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!


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!


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."


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.


May 18, 2012

ROI and concerns for association content curators

Diving into content curation for associations one more time. This is post number three on this topic in as many weeks, so I promise this will be the last for a while. Just a few other aspects of it worth examining.

ROI. The biggest return on investment for an association doing content curation may be intangible: bolstering your association's reputation as the best place (or at least one of the best places) to find high-quality knowledge and useful news in your specific field or industry. (This should sound familiar if you already publish a magazine, journal, newsletter, blog, etc.) Done well, this can lead to better recruitment, more engagement, and upticks in all the related products and services you offer that have real revenue attached (meetings, education, certifications, etc).

David Gammel summed it up well in a tweet yesterday (at right). If you're familiar with David's Engagement Acceleration Curve, you could plot content curation at the far left, near other content marketing and attention-driving strategies.

And like your traditional content, content curation could help boost revenue via advertising, but again this ought to be additive to the content you're already producing, not a replacement for it. If you find yourself going link crazy just to drive page views, take a look at newspapers to see how that's working out for them. And there are some other concerns with advertising next to other people's content, but more on that later.

These next few items are where content curation at an association gets more complicated than at an independent media outlet or as a solo practitioner on the web.

Diversity. Any good content curator will search a wide, diverse pool of perspectives and sources of knowledge (within a subject area, at least) and will also strive for diversity in the content he or she curates for the audience. That's just good sense for the community's general body of knowledge. But other diversity and inclusion considerations will factor in as well, such as highlighting new and underrepresented voices in the industry. This is a worthy goal for any association (and often an expressly stated one), but it might not always align perfectly with other measurements of content, so it's important for the association content curator to keep both goals in mind.

Influence. If your association is well positioned, your curation of others' content will be valuable exposure for those sources. Exposure that must not be doled out unevenly or haphazardly. An association curator's sources will often be paying members—and, specifically, paying supplier members who want to see their membership dues result in better exposure to the market. Ultimately, your responsibility lies in curating the best, most useful content for your audience, so it will help to have a clear definition of "best" and "useful" in case you hear from people who think you ought to be including their content in your curation.

Fair use. When you're dealing heavily in relaying other people's content, you run the risk of copyright infringement if you use it in inappropriate ways and without proper attribution. The rules of intellectual property law are sometimes fuzzy, but the simple mantras of "don't steal" and "give credit where credit is due" will generally steer you in the right direction. But these are doubly important for an association curator since so many sources are paying members. Even if you don't run afoul of copyright laws, could you upset members if they feel your association is taking advantage of their contributions? Possibly. Consider tools like Scoop.It, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Great tools for curating and sharing content easily. But what if you slapped some advertising on your Scoop.It page, next to all those handy links and teasers to other people's content? Some sources might not be as agreeable anymore.

If your association is curating content for your audience, I'd be interested to hear how your members are responding and how you're handling some of these issues. And if you missed the earlier posts on curation, here they are, plus one from last year:


May 14, 2012

A little curation on curation for associations

Two weeks ago I shared a few thoughts on how the concept of curation might work (or is working) in the retail industry, and I promised to dig a little deeper into curation in the association context. That post drew some interesting comments, so first I recommend going back and reading them.

That discussion got me thinking a lot about the topic, and so I spent some time reading what others have written about content curation already (which is quite a lot). In the interest of practicing what I preach (and in not restating what others have already said much better than I could), I decided to gather and share a handful of the most useful resources I've found on content curation:

Where to start if you're new to "curation":

On the actual job of curation:

On associations' role as content curators:

More curated info about curation:

After all that reading, I came to a couple conclusions that I think can also help you approach curation at your association:

Curation is a philosophy, not a tactic. If you take some time to read some or all of these articles, you'll find that "curation" takes on a lot of different meanings and forms, depending on who you talk to. You might find that frustrating, particularly if you're looking for how-do-I-do-it-today advice, but I think curation is best viewed as a philosophy rather than a tactic. I like Rohit Bhargava's definintion, because it encompasses any range of methods that accomplish the same goal: "finding, grouping, organizing, or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue."

You can apply that goal to just about any form of content that your association might produce, ranging from blogs and magazines to research and education. But make note of the wording: "the best and most relevant content," not "your best and most relevant content." That's the shift that associations have to make, from being the source of expertise to being the conveyer of expertise, regardless of the source. Viewed this way, curation is more of a new filter or lens through which to look at the things associations already do, rather than an entirely new source of value.

Real time vs. long tail. Of all the various forms that content curation can take, I see them mostly falling into one of two buckets, which I haven't seen clearly identified elsewhere:

  • Real-time curation. This is the ongoing, day-to-day form of curation. It's how you keep your members up to date. The subject area can be wide (as wide as your association's profession, perhaps), and the criteria for selection expand from "best" and "relevant" to also include "new." This form can appeal to a big audience, but it has a short shelf life, as it needs constant attention. Think "today's top news."
  • Long-tail curation. This is the long-term, highly specific form of curation. It's how you help your members dig deep into a topic. The subject area in each case is narrow, and the criteria for selection might be best described as "the absolute best" and "the most relevant." And the timeframe for selected content can go back for years, as long as the content stays relevant. This form appeals to a specific audience in each case, but it has a long shelf life. It could be maintained with only periodic updating. Think "Wikipedia."

Both of these forms can be valuable for associations to provide to their audiences, because they address two different user scenarios: the user who engages often to stay in touch, and the user who only comes to you when they have a specific problem to solve. (Of course, these aren't exclusive; a single person can engage with your association in both ways at different times.) But in either case, if your association is the place to easily find the best information and knowledge from throughout your profession, you'll keep those users (members or non) coming back.

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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.


November 28, 2011

One Organization, Two Ideas About Innovation

I spent most of last weekend doing what I hope you did: I spent a lot of time with family, I enjoyed some home-cooked meals, and I took advantage of the surprisingly temperate November weather in DC. This social and highly engaged behavior couldn't last a whole four-day weekend, of course. So late one evening I caved and wound up retreating into Netflix Instant, which is now showing Page One, a documentary about a legacy organization that has a powerful brand name but is struggling to overcome "that's the way we've always done it" thinking and find new ways to innovate and provide value.

Which is to say, it's about The New York Times. The film follows a year in the life of the paper circa 2010, as it attempts to respond to a collapsing advertising market and the explosion of countless new communications tools that threaten to render dead-tree media obsolete. Various pundits (including past ASAE Annual Meeting speaker Clay Shirky) smartly discuss the paper's prospects going forward, but the heart of the movie is the collection of writers and editors around the Times' media desk. They had plenty of big stories to cover: the Tribune Media company declared bankruptcy, WikiLeaks released a raft of classified files, NBC Universal announced a merger with Comcast. At every turn the reporters and editors needed to do the same thing: Test the available facts for their accuracy and for how they're being pitched. Stakeholders want their stories to appear in a certain way in what was once universally accepted as the paper of record. It's the job of Times reporters to push back against that spin.

The irony here is palpable: While the Times' reporters are challenging received wisdom practically as part of their job descriptions, they're doing it at an institution that's often been loath to break free of old models of thinking. That mistake is as true at associations as it is at the Times; in some ways that behavior is baked into the very being of organizations. In 1977, sociologists John W. Meyer and Brian Rowan wrote a paper, "Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony," (PDF) that argued that an organization tends to sustain itself in part by perpetuating "myths" about itself—stories that can be damaging when they're invoked to put the brakes on any attempts at change. (In case you don't feel like curling up with scholarly articles, a brief summary is here.) It strikes me that the problem at the Times is that it maintains two contradictory institutional impulses:

  1. At the rank-and-file level it respects a base of employees that questions and challenges as part of its duties.
  2. At the leadership level it cultivates a resistance to change, precisely because it's constructed a myth about itself around point #1.

I'm being a little broad-brush here. Certainly the Times has been much more savvy about responding to new technologies and reader habits than a lot of its media brethren. But it makes me wonder if some associations that prioritize innovation do it at all levels—celebrating it in certain departments, or around certain initiatives, but not around the entire organization and not at the level of leadership. Often innovation is something that's discussed as something that needs to trickle down to staff and members; what if it needs to trickle up to leadership?

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November 21, 2011

Analyze Social to Tell a More Compelling Story

The following is a guest post from David Nour, managing partner of The Nour Group, Inc., author of the forthcoming Return on Impact—Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships (ASAE, 2012), and general-session speaker at ASAE's 2011 Technology Conference & Expo.

Does your association leadership get the bigger sense of social? Not just social networking or media—"doing" social such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube—but becoming a social organization?

There is a Persian story that goes something like this: A group of villagers is weaving a basket together. A wise man walks by and asks them what they are doing. The first says, "I am pushing one straw against another." The second says, "I am making a basket." The third answers, "I'm helping a man carry food to feed his family."

Though they were all three working on the same project, they each saw their jobs very differently. How do your staff, members, or volunteer leaders see their role in social? Is it as the same mundane pushing of one woven strip against another, or do they see a little bigger than that—which is the basket itself—or do they see a purpose for why they are doing what they are doing?

