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August 30, 2012

What's a great volunteer manager worth?

Via Jena McGregor at the PostLeadership blog last week, a new research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research quantifies the value of a great boss. From the abstract:

"Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team's total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. Using a normalization, this implies that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker."

McGregor then draws this conclusion about workforce development:

"More people need to understand that they're better off firing a poorly performing boss and replacing him or her with a better performing one, rather than adding more workers to their staffs. Once that happens, the productivity push should shift from getting more out of people on the front lines to first getting more out of the ones who lead them."

These aren't surprising conclusions, but it's interesting to see that some hard, data-based research has gone into supporting the idea of a great manager's "multiplying effect" on his or her team.

What I'd really like to see, though, is this same research applied in the context of volunteer management. I suspect that the multiplying effect of a great volunteer manager would be even more pronounced.

For paid employees, the potential influence of a great manager has a floor and ceiling, based on compensation. A worker with a bad boss still has to work to get paid, and a worker with a great boss is only going to increase productivity so far without a pay increase.

But for an association volunteer, potential productivity covers a much greater range. A volunteer with a bad volunteer manager can very easily quit, but a volunteer with a great volunteer manager could become a passionate advocate for the organization.

So go back to those quoted paragraphs and replace "boss" with "volunteer manager" and "worker" with "volunteer," and then think about how your association handles volunteer management. Perhaps, rather than fretting over getting the right volunteers lined up, you should focus more on finding staff who are great at managing volunteers, on better training the ones you already have, and on letting go of the ones who simply can't cut it. The potential upsides and downsides of the quality of your volunteer managers are too great to ignore.


Quick clicks: August 30, 2012

It's been three weeks since the last edition of Quick Clicks, so there's a lot to catch up on. First, a reminder about the #ASAE12 Scoop.It page, where you can find all the articles and posts from the community related to the 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo, which is already two weeks behind us. (Only 338 days until #ASAE13!)

Social media. How much is a tweet from an association CEO worth? A whole lot more than one from other staff, says Maddie Grant, CAE.

Membership marketing. Tony Rossell writes that most associations underbudget for membership recruitment: "Frequently, I speak with organizations that have very lofty plans on how many new members they want to add. When I ask them what they have budgeted to accomplish this, the answer is shockingly low."

Innovation. Jeffrey Cufaude explains how your association should work toward a range of innovations, from small, quick wins to big bets, which he likens to managing an investment portfolio.

Management. Speaking of portfolios, Jamie Notter shares a lesson the book Beyond Performance that applies the portfolio concept to changing organizational culture.

Loyalty. Eric Lanke, CAE, says for-profits organizations that want to create "brand superfans" can learn much from the associations.


Content marketing. Deirdre Reid, CAE, says associations should get on board with the concept of creating a Chief Content Officer position: "Content strategy isn't a social media, website, or magazine issue, it's a management issue."

Member relations. Shannon Otto asks what association staff could learn if they swapped lives with their members: "Imagine how improved communication and understanding between staffers and members could be."

Conferences. Dave Phillips, CAE, explains why his association stopped booking a keynote speaker for its conferences.

Education. Jeff Cobb says he likes the new education formats he sees associations trying, but they can be doing much more. He lists five changes for a true revolution in association education.

Online community. Maggie McGary shares a cautionary tale about the lack of control an association has over its groups on third-party social networking platforms, in this case LinkedIn.


August 29, 2012

Lessons on Usability From #ASAE12

The following is a guest post by Bill Walker, marketing manager, DelCor.

In a previous life, I must have been a zookeeper. Or a penguin.

You see, as soon as the closing general session with Daniel Pink concluded, I dashed to the Dallas World Aquarium. It's my personal goal to visit the zoo and/or aquarium in every city I visit, and with the DWA just 10 minutes from the convention center, I couldn't resist.

It was there, at the aquarium, that I started thinking more deeply about usability, and how usability contributes to or detracts from real-life experiences - not just online ones.

The DWA has touchscreen displays at exhibit groupings---not at every animal exhibit. An accompanying booklet is also provided with your ticket. But I found myself longing for old-school signage that quickly identified the animals on display. Even after two trips through the aquarium, I was at a loss for what was what.

Despite its desire to provide "a learning experience for everyone" and "an in-depth study" of the animals and habitats, the DWA's touchscreens detracted from this visitor's experience.

-If the touchscreen is occupied, you're out of luck or forced to wait.
-The animal you're trying to identify not in the touchscreen computer? Out of luck.
-Enter the exhibit from one end, only to find the touchscreen upon your exit at the other end? Out of luck, again.
-Taking in as much as possible in the short time you have because the aquarium closes at 5 p.m.? Try again.
-Trying to navigate the exhibits using the paper guide? Well, walking and reading is a hazard unto itself, and even with the guide it's impossible to locate and identify the enormous variety of animals inhabiting DWA. (This is no run-of-the-mill aquarium.)

The DWA is a beautifully designed space filled with wonderful creatures, but my inability to connect with the exhibits in my preferred (and most convenient) way was missing. I left disappointed and undereducated.

When I returned to my hotel, I started more carefully observing other physical design choices that influence usability, atmosphere, and experience. The most obvious was the circular check-in station at Aloft Dallas.

A far cry from the boring bank teller-style stations at most hotels, the round, airy check-in area at Aloft was an informal, friendly, and delightful surprise---and only slightly bewildering. I observed how it facilitated teamwork. On the flip side, I wondered if staff ever felt trapped there, or how difficult it might be to move/expand the round concrete desk, if needed.

Walking to and from my hotel to the convention center was easy, but the crosswalks presented another design/usability dilemma. All the crosswalks in that part of town are brick---an upscale design choice, for sure, but much less obvious than the standard reflective white paint that pedestrians expect. (See below.) Worse, the crossing signals rarely flash "go"; one step into the brick crosswalk and the red flashing hand urges immediate caution. Not what a person crossing a 4- or 6-lane street wants to see!


