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September 28, 2012

A new chapter for ASAE blogging

We've finally gotten to the bottom of that bowl of alphabet soup.

As I briefly mentioned yesterday, the times are a-changin' for ASAE's print and online publications, and we're about to launch a new website that will be the new place to find our day-to-day news coverage and blogging on the association management profession. We hope you'll join us there, at AssociationsNow.com.

Beginning Monday, when the site goes live, you'll find:

Blogs: Five Associations Now editors will be blogging regularly on the new site. We'll aim to continue in provoking thought and driving discussion with fresh perspectives on association management.

The five of us will each have a dedicated topic (Leadership, Technology, Membership, Money & Business, and Meetings) that we'll regularly focus on, but of course any and all topics related to association management will be up for discussion, and we'll continue to seek professionals and experts in the association field to provide their guest perspectives, as well.

Our blogging will look a bit different, but the tone and the content will be much the same as what you've come to expect from Acronym over the years.

Daily news: The site will also be a source for a steady stream of news both from and about the association field. From new research on leadership and the latest tech buzz to updates from Capitol Hill and association success stories, we'll cover the news that matters most to association professionals.

You can bookmark the site or sign up to receive the Associations Now Daily News email in your inbox every morning. (Current ASAE members, you'll receive the Daily News beginning Monday. We hope you'll try it out, though if you prefer not to receive it, click "Update Your Preferences" at the bottom of any issue to opt out.) The Daily News is available to anyone and everyone who's interested, not just ASAE members, so tell your colleagues and friends.

Curation: In addition to the links we share in the course of reporting and blogging, we'll also be rounding up a few interesting blog posts and articles each day in a "Lunchtime Links" post.

New faces: You all know Mark Athitakis and me from our blogging here on Acronym, but you'll soon be getting to know several of our colleagues, some of whom are ASAE vets and some newbies:

  • Samantha Whitehorne, deputy editor. Our long-time showrunner for Associations Now will be our regular Meetings blogger on the new site.
  • Katie Bascuas, associate editor. Katie joined ASAE in June; she'll be blogging on Money & Business and reporting news each day.
  • Rob Stott, editorial assistant. Reporting daily news.
  • Ernie Smith, social journalist. Ernie will be reporting daily news, blogging on Technology, and curating links. He'll also be manning the Associations Now Twitter and Facebook feeds.

New formats: The new website and Daily News email are just two parts of an entire package of new features of Associations Now. The September/October issue of Associations Now in print is en route to ASAE members' mailboxes, and it has a whole new look. You can also now read Associations Now on the iPad. (Search "Associations Now" in the App Store.) And while you're at it, check out AssociationsNow.com on your smartphone or tablet, too. (Two words: responsive design.)

Trusty Acronym will ride off into the sunset, which in website terms means that it will no longer be updated but it won't be shut down. We'll keep commenting available here for about two more weeks, and then the site will remain static after that. Acronym has been going strong for more than six years now, believe it or not, and a deep well of knowledge and expertise has been amassed on these pages in that time. That, of course, is a credit to all of you in the association community, who have guest blogged, commented, and provided inspiration for posts here. We thank you for that, and we hope you'll continue to do the same in our new digs.

If you have any burning questions about the new site or Acronym, please feel free to comment below. Or, you can offer feedback about the new site in the Associations Now LinkedIn group or contact VP/Editor-in-Chief Julie Shoop directly at jshoop@asaecenter.org. Be sure to visit AssociationsNow.com on Monday. See you there!

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September 27, 2012

Quick clicks: September 27, 2012

Have you heard about the new AssociationsNow.com? Tomorrow I'll be sharing more details about the new site, but the short version is that AssociationsNow.com will be the new location for ASAE's blogging on association management, beginning Monday. So, that means today's Quick Clicks post will be the final installment in its current form. But, fear not, as we'll continue to curate the best of the association blogosphere over on the new site. It will look a bit different, but I think you'll like it. Stay tuned for more details!

Now, on with the links:

Community management. Lindy Dreyer talks with a lot of community managers, and she sums up five core lessons from the best of them.

New product development. Knowledge@Wharton explains what organizations can learn from Bud Light Lime and Nintendo Wii about entering new markets.

CEO onboarding. Elizabeth Engel, CAE, says a new CEO's background and an association's internal structure are leading influences in a transition process, and she offers a list of ways to prepare for a smooth one.

Customer service. Maggie McGary tells her tale of dealing with her broadband-internet provider over service issues. Calling regular customer service got her nowhere, but posting on Facebook about her problems got her a solution (sort of) right away. Her takeaway: "Checking off the box of social media customer service while leaving traditional customer service untouched is ultimately a recipe for failure, because a confused customer isn't necessarily a happy customer."

Speaker selection. Meetings & Conventions shares some interesting data on how meeting planners choose event speakers. Thirteen percent of survey respondents said they don't pay for speakers, while 3 percent said they budget more than $50,000.

Video. Cynthia D'Amour shares a video from the Craft & Hobby Association that features CHA staff dancing and singing to promote their upcoming conference and tradeshow. It also kicks off a video contest for CHA members to promote the event, as well.