The difference is that the last villager was engaged. Social analytics allow astute organizations to listen more intently to capture and share amazing stories of those who are engaged in the mission of the organization and the impact they create daily.

According to Forrester Research, every year more than 500 billion consumer opinions are shared online. The secret of monetizing these highly connected relationships for any organization is finding the right individuals and engaging them to talk about the right things in the right places. Those opinions, often internalized through stories, are affecting talent acquisition, revenue growth, and emotional loyalty and are making the advocates who write them highly influential, since they have the ability to shape thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors.

If a brand can be defined as a vision delivered, social analytics is the barometer of how well that vision is, in fact, being delivered, implemented, and applied to solving business challenges or taking advantage of market opportunities.

Metrics should measure against agreed-upon objectives and values and help to correct your course along the way--more like a dial you turn up or down than a switch you turn on or off. Here is the problem: The overemphasis on social media tools—propagated by a cottage industry of vendors and platforms, once-a-week conferences, and fly-by-night consultants and their glorified blogs—is the tail wagging the dog. Too often organizations allow the tools to dictate rather than define what to measure.

So how does an organization tell more compelling and interesting stories from its social-analytics capabilities?

Social analytics should help organizations begin to humanize business operations and tear down silos between internal teams. By designing and implementing listening platforms, the organization can uncover insights and create more meaningful and influential relationships. The narrative from online interactions fuels connected relationships. Great storytelling by organizations about the benefits they've been able to create for a broad range of stakeholders—from highly empowered employees to engaged members and loyal customers, to supportive investors and media advocates—consistently sets them apart.

Word of mouth is the gift that keeps on giving and when it comes to connected relationships; advocates attract and influence other advocates. Beyond promoting products or services, conversations between individuals about an organization can be incredibly insightful, but only if the organization is savvy enough to listen and not interrupt, interject, defend, position, or posture. You must simply listen, learn, and translate experiences into compelling narratives. Connected people who become advocates talk about the organization, even when the organization isn't listening. Connected relationships are trusted amongst their peers and within their microcommunities, as they aid and influence others down their individual decision journeys. Although the reach of one connected relationship may be minimal, as an aggregate, the total reach can have a strong business impact on any organization.

Social analytics can help an organization emphasize authenticity. In our current low-trust environment, true passion is contagious and genuine connections create influential cause and effect. Results of generosity are not just communicated; with social analytics, they're amplified.

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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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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 7, 2011

Communicating about awards

The following is a guest post from Scott D. Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

Why don't more people attend the Gold Circle Awards?

I am sitting in the 2011 Gold Circle Awards ceremony. The awards honor the best communications pieces from associations for the year and is facilitated by the Communications Section Council. I have judged for the last two years and have found it very valuable. This is a great way for associations to get recognized for doing great work. Why don't more people submit and why don't more people attend the awards? Lack of awareness?

Be sure to check out the list of the 2011 Gold Circle Award winners.

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May 27, 2011

Hold hands, don't slap them

This Small Staff Week post is another from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association. This one is from Carol Meerschaert, who is their director of marketing and communications.

Like every association, the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) needs a website that speaks with one voice, not one that reads like it was written by 28 different people, even if it was. It doesn't really matter if you think the word should be written "e-mail" or "email;" what does matter is consistency. Is the event a "kick-off," "kickoff," or "kick off"? Is that flagship event a conference, annual meeting, or national meeting? How is everyone to know?

Ignorance is not bliss in communications, unless you love editing out the same errors ad naseum. The communications version of antacid is education for your staff and volunteers. Write, distribute, and reiterate constantly a set of clear communication guidelines. When I began to tire of correcting common errors in our member's writing, I asked my communications intern Julie Zeglan to write a blog post about writing. Her post, 21st Century Writing: From Typewriters to Keyboards is one of our most popular blog posts because it gently instructs the reader on the difference between the style of writing we use today and what was expected in the days of carbon paper and carriage returns. I often send a link to that post when I am working with a volunteer who is writing something for the HBA.

I also send our style guide (pdf). A style guide did not exist when I started working here, so I went right to HBA member Nancy Connelly who wrote a fantastic style HBA Style Guide. Getting volunteers to help write the guidelines not only gives you the help you need it increases buy-in from all members.

Guidance should be instructional, not punitive. Lower the fear; scared people make more mistakes. My Mom told me that one of the reasons she married my Dad was that she admired the way he could gently correct his little brothers and sisters when they did something wrong. He left them with their pride intact and feeling loved. Correct what you need to, but leave the writer with a very positive feeling, knowing that you appreciate their efforts.

Finally, fan the flames of good work. Lavish praise on what people do that is 'on strategy' and within your guidelines. Working in a small staff association where you are the entire communications department allows you to accomplish a great deal if you reach out and hold the hands of your volunteers.


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.


A Top Ten list from MMCC/Springtime

Last week, I attended both the ASAE Membership, Marketing, & Communications conference as well as Springtime. I'd imagine most people don't go to both of these (unless they need the hours), as they're basically focused on different audiences. But as someone in a (very) small association, I do both meeting planning and marketing for my association.

So, for those who were not able to attend, I thought I'd do my top 10 takeaways -- both "formally presented" and personally realized.

In no particular order:

-Twitter is amazing. I spoke on a webinar recently in which I said I was not a fan of Twitter but did it "because I have to". MMCC changed my mind - by virtue of the #mmccon hashtag that ASAE urged us social networking types to use during the conference, I was able to not only connect with a large group of my peers at the conference, but also get the best tidbits of ALL of the concurrent sessions I was missing.

-Even content leaders can learn from their own session. I was on the panel for an Association Career Path session at MMCC and while it was "character building" to present, I was amazed at how much I learned from the other panelists, Sue Holzer and Peter O'Neil.

-Mentoring relationships should not be forced. The best mentorship relationships are the ones you "luck upon" yourselves, even if you've never formally admitted to one another that you're a mentor/mentee. Less awkward and obligation-based!

-Providing incentives to members to join/register doesn't have to mean giving the milk away for free. Incentivizing can be anything -- from priority seating to a shout out in a newsletter. And it helps fill your room blocks/meet your budgets earlier!

-The iPad? Also amazing. I was able to arrange my notes easily and quietly (no clicky keyboards on that puppy). I bought it as a toy but it truly proved itself to be a valuable business asset last week.

-Find a way to provide membership/communications values to your members' employees. Knowing someone's administrative assistant by name is a good thing. Send them a holiday card just like you would your actual members -- if they have an emotional connection to your association, the mail you send their boss is more likely to make it on their desk.

-I need to get my CAE!

-This is so simple, yet we don't do it -- segment your surveys. When we all have so many different types of members (credentialed vs. non-credentialed, executive vs. administrative, experienced vs. new to the industry, etc), why are we asking them the exact same questions and analyzing them the exact same way?

-My favorite sentence I heard at MMCC was "Failing to plan means planning to fail". Put in non-cutesy-words, make sure that you have a road map for all of your projects. Have a retention communications plan, regularly look at your strategic plan, plan your week in advance.. everything should have a plan. As long as it's attainable and realistic, it's worth the time it takes because it will save you time (and resources) later.

-Offer to help other people in your office when you need a break. Even if helping someone stuff envelopes "isn't your job", it's still a small mental break from your own task, and that person is likely to help YOU stuff envelopes later when THEY need a break. Sweet!

And perhaps a #11: Blog your takeaways so you can refer back to them later...

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April 27, 2011

Rosabeth Moss Kanter Urges CEOs to Learn from the Royal Wedding

I'm a longtime fan of Harvard University's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and she pulls through for me again with her latest HBR blog post titled "Why CEOs Should Watch the Royal Wedding."

I had wondered how I could put a business spin on England's bigger-than-the-2012-Olympics event tomorrow, but I've also been thinking more about yesterday's sessions at the MM&C conference. Now Kanter has shown me the way.

In case you're unclear, we're talking about the ballyhooed nuptials of England's Prince William to Kate Middleton, which may manage to pull our ally out of its economic slump by the sheer scale of the event's marketplace of commemorative plates, mugs, apparel, towels, and everything else imaginable.

Kanter calls the global uproar--an estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch--"one more example of the coming of the experience economy, in which people pay for the chance to participate at particular times (Farmville, anyone?), and expenditures on goods and services come in bundles tied to particular events."

Specifically, she identifies three "strategic insights" more relevant to CEOs than the color of the Queen's hat, and here I paraphrase and urge you to read her full explanations:

First, the selling of so-called "soft stuff"--happiness, unity, shared experience, ritual, meaning, and tradition--can touch customers and members in a way that brings them running with their wallets open. "The joy factor ... is a better business theme to emphasize than the fear factor," Kanter notes.

Second, take the experience and share it on many levels, using many media methods and tying it to causes that matter to your customers. In other words, excel at brand management. While most news outlets have joined in the ruckus and are broadcasting the event live worldwide, Kanter points out that even the usually reserved royal PR propers are working Web 2.0 tools with vigor.

You'll be able to catch livestreaming on the Royal Wedding website, tweeting at the Clarence House royal wedding Twitter feed, and blogging by St. James Palace.

