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 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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July 25, 2012

The 40-Year Lesson: Insights from a Retiring Association CEO

Caught in a deadline jam for Associations Now after a snafu that meant pulling several short articles, I was lucky enough to earn the sympathy and help of one of the great leadership icons of our community: CEO & President J. Clarke Price of the Ohio Society of CPAs.

Price is actually leaving us all after 40 years of service. He gave notice two years ago and will head out of the office in December to hopefully tee off on the golf courses of Hawaii and elsewhere, then delve into favorite cause-related activities. I had to cut a bunch of Clarke's comments because of space limitations in the magazine, so I want instead to share them here as advice and insights from one of our most admired colleagues.

1. Association CEOs must stop complaining about time pressures and embrace the huge responsibility they bear for the success of their association's social media strategy. "Social media is one of the differentiators today," says Clarke, who has been called a "Technology Superstar" by one of his industry's trade publications. "Too many CEOs--and occasionally myself included--dismiss social media by rationalizing 'I don't have time for that' when we really do need to be spending time in the social media universe. Whether it's blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the social platforms, the CEO needs to be vocal as one of the loudest and clearest voices of the association and the profession or industry. I'm critical of myself, because I don't spend enough time being part of the social atmosphere."

2. Being an early adopter of technology tools and applications is essential, too. "It's been fun moving from a two-way pager in the early days to the earliest Blackberry to the Palm Treo to the next gizmo iteration and then to the iPhone and iPad that I use today," Clarke says. "And I still carry an old Motorola Razor that I use just because I'm just more comfortable with that sort of phone, and the battery life is great."

3. In the big, long scheme of things, people mean the most. "As a career accomplishment, being featured in ASAE's 7 Measures [of Success] book was a pretty big deal for the organization and me. But I'm proudest when I think about the people I've hired, some who are still here and some who've moved on to bigger roles in other associations and industries or professions," he says.

4. You never forget some of your earliest CEO mistakes--and what you learned from them. It's apparently a long story, but Clarke says one of his most memorable mistakes involved a simple proofreading gaff. "Proofread carefully," he warns. "... I was almost fired in 1975 because of a very sloppy proofreading job on a bylaws ballot sent to every member!"

5. Have leadership role models--a lot of them. "I don't have just one," Clarke says. "I've learned a lot from colleagues in other organizations (particularly the Ohio State Bar Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and Maryland Institute of CPAs)....[and] just observing and working with John Graham the year I was ASAE chair."

And finally--because who doesn't always want to know this when they talk one of the association world's wise elders--what's Clarke's favorite board management tip after 40 years in the trenches?

"Plan! Think through the likely avenues of discussion and be prepared for the unexpected."

I hope retirement brings you expected and unscripted joys, Clarke. Thanks again for sharing not only your thoughts with me but with so many of us over the years in the association community. I'd love to hear what others have to say about Clarke's tips and observations.

You also can wish him well and hear about the books and information sources that have influenced his past and current thinking as a leader if you join us for the education session "Conversations That Matter: What We Learn From What We Read" Tuesday morning, Aug. 14 in Dallas at our Annual Meeting & Expo. I'll be joining Clarke and another longtime industry leader, Gary LaBranche, to lead a rowdy, fun, and very practical (if last year's version is any indication) discussion of the books, blogs, Twitterstreams, and whatever other info sources (okay, the emphasis is often on books) that have jazzed your thinking in the past year. Leave room in your totebag for at least one free book from our giveaway table!


An Olympic Celebration of Excellence

Happy Olympics, everyone! With the U.S. Women's Soccer Team kicking off the whole darn sportsapalooza this morning against France, the 2012 Olympics and the world's witness of performance excellence and resilience begins.

I just love the Olympics--the athletes and their gritty stories of perseverance, pain, and triumph; the cultural insights into the host country; the anxious coaches and families who sacrificed so much to enable their athletes just to be there; and the overall national pride that buzzes through America and around the planet when we see the best-of-the-best give it their all.

I've been fortunate to interview a few Olympians from figure skater Michael Weiss, who practices at the same ice rink that my family goes for a laugh and a tumble, to speed skater Apolo Ohno, who told me that his favorite inspirational book is In Pursuit of Excellence.

Both of these medalists have now joined our own ranks, leading active foundations to help next-generation athletes rise within their sport, set aggressive goals, and make healthy life choices. They are passionate about their nonprofits and causes, just as we are. They are committed to creatively communicating positive messages to their target audiences, just as we are. They do not fear the sheer scale of the social and economic problems they are tackling, whether reversing obesity trends, convincing under-age teens to avoid alcohol, or urging students to stay in school so they can secure a stronger spot in America's workforce. We don't back down, either.

As we unite around the world for the next few weeks to cheer the titans of sport, give yourself and your colleagues an extra yell as well. While we carry no ribbons with gold around our necks, we too have much to celebrate and strive for in the ongoing competition of association life. Happy Olympics!


July 24, 2012

Walls and Fences Can Lock In Associations Unnecessarily

In reading Robert Frisch's new book, Who's In the Room, about effective use of senior management teams, I was especially interested in the author's section on so-called walls versus fences within organizations.

"The idea is there is a set of things we understand that form boundaries of what our options are around what we can do to grow, for example," Frisch said in an interview with me for Associations Now. "They define the borderlines of what we do.... What happens is that when people get into positions of responsibility in associations, [they] get an understanding of the way 'things are done around here.' There's even more of a reluctance to challenge conventional wisdom, because [they may be ] serving an elected term for two years" or not be at the top of the staff totem pole.

Associations are not alone in mistakenly thinking that staff members, leaders, and others usually understand the difference between a fact (a wall such as an understanding that "you cannot do X because of X") and an assumption (a fence such as "you could not do X at that time but things changed, so now it's okay").
"If those walls and fences aren't placed accurately, then you're going to have people making bad decisions," Frisch told me. "It's really a question of, 'What are the very fundamentals of our business model?' It's a critical conversation that most organizations never have."

In fact, I don't recall have too many of those myself. Bits and pieces maybe, but not an overall look at solid versus picket fence stuff.

Frisch says these things are no secret. "People who are asked generally can tell you their organization's walls and fences," he said. "It's the job of the senior management team to go up to those walls and give them a good shake, asking, 'Is this a valid limit to who we are and what we can do, or is this a fence that can be moved? If we move it, can we open up new opportunities for growth and expansion?'"

He recommended questions like 'What business are we in? Who is our customer? What products can we offer? How do we go about conducting our business?'
And it's not just the staff who may build or break down these walls and fences. Most of us probably can think of a time when board members--or perhaps the minutes of their meeting--established a wall when a fence was the intention. Frisch warns that board directives and statements often are not re-evaluated enough, and that trickles to staff both new and seasoned who are heavily influenced by board comments.

"We have to be careful that they won't over-interpret what's being said, and that's why the walls and fences exercises are useful," he explains. "Let's make it very clear--this is what we do, this is what we don't do, this is who we serve, this is who we don't serve, these are the programs we fund, these are the programs we don't fund. How often do a board and senior management team actually walk the boundaries of the organization and explicitly talk about what we do and don't do? That's a very important but rare conversation."

Look for the full interview with Frisch in an upcoming Associations Now.

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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 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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May 31, 2012

Upgrading Diplomacy Skills the Albright Way

Want to refine your diplomacy skills?

Flash back to the enduring advice given by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to association leaders in this "classic" (June 2002) article, "Education of a Diplomat," which I pulled from ASAE's Knowledge Center archives of Executive Update magazine pieces published by the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives (pre-merger with ASAE).

I thought I'd bring the article up for a re-airing when I saw that Albright and 12 other leaders received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this week from President Barack Obama "for changing the world for the better."


Associations as Networked "Ecosystems"

In an interesting interview article appearing in the May 29 Inc. magazine, business guru Jim Collins references new thinking on leadership that he developed after working with ASAE and the associations that participated in research for the book Seven Measures of Success.

In a discussion of how the Internet revolution has changed business today, Collins says, "The Internet is all about networks and connectivity across networks, so one possibility is that there's a shift to a new fundamental building of society, namely, the network. We may be moving to a world of networks well led, as opposed to organizations well managed. You can't really manage a network, but you can help lead within a network."

Calling such networks "building blocks," Collins points to associations that "are, by their nature, networks. They're fluid. But an association has to have some sort of unity and cohesion.

"So how do you create a great association when it's inherently not self-contained? [ASAE's] researchers analyzed some really high-performing associations, in which you can see this network effect and the importance of being able to lead without direct power. I began thinking that associations may actually be on the leading edge of what more people are going to have to learn how to do. Instead of managing a company, you're managing an ecosystem that is networked and connected over the world."

You can read the full article, "Jim Collins: Be Great Now," here and please feel free to comment below.


May 24, 2012

Guarding Your Message

I was listening to a communications specialist who was at ASAE's Membership, Marketing, and Communications Conference yesterday, and she was confiding a message-gone-wrong story at her association.

In her case, members had given immediate and highly vocal feedback that they believed a certain call for an advocacy action by the organization and its membership had strayed from or even "betrayed" its core mission, thus alienating and confusing important donors and leaders.

It reminded me of the Komen Foundation controversy regarding pulled funds for Planned Parenthood programs, as well as comments by political strategist James Carville, whom I had interviewed recently about the art of smart messaging. (Carville will be a General Session speaker with Republican strategist Karl Rove in August at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, so look for interviews with him and Rove in an upcoming Associations Now spread.)

"That debacle was an enormous and, as far as I can tell, unanticipated glitch," Carville said as we wondered why organizations still make serious communication mistakes, even with high-priced PR firms advising them. "Their overall messaging and the pink ribbon were brilliant. That became so identifiable that they were about women's health, and ... they had a real positive outfit. But then they came across as if they were some kind of political advocacy group, and that was particularly damaging. That was a glitch where they did something that was inconsistent with their overall messaging."

Carville talked about the need to vehemently "protect your message with everything you do."

"That's why I always add the dynamic of culture," he said, adding that the key elements of your primary message must be deeply embedded across your organization and lived by everyone on staff 24/7. "Where Komen, as a good example, went off track was that women's health wasn't put first; politics or ideology was put first," or at least appeared that way. That clearly had donors and supporters feeling profoundly betrayed, and I personally wonder how long it might take for Komen to recover, if indeed it can rebuild the lost trust through believable messaging and actions.

I'm interested in whether other associations or nonprofits have opinions of why and when associations mess up their messaging and are forced to execute crisis communication interventions. Feel free to share here and to sanitize players as needed for the sake of discussion.


April 20, 2012

Professional comfort

Is there something wrong with all of us?

Harvard Business Review's resident nonprofit provocateur, Dan Pallotta, asks this question about the profession in his latest blog post, "Nonprofit Pathology." I urge you to read the whole post, but here's an excerpt:

"Maybe people get into the compassion business full-time not because they're more compassionate than others but because they're codependent. […] I see people who wear the debilitating lack of resources in their organization like a badge of honor, despite the fact that the deficiency undermines their ability to impact the community problem they are working on. I see people moving from one nonprofit to another, from one cause to another, seemingly more addicted to 'the struggle' than passionate about solving any particular social ill. […] And while they lament it, they have no commitment to doing anything about it. There's a sense of pathological contentment."

Ouch. That's a harsh diagnosis, but it rings true. When good intentions run aground time after time, frustration bleeds into martyrdom, and you can recognize it from a mile away. After hearing "we have to do more with less" enough, it begins to sound more like an excuse than a call to action. I don't think Pallotta means to indict an entire sector of professionals (well, maybe he does), but rather I think he means to point out that too many nonprofit professionals take the easy way out, lamenting the system rather than trying to fix it.

Philanthropic nonprofit work and association management have their similarities, of course, but the two attract a fundamentally different kind of worker that leads to a different strain of "pathology" in associations. Philanthropic organizations draw the bleeding hearts, workers who are stirred by the challenge of direct social or environmental change. Association work is more indirect; associations make the world a better place, too, but they do it by helping other people (doctors, builders, scientists, whoever) be better at what they do. And so association management is often less a profession that is sought out than one that people "fall into."

Meanwhile, associations have a steady pool of customers (members) to a degree that far exceeds any other type of business, for-profit or nonprofit. When you can rest easy in knowing that 80 percent of your customers will give you money every year, that's a comfortable, built-in audience.

What do you get when you put that together with a large pool of professionals who arrived in their jobs by chance? Instead of a workforce driven by a core purpose or an innate will to change the world, you get a workforce that discovers, likes, and comes to depend on the comfort of the status quo. And it goes without saying that comfort breeds complacency. That's the association pathology. We're codependent, too. We need members so we can feel needed.

I've read arguments that the struggle to change is magnified or somehow unique to associations, and generally I chalk that up more to overall human nature. We all hate change. But I can see how the nature of associations makes change an uphill battle. The chips are stacked against us by the inherent structure of the membership model, which is only reinforced by the workforce it engenders.

At the Great Ideas Conference last month, I listened to Shelly Alcorn's summary of her lengthy study of association executives' visions of the future. Her handout listed a series of "provocative proposals," phrased as "what if" questions, that emerged consistently in her study. More than one of them focused on transforming association management into a profession that is sought after rather than fallen into. If we're ever going to break our dependency on membership as we know it, that's going to be a key step.

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April 18, 2012

Earth Day Offers Visibility, Fun, Engagement

It's Earth Day this Sunday and National Volunteer Month for a few weeks more, so loads of associations and their member companies and professionals are organizing, educating, celebrating, volunteering, and just plain participating in this worldwide effort to bolster environmental conservation.

Here's a snapshot of what some are doing or already have done--and it's not too late to join in yourself!

Start by downloading the free Earth Day 2012 Toolkit , where you can also learn about and be inspired by "A Billion Acts of Green," the world's largest environmental service campaign. And if you're in DC, you may want to check out the massive party scene happening at the National Mall rally and concerts either in person or online (live-streaming at

Sounds like some more partying will go on over at the 2012 Mighty Kindness Earth Day Hootenanny on April 22 organized by the Kentucky Chiropractic Association. The fun is combined with a more serious purpose: promoting a new state license "Go Green with Chiropractic" plate that aims "to elevate the chiropractic industry and its environmentally friendly nature in Kentucky" and raise some money as well.

The Eco-Dentistry Association will host its first tweetchat for dental industry professionals and consumers worldwide "to discuss the essentials of a high-tech, wellness based, and successful green dental practice."

The American Bar Association's Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) in sponsoring the One Million Trees Project-Right Tree for the Right Place at the Right Time nationwide public service project. Started in March 2009, the project "calls on ABA members to contribute to the goal of planting one million trees across the United States by 2014 - both by planting trees themselves and by contributing to the partnering tree organizations." It also is promoting nominations for the 2012 ABA Award for Excellence in Environmental, Energy, and Resources Stewardship.

Entertainment Cruises is partnering with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has partnered with Entertainment Cruises to offer an Earth Day brunch cruise to enjoy Washington, DC, views while learning from the NAAEE about green energy, environmental initiatives and its upcoming conference.

More than 1,000 volunteers of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) are engaging in 10 signature Earth Day projects from prairie re-vegetation to exotic plant species removal on public lands across the U.S. on April 14 and 21. These events have some powerful sponsors, including American Eagle Outfitters, ARAMARK, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Exelon Foundation, Johnson Controls, Sony, and Southwest Airlines.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has released the First Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative, which details how the consumer electronics industry has dramatically increased its recycling in 2011 and advanced the goals set by the eCycling Leadership Initiative (also called the Billion Pound Challenge). For instance, participants of the initiative arranged for the responsible recycling of 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, a 53% increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010. The number of recycling drop-off locations for consumers also was bolstered from to nearly 7,500 from just over 5,000 a year ago. And CEA launched to educate consumers about eCycling and energy consumption. By entering a ZIP code, anyone can locate the closest responsible recycling opportunity sponsored by the CE industry and/or third-party certified recycler. The initiative aims to increase electronics recycling to one billion pounds annually by 2016 and providing transparent metrics on eCycling efforts. A billion pounds of unrecycled waste electronics would fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium.

The American Medical Student Association and Medical Alumni Association at Temple University are planting seeds and preparing a "Medicinal and Edible Learning Garden" and education event to discuss natural medicinal remedies.

The National Parks and Recreation Association is urging people to take advantage of waived entrance fees at U.S. national parks from April 21 to April 29 during National Park Week. Download your free Owner's Guide to America's National Parks. I know a few associations that are planning staff picnics and hikes at local parks and Great Falls National Park in sync with this promotional event.

The New York City Association of Hotel Concierges (NYCAHC) and its affiliate members will celebrate MillionTreesNYC at a "Dig In for Earth Day" tree-planting event May 5 in partnership with Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks and New York Restoration Project. Since the program's inception in 2007, thousands of New Yorkers have helped plant over 400,000 trees, with NYCAHC planting more than 2,000 of them.

American Forests' easy online calculator and offsetting options make it easy to offset your home or car pollution (I offset my minivan's emissions for about $17 last year through AF). Earth Day Network also offers an eco-calculator.

Whatever you do, just consider doing something green this weekend and join your colleagues in making the planet a bit healthier for us all!

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March 7, 2012

Are Your Internships the "Best on Earth?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 16, 2012

What do associations do better than anyone else?

Here's a question to melt your brain: if your association had to decide which one product or service it was best at providing and from then on produce that one item alone and nothing else, what would it be?

This came to mind after reading Jeff Cobb's post this week titled "What if you were the Dyson of your market?" He writes:

I have in mind that obvious and yet amazing claim for a vacuum cleaner manufacturer to make:

Our vacuums have strong suction and they don't lose it.

[…] imagine if you could validly say "People who participate in our learning experiences gain high quality, actionable knowledge; they retain it; and, they use it. We guarantee it."

I often find myself envious of companies that design and manufacture one type of item, like Dyson does with vacuum cleaners (or perhaps "turbine devices" to account for their fans, hand dryers, and washing machines, too). It's that kind of singular focus that makes it a lot less complicated for a company to strive toward being the best in the world at what it does.

Leah Busque's recent post at Fast Company's Co.Exist blog on comparative advantage ("If You Want It Done Right, Don't Do It Yourself") drives this point home:

There is tremendous power in focusing on the things you are most skilled at, while relying on others to do the rest. … It's necessary (and a real skill) to acknowledge where your time is best spent and make conscious decisions to focus on those areas.

The variety of endeavors most associations pursue, however, is broad: meetings, education, knowledge sharing, advocacy, standards, fundraising, research, group buying, and so on and so on. (I'm reminded yet again of C. David Gammel, CAE's postulate about an association being "a conglomerate of small businesses.")

I commented on Jeff's post to say that I worry that this lack of focus in associations might prevent them from achieving a Dyson-level of quality—the level of "we're the best in the world and we guarantee it"—in any particular product or service. Of course, any given association could, theoretically, pick one of its offerings, eschew the rest, and pursue it at the highest level. And the particular offering chosen would likely be different at every association, depending on each one's unique circumstances and skill sets.

But is there one comparative advantage for associations overall? For the association model? What is it that associations are better at than anyone else? I'll admit I struggled with this for a while, but I think the answer is rather straightforward: associations are the best at being large groups of people with common interests and goals. Their comparative advantage lies in having a critical mass. Power in numbers is what lends credibility to all the products and services associations create.

A lot of people would call this "membership," so it's understandable that we all get whipped into a froth when we debate the future of the membership model. If membership is the fundamental advantage that associations carry, and they lost it, they might cease to exist. I think this viewpoint is half right. "Membership" often denotes payment to enter, and I don't think that's always necessary. "Community" seems like the better label to me. As long as an association can foster a community, whether the community members pay to be a part of it or not, it will have opportunities to remain sustainable.

But you can't sell membership in and of itself. People don't join a community just to be a part of it. They join for all the benefits that its power in numbers enables. And so maybe the question at the start of this post is irrelevant. Perhaps we're comparing apples to oranges. What do you think? What is that associations can guarantee they're the best in the world at? Or can they at all?

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February 8, 2012

Cracking the Role of Luck in Business Success

It's not often that you run into a business topic that hasn't already been micro-examined, so when leadership guru Jim Collins and his Great by Choice coauthor Morten Hansen decided to tackle the blurry subject of whether luck—both good and bad—is key to long-term organizational success, I paid extra attention.

Their dilemma was how to study it, Collins told me during an interview, much of which appears in three articles in this month's Associations Now and on the ASAE website:

Great by Choice is the final lap in a 10-year marathon study of what makes companies great. In this fourth and last book in the "Great" series, the focus is on achieving excellence amidst a chaotic global environment. Would luck play a greater role during such turbulence, and could it be leveraged effectively?

In response, Collins and Morten pioneered a methodology that defines "luck events" to evaluate whether the "great" companies in its matched-pair study had better, worse, or the same luck as its counterparts. They explored a luck event by asking whether luck was rare or common, whether any evidence existed that the most successful organizations were luckier, and whether they did anything differently about luck.

The duo discovered that good and bad luck abounds, and that of the 230 identified luck events in their studied companies, the great companies were not luckier comparably and that the timing or size of the luck event did not quantitatively affect their success levels much of the time.

What the duo decided was that a "return on luck"—the ability of an organization to leverage good luck opportunities or ride out bad luck events—was a differentiator in the long run. "What the 10xers [great organizations] do is ask, 'Is this a piece of luck that should cause us to disrupt our plans, and, if so, what should we do to get a high return on that luck?'" Collins said. "It doesn't matter if it's good luck or bad luck. The same question applies. We found that our 10xers were really good at recognizing a luck event, and when it came, they executed supremely well to get a high return on that luck event."

They also found that "Good luck cannot cause a great organization. … However, … if you get bad enough luck, it can end the quest," said Collins, noting that a small organization could go under if it, say, runs out of cash or loses its primary leader because of some bad luck.

I'm betting that we all can think of times when we muttered about having bad luck (grant denied) or celebrated a sprig of good luck (an unexpected check) but did not necessarily look at this luck as an opportunity of much long-term value. Maybe Collins' research will turn our thinking in a different direction if we become more proficient at identifying substantive luck events and pausing to ponder these twists more strategically.

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October 26, 2011

Would your annual report ever sound like this?

My RSS feed from Wired magazine doesn't typically bear much relation to association management, but Maryn McKenna's summary of the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative caught my eye: "Scathing Report: Polio Eradication 'Not... Any Time Soon'."

Maryn writes that the report "is striking for its brutally frank and even frustrated tone." She later writes that the report "identifies problems that extend throughout the worldwide effort. The board is strikingly candid in asking pointed questions about them."

The nature of the report isn't exactly parallel to an association annual report, but I couldn't help but compare them. The truth, though, is they don't really compare at all. The association annual reports I've seen have typically been positive, light on genuine analysis, and rather dull. Anything but brutally frank.