Once inside the cool, safe zone of the convention center, getting around was a breeze. The multiple levels provide interest and break up the space, without creating hazards or conundrums - most of the time. Most importantly, restrooms were easy to identify and find! Other convention centers, airports, and large spaces rarely get this right.

How did these design choices and observations affect my ASAE Annual Meeting experience? For the most part, they made it an easy one to take in. Sessions were easy to find, hear, and even choose, based on a well planned guide and apps (more on those in a minute). All of that made me a very happy camper---er, attendee.

As an exhibitor in the business services section of the hall, I am accustomed to traipsing long distances to perform routine activities or get help at the service desks. To my dismay, I found myself at nearly the farthest point from the exhibitor service area. When it was time to pack up, I was too tired for a lot of back and forth, resulting in some communication struggles.

"Did you label all your boxes?" a Hargrove staffer asked. "No," I said, "but I will as soon as I get back to my booth." She wasn't having it, and initially didn't trust me to do it when I returned. Logically speaking, how is trusting me before turning in my bill of lading any different than trusting me after? No one's physically observing or checking! What's clear here is that there are usability choices in process, too.

Now, what about those apps? Well, I'm a split user---I have an iPad, but my phone runs on Android. I downloaded both apps, but found myself only using the iPad version because it provided exactly what I was looking for and was easy to use; I simply didn't need the Android app once I was onsite. So I spoke to another attendee who used both of the i-related apps.

"I downloaded the iPad app, selected my sessions, and mapped my Expo hall itinerary before the iPhone app was even launched," said Sandra Giarde, CAE, executive director of the California Association for the Education of Young Children. "When the iPhone app was finally released, it didn't sync with the iPad app, and I had to spend extra time repeating everything I had already done."
Sandra pointed out some helpful features within the iPad app, such as toggling between Twitter streams within a session screen, that enhanced her learning experience. Ultimately, Sandra said, "I use the apps differently - one on the go and one in sessions---but they really need to talk to each other to avoid frustration."

What does all this mean? Usability is everywhere. It impacts not just your constituents' website experience, but also your meeting experience, your membership experience, and---ultimately---your brand, the impression you leave on your constituents. #ASAE12 opened my eyes to all these details. My impressions of the ASAE Annual Meeting experience extended beyond the session walls to Cowboys Stadium and Fair Park---a whole, complete, and mostly well done experience.

It's true: if you haven't been to Dallas lately, you haven't been to Dallas (as the Visit Dallas folks told us). But if you do go to the aquarium, be prepared for a beautiful, unusual, and difficult-to-comprehend experience.

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August 21, 2012

A Pair of Lessons Learned From #ASAE12

The following is a guest post from a pair of colleagues who attended the ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo together: Kimberley Gray, event coordinator, and Juanita Kardell, training coordinator, at Associated General Contractors of Alaska.

Kimberley: The Importance of Moving On

While at this year's ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo, I attended some sessions that sounded like they were a perfect fit for me because the title and description covered a topic that would aid me in my work. For most time slots I actually picked two sessions and soon learned why that was a good decision. For a few of my selections, it took only 10 minutes in the first session before I was able to ascertain that it was not quite the right fit. I didn't want to waste my time (I don't mean the session wasn't of value; I know it was of value to others, just not for me), so I moved on to my second choice. Now, as I return to the office, I wonder if it isn't time to take that same look at my programs. Yes, I attended the Mary Byers session on just that topic, and I can see why.

I know when I start each new project for my association it seems like such a great idea and will be a value to my members. But can that be true of every new project or event? With new information fresh in my mind, it is a good time to look at my programs with a critical eye to make sure that they are a "fit" for my members. So even in leaving a session, I gain information that will help me on my return to Alaska.

I do know that I had a great time at the ASAE conference, both during the day and during the after-hour events, when I was able to network with a wide variety of people, share information about the association world, and even just relax among my peers, which is always a good thing!

Juanita: First-Time ASAE Attendee

After viewing a general description of the conference, I decided which sessions could help me improve in my job, so I signed up to attend. Then the ASAE conference book came and I thought to myself "How do I attend more than one session at a time?" Yikes! Thank goodness I had time to further pare down my choices before the conference. The ASAE app was a great help in making a plan of action. I had finally pared down my choices but by no means had made any final decisions yet. I finally had my list down to three sessions during each time slot and felt ready to tackle the conference. The decision to have options was a good one. All sessions I attended were great but not always what I needed, so the option to move on was a valuable choice. I did find sessions that were a fit for me, some were the first choice I made, but some were the second. I think ASAE did a great job finding a variety of topics to meet the needs of attendees. I am very glad I attended!

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August 15, 2012

Digital Event Engagement Manager: A New Role for Association Pros

The following is a guest post from Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Last year, my first year attending ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, I was totally overwhelmed by the experience. This year, I was a little better prepared and went in with a game plan: Pick a session during each timeframe, then two backup sessions in case the first was full. I also spend so much time immersed in social media—learning, doing, speaking—that I thought my time would be best spent not attending any sessions dealing with social media.

At any rate, that's how I came to attend the Learning Lab "The Strategic Impact of Digital Events on Meetings," even though I'm not a meeting planner (currently; in past jobs I have done meeting management). As luck would have it, the session felt a lot like a social media session—a lot of talk about traditional versus new, with face-to-face meetings being the gold standard (like traditional communication media) and virtual or hybrid events the shiny new thing (like social media).

Lots of the same issues were addressed as are addressed in nearly every social media session: How do you get executive buy-in, how do you generate revenue from this new way of doing business, will this new way ruin the old, tried-and-true way we've always done meetings? As with social media, there are a few examples of associations who are already demonstrating success with virtual or hybrid meetings, but there still remains a lot of skepticism about moving into foreign territory.