Panicked that you forgot to send the couple a "prezzie?" No worries. These "modern royals" are into cause as much as many other we've-already-got-what-we-need-thanks couples today--they're urging well-wishers to donate to a charity in their honor in lieu of gifts.

Third, be aware that not all attention to your events is necessarily good. Here, Kanter warns that big do's "focus attention not only on the message but on the cost of getting out the message, which can undercut the message."

I can see that's true. With an unverifiable but widely estimated pricetag of around $30 million, the Kate-and-William wedding did prompt my British in-laws to make a passing remark about the number of poor people who could be fed and clothed for that amount. And who among associations hasn't heard the occasional complaint that a nonprofit event shouldn't be so showy or expensive (as defined in their terms, anyway)?

As we've examined the latest trends and skills needed to rock the marketing and communications worlds this week during the MM&C conference, we've seen loads of good and bad examples from the association community and the corporate world.

And to me, the lesson that still reigns supreme--whether promoting a worldwide event or evoking genuine emotions and actions through good storytelling--is that content remains king.

Kanter doesn't say that straight out, but "soft" or "hard," stripped to bullet points or gussied up for a global showcase, tailor-made content is the core value to our customers and members.

I'll try to remember that while eating scones and sipping tea from the commemorative cup sent by my mother-in-law while I watch a 5 a.m. pre-wedding show likely focused on Kate's possible dress designer and the royal glass carriage.


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.


March 30, 2011

The Great Divide

I recently attended a presentation by Bob Wendover from the Center for Generational Studies on communicating between generations. It was a very odd experience, as the entire room was filled with "Generation Xers" (those born from the 1960s-1981) and "Baby Boomers" (those from 1940-1960). I was the only "Millenial" in the room, the group of people born between 1982 and 1999.

The presentation made me realize that we focus way too much on the generational "divides". Why? Because the presentation discussed how attention-deficit, impulsive, and unprofessional "Millenials" are. But really, I'm on the cusp, being born in 1982. I've been taught how to write a professional business letter. I remember life before the Internet. My See-N-Say had a string cord, my Slinky was metal, and my Easy-Bake Oven actually baked.

But yet formal "generational" divides lump me into a class with people such as my 14-year-old cousin, who despite living down the street from me only communicates with me via Facebook status messages and abbreviated chat-speak text messages. He asks his friends if they want to hang out.. and despite them living down the street, what he means is "let's play Xbox from our respective homes while talking on the phone". He and I have pretty much nothing in common at all.

The reason I share this is to warn you NOT to look too much into age or generation stereotyping. After all, our grandparents are joining Facebook, and my mom has an iPhone while my husband can hardly text message. Be sure you're communicating in every way with every member, instead of making generalizations based on age. You know what they say about assumptions.

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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.


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 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 4, 2011

Parading Around Your Message

I'm a sucker for a parade, and so, apparently, are some associations and nonprofits that see these traditionally small-town events as lesser used but still effective methods of marketing themselves and their messages.

Parades = hokey. Right? While the Macy's Parade on Thanksgiving is likely the main parade that pops in your head when you think "parade," don't discount the likes of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, which was watched last weekend by millions on TV and online, or even something local like the annual Halloween Parade in Vienna, Virginia, which pulls a crowd of 10,000 and is one of the largest events in the state.

If you watched the Rose Parade, for instance, you saw at least seven nonprofits and about a half-dozen associations represented among the 47 floats, including the Alzheimer's Association, which won the President's Trophy "for most effective use and presentation of flowers" for "It's Time to Face Alzheimer's." The network broadcast of the parade included more than three minutes of primo airtime by the narrators, who discussed Alzheimer's disease and the nonprofit's resources, along with a link to the Alzheimer's website from the TV station's news site.

Another committed participant was the nonprofit Donate Life America, which has created Rose Parade floats for years, winning the Theme Trophy this year for "best presentation of the Rose Parade theme" with its "Seize the Day!" approach. The project attracts a loyal volunteer base of builders and donors, while driving people to the Donate Life website, according to the group.

So set aside your possible bias against parades as marketing vehicles and enjoy this slideshow of the different way your colleagues captured their message in moving flowers.

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Beyond Blather

I like listening to association CEOs talk to each other once they find a way to move beyond the weather, traffic, and the usual "Hey, how are you? I'm fine, yup, fine" openers. Trouble is, often they don't get beyond such superficial exchanges.

They're NOT all "fine;" they're challenged bigtime in many ways--it's just hard to feel right about blurting out, "Well, actually, I'm having trouble finding someone to fill a key position on my senior team," or "Pretty good, but I'd be better if I could just figure out how to tap into more federal funding. Have you had much luck with that?"

The latter statements actually start a real conversation, a potential peer-to-peer learning experience. And yet, some leaders seem more comfortable making bland and polite replies that go nowhere.

That's why I like watching the TV show of one of our community's most visible leaders--Jonathan Tisch, chair & CEO of Loews Hotels--who interviews leaders from a wide range of fields on his CNBC show, "Beyond the Boardroom."

Over the weekend, I watched him interview George Bodenheimer, president, ESPN & ABC Sports, about everything from brand management to entertainment technology advances to shareholder concerns related to ESPN's parent company, Disney. You could tell that Tisch was really listening, learning, considering.

Like a fly on the wall, it was a great viewer experience to watch those two get into some difficult topics.

Why not commit in 2011 to cutting your standard chitter chatter at receptions, coffee breaks, and even in the elevator to a minimum and instead perfect ways to delve deeper faster into the topics that matter. You will likely find an enthusiastic, even relieved conversation partner who doesn't care about interstate hang-ups or a bit of rain either.


December 17, 2010

Birthday Greetings

Yesterday was my birthday. Of course I was looking forward to it. Hugs, kisses, presents and phone calls from my family. Fattening treats at the office along with cards from my co-workers. My staff presented me with a wonderful present after serenading me with the birthday song. And there were tons of "Happy Birthdays" from my Facebook friends (my birthday is hidden, so these people really know me). What a great day!

So here's what bugged me and I'm trying to figure out why.

  • I came home from work and on my answering machine is: "Hello, this is Roger from Toyota. I noticed it was your birthday and I wanted to be among the first to wish you a 'Happy Birthday.'" Among the first? Really?
  • Then I checked email and there was a birthday email from my dermatologist.
  • I checked the mailbox and there was a post card from my optometrist.

I remember getting each of these in prior years and not really thinking anything of it. But this year, it seemed weird. Maybe even a little creepy. I was glad I didn't get one from the doctor who did my colonoscopy.

I think it's because this kind of personalization from huge databases is now as impersonal as the "Dear Customer" letters we used to get. After all, anyone with a merge program can do it. It's not like Roger or my doctors even know it was my birthday - it was just some kind of automated computer workflow sending me warm greetings.

How many of us are doing this every day with our association members? Not just birthday greetings. Thank you letters, "personal" invitations to get involved and make a difference, requests for charitable contributions and renewals. What are we doing to maintain the "special" feeling we want members to feel when they get our communications?

Somehow, I'm still thankful when the local restaurant sends us coupons because we're in the birthday club. And I still think it's cool when I get postcards with a purl on it or a brochure or newsletter that has my name or interests imbedded somewhere in the content - not just in the greeting. But how long will it be until I'm creeped out by those? We'll see what happens next December.

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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!


December 15, 2010

Go for the emotional connection with video

In the "Anatomy of a Video" session on Wednesday at the Technology Conference & Expo, Michael Hoffman of See3 Communications (@michael_hoffman) offered some excellent advice for associations about how they can use video. He came back to one message over and over again: emotional connection.

"Video is really good at creating a feeling that becomes the emotional foundation for making decisions," he said.

He said this helps in making the decisions about what messages should be conveyed with video and what messages are better conveyed with text or images. I think shiny-toy syndrome leads a lot of associations to skip over those decisions. Remembering the emotional connection part can help you focus.

He shared two examples of association videos that make an emotional connection and leave the long lists of details and background info elsewhere. The first one, with testimonials about a certification at the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, is embedded; the other, a personalized member-recruitment video from the American College of Physicians, isn't embeddable, so click it to check it out.



September 27, 2010

Getting tired?

Last week, I caught an interesting but brief dialogue on Twitter between two association people, David Gammel and Kevin Holland, whom some of you may know.

David: Blogging is dead except for those who write well with a strong point of view. Same goes for tweeting, books, and stone tablets.
Kevin: @davidgammel But even blogs from good writers with strong POV tend to get really boring -- cuz it's that POV over & over & over & over.
David: @associationinc Sure, although if you carry a diverse set of views upon which to make points, you can limit that fatigue.
David: @associationinc Speaking of which, when are you bringing your blog back? I hadn't gotten bored with you yet! :)
Kevin: @davidgammel Thanks ... But *I* had gotten bored with it...

I'm with David in missing Kevin's perspectives on association managment on his blog, but I point to this conversation to highlight a challenge that can face any association professional, not just communications people or bloggers: message fatigue.

It's easy to get tired of doing or saying the same thing over and over again. Explaining your member benefits. Stating your advocacy position. Training new volunteers and board members. Sharing tips for doing X, Y, or Z. The repetition can be daunting.