This disparity could be a byproduct of vague missions and goals. Clearly, eradicating polio is a "big, hairy audacious goal." Bigger goal equals more room for failure, which an honest report will identify. But a vague goal, like "advancing the industry," means there's more room to be just as vague in assessing results.

The disparity could also result from who writes the report. In the case of the polio initiative, the report was written by an independent board convened specifically "to monitor and guide the progress" of initiative's strategic plan. In the case of most associations, an annual report is assembled by staff, possibly with involvement or sign-off of the board—two parties with a clear bias toward highlighting an association's success and downplaying its shortfalls. Perhaps a committee of at-large members tasked with authoring an annual report would offer more honest analysis.

Of course, the actual substance of the polio initiative report is disappointing, from a global-health perspective. But sugarcoating the lack of progress toward the initiative's goal would have been a disservice to the people dedicating their energy toward eradicating the disease and to those who still suffer from it. The report's honesty is exactly the kind of kick in the pants that can motivate people to fix problems, and it's exactly the kind of analysis that has to take place when measuring progress toward a mission, whatever it may be.

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October 21, 2011

Can't or won't?

I was going to put this in this week's quick clicks post but decided I had more than a sentence to say about it. Yesterday, the always-insightful Seth Godin defined the difference between stupid and lazy:

When I was in college, I took a ton of advanced math courses, three or four of them, until one day I hit the wall. Too many dimensions, transformations and toroids for me to keep in my head. I was too stupid to do really hard math so I stopped.

Was it that I was too stupid, or did I merely decide that with my priorities, it wasn't worth the work?

The post is short, so you should go read the whole thing right now. It's great advice for anyone who's ever faced a challenge.

I think you could replace "stupid" and "lazy" with "can't" and "won't" and apply the same message to associations. In the face of change, opportunities for innovation in associations are often met with "we just can't do that." We don't have the time, the money, or the resources; we can't change our member benefits; the board (or CEO) will never take that kind of risk; and so on and so on. But the truth is that, in any situation, there's always a choice. We can find the time and the money, we can change a membership model, we can manage risk, but only if we're willing to reallocate or reinvent or kill some sacred cows.

Godin goes on to say "Isn't it amazing that we'd rather call ourselves stupid than lazy?" Likewise, isn't it amazing that many associations would rather say "we can't do it" than admit that they're just not willing to put in the work required to change?


October 12, 2011

So You've Discovered a Paradigm Shift, Have You?

Last month researchers at the CERN research laboratory near Geneva delivered some big news: They clocked some subatomic particles as moving faster than the speed of light. I studied English in college, not physics, so I won't pretend to understand the intricacies of this, but I can grasp the fact that This Was Not Supposed to Happen. Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity says that objects cannot move faster than the speed of light; if they do, they would be going backwards in time. (I'm not sure what the implications of that might be, besides providing fodder for bad movies.)

In any event, for the purposes of this blog I'm not interested in the science so much as how it was discussed. Faced with some earth-shattering news that undoes physics and we know it, the scientists at CERN announced their findings with remarkable humility. "We cannot explain the observed effect in terms of systematic uncertainties," Dr. Dario Autiero said. "Therefore, the measurement indicates a neutrino velocity higher than the speed of light."

Dr. Autiero added, in a sentence that suggests more bafflement than celebration, "We present to you this discrepancy or anomaly today."

As somebody who gets plenty of emails every week, both in and out of the nonprofit space, celebrating a "revolutionary" this or "paradigm-shifting" that, I find that kind of care with language refreshing. It also speaks to something that often goes unspoken when big changes are discovered, be they in science or management: Those changes, if they are genuine, can be messy. People long in comfortable positions might wind up marginalized; vendors' services might be no longer needed as an association changes tack; association leaders might discover they're woefully ill-equipped in terms of staff and board leadership to make the necessary adjustments; those same leaders might realize they themselves are ill-equipped to manage through that change.

The reason we use the term "paradigm shift" so much today is thanks to Thomas Kuhn, whose 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, discussed how unsettling seachanges in physics could be, from Copernicus to Newton to Einstein; Kuhn himself absorbed no small amount of flak for his book. I don't mean to suggest that leaders should shy away from addressing paradigm shifts when they see them; just that they should see them as opportunities for reflection and serious thought about what to do next. It's a time to get to work, not break out the champagne; no revolution worthy of the name ever got announced in a press release.

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September 30, 2011

Organization has to come from somewhere

Organization is not my strong suit. I'm not terrible at it, but I have to force myself to work at it because it doesn't come naturally to me. So that probably colors my viewpoint on the value of organization; I know it has to happen to get things done, but I sure wouldn't call it easy.

This week Tom Morrison argues on his blog that membership is still the strongest model for associations and points to the value of organization. One of the three keys to success, he writes, is "you must provide services and products that your members can't provide themselves effectively." And he tells a story of a fellow attendee at a Florida SAE event:

… an executive right next to me [said] "he didn't need FSAE to be able to pull together people and have a meeting like this. Members don't need an association for that anymore as much," he claimed. […] I immediately piped in and stated that, "You paid $50 to be at this 2-day event with 35 of the best minds in association management and you're telling me that for the $50 you paid to be at this amazing event, you could pull together this crowd for 2-days? Who's going to do your day job?"

This brought to mind an op-ed from The Washington Post (more than six weeks ago) by David S. Meyer titled "Americans are angry. Why aren't they protesting?" A couple points stuck out to me, the first about the transfer of emotion into action:

There is plenty of anger in America today […] Where are the people taking to the streets? The closest thing to a strong social movement in the United States in recent years has been the tea party, and it demands that government do less. Lately, we hear about the tea party largely from members of Congress and candidates for office, who have drowned out and replaced the activists at the grass roots. This is largely because although movements carry anger, anger doesn't make a movement — organizers do.

He later pointed out that even Rosa Parks had organizational support:

Rosa Parks wasn't just a tired seamstress in 1955, when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala. She was a longtime organizer who served as chapter secretary of the local NAACP, which organized a bus boycott and a lawsuit in response to her action. […] Without such organizational support, individual actions might be dramatic and heroic, but effective movement politics is a test of endurance. Organization gives individual efforts meaning and staying power.

This is not the first time I've said this here, but I'll say it again: It takes a vast amount of organization to channel the energy of a large group of people into collective action. And despite all the advances in tech-enabled self-organization, I still only see these types of movements knocking off the low-hanging fruit of those organizing bodies (e.g., associations).

So count me in agreement with Tom on that first key to success being effective organizing that a market can't provide itself effectively on its own. I don't know if that means membership is the model that must support that organizing function, but the means for that organizing to occur have to come from somewhere.

Below the logo on the cover of every issue of Associations Now is a tagline: "Ideas Into Action." I've always liked it because I think it embodies what associations do in just three words. But as any association executive who has come out of a board or volunteer meeting with a brand new initiative to implement knows, getting from idea to action is never, ever as easy as it sounds.

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September 7, 2011

An Anniversary No One Will Forget: Associations Vary in 9/11 Treatment

So many associations are gearing up to share tributes, assess their industry's progress, and conduct community service projects in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that it's impractical to list them all. That said, I do want to share some of the tools, communication efforts, and creative projects in case some organizations are still pondering what their staff or members might want to do:

Created a microsite of resources. The American Psychological Association (APA) has set up a microsite with resources to "help people cope and build resistance" during the emotional days around 9/11.

Partnered for a TV special/podcast/on-demand show. APA also partnered with "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" to co-develop a TV report called "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," which ran September 1 and is available on iTunes as a free podcast and in Nickelodeon's video-on-demand offerings throughout the month. A related discussion guide helps parents and teachers talk to kids about the tragedy and tough emotions.

Developed a so-called "impact kit" for reporters--a compilation of stats, resources, and trained commentators who can discuss an event from the perspective of its impact on an industry, profession, or locality. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has organized materials around terrorism and insurance to aid reporters covering the 10th anniversary, including prepping its board president for media interviews and promoting I.I.I.'s white paper on "terrorism risk and insurance." A strong quote in its press release will likely get good response from media: "The 9/11 attack was the largest payout in the history of insurance until Hurricane Katrina in 2005," says President Robert Hartwig said. "Insurers became the nation's economic 'first responders,' and as construction progresses on the site of the former World Trade Center, insurance claims dollars continue to play an essential and highly visible role in rebuilding lower Manhattan while also mitigating the overall economic impact of the 9/11 attack."

Conducted a 9/11-related study. A good example was released this week by CoreNet Global, an association of corporate real estate and workplace professionals. The study concludes that 9/11 "had a permanent effect on the workplace," in part by accelerating the trend toward "distributed work" conducted by workers in multiple locations. "The focus on risk management as an intrinsic strategic planning and management function also grew stronger," according to the association. "Business disruption planning became a common element for many corporate workplace and asset managers as a result of 9/11," says spokesperson Richard Kadzis. "Elements of this planning include mobile work plans for employees, facility collocation policies, redundant facilities, energy back up, business continuity plans, and off-site data storage."

Combined old-time traditional communication tools with social media tools to promote public service. The Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has launched a billboard and Internet campaign called "Remember Through Service" to mark the day by highlighting the service of Michigan Muslims to the nation and to "provide an accurate depiction of how Muslims contribute to the broader society." Individuals highlighted include a doctor who was a first responder to Ground Zero, a Detroit police officer, an assistant prosecuting attorney, an assistant principal in an Ohio public school, a Vietnam veteran, and a volunteer doctor at a free medical clinic. You can see the billboards here[LINK TO] and related YouTube videos[LINK TO].

Volunteered like crazy. The goal is more than 50 million--that's the magic number for how many volunteers the government, community partners, and others hope to engage in community service projects such as park cleanups, mentoring, and food drives. Any organization still interested in community service projects can go to for a list of opportunities.


August 19, 2011

What We Learn from What We Read

Good news--people are still reading. And some are reading a lot (20% of adults read more than 21 books per year, according to a 2010 Harris Poll).

That was clear from the crowd that raised their hands to the question during the session "What We Learn from What We Read" at the ASAE Annual Meeting in St. Louis recently.

The best news--they want to read "smart," meaning they want to be mindful of what reading is influencing the thinking and actions of their colleagues in other organizations while also finding inspiration, ideas, and knowledge in less-common sources such as literature, non-business books, mobile phone applications, new-book aggregation or executive summary websites, and more.

Panelists Jeffrey Cufaude (moderator), consultant Joan Eisenstodt, CEO Mark Anderson, and I shared not only what we were learning by reading beyond the "obvious business sources" (Harvard Business Review, New York Times, etc), but also the resulting ways we've applied that learning to our work and personal insights on everything from community building to leadership to technology.

Since we all admitted our book addictions and the difficulty of narrowing the choices we'd share at the session, our panel posted additional suggested reading and sources around the room, and attendees could jot down on cards anything of interest. For folks at the session or overall meeting, don't forget to download the session materials that list even more resources or to order the CD to listen to the session.

One of my favorite parts was when we asked the audience to share what books and sources they thought others should know about--you can hear their suggestions in the session tape, and I urge you to share your own favorites in the comments section of this post.

In doing my research for the session, I ran into a quote by Steven Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, that we used to move people into thinking beyond their own learning and toward that of their members and colleagues: "...[P]eople are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one's communities."

If true, doesn't that leave a huge opportunity for associations to aggressively curate the overwhelming amount of content for their community?

Most organizations already are trying. For instance, on the plane, I sat next to an Avectra professional who told me that the entire company is reading Race for Relevance and then will gather to talk about it.

Another attendee said that her CEO picks two books a year for the board to read, and it's the first item on the agenda because discussing ideas and new information "gets people's mental juices going" right away.

Our panel added more suggestions such as running regular book reviews online and in publications, offering virtual book/information clubs for members, creating reading-learning-applying online communities for open conversations around new books or sources, mobile apps that aggregate top news of interest, and what-I-learned-from-what-I-read education sessions.

We all have had such a tremendous response to the session that we may pitch it again for Great Ideas or next Annual Meeting in Dallas, and we're discussing the potential of an open sharing community to continue the momentum of the session.

We hope you'll join us in our virtual book nook to share your favorite reads and learning, too.

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August 10, 2011

5 reasons to be excited about Dallas 2012

The following is a guest post from Lowell Aplebaum, director, member relations, Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

What about #asae11 has me ready for Annual Meeting & Expo 2012?

  1. Learning Opportunities. With diverse educational approaches, opportunities for presentations, panel discussions, small groups learning, and more, the formal learning opportunities presented in St. Louis were so much more than sessions. Whether speaking one-on-one with a facilitator, articulating themes and points of priority to colleagues who attended other sessions, or brainstorming a concept for implementation back home every moment provided the opportunity to learn.

  2. Redefining Locations. This was not my first time in St. Louis, but after the 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo my image of the city has been completely redefined. I did not realize when I boarded the plane for the Conference what red carpet, VIP treatment St. Louis had in store for us. Some of the best stories I will share will be because of the host city this year - and if the promo for next year is true ("If you haven't been to Dallas lately, you haven't been to Dallas") then I am sure Dallas will have all new meaning as well.

  3. Tweetups. Having too many sessions that you want to attend is a good problem, but the solutions are few and far between. Session hop? You may miss the best part of both sessions.  Split sessions between people? You may get content, but risk missing the "Aha" inspiration. The #asae11 twitter stream this year went leaps and bounds towards solving this dilemma. From whichever session I was in I could follow along with the highlights, driving points and discussions happening in concurrent classrooms. Many of these Tweeters were my best teachers during the conference, and being able to meet them face to face will make our ongoing conversations (140 characters or less) richer moving forward.

  4. The Unpredictable. Having read his bio and book review beforehand, there was no way to know just how amazing Peter Sheahan's presentation would be. While in line to have his book signed I found myself standing next to an ASAE Board member who introduced me to a member who I had wanted to thank in person for all the hard work they put into making the conference an amazing experience. And to think two hours earlier I was just looking at lunch as another item on the schedule. I already wonder what unplanned moments of connection and insight will happen in Dallas.

  5. The People. Business cards, LinkedIn connections, new people to follow on Twitter - introductions abound at ASAE. Yet, the real currency that I feel like I am taking home is a host of new colleagues and friends with whom to continue the conversations we started in St. Louis. These are people who also want to become CAEs, or have become one and want to give back.  These are colleagues handling issues of membership numbers and dues, governance, growth, and foresight - who want to work together so we can all be better association professionals.  These are people that I feel honored to call not just colleagues, but friends. I look forward to seeing them all in Dallas next August, and to meeting many more. 

August 9, 2011

What is your association's story?

Throw out your mission statement, vision statement, all that nonsense. Just tell your story. That's what all the boilerplate is supposed to convey anyway, right?

"You're in the business of storytelling far more than you're in the business of fact telling," said Peter Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including his latest, Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results, in his keynote presentation at the closing general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo.


The story should be simple. It should be emotional. And every product and service your association offers should be evaluated for how it supports that story. The ones that don't aren't worth doing.

Sheahan delivered a stronger message than opening general session speaker Tina Brown—he had clearly studied associations and their challenges, even citing some recent Associations Now articles—but they both extolled the power of storytelling.

Brown talked about The Daily Beast's annual Women in the World Summit. The subtitle of the event is "Stories + Solutions." The stories shared at the summit were so powerful that The Daily Beast—a news website, remember—created a nonprofit foundation because people who heard women speak at the event wanted to know how to support them. The presentations at the live event are streamed on the web, and the stories are told in article form on The Daily Beast and in Newsweek.

The story is what ties all of it together, and the combo of Women in the World with The Daily Beast is no different from a nonprofit with a publishing arm. For any association, its programs should all support the same story:

  • The live event builds passion and excitement about the story;
  • Research builds knowledge that makes the story tangible;
  • Publications spread the story far and wide;
  • Advocacy puts the story in the minds of influencers;
  • Development raises money that can help shape the story;
  • Membership builds the pool of people who can put the story into action;
  • And so on and so on.

Humans make decisions based on emotions, not logic. Sheahan hammered this home, and Brown's case supported it. Yesterday's Ignite! sessions were a series of five-minute stories, and the atmosphere in those sessions was electric. If you walk away from #asae11 with one lesson (or want to know what you missed), let it be this: If you're not telling your association's story, chances are no one is listening.


July 28, 2011

Moving Beyond Your Own Debt Ceiling

I recently interviewed Jean Chatzky, financial editor of "The Today Show" and a bestselling author who specializes in helping people get real about securing their financial futures.

She has been particularly focused on helping folks--especially women--get out of debt, identify some financial goals, and stop making money management so hard and overwhelming.

As we all witness the chaos of the debt ceiling debate on Capitol Hill this week in particular, it seems timely to talk about financial crises of a more personal nature, such as not saving enough for retirement or being so fearful of investing or doing "something wrong" that you just stuff everything into a checking account and let it sit.

According to Chatzky, who will speak August 8 at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition, men and women have different challenges in terms of developing behaviors and attitudes that determine whether they are in good or poor financial shape.

"For women, investing appropriately is more difficult," she says. "For years women have been a little more reluctant about taking risks, and we need to take a certain amount of risk in our investing in order to keep pace with taxes and inflation and [to] achieve enough growth."

Men, meanwhile, often have a harder time responding to their intuition, Chatzky notes. "Listening to that gut sense and understanding when it's leading you in the right direction rather than just jumping on the bandwagon of something because it's hot [is], I think, more difficult for men."

Regardless of gender, professionals should know that associations are doing a lot of things right when it comes to helping them secure a positive financial future.

"A lot of programs that associations are putting into their retirement plans--automatic escalation, automatic enrollment, target date funds as a default--are helping immeasurably, by the way," Chatzky lauds. "They are definitely leading people in the right direction."

Now if only people could be sure that Congress is doing the same.

Read what Chatzky has to say about the debt ceiling debate and its potential impacts on your finances on her blog and mark your calendars for August 8 at 1:30 - 2:45 p.m. for her Game Changer presentation, "The Keys to Personal Financial Happiness and Success."


July 22, 2011

Value in commiseration

If you read this month's Horizons column by Betsy Boyd-Flynn, CAE, in Associations Now, you know she and her organization have been through some difficult experiences of late. This week Betsy followed up with me to mention that she'd received several emails from fellow association professionals who all said it was nice to read about a colleague facing similar challenges. She described them as "me too" messages.

This reminded me of an important dynamic that I often lose sight of: Sometimes it feels good to commiserate with a colleague, even if there aren't any answers to a problem. It's nice to know you're not alone. Blowing off some steam lowers stress, and it creates a natural bond between colleagues.

We all know that, of course, but my job is generally to find and share people's answers to problems, and I think a lot of association jobs are focused on that. And even when an association promotes a networking event, for instance, it's often played as a chance to learn from colleagues and to meet people who could become future business partners or colleagues. Those are the more tangible benefits, which is why they're easier to point to, but a lot of the value in networking is in shared experience. We talk about programs that offer "takeaways" for participants, but the simple bonding over shared experiences is what leads to the positive feelings people have when they walk away from a face-to-face event.

In a time when so many challenges have no immediate answer—economic woes, evolving technology, and shifting demographics come to mind—associations will do will when they provide their members and customers with opportunities to commiserate, to share stories, to understand each other, and to feel understood.

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May 4, 2011

Getting "Elders" to Engage in Community-building

I've been reviewing my notes and conversation from MMCC last week and ran into a good community-building example described by Joe Flowers, who has spent three years as community manager at the 5,000-member National Association of Dental Plans, a trade group.

I had asked Joe for suggestions about how to entice the most senior, most experienced members of an organization to actively participate in an association community when they might be feeling like they already have a strong enough professional network and often "don't learn much" from education sessions, publications, list servs, or conferences anymore.

Joe responded that NADP had tackled the dilemma by "educating our members that their entire staff could be part of any [association] conversation," rather than just one or two individuals. He learned that his older members were concerned about the quality of the professionals who would be leading their companies once they had retired or moved on.

Joe e-mailed volunteer groups with specific numerical goals aimed at boosting the community, asking volunteer members to send an association e-mail to 10-15 people at all levels of their workplace each month. The e-mails invited these individuals to share opinions, attend association events, and sample NADP content. They also included specific and easy sign-in instructions so they could try out what membership might feel like. Joe then "let it snowball from there."

It did, although NAPD "took a hit" when it switched to a better platform that not everyone immediately embraced. "They went back into their shell a bit, but now they're coming out again" because they miss what they gained as an active community member, Joe laughed.

His job has been particularly tricky because members are highly competitive. But by focusing community discussions on research studies, legislation, and committee work while avoiding product-oriented subjects, companies were not nervous about having lower-level staff involved and often found common ground.

When discussions lagged, Joe seeded the site with provocative data, restarted popular conversations from the past, asked for comments to a document, or collected suggested messages that members wanted the CEO to make in his next media interview.

As a result, "we've seen a steady increase [in the community's engagement], and we've pulled data showing about a 10% increase in website traffic each month, and even a 45% increase one month." The month before NAPD launched its community strategy, its site attracted 1,000 unique visitors, Joe noted. Five months later it's at 10,000 and has "a lot more engagement points now, too."

Those are impressive numbers. I wish Joe well in his new PR job, which starts tomorrow in California, but am sure that his oversight of NADP's community will be missed. Meanwhile, I'm going to look for similar good examples of inclusive communities that appear to excite members of all professional levels.


April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Chance at Relevancy

Earth Day can be a fraud, a feast, or a fizzle.

It can be a great rallying date around which to publicly re-enunciate your organization's commitment to sustainability and showcase actions you've taken that back it up, or it either can be dissed as a greenwashing exercise or simply ignore it.

But are the latter two options very smart business choices with all of the studies showing the growing influence of eco-conscious consumers, the heightened watchfulness of media and citizen journalists, and the myriad hard data that have emerged about the positive ROI of a well-planned social responsibility strategy that syncs with organizational mission and core competencies?

If that kind of strategy sounds time-intensive to chart, it can be. However, it takes effort to plan any strategy, so I don't think that concern should be seen as much more than an excuse, especially when this approach jives so well with most our community's common goals of operating efficiently, attracting and retaining talent, holding tight to our budgets, bolstering innovation, engaging members, and building brand value.

It's heartening to see the many press releases from nonprofits and associations today as they urge members and consumers to switch to paper-free bill paying, plant a tree, volunteer, recycle, insulate, and more.

Less heartening is that so many associations are silent today. I promise you that no matter what industry or profession your group represents, your members--maybe not all of them, but certainly a growing percentage--are indeed moving toward greater sustainability. This is a chance for your association to be relevant. This is a chance to show value in a new way. There are serious opportunities here for any organization of any size in any location (you'll find some examples at to help members strengthen their businesses and professions.

So celebrate Earth Day today. Acknowledge it with authenticity. Tell staff, members, and others what you already are doing to help lighten your environmental footprint (that kind of self-audit is the first step anyway), and ask them what else you could be doing.

You may find the sustainability journey to be an enlightening road to greater relevancy.


