Wall Street Journal and works closely on polling challenges with the two primary industry associations, the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASR) and American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

"You can believe poll results but still have dwindling confidence," he told me. "There's no question that with the glut of polling, credibility is a little lower, because people are hearing wider, more diverse results of what different polls are saying. And there's no question that the basic confidence they have in polling is very different than it was 20 to 40 years ago. They're certainly asking more questions about methodology.

Despite those troubles, "if it's done correctly, it's still broadly accurate," Bill says. "It's still the best way to collect customer and other information about public opinion, and people don't tire of needing that information."
It will cost them more, though, to get it. According to Bill, the price of polling has risen for three reasons: (1) "federal laws and mandates dictate that you cannot use auto-dialers for cell phone numbers--you have to call cell phones by hand; (2) cooperation rates are much lower, so you have to call more people to get a completed survey; and (3) you have to collect the data ... using increased labor costs."

To better ensure poll veracity, Bill--who was the lead pollster for John McCain during the latter's 2008 presidential bid--advises associations to "be good consumers and make sure you go through a discussion with the pollster about methodology," asking about compensation rates for cell-phone-only or other respondents, how the "convenience factor" of women answering the phone more than men is handled, and how the data have been weighted and by how much.

I'll be writing a second blog post shortly that shares Bill's responses on whether associations can trust that the viewpoints of respondents reflect those of non-respondents as well, the potential for social media to offer new surveying opportunities, and more. I invite comments about your own association's successes or challenges when polling. And maybe you can snag Bill after the session to get more of his input, too. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your insights so generously at this busy time!


June 6, 2012

Questions I still don't have answers to

A few weeks ago marked my fifth year on staff at ASAE. When I came on board in May 2007, I only had about year of association experience, so of course I had a lot of questions. I did not know the difference between a 501(c)(6) and a 501(c)(3). I assumed "ROI" was French. I needed Scott Briscoe, CAE, to explain to me what "social responsibility" was.

Of course, over time I found the answers to these questions and so many more. A side effect of editing day in and day out is absorbing what you're reading. (A back-of-the-napkin estimate: I've edited, proofread, or written more than 2,000 articles and blog posts on association management in these five years.) While none of this equates to direct experience—I can write about an association CEO having a new boss every year, but I don't know what that feels like—I like to think I've learned quite a bit about associations in general.

Yet, a few big questions persist, thoughts that crossed my mind early in my time here and which I assumed I would eventually come to understand better. But that hasn't happened. Five years and I'm still wondering. Maybe you can help.

Why hadn't I ever heard of association management before I came to ASAE? It's a deeper question than this, but that's how I first thought about it back then. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. But now I wonder why there are almost no degree programs in association management in colleges and universities. I wonder why, even in Washington, DC, I still have to explain to friends that an association is not a union, and it's not just "a bunch of lobbyists." Why did seemingly everyone in association management "fall into" it? Is anyone here on purpose?

Why is there no universal governance model? There are countless stories in the archives of ASAE publications on associations overhauling their governance models, with nearly as many resulting structures. Are we really all so special that we need each need our own unique way to drive group decision making? We're all human, right? Policy Governance is the only model I can think of that even has a name, and, while it has its ardent supporters, it is anything but universal. Boards are often cited as CEOs' biggest headaches, so it was no surprise to me that Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, got such a strong reaction when they recommended a five-member board. If nothing else, five was a number, something tangible to latch on to in a field with little consensus.

Are millennials not joiners, or are we just not at the right career stage yet? There is certainly no shortage of opinion on this, but neither side has won me over. I may just have to wait for time to tell. When baby boomers finally retire and millennials approach the middle stages of their career, I guess we'll find out. This is one of those questions of recency bias that makes me wonder if we're constantly overreacting. Is change really faster today than ever before, or do we just like to think that? File this question alongside "Is membership dead?" and "Is print dead?" and so on.

Perhaps these are questions you've wondered about yourself. Or maybe you too have questions about associations that you're still in search of answers to. Either way, please share.

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June 5, 2012

Hack the Association

People in the association world are routinely exhorted to perform acts of violence upon their infrastructure. Smash silos! Kill programs! Slash committees! After a while, the idea of "sunsetting" feels downright sweet, even if what's getting sunsetted is a whole department.

I get it: Things move slowly in the association world, so it takes some strong language to get people to take notice of the threats moving in their direction. We use those words because we agree they have a certain power over how things get done. But I'd like to propose a better verb: I submit that we need less of a smash-kill-slash mentality when we discuss organizational change. We need more of a hack mentality.

This is the good kind of hack, the take-it-apart-and-make-it-better hack, not the break-into-the-AMS-and-steal-member-data hack. The term has been on my mind for about a week now, ever since I read "Hack the Cover," a sharp, magisterial essay by digital publishing expert Craig Mod about what it means to give a book a cover in the e-book era. Think about it: A cover for an e-book is a ridiculous thing. E-books require no protection from the weather or the degradations of everyday use, and e-reader screens are so small (and in the case of the Kindle, exclusively black and white) that cover art borders on pointless. Smash! Kill!

But covers don't need to be exterminated so much as rethought. "What do we now hunt when buying books?" Mod asks, and he boldfaces the answer: "Data." Once you acknowledge that people don't search Amazon for pretty covers, you can retool the cover to better deliver information about what's inside. That doesn't mean covers can't be pretty---Mod provides some spectacular examples of how the physical book can remain an art object---but elegance now needs to be matched with a growing need to emphasize what's inside the book itself.

It's not hard to see how to apply this thinking to associations: Perhaps decision-making processes become more sensible if they're thought of as opportunities to "hack" obsolete products and services instead of just killing them (or giving them a new coat of paint). I don't mean to suggest that associations unthinkingly smash-kill-slash things; heaven knows strategic processes abound. But how much more motivating do you think it is to tell staff they'll have the opportunity to hack what they do instead of telling them they need to blow it up?