I have another story, however, that might offer some motivation for fighting that fatigue. At ASAE's Annual Meeting, I went to Bob Rosen's Thought Leader session, which I enjoyed. It wasn't until the final few minutes of his session that I realized he was the same person that Scott had blogged about in July. Later, I blogged about Rosen's "just enough anxiety" advice, shortly after which I learned Rosen had written a book about it in 2008. Then, last week, I discovered that he wrote a feature article for Associations Now in August 2008. I work for the magazine and had no recollection of it! Does that make me a bad editor? Perhaps, but it also makes me human. For whatever reason, the instances in which my colleagues had previously conveyed Rosen's ideas hadn't impacted me. When I heard him in person, they finally did.

And so I'm an example of the old marketing adage that it takes repeated messages (from 3 to 20, depending on whom you ask) to effectively reach a consumer. It can apply well beyond advertising, though, to education, publications, or even plain old instructional information. So hang this motto on your wall, if you have to, to constantly remind yourself: "Just because I'm tired of it doesn't mean my members are."

I found a couple resources with some ideas for fighting message fatigue, but it was surprisingly difficult to find info that was more specific than general job burnout, so I'm curious if you have any other ideas from your experience. How do you stay motivated, and how do you deliver messages multiple times without just being repetitive? Please share in the comments.

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September 8, 2010

Under Construction

We all love to complain about road construction, especially when it all seems to happen at once. During this week's encounter with road construction here in New Jersey, I realized the DOT gets a lot right in serving its consumers in the midst of change.

1. For big projects they give plenty of notice: "On or about October 15, construction will begin." And it's only August.

2. The work is done when traffic is light: "Lane closures 9pm-5am."

3. They tell you what to expect: "Uneven Pavement," "Men in Roadway," "Expect Delays."

4. They alert you about emergencies: "Water Main Break," "Lower Level GWB Closed."

5. They offer alternative options: "Detour," "Plan Alternate Route."

6. They hit you on an emotional level--in just 6 scribbly words: "Slow Down. My Mommy (or Daddy) Works Here."

Hey, I'm no fan of traffic. And NJ tolls? Don't get me started. But, the DOT knows how to get my attention, seems to be concerned about me getting to where I'm going on time and that I'm prepared for unusual driving experiences. That puts me at ease, makes me think they're doing this for me, and reassures me that in the end it will all be okay and probably better than before.

What I wish they did better was share the big picture. Six months in to the year-long construction project, you're still wondering "What is it they are doing?" or "How can this possibly make it any better?" And how about a celebration for motorists upon completion? Maybe just one more sign that says,

We're Done. Welcome to Your New Road. Please Drive Carefully.

I'd love to hear how your organization is getting it right, especially during times of change.

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August 31, 2010

Rebranding: Lessons for the Rest of Us

I remember when March of Dimes kicked off its new branding several years ago, so it was interesting to read the terrific article in this month's Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows which media vehicles worked and which failed in terms of accomplishing the organization's many specific goals for the campaign. You can read more about the following three lessons learned in "March of Dimes' Evolution in Online Fundraising:"
1) The vetting and targeting of influential and "advocate bloggers" was worth it.
2) The purchase of online ads placed near popular search engine words and terms took creativity and smarts, in my opinion.
3) The failure of a popular web video that was "cool" but didn't get the right job done shows that tracking and reflection can reveal false assumptions and prevent future marketing mistakes.

Kudos to the organization for their candor about the campaign. We all benefit from sharing such insider information.


July 16, 2010

3 smart quotes from Thought Leaders

Next up in our preview of the ASAE & The Center Annual Meeting & Expo, three deep thoughts from Thought Leaders who will speak at the conference. I've added my own reaction to each below.

On work-life balance:

"Take a few minutes to consider the physical or mental overcrowding that you're probably putting up with right now. Where do you need to bring some space into your personal or professional life? Do you need space on your calendar to spend more time with your kids? Space in your home to bring a pet into your life? Space on your to-do list to allow for new business?

"Decide where you want the space and start making room. Even though it may be hard to get started, once you're done it's like that final child pose that you ease into at the end of a tough yoga session. Ahhh, breathe deep and relax into all that space."

—Libby Gill, from "Find Space for What You Need," on her blog, March 19, 2010

(I've never done yoga, but I get the idea. City living and a busy job can make one claustrophobic. I used to find that relaxing came naturally, but I find more and more that I need to consciously plan time to make sure I'm relaxing and finding "space." You should, too.)

On getting attention:

"I first heard about the new Cisco product from a receptionist in our office. As I walked in, she said: 'Did you hear about Cisco's new router? It can download the entire Library of Congress in one second.' What surprised me was not that Cisco had introduced a phenomenally fast router for service providers. What surprised me was that our receptionist—who has never mentioned Cisco and probably cares little about router speed—was excited about it.

"I retrieved the Cisco press release and, sure enough, the streamed movies and Library of Congress hooks were included in the release, word for word. Cisco had given the public something to talk about, a conversation starter."

—Carmine Gallo, from "Why Your Business Needs a Hook," on Bloomberg Businessweek, March 16, 2010

(Carmine shares here a great example on Cisco's part of "lateral thinking," the ability to take a concept and present it in an entirely new way. It is often seen as a link between creativity and humor, because the human brain reacts with surprise when presented with a sudden incongruity or leap from one perspective to another. If you can present your association's message in a way that surprises or amuses members or prospects, they'll be far more likely to remember you.)

On interpersonal communication:

"Communication isn't a one-way street—you can't bark orders and commands and expect all employees to follow that system. In fact, that technique may even be wildly detrimental to what you're trying to accomplish with your business.

"Try reading this sentence six times—and each time put the emphasis on a different word …
'I Didn't Say You Were Beautiful.'

"If six words can mean so many different things it's no wonder that communication within a company can be so confusing and frustrating at times.

"Never stop passionately pursuing better communication with everyone around you."

—Cameron Herold, from "The Key to Good Communication," on his BackPocket COO blog, April 6, 2010

(I tried it. The sentence really does mean something different every time. And so it's no wonder people have so much misunderstanding via email and other electronic communication. It's hard to convey tone and emphasis in text.)

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March 15, 2010

Isn't "content curator" just another term for "reporter"?

A few recent posts in the association blogosphere have the idea of "content curation" on my mind. I love this idea, but the term also bugs me a bit. Before I explain why, let's get up to speed:

  • What is content curation? It takes the idea of a museum curator and applies it to the modern-day stream of information. There's too much info in the world, both in real life and online, for a normal person to sort through. A curator expertly sorts through it all and delivers the most valuable, useful info.
  • Two weeks ago, Jeff De Cagna wrote on SmartBlog Insights that content curation is "[o]ne of the most significant innovation opportunities for associations."
  • The next day, Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog offered some additional thoughts, including a short bullet list of the essential roles of a curator, and wrote, "Bottom line: A curator is an individual or organization who excels at helping others make sense."
  • And the idea (but not the term) came up again last week here on Acronym in Samantha Whitehorne's post from the Great Ideas Conference, "Everyone's role is to edit."

I wholeheartedly agree that content curation can and should be a central role for associations. However you go about delivering that info to members—magazine, blog, e-newsletter, Twitter feed, seminars, conferences, or (better yet) all of these—that's a valuable service, particularly if you're the best (or the only) curator of info in your industry.

With that said, please don't be intimated or confused by the term "content curator." The journalism major in me knows that it's really just a fancy word for "reporter."

I'm not looking to get into another argument over semantics here, though. "Curator" is a great term, and I don't discourage anyone from using it. But I believe linking it to the idea of the traditional "reporter" is important because it's something we're all a lot more familiar with. Don't make pursuing this role at your association complicated, because it's not.

Chances are, your association is doing it already, in some form. If your magazine highlights interesting case studies from your industry, that's curation. If your communications staff sends alerts to members with the latest updates on proceedings from Capitol Hill, that's curation. These aren't revolutionary ideas.

"Curation" simply captures the extra nuance that comes with this role in our current age of information overload. And as information overload gets worse and worse, good curation will become more and more valuable. That's good news for associations.

And there's more good news: since a curator is a reporter, you have a large pool of professionals with the necessary research, analysis, and communications skills available to fill that role for your association. They all used to work at newspapers.

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February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events

In anticipation of the next weeks’ of avid TV watching of the Winter Olympics in Canada, I visited the official website in search of potential tools, ideas, and takeaways for association event and meeting planners.

I’m pleased to find that groups involved in sporting events and fundraisers (think golf tournaments, walk- and bike-a-thons, team-building field days, etc.) can download a free Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit ( created by the Vancouver Organising Committee for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) in partnership with the Switzerland-based International Academy of Sports Science and Technology. Topics covered include community and supply chain involvement, transportation, and venue management.

The nine-piece how-to toolkit—aimed at organizers/sponsors of both large and small events--is one of the many social legacy projects completed or underway by organizers and attendees of this month’s Olympics, which kicked off in grand style February 12.