April 5, 2011

Like Club Med, but with less sand

I have a friend who is just now starting out in her career, and is finding herself overwhelmed with the many possibilities of what "career" could mean. She has a marketing degree, feels like everyone else does too, and is struggling to find her "place". Something that feels like more than a job.

I, of course, am trying to move her toward the association world. She's having a hard time picturing herself in what she imagines to be a thankless job with a low salary - the jobs she's finding are largely administrative and don't pay very well.

I've explained to her that we're sort of a... club, almost. Not just ASAE - but the association sector as a whole. My Facebook is full of association professionals. My Twitter is, too. I go to happy hours and if I happen to meet someone who works for an association, it's like we have an immediate "bond" - even if that person works in IT and I work in membership. Where else can you find that? You don't see people at parties immediately connecting with those around them because "Oh, you work for a company? ME TOO!"

But with the association world, it's somehow different. Whether or not our organization is charitable, I'd imagine that most of us still feel like we do some semblance of "good". We're serving our members' personal or professional needs, usually providing some sort of education and growth opportunities. Our members WANT to come see us a few times a year at meetings. With the exception of dues time, they're usually interested in what we have to say. And that's because it's all of our jobs, no matter our title, to make our particular member base happy.

For that reason, we really do seem to connect with one another more than a lot of other career groups. I LIKE being a part of ASAE and the other association networking groups I belong to. I like spending my time with other similarly-minded professionals.

So, I'm trying to get my friend out to one of the networking happy hours, because I have no doubt that once she gets in, she'll be hooked. To me, this camaraderie is one of the major benefits of this profession. Her questions have me really analyzing and revisiting why it is I have stayed in the association world thus far.

What would you tell a friend who wants to know why they should look into this job market?

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March 25, 2011

Associations Pledging to Participate in Tomorrow's Earth Hour

If your organization and staff are interested in an easy, fun, and free way to show support for protecting the planet and urging action on the problem of climate change, consider participating in World Wildlie Fund's global Earth Hour 2011 tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. for one hour.

A phenomenal success, in part because of its simplicity, visibility, and measured impacts, Earth Hour has inspired pledges to participate from government and business leaders in a record 131 countries, along with hundreds of major companies such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Coca-Cola, and IKEA, and even more NGOs and individuals. Association participants include Building Owners and Managers Association International chapters, sports associations, astronomy organizations, and hospitality groups. For a partial list of participants this year, go here.

I've also been seeing hotels, restaurants and local shops use Earth Hour this year to plan and promote festive events to engage guests and customers, including dining-by-candlelight dinners, s-more making in hotel lobby fireplaces for kids, glow necklace distributions at clubs, lantern walks in art galleries and shops, and glow-in-the-dark crafts and family-night gaming. You'll also find that hundreds of major international sites such as the Empire State Building, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge are participating, too.

I remember when this all started in 2007. I had heard that several associations were going to participate, and one was planning some tie-in events at its local conference since the events would overlap. Organizers were having a great time finding ways to integrate both fun and information into the single dark hour, and they apparently got rave reviews from attendees, especially about the candlelit pathway up to an outdoor stargazing event that had been put together with the local planetarium and a nonprofit chapter of astronomers.

That first year, Earth Hour drew 2.2 million individual participants and more than 2,000 businesses, according to World Wildlife Fund. Tomorrow, only four years later, those numbers have grown into the hundreds of millions of registered participants, and organizers have expanded the event by calling on each of them to go "beyond the hour" by committing to convert a single hour of darkness into a single commitment to do one regular thing that helps the environment address climate change. Suggestions include easy actions such as commuting to work or the subway station by bike one day a week, switching to CFL or LED lights, or holding "meatless Monday" dinners.

You can learn more about what people and organizations are pledging to do at


March 13, 2011

Responding to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami is one of a growing number of companies that are partnering with nonprofits and associations to help raise funds via their websites for disaster relief agencies such as Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Red Cross in response to the record 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit March 11. The Japanese Red Cross has been assessing damage, activating volunteers, and communicating with emergency response organizations overseas that have hundreds of volunteer professionals on standby.

Charity Navigator has issued a tipsheet to help donors avoid charity scams related to the disaster, as well as a list of organizations already involved in relief efforts.

You'll also find a serendipitous article in the February issue of Associations Now titled "How Your Organization Can Help with Disaster Relief" that talks about the process four associations went through to be ready with member volunteers, a crisis communications plan, and other resources that may be urgently needed anytime worldwide.


March 9, 2011

The Road Less Travelled?

My father-in-law recently asked my husband, a fellow association professional, why he doesn't work for the government. After all, he said, my husband never WANTED to work for an association, and government employment provides great benefits, longevity, consistent tasks, and an almost hilarious inability to get fired.

But really, is "you never wanted to work for a non-profit" a reason not to do it? How many of us can actually say that we dressed our dolls or toy soldiers as Membership Managers or Conference Planners or Newsletter Editors? I didn't - I wanted to be a Veterinarian-Who-Is-Also-A-Teacher-And-An-Olympic-Gymnast.

Alas, that position does not exist at this point in time, so association work it is. I started in it part-time in college and have never looked back, and in fact I know that this is what I will do until I retire. I even get super involved with ASAE and with my homeowners' association, as if I just can't get enough of association work from nine-to-five.

In many ways, though, an association professional is EXACTLY what most of us wanted to be. Didn't you seek to do something with tangible goals you could see through to the end? Isn't being over-the-top busy better than twiddling your thumbs? Though it can be a challenge to interact with frustrated members, isn't there something intrinsically satisfying about helping a member personally and professionally? And I can't be the only one who loves the benefits - despite the vast differences in their memberships, scope, and size, each association I have worked for has truly provided for me and cared about me as an individual rather than as Employee #328.

How about you? How did you end up in the association world - and is it satisfying to you? Regardless of if this was your original career choice or "what you wanted to be when you grew up", what would you say to someone who wonders why you do what you do?

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March 8, 2011

International Women's Day: Celebrating Progress and Potential

In acknowledgement of International Women's Day today, quite a few associations are reporting about the progress or lack thereof of women in the industry or profession the organization represents. The news has been mixed, frankly.

The Society of Professional Journalists, for instance, bemoans the low number of women in leadership roles in the newsroom. The rapidly growing field of organic farming and product development, however, is celebrating the fact that women now top four leading associations in that arena--a first.

There also has been growth in "best places for women to work"-type articles and rankings among business publications, women- or workforce-oriented websites, and even some associations. These include , which focuses on companies with "progressive and diverse work practices and environments), National Association of Female Executives and partner Working Mother magazine, and Fortune's Top 100: Women.

It's unfortunate that these lists are as popular as they are. It tells me that the business world still can be sliced and diced into "gets it" versus "doesn't get it." Are there really still such prevalent ambivalence about the ability of women to lead well?

But that's not all of the story. It can be too easy to point fingers at "the man," e.g., the established organization. In truth, too many women still harm their own chances at success, in part by refusing to accept some harsh workplace realities such as believing that hard work alone, rather than connections, will lead to success.

A new Harvard Business Review Research Report talks about the "Sponsor Effect," the fact that many high-performing women "don't have political allies to propel, inspire, and protect them through the perilous straits of upper management." This includes issues such as adjusting their work and personal styles, clothing, and "executive presence."

Sometimes the sponsorship problem is blamed on an age difference. Sixty-four percent of senior men acknowledge that they avoid sponsoring junior women because they fear gossip of a possible affair. That's just plain sad--and frustrating.

How can a young woman address that directly? Or is it the responsibility of the organization to establish formal mentoring systems that ensure senior-junior mixed-gender mentoring is just part of the professional development program overall, and indeed, male leaders would be held accountable in their reviews if they did not mentor younger professionals of either gender?

The latter seems to be a manageable approach, but that assumes the association actually has a formal mentoring system in place, which is a pretty big assumption!

And finally, in the totally-not-surprising part of the study, the report also found that men "cultivate more sponsors than women because they're less constrained by family and domestic responsibilities." The vast majority of working women studied are responsible for up to 75% of the housecleaning/maintenance and almost 60% of the childcare.

That said, women have come a long way, baby, and they can go further if they--and the associations they work in--desire. But it will take work on both sides. Meanwhile, celebrate the progress and the potential by skimming through the more than 1,000 events scheduled worldwide to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women at

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February 25, 2011

How Would an Oscar Affect Your Organization?

Almost anyone who goes to the movies has probably seen the Oscar-nominated The King's Speech. The remarkable film captures the lifelong battle of the future King George against the serious stuttering that threatens to weaken his leadership at a time when he is ascending the throne and speaking out against the rise of Hitler.

It also shone an unprecedented spotlight on a personal and professional challenge faced by millions of adults and children worldwide.

"We've waited a lifetime to get this kind of interest in stuttering, so it's thrilling for us," said Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation and vice president of the Association for Research into Stammering in Childhood, Michael Palin Centre, in London, when I gave her a call today for a pre-Oscars chat about the impact of the film on her organization.

"Our website hits have doubled," she added, noting that speech therapists across the country report a big jump in the number of inquiries from people who stutter and their families since the movie's Christmas Day 2010 release. "One of the therapists we refer to in Chicago said she had a 70-year-old man come in this week.... Across the board, that movie is so meaningful that anyone who has seen it will never laugh at stuttering again."

Maybe that's why one of the foundation's videos, Stuttering: For Kids, By Kids, has been viewed more than 50,000 times in the past week. The charity, which educates and refers stutters and specially trains speech therapists, also "whipped out a poster three weeks ago," Fraser laughs. "We designed ["Stuttering Gets the Royal Treatment] Friday morning, and on Monday at 5, it came off the press. The printer had never done that before. Everyone at the print house was excited." She had no problem securing permission from the independent film company, The Weinstein Company, to use photos from the film in the poster, which also directs viewers to the foundation website.

What have been the biggest impacts of the film on her group? "The exciting thing about The King's Speech is that people realize they can become fluent," Fraser enthuses. "... It's obvious in the movie that speaking is a lot of work, but ... some of the methods you see in the movie [such as learning to speak in phrases rather than entire sentences] are techniques that have been used over the years."

It also focuses on the "beautiful therapist-patient alliance. The king got to the point where the therapist was his close friend. Like all therapeutic situations, there are ups and down, but the beautiful way this relationship unwound is important.... You must have that total trust between the professional and the patient." She thinks film viewers will better understand how that deep relationship works.

You can join Fraser and her staff in rooting for the foundation and The King's Speech Sunday night during the 83th Annual Oscars Ceremony. Watch a trailer and learn more about this Best Picture Nominee here.

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February 23, 2011

Managing Court-ordered Volunteers

There's a fascinating article in this month's about how and whether nonprofits should agree to use "volunteers" that are court-ordered to do a certain number of community service hours as their punishment. These folks are often first-time offenders for things like driving under the influence or petty theft.

I've never read an article about this before, so leave it to the always-terrific Susan Ellis, president of the volunteer management consulting and training firm Energize, to take on this thorny issue.

Especially helpful is the way she frames the conversation needed by any nonprofit considering a court-ordered volunteer policy. Ellis lists questions such as whether "mandatory volunteers" should be assigned the same type of service as traditional volunteers, how volunteer management systems may need adapting for this particular population (for instance, nonprofits generally must complete a weekly report about the volunteer), and the attitudes of staff about working with court-ordered volunteers.

She also is clear about potential biases and benefits, such as data showing that many of these volunteers end up serving their organizations far longer than legally required because they enjoy the work and/or believe in the mission. And who doesn't need passionate volunteers?

For leaders unfamiliar with the 11 types of alternative sentences, Ellis suggests skimming a free online resource that defines them and identifies which ones might apply to nonprofits.

I'd be interested to hear whether and how associations as well as charities are addressing this in our community. Please post your comments here.


February 4, 2011

Crafting Bold Conversations

For the third time in as many days I've heard of an organization holding a forum about "civil discourse" or "Communicating with Candor but Respect."

Obviously, the recent shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Giffords and fears that it resulted in part from enflamed political emotions and extreme partisanship have rippled across our association community as it has the political playing fields.

It only takes a nanosecond for most of us to recall an instance when heated talk created high drama and hurt or angry feelings at our board meetings, in education sessions, on our list servs, or in committee gatherings. Why else are the decisions about meeting facilitators or list serv monitors and guidelines so vital? Even those efforts are not always adequate at preventing open hostilities versus candid debate.

So what else can associations be doing to build an inclusive, open, and frank environment for the exchange of opinions, ideas, and knowledge? More training of board members, staff, and others? Stronger rules of engagement? Adoption of a tweaked version of Google's "Do no evil," e.g., "speak no evil?" An organizational Debate Team?

The issue is important as we evolve into an increasingly diverse workforce that can either divide us or boost us. Has your organization used this momentary political time-out to check the volume and "vitriol" level of the conversations around and within the membership and staff? I've read numerous appeal letters, for example, that would be worth a harder look in a calmer time. And we all know how quickly blog post comments can ratchet up emotions.

Yes, we want engagement, but do we want all-out war within the ranks or with our current "enemies"--the same ones who may well be future political allies.

I've suggested to several people that they read or re-read Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenney, and Al Switzler to generate some ideas about raising the quality, not the volume, of your organization's conversations. If you haven't read it already, here is the first chapter.

And keep a watch out for an article I'll be writing after I interview Saj-nicole Joni, co-author of The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value. The book describes ways that leaders at all levels can create, nurture, and manage the "productive dissent essential for achieving peak performance." It seems especially timely now. Click here for a video on the book.

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January 14, 2011

Haiti: Where And What Are Associations Still Doing?

The first Haiti earthquake anniversary this week has prompted myriad progress reports from the many associations and nonprofits who responded with volunteers, professional guidance, money, and resources. With almost 500 projects and 80 major NGOs doing on-the-ground work in the devastated region, it's easy to get confused about who's doing what as our community continues to respond to the crisis.

Luckily, this week also marks the release of a helpful free tool that aims to foster partnerships among nonprofits and associations, "strengthen corporate and NGO relationships, and increase transparency and accountability." It's called the Haiti Aid Map, and it's a who's-doing-what-where map with snapshots of projects and their coordinating groups. Created by InterAction in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center, it was funded by FedEx, a master of organization and mapping.

I encourage you to refer to it, whether you have ongoing projects there or not, because so many of your peers are making a difference in that challenging zone, and you may find something that would inspire your organization to get involved as well.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things that associations are doing right here in the U.S. that are improving life in Haiti. If you're mostly interested in philanthropic giving, perhaps some of their projects will prompt you to write a supportive check.

The American Library Association (ALA), for instance, has distributed $25,000 to clear and prepare land and complete designs for one of three libraries it plans to rebuild and equip through its Haiti Library Relief Fund . Its needs a lot more money, though--just one library will cost an estimated $325,000-$350,000 to rebuild and equip.

The Haiti-inspired partnership between the American Dental Association's Division of Global Affairs and Health Volunteers Overseas has focused on raising $300,000 through an innovative Adopt-a-Practice program to rebuild 30 dental practices, almost one-third of all dental health facilities in the region. ADA also has developed an International Disaster Assistance Volunteer Inventory based on a survey for members interested in volunteering in the aftermath of an international natural disaster.

The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, in collaboration with the ABA Family Law Section and Section of Litigation, and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, hosted a free webinar on "How Attorneys and State Court Judges Can Aid in Finalizing Adoptions for Haitian Children Now in the U.S" and is offering its materials for free downloads to anyone interested.

Also, for the record, as a result of such outreach work, many organizations also have found that they've galvanized members, boosted innovation, and added meaningful value to their brand and membership offerings. Please accept my personal congratulations for your efforts and commitment. I've heard astonishing stories of what your members and staffers are doing even a year after the earthquake.


January 10, 2011

Imagining association doomsday (or not)

I wrote the bulk of this post in December but sat on it until after the holidays. In light of the discussion spurred by Joe Flowers' post about not renewing with ASAE and Scott's follow-up post about social media changing the future for associations, I'm glad I waited.

Anyway, some other online discussions that actually preceded Joe's post already had me wondering what the world would look like without associations. Frankly, I have a hard time picturing it, but that might just be because I'm not very imaginative. In addition to the posts ensuing from Joe Flowers' post (which Scott is compiling as they arise), also see:

  • On ASAE's Executive Management listserver, in response to a request for guidance about starting a membership organization, Steve Townsend posted a lengthy message about the challenges that the membership model faces today. "If we all had the option of starting from scratch ... we might explore other alternatives to that model," he says.
  • Eric Lanke, CAE, wrote last month that members of associations greatly underestimate the true costs of the services associations provide.
  • Back in October, Diane James, CAE, wrote an excellent post here on Acronym asking why associations haven't adopted new business models, despite an apparent consensus that the traditional association model is doomed.
  • Also last month, Jeff Hurt asked how associations will transition from push economies to pull economies.

The question we all seem to be struggling with is, more or less, "It's getting so easy for people to self-organize and to find what they want for free, why would people need associations in the future?" But Eric Lanke's post struck a particular chord with me, on which I'd like to expand here.

I'm not convinced that free stuff and self-organized groups (the internet's two-pronged menace) would fill the void that associations would leave if they disappeared tomorrow. (Poof!) The question that's always stuck in my mind is, "Where's the business model?"

Here's what I mean by that: if self-organized groups were to inherit the Earth, how will they (or who else will) pull off the most resource-intensive services that associations currently provide? Things like conferences, advocacy, and certification. Despite the forward march of technology, the value of all of these is still quite high. I've just never been able to make the leap in my mind from self-formed groups to large-scale products and services. When a group of like-minded people finds it can no longer bear the burden of serving itself through the goodwill of volunteers, it hires a staff to manage these things, and it turns to bundled or unbundled fees to support that overhead. At its very basic, isn't that how every association gets its start?

Don't mistake this for an argument against the need for change, though. I'm with you. We all need to evolve. But rather I put this forth as a challenge: Paint the scenario in which what associations do today is fully replaced by emerging social dynamics and new business models tomorrow.

We've fidgeted over business-model innovation for associations for a while; let's red-team it and create the anti-association business model. Then maybe we can learn from it. So, please, tell me: what does association doomsday look like?

[Sidenote: Lisa Junker, CAE, got this started in her "A World Without Associations" vignette in the "Visions for the Future of Associations" feature from the January 2010 issue of Associations Now. The only reason she wrote that essay herself, though, is because she couldn't find anyone else to write it. Here's a new chance to step up, people.]

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January 4, 2011

Were you born to do this?

My father-in-law Gus is 100% Greek, and he is by far the master at haggling price, on anything. It is truly a national pastime, I swear. This last week he and I have been looking at a new vehicle for my wife and I to purchase...and I've had the opportunity to see a maestro at work, conducting a symphony of insults, incredulousness, straight-talk, soft talk and sweet talk, and plain old storming

He played 3 dealers off each other, literally pounding these people on price, bludgeoning them down with the sheer righteousness of a man on a holy mission. He was, I promise you, born to do this, and he pursues it with a glee that is only rivaled by hunting with his dogs. My upbringing, coupled with weak shoulders and a tendency to look at the ground, causes me to literally cringe at how he managed to work these sales people down at least 20% more than I ever could have...a master chess player, 3 moves ahead, at all times.

While I took a nice test drive and ask poignant questions about power windows and other things I know nothing about, he pulled the sales manager into her office and played good cop/bad cop (both roles simultaneously!), coaxing her down to a rock bottom price...after we walked out abruptly with little warning to this poor woman, he then phoned another dealer in the area whom he knows and pounded that port chap down another 15%, divulging just enough information to get him to bite, but holding key information in his pocket. My favorite line, which rings true with a sweet, simple truth, was 'This is what you must do for me to buy the car. I save a buck, you make a lotta bucks'. I literally was sitting next to the Buddha of haggling at that moment in time. And I realized something: You see, it's not about the end price at all, it's all about the game--and he was the star player who wanted to be there, handling a role that neither me nor my wife had any desire to fulfill, or had any true skill, experience, or knowledge to play.

All of this has made me really think about the association management world and our 'I wear many hats' dogma (which I am tired of hearing, being honest). If we are all so busy doing so many things, I wonder if we are taking the time to make sure that all of us are a good fit for the work we are doing, and that we excel at it. There has to be a better way to manage ourselves and highlight the strengths in all of us. There is nothing challenging about being too busy or wearing a bunch of silly hats. Let's stop that charade and find our core purpose, challenge ourselves, and grow.

So my question to you is; in your association, or in your life--with your employees, or with the friends and family around you--how are you empowering people to do that which they love and that which they were born to do?

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December 16, 2010

Making Thank-you's Meaningful

'Tis the season of "thank you," the time of year when our organizations not only receive the greatest number of donations but also express our gratitude for members' support and money. We read a lot about the importance of thanking people in ways that are meaningful to them, and I'm hearing some positive stories from organizations that have been trying to experiment with ways to do that.

Meals on Wheels, for instance, just launched an online radio station whose inaugural program, "Wheels in Motion," featured President and CEO Enid Borden and one of her affiliate leaders talking specifically about what they were most grateful for as they continue their fight to end hunger among senior citizens. They know that many elderly people--both their clients and volunteers--still listen regularly to their radios for news and entertainment, while younger people listen online and will be comfortable setting up RSS feeds and downloading the ongoing program from iTunes.

Another organization called my house the other night to thank me and celebrate my "five-year anniversary as a donor." The donation is a no brainer for me--the group works hard to stretch my money and doesn't inundate us with excessive appeals. Still, it was nice to have someone call to let me know that they appreciated my loyalty as much as my money. I'll be aiming to celebrate 10 years with that organization, for sure.

And here's one of those great stories you wish would happen to every one of your favorite charities: A member had given a nonprofit a $1,000 donation recently. Although they don't usually call donors, a staffer gave a ring and thanked him personally, developing such a rapport (and not making another ask) that the man immediately sent a check for $10,000 more! If we could all be so fortunate....

And finally, this is my own chance to say thank you to the many ASAE members and other association/nonprofit and business professionals who willingly give up their time and wisdom to me so that I can share their experiences, advice, and ideas with others for the greater good. You are what make this blog, our magazine and other publications, our website, and our education sessions and events relevant and helpful to thousands of your peers and partners.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


November 9, 2010

Associations I'm Thankful For

As we approach Thanksgiving, I thought I'd praise three associations I'm thankful for. Of course I'm thankful for ASAE and my employer, The New Jersey Society of CPAs, so I'll leave them off the list. These are three associations that have impacted me outside of the office in different ways.