Volunteer management. Shawn Kendrick at the Engergize Inc. Blog shares several ideas for dealing with last-minute volunteer cancellations.

Technology. Wes Trochlil surveyed association execs on their biggest IT challenges, and he was a bit surprised by a few high-profile topics that didn't crack the top five.

Government relations. Stefanie Reeves, CAE, shares some advice for CAE candidates studying up on government relations, which she notes is the CAE domain that, by far, candidates feel the least prepared for.



  • Jeff Cobb writes that most adults are not prepared to continue learning after finishing high school or college, which is a big problem for maintaining a skilled workforce. Associations should be stepping in to solve this problem, but they're not doing enough, he says.
  • Dave Lutz calls Continuing Education Units the "fool's gold" of conference marketing: "I have yet to find an organization whose own research has proven that CEU acquisition is a major conference draw," he writes.

Future of associations. Jamie Notter responded to my "big and niche" post from two weeks ago to say that associations need to understand they aren't entitled to exist, and embracing that reality may just free them to build a more effective future for themselves.

Free membership. Steve Drake shares the story of the Small Business Association of Michigan, which added a free-membership category to its membership structure, primarily in effort to expand its lobbying clout: "Our messages focus on cause … NOT on the benefits you'll receive," says SBAM CEO Rob Fowler.

Membership marketing. Tony Rossell breaks out some important formulas to help you determine how to budget for recruitment and renewal efforts.

Boards. Rick Moyers points the spotlight at Susan G. Komen for the Cure to illustrate the dangers of founder's syndrome.


September 26, 2012

Two associations go with tiered memberships

In the last two months, two national associations have unveiled new membership models that rely on a range of options as a core selling point.

  • On August 1, AIGA (once the American Institute of Graphic Arts) announced a new membership structure with five levels ranging in price from $50 to $2,500 per year.
  • On September 5, the American Alliance of Museums announced a new structure with three membership levels and six staff-size sub-levels ranging from "pay what you can" to $5,000 per year. (The change also coincided with a name change from "Association" to "Alliance.")

The rule of thumb is that two is a coincidence and three is a trend, so these might not reflect any major trends in associations. (Though now I'm curious if ASAE or anyone else has any benchmarking data on membership structures with tiers; I'll have to dig and perhaps follow up in a later post.) Nonetheless, there are some interesting common themes between these two recent revamps.

Broader inclusion. Both organizations cite the need to cast a wider net in diversifying industries, to expand beyond the traditional professionals to allow engagement among a wider variety of interested stakeholders.

  • AIGA CEO Richard Grefé writes, "The expectations of designers have broadened in recent decades, as have the range of design disciplines and practices. … AIGA has always adapted to the interests of the profession, and is now shifting to a model that makes membership more accessible, increasing participation while providing opportunities for those who value AIGA's role in the advancement of design to make a stronger financial contribution. A larger and more diverse membership makes AIGA's collective voice stronger and more compelling."
  • AAM explains, "… we came to believe that 'association' did not represent what we wanted to be as an organization, nor did it represent what the museum field needed us to be—an inclusive, collaborative organization prepared to work with museum professionals and volunteers, with those who do business with museums, and with those who just love museums. We wanted to be a good partner with other museum-related organizations and to help unify the field on behalf of the cause of museums. 'Alliance' describes the ideal role for this organization to play."

More choices. From those motivating factors, it's easy to see why they chose tiered memberships. Greater diversity in your industry means a broader mix of involvement and interest levels and thus demands a wider variety of membership choices to meet it. Conveniently, both AIGA and AAM provide a handy table of membership levels and benefits for potential members to examine their options.

Two weeks ago here on Acronym I asked whether associations should focus on smaller niches, welcome the masses, or try to serve both with tiered memberships. The answer might be different for every association, but these two are clearly hoping to broaden their bases while continuing to serve their most highly engaged members.

If you know of other associations that have recently adopted tiered membership structures, please share.


September 13, 2012

Quick clicks: September 12, 2012

Education. David M. Patt, CAE, says taking questions at the end of a session doesn't make it "interactive."

Pricing. Steve Drake asks, if online retailers adjust product prices multiple times per day or even per hour, why do associations tend to lock in their membership dues or product prices for months or even years on end?

Budgeting. Jeff De Cagna continues his series exploring his "really radical shifts toward the future" for associations, this time proposing that associations should eliminate budgeting in favor of "function[ing] more like investors by allocating capital to fund high-level strategic priorities."

Leadership. Kerry Stackpole, FASAE, CAE, offers five reasons complexity is your friend, rather than something to be feared.

Volunteer engagement. Got a new product in development? Don't wait until it's perfect, Elizabeth Engel, CAE, writes. Instead, recruit some eager members to test it out, and they'll love you for it.

Fundraising. Colleen Dilenschneider explains five mistakes that nonprofits often make in working with celebrities to endorse their causes.