What struck me most, though, was that I was sitting in a room full of seasoned meeting planners, many of whom are certified meeting professionals and have invested entire careers learning the business of running meetings. There I sat, a person who has spent the past four years in the business of online engagement, and it occurred to me that there's an entirely new field open to online community and social media managers: digital event engagement manager.

If the future of events is driving online engagement and being able to generate measurable results online in addition to, or instead of, face-to-face meetings, community management is at least as valuable a skillset as—if not more valuable than—meeting management. I wondered which education gap would be harder to fill—community manager retraining to learn meeting management, or meeting manager retraining to learn online community management? I also wondered who will fill that gap. Will fundamentals of online engagement and social media management be added to the list of things you need to know if you want to be a meeting manager, and, if so, will that be a new part of the certified meeting professional program? Or will community managers need to learn stuff like what's a BEO and which is a better seating setup for learning, hollow square or horseshoe?

Obviously, I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know this: Build it and they will come doesn't work for online communities, so it probably won't work for online events either. Meeting managers planning on adding digital meetings to their association's learning mix would be smart to start boning up on the fundamentals of online community management.

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Quick clicks: Check out the #asae12 buzz on Scoop.It

As attendees head home from ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo, stay tuned here on Acronym for more recaps and perspectives. There's plenty of buzz elsewhere, too, of course, which we're gathering for you on the ASAE12 Scoop.It page. About 15 posts and videos popped up during the conference, and from past experience, I expect a lot of great recaps from our trusty association blogger community to begin rolling in soon, too. So here's your reminder to go check it out:



Tweets from #asae12, day 4

The #asae12 hashtag was abuzz on Twitter during the final day of the 2012 Annual Meeting & Exposition in Dallas. Here are a few of the tweets that you can find in the full hashtag stream.


August 14, 2012

To View or To Do

The following is a guest post from Moira Edwards, CAE, president, Ellipsis Partners.

In Sunday's Learning Lab "Deep Dive: Everything Mobile" at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo, ASAE Chief Information Officer Reggie Henry gave us the insight that people have different appetites for online content depending on whether they are in learn mode or solve-a-problem mode. Our associations' websites satisfy both needs with information to browse and data to find.

In contrast, mobile sites are nearly always about doing rather than viewing. As you run through the airport, luggage in one hand and phone in the other, you access mobile sites when you need to save time and get specific information. So your members need your mobile site to solve their immediate problem. Maybe it's to find their meeting registration information or committee agenda or the certification deadline.

This is a very useful differentiation. Are our members in learn mode or problem solving mode when they get our newsletter, or maybe in neither? When we select an AMS or social media platform based on a great demo, were we in learn mode or problem solving mode when we evaluated the features? If we need both, how do we make sure we effectively meet both those needs? I will be using this framework as one way to evaluate all sorts of information in the future.


What if you had at least one member in every staff meeting?


Author Dan Pink closed ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo with advice for association executives now that we're all in sales.

He called sales a natural human endeavor and "something we can do better by being more human." His message was a preview of his forthcoming book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, and he emphasized a new set of skills for "non-sales selling," most notably attunement to the perspectives of the people you're trying to influence.

Pink recommended association executives follow the lead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who pulls an empty chair into staff meetings to represent the customer. The "pull up a chair" exercise provides a visual reminder for staff and helps them be better attuned to the needs of the customer in any given project.

That's a great idea that associations could adopt, but there's no reason the chair has to be empty. Instead of having an imaginary member in every staff meeting at your association, why not have a real member in every meeting?

At some small-staff associations that are largely volunteer driven, this might already be the case, but for any association with enough staff to have staff-only meetings, adding one member would shift the dynamic in the room toward better serving member needs.

Pink said the new era of sales is one in which information asymmetry has given way to information parity: the buyer has just as much information as the seller, and it's the seller's job to understand how he or she can serve the buyer.

Maybe the logistics of getting a member into every staff meeting at your association would be prohibitive, but if you can make a habit of bringing members in more often, at least, you'll better reflect the dynamic of information parity, and you'll be better attuned to what members need.

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Stepping Outside of the Classroom Box

The following is a guest post by Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president of Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC.

I challenged myself to learn differently at this year's ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo. So I set two specific goals: use my iPad and smart phone exclusively (no laptop/pc), and participate in at least one really different learning format. The first goal was simply to push myself to work differently, to harness the power of mobile (check!). The second was to both explore new formats and to push myself to take more responsibility for my learning. On day three I walked into the Wisdom While You Walk session.

In the 75 minute session, I found both great self-directed content and a new learning format that I can use in my associations. I also experienced a sense of satisfaction that I had taken responsibility of my learning.

Briefly, we started the session with identifying topics of interest. Then we broke into groups and set a time to regroup. Off we went, wandering through the Dallas Convention Center. My small group explored learning for adults. We shared what we had learned in sessions at Annual, read in books, and tried and heard about. We visited the Imaginarium and explored some pockets of the convention center. When we returned, each group shared their nuggets and impressions of the session's format.

I have to report that the group gave the format and the session thumbs up.

Goal 2 ... Check!


Tweets from #asae12, day 3

Day 3 of the 2012 Annual Meeting & Exposition in Dallas was filled with refreshing and provocative tweets with the #asae12 hashtag. Here are a handful of the tweets that you can find in the full hashtag stream.


August 13, 2012

The Upside of Negativity

Like a lot of people in the room, I took plenty of inspiration from Peter Diamandis' Game Changer session this morning on abundance. To briefly summarize his points: The world is becoming a better place, not worse, and there is great power in working collectively to solve big problems---which are becoming easier to solve. More people means more solutions, he argued, so long as people stop thinking small and stop thinking negative.

Diamandis, head of the X Prize Foundation and pioneer in the nascent asteroid-mining industry, said negative thinking is an aspect of human behavior that has no useful purpose today; it's a remnant of an earlier time when human beings would be attacked by predators, human or animal, if they didn't have good intelligence on where the threats are. Threats certainly do exist now, Diamandis said, but in the overall scheme of things the world is a less dangerous place than it used to be. (Stephen Pinker published a much-discussed book last year, The Better Angels of Our Nature, drilling into this point.)