The Deanna Durbin Society. Deanna Durbin was a child actress in the 30s and 40s who sang opera. Old movies and music are two things I love. Durbin worked for Universal Studios and is credited with saving it from bankruptcy; but, she quit Hollywood in her 20s. Yes, it's a fan club and I don't really know if it's an official association. I discovered Durbin on public television in my teen years and wanted to know everything about her. In college (mid 80s) I pored through old movie reviews on microfiche and books about the golden age of Hollywood and happened upon this organization located in England. Other people who actually heard of Durbin! I had to be a member. First I had to write a letter, send it air mail to ask how to join. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. Then I received an application and had to pay with a money order in English pounds. I had to look up the exchange rate and calculate it. Send in the application. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. Received my welcome packet and then wait for my quarterly magazine. Not counting the National Honor Society back in high school, this was the first association I joined. Every magazine brought a smile to my face as it shared her memories and recapped movie insights. I imagined myself traveling to England one day to attend their convention and view movies with stuffy English folk in regal old movie houses. Thank you, Deanna Durbin Society, for showing me the value of joining an association of like-minded people and sharing my passion.

American Automobile Association. I lived with my mom after graduating college. My folks had recently divorced and that meant my Dad and car expert was no longer in the household. So, 20 years ago I joined AAA in case I ever had to be rescued. Prior to my first long road trip, I upgraded to AAA Plus for extra coverage. While I've only needed their rescue three times in those 20 years (one embarrassing keys-locked-in-car incident, one tow after an accident and once for someone else in our driving caravan), I keep my membership. Even with online maps, destination websites and GPS devices, I keep my membership and go to AAA and pick up maps and a personalized TripTik. I trust their reviews more than Travelocity, Expedia or TripAdvisor; so, I keep my membership. Oh, they have other stuff too - discounts, advocacy, travel agency - sometimes I forget there's more. Thank you, AAA, for making me feel secure on the road and good about my membership.

The American Fertility Association and Resolve. These two associations offer resources on reproductive health, especially for those struggling with infertility. When we encountered difficulties starting a family, we didn't know what our options were. Working for an association, I knew the first step: find an association to help. We went to conferences held by both groups during our road to parenthood. We talked with compassionate people who knew exactly what we were going through. We had our questions answered. We found the services, resources and experts we needed. We got free tote bags and pens. We joined Resolve's New Jersey Chapter and got a magazine filled with the latest medical, legislative, insurance and adoption information. And while we're not members, I've recommended them to many people. Thank you, AFA and Resolve, for knowing our needs before we did and meeting them so we could make the best decisions for our situation. (P.S. Our daughter just turned 4!)

I hope you'll share which associations you're thankful for too.


October 19, 2010

Our 15 Minutes of Change

Our community's contributors to this blog regularly make important points on how our organizations need to change. How association leaders need to "up their game" in becoming the facilitators of ideas, communicators and relationship builders rather than technicians. I couldn't agree more.

Nearly a decade ago, a group convened a discussion on Future Models of Associations - it became two annual meeting sessions and a listerver group. Chris Mahaffey did a study on why associations should consider abandonment of the tax-exempt structure and become for-profit entities, excerpted into association publications. Bruce Butterfield, one of the key leaders of the conversation, cites possibilities. Did these discussions result in any new models? Changes in existing organizations?

As I look around the profession and the association sector, I see mostly century-old structures and traditions. Discussions of model changes were thoughtful and well-researched, so where are the test cases? I would suggest that the models in use are so ensconced in layers of enabling structures that making changes is like pulling on a loose thread - the whole garment can unravel. We don't want our organizations to unravel, but neither do we want to stand by while new start ups make them irrelevant. How do we turn the clarion call for innovation into real actions? Is there an intractable eco-system surrounding the existing models keeping us from needed innovation?

Having long been exasperated that my children attended schools whose model was based on the expectation that they were coming home to tend the crops and the chickens and needed the summers off for the growing season, I know our organizational models are subject to the same paradigm shifts and lack of structural models to meet new needs. (When I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania, my classmates actually did go home to work in the fields, so not all the paradigm shifts occurred all that long ago. By contrast, urban classrooms have been outdated for generations. ) When I talk with educators about why the system hasn't changed with the new economy and critical need for a different school schedule, I hear about all the other supportive systems that have grown up around the fundamental agrarian model - teachers going to summer school, a whole system of extracurricular activities filling in the unused hours, etc. So even if we recognized the change in assumption central to the equation, the entire education eco-system would need to be upended if we changed the school day/year for students.

So it may be with associations. The desire and need for innovation in the structural model is great, the opportunities afforded us with new technologies and media are overwhelming. Yet, the model has fundamentally stayed intact. In a post on finding the "15 Minute Competitive Advantage," Rosabeth Moss Kanter gives some interesting thoughts about the criteria a new model might need to meet to be received, tried, accepted, and tweaked. My questions to this community: what are you trying? What is sticking? Will we really transform our organizations? Where is the strategic leverage point for initiating structural innovation... Governance? Membership? Communications?

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October 4, 2010

The Drinking Dilemma

Okay, I've had this post in mind for a long time. I want to preface it by saying that in no way am I a prude or square--but I feel like there is an undeniable truth about many meetings that nonprofit associations propagate: the dilemma of drinking.

We are walking a fine balance, and it scares me sometimes that we never talk about it. Most of our associations promote professionalism, ethics, and in general good and smart behavior. Then, we attend meetings in which a great deal of excessive alcohol consumption takes place, and often we are party to it. In my travels at various trade shows, I've seen or heard of people:

  • Jumping in a polluted downtown city river and being taken to an emergency room (to get cleaned off)
  • Walking alone and getting mugged in a downtown area, losing money and wallet and getting scared to death
  • People who are married or in long-term relationships making regrettable decisions
  • Exhibiting poor or downright embarrassing behavior
  • Missing educational sessions, networking events, etc.
  • Being much less effective on the trade show floor in promoting their goods, services, etc.

Many of these stories come from outside the association management industry, but I'd be willing to bet there are some within our own industry, too.

Again, I am by no means innocent. Especially when I first began traveling as a professional, I had my moments, and I still enjoy a drink at a show with friends. But I am curious to find out how others feel about this.

Here are some related questions:

  • Does excessive drinking add to our association mythology in positive or negative ways?
  • How are associations managing this with staff and event attendees?
  • What is the impact on our health and the health of our event attendees?
  • We focus on helping vegetarians eat veggie at events; do we tailor to non-drinkers too?
  • Does a drinking culture add, or detract, from building strong relationships? Is it an excuse not to get to know someone at a deeper level, or a tool to do so?
  • If you declared your event a "dry event," would people still show up?
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September 9, 2010

Does 9/11 Still Resonate as a Community Service Draw for Members?

Yes, based on the number of press releases and website announcements popping up this week. The 9/11 National Day of Service appears to still rally members at a wide range of associations and nonprofits that have been strengthening their volunteer programs in general, not just during observance of the anniversary of those terrible attacks.

Among the most visible are AARP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civil Leadership Council, United Way and, the largest teen volunteer organization--all partners with MyGoodDeed Inc. The latter is the official organizer of 9/11 memorial activities along with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

AARP, for instance, announced today that its Create The Good arm is launching a new campaign "aimed at raising awareness about social responsibility and community service." The campaign focuses on sharing stories about members' volunteer experiences in hope of inspiring others to offer their own talents and time to the less fortunate. Members can share these stories via an easy online form at AARP's Create the Good website and tap into tools to help them find other places and ways they might volunteer.

I think that finding ways to publicly share and promote the positive experiences of member volunteers is a great idea. It's a shame that so many volunteer match-up programs or association-sponsored give-back events don't allow people to talk afterwards about what the experience meant to them or the impact they saw their efforts have on others.

And using such a painful day in our history to create positive change does more than just generate warm fuzzies about your association as coordinator of such efforts. It also boosts engagement with your organization, connects people to others with similar values, and helps meet the changing expectations of members (especially young members) about the need for business to be doing something bigger than just focusing on their own industry or profession.

I hope you'll consider joining the 9/11 tribute efforts, many of which have already started and continue through early next week. Please consider posting in the comment area on this blog, if you'd like to share your own experience. We'd love to hear about it!


August 19, 2010

What motivates employees?

A number of people now leaving for ASAE & The Center's Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles Aug 20-24 may be hoping to learn about ways to recruit, retain, and motivate staff. A new article in Knowledge@Whartoncontains the results of a fascinating series of studies about whether ranking workers (and, in particular, sharing that rank with the employee) would inspire good performers to greater heights and poor performers to buckle down.

Short answer: no. The worker rock star began slacking off, while the loser workers became discouraged but--although companies apparently hoped otherwise--generally didn't quit their jobs to move on.

After reading the article, I wondered how old the workers were. Would age affect this result?

I had recently listened to the September issue of Success magazine's CD, which shares interviews with 3-4 leaders of interest to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Featured was a terrific conversation with three inspiring and insightful Millennial leaders of the nonprofit Invisible Children.

Invisible Children aims to prevent child soldiering, the kidnapping of youngsters by rebel tribes in Northern Uganda for use as horrific "soldiers" in their battle against the government. The nonprofit, born out of a documentary filmed by student 20-somethings, has been remarkably successful at raising political attention to the problem and engaging supporters of all ages to their cause. (See here for a short video of its Schools to Schools program.).

One quote really stuck with me. The interviewer asked the trio what companies and organizations can do to attract, retain, and motivate Millennial workers. "Millennials value the impossible," one answered. They'll "work like crazy" and are "extremely passionate," but they want to have fun doing it, and they are attracted to projects, causes, and programs that are trying "to do things never done before." They also want their organizations to think beyond themselves and to take their role as a global citizen seriously, the leaders said.

I'm hoping that conference attendees will keep an open mind and the reality check provided by these three brave nonprofit founders as discussions begin again on worker "reward" systems in associations.

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July 28, 2010

A question of leverage

Question: Which of the following opportunities would give an association member more power?

  1. Being a board member;
  2. Being a consumer.

Last week, I offered an analogy between association members and sport fans. Eric Lanke suggested in a comment that the comparison might not be direct: "With the exception of the Green Bay Packers, fans usually don't have the leverage of an elected Board of Directors." This is an excellent point. In my mind, though, it raised the question that I've posed above, and I wanted to bring it up for further discussion in this post.

Trade associations and professional societies are unique in the amount of power that their members have through their elected boards and governance structures. Members are the association, and they are the employers. Customers of for-profit companies do not have that capacity, and I'm not sure that donors to charitable nonprofits do, either.

But I wonder if the power of being a consumer—which can mean purchasing a membership, attending a meeting, visiting a website, or not doing any of these things—is still stronger. Satisfied customers equals revenue, and the almighty dollar carries a lot of influence.

It might be that there's no right or wrong answer to this question. My guess, though, is that the way you answer it says a lot about how you run (or would run) an association. Answer A caters to a focused, engaged niche. Answer B caters to the masses. I'm curious for your thoughts.

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July 14, 2010

Nonprofits/Associations Helping Gulf Oil Spill Victims

While associations and nonprofits were regularly featured in the news for their efforts to help industries, professionals, and other victims after the Haiti earthquake in January, the same cannot be said for their efforts to assist those harmed by the BP (formerly British Petroleum) oil spill in the Gulf region. That doesn't mean groups aren't busy, though.

Here are a few examples of what your colleagues are doing:

Creating partnerships: The Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations hopes to "foster strategic collaboration," boost accountability, help volunteers, and "provide a unified voice for the nonprofit sector" by maintaining an online list of spill-related resources. Customers of Ratner Companies, which owns The Hair Cuttery chain, donated more than 6,000 pounds of shorn hair by Federal Express to its new partner, Matter of Trust, a nonprofit that prepares hair booms and mats to soak up oil in the Gulf region.

Providing expertise: The New Orleans Bar Association created a web page for disaster legal resources related to the Gulf Oil Spill (e.g., insurance claims, loans, health hazards, and emergency services). The American Lung Association, concerned about the respiratory impact of oil fumes and toxins on clean-up workers, sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis urging close monitoring of air pollution levels to assure that "workers near and at the spill site are properly trained, equipped with appropriate respirators and protected from dangerous air pollutants and toxics they may inhale." The American Association of Poison Control Centers developed a tipsheet for people exposed to oil, chemical dispersants, or other spill-related toxins to help protect their health. The American Veterinary Medical Association held a disaster preparedness webinar related to the Gulf for members in July.

Raising money through cause marketing: One of the most visible fundraising campaigns has been executed by Dawn dishwashing liquid, which is donating $1 up to $500,000 to the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Marine Mammal Center from the sale of each marked bottle for wildlife cleanup. Sustainable flower company Organic Bouquet has developed a cause marketing campaign with The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and Ocean Conservancy whereby $10 of each online purchase of flowers and gifts from a new Gulf Relief Collection goes to the charities for oil cleanup.

Offering emotional support: The American Psychological Association has released advice about how to "Manage Distress Caused by the Oil Disaster in the Gulf." Myriad groups have issued supportive press releases directed at their Gulf-area chapters and components, as well as the affected industries and professions within the region.


May 6, 2010

Quick clicks: Thursdays with zombies

Good morning, and welcome to this week's Quick Clicks!

- Quite possibly the best thing I've ever seen: David Gammel unveils a wonderful cartoon on the Orgpreneur blog. Go see it. Don't worry, we'll wait.

- Laura Otten at the Nonprofit University Blog has a beautiful post on the many people who looked to her father as a mentor.

- A challenging post from Joe Gerstandt on what inclusion really looks like ("Inclusion is not giving everyone a trophy.")

- Shelly Alcorn has strong feelings about the importance of net neutrality for associations and nonprofits.

- Chris Bonney argues that the power of free is in the mind of the giver, not the recipient.

- Carol-Anne Moutinho at the Association Resource Centre blog considers what reverse innovation might look like in nonprofits.

- Jamie Notter is thinking through some very interesting ideas about cultivating strategy without traditional strategic planning.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog ponders some potential implications of corporate social responsibility for the association sector.

- I continue to love Jeffrey Cufaude's "Wednesday What If" posts. This week, he encourages us to consider what our members would miss the most if it were eliminated.

- Peggy Hoffman considers ways to make chapters and components more effective.

- Jeff Hurt has a few suggestions for ways to encourage active attendee participation in learning sessions--even from folks who might not initially love the idea.

- Some helpful case study posts: Scott Billey at Associations Live on lessons learned from their first webinar, and Maggie McGary on what she learned on the way to 20,000 Facebook fans. (I guess technically now they're "likers," but as an editor I oppose that word.)


January 19, 2010

Earthquake Response Efforts Continue

To everyone who has been sending press releases and e-mails about what their organization is doing to respond to the Haiti earthquake disaster, I send you a big thank-you! To avoid weighing down Acronym with the latest updates, all responses are being posted in the commentary section of my earlier blog posts down below. I encourage you to continue emailing me news at Thanks again for all you are doing!


January 13, 2010

Associations, Nonprofits Begin Haitian Earthquake Response

As they have so many times in the past, associations and nonprofits around the world are moving rapidly to help the hard-hit communities in and near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after a severe earthquake measuring 7.0 quake apparently flattened much of the area late January 12.

With communications impaired, electricity out, and roads blocked by fallen debris from collapsed buildings and homes, organizations were struggling both to track down local staff and members, and to assess how best to assist the densely populated, impoverished region that appears devastated.

Here’s a round-up of some association and nonprofit efforts and news underway:

Within hours of the quake, local Haitian teams of the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières were reporting that damage to their Port-au-Prince medical center and other facilities is “significant” as are injuries to staff, patients, and incoming residents. Additional staff are being deployed immediately.

World Vision International, a nonprofit that helps the poor, said on its Web site that staff in Haiti are trying to assess the damage and configure a response plan, but some workers are struggling just to leave their building because of aftershocks and damage that continue to send walls and building materials into the streets.

The American Red Cross, World Vision International, Oxfam, numerous faith-based relief services, and myriad other disaster relief charities have already set up emergency funds—many of them linked to mobile phone text giving--and e-mailed urgent donation appeals to millions of supporters.

Save the Children’s Ian Rodgers, who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, quickly became the eyes and ears for many media around the globe stymied by the lack of working communication technology and lack of access to the area.

Social media is again playing a riveting role in revealing the extent of the disaster, as well as the types of real-time decision-making occuring onsite and in offices far afield by nonprofit staff and government officials. Twitter updates from charities, federal and international agencies, and others have been running throughout the night as news and photos have slowly leaked out. While no association-uploaded videos related to humanitarian efforts is on YouTube yet, several groups expressed hope they would soon have footage or videotaped interviews to post shortly.

Many professional and trade associations have created global disaster relief funds in the past 10 years and are likely to tap them now, saying they want first to see what primary needs emerge.

Expressing fears about safety, shifting needs, and inadequate information from the hit region, none of the aid charities are accepting outside volunteers at the moment while the groups try to get their own trained staff onsite. Indeed, some are trying to get staff and members out of the Port-au-Prince area while aftershocks remain so strong.


January 5, 2010

"Y2K" seems so quaint now

So it's now 2010, and we wouldn't be doing our blogging duties without somehow marking the new year and decade.

I don't have any bold predictions to make, so I'll take a look in the opposite direction. I dug up the January 2000 issue of Association Management, ASAE's magazine prior to the ASAE/Center merger. Turns out the Jan. 2000 issue was the "Leadership Issue" for boards, so I jumped to the February issue to review instead. I was interested to see what was on the minds of associations 10 years ago, before social media, before lobbying reform, before the housing boom and crash, before iPods and iPhones, before 9/11, and before I finished high school.

Here's some what I found:

Outsourcing: The cover story of the February 2000 issue was an in-depth look at outsourcing trends in associations. By the looks of it, outsourcing various functions was already a fairly common practice in 2000, and the article offers a good foundation for any associations that started or expanded their outsourcing practices in the next 10 years. Outsourcing as we knew it in 2000 has taken on new, deeper capacities today, as we see associations beginning to adopt cloud computing and virtual staffing models.

Change: An otherwise excellent feature on industry benchmarking starts with an argument that irks me: "You aren't imagining it. Change really is moving at a faster pace." It then points out that internet adoption was faster than adoption of the television, which was faster than the electric light, which was faster than the telephone. I can't refute these facts, but can the pace of change increase forever? Will we one day measure change in minutes, seconds, or milliseconds?

Maybe it's just a pet peeve of mine, but the notion that "the world is changing faster than ever before" is hyperbole. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that the presence of change today is unique. Change is a fact of life, not a gathering storm. The world was changing 10 years ago, and 10 years before that, and 10 years before that. No surprise that it's changing now, too.

Collaboration: Bill Yontz, then VP of corporate real estate at Capital One, shares some rather prescient ideas in an interview (not available online):

"'I think that in the future—not tomorrow, but certainly in the next 10 years—the essence of work will be collaboration. The collaboration will not just be face-to-face or videoconferencing, but also technology enabled,' he speculates. 'People all located in different places, all working at different times, can input to the same visible product...'"

Mind you, Wikipedia wasn't launched until a year later. So Bill wins the prediction game.

Knowledge: Meanwhile, a short note about the December 1999 ASAE Management and Technology Conference quotes keynoter Larry Prusak, then executive director of the Institute for Knowledge Management: "'If associations can couple their vast stores of data and information with knowledge, they can change some of their economic equations and become true knowledge brokers.'" I think the last 10 years have validated Prusak's vision, though it seems like a lot of associations still struggle with capitalizing on knowledge management today.

There was a lot more in the February 2000 issue of Association Management, of course, but I'll stop here. If you enjoy predictions, though, you should check out "50 Predictions for 50 Years," from the October 1999 issue of Association Management. The first 22 were slated to have happened by now. A few of them are tongue-in-cheek, but the list will definitely get your mind rolling about the past and future of associations. You can also check out the cover story in this month's Associations Now, "Visions for the Future of Associations."

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November 17, 2009

Are There Too Many Associations?

In the industry our association represents, we are seeing a ton of consolidation. Many national corporate entities are looking for and finding efficiencies by hiring regional and national service providers, who then subcontract the work to local folks. This simplifies many processes for them, including billing/payment, bidding, and work allocation/reporting. It also saves them a ton of money.

This consolidation is having dramatic impacts on local contractors in our industry (whose margins are shrinking because the national providers negotiate lower pricing). But it does make sense from a larger perspective; more consolidation is likely now that the economy is putting more pressure on.

I'm wondering if the same could be true for non-profit associations. It seems that there is now an association for every niche market and industry in the trade world, and countless state, regional, national, and international non-profit entities dedicated to causes like health care, fighting cancer, environmentalism, etc. From a big picture outlook and thinking of economic pressures, are we going to see a consolidation/thinning out of the herd over time? I am posing this as a theoretical question; I have not tried to find any evidence or research pointing either way.

From a productivity and efficiency standpoint, as a whole, are we losing efficiency through the current fragmentation of thousands of non-profit entities, all with their own internal politics, agendas, strengths, and weaknesses? Especially related to social causes, would big picture goals and dreams (cleaner environment, less cancer, etc.) benefit from a consolidation, or suffer?

From a sponsorship/charitable giving perspective, I see many corporations once thought of as cash cows for the non-profit world cutting back on giving and sponsorship to various degrees. I see them working on developing educational programs themselves to deliver to their customers. Would consolidation help to streamline the number of entities asking these corporations for money?

I must ask: Are there too many associations?

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October 16, 2009

Quick clicks: Where's my crystal ball?

It's time for your weekly round of quick clicks from the association blogging community and elsewhere. Enjoy!

- The Signature i blog has a great post describing four ways to think about the future, and advice to help you upgrade your futures thinking. Elsewhere, Kevin Holland has some predictions for the future of associations. (And so do several commenters on Brian Birch's recent Acronym post with his predictions for 2010.)

- Jamie Notter says that the future of organizations lies in being human.

- On the SocialFish blog, Lindy Dreyer writes about the power of clarity.

- Michael LoBue at Association Voices is deleting his Twitter account, but Eric Lenke at the Hourglass Blog speaks up for texting in church (and possibly at education events, as well).

- Bob Sutton shares his top 10 flawed management assumptions.

- The Vanguard Technology blog recently interviewed Greg Hill of the Kansas Dental Association on how his association has become a "multimedia powerhouse."

- KiKi L'Italien posts 10 things she learned at her association's recent conference, while Becky Hadley at the Drake & Company blog posts about attending her association's conference for the first time.

- Jeff Hurt has some research to share pointing to the benefits of virtual education. Ellen Behrens, meanwhile, writes about the differences between training and mentoring.

- Short but sweet: Peggy Hoffman posts the 12th post in her series of truths about volunteering.


September 19, 2009

Quick clicks: Life and death

- It's always great to welcome new association blogs to the community: Plexus Consulting Group (Plexus is led by Steve Worth, a former Acronym blogger); the Association Subculture blog, written by Shelly Alcorn; and a new blog from BoardSource, Board Life Matters, focused on younger board members and their experiences leading nonprofits.

- A recent blog post by Seth Godin arguing that nonprofits are far behind for-profits in terms of risk taking and innovation sparked a number of responses in the nonprofit community. Jeff Hurt has a good rundown, as well as his own response, here; Maggie McGary at the Mizz Innovation blog also posted her take.