Organizers have spent seven years developing and executing actions and policies aimed at lightening the event’s wide environmental footprint, ensuring an ethical and inclusive competition, and leaving behind a positive social legacy. You’ll find highlights at

However, a summary of 12 of their major initiatives ( provides association meeting planners and

Continue reading "Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events " »

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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.


October 9, 2009

Quick clicks: Swarmball!

Ready for the long weekend? For that matter, is it a long weekend for you? Either way, here's some reading to reflect on:

- Two more association bloggers replied to the Generation X meme that began last week: Kevin Holland and David Patt.

- The Digital Now conference's blog has collected some classic CEO quotes for you.

- Wes Trochlil drew some important lessons for your association from his daughter's last soccer game (I'll admit, I'm linking to this in part for the opportunity to use the word "swarmball").

- Frank Fortin writes in praise of the forgotten power of email.

- The SocialFish blog recently posted a white paper analyzing white label online community vendors.

- David Patt has 15 tips for meeting planners working with older members or audiences.

- Jakub Nielsen's latest "Alertbox" column has some fascinating information on a user's experience on a website from the first 0.1 second to his or her first year as a customer, and even further out in time than that.

- Erik Casey has an interesting post on the importance of making your member communications relevant, while the IMG Associations blog has a related post on making them applicable.

- Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog discusses change leadership from the perspective of those most impacted by the change in question.

- Shelly Alcorn's Association Subculture blog argues that associations need to become experience brokers.

- Jeffrey Cufaude describes various staff members' approaches to innovation using an on-ramp as a metaphor (making me nervous for my commute home tonight!).

- Is it a bad thing to have a superstar community manager on your staff? This post from the Museum 2.0 blog says yes.


September 18, 2009

Internet users focus on content over community

The Online Publishers Association has released the results of a six-year study of where Internet users spend most of their time—and it appears to be good news for associations.

"Internet users continue to spend a majority of their time with Content sites, up from 34% of total time spent in 2003 to 42% in 2009, a 24% increase," says OPA. The analysis of its Internet Activity Index (IAI), a monthly gauge of the time being spent with Commerce, Communications, Community, Content and Search, shows that "while consumers may be spending significant time with Community sites, it’s coming at the expense of their time with Communication sites whose core capabilities are email and Instant Messaging."

OPA President Pam Horan points out that among the major shifts detected in the past six year is the tremendous "emergence of Community," but "Content is still king."

This finding may temporarily comfort competitive-weary organizations—for now anyway--that worry people will become too caught up in Facebook and other social media sites to spend much time in the heart of most association sites—their knowledge centers. That said, there’s no denying that blogs, Twitter and Facebook are funneling knowledge in new and exciting ways to our members. To me, the "Community or Content" question likely is changing rapidly to "Community and Content," and aren’t both of those what differentiates associations from the chaotic Internet madness swirling around?


August 21, 2009

Why association marketing stinks

"You need to share with people what they want to hear, not what you want to shout at them."

That was said by Charlene Li in her general session at the annual meeting. If you have just a moment, skip down to the bottom of this post and watch the 2 minute, 41-second video from the last Marketing & Membership Conference.

I used to hold the opinion that just about everyone in an organization was part marketer. I'm ready to abandon that now. Oh, I still believe in the sentiment, but there doesn't appear to be any real change on the horizon. Associations are still supremely guilty of shouting out what they want their public to hear, rather than entering into dialog and informing. The term marketing has a bad connotation—it is the shouting, the blah, blah blah, the interruption, and it all wreaks of desperation. So now I'm ready to jettison the term. Just lose it from the vocabulary. While we're at it, if there is any product or service that needs marketing, then get rid of that, too.

It's time to stop thinking about marketing, replacing it with informing and engaging in dialog. It's what our members want from us. They didn't join to be marketed to; they didn't join to be sold to. They joined to be part of community. If you need more marketing than that, it's time to rethink what you're doing.

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Associations/nonprofits turn to iPhone apps as latest viral tool

I’m seeing more and more associations and nonprofits developing their own iPhone apps to create a mobile forum to educate and engage members and stakeholders. Some apps are for the organization overall and appear most often distributed free through the iTunes App store, such as that of the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and, most recently, the American Humane Association.

Their primary purposes differ. The app for the American Red Cross encourages emergency preparedness, provides on-the-spot CPR guidance, gives emergency updates, and provides easy donation opportunities.

The American Humane Association’s “Be Humane!” app also provides breaking news and donation options through PayPal, but it adds has a brief organizational video, legislative updates, and a wide range of images and program tie-ins. Its Houston, Texas, components/chapter also has its own app on iTunes.

The American Heart Association app fosters self-tracking of heart-friendly activities such as healthy eating and exercise, health news, and event calendars, among other topics.
Whether members will take to these apps, increase their loyalty to the organization as a result of greater engagement, donate more, volunteer, or act in other positive ways that strengthen the association or nonprofit is still a bit early to tell in most cases. But I’m interested in hearing from other organizations that have gone this route. What types of numbers have you been tracking in this regard? What’s been your feedback? What would you advise others who are considering this tool? How focused has your purpose for the app been?


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 7, 2009

Quick clicks, part II: Electric boogaloo

Since there were so many good posts to choose from this week, I split "Quick Clicks" into two parts. Here's a roundup of some great non-Annual-Meeting-related posts:

- David Patt of the Association Executive Management blog argues provocatively against contested board elections: "Members should care about the quality and quantity of services. If they get what they've paid for, it should make no difference who holds office."

- In other governance-related discussions, the Nonprofit University blog has seven reasons why term limits are a must for nonprofit boards. And at the Off Stage blog, Judith Lindenau discusses some reasons why nonprofit boards should have no more than three committees.

- Kevin Holland at Association Inc. says the sky is not falling--and associations have a bright future ahead.

- At the Zen of Associations, Ann Oliveri wants to know why associations use so much "generic, homogenized association speak."

- Jamie Notter asks if the staff at your association are learning as they go about their work. Are you capitalizing on informal learning opportunities?

- Have you ever considered holding a meeting or conference in partnership with a related organization? At the Drake & Company blog (which has added several new bloggers lately), Steve Drake has some tips for managing a joint conference.

- Cindy Butts at AE on the Verge shares some interesting ideas for team building activities in a tough economy.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel has some great dos and dont's for RFPs (a re-post of something she wrote a while back, but I hadn't seen it before and maybe you haven't either ...).

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July 23, 2009

Takin’ It to the Streets

Anyone glued to the Tour de France cycling race during the past two weeks may have seen one of the coolest, newest message delivery systems developed in a long time: Chalkbotting. The Nike Livestrong Chalkbot looks like a streetsweeping machine but instead of cleaning up, it neatly sprays down yellow chalk messages—100,000 in all--onto the thousands of miles of streets that comprise the Tour de France route.

The technique, praised by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and highlighted in Adverblog and other forums, has created tremendous buzz among the millions of fans watching the race on TV and the Internet. Superstar Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has been showcased in particular, since Nike is a major sponsor of Lance and his mission.

The fun is that anyone worldwide can participate: The process collects 40-character “messages of inspiration and support” cancer regarding living from anyone via text or a web site, and then you spend the rest of the time trying to read the road during cycling coverage to see if you catch your message live. When submitting your short message, you’re cleverly shown what your message will look like on the road, and the site is rigged to send you an email when your message is indeed sprayed, so you know exactly on which days to search.

In addition to messages by individuals, countless nonprofits—particularly, cancer-oriented charities, since the campaign aims to raise awareness of cancer-related issues--have made sure their members are engaging with this unprecedented tool, so viewers are seeing an array of nonprofit names, slogans, URLs, etc. You can also follow the fun at Chalkbot’s Twitter stream.

Naturally, Livestrong remains the most popular, though, and you also can join the 1.5 million followers of the Twitter stream by the Man himself, Lance Armstrong, at, as he tweets about the Chalkbot, his foundation (he speaks daily with the foundation’s executive director), the tour, the media, and more. You’ll also find an article in a future Associations Now about what kind of boost in donations and awareness was generated by Armstrong’s participation in the tour.


July 21, 2009

Your lips are moving but I don’t hear anything ….

Communications audits of association members regularly show that members are not aware of much of what their association does—to the endless frustration of the association staff responsible for communication who usually can document how many of various types of communications these members should have received on the subject…. Is it that these communications are not well-written or professionally presented?—no, usually this is not the case. So, what is or what might be the problem?

Have you ever been in a crowded reception where everyone was talking and even as you are engaged in a conversation yourself you all of a sudden hear your name mentioned across the room? That one mention of you by name got your attention, right? Or, again in this crowded room scenario, how about hearing someone whisper the word “fire!”—that has a way of catching your attention too doesn’t it?

In this world of information overload I submit that we have subconsciously trained ourselves to filter out all but those things that are essential to our interests, our vanity, or our well-being.

So the key to effective communications in the “crowded room” of your association is not so much the well-turned phrase or the pleasing graphics as it is knowing and responding to the various vital interests that each person in your audience holds to heart. Do you agree?