Sounds good. But here's what I came away thinking about: Why can't negativity be inspirational?

I'm not trying to be stubbornly counterintuitive here. I get Diamandis' complaint that a barrage of negative news on cable TV can be dispiriting and unproductive. But a sense of threat can also be a powerful motivator. To turn it back to Diamandis' work, the fear of being outpaced (if not taken over) by the Soviet Union was a chief reason why the United States launched the Apollo program. Fear of diminishing resources inspires our pursuit of alternative energy sources; fear of disconnection inspires technological innovation. The X Prize's various efforts thrive on the creeping sense that something's about to hit the fan.

There's a fine line between feeling threatened and thinking negative, and leaders ought to be mindful of the distinction. There's nothing entirely wrong with worrying that things will crumble if you don't act---the question is whether you act effectively on that emotion. If we can put a man on the moon, we can negative-think our way through anything.

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Is That Your Raffle Prize to Keep?

The following is a guest post from Greg Wilson, CAE, director of finance and operations for the Sacramento Association of Realtors.

In Joan Eisenstodt, Jonathan May, and Michele Warholic's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo session, "Shades of Gray: Crucial Conversations Around Ethical Quandaries," we were challenged with the dilemma of raffle prize winnings. The panel will tell you that the prizes won in various raffles this week belong to your association if in fact it was the association that paid your way. This was met with surprise and disappointment. After all what we were learning was that the Hawaiian vacay might not be ours to enjoy even if we beat the odds.

Vendors offer stuffed animals, mugs, whatever, in the hopes you will remember them when deciding on the next meeting location. By the way, the ASAE standards of conduct require objectivity and impartiality. A rubber wrist band might not sway a decision, but a Mercedes? Clearly a policy on gift and prize acceptance is needed at our individual associations.

Mine has such a policy and I wish I could say the dollar value is zero, but it is pegged at $25. That bothers me because what it tells staff is that gifts worth $24.25 have no influence on decision making.

In establishing a policy, I would recommend the following framework.

Set reasonable dollar values. Whether it is zero, $10, $25, or something else, decide what your staff, vendors, and members can live within. Do not set folks up to fail.

Model appropriate behavior. When you win an iPad, use it within the association, and put the free books on the library shelf for all to read.

Teach employees how to make decisions. Have conversations around objective decision making, intent, and avoiding conflicts of interest. This takes courage but it is possible.

Apply the policy uniformly. What is good for the iPad is good for the wine, mug, and car.

Educate in the round. Explain your policy to vendors, contractors, and members as well as staff. Doing so will foster a culture of transparency.

Again, all of our associations need to address the issue through a clear policy. The best approach is to have an ethics driven policy which defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior in general terms, while perhaps establishing a maximum dollar value. And then also creating a culture in which employees can ask themselves and be able to answer the difficult questions about influence peddling. Help staff to be aware of their duty to the association while endeavoring to avoid actual or the appearance of a conflict of interest.


The board doesn't understand

Yesterday, Rick Johnston asked why associations aren't digging deeper into business intelligence, and he suggested that uninterested boards might be part of the problem.

That sentiment was echoed during conversations in Sunday's "Under the Membership Tent: Executive Session" Learning Lab at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo. One participant said her biggest challenge in managing member data is getting funding approval from her board for upgrading the association management system. In short, boards don't understand data management.

I have two reactions to this:

  1. "No doubt." I'm sure every membership professional can relate. It's hard enough to understand all the intricacies and capabilities of an AMS as a staffer who works in it every day. Trying to explain it to volunteers is a chore. But …
  2. Whose fault is it if the board can't see the value of an enhanced AMS? That responsibility has to fall back to the staff. It's not the board's job to already understand data management. It's their job to hire people who do.

Fortunately, one of the session content leaders, Laurie Kulikosky, CAE, director, strategic development, at the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, offered her experience: She said she spent close to a year interviewing staff about what they'd like to see in a potential new AMS. Then she presented that info to her board. She told them, "Here are all the amazing things we'd like to do, and here's why we can't do it."

Data management and business intelligence are, unfortunately, just not very shiny. They're complicated. Numbers scare people. The power of data is enormous, but it doesn't get the glory that other technological endeavors get these days. So find a way to make it shine.


Dispatch from day two of #asae12

The following is a guest post from, David G. Frick, VP of customer care and customer support at Aptify.

The Opening General Session on Sunday at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo with James Carville and Karl Rowe was well attended. I went into the general session a huge Carville fan and not with any fondness towards Rove. But, I thought of the two Rove was more thoughtful, had a better command of the facts, and answered the questions. Carville is no doubt very bright and witty, but he failed to adequately address the questions toward the end or failed to answer them at all. Nonetheless, I am enormously grateful to ASAE for having the courage to bring in two highly controversial figures to address the group.

Beyond that, the exhibit hall was fabulous. If you failed to attend today, be sure to hit the floor tomorrow.

Likewise, the two sessions I attended were thought provoking:

At "A Frank Conversation on Diversity," one attendee noticed that most in attendance represented the "1 percent," and she was pretty much dead-on. If we're going to change the world, it's going to take everyone working together. The best comment was "We can't change the way someone thinks, but we can change the way they act." That has become as pivotal a statement as adding the word "inclusiveness" to the ASAE Diversity Committee's name, which is now known as the Diversity & Inclusiveness Committee. Progress isn't always rapid, but it's progress.