- Cecilia Sepp shares 10 things she loves about association management.

- The Signature Insights blog shares some reasons why so many future forecasts are wrong, and thoughts on how to get them right (or at least less wrong).

- Shannon Otto at the Splash blog responds to some of the recent discussions on Acronym about the death (or life) of membership. Judith Lindenau touches on similar themes in the post "RIP, Associations?".

- If you aren't following the Harvard Business Publishing blogs, there's a ton of good stuff there. A couple of posts that recently stood out for me: "The Awesomeness Manifesto" and "Is Work Taking Over Your Life?"

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August 18, 2009

What is not related to "social media"?

Here we are at the final day of ASAE 2009 in Toronto and one is overwhelmed with the amount of interest, and confusion, about social media and its impact on associations. The exhibit floor in the technology section is evidence not only of the intense interest in all things social media, but also the emergence of new solutions and companies in this sector.

A lot of the information on social media is aimed to help people understand the basics of what social media is and initial approaches. Other sessions have been able to go more into detail and share actionable information and resources.

However, one over-riding theme through all of the presentations and the discussions was just how important it is for organizations to develop a strategy for social media if they hope to really leverage the new tools and applications.

Another "elephant in the room" is about measurement and ROI. Sure, you might have thousands of "fans" on Facebook or hordes of "followers" on Twitter, but how are you managing your organizations brand message and reputation; how are you monetizing or measuring these platforms?

It is obvious that we are all at the front end of the social media revolution and that the initial strategies; i.e. using public social networks alone as the primary social media approach, are not going to deliver the kinds of sustainable results we need.

A solid strategy, use of multiple channels and the ability to manage your brand and quality of experience on a private social network while raising awareness in the public space seems to be where associations need to go to be more successful with social media.

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August 17, 2009

“Social is a way of being”

I attended Jeff De Cagna’s session, Associations Next: Serious Questions for 2010 and Beyond this afternoon. Whenever I have the opportunity, I make it a point of attending Jeff’s presentations, which are always insightful and thought-provoking. I find that the questions he raises linger with me long after the conference is over and typically prompt rich discussions with my colleagues. This afternoon’s session was no exception.

After stepping us through a series of 6 questions that get at the heart of what it means to associate, govern, and innovate in the web-enabled 21st century, he asked us to spend 10 minutes brainstorming radically different approaches to our association work. What would make the biggest potential impact, even if it meant making our CEOs, boards, and even ourselves very uncomfortable?

Several of the suggestions that came back were so intriguing, I thought I’d share a few of them here:

- One table suggested making membership completely free (we don’t control the network any longer, so why try to make it into a commodity?). Charge a fair-market price for the professional content that is currently packaged with membership and remove the barriers to the conversation. Then the members of our networks who are truly engaged and truly do contribute to the conversation will be able to join without barriers, making the conversation richer for all. (Any association that has opted for open, publicly accessible social media groups understands the value of this free association and not trying so hard to control the message or limit the participants.)

- Another table suggested crowdsourcing our next annual meetings. Empower the community to make the best decisions on its own behalf and deliver a meeting that is exactly what our attendees want. (NTEN, an association I’ve long admired, successfully structures its annual meeting this way, and their conference is consistently an audience favorite.)

- Another group suggested making board service based not on fixed terms, but on best ideas. Decide who remains on the board based upon record of service, innovation, and follow through. Those who aren’t contributing to the conversation could be voted off the island, a la Survivor. (I happened to be sitting in this session with the president of our board, and this suggestion was major fodder for conversation back at the hotel tonight!)

My brain is still buzzing with these ideas and Jeff’s many good questions, and I can’t wait to get back to my own association to continue this conversation with the rest of my team. How could a radically different ISTE better support and shape the conversation for our members and other educators?

What radical idea will you bring back to your organization at the end of this week? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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August 16, 2009

Talent goes where it is welcome

One of the best quotes currently making its way around the #asae09 twitterverse is “Talent goes where it is welcome,” as heard in today’s diversity session. I wasn't able to sit in on this particular session due to a conflicting presentation of my own, but was able to hit the high points thanks to Twitter (isn’t social media great?). The quote resonated with me because it indirectly references so many of the themes we’ve been discussing at the conference—how to encourage innovation, how to make our associations truly collaborative, and how to make it easy for volunteers and staff to do their very best work every day. So much of it starts with a commitment to nurture and support talent in our organizations (and the belief that talent can and should be everywhere, and is not a designation reserved for just a select few “rock stars”).

In this morning’s opening keynote, Gary Hamel talked a lot about innovation and the structures that will support it (and in some cases, the lack of structures). I’m lucky to work for an organization that does support talent and innovation, and is willing to recognize those things with enough room to pursue the next great idea. Even still, we grapple with creating the right systems and structures to both attract and retain talent, and also encourage the innovative thinking required to be a world-class organization.

Today at lunch, several of us from my organization were discussing the nuts and bolts of setting up an innovation fund. Who would make the decisions about how to use the money? How would we be accountable to the bigger picture? What would prompt us to stop doing certain things (sometimes even good things) to make room for the great things? Ultimately, the right answer may emerge as a combination of best thinking, and trial and error. But the important thing is the commitment to talent development, at all levels of the association.

How do you welcome and support talent in your organization? And what have you done to make it feel at home? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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August 11, 2009

What does Social Media have to do with "International"?

As we prepare to go to Toronoto for ASAE's annual meeting, you might want to ponder what Social Media has to do with "International"? In talking with associations these days, most are focused on learning how to leverage social media or at least to get started in using social media tools for their association.

At the same time, a good number of associations have recognized that international markets represent one of the best real opportunities for their association to develop and grow.

However, very few have recognized the connection between these two very different but highly complimentary topics.

By its nature, social media as an Internet based platform for open communication and networking, is ideally suited to be used for international outreach and connecting. It has several very distinct advantages:

1. It is extremely cost effective and relatively easy to put in place.

2. The benefit to the user is in the ability to connect and network therefore the social media network delivers the benefit from the user community to its members directly.

3. It allows you to aggregate a critical mass of members and prospects even if you are only able to attract a relatively small number per country but from many different countries.

4. More people are becoming familiar with and using social media tools every day so there is less of a learning curve to get people to join.

5. It is a great first step to offering online education and training, leading to in-person live events, leading to membership or other more meaningful engagement with your international audience.

Want to learn more? There will be a session at Toronto on "Using Social Networks for International Expansion" held in room 803AB held on Sunday, 16 August from 1:30 - 2:45. This will include information and examples of using social media for international growth that has relevance for anyone wanting to grow their association, home and abroad. Hope to see you there!


August 4, 2009

Money …

The desire to focus on “doing good” is a motivating factor that draws many people into association work—and that is clearly a strength; but association executives would do well also to realize that there is nothing crass in using money as a way to measure effectiveness—namely:

- Know that flat or declining revenues may be a sign that something is fundamentally wrong with your program, product or service. This is a warning bell--an indication that a thorough audit is needed of your marketplace, including: a customer satisfaction survey; benchmarking against the competition (if you do not know who your competition is, then that is another problem!); and a trend analysis of the needs of your target market(s).

- Understand that profitability is a measure of efficacy. If your revenues are rising but so are your losses, then either your programs are being mismanaged or your pricing is wrong. In such a situation market success in the form of increased sales can actually destroy your organization if it is not efficiently structured.

- Know that customers expect to get what they pay for. People the world over are prepared to pay for quality and inherently question the value of anything they are offered for free or at low cost. This is particularly true the more things are critical to us. What person needing heart surgery will feel entirely comfortable going into an operating room knowing their surgeon was the least expensive that could be found? Focus on quality and price your product or service accordingly—this is what your customers expect.

An association’s role may not be “just to make money,” but money does serve as a good tool by which to measure quality, effectiveness and efficacy. Such thinking has always been part of for-profit management; and if nonprofits are to hold their own in this increasingly competitive environment they will do well to adopt it! Do you agree?

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July 22, 2009

The classic association blunders

One of my favorite scenes in The Princess Bride is the battle of wits between The Man in Black and Vizzini. And some of my favorite lines from that scenes are Vizzini saying, "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is 'never get involved in a land war in Asia,' but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"

My question for today is: What are the classic association blunders? In other words, what are some bad ideas or common mistakes associations are particularly prone to that we should all look out for and try to avoid? I have a few thoughts, but I'd love to get yours as well:

- Over-relying on a few key volunteers

- Focusing communications on what's important to the association rather than on what's important to the member

- Letting fear (particularly fear of legal action) prevent the association from moving forward with new or creative ideas

- Over-relying on a particular revenue stream (membership dues, a single yearly event, a particular golden-handcuff product or service)

- Over-relying on the opinions of volunteer leaders about what "the membership is thinking," without necessarily testing that opinion with research of the membership at large

What classic blunders would you add to the list?

(Of course, this reference is not aimed at a certain one of my colleagues who has never seen The Princess Bride. He is sadly culturally deprived.)

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July 13, 2009

Who Are We as Association Professionals?

Please read on, I will challenge you to respond by the end of this post.

As I entered my first real meeting built for association executives, at the age of 27, I was filled with promise and high hopes. I was so ready to be met and immediately loved by passionate, energized association warriors fighting for their cause with everything they had. What I ran into was a somewhat boring set of folks who were very professional, and very focused on their careers; I didn’t hear much passion when they spoke, I didn’t hear the gut-checking, do-or-die decisions and battle stories that I’d been dreaming about...why were my expectations so off from the reality?

Don’t get me wrong, the folks I met that day were all very nice and very competent people, more competent and composed than I. And to be clear, I have attended many association-pro events and I have seen some very unique conference ideas and concepts and met many great people. But at the same time, I’m still waiting to see those passionate folks, the army of non-profit generals leading the fight on social causes and trades that I am passionate about but know little of. Maybe I just suck at networking, but it’s the people I want to get to know; not just the sort of fake personalities we all put on to some degree when we sit at a lunch table together; I want to know the worst and best of all of you, and draw a parallel to my own history or condition at any given time.

My question that requires response is as follows: Who are we really, as association professionals?

If I’m asking you all to share, I must share first. Here is who I am as an association professional in less than 150 words:

A passionate individual interested in more than a business that makes X. A man who took on too much, too fast at work, and went through the most painful, stressful, and beautiful period of personal growth in his life. A manager who didn’t know what to do in any number of situations, and shot from the hip more than once! A person who loves sponsorship sales but doesn’t make one dime extra in commission, and doesn’t care. A friend of many members of the association he works for, and who loves the annual show because so many people know him. One who is endlessly trying to explain to friends and family what it is he actually does for a living. An employee who makes mistakes every day, and admits most of them. A professional who loves strategic planning and big picture goals. An advocate, gatekeeper, negotiator, peacemaker, and coordinator.

Here is my challenge—I know you are out there: let’s smash the record and see how many responses we can get, be anonymous if you are shy, to answer the question: Who are you as an association professional?

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July 7, 2009

“Lumpers” and “Dividers”

The famous paleontologist Louis Leakey once noted that the world of paleontology was divided into two camps: “lumpers” and “dividers.” The “lumpers,” he said, were paleontologists who saw more quickly the similarity between things and who were inclined to lump their findings together. Because of this outlook, lumpers identify fewer different species rather than more. The “dividers” on the other hand were those people who more readily saw the differences in what they found and—as a consequence—catalogued more different species rather than fewer.

For the past 10-15 years the association world was dominated by “dividers”—those who saw more readily the differences between the members of an organization. This tendency, abetted and propelled by the growing ease of sharing information through the Internet, led to an increasing fragmentation of traditional association memberships into special interest groups and even wholly separate spin-off associations of people and organizations who find more in common among themselves than they did with their former place of membership. It is safe to say that we now have more associations in existence than ever before; but this trend was somewhat at the expense of larger, older associations, among which there has been a great deal of hand-wringing and soul-searching.

Now the economic tide has shifted. With the tremendous financial pressures that are being put on everyone, the newer, smaller associations may be having a particularly difficult time of it. Does this represent the coming of a new era for fewer, larger associations? Will associations start to be dominated by “lumpers”—those who see the points in common rather than the differences among groups? These are different questions. I don’t believe the clock will ever be turned back to fewer, larger associations, but I do think we are going to see—and perhaps are seeing now--a lot more intense and perhaps innovative combinations and partnerships among associations—small and large. Am I wrong?

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June 29, 2009

Support vs. Sales

Let’s face it, many of us sort of fell into association management. Not to detract from our profession, but I remember wanting to be a Marine Biologist, not an Assistant Executive Director, when I was 8. I fell into association management because I am well-rounded, am personable, and like the idea of working for a cause greater than simple profit from making widgets. I have had some success in my work also because I’ve learned the difference between ‘sales’ and ‘support’, and why, in associations, the “support” model takes you much further.

Let’s start with definitions (from

Sale: The exchange of goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent.

Support: To maintain by supplying with things necessary to existence.

Here are some tips on how to implement supporting your members, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers, and even your staff:

Ask One Question: How can I (we) support you? It sounds so nice, and it actually means something.

Focus on those you can support, not those you have to sell: Driving revenue is our goal, and I’m not saying that you should turn away money that walks through the door. What I am saying is that you should focus on the core group of people and companies who you can support, and cultivate those relationships to be mutually beneficial, symbiotic ones.

Support = Following Up: Adapt to their modes of communication, but make sure you do follow up with them. A short email or note, a quick phone call, that makes the difference.

Ask Questions: You can’t support if you don’t know anything about them. You can learn all the superficial facts on a website, and plug a few lines into your pitch, but you still don’t know the person, or the company, you only know what they do. Find out what they love, and what they hate, and what they are passionate about. And take good notes.

Meet Them Where They Are: We are all in different places, and you’ll get an instant impression from them, whether they are bored, in a hurry, engaged in your conversation, etc. If they are very detailed, than supporting them means providing many details. If they shoot from the hip, than so do you!

Here are some other examples of Sales vs. Support:

Sales is trying to make someone pay for some kind of ketchup Popsicle with, um, gloves on? Support is finding out what their favorite condiment is, and handing them a cheeseburger slathered in it, with a napkin and a nice little wet nap.

Sales is making loud jokes, talking a lot, and generally acting like you know everything. Support is facilitating, encouraging, and listening.

Sales is a fake personality making a standard pitch. Support is your real self (polished nicely), meeting a specific need for a specific client.

Sales is a method and a tool, and useful in many situations. Support is a paradigm that you use to approach all your interactions with people who support you.

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May 20, 2009

What do you call a group of association professionals?

Do you remember learning some of the special terms for groups of animals, like a pride of lions or a gaggle of geese? (I'm fond of "an exaltation of larks," myself.) I recently came across a list of ideas for similar terms that can be applied to people: a brace of orthodontists, a wedge of golfers.

Of course, that list made me think that we association professionals need a term of our own! I've come up with a few ideas, but I'd love to see yours too. I'll put my thoughts in a comment on this post; if you have ideas of your own, chime right in.

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May 12, 2009

Cherry-picking Relevant Journal Articles Adds Value to Membership

Plenty of conversation is occurring about how to add value to association memberships, with much discussion focusing on delivering more knowledge and further developing members’ skills.

One added benefit I like was announced recently by the Web Analytics Association. Its Research Committee has arranged access to four online peer-reviewed journals that may interest its members. To “bridge the gap between industry research and the research conducted within the academic communities,” a project team of the committee reviews and summarizes selected articles to keep WAA members apprised of the latest research and offers an archive of issues as well. The committee also is recruiting members to write reviews.

This example reflects aspects of chatter I’ve heard lately about the need for associations to “get over” their “territorial attitudes” regarding their publications and instead focus on finding and delivering access to the best range of knowledge for their respective professions or trades—and that may mean outside of the hallowed halls of the association. Indeed, it may mean reaching out to peripheral organizations that aren’t a perfect match to all members but may hold attractive information to members involved or interested in cross-disciplinary knowledge exchanges.

A more open attitude also may prompt more association journal/magazine exchanges and wider tapping of for-profit publications and knowledge products.

Frankly, associations aren’t always good at that type of strategy, but if we want to retain the value of our reputations as comprehensive repositories and leaders in relevant knowledge delivery, then we need to re-examine what types of knowledge our members truly need in this changing economy—and whether we have to be the ones to create it from scratch.

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May 11, 2009

The Power of A

Here's a video of ASAE & The Center President & CEO John H. Graham, CAE, talking about the public's perception of associations and one of the steps ASAE & The Center is taking.

Check out more on the public awareness campaign at its microsite, and also be sure to take in Graham's other video on ASAE & The Center's legislative priorities.

Let us know what you think.


May 7, 2009

Shirky: Associations must be the broker of connections

Community is one of those words that an old journalism professor of mine told me to never use because it doesn't mean anything. Or, more to the point, it can mean about 100 different things depending on context, so you should always find a more specific word to use.

Well, Acronym is going to focus on community this month anyway, and we'll embrace it for all its different meanings.

First up is some keen insight from Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and a Thought Leader at the 2009 Annual Meeting & Expo this August. He spoke at the Digital Now conference in April, and I had the good fortune to pick his brain for about 30 minutes. He offered some great thoughts on how community is evolving for associations.

On gathering people around knowledge:

"With this forwarding and forwarding and forwarding possibility, the ability of organizations to use what they have and know as kind of bright, shiny objects to attract the population they'd like to be serving or addressing—whether it's their own members or potential members, or even just the sort of penumbra of interested people—means that anyplace you can get sharing to happen at low enough cost and high enough redistribution value, there's a model available now that didn't used to be available." 

On the survival of conferences and meetings:

"If I want information about a Cisco product, I'm so much better off getting it from Cisco's [web]site than I am going to a conference and hearing about it. The reason to go to a conference is to be around the other people. ... The conference business that struggled ... were the ones that assumed that a conference business was basically a way of broadcasting information to a passive audience. And the conference businesses that have done well are the ones that say, 'You're going to be in a room of people you'll be glad to be in a room with, and in the design of the conference we're going to respect that by carving out some space for you all to create value for each other.'"

On connecting your audience members to each other:

"When an association can broker introductions or can create a way that people can have conversations around shared interests ... you [the association] can benefit from that, but not if you imagine that you can control it or that you can decide whether or not [the converstation] is going to happen."

On member engagement:

"It's not clear that getting more of those mailbox members in should be a first-order goal. ... Wikipedia's ability to deliver value to people who have never and will never participate is a big part of the success of Wikipedia. ... So, the question isn't about 'How do we get everybody to participate?' You can, but what a nightmare that would be. The question is, 'How do we get enough people participating so that it ... raises the value of the organization for the whole group?'" 

With those wise words to set the stage, what does community mean to your association, and what will it mean in five, 10, or 20 years? Keep an eye out here on Acronym throughout the month of May for more thoughts on community.

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April 28, 2009

The Power of A

Many of you know about ASAE & The Center's public awareness campaign, "The Power of A." (If not, see the release and the website.)

What I'm curious to hear from Acronym readers is -- how important do you think public awareness of the association community really is? While it's part of our core cause, it's never ranked particularly high in importance by ASAE & The Center members in our assessment surveys. At a recent session devoted to teaching young association professionals how to enhance their networking skills, one of the tactics offered was not even referring to the association part in introductory conversations. Rather, talk about the mission of your organization, particularly if you can relate it in some way to something that affects your new contact directly.

Internally, we routinely have conversations that at least touch on whether or not the size and scope of association management rises to the level of being a profession. Certainly the CAE puts a professional stamp on it, as do the many dedicated people in the field. But there's preciously little in the way of university programs or research (outside of ASAE & The Center and a few other institutions) specifically on association management. It starts with defining what a profession is, and association management falls into a murky area.

To me there's not much of a question of the fact of "the power of A" -- associations do affect the world in many, many ways. How important is it that those outside the association sector realize the cumulative effects? And even if it is important, how likely is the widespread understanding of what associations do and why they are important?

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Hand Hygiene for Grown-ups

With the contining spread of the swine flu, we’re all hearing one directive drilled into us like never before—wash your hands! Often! In the right way! Sounds pretty straightforward, but even before the swine flu hit, the Soap and Detergent Association and the American Society for Microbiology were responding to data showing poor hand hygiene in many adults (a rather disturbing 25% of adults, for instance, don’t wash their hands in public restrooms).

Now, with 149 swine flu deaths on record and almost 1,700 people sickened, what seemed a small project last fall--creation of an online and print-version brochure ( about proper hand washing--takes on new and greater importance. Available in English and Spanish, “'Don’t Get Caught Dirty Handed' reminds adults that many cases of colds, flu, and food-borne illness are spread by unclean hands, and these diseases are responsible for billions of dollars each year in health care expenditures and productivity losses in the United States,” says the association.

No soap around? Reach for a hand sanitizer (keep one in your desk, purse, laptop pocket and car glove compartment) or hand wipes.

With a slight blush of embarassment, I suggest sharing this information with staff as a gentle but direct reminder that we’re all in this together when it comes to germ sharing and avoidance. For more info, visit


April 27, 2009

More association responses to the swine flu outbreak

Associations continue to galvanize professional expertise among their members and staffs as they hasten to respond to the public threat posed by a unique strain of swine flu that has killed close to 70 Mexican citizens and sickened almost 1,000 more in both Mexico and the United States.

• As part of its Get Ready pandemic flu strategy, the American Public Health Association has set up a superb website. Included on the site are the what-to-dos of a pandemic flu outbreak, a PDF of a chapter on influenza from a recent edition of its Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, and an aggregated list of pandemic-related blog posts. Resources for the public are in both English and Spanish.

The site also includes a transcript of the CDC’s April 24 briefing about the outbreak investigation and two question-and-answer sessions with trained APHA “Get Ready” experts on how animal diseases are transferred and how to protect children during an outbreak.

• The Infectious Diseases Society of America issued an April 21 dispatch in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing two cases with no known exposure to swine.

• Infectious Disease Association of California has issued guidelines for clinicians to help them identify possible patients suffering from this strain of swine flu.

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April 25, 2009

Associations celebrate Earth Day

The celebration of Earth Day featured a wildly diverse group of associations offering a range of pickins as colorful and creative as your great-aunt’s garden. Here’s a partial list from a wheelbarrow load of press releases, RSS feeds, podcasts, Facebook updates, and more.

• Built around the theme “Air—The Sky’s the Limit,” the American Chemical Society has a “Chemists Celebrate Earth Day” portal with a spiffy logo, contests for high school/college kids, an event locator, and contests.

• BOMA International has released "100 Days, 100 Ways," a list of tips and strategies about recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, and tenant awareness to help property professionals make going green a priority. The document appears on its sustainability site called The GREEN (Green Resource Energy and Environment Network), which is chock full of eco-resources for members and the public.

• The Special Libraries Association has announced 12 recipients of the 2008 SLA Presidential Citation honoring its "Knowledge to Go Green" Champions. The unique citation recognizes individuals and SLA units that have implemented strategies to reduce their impact on the earth.