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July 20, 2009

Communication Revisited

‘Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King,
I got forty red white and blue shoe strings,
And a thousand telephones that don't ring,
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?
And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son,
And he said yes I think it can be easily done’
--Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

We in the association and business world throw the word ‘communication’ around, a lot. ‘Why, Mr. Birch, was your annual symposium such a great success? ‘Well’, he says in self-satisfied importance, ‘we really focus on communication blah blah...’ Let’s face it, we could get by with grunts and hand gestures if we needed to; but how often do we really dig in, and analyze how and why we communicate? How do we simplify our one thousand telephones, Bob?

As I ramble, I remember: Communication is often compared to a river...and the flow of the material in the channel is always named as the defining characteristic. Too little, and my river dries up, and offers nothing for the life within it. Too much, and my river overflows its channel and loses its way. We all know that, but we forget that really it’s the quality of the material that is the sustaining factor.

Randomly organized thoughts:

- Email is perhaps the best way to overflow the communication river, or to let just a trickle through (equally annoying). Sending the right message, to the correct people, is generally a good idea. Also, the shortest email message is not always the best one; think of the array of words, ideas, and concepts that are available to your mind at any given time...Why would you eliminate humor, sarcasm, wit, mystery, and my favorite, charm, and generally all of the things that keep us from being robots, simply because you don’t want to type more than three word sentences? The key is not less words, it’s the right words.

- Sometimes a story is the best way to communicate; it takes more time, but draws people in---if it’s a good story, it doesn’t matter if it’s less than 500 words or fits in a brochure or is a 2 minute elevator speech ;)

- Your filter is the biggest obstacle in your own communication; you will pay attention to some things, and ignore others. Learn your filters, and why they exist.

- Language and tone are tools in the communication paradigm. Good communication in action should include Heart (feeling), Body (language/tone), Mind (thought). It’s the combination that is most powerful!

- We live in a world of over-communication. How efficient can you become at sharing? The key is to share enough to get the result you need.

- Silence is a form of communication, but should be used appropriately and not abused.

Argue below!

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July 2, 2009

Don't play defense

It's hard to take criticism--I'll be the first to admit it. Just recently, my predecessor (and fellow blogger) Scott Briscoe and I sat down to talk about a recent issue of Associations Now, so that he could give me some honest feedback about what he liked and didn't like (at my request). It was really generous of him to share his time and thoughts with me--but it was also really difficult to sit and listen about the many ways that issue fell short of my ideal.

I've been thinking about criticism lately, because I've been seeing organizations wrestle with how to handle it when they're criticized in a public space. Most recently I read with interest a blog post by Mark Athitakis, one of my colleagues on the magazine, about a well-known author's response to a negative review of her most recent book. Let's just say she didn't take the criticism well.

I don't know that I have a Grand Unification Theory of how to handle criticism, but I do think one thing is key: Don't get defensive. As painful as criticism may be, and as wrong-headed as you may feel it is, if you get defensive, it comes across--and it comes across poorly.

Defensiveness also effectively prevents you from gleaning whatever lessons the criticism may offer. Maybe the critic just doesn't understand your association's new service offering--but clearly you should take a look at your communications efforts if the purpose of your new service is unclear. Maybe the critic just wasn't the right person for that format of education--but clearly you should look at ways to make other options or learning formats available.

And in the end, if you find yourself about to fire off a defensive email, blog comment, or Twitter rant, remind yourself that your critic is actually giving you a gift--the gift of time and brainpower. Even if you just don't agree with the criticism, the opportunity to engage with someone who's willing to take the time to share thoughts about your association, event, product, or service is worthwhile.

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June 17, 2009

More Resources Help Associations with Pandemic Flu Contingency Planning

With the World Health Organization’s June 11 decision to upgrade the global pandemic ranking for H1N1 influenza (swine flu) to its peak phase 6, some associations, nonprofits, and business partners are developing new contingency and crisis communication materials for their corporate members, as well as the public.

Please note that in announcing the status change, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, Ph.D., spoke calming words: "The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic. We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch. No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning. The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness."

Here are some of the ways associations and business partners are responding with practical advice and information:

- The Conference Board has released a downloadable report, "Key Questions in Pandemic Planning", and is regularly updating its Web site with news, resources, and case studies about how organizations responding to a pandemic threat.

- The American Veterinary Medical Association pandemic site has developed a comprehensive FAQs list to address public inquiries and share breaking news about swine flu.

- Marketing and technology firm Varolii has released a list of eight practices that should be part of any pandemic-related crisis communications plan: Be proactive, rather than reactive. Update employee contact information immediately. Use multiple communication channels to ensure everyone gets the word. Leverage two-way communication, so employees can keep you informed of their status. Don’t assume a single message will do. Communicate the way your employees want you to, which means you need to ask them how they prefer to be kept informed. Communicate with customers, too, so they know what’s going on. Consider outsourcing the creation of a pandemic communication plan if your organization is "too busy" or inexperienced to develop one—don’t wait until it’s too late.


May 27, 2009

Saying too much, or not enough

In a recent blog post, Cindy Butts wonders how many channels is too many when communicating with members--particularly members who actively participate in many channels and might resent seeing the same message in email, in your e-newsletter, on Twitter, and so on and so forth.

Her post resonated with me, because I recently received an email from a member who felt left out of the crowdsourcing process used for the May issue of Associations Now. The member who contacted me never saw any of the communications we put out about the crowdsourced issue until she received the end product in the mail.

So, on the one hand, you have members who can feel bombarded when they receive too many communications about the same thing through multiple channels. On the other, you can communicate through multiple channels--and still miss some members, who can then feel left out of the loop. Where's the happy medium?

I have a couple of thoughts:

Don't hit every channel every time. That, to me, is the definition of bombardment--when you see the same wording appear in five places every time an announcement is made. Figure out who among your audience is most likely to use a particular channel, and decide which of those audiences most need to know a particular piece of information.

Suit the message to the channel. Some channels are more suited to in-depth information, and others are more suited to get short bursts of information out. Some channels move quickly and others are available long-term.

Consider a cheat sheet. Maybe it would be helpful to develop a list of channels available to your association, with a few sentences on how best to use each. When you have a message to get out, you could consult the list and quickly assemble a plan of attack.

As a fictional example, if you had an association blog, your list might describe it this way: "Our blog is best for announcements less than 300 words that can be presented with a little personality (we avoid dryness). Our blog readers are primarily mid-career professionals. Posts are rarely accessed more than a week after they go live. A typical blog post is read by 10,000 unique visitors."

What suggestions would you add to the list?

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May 22, 2009

Searching for stories

A colleague of mine shared a great idea that I thought I'd share with you: He has a friend who gives a lot of presentations. To inspire himself, the friend wanders through the fiction section of bookstores and reads the first pages of novels, chosen at random off the shelf.

Why? Because the first page of a book has to hook you--that's what it's there for. If a reader isn't motivated to keep reading after the first page, he or she certainly isn't buying your book.

This presenter takes the techniques he sees as effective in fiction, and finds ways to twist and apply them to the stories he tells in his own presentations--the better to hook his audience.

If you ever need to hook an audience, this idea could help you find some inspiration and new ideas. (Or, if nothing else, an excuse to spend some time in a bookstore ...) Happy reading!


The return of quick clicks

I have been extremely remiss lately in sharing links to some of the great discussions happening in the association blogging community (and elsewhere). Here are just a few of the interesting posts I've seen this week.

(What did I miss? Feel free to share links to other recent standout posts in comments. Note that links can occasionally trip our spam filter; if your comment goes into quarantine because of the link, I'll release it for you.)

- Totally not association related, but if you'd like to take a few minutes to change your perspective this morning, check out this set of photos on The Big Picture photoblog: Human landscapes as seen from above.

- Cindy Butts at the AE on the Verge blog asks which of your association's programs are your "biggest losers." (A follow-up post describes what you might do once those "losers" are identified.)

- NTEN has posted a roundup of materials related to the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference. I haven't had a chance to review them in detail, but if you're interested in nonprofits and technology, I'm sure there's something in there for you.

- Frank Fortin at the Guilt by Association blog says that associations can learn a lot from Staples on how to operate in a recession.

- Bruce Hammond has some thoughts on personalizing membership: "People like to be treated like they're the only member of your association."

- Lindy Dreyer at the Association Marketing Springboard blog as a provocative question to raise: If having great content on your website is no longer enough to draw people there, what should we do next?

- If you have ever sat through an unsuccessful RFP process (on either side), you may be interested in a post by Rick Johnston on a new trend called "speed sourcing."

- Is your association listening actively? Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog has some ideas on how to open your organizational ears.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfishing blog has some thoughts on the complicated nature of our organizations' identity in a digital age. Jamie Notter has posted in response.

- A group of association Twitterers have started organizing "association chats" on Tuesday afternoons. Deirdre Reid at the Reid All About It blog has more information and a summary of the first discussion.


May 18, 2009

Everyone has a story

It's easy to get caught up in life around us, to believe everything we hear and see, but life just isn’t that way. The mantra I've been posting on Twitter recently is quite simple: Don't judge, don't make assumptions, and everyone has a story. I can only imagine what a better place we would all be in if we tried harder to follow these rules. Not just physically, but emotionally as well.