"Creating the Best Workplace" was also well done, but it made me realize how advanced my organization is in promoting a great workplace. Nothing uber-revolutionary was discussed, but it's useful to reiterate some valuable workplace tenets: pay a living wage, make your workplace a safe place to take measured risks, allow employees to give back to the local community, create an environment of respect, spend more time at the front-end of the hiring process to increase the likelihood of good hires, flexible work hours, and so on. There were some interesting shares: six weeks of a paid sabbatical after 10 years of service, no telecommuting on Monday (a way to ensure cohesiveness of staff), paid gym membership, matching volunteer hours. No one mentioned unlimited paid time off, something we're ready to introduce. It was a good overall session with great interaction between the panel and the audience.


Tweets from #asae12, day 2

Day 2 at the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Dallas provided countless thought-provoking tweets with the #asae12 hashtag. Here is a sampling of what you can find in the full hashtag stream.


August 12, 2012

Do Associations Have Any Business Intelligence?

The following is a guest post from Rick Johnston, CAE, principal of ICF Ironworks consulting.

At a technology trends discussion on Saturday, ASAE CIO Reggie Henry asked why associations are not doing more to use their data to make just-in-time business decisions. After all, there are plenty of business intelligence (BI) tools out there, and for-profit organizations use them all the time to stay ahead of their competition and ensure profits for their owners or shareholders.

We see very few associations leveraging BI tools to make sense of the valuable data many of them are collecting. Most associations collect lots of membership data, revenue data, subscriptions data, meeting attendance data, and much more. But who is asking "What do we need to know to measure our success and adjust our operational plans in time to make a difference this year?" In most cases, the answer is nobody. But why?

My answer to Reggie's question reflects on how nonprofits are different from corporations. I contend that it doesn't have to do with size, resources, or technical ability. It has more to do with accountability. Associations have boards who care about their cause, profession, or industry but have no personal financial stake in the outcomes. Everyone tries to be nice and it's just not that important to be better than good. The status quo will suffice.

Having over 25 years in association management and having served in several association boards, I can't remember a board meeting where someone asked the really tough questions around performance accountability. Oh, we look at financial and program reports and how we could have done better last year. We have lots of excuses (the economy, staff turnover, regulations, etc.) to explain away the high-level picture of prosperity, decline, or more often simply the status quo.

We need to dig deeper into the data mine to get real insight into the what and why questions beneath the surface of year-end reports. To think more like a business and closely analyze their operations and reap the intelligence that will help them measure real results and make quick decisions that will have a positive impact. For example, someone should be asking:

  • Do our online promotions reach the right audiences and incent the behaviors (conference registration, advocacy actions, etc.) that we desire?
  • Are membership renewal rates increasing or declining in one demographic more than another?
  • What do our conference attendees value the most? What kinds of conversations are taking place?

I believe the data is often there but leaders in many associations avoid looking at it. By that I mean asking the questions that will allow them to really understand what is happening and why it happens in time to do something about it. Business intelligence tools need not be expensive to purchase or implement. The Texas Medical Association has been using relatively simple BI tools such as Excel to ask these questions for some time. I don't know where they are today, but I'll bet their constituents are better off for their having taken accountability seriously. Can you say the same?


What's the Right Way to Disagree?


"You don't get to choose your own facts!"


Is this any way to have a conversation about issues?

Perhaps a better question: Is this the only way two people who disagree can have a public conversation?

I went into this morning's Opening General Session at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo figuring that political strategists James Carville and Karl Rove would provide some useful blog fodder---lessons that association leaders could take from their insights, or some such. I had good reasons for high expectations: My colleague Kristin Clarke and I were both able to draw some relevant insights from the two for the August issue of Associations Now. They're smart leaders with strong opinions.

Even so, the two didn't make my job easy today. Their discussion was mainly an hourlong session in which they traded jabs on welfare, the budget gap, Medicare, education, and so on. A culture of disagreement about issues is what makes America great, I know, but I didn't always feel like I heard a great conversation. (To her credit, moderator Michelle Bernard did a fine job of encouraging the two to focus on issues related to underprivileged Americans and race relations---essentially to make their discussion less abstracted.)

So if there are lessons that association leaders can draw from today's General Session, I can think of two.

1. We can talk about how small a board should be, but obviously it shouldn't be as small as two people.

2. More seriously, how we choose to disagree matters, and expressing our disagreement in a useful way demands mindful attention. Maybe you weren't a fan of the way Carville dismissed Rove's data points with a wisecrack; maybe you thought Rove cherry-picked his data in a way that neglected the big picture. But that's an instinct that's common to all of us. If we're honest, a lot of us say "BS!" in our heads during a board meeting when we hear something we disagree with. And we may be, shall we say, selective about what research we emphasize when selling our ideas. There's a lot of theatrical disagreement that goes on in our heads before we get into the messy details of disagreement. Assuming we ever do.

This may be an aspect of staff and board work that doesn't get discussed enough: How to disagree in ways that move a conversation forward, instead of just proving how dug into our positions we are. That requires some nuance and hard work: Disagreement can sow hurt feelings, defensiveness, and divisiveness. But done right, it can be productive. I'm not sure I know the right way to do it, but I suspect it doesn't involve "BS!" and "baloney!"

What did you think of this morning's conversation? What lessons did you take from it?

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Circular mentoring

The following is a guest post from Holly Duckworth, CMP, CAE, CEO of Leadership Solutions International in Lake Oswego, Oregon.


It's not what you know; it's who you know. From that vantage point, I take every opportunity to serve fellow members of ASAE, from mentoring CAE students to mentoring first timers here at the annual. At ASAE12 I offered to be mentor to a first-time conference attendee. I was matched with not one but two amazing people: Graham Catt, CEO of the Australian Veterinary Association (pictured above right), and Russell Autry, president of the International Society of Community Engagement Professionals (left).

Now, as a result, I have two new colleagues. The fun thing is in such a sort time they have taught me as much as I've shared with them. From Graham I learned about the international perspective on the American political system. He says, "I'm not sure I'm smarter as a result of the opening session, and I experienced an interesting dialogue. We have universal health care and it works for us."