• The African American Environmentalist Association blogs about the Earth Month video message of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who urges citizens to help create the green economy and to take steps to protect water, air, and land.

• The Newspaper Association of America has launched an Environmental Hub to showcase some of the socially responsible initiatives of NAA members who are “championing practices that help papers thrive economically while preserving and protecting the environment for future generations.” You’ll find an environmental toolkit for members, general background on environmental issues, Web resources, and info on a “Green Ideas” CD that compiles eco-initiatives and ideas underway at newspaper media companies.

And perhaps not strictly an Earth Day product but cool all the same, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment have launched an online climate action planning wiki called “Climate Planning for Campuses: How-to Guide.”


Associations in Action regarding Swine Flu and Potential Pandemic

With reports breaking all Friday regarding hundreds of both Mexican and American citizens sickened or even killed by a new form of swine flu, associations in the health care and agricultural communities have been busy confirming information, alerting and surveying members about any potential swine flu-related patients, and calming an anxious public even while acknowledging that much—including the original source of the illness--remains unknown.

"At this point, it appears to be human-to-human transmission only," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in a press statement Friday. "We've been in contact with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), and there have been no reports of outbreaks among animals, although their members are certainly aware of what's happening and are stepping up surveillance for the virus with federal and state animal health officials."

According to officials, “there is little or no risk of catching swine flu from eating pork or pork products, but as always, proper food handling and hand washing should be practiced.”

The AASV is regularly updating its Web site at with news for its veterinarian members and the general public.

The American Lung Association in California quickly blogged about the six documented cases of this new strain of swine flu in the San Diego area and Imperial County, as well as two cases in San Antonio. It noted that rapid flu tests cannot tell this type of flu from seasonal flu, “and the current vaccine may not be protective. Tamiflu works, as does Relenza.” The post, found at, also notes that “while there are likely more cases in the U.S., there are no large-scale outbreaks.”

As of this Friday night post, however, CNN is reporting that 75 high school students in New York City are being tested for suspected swine flu.

The National Pork Board also has issued a helpful 4-page information sheet about swine flu at

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control has information on the human swine flu investigation at


March 28, 2009

A Mentor Remembered

One of my longtime mentors and former nonprofit bosses, Jack Lorenz, will be buried In 12 hours, dead at the too-young age of 69. He was executive director of the conservation organization Izaak Walton League of America for 18 years before retiring, and he hired me as a magazine editor and media manager way back in the late 1980s after I moved to Washington, DC. I stayed there for more than six years, learning and erring as all overworked young professionals do in this sector.

Jack was not organized or formal when it came to mentoring staff. As the "Ikes'" former magazine editor himself, he did a remarkable job of not micromanaging me in his old role. Like IWLA's members, he was of salt-of-the-earth stock, rarely losing his temper and always operating with an open-door, excuse-the-mess style. He wasn't perfect, and he let me be the same. I appreciated that--not many mentors are comfortable acknowledging their own weaknesses. He tried to be gentle when he pointed out mine.

Together we would attend the annual Outdoor Writers Association of America conference, an extremely male-dominated event at the time. It was intimidating for any woman, especially one in her 20s. Everyone always thought I was someone's daughter along for the ride. At my first conference, I almost went home after the first night. The level of sexism and, at times, blatant harassment was quite unnerving.

Jack, though, would get his back up about it, and he was determined that I succeed despite the good-old-boy atmosphere. Because of him, I finally agreed to run for OWAA's national board, which I didn't make the first time. The second run was a ringer, though, and I still count that board experience and its painful challenges among my best professional learning experiences. I never would have taken the risk if he hadn't told me that he believed I could and should go for it.

I'm thinking of Jack tonight, and it's still hard to believe I won't ever see him again. Although I have not gotten together with Jack for many years, I have still felt connected through his crazy e-mailed jokes and the hilarious fishing stories that I'd sometimes run into in outdoor publications.

I'm so happy that he accomplished his lifelong personal goal of fishing every U.S. state and territory, and all of Canada's provinces. And I'm so grateful that Jack lived his professional goal of serving as a strong role model when it came to professional ethics, self-sacrifice, tireless optimism, true passion for mission, and generosity of spirit.

Most mentors never know how fundamentally they touch those they coach--so often their teachings aren't drawn from until a relevant situation arises much later. Maybe that's why good mentors seem in short supply--they just don't realize they're change makers.

I know you're up there watching me type right now, Jack, so I thank you again, and I wish you the best bass fishing Heaven has to offer.

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Associations Participate in "Earth Hour" to Call for Action on Global Warming

ASAE & The Center’s headquarters will join thousands of other organizations, businesses, cities, towns, major historic landmarks, and other sites in 84 nations in shutting off all non-essential lights during the second annual Earth Hour Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

Sponsored by World Wildlife Fund with support from the United Nations and myriad global leaders, the one-hour event aims to be a call for action to address harmful global climate change. The event has attracted massive support, with everyone from the World Organization of Scouts to Hollywood celebrities signing on as a participant, sharing commentary and self-shot videos on social network sites, and detailing to others what they plan to do during their hour of darkness.

Earth Hour 2009 has special meaning since the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and leaders will meet later this year to discuss the issue.

Kudos to World Wildlife Fund for coming up with so many social network tools and outlets for its promotional efforts. For instance, you can download an Earth Hour iPhone application, upload a YouTube video, blog, and more. Go to for details.


February 26, 2009

Business is booming, huh?

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Remember that famous opening line from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities?

I turn on the TV at my lunch break and the Dow is down, or when it up, it doesn’t seem to stay up!

Everybody is talking about how awful things are, but strangely in the association management company business that seems not to be the case--at least based on my experience over the last couple of months and most especially the last couple of weeks.

Seems like every few days I get another call from another struggling association looking to cut costs by going with an AMC. The reasons for their troubles are as varied as the associations, but the common denominator is, they have to reduce costs! And the word is out--association management companies can save big money.

The AMC model, of course, makes lots of sense, especially for smaller organizations. Economies of scale, reduced overhead, shared resources, and smart use of technology can make the difference between folding and flourishing.

I think that those of us who run AMCs need to brace ourselves for a sudden influx of new clients--especially if the economy continues to tank for an extended period. What was a slow moving trend has become a potential tidal wave. We had best be prepared!

Some AMCs will choose to say “no” to prospective new clients because they simply can’t reconfigure their operations quickly enough to take them on. Others will be highly selective, only choosing those organizations who are the best fit. Still others will take on as many clients as they can, and worry about how to service them later. I plan to be in yet another group with a flexible operational model, access to skilled contractors to add quickly to my team, and good tools for assessing compatibility between our firm and the prospective clients.

For each day that the Dow falls, some board president is looking at an income statement and saying, “We can’t go on like this!” And some task force is comparing operational models and concluding, “Maybe we should get a quote from an association management company.”

I suspect, however, that we will not be simply seeing an increase in organizations wanting full management. What I am seeing is organizations that want to outsource some of their functions, while maintaining some staff and/or having volunteers take on more jobs.

The wise AMC will work closely with the board to define staff, board, volunteer and AMC responsibilities. The new economy will make “strange bedfellows.” The key to sanity has to be clearly defined roles and responsibilities and strict accountability of all parties.

We also must understand that the clients we get in times like these may be in an apparent death spiral. Some we can save, and some simply can’t be saved because they have become irrelevant. In my experience, organizations that are really desperate start to clutch at straws. They have a new idea a minute and want staff to implement each of them--at no additional fee, of course.

For an AMC, scope creep is the enemy of profitability. We are doing ourselves and our clients no favors when we spend our time in a reactive mode. In order to really help our struggling clients we must focus their energy and our energy on the things that really can make a difference to the client's bottom line.

While AMCs may not suffer the usual ravages of a failing economy, we have our own unique set of challenges. The test will be how we react, both as individual firms and as an industry.

(Note: This post was corrected thanks to a commenter's sharp eye. Thank you!)

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January 14, 2009

Is it the time of year? Is it the economy or is it just in my head?

I am writing this on Sunday, January 11, 2009. I can’t get past the feeling that things in the association world are awfully quiet right now. The association blogs seem to be slow. ASAE listservs seem to be slow. Even the marketing emails I seem to always be getting seem to have slowed down. I don’t feel the buzz and the excitement that I am used to and I can’t figure out why.

It does appear that more and more organizations, for-profit and non, are shutting down between Christmas and New Year’s. Does this lead to employees needing longer to get back in the swing of things upon their return? Obviously the majority of organizations, again for-profit and non, are worried about the economy and the impact it will have on their business. Has this lead to employees being more internally focused and spending more of their time running potential scenarios and having meetings internally? Or, is this all a perception in my head and because of the 2 things I just listed and more I notice it more this year than I have in the past?

Believe it or not this is keeping me up at night. Am I over-exaggerating or are things slower than usual this time of the year and if they are, how do we start things hopping once again? Buzz, excitement and innovation within the association space benefits all of us. Therefore we all should do the most with what we have and do our part to keep things positive, exciting and fun.

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January 5, 2009

Why do associations worry about branding only their association and not associations overall?

In the middle of November I was fortunate to be invited to attend the ASAE Leadership Retreat in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The event brought together the Chairs and Vice Chairs of the Section Councils as well as the BOD of ASAE and the Center. As Chair of the Greater Washington Network I was excited to be able to attend.

The reason I bring this up is that an unexpected question came out of the brainstorming and collaboration that occurred during our 3 days in Florida. The question has been floating around in my head ever since and is as follows—associations understand what branding is and know that branding their organization is critical to their success. Since we know how important branding is to our own organizations, why are we not focusing on branding associations in general?

I was actually first introduced to the idea by Jamie DeSimone of IECI on our trolley ride home from dinner on the first night we were in Florida. I was shocked that I had never thought of this before. During my 15+ years in the association community I have been told time and time again how slow associations are to act, how bureaucratic they are, how they are almost on par with the government when it comes to being on top of cutting edge technologies and practices, etc. Steam would come out of my ears every time I would hear something like that, but for some reason the light bulb never went off over my head that as a group associations could definitely do something to change this negative perception of associations.

I firmly believe that if associations understand the needs of their members we are as beneficial, if not more beneficial, to our members/customers than any for-profit company. Why does the general public not know this? Why do they not know the incredible things associations do, above and beyond some of the GR stuff that tends to be covered in the press? Why have we not taken the time and effort to inform the general public about the benefits of associations, especially in times like today when everyone needs a community to lean on that has the benefits that will help them succeed?

By the end of the retreat Jamie and I were not the only ones talking about this. It was actually presented to all of the volunteer leaders in attendance at the last lunch before we left. I have my fingers crossed that it will only grow from there.

I realize that as association professionals we have plenty to worry about in our own worlds let alone the association world in general. That said, wouldn’t we all rise higher if the industry itself developed a positive public perception? I would love to hear thoughts on this question and what role people think associations themselves should play.

Happy New Year!

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November 25, 2008

Who am I today?

Being an AMC exec is a little different from being a direct employee of an association. I serve as executive director, president, or administrator for a total of 11 entities, with three more in the works. Thank goodness for my amazing team. I have staff focused on accounting, membership, programs and events, and communications. With their help I can focus on my role of working with boards – a role I truly love.

My clients are diverse for sure. We have entrepreneurs, oncologists, psychiatrists, community leaders, dancers, carwashers, Parliamentarians, and more. The good news, however, is that all of our clients need the same services. So we focus our energy on continually refining our systems and adding value. When you do that, the differences are less important than the similarities.

But there are a few practical issues, not the least of which is business cards. When people ask me for a card, they are not impressed if I fumble through my stack looking for the right one. I know some folks wonder – “Is she some sort of con artist?” Finally I invested in a nice, red metal snap case with seven pockets. That is not enough for each group to have their own pocket, but some co-habitation in the pockets is allowed. For me it is a solution, though it won’t hold too many of any one card. So when I am headed out to a psychiatric conference, for example, I fill a compartment in my purse with my psychiatry cards.

Another frustration is that just managing a professional association does not necessarily mean that I am deeply knowledgeable about the professions I serve. So while I know much more about carwashing, psychiatry, oncology, and Roberts’ Rules of Order than the average person on the street, I am not an expert in any of those fields. I have to content myself to be forever the “master of none.”

I think in order to be a good AMC person, you have to live in the moment and be totally consumed by what you are doing at any given time. Some days I ask myself – who am I today? I have to say I love having a choice and the opportunity to be someone different today than I was yesterday. But you also have to take time to plan and to readjust priorities.

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October 17, 2008

The Fourth Evolution

Employees of the non-profit industry like to joke that there is a non-profit for everything. And indeed, there is: from the cremators trade association to a local community theatre organization to a college Alumni association to the well-known Make-a-Wish foundation, a non-profit exists for everything. The public, and oftentimes we professionals, find few commonalities between the overwhelming varieties of associations. The answer is simple. Trade associations, charities, colleges and other non-profits are bound by one common purpose – to serve our constituents.

How non-profits meet the needs of our constituents has evolved to provide networking, advocacy and education. Non-profits initially form to connect individuals. For instance the Americas’ SAP User Group formed so that SAP users could discuss challenges and best practices and the Edgewater Community Council began so that residents could form relationships and build community. Eventually the members form a grassroots network and require another form of service: advocacy. Who associations influence is based on their market; some examples include the local alderman, a vendor company or a board of directors. Advocacy success (and sometimes lack thereof) creates additional constituent responsibilities; associations must provide training to prepare members to meet the new standards. Throughout every evolution, association employees’ role is to facilitate programs to meet these three forms of service.

We now sit on the brink of the fourth evolution. The public demands that organizations implement corporate sustainability programs in order to positively influence their environment, online communities form quickly around shared interests and compete with associations for members, and multiple generations in the workplace require programming tailored to suite their unique needs. We must meet member needs and ensure we act in the interest of member values.

Our opportunity is to determine how the values evolution will impact how our association serves. To do this, we must first verify that our companies’ mission and value remain pertinent to constituents and then ensure the mission and values drive programming.

As employees of the industry, we must develop a means for the non-profit sector to lead the values evolution. Associations are the most well versed organizations in offering our stakeholders value-driven benefits. By leading society, we will build respect for our profession, fine-tune our networking, advocacy and education services and pave the way for the eventual fifth evolution.

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September 3, 2008

Association anniversaries and longevity

I saw this photo on one of my favorite blogs - she posted it because of its looks, but it's fascinating on many levels for me.

First: we don't do giveaways like we used to as an industry. (matchbooks? really?)
Second: How many of the tschotchkes we create will be around in 42 years? (unused?)
Third: You never know whose life has been touched by an association...

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September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav Prompts Businesses and Organizations to Launch Emergency Recovery Plans

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is urging businesses and organizations in the impact area of Hurricane Gustav to execute their emergency recovery plans, which should include the following (note: All associations and nonprofits across the U.S. would be well-served to include these in their own disaster plans.):

· Phone-calling trees and/or a phone recording for employees that keeps them informed during an emergency and provides clear direction for whom to speak with if they have problems.
· An out-of-town phone number that allows employees to leave a message telling organization leaders whether they are okay, where they are, and how they can be reached.
· A clear plan for employees with disabilities or special needs that was created with their input, so all needs are addressed during a disaster.
· Payroll continuity processes and communications.
· An evacuation plan for records, computers, and other stuff from your office to another location.
· Procedures for establishing the conditions under which the business/facility will close.
· Emergency warnings and evacuation plans and other disaster processes. Practice these if possible.
· Employee transportation plans, if appropriate.
· Plans for communicating with employees' families before and after a hurricane.
· Purchase of a NOAA weather radio that has battery backup and a warning alarm tone.
· A process for protecting any outside structures or equipment on your property. Windows, too, should be protected with plywood.
· Knowledge of whether your business phone system works even without electricity. If not, add a phone line that can do so.

You can find other disaster planning articles and information on ASAE & The Center’s Web site, but here are some to get you started:

Quick Tips Regarding Disaster Planning for Hosted Solutions

7 Helpful Disaster Planning Sites

What If? A Guide to Disaster Preparedness Planning


August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

As always, I am proud to report that many associations have already sprung into action in response to the serious threat of Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 hurricane heading toward New Orleans, and the potential threat of Tropical Storm Hannah coming toward the Florida coast. Here are some of the actions associations are already taking:

· The Air Transit Association of America (ATA) has released a statement explaining evacuation processes for residents in the New Orleans area. You can read it here.

· The Humane Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, local and national food banks, and numerous faith-based community organizations have partnered in Nashville, Tennessee, to open shelters, distribute meals, and support evacuees from the hurricane.

· The American Red Cross is urging people in the potentially affected areas to register themselves its new Safe and Well Web site at, or call a loved one and ask them to register you. This online tool helps families and individuals notify loved ones that they are safe during an emergency. You also can read and link to the organization’s advice to evacuating families by going here.

· The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants is urging people in the affected areas to “financially prepare” for the hurricane, using its tip list, which includes the need for having plentiful cash on hand, documenting household goods and valuables, and gathering important documents.

· The National Association for Amateur Radio (ham radio folks) has developed guidelines for potential volunteers interested in responding to the hurricane emergency, warning them not to “self-deploy” and noting that the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition has been relaying reports online since Friday.

· The Texas Hotel & Lodging Association sent an alert to members last Thursday, repeating a local government estimate that 45,000 evacuees could arrive if Gustav hits Louisiana. Local restaurant associations and members have been stocking up as well.

· Social media also is coming into significant play in terms of sharing storm information, relaying community/government emergency operations, organizing nonprofit relief and assistance responses, checking on association members, monitoring local chapters/components, and rallying volunteers on standby.

· Bossier City Firefighters Association is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to find housing for IAFF members evacuating the area. Like the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, many local associations have turned to their national associations and leaders for help—and emergency housing is just one such request. Others I’ve seen relate to transportation advice, pet care in the region, and reinforcing communication strategies.

· The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is actively tracking the storms on the Hurricane Preparedness section of its web site and has the latest NOAA and other weather updates, the status of various airports, an emergency preparedness checklist, and many more resources available to help members and the public stay abreast of rapidly changing weather conditions.

· Various electrical power associations are urging the public and businesses in the potential hurricane zones to review their virtual brochures on preparing for power outages and surges as a result of poor weather. Here’s one example from Coast Electric Power Association.

· A number of associations also are encouraging members to access the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness page, which contains emergency plans for businesses and families, emergency supply lists, and background on hurricanes in general.

Thanks, y’all, for once again stepping up to make a real difference in the lives of both your members and the larger public. Please know that ASAE & The Center stand ready to assist you in your efforts!

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August 17, 2008

Honest Words about Diversity--for a Change

I've lost count of how many diversity programs I've attended in my career, but I thought this morning's General Session on "Looking Through the Lens of Others" was especially terrific. Here are some samples I valued:

--Nadira Hira, the impressive 20-something journalist for Fortune, is an articulate mouthpiece for young and younger workers. Her advice: "Be authentic. Don't try to pretend you're diverse when you're not." In other words, forget the BS.

--Doug Klein, executive director of the Association for Conflict Resolution, noted that the reason race or ethnic-based professional and trade organizations still exist is "because there's a need not being met" by the broader association in that profession or trade.

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with--of all people--actor Louis Gossett Jr. backstage at the last Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series. He had told me about the evolution of racism from a black professional's perspective, and I had asked him if the time had finally come for the association community to make a commitment to facilitate mergers of broad-based associations with similar niche groups grounded in race or gender as well as the profession or trade, such as the Society of Professional Journalists with the National Association of Black Journalists.

The actor, who founded and actively guides a New Orleans-based foundation to help at-risk youths, said no. He urged associations to instead focus on youth--the next generation of workers--rather than try to overcome the prejudices of the current workforce, which he said was essentially fruitless. Klein's comment today seemed to reiterate those conclusions on an organizational level.

--The always-blunt, always-superb Patti Digh laments that "people aren't focused on retention at all. They just want to 'get 'em in the door.' This lack of "diversity succession planning" was raised at ASAE & The Center's last diversity forum. Basically, no one knows how to do it or even what such a plan looks like. Perhaps that's a project or research idea for our Diversity Committee or for a select task force.

--Co-moderator Cokie Roberts noted, "At some point we have to be the token," but then that representative should "bring others in." That implies a responsibility, not a choice, on the part of the, say, female executive about actively attracting other smart, accomplished women into the organization.

I have mixed feelings on that. I think we should do what we can to attract all smart, accomplished people to our association IF that organization is best set up to leverage their talents and knowledge for the benefit of the members. I'm uncomfortable screening candidates primarily because they look like me or share a cultural commonality. That said, I'm likely to be a more successful recruiter within those desired demographics because of that reality. Comments? I need to think about this more.

A "Say what?" moment: Patti was called by a company that said its white employees were putting nooses on the lockers of black employees. Patti said she could design an intervention, etc. The response? "We're thinking of a two-hour training session."

Quotables from the General Session:

"We talk about diversity as an end in itself, not what that brings us.... Diversity is not a problem to be fixed.... We've damned ourselves in this country by being too PC [politically correct]. You can't know if you're talking to yourself only." --Patti Digh

"We're afraid of [diversity], even though we know it's good for us."--consultant Steve Hanamura

"Powerful" and "moving"--just some of the high praise I heard about the "Peer Perspectives" video clips of diverse association executives.

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July 23, 2008

Quick clicks: The survival of associations

Lots of interesting discussions are going on this week:

- If you like controversy and are interested in the future of the association sector, you should definitely be following this debate: Ben Martin at the Certified Association Executive blog wonders if associations are really the best solution to the needs they currently are filling, and predicts, "As long as people don't really care, associations will survive." Matt Baehr agrees, at least in part; Tony Rossell disagrees; and Jeff De Cagna strenuously disagrees, while Lindy Dreyer has a slightly different take on the issue. (Be sure to read the comments on each post for additional thoughts and discussion.)

- On the Beaconfire Blog, Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares a wonderful story about a visitor to her tradeshow booth at the AMA conference.

- Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog shares an interesting chart that summarizes the drivers of brand credibility.

- Lee Aase shared seven steps to help nonprofits get the most out of YouTube, which reminded me that I mean to link to Jamie Notter's post on the value of online video. Elsewhere, Cindy Butts shares a cautionary tale about an association that ended up on YouTube without meaning to.

- David Gammel offers three reasons that online communities often fail, while Michael Gilbert at Nonprofit Online News has some thoughts on what nonprofits are doing wrong with their own online communities.

- If you're coming to Annual Meeting, you may be interested in Maddie Grant's list of 10 things she plans to do while she's there.