How quick we are to judge others. When a car pulls in front of you and you curse at them, chances are they never thought about how it might affect your day. Their thoughts might be a thousand miles away, on a grumpy boss or a sick child, their financial situation, or even relationship problems at home. But we often judge them as rude, careless, or inconsiderate without stopping to think they have their own story.

What would happen if we just shook it off and went back to our own business? If we just determined not to prejudge them and move on? And perhaps in our desire to be more considerate, more patient even, we would find that others adopt our kinder philosophy, our non-judgmental views, and soon life would change. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe people wake up with the intention of judging others. Of making quick assumptions or reacting harshly to situations they face, I just think it builds. Slowly at first, but soon, without even realizing it, we react. Or perhaps over-react.

Judging others and making assumptions isn't something we just do with strangers. We do the same thing every day with our friends, family, our staff, and association members. We can get disappointed when our members fail to rejoin or choose to drop a sponsorship, but do we ponder on what lead them to that decision? Are they having issues of their own?

The key is communication. Remind yourself every day not to judge others or make assumptions and know that everyone you pass, everyone you judge, has a story of their own and you can't truly know what it is without being in their shoes.

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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 5, 2009

Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

Although the title of this post – “Are you picking up what I’m putting down?” – is a shout out to my sister Lindsay who first introduced me to this phrase several years ago, it also serves as an important reminder about the true definition of communication.

In my mind, communication is much less about what we say as association professionals and much more about what our members perceive we’re saying. Less colloquially, my sister’s question looks like this: “Are you receiving what I’m sending?” Think about it.

Earlier this week, a colleague released a member alert and call to action informing various Association stakeholders about provider rate cuts expected in an executive order. An excerpt of the e-mail communication follows:

“On Friday, a member call to action was sent asking facilities to contact the Governor, House and Senate leadership, and members of the Appropriations committees to address the proposed four percent provider rate cut.

We continue to ask for your help in e-mailing or calling these individuals to emphasize the devastating affect this cut will have on facilities, staff and residents. Please use the sample news release for further comments and talking points when contacting state officials.”

Specifically, the sample news release referenced in this alert outlined a series of talking points crafted by our Association and several testimonials intended to demonstrate the devastating impact this cut would have on nursing and rehabilitation facilities statewide.

Essentially, a four percent cut would mean a loss of $14 million in Medicaid funding. This is on top of record high unemployment, record numbers of uninsured and the highest number of Medicaid enrollees in the history of the program.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciated this news. In fact, following is one member’s response to our e-mail communication: “Right now the Association is feeding hysteria to its members and the public – I’d prefer solutions.”

Obviously – or not so obviously – the intent of our message was three-fold: to inform members about the executive order; to demonstrate how the cut would impact their facilities; and to encourage administrators to contact their elected officials. At least for one person, the message we sent was not the message he received.

So, my question to you is this: Have you experienced similar instances of miscommunication? What message did you intend to send and what message was actually received? How did you address this disconnect? What would you have done differently?

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April 28, 2009

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 25, 2009

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


April 1, 2009

Legislative Fly-In: Is passion all you need?

At an education session on day one of ASAE’s Legislative Fly-in, Amy Showalter, president of The Showalter Group, offered an interesting observation on the power of passion in pleading a case—and just as important, when passion gets in the way.

Talking passionately about something is the perfect strategy when it puts your audience in the position of being on “the side of the angels.” That is, if there is clearly a right side to be on.

That’s not always the case. In fact, it’s not often the case. Usually, there is an opposite argument to be made. Showing excessive passion in such an instance can actually turn off your audience. If the topic has the potential to create enemies for them—or less extreme, if they’re likely to face resistance from at least someone else or some other constituency, it’s better to dial down the passion a notch, acknowledge that there are no absolutes, and explain why your position benefits the audience.

Showalter framed this observation in the form of a Hill visit, but I think it’s just applicable to any situation in which you’re championing a position.


March 28, 2009

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.


January 7, 2009

A smart look at authenticity

Check out the latest This Week in Associations with the Oregon Medical Association's Betsy Boyd-Flynn.

I'm especially interested in her comment near the end — do you think people who have served in the same capacity for the same organization for more than 8 or 10 years have probably lost their edge?

Update: Due to a vendor's player change, the video cannot be embedded directly. To access the video in this post, please choose it from the playlist in the video player below.

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December 29, 2008

Cheap, Easy, Effective: A Different Kind of Education Tool

The Ethics Resource Center has a cool twist on the usual e-update to stakeholders: a regular series of e-mailed PowerPoint charts or graphics on specific topics titled EthicsStat.

This week’s subject is on “Global Reporting” and shares data in an easy-to-absorb color chart on reported employee misconduct in various countries, urging leaders to “keep their fingers on the global pulses of their organizations.”

Considering that many people learn best through visual representations of data rather than straight narrative, this appears to be a smart, unique approach that would work well for many organizations that regularly share research or trends info with stakeholders.

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October 22, 2008

PR campaigning in reverse

The content might make some readers a little squeamish/angry/indignant, but the methods described in this article are, I think, worthy of note.

The article by Kevin Sullivan in today's Washington Post describes a plan hatched by writer Ariane Sherine, and later endorsed by the British Humanist Society, to respond to Christian-themed advertisements on London buses that talked about the fiery fate of nonChristians with an ad campaign featuring slogans such as "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."


Before the angry emails and comments start flying, I'm not writing this post about the merits or demerits of Christianity, humanism, atheism, or any other set of beliefs. I admit, the audacity of the slogan caught my eye and made me read the story, but if it was just the work of an organization, I wouldn't consider it particularly noteworthy.

What is interesting is that it is a campaign that was planned and then grass roots funded. They came up with the idea, the slogan, the look, and the placement plan, and said: "Here it is, if this is something you would want to support, send us a donation and we'll make it happen."

I think the traditional model is (1) conceive of the need or write the case, (2) solicit donations, (3) create campaign based on donations received. By creating the campaign first, it's a more powerful ask.


September 30, 2008

Quick clicks: Crisis communications

Here's a quick roundup of interesting blog posts for your Tuesday morning:

- Tom Peters has some timely advice for communicating during a crisis.

- Dana Theus at the Member-to-Member blog has two detailed posts about lessons in social media from the association sector.

- Speaking of social media, Caron Mason started an interesting discussion with a post about helping her association's volunteer bloggers (and the blog as a whole) to succeed. Ben Martin responded with some advice from his own experience.

- Tony Rossell delves into the differences between member satisfaction and member loyalty.

- Bruce Hammond saw the new Microsoft "I'm a PC" ads and thought about associations.

- Feeling overloaded? Chris Bonney is doing a series of posts on how to better manage your e-mail. The most recent post tackles the question of how much your inbox reflects you.

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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

Social Net Two-Step


In pre-planning, I knew I wanted to take some time to attend a few of the Social Networking learning labs, but which ones? The Sunday post-lunch block offered two: "Continuing the Conversation – Implementing Social Networks" and "Incorporating New Media Into Your Communications Plans." Okay, I thought, the first was obviously going to address SN, but I wasn't sure about the second, so that helped me make up my mind.

I was wrong about both.

Continue reading "Social Net Two-Step" »


August 12, 2008

Do associations overreact to criticism?

The August Associations Now case study has sparked some interesting discussion here on Acronym. Thanks to everyone who's shared their thoughts on the scenario presented in the article!

I was particularly struck by comments by several commenters: Kevin Whorton noted that "many times in organizations we dedicate excessive resources to micro-focusing on board perceptions; to me addressing Ed the negative blogger's comments in a very serious way is focusing on something that is one step more removed from the mission critical functions of the association." Later, "The Other Kevin" (Kevin Holland) commented that "On the whole, I felt this particular case study was about people expending a lot of energy worrying about something that ultimately wasn't very important." And Maggie McGary compared the flurry of negative blog comments depicted in the case study as similar to a negative conversation you might overhear in the hall at your annual conference: "While obviously Lynn, Bryan, and Stewart wouldn't have been pleased to overhear this same conversation, would it really have been taken as seriously as the same comments expressed on a blog?"

I found all of these comments to be fascinating, because they're so different than my own experience in the associations where I've worked prior to coming to ASAE & The Center. I've seen a single letter from a member become the basis for a year-long task force examining problems with a product. I've seen five negative messages on a member listserver lead to board calls, senior staff meetings, and communications plans. I'm not saying that these were proportional responses, but those and similar experiences led me to expect most associations to be fairly sensitive to a few critical letters, e-mails, or blog posts from members.

Is my experience out of the ordinary, or are other associations likely to react strongly to a relatively small number of complaints from members about a particular issue? If you have worked at an association that had thicker skin, how did you handle member complaints when they arose? I'm really curious to hear what others have seen in their own organizations.

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August 7, 2008

Plug in to the Annual Meeting backchannel on Twitter.

Are you on Twitter? The last three conferences I’ve attended have all been “powered by Twitter” so to speak. And they weren’t all techie conferences like SXSW. In fact, a fairly large group of ASAE Twitter-folk were following both the Marketing & Membership Conference (where we organized an impromptu “unsession”) and the Social Responsibility Summit.