Talking with Russell, we have already connected on so many places in which we are able to support each other. I laughed also as he said, "I Googled you. Do you know who you are in this industry?"

So, what did I teach them? They want to know:

  • Who are the people to meet?
  • How do I not waste my time?
  • What should I see and not see?
  • How do I navigate the tradeshow?

As I reflect back on my few moments with these professionals, I realize both of them have been in the associations industry many more years than I have. Yet we have both been able to teach each other. Through my two new connections I have been educated, inspired, and connected to even more professionals in our community here and around the globe. So, next time you are asked to mentor, don't do it just for them; do it for you and create a circle of mentorship and memories that will last for years to come.


Dispatch from day one of #asae12

The following is a guest post from, David G. Frick, VP of customer care and customer support at Aptify.

Day one of ASAE12 was one of the most impressive and welcoming of any previous event by ASAE or anyone else. I spent the afternoon as a new member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee—talk about a group doing great work. I'm looking forward to serving the community.

I'm now a Dallas Cowboy fan (go Saints and Redskins!), but what a night it was in Cowboys Stadium. Texas and ASAE know how to make you feel welcomed.


August 11, 2012

Going for world-class gold

Leave it to an Olympian to tell you what it takes to be world-class. Speaking over lunch to an audience of association management company executives at the AMC Community Conference Saturday before ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo in Dallas, Bob Berland, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist in judo, declared that, in the current economic climate, "only the strong are going to survive. Today being good is not enough. Being great is still not enough. You need to be world-class."

Berland's is the classic Olympic story: childhood inspiration from his own coach, a 1972 Olympian; a breakthrough moment in international competition that put the Olympics within reach; months of intense training; and an injury just weeks before the Los Angeles games that led to surgery, a severe postoperative infection, and a judgment by his doctors that there was no way he could compete. Berland defied them, began working out in his hospital bed, and won silver.

Now the third-generation president of his family's business, Berland Communications, Berland says the principles that make an elite athlete are the same ones that make a top-performing organization.

"Being world-class is a conscious decision that you, all of us, get to make. You just have to have the courage to make it," he says. "You have to be willing to risk failure."

Berland said his formula for high-level performance in sports and in business has three steps, all equally important:

  • think, in which goals and hard deadlines are set
  • act, where "you give 100 percent effort every day"
  • believe, where you learn to face adversity, manage fear, and stay committed to goals no matter what

It's a work ethic and mindset that "will quickly separate you from the herd," Berland said.

"You have to be able to look your teammates in the eye and look yourself in the mirror and say nobody on this planet worked harder, worked longer, or earned the right to achieve our goal more than us," he said. "That earned sense of entitlement is how world-class goals are achieved."


Making lives both easier and better


What's the difference between an association and mustard?

An association can build loyalty among its members and customers. But no one is loyal to mustard.

At the AMC Community Conference on Saturday before the Annual Meeting & Expo, keynote speaker James Kane helped association management company professionals understand that difference as they work to earn the loyalty of their staff, their client associations, and their associations' members.

At best, any given brand of mustard can only hope to maintain customers who are predisposed to buying it because they're used to it and because they want to avoid the hassle of having to choose among dozens of options. (Seriously, why are there so many different kinds of mustard?) But that relationship only satisfies half of the loyalty equation, Kane says.

People become loyal to groups or organizations when they make their lives both easier and better. "We don't just look for efficiency in our lives," Kane said. "We also look for fulfillment." Having a reliable mustard flavor makes your life easier, but it definitely falls short of fulfillment.

Associations, of course, can provide fulfillment to their members' (and staff's and clients') lives. They can make their lives both easier and better. Kane said cultivating a sense of belonging is the core element of making people's lives better. We're wired by evolution to be social creatures, and we long to be included, not left out.

To me, this calls into question the entire debate over whether associations should offer more "what's in it for me" benefits or more "good of the order" benefits. They strike me as both vital to the loyalty equation. "What's in it for me" can make a member's life easier, which gets them in the door. The broader benefits of building a community for people to belong to is what can make a member's life better.

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August 9, 2012

The End of Relevance

The following is a guest post from Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE, and is adapted from Jeff's new e-book, Associations Unorthodox: Six Really Radical Shifts Toward the Future. Jeff kicks off our "new thinking" theme for posts on ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo by questioning the notion of "relevance."

Associations are in a fight for the future, a fight that is taking place both outside and inside the boundaries of our organizations and our community. Our external fight is with the powerful forces of cultural, demographic, economic, political, social, and, above all, technological shift that are relentlessly transforming both our society and the fundamental human experience of associating itself, right before our eyes. It is the internal struggle, however, that must be of greater and more immediate concern to all association leaders. It is the fight we are having with ourselves around the increasingly damaging effect of association management orthodoxy on our prospects for long-term sustainability and success.

Arguably the most troubling tenet of the association community's orthodox belief system is the persistent view that a commitment to greater "relevance" will lead our organizations toward new pathways of success in the 21st century. Throughout my 20-year association career, I have seen far too many organizations grapple unproductively with the supposed challenge of establishing their relevance, instead of exploring more insistent questions or tackling more wicked challenges. In the last few years, association leaders have been encouraged to run a "race for relevance," even as the world around them rapidly recalibrates in ways they do not yet fully understand. Despite the recent hype and its enduring appeal as a topic of strategic discourse, my perspective remains unchanged: relevance is a losing argument for associations.

In a time of relentless societal transformation, associations gain no strategic advantage by thinking about the future in terms of relevance, and may actually narrow their strategic options by doing so. After all, the more associations discuss the need to become relevant, the more they establish their irrelevance (and thus their unimportance) in the minds of their current and future stakeholders. Indeed, relevance is nothing more than a strategically null point of view that fails to consider the inherent complexity of the long-term business challenges associations must surmount to thrive over the next decade and beyond. The task for associations going forward is not to deliver more of the same kinds of value, improved with the magical ingredient of enhanced relevance. The task is for associations to reinvent their traditional ways of doing business from the ground up for a transformed world.