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June 25, 2008

Social media studies

There's a lot of discussion at association events (and on association blogs) about social media and its impact on membership organizations. If you've been wondering how those discussions are being reflected in actual practice, there are two studies going on right now to try to quantify that:

- The Angerosa Research Foundation is conducting a study to track trends and build benchmarks on associations’ practices and future plans related to Web 2.0. Topics to be surveyed include common uses of social media platforms like Facebook and Second Life, social networking best practices and member participation trends, wikis and tools for electronic knowledge management, benefits and uses of blogs, and strategies for minimizing liability and expanding participation. All participants will receive a complete summary of the research results. You can participate in the study online.

- Principled Innovation LLC and Omnipress have launched a survey designed to capture information on the state of social technology adoption in the association community. The study aims to capture information on how associations are using social technologies today, and how they plan to use them going forward. All participants will receive a complimentary copy of the full survey report. More information is available on the Principled Innovation LLC blog; you can fill out the survey online. Note that the deadline for participation is June 30.

I'll look forward to seeing the results from both of these surveys. Thanks to the Angerosa Research Foundation and Principled Innovation LLC for their hard work!

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May 1, 2008

Ego versus Idea

One suggestion in the "dream and design" phase of the Global Summit's Thursday session is for associations to look around them and see if it might be worth....disappearing. Seriously. Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists (and--full disclosure--my husband), suggested that association leaders examine where overlapping associations exist and needlessly compete when they could simply merge and "create half the number of associations with twice the memberships and eight times the influence."

It's an interesting thought. Certainly I've been part of organizational coalitions in which external stakeholders such as corporations or government agencies have complained that they could hardly keep track of which organizations may be the best partners in, say, the environmental sector because so many have similar agendas, duplicate programs with different names, and murky leadership within their field.

Call me cynical, but I think ego would be the biggest barrier to even a discussion of what widescale association mergers might mean to society and the earth. In the fascinating book Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability), authors David Marcum and Steven Smith look at business success and performance from the standpoint of ego. Their extensive research concludes that unbalanced ego "becomes the ultimate blind spot," with more than one-third of all decisions in failed organizations driven by ego. they note that unbalanced ego slows change and innovation, and "there is a clear difference in the power of knowing versus the discipline of becoming."

However, nearly two-thirds of executives "never explore alternatives once they make up their mind," and "81% of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the value of their idea." A surprising 63% of surveyed businesspeople report that ego harms "work performance on an hourly or daily basis, while an additional 31% say it happens weekly." That's a lot of poor productivity and decision making, as well as lost opportunity.

Might the research differ among association employees? What would you think if your boss walked into a staff meeting and said, "For the sake of the planet, let's do a competitive analysis in our industry with an eye toward potential mergers?" Would you think, "Oh, my gosh, my job's in trouble." "Has he lost his mind?" "Finally!" "Whoopie!"

I remember one small trade association whose CEO actually requested that the board let him shut down the organization because the programmatic and mission overlap with industry competitors had led to unsustainable financial hardship. The board was appalled at the idea. He suggested merging with another group instead. Still they balked, citing the organization's long history and criticizing all possible merger candidates.

I don't recall what happened to the association in the end, but I do know that the CEO eventually left, and at some point, I stopped receiving press releases from the organization. Perhaps if leaders--whether volunteer or paid--move their egos more to the side of humility, they will find that exploring potential mergers would indeed lead ultimately to accomplishment of their broader mission.

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Speed-dreaming a Better World

Wow--what an amazing afternoon of what I'll call "speed sharing," which reminded me a bit of speed-dating but with people exchanging ideas instead of personal phone numbers. Some of the ideas are natural extensions of the exciting momentum we've been building during this Global Summit on Social Responsibility (SR): an SR listserv, an association SR blog and monthly Idea Swap, create a "Social Responsibility in a Box" how-to toolkit, and a new requirement that SR strategies are integrated into CAE knowledge domains.

But here are some of the larger-vision ideas that got me personally jazzed during today's "dream and design" exercise:

Use ASAE & The Center as "innovation incubators."

Create a "Retired Association Exec Corps" to help coordinate and contribute to SR efforts by associations.

Develop an offshoot version of the United Nations Global Compact that allows associations to sign on in agreement to meet specific SR metrics and standards.

Create a "Bright Light Network"--a coalition of associations that want to work together on social, economic and environmental challenges.

Create a "Seven Wonders of a Socially Responsible World" committee structure in ASAE & The Center to focus on global problem solving in the areas of education, environment, health, prosperity, innovation and technology, peace and security.

Friday we'll be breaking into groups to begin creating something tangible from the best ideas in the various categories generated by our "dreaming." Keep checking back for news of our progress!


April 25, 2008

Quick clicks: Dithering

- This week, Ann Oliveri had one of my favorite blog post titles in a while: The Knowing-Dithering Gap. I know I've seen that gap before.

- Are meeting attendees beginning to expect more opportunities to engage with presenters? Or can a lack of such engagement driving people away from traditional education events? Jeremiah Owyang at the Web Strategy by Jeremiah blog shares some direct experience with changing presentations based on audience response, and Krys Slovacek at the Gathering blog talks about creating engagement with audience response systems.

- Welcome to another relatively new association blogger: Chris Davis at the Beginning Marketer blog. Chris, thank you for blogging!

- Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog is launching a newsletter focused on free learning opportunities--great stuff for smaller associations or those forced to reduce their staff development budgets as the economy gets bumpy.

- If you've enjoyed Joe's posts on Acronym from the DigitalNow conference, you may also be interested in the official DigitalNow blog. They're doing some neat things with incorporating photos via Flickr and video into the blog, as well as providing a lot of presentation materials through the blog.

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April 23, 2008

Awards musings

I had the opportunity last week to serve as a judge for the Society of National Association Publications' EXCEL Awards, intended to recognize the best association publications--entries ranged from magazine covers to single-issue publications to blogs. Last year I served as a "virtual" judge, reading entries electronically and holding the judging discussion via conference call, but this year was the first year I volunteered as an in-person judge. It was a great and very interesting experience, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts about it:

1. Wow, motivated volunteers can get a lot done. There were 60 judges there, and we considered 800 entries in a day of work. (Another 450 entries were judged virtually.) The room was buzzing for hours as editors and designers passionately debated the merits of particular publications. And we got it all done before our scheduled quitting time.

2. Everyone who applies for an award should serve as a volunteer judge, somewhere, at least once. In a past life I was in charge of coordinating a much smaller awards program, but being a judge is a whole different experience, and it taught me a lot about what is effective for catching judges' eyes (as an award applicant) and what isn't. Not to mention the fact that I learned a lot from the other publications people on my judging team.

3. It doesn't matter what your association does--you can still write interesting, engaging stories about it. We judged entries on all kinds of topics that inherently weren't very interesting to me--but the right writers can make an article compelling no matter what it's about. I've always believed that, but I really saw it in action as I was judging.

4. It's important to take time to volunteer in this way. I love my job, but taking a day off to work with and talk to a group of people who love the same things I do was energizing. Thanks to SNAP for giving me the opportunity to recharge!


March 17, 2008

Next Traditions Discussion Thread


It is a great honor to be the author of this month's cover story for Associations Now. In the print version of the magazine, the article is called, "Beyond Today," but you can find it online under its original title, "The Next Traditions of Association 3.0." I hope you will take the opportunity to read it, and share your ratings and reviews. (The rate and review area appears at the end the article on the website.)

This week, my hope is that we can engage in some dialogue around the article and the implications of the argument I make for your association. To get the conversation started, please take the oppportunity to reflect on the following questions:

+What role does tradition play in your association?

+How does/can your organization use tradition as a platform for innovation?

+Among the six "next traditions" discussed in the article, which of them does your association embrace? Which does your association find it difficult to embrace?

I look forward to our discussion. Please share your insights, as well as any questions, in the comment box below!


March 6, 2008

Not Located in an Association Hotbed?

At times (read: most of the time), working for an association located in Cleveland makes me feel like I am snow-skiing in Hawaii or surfing in Aspen. While I have enjoyed every moment of my employment at the Marble Institute of America, it is hard not to feel removed from the associo-centric environs of DC or Chicago. Not having to explain what an association is would be nice for a change…

Recently, two things happened which dramatically changed my feelings of relative isolation:

1. Participating in the Greater Cleveland Society of Association Executives. Attending monthly meetings with the 30 or so others devoted to the GCSAE has really opened my eyes to the fact that there is a vibrant, albeit small, association community here in Cleveland. As a younger association executive, having the opportunity to lunch and mingle with experienced executives and CAEs has been very rewarding.
Look into joining your local society of association executives.

2. This year, the Marble Institute of America joined the ASAE Circle Club. At first glance the price tag seemed high, but after crunching some numbers it became crystal clear that after dues and education seminars for our staff were factored in, this “club” would be a wise financial investment. What has resulted is a situation where more staff are able to attend ASAE education seminars and ultimately new interest in what it is we are all part of has been generated.
Look into the Circle Club; it may afford you additional opportunities for association related education.

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February 20, 2008

Have a sense of humor

Have you heard about the new portrait hanging at the National Portrait Gallery? Comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's Colbert Report approached several DC museums with the request that they hang his portrait (a joke completely in character with the persona he displays on his show). But the National Portrait Gallery took him up on the offer--and hung the portrait between two bathrooms on the second floor of the museum.

When I read about this, my first thought was, "They must have great PR staff there!" It's so easy for us to take our organizations so very seriously--but the National Portrait Gallery took Colbert's gag and responded with a joke of their own (hanging the portrait in such a place of "honor"). In reward, the museum has evidently seen record-setting crowds heading up to the second floor to see Colbert's portrait.

Could we use humor more effectively in our own organizations? Another great example: Embassy Suites hotels recently ran a contest for guests to suggest new text for the hotels' Do Not Disturb signs. Of the five winners, my personal favorite is "I've built a pillow fort and I am not opening the door for anybody!" but the others are classics as well--and they'll all be displayed at an Embassy Suites near you.

Where could a little humor make a big difference to your association's members or constituents?

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February 9, 2008

Happenings in the Big Apple

It’s the week-end, and like all good association execs, we’re all kicking back—right? For all you ex-pats and absent New Yorkers, you know there’s no place like New York. Here’s a few factoids to help you fondly remember home:

Grand Central Freeze-In: Last month over 200 Improv Everywhere Agents froze in place at the exact same second for five minutes in the Main Concourse of Grand Central Station. Check out the amazing video at Amazing—wonderful! While you're in GC, check out the the Florida Stone Crab Celebration at Oyster Bar at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. The Oyster Bar is a great place. Their chowda is great, too!

Take the Train: New York City subways totaled 1.56 billion rides in 2007, highest since 1951, according to the MTA. Subway ridership was up 4.2% from 2006, with average weekday ridership above 5 million in 2007. And of course, new subway fares go (up) into effect March 2. Buddy, can you spare $2.00?

Eats: For the latest in the grub scene, check out Grub Street:

Whaz Happenin: For the latest on the latest, go here:
If you hurry, you can celebrate the Year of the Rat with Custard King in Gotham!

If you're in need of New York photos, check out my web site at


January 14, 2008

Quick clicks: Ask the CAE, no excuses

- Ben Martin of the Certified Association Executive blog is launching a new feature, "Ask the CAE." Be sure to send him great questions!

- Michele Martin of The Bamboo Project Blog and Katya Andresen of Getting to the Point both have interesting posts up about not allowing excuses (like "We don't have the budget" or "We don't have the staff") get in the way of the great things our organizations could be doing.


January 9, 2008

Quick clicks: Social networks, trendspotting, slide shows

A few links that may be of interest:

- For those of you who enjoyed Jason Della Rocca's recent Acronym post on working with external social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, Matt Baehr of the BlogClump blog has a short post up on the success of a similar experiment his organization is conducting.

- Dave Sabol of the Associated Knowledge blog is planning to post each Tuesday in his blog about upcoming trends, large and small, that may have an impact on association. His first "Trendspotting Tuesday" post shares some predictions from several social media experts.

- Jonathon Colman of the Nature Conservancy really has some great ideas, and I'm not just saying that because he's commented on Acronym before. The npMarketing blog points to some slideshows Jonathon has posted with good information on topics like cultivating your constituents online, search engine optimization, and web marketing for fundraisers.

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December 19, 2007

Would your members miss you?

In a great post on the Beyond Certification blog, Mickie Rops mentions asking someone, "If you had NOT developed a certification program, would your field look any different than it does today?" She's talking specifically about certification, but I love the question on other levels, too.

- Look at your association's programs and services. If they didn't exist, would your profession or industry be affected? Would remembers notice? (There are few things more lowering to an association professional than hearing, "I just realized I hadn't heard from the association in six months, and I wanted to check and see if you had my address wrong ..." If they can go six months without missing you, are you really helping them at all?)

- Look at yourself. If you took off for Tahiti tomorrow (assuming you didn't do so via illicit use of association funds), would your organization be any different in a year? Three years? What would you have to do differently to make that kind of impact?

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December 13, 2007

The Power of a Dog-gone Good Story

Wells Jones, CEO of the much-lauded Guide Dog Foundation, is a great storyteller. That's not a label many nonprofit leaders work hard for, but Wells has found that stories can get you places that appeals letters and political allies cannot: into people's wallet, mind and heart.

I was interviewing him recently after our Key Philanthropic Organizations Committee (KPOC) meeting, having already talked to him once before about his foundation's successful revision of its governance practices. We had spent a good chunk of the KPOC meeting talking about leadership, organizational excellence and the differences and synergies between our Seven Measures of Success book and a new publication, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

We were all intrigued by the differences in data about leadership between these two books and even Good to Great's Jim Collins, who had been involved with both publications. One thing none of these books did, though, was explore in any real depth the types of communication techniques that great organizatonal leaders routinely find most effective: compelling storytelling.

So I asked Wells how he created the storytelling culture that is so apparent on his Web site and how his staff and volunteers collect and use those powerful anecdotes to show the real impact of the organization. You can read his responses in the profile department of ASAE & The Center's new philanthropic Web section, but in the meantime I wanted to share what he said was his favorite program-related story.

"This story relates to a Marine who lost both of his arms in Iraq above the elbow, so he wears two prosthetic arms," Wells said. "And he also has some balance issues. We trained one of our dogs to work with him to help provide balance, fetch items and do various tasks that the Marine needs to get done.

"So he’s outdoors with his dog one day, and they are having down time--he’s playing Frisbee with his dog--and when he throws the Frisbee, the dog brings it back, like all of our dogs do. But then one time when he throws the Frisbee, one of his arms goes with it. The dog goes over and looks at the Frisbee and then looks at the arm, looks at the Frisbee and looks at the arm. Finally, he makes up his mind and grabs the arm, which he takes back to the Marine. And the Marine is laughing really hard about this, thinking, 'What fun!' but then he realizes what the dog just did: The dog made a decision that his owner had to have the arm first before he could bring the Frisbee back. It’s a wonderful, wonderful story."

Now ask him to tell you the one about the two old-time war vets who have raised half a million bucks in just a few months....


November 27, 2007

Hanging Up Your Brand

I was in Hallmark at Tysons Corner last night and on the wall covered with ornaments that sing, move, spin, blink, talk, crack jokes and wield festive light sabers was a brand I recognized immediately: UNICEF. How many people worldwide must recognize its colorful trademarked globe encircled by children holding hands?

It made me ponder the power of a brand that makes people feel so positive and happy that they want to hang it on their Christmas tree. Look at the booming business that Starbucks does with its annual line of “perk-y” ornaments. Hershey, too. And Coca-Cola, Disney and many more.

As I unpacked my own decorations that night, I saw ornaments issued by my church, my children’s schools and—I admit it—Starbucks. Not one ornament represented any of the myriad associations to which I have belonged for years, none for the organizations that have most influenced my professional and personal life.

Now, I don’t expect associations to leap into action and start mass-producing holiday décor, but it would be interesting to ask ourselves if we were 100% confident that if we did, our members would (1) recognize our brand right away, and (2) feel warm and fuzzy enough about it to consider showcasing us among the items they hold most dear.

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October 24, 2007

Associations Pitch in to Help Southern California Fire Victims

We have learned of many associations that have stepped up to offer expertise, volunteers, donations and even temporary housing to the hundreds of thousands of displaced wildlife victims in Southern California. As in past catastrophes, associations are finding creative ways to apply their skills, imagination and members to addressing this crisis. You’ll find a growing list of examples on the ASAE & The Center site, and we encourage you to let us know of others. Thank you all!

Let me mention two partnering associations in particular: the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) and California Teachers Association (CTA). Despite limited operations, SDEA staff and members has "overwhelmed" the group with offers of help when it called for volunteer tutors, donations, childcare and coordination help for families sheltering at Qualcomm Stadium and a local high school. The association also is housing numerous displaced educators at its offices, auditorium and meeting spaces.

CTA, meanwhile, is helping coordinate and is urging displaced members to tap into its “CTA Disaster Fund." Established years ago, the fund offers emergency grants of up to $1,500, with an additional $1,500 grant possible. Monies come from voluntary contributions by CTA members and periodic fundraising drives. The FACT Foundation provides administrative services.

For a model disaster assistance resource for members, visit CTA’s disaster resources page


October 11, 2007


I just finished reading a shattering novel for young adults called Sold (Hyperion, 2006) about a Nepalese girl who is sold into prostitution. While attending the recent National Book Festival in Washington, DC, I was compelled to buy the story after hearing its best-selling author--investigative journalist Patricia McCormick--share her emotional experiences from a month spent researching the child sex trade in Nepal and India. Bear with me while I explain the relevance to associations and their business partners.

During the Q&A, I asked McCormick both if she still communicated with the girls and women who described their horrific existences to her, and if she had been moved to activism by her findings. She affirmed both, noting that part of her earnings go to nonprofits that fight child trafficking.

More important than money, though, has been the simple fact that, despite post-trip trauma, she managed to write the book at all. Further, it just won the prestigious Quill Award for Best Teen/Young Adult Book, which will raise the visibility of this under-publicized social atrocity even more.

Association executives may not feel particularly connected to child trafficking as a business issue. But some of our sector’s largest industries—such as tourism organizations concerned that this crime is often conducted in hotels--are among the leaders working to stop the abuse. In addition, since associations hold events in many cities and nations that have become major centers for child trafficking—India, Korea, Thailand, San Diego, London, Sydney and New York, for instance—the problem has grown more relevant.

McCormick’s story of Lakshmi, the 13-year-old main character from an impoverished family, depicts a tale similar to that of millions of children ages 10-18 who are trafficked for sex annually in what has become a multi-billion-dollar business. Brazil alone is home to 500,000 child prostitutes ages 10-17, with some as young as six, according to UNICEF.

The author’s Web site links to some association efforts, including an international Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism” project by the World Tourism Organization and nonprofit End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).

Created in 1998, the code outlines six conduct criteria based on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Children. It also helpfully includes model language that associations can add to contracts with global suppliers of everything from accommodations to tours.

Members of the Code Steering Committee include the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, Federation of International Youth Travel Organizations and Tour Operators’ Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development, among others. In August 2007, the group helped gather support for 21 congressional leaders who sent letters to CEOs of the four largest U.S. hotel chains, urging them to sign the code. To date, two of them—Choice Hotels and Starwood—have responded with interest in the code, and Hilton Hotels noted that its soon-to-be-issued Global Code of Conduct “will specifically address issues of child exploitation.” Regent International Hotels and Radisson are among the 50 companies that have already signed.

Here’s hoping that other associations and industry partners “get” Sold.

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September 26, 2007

Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much...

Over the last six weeks or so, my life has felt like one continuous plane ride. I've spent many, many hours in the air during this period, and I've tried to put that time to good use by coming up with this list for your amusement. Just consider it a public service I'm performing on behalf of all the weary travelers in the association world. It's a great opportunity for us to laugh at the ridiculous things that too much flying can do to otherwise normal human beings. (No cracks from the peanut gallery please...)

So, without further delay, the Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much!

Continue reading "Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much..." »

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September 12, 2007

Required reading

There's an interesting post at Shawn Lea's blog listing the books that brokerage firm Bears Sterns requires its interns to read. I'd be curious to see if there are any associations (or specific managers) out there with similar reading lists for new employees. What books would be most valuable to someone brand-new to association work? Drop a comment at Shawn's place if you have thoughts!


Geeking out

In his post yesterday, Jason Della Rocca said something that really resonated with me about “associations being the place where members can be geeks about what they love.”

The term “geek” is one of those that can be used in a derogatory way, but it’s often used proudly within the various permutations of geeky communities. Whether you’re a geek about science fiction, engineering, ancient history, IT, or art, there are few things in life that are more fun than sharing time with those who share your geeky passions—to “geek out” with them about a great book you just read within your favored subject area, pick to pieces a movie that got all of the facts wrong, or debate the finer details of a subject that outsiders wouldn’t begin to understand. (Just as an example, my degree is in religious studies. Just ask any of my coworkers; you don’t want to get me started on certain topics or you’ll find yourself hearing a lot more than you wanted to know.)

I personally have had the great opportunity to attend both the Institute for Organization Management and a bunch of ASAE & The Center events, and in both cases, one of my favorite things is to connect with other association professionals and geek out over association stuff. Wow, your volunteer president did that? Really? How did you handle it? Have you ever had to communicate with your members about a dues increase? How did it work out?

Association bloggers are another case in point. It’s fun to hear them geek out about various aspects of association management; it’s fun to participate in the geekery. And it’s both fun and reassuring to see that others share your passions—whether for association management, religious studies, or what have you.

Really, geekiness is the foundation on which associations were built. Help your members embrace their inner professional or industry geek—and geek out with them!

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September 6, 2007

de Tocqueville revisited

My article ("de Tocqueville's America: Revisited") in the September issue of Associations Now is hitting the streets and is online. For the inspiration behind the article, read the short article on page 4 (print version only - sorry). And while you're there, find out about the fight club above one of our design and production staff's apartment.

I'm blogging because I'm interested to hear what questions (and answers) Acronym readers would ask de Tocqueville if they had been with me in the interview. Or how they think de Tocqueville would have answered my questions. And while you're on the site with this article or any other, be sure to take a moment and rate it and post a quick review.

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August 31, 2007

Two stories I found inspiring

From this month’s Fast Company article “Girl Power”:

“Late last year, Ian Moray stumbled across a cotton-candy-pink Web site called As manager of media development at the online marketing company ValueClick Media, he was searching for under-the-radar destinations for notoriously fickle teenagers …

He approached Ashley Qualls, Whateverlife’s founder, about incorporating ads from ValueClick’s 450 or so clients and sharing the revenue. At first, she declined. Then a few weeks later she changed her mind. He was in Los Angeles and she was in Detroit, so they arranged everything by phone and email. They still have yet to meet in person.

When did Moray, who’s 40, learn that his new business partner was 17 years old?


‘When our director of marketing told me why Fast Company was calling,’ says Moray … ‘I assumed she was a seasoned Internet professional. She knows so much about what her site does, more than people three times her age.’”