Vendors. Deirdre Reid, CAE, says some association professionals are missing out on vast stores of knowledge when they say "no vendors, please" in community discussions. Her thoughts started a lengthy comment thread, which you should be sure to read, too.

Social media. Leslie White shares a report that examines the world of social media risk managers. Likely few associations are large enough to have such a specialized position, but that doesn't mean they don't still have to manage social-media-related risks.

Change management. Jeffrey Cufaude illustrates the importance of helping people understand new ideas in terms that relate to things they are already familiar with.

Value. Jeff Cobb reminds associations of the importance of answering the question "why?" in marketing its education programs or even membership overall.

Negotiation. Cindy Butts, CAE, hosted a yard sale, and visitors asked her a few questions that reminded her of association management.

Management. Jamie Notter points out one big reason for the success of Netflix as an organization: "They fire adequate people."


September 11, 2012

Big and niche

A few weeks ago, I watched the first 45 minutes or so of the movie 2012. My only takeaway from that experience is that it was really important to not ask questions about the science. The world was ending, and it didn't matter why. People just needed to run like hell.

Sometimes I feel the same way about the imminent doom of associations. The world is changing! Associations are doomed! Run!

I don't doubt the need to change. The world is indeed changing fast, and associations must follow suit. I feel that in my gut. But a lot of times I don't know exactly why or which way we should be running.

The threats to the traditional association model that we should be running away from (or toward) seem to be coming from multiple directions. Consider these two recent blog posts:

  • In early August, Maggie McGary highlighted the niche community at socialmedia.org for big-brand social media pros. The concierge-level group costs $10,000 a year to join and promises a vendor-free environment, an exclusive online community, and VIP service for members. Maggie rightly suggests that this type of highly focused, premium-service community in any field could be a threat to traditional associations or at least an alternative model to consider.
  • Last week, Joshua Paul pointed out that associations are losing their claim to representing whole industries (if they ever really had it), citing a case of political talking heads dismissing the American Medical Association as not representing the whole physician community. Josh suggests that associations could broaden their membership base (and thus their lobbying clout) through virtual memberships that would appeal to rank-and-file industry members.

On their own, each of these posts makes a compelling argument for action, but taken together they raise a tough dilemma: Is the future of the association model more niche or more broad? Deeper or wider? Customized solutions for a few or scalable solutions for the masses? This is a case when I'm glad I'm just a guy who writes about this stuff rather than the executive who has to make the decision.

There are a lot of options. Associations could go big or go niche, they could aim for a happy medium, or they could try to encompass both ends of the spectrum with tiered levels of membership and service.

You might have strong opinions on which of these models would be most viable (which you should share in the comments below), but for any particular association, the decision likely depends on its own mission, strategic priorities, and market conditions. So, the most important steps may just be to get clarity on those before charting a course forward—to ask a lot of questions about the science that drives change for your association. That process might not make for a good movie, but it could be a good way to ward off impending doom.

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September 5, 2012

A Different Leadership Lesson From Navy SEALs

I recognize that there's an inherent risk in comparing associations to military operations, especially in the midst of a heated campaign season. But an article in the Daily Beast yesterday got me thinking about something. Hang with me for a paragraph or two.

Today marks the publication of No Easy Day, a memoir by Matt Bissonnette, a former Navy SEAL who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Bissonette is publishing the book under a pseudonym, Mark Owen, but his real name went public not long after the book was announced, and the very existence of the book has prompted some ugly public retorts among the onetime close-knit ranks. Earlier this week the Daily Beast reported on an e-book in which special-ops veterans criticize the publication of No Easy Day and speculate on the author's motives: "'Bissonnette was treated very poorly upon his departure ... once he openly shared that he was considering getting out of the Navy to pursue other interests,' [they write]. "Bissonnette was essentially given a plane ticket back to Virginia and nothing else--not much of a thank-you for his 'honesty and 14 years of service.'"

I admit to being a bit surprised, reading about all this. If the most fearsome, best-trained fighting force in the military---a no-nonsense, get-it-done unit adhering to the highest possible standards---can't set aside its squabbling, what hope is there for our staffs? Our boards?

The analogy is imperfect, I know: Navy SEALs operate in life-and-death situations that few can fathom, and the necessity for secrecy there is much more pronounced. But something very familiar and human also seems to be going on here: People are brought into a privileged group with at best a limited amount of forethought about what might happen when people leave. "Members of the Special Operations community are well known for eating their own," the e-book authors say. That mindset is designed to solidify ranks, but it fails when somebody is motivated, for whatever reason---a less stressful job, a lucrative book contract---to break from them.

In the same way that smart organizations think about the right way to sunset programs and products, some deliberate care seems essential when we consider the end of a board member's tenure; a toast at one last breakfast and a chance to walk the stage one more time at the annual conference may not enough if they're not attached to feelings of respect and accomplishment. Proper closure requires working with board leaders months before their term ends to find out how they felt about their service---and, if those feelings aren't entirely positive, what can be done in the time remaining to improve it. Not doing it risks lingering resentment---and, at its worst, public disagreement that can harm how your organization is perceived.