How can association leaders break free of the gravitational pull of relevance and other outmoded association orthodoxies? Put simply, associations must get unorthodox. Rather than remain beholden to the dogmas of the past, associations must begin defining a very different future. Getting unorthodox means surfacing questionable assumptions, challenging preconceived notions, and flipping conventional wisdom to surface new opportunities for radical value creation.

Association orthodoxy is the metaphorical "box" of which we frequently speak. It's time to do more than simply get outside of it. It's time to smash the box to pieces.

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Quick clicks: August 9, 2012

The 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo is just two days away! The association blogosphere has been looking ahead to the conference, and you can find all #ASAE12-related blog posts on the #ASAE12 Scoop.It page:

Be sure to bookmark both Acronym and the Scoop.It page (or subscribe to the RSS feeds) to keep track of the buzz throughout the meeting.

Of course, there have also been plenty of great posts beyond the scope of the conference, so here's your regularly scheduled batch of top-notch reading material:

Business models. Maggie McGary highlights an online-only, "concierge-level" association for social media professionals that follows a model that could be a threat to the traditional association business model.

Organizational structure and culture. Jay S. Daughtry noticed some cobwebs at an otherwise clean amusement park, and it made him wonder: Who's minding the cobwebs in your association--all those little details that aren't officially anyone's job?

Learning trends. Jeff Hurt shares an infographic from Boundless that neatly sums up more than 20 emerging trends in learning technology.

Strategic planning.

Meetings. Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE, shares his reaction process to the GSA conference controversy and concludes, "We need to be absolutely above reproach in how we structure and promote our meetings."

Risk management. Leslie White examines some sample association exhibitor contracts and finds that many associations are leaving themselves vulnerable to liability in the event of something going wrong at their events.

Turnaround strategy. Lyn Slater examines the financial trouble that Washington, DC's Cocoran Gallery of Art finds itself in and recommends seven steps that an organization in The Corcoran's position could take to get out of trouble.

Icebreakers. Cindy Butts, CAE, shares a simple bingo-game icebreaker that could be easily repurposed at any association.

Website redesign. Chris Bonney explains why an association should launch a new website when it's only 85 percent done.

Conflicts of interest. David Patt, CAE, lists five reasons why you shouldn't hire board members for paid positions at your association.

Technology. Shannon Otto writes that associations can learn from the anger of NBC's tape-delayed Olympics coverage about how to adapt their media and events to the changing times.

Marketing. Andrea Pellegrino argues that if your association resorts to gimmicks to try to attract more members or customers, it probably isn't offering anything that they value to begin with.


August 8, 2012

The Meeting Before the Meeting: 6 Steps to Success Before Arriving at #ASAE12

The following is a guest post from Holly Duckworth, CMP, CAE, CEO of Leadership Solutions International in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Holly gets our Annual Meeting blogging going with some tips on pre-meeting preparation for attendees.

Some days I feel a bit like a meeting groupie, in Denver one day, New York the next. It's not the life for everyone, but it's the life for me. That got me thinking about my pre-meeting routine as an attendee. This weekend, I am "just" an attendee at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo (#ASAE12).

So, here's my pre-meeting attendee routine:

  1. Set goals and objectives for what I intend to come away with from the meeting. Take a moment and determine one to three educational goals you need for your next project or a client you want to reach out to. The clearer you are about what will support you in your personal and professional goals, the better.
  2. Reach out to existing clients and set up a time to catch up. I find that conferences are the time you say you will meet up, but they move so fast that you don't meet up unless you schedule an appointment. So, pick up the phone and set up your appointments!
  3. Scan the registration list for the friends and colleagues I hope to meet. It's fun to meet new people. Pick one to three people you want to connect with by scanning the registration list and looking for them on site or setting up an appointment pre-meeting.
  4. Mentor another. The more you give, the more you gain. As part of the ASAE mentor program, I have been able to meet people across the globe that I would not have otherwise met.
  5. Build a schedule of the who, what, where, when, and not-to-miss events. Put in your calendar or an excel spread sheet those things you can't miss. Set reminders so your phone will prompt you to move to the next meeting.
  6. Pre-schedule the tweets of the key learning points and events/people you want to thank and congratulate. Yes, you read that right; I use HootSuite to pre-plan some tweets, Facebook posts, and LinkedIn messages. Onsite I love my technology, and I like to maximize precious face-to-face time. By scheduling even a few messages over the course of the conference, I am active both digitally and online, simultaneously. Who says you can't be two places at once?

By setting up my pre-meeting meeting and working this checklist, I always assure that I get the most out of any conference experience. Any meeting can be overwhelming even for the most seasoned conference attendee. I hope my pre-meeting meeting might help you make the most of your ASAE experience. Look for me in Dallas or online at @hduckworth.


August 6, 2012

Why membership is not killing associations

The following is a guest post from Rob Pitzer, founder and president of Pitzer Research & Analysis. Rob has 15 years experience in membership- and subscription-based organizations and is making his first foray into the association blogging community with a response to a recent series of blog posts from Jeff De Cagna.

I read Jeff De Cagna's three-part series, "Five reasons membership is killing association business models" (here, here, and here), with great interest. As always, Jeff is provocative, and thinking about the issues he raised forced me to drill down and examine some basic assumptions. Before I address his arguments, let's look at those assumptions:

In virtually every association, the membership has a strong say in the direction of the organization, and it exists primarily to serve the personal or professional needs of the membership. These are essentially the defining criteria of a membership organization.

Somewhat confusingly, virtually all associations also have membership programs, through which members are acquired, serviced, satisfied, and renewed. The expenses associated with those programs must be offset by the revenue they produce, or they might be subsidized by other activities within the organization.