From Shel Israel’s blog, Global Neighbourhoods, a quote from Sirhey Danyenko, founder of the Ukrainian website/online newspaper Highway:

“We do not hesitate to experiment and work in style ‘Fire! Fire! Fire! Now Aim’. People who come to our office, think that Highway has a huge editorial staff and they are pretty astonished, when they get acquainted with me and my several friends.

When I send letters, depending on the addressee I sign them ‘Editor in chief,’ ‘Head of marketing department,’ ‘Co-founder,’ ‘Head of advertising,’ ‘Brand manager’ etc.”

Both Ashley Qualls and Sirhey Danyenko saw a potential need and worked to fill it. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to let their ages or their locations keep them from being successful.

Is there something keeping you from firing away at a great new idea in your association? Can Ashley and Sirhey’s example inspire you to look for ways those obstacles can be removed or sidestepped (or just ignored altogether)?


July 30, 2007

Annual Meeting: What are you looking forward to?

Okay everybody, the ASAE & The Center Annual Meeting is less than two weeks away, and so it's time to find out what you are looking forward to seeing, doing or experiencing when we gather in Chicago early next month.

Can't wait to hang with a friend you haven't seen in a long time? Eagerly anticipating a great meal at one of Chicago's fine eating establishments? Thrilled to be attending an especially timely and interesting thought leader session or learning lab?

It's going to be a great meeting all the way around, but each of us has those specific things we plan (or don't plan!) that get us particularly excited. So tell us what's floating your boat by sharing up to three of your forward-looking thoughts, and let's see if we can get a conversation started!

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July 17, 2007

More generational food for thought

In a recent comment here on Acronym, Wayne Carley asks, “The last two conferences/retreats I attended had lots of young parents bringing their stroller-aged post-millenials. (Do we have a name for that generation yet?)”

Coincidentally, an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, “The Next 20 Years: How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve,” is the first I’ve seen to give that generation a name. Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss call them the “Homelander” generation. Clearly it’s early to make any predictions about these toddlers as a generation, but Howe and Strauss do have some predictions about what Millennials will be like as parents.

Personally, I found it a little sad to see the name “Homelander” given to my children’s generation. I’d like to hope that security issues will be less of a concern in their lifetime than in mine.

On a somewhat related note, Tammy Erickson, a blogger at Harvard Business Online, has unveiled some results from research she’s been doing with Generation Y/Millennial focus groups.

One finding that struck me as particularly interesting: Her participants really like working with Boomers and find that they learn a lot from Boomer mentors. This seems to fly in the face of a lot of media coverage of Millennial/Boomer interaction, which typically seems to cast Millennials as the angry young gatecrashers or as irresponsible children of helicopter parents. (Admittedly, conflict is an easy hook for a writer to play with, which I’m sure influences this kind of coverage.) It’s nice to see new evidence that shows that these two groups can really respect each other’s perspectives and learn from one another.

Erickson uses my favorite quote as the title of her blog entry on the research; when talking about their desire for flexibility at work, one participant is quoted as saying, “What is it with you people and 8:30 a.m.?”

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June 22, 2007

Getting hooked

Ann Oliveri has a thoughtful post up on her blog today about how professional societies can promote the development of true professional mastery in their members. Her suggestions are great ones; I’m especially glad that she mentions the Urban Land Institute’s advisory services teams, where her members come together as volunteers to tackle real-world problems. That’s a program I’ve found inspiring ever since I first heard about it a few years ago.

Her post reminded me of conversations I had with students while I worked at the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Typically, I was interviewing the student for an article in our magazine, and I would ask him or her what readers could do to help draw more students toward a career in industrial hygiene. Invariably, the answer would be (at least in part), “Offer us hands-on opportunities to work alongside you.” Many of them noted that once they had actually done work in the field and had seen how interesting and rewarding it was, they had been hooked—and they felt other students would be as well.

But for some reason, so many internships in so many fields aren’t about hands-on work; they’re about sitting at a desk, staying out of the way, maybe making some copies. And there aren't nearly as many internship opportunities as there are students interested in taking advantage of them. A lot of this is because folks are busy; to provide an intern with real, practical learning opportunities, you have to add “part-time teacher” to your normal job description, and it’s hard to make the time.

But more of us should, and our members should too. If we really want to put students on the track to dedicating themselves to the professions we represent, the best way to do that is to give them a taste of the work, and get them hooked on that experience.


June 6, 2007

Visualizing association communities

Dennis McDonald recently posted a very interesting graphic that attempts to visually represent the many overlapping communities created in a single association through the interactions of staff, members, the profession the association represents, and the public. The graphic, and his analysis of what it means for association member services, are definitely worth checking out.

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June 1, 2007

The mysterious OPA

OPA plaque on Siena cathedral

I recently returned from a trip to Italy for a family wedding; the photo above was taken in Siena. It’s a small part of the façade of the beautiful duomo (cathedral) there.

While we were visiting the duomo and I was geeking out over the historical significance of various statues and engravings (I was a religious studies major), I noticed the term “OPA” all over the place, both on the façade and inside. Then I remembered that I had also noticed it at a smaller duomo in Volterra.

I was fascinated. Was it a doctrinal term I wasn’t familiar with? A Da Vinci-code-esque secret password? A really prolific medieval construction company?

As it turns out, it’s a shorthand form of “opera della metropolitana”—“cathedral works committee,” in English. Siena wasn’t unique in having such a group; the opera of the duomo in Florence commissioned Michelangelo’s David (and, after seeing it, offered to build him a house and a studio in which to create future work).

While it appears that these groups were more formal than a typical association committee (possibly even part of a city’s government, at various places and times), I was still very impressed to see a committee’s role acknowledged in stone, so often and so prominently. The members of the opera created something that is not only visited for its beauty—it’s still used for its original intended purpose, nearly 800 years after it was built.

Perhaps a group of volunteers (or staff, or both) at your association could be inspired by the example of the opera of Siena. What great things can you aspire to build for the future?

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April 18, 2007

Any day

I’ve been thinking, as I’m sure many of you are, about the tragedy that took place at Virginia Tech this week. In my case, I’m also thinking about my brother’s best friend, who just passed away in a hospital where many of the Virginia Tech victims are also being treated.

My brother’s friend was working toward his dream of becoming a ship captain by serving as a crewperson on a ship off the coast of Mexico. He took ill suddenly and declined rapidly—we’re still not sure why—and eventually was flown back to Virginia. Last night he was taken off life support and passed away.

He was 29. I was looking forward to hearing his toast at my brother’s wedding next month.

All of this makes me think: Anything can happen, any time. You can be sitting in class or working at a desk or working on a ship, doing what you love or just getting through, and an accident or a germ or a madman can change everything. We don’t like to think about it; human beings are to a certain extent programmed to deny things like death. If we worried about dying every second of every day, fear could overwhelm us, so we tend to focus on the here and now.

But for me, thinking about my brother’s friend in the hospital—the same hospital where some of the Virginia Tech students are being treated—I believe: We need to break out of that here and now focus, as much as we can. Think about tomorrow. Think about what you can do to make your life the best life it can be—however you define that. And then go make it happen. Because anything can happen.

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March 27, 2007

Things I’ve learned

Jeff De Cagna posted a great list of things he’s learned as an association professional. I found both his ideas and the format to be inspiring, so I’ve cooked up a list of my own. I hope other Acronym bloggers (and any and all readers) will have lessons to share, too.

Hire slowly. No, even more slowly than that—Getting the right person for an open position is critical. No matter how much you’re suffering because it’s open, making hasty hires in an effort to reduce the pain will lead to greater heartache down the road. The right person is out there. (That’s not to say that you might not have to re-think your requirements, of course.)

When someone who works for you has a great idea, tell the world—Giving people credit for their great ideas encourages them to come up with even more great ideas. Hiding their lights under a bushel leads to you losing your best people, fast. And then where will the great ideas come from?

Base your structure on the people you have—Don’t be tied down by job descriptions. Let people run with what they’re passionate about; it will help tide them over during the periods of scutwork, which, let’s face it, all jobs have. (But always look for ways to automate, outsource, or otherwise reduce the scutwork, too, because too much of it deadens passion.)

Always take time to rethink your assumptions—When you’re so busy that your main focus is staying afloat, it’s very easy to just keep doing things the way you’ve always done them. Force yourself to break out of those ruts. Set aside time—actually schedule it in your calendar if you have to—to reconsider basic processes or assumptions. Talk to new staff to see what they find illogical or unnecessarily bureaucratic.

Pass good energy on—If you hear great feedback about someone’s performance, let him or her know about it. If you find yourself thinking, “Pam did a great job on that project!” let Pam know, and copy her supervisor. Do whatever you can to contribute to a positive atmosphere in your office and you’ll see the benefits in attitudes and dedication.

Always plan for communication—When you’re planning any sort of significant change in your association, spend a good chunk of your planning time considering a) who will be impacted and b) how to communicate with them about it. People who feel surprised by a change are 10 times harder to convert than people who are communicated with enough to feel a part of the change process.

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February 20, 2007

Creating an Ideastorm

Via Shel Holtz’s blog, I came across something new Dell has launched that has great applicability to the association world.

Dell’s new Ideastorm site allows users to propose ideas for new products (or tweaks to existing products), vote for ideas they like with just the click of a “Promote” icon, and discuss ideas that are in play.

The best part (I think) is labeled “Ideas in Action”—where Dell intends to report how they are using the proposed ideas. Since Ideastorm is less than a week old, they don’t have anything in that space yet—but I think it will be critical in terms of keeping users involved. Compare this with a typical feedback cycle where a member or customer fills out a survey and possibly, months later, sees a newsletter article summarizing the survey results and a few sentences on how the results will be applied.

Could your members come up with a storm of ideas this way?

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January 22, 2007

Trust me

Edelman, the public relations firm, has released its eighth annual Trust Barometer, based on findings from a survey of 3,100 “opinion leaders” in 18 countries. Lots of interesting nuggets of information:

- The survey summary notes that “‘A person like me’ or a peer is the most trusted spokesperson in the United States at 51 percent.” A nonprofit or NGO representative comes in third, after doctors and academics. I found it particularly interesting to see that “a blogger” comes in dead last, at 9 percent; I wonder, however, if folks who read a blog on a regular basis stop thinking of the author as “a blogger” and start seeing him or her as “a person like me.”

- Edelman states that, “Trailing only ‘providing quality products or services,’ undertaking ‘socially responsible activities’ is universally seen as the most important action an organization can to do to build trust. ‘Socially responsible activities’ surpassed providing ‘a fair price for products or services,’ ‘attentiveness to customers’ and ‘good labor relations’ in most markets.”

For those wishing to delve more deeply into the findings, a fairly detailed PowerPoint presentation is available. Scroll to the bottom of this summary to download:

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December 13, 2006

Lessons from the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society

The light-hearted World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society (WRPSS) is an extraordinarily successful experiment in viral/word of mouth communications. Although delightfully silly, WRPSS offers up some valuable lessons for those of us who--perhaps--take ourselves too seriously

WRPSS founder and managing director Doug Walker was the luncheon speaker this week at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Washington, D.C. Doug's day job is Interactive Strategist at an ad agency TBWA\Toronto. He identified four keys to their success: authority; mutation; participation; and, "accretion."

The WRPSS is the authority quoted by the New York Times when the childhood game of rock, paper, scissors is invoked to resolve gridlocked decisions by art auction houses and state court judges. How did they become the authority? They said they were. Interestingly enough, visitors attracted by word of mouth added their strategies and experience to a long threaded message, which in turn became a book. And, as we all know, publishing a book makes you an authority.

The idea quickly mutated, adding more of the trappings of an association, including paid memberships and meetings. What the founders learned was that they had to quickly mutate to keep up with their members' fantasy. Last year their annual world championship made all the network and cable news shows with the winner featured on every late night night talk show. Check out the NPR story on their mythological history.

Participation was key to their success. At the meet, they treated competitors like athletes and groupies like special interest groups. But the most telling lesson learned was "accretion." Walker said that participants grew the mythology, identifying with the group, and each step of WRPSS' development layered on the last. He said you could have never launched it as it now exists, but each activity led to the next or "accretion."

"A few people played their roles (leaders) and we attracted more and more people," Walker said. In fact, they were so successful a producer from Fox News covering the championship launched a competing organization.

The lessons from social media not only make for a powerful fable, but also a game plan for any start-up associations, lessons not unlike those now being learned by WOMMA.


December 5, 2006

Can associations be mavericks, too?

I had the opportunity last week to hear Polly LaBarre speak about her new book Mavericks at Work. After spending considerable time studying “maverick” companies in industries ranging from entertainment (HBO, Pixar) to retail and mining (Whole Foods, Goldcorp), she and co-author William Taylor have quite a few lessons to share.

One remarkable trait shared by the companies they studied is the concept of “strategy as advocacy.” These companies have a mission and they’re in business to advance it. And by mission, they don’t mean one of those meaningless statements of interchangeable corporate-speak terms. Internet banking company ING Direct wants to “lead Americans back to savings.” Southwest Airlines wants to “democratize the skies.” Cranium, the game company, wants to help people “laugh and feel and connect.”

Of course, using strategy as advocacy means that you will alienate some people. When ING Direct fires approximately 3,500 customers a year—and even rejects potential new customers—that don’t fit in with its mission and criteria, it is doing something alien to most associations (and for-profit businesses, for that matter). As association professionals, we aim to bring people together, and the bigger the tent, the better. But if your association really threw its energy and resources behind a simple, compelling mission—if you had the ability and indeed the requirement to say no to requests that didn’t fit with that mission—how much do you think you could you accomplish?

With that kind of mission, I bet a lot of associations could move forward far more quickly than we can when we try to be all things to all members.

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November 21, 2006

One to say yes

I’m going to share an advance tidbit from the 2007 Leadership Issue of Associations Now with you: In a feature story, William C. Taylor, co-author of Mavericks at Work, shares an anecdote about Commerce Bank. Apparently Commerce has a number of idiosyncratic terms and sayings—to the extent that they provide new employees with a specialized “Commerce Lingo” dictionary.

One term that struck me as particularly powerful is “One to Say Yes, Two to Say No.” In other words, every employee is empowered to say yes to a customer, but to say no, the employee must first check with his or her supervisor.

This slogan was still in my mind when I came upon this interesting story in Seth Godin’s blog, about an airline crew’s efforts to reduce their passengers’ misery while waiting for an extended flight delay to end. The crew decided to order pizza for the whole plane (and since delivery isn’t available on a runway, one crew member volunteered to go pick up the pizzas). Once the food arrived, everyone from the captain to the flight attendants came out to serve the passengers. I'd be willing to bet that this extra effort on the part of the crew was a very pleasant surprise for everyone on board.

Many association staff members may have ideas that could turn a member’s whole day around. But if they don’t feel empowered to act on their inspirations—if you have a “two to say yes” culture, or worse, a “committee to say yes” culture—those ideas will never get off the ground.

And I’d bet the staff member who does get to act on his or her idea, and sees the positive reaction, will be that much more motivated to act again to improve members’ experiences in the future.


November 13, 2006

Getting it wrong 100 percent of the time

This morning’s Washington Post includes an article about the airline flight with the worst on-time performance in the United States during the month of September. This particular flight, from New York to Washington, DC, was late 100 percent of the time.

It’s difficult to be consistent in any area 100 percent of the time. Now, of course, the lateness of a particular flight is affected by dozens of factors outside of the control of the flight crew—weather, crowding on runways, delays on other flights. And certainly any product or service you provide for your members will be affected by just as many outside influences.

But perhaps (to add to the ongoing conversation about celebrating failure), if something is consistently going wrong at your association, there’s a way to take some element of that consistency and turn it into a strength.

For example: Say you are having difficulty publishing books due to member reviewers’ extensive and repeated changes to manuscripts. While timeliness is a problem, clearly you have volunteers with passion for the subject matter and a willingness to contribute a great deal of their time to ensure that a publication is the best it can be. To capitalize on that passion while setting aside the issue of timeliness, you could consider transforming the books into wikis—making the material available in a timely manner while also allowing your member reviewers to put in as much time as they think is necessary to polish and update the information.

Consistency is an element of greatness—as long as you harness it correctly.


November 3, 2006

Perception is Reality

I have been following with interest the student protests at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. This situation has come in to the national spotlight after the Board of Directors of this world renowned institution of higher learning for the deaf and hard-of-hearing promoted its current Provost, Jane K. Fernandes, to President effective January 2007. For anyone who has followed the story, you know that ever since this announcement of Dr. Fernandes’ promotion, students and faculty have protested, shutting down (or nearly so) the campus for quite some time because they felt that the selection process was biased, unfair, and non-inclusive.

As I watched this situation unfold in the news, I could not help but wonder how many of us have totally inclusive, transparent decision-making processes within our organizations? How many organizations among us could see our Boards’ major decisions completely overturned by a majority or even minority of the membership because the process followed, if any, was not perceived as fair -- or worse, was fair but was not communicated well?

I think as association leaders that we have a greater obligation than others to model the way toward inclusivity and transparency in the decision-making processes of our organizations. We also have an obligation greater than most to ensure that we develop and implement effective communications plans that reach all impacted stakeholder groups in the organizations that we serve to talk about the decisions that our leaders make and why.

Fail to be inclusive, transparent, and communicate effectively – and you run the risk of your membership staging a coup similar to that which the faculty and students at Gallaudet University just did.

Something to think about.

For a link to more information, please click on the following URL:


October 26, 2006

Another quick post on October’s Associations Now

For those of you who were intrigued by the concepts behind the October Associations Now cover story on gaming and virtual worlds, but perhaps aren’t ready to hunker down with electronic gaming as a hobby, there’s a new travel service out there that way be for you. Synthtravels bills itself as the first virtual travel agency, specializing in online worlds like Ultima Online, Second Life, and World of Warcraft.

You still have to purchase and install any needed software, but once you’ve set up your computer, Synthtravels promises to connect you with an experienced guide for a tour of the world. They even offer special VIP packages where you can meet the “celebrities” of a particular virtual community.

Perhaps a way to try the gaming concept on for size!


October 20, 2006

Making the last impression into the best

As a new Acronym blogger, I’d like to introduce myself. I recently joined the ASAE staff as deputy editor of Associations Now; previously, I was the senior manager of communications for the American Industrial Hygiene Association in Fairfax, Virginia.

Because of this transition, over the last month or so I’ve had occasion to think about some of the best advice I’ve received as a professional. “You’re only as good as your last two weeks on a job,” I was told. It’s true; if you morph into a stereotypical short-timer, you’ll leave a trail of disgruntled co-workers behind you. “She used to do such a good job,” one of them might say. “But toward the end she just wasn’t reliable.”

I wonder if a similar paradigm might be helpful in thinking about customer service. Since any individual member of your association might not be in contact with you regularly, any impression could become a last impression. “I’ve had some good experiences with my association,” one might say. “But the last time I called I was transferred three times, and then the person I spoke to didn’t get back to me with an answer for two weeks.”

If you were to always respond to a member as if it were your final opportunity to impress him or her, what would change? What would you do differently?


July 24, 2006

Beltway bias

Those of you who know me know that I started my career in the association mecca of the world: Alexandria, Virginia. I cut my teeth in a couple of international associations – one trade association, and one professional society. Like many association executives in the DC marketplace, I developed an inside the beltway bias about the face of the association industry. One of the ways this manifested itself was in my opinions about components. For me and many of my colleagues in the DC area, state affiliates, chapters or allied organizations were disrespectfully viewed as nuisances and distractions.

A little over three years ago, looking for a change of scenery and relief from the traffic, I left DC to work for a statewide association in Richmond, just 100 miles south of Alexandria. In the time that I’ve been here, this association has grown to be the biggest I’ve ever worked for both in terms of staff and budget. I’ve also gotten to know association executives at other state associations around the country and have been consistently impressed with their capabilities. Furthermore, I’ve come across some local associations with programs that absolutely knock my socks off.

My colleagues at national and international associations are always shocked when I tell them the size of our membership. Still, I’m continually asked by my peers when will I be moving back to DC, or when will I be getting back to a national or international association. No time in the immediate future, I tell them; I’m very happy where I am.

In the years since I left DC, I’ve noticed that the savviest association executives are the ones that treat their affiliates and chapters with the utmost respect. They acknowledge that they’re partners in some ways and competitors in others. But there’s a genuine modesty and conscientious decorum in their relationships with chapters and affiliates. Although we’re not connected in any official way, I’ve always been pleased by the way I’ve been treated by the national association with whom my employers is aligned. Because of this positive relationship, I’m happy to carry the national association’s message to our membership and prospects. The results of this respect are played out in other areas as well.

Truly respecting your components may require giving up some control over programs. Opening yourself up to competition from chapters in some program areas may be necessary, too. Completely turning some things over entirely to components might be a demonstration of good faith.

Do you respect your components? Or do you overtly block them in some areas? Would they be offended if they overheard your staff’s indiscriminate comments about them?

As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence, I have learned: The beltway bias is unfounded and counterproductive.

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June 27, 2006

Attention Economy Unsession Reports

Ben Martin and I facilitated an unsession today on attention economics at the Marketing & Membership conference in Bethesda, MD. We had about 25 people in the room after lunch, yet it was a lively group! We have created this post as a place for attendees to add their notes and comments on what they took away from the session. Ben and I will also add our thoughts as the comment thread grows.

If you would like to learn more about unconferences (the model we used for the session) or attention economics (what we talked about), follow the links.

Update: Ben has posted some pics from the unsession on Flickr. Also, Jeff De Cagna has added some links in the comments to his notes from the discussion we had. Keep 'em coming folks!

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June 21, 2006


When I joined the Mississippi Hospital Association almost six years ago, it was my first job in the association world and my first job in health care. (Talk about acronym overload.) I carried around a little cheat sheet for a while to remind me what HCFA, HIPAA, ICD-9-CM, QIO and a slew of other acronyms meant. It seemed that every time I got one down pat they would spring another one on me.

I'm proud to report that today, in my company, I have become something of an acronym aficionado. It's like a party trick almost. Give me an acronym - any acronym - in the health care field. Give me one word. I can generally figure out the rest. (Except for ICD-9-CM...that one really threw me.)

Now I have one for you to sharpen your acronym skills.


Give up?

It's the American Association Against Acronym Abuse, of course! ;)

Did you know that the widespread use of acronyms is a relatively new wordly way? The first printed use of the word "acronym" was only in 1943. (And in linguistic circles, there is much contention about lunking all acronyms together. The only true acronyms, some say, sound like a word - like radar, laser, scuba, NATO, etc. If the letters are pronounced individually, rather than like a word, it is an initialism...not an acronym. Think FBI, CIA, HTML.)

Here are some more useful acronym resources to bookmark (in addition to this Acronym blog, of course):
- Acronym Finder
- The Internet Acronym Server
- Acronym Search (You can also add your own acronyms here.)
- The Canonical Abbreviation/Acronym List
- Acronym Guide