Importantly, having a membership program does not make you a membership organization! In fact, at its core, an association's membership program is not fundamentally different than a magazine subscription, a Friends of the Arts program, or membership at a golf club—they all rely on acquiring, servicing, satisfying, and renewing the member within the constraining economics of the parent organization. Where they differ is in the motivation of the member, the goals of the organization, marketing messages, and the benefits they provide.

Turning to Jeff's specific arguments (summarized here for space):

1. Membership-centric business models organize all value around the membership relationship. NEW DESIGN APPROACH: 21st century association business models must focus on creating radical new value instead of on membership.

2. Membership-centric business models tend to focus on association outputs instead of stakeholder outcomes. NEW DESIGN APPROACH: In designing 21st century business models, association leaders must pay much closer attention to the kind of people their current and future stakeholders wish to become, and the things they wish to achieve in their lives.

These are valid concerns and are related to the difference between offerings and benefits. Over time, association outputs take on lives of their own and their original intent—satisfying the needs of members and providing value to attract new members—becomes obscured. It is critical to periodically review offerings to judge effectiveness and conduct research with current and prospective members to learn how needs are shifting.

However, there is nothing inherent in either membership organizations or membership programs to prevent this review and research from happening. In fact, to the degree that an association is unable to offer enough value to convince people to join, that association will most likely cease to exist.

3. Membership-centric business models often depend on cross-subsidies that create unintended consequences. NEW DESIGN APPROACH: The priority for associations, then, is to design business models that can generate meaningful revenue streams based on the creation of new value with transformative potential for their future stakeholders.

5. Membership-centric business models require a significant investment of human effort for an insufficient return. NEW DESIGN APPROACH:  The work of business model innovation offers associations an opportunity to reconsider the narrow focus on membership in favor of more open and inclusive approaches to new value creation.

These two items are related. In many associations, donor or industry support does in fact subsidize the membership program rather than the organization itself, and there are associations where the time and money spent on the membership program is not justified by the return. However, these are driven either by a failure to understand the economics of the association's membership program or by policy decisions to operate the membership program at a loss to serve some greater purpose. Unfortunately, in my experience, it's too often the former, with stakeholders focusing on the number of members rather than the financial results of the program over time.

Thus, it's critical that organizations understand how acquisition and servicing expenses interact with membership and other revenue, renewal rates, and the breakeven period so they can determine whether membership is net positive or negative financially. An association can decide in advance what level of return or required subsidy it expects from membership, but doing so does not require killing off or deemphasizing membership.

There's also nothing to prevent associations from offering no- or low-cost memberships and adopting a more inclusive, less formal view of membership in the event they are able to create the radical value Jeff suggests. After all, many associations currently subsidize the membership program as a policy decision.

4. Membership-centric business models ask members to make the most important decisions about new value creation. NEW DESIGN APPROACH: associations need a rapid learning approach to strategy-making, such as crowdsourcing.

Jeff accurately identifies a real problem in associations: Too often strategic decision-making is handled by an unrepresentative slice of the membership. But there's nothing about membership that prevents greater inclusiveness. Rather, crowdsourcing with both members and nonmembers is a great way to engage all stakeholders and can lead to strengthened relationships with both groups.

In summary, while I couldn't agree more with Jeff's diagnosis of some key problems in the association world, I disagree with his prescription that  membership is fundamentally flawed and needs to be re-imagined. It just needs to be done correctly.

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August 3, 2012

The gray area of transparency

Social media can make an association board meeting messy. Just ask the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Debate is stirring in journalism circles online over its decision to ban the live tweeting of its board meeting.

Here's the quandry: It wasn't a board member tweeting, nor was it a reporter from an external news organization. It was a student reporter for UNITY News, the in-house news operation for the UNITY 2012 Conference, which brings together an alliance of identity-specific journalism associations and is where the board meeting was being held.

I don't know if the reporter was technically a member of NAHJ, but let's assume she was. How does an association board properly handle the challenge of live media at its meetings?

For board members: Regarding board members themselves, I've written here before that I think the answer is education about what must remain confidential and about how and why live tweeting can interfere with effective board decision making. (At the very least, a tweeting board member is a distracted board member.) But I'd stop short of an outright ban.

For outside press: In the case of reporters from outside publications, the answer is simple, as an association (generally) doesn't have an obligation to open its affairs to the public. Tell them they can read the press release.

For at-large members: But it's the area in between that's gray, when an at-large member wants to attend a board meeting and communicate proceedings to members in real time. At-large members have a legitimate claim to be made aware of their association's governance proceedings, but an association board has a legitimate need to conduct its meetings in an environment that enables candid discussion and debate.

As Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre pointed out, "The reason to have a board is to select representatives to discuss and agree on policy in a way that would be too time-consuming and inefficient in a plenary of the membership. Minute-by-minute reporting would tend to turn a board meeting into something like a plenary."

That's an argument that probably makes a lot of sense to an association executive or anyone who, like John, has served on a nonprofit board, but it likely won't resonate with members rallying in the name of transparency. A decision to close the doors or ban media should not be taken lightly.

Those of you out there who have faced this situation at your associations: How have you handled it? Where is the line drawn? How do you strike a balance between transparency and effective board business?

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August 1, 2012

Be an Acronym guest blogger at #asae12

The 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo is just around the corner, and Acronym will once again be your go-to source for online coverage of the conference. But, to make that happen, we need your help.

We're looking for guest blog posts from attendees before, during, and after the meeting. The assignment is simple: You'd only need to write one post (though you could write more if you'd like), anyone is eligible, and no prior blogging experience is necessary.

To get your blogging juices flowing, here's the theme we'd like guest posts to focus on:

  • New thinking: What association cliche or piece of conventional wisdom are you tired of, and how will what you've learned at the Annual Meeting help you challenge it?

We're hoping to line up a handful of volunteers before the conference, so if you're interested in contributing, email us at acronym@asaecenter.org and we'll send you some additional guidelines and tips for writing a great post and instructions for submitting. Thanks!

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