For all you folks wondering if a tool like Twitter could help your attendees break through that glass wall at your association’s meetings, here’s your chance to try it first-hand. Whether you like to talk or prefer to listen, the conversation on Twitter will be worth following. Here’s how you plug in.

1) Sign up for Twitter.

2) Follow asaecenter08.

3) Go to asaecenter08's followers page.

4) Follow as many asaecenter08 followers as you like. I'm following everyone.

Thanks to Scot McRoberts, who e-mailed me for the steps. Great feedback, since sometimes I forget to explain important details.

For a list of the speakers I’ve found on Twitter check out my blogpost, First-timer’s guide to cracking the ASAE Annual Meeting.

Having @asaecenter08 to follow has made it really easy for us all to connect around the meeting…the rest is up to us.


How-to videos

You've quite possibly already heard of CommonCraft, well-known for their videos explaining the uses of social media ("Blogs in Plain English," "Wikis in Plain English," "Zombies in Plain English"). But their new video on the U.S. presidential election process, above, is a great demonstration of the ways that video can be used to explain things other than social media.

I was just last night reading about an association that's considering a series of "how-to" podcasts for their members, on things like applying for certification/accreditation and arranging an education session at their annual conference; video could add a visual element (and visual interest) to such how-to demonstrations. And associations with an interest in spreading the word about their professions or industries to the public could also take a page from the CommonCraft book. Could a simple how-to video show YouTube users the value of the profession you represent--or show students why they should consider your industry for their future careers?

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August 4, 2008

The core of communications

One of the sessions I enjoyed the most during my time at the U.S. Chamber's Institute program last week was a talk Bill Graham of Graham Corporate Communications gave on the keys to good communications. A few takeaways I got from what he had to say:

- Graham asked participants to think about the best speech or lecture they'd heard in the past year. "Now," he said, "tell me the 10 most important points you got from that speech." I have to admit, off the top of my head, I couldn't come up with 10--or even five. In fact, no one in the room could come up with 10 points from a recent talk they had heard. Which led to Graham's central point: When preparing to speak to an audience, you need to focus. "What is the one idea want your audience to remember a year from now?"

- Another comment of Graham's really struck me, as an association communicator: "Helping the person you're talking to is the number one concept in good communications." Is "helping our members" or "helping our stakeholders" the true core of your association's communications efforts? When you measure the success of your communications plans, are you really measuring how much your members or stakeholders are helped--or are you measuring the (often easier to measure) number of registrations, items sold, or grassroots activities undertaken?

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July 30, 2008

The secret session on social media that’s not secret.

I know social media is hot. Hey…I might even be staking my career on it. But multiple social media sessions during every timeslot? Whoa.

And yet, with all the hype and even a secret session, the best kept secret is a social media session that's neither a secret, nor about social media.

Media Relations is Dead...Long Live Media Relations! on Tuesday at 2:15 pm features three new media veterans. And one of them is a true social media star.

Who are these veterans? I first met speaker Frank Fortin, communications director for the Massachusetts Medical Society, two years ago as he was launching a feature-rich online community. He was ahead of the curve then, and he's ahead of the curve now. Chris Jennewein has nearly 20 years of experience developing online sites for U.S. newspaper groups. 20 years! And Brian Solis--besides being an AdAge Power 150 blogger (#38) and author--is one of the original thought leaders who paved the way for social media. He continues to be one of the most influential voices in the emerging social media industry.

This is a must-attend session for everyone with marketing, communications, media relations or public relations in their title. And since I tend to be late...could you save me a seat?


July 29, 2008

Abundance and impact

I'm attending the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management program this week (for the first time as a volunteer rather than a student--a very different experience). I'll be posting some of the interesting things that I pick up this week on Acronym.

To start with, I wanted to share a quote with you that I heard from Amy Showalter of The Showalter Group:

"Abundance dilutes impact."

Amy was referring to the overuse of e-mail as a grassroots advocacy tool--if your senator/state representative/whoever sees 10,000 e-mails a day but rarely sees an in-person visitor arguing for your position, the in-person visitor will have more impact than the 10,000 daily e-mails. But the same holds true for so many kinds of communication. Are you overusing e-mail marketing? (Are there are any associations that aren't in danger of overusing e-mail marketing?) Direct mail? Ads in your association magazine? If you're abundantly using any one communication method, consider the impact a different method might have.

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May 19, 2008

New Outreach Strategies Strive to Relieve Hunger

America's Second Harvest, the largest U.S. hunger relief nonprofit, has developed an unusual public and policy maker awareness tool—a week-long photo essay—to “spotlight the many faces of hunger in America.” The daily images depict one of the 25 million Americans who depend on a local food bank to survive. The vehicle sought to push Congress and the White House to pass the revised Farm Bill; legislators did so May 14, but a presidential veto was expected at press time.

The virtual photo essay appeared right after Stamp Out Hunger!, the nation’s largest single-day food drive, which was organized May 10 by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). The group partners with the Campbell Soup Company, healthcare organizations, local food groups, and many other community-based organizations and businesses to pull off the massive effort.

Like America’s Second Harvest, NALC tried some new public awareness and engagement tools this year in the 10,000-plus cities and towns holding food drives. While the 16-year-old campaign has generated more than 836 million pounds of food, campaign leaders were especially focused on increasing donations in 2008 because of the jump in demand for food bank assistance and a drop in food donations, especially at this time of year.

To break last year’s distribution record of 70.7 million pounds of food, NALC is trying to leverage some surprising findings it discovered after last year’s drive and to introduce new engagement experiments:

(1) Giving doubled or even tripled when people were given a simple plastic bag with the postcard. In Florida, for instance, the Publix food chain donated more than 8 million plastic bags, and the pounds of food donated are “big numbers,” says an NALC spokesperson. “We found tremendous success in areas that put out plastic bags…. People seemed to react more to a bag than a postcard. You can’t miss it. You save it, look at it, get a guilt trip, and then fill it.”

(2) NALC took more advantage of the massive public relations power of lead partner Campbell Soup, which increased the number of announcement postcards to 124 million, developed a TV public service announcement that features the Harlem Globetrotters, ran special coupons and dozens of full-page advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and placed notices on Web sites. It also helped produce inflatable soup cans and yard signs for NALC sites.

(3) While NALC always produces a video of some kind, the latest 10-minute DVD, “The NALC Food Drive: Making America a Better Place,” includes an original song about the drive, “Feed the Nation,” written by a local letter carrier. A major rollout of the new logo incorporates the organization’s name and the highly recognized Stamp Out Hunger slogan. The logo has been put on everything from t-shirts to posters.

Continue reading "New Outreach Strategies Strive to Relieve Hunger" »


May 15, 2008

Anyone Need Closed Captioning on Their Videos?

VITAC, a provider of closed captioning and other accessible media services, is launching a “CaptionsON” awareness campaign that includes providing up to 150 hours of pro-bono captioning service to nonprofit organizations who respond between now and June 8, 2008. Given that the lengths of videos vary, the company projects that 600 to 1,300 videos could be captioned.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for nonprofit organizations nationwide to ensure that their audiovisual material, intended for general audiences or their clients, students, or employees, is accessible through captions," noted Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which also administers the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) and co-founded the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). "CaptionsON will have a positive and profound impact on the deaf and hard of hearing and hearing communities alike."

Visit the CaptionsON site for details.


April 24, 2008

It’s all about users

More from the 2008 Digital Now conference. A common theme bubbled up in several of the sessions today: focusing on users.

Specifically, many of the thought leaders have hammered home the importance of thinking like your members and website visitors, listening to them for their needs, and asking them how your content and services should be structured.

Dan Guarnaccia, VP of product marketing at Sitecore, listed the seven habits of effective websites. Number one on the list? “Your members are in charge.” Later on, he talked about taking an honest look at your website and finding the holes – the places where your members look for content and either miss what’s there or find nothing at all – and patching them up.

Matt Loeb, CAE, staff director at IEEE, conducted extensive usability testing for the online portal for IEEE’s magazine, Spectrum. Members were asked to complete tasks on IEEE’s website and were monitored as they did. Their feedback? The site navigation stunk (in so many words). So they redesigned it.

In the same session, Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer at the Society for Human Resources Management, said he intentionally downplays the brand of SHRM’s print magazine on SHRM’s website. “People are going to our website for broad content, not our magazine,” he said. Content from the magazine and other resources is arranged by topics and categories – which is how visitors browse and search – not by what publication they came from. (Take-home test: check your association’s website. Are the names of your publications more prominent than the content in them?)

The real doozy came from Jim Bower, founder and chief visionary officer of Whyville, an educational online virtual world for kids age eight to 14. Bower argued that the human brain interprets information in three-dimensional space, and so Whyville is constructed for children to learn by moving through and interacting in the Whyville community. He said two-dimensional information (including that on a computer screen) is “an artifact of the printing press.” Whyville seems alien to most adults, but it works: Whyville has drawn 3.3 million users. Engaged users. The kids even participate in their own governance system.

The big picture: as association staff, it’s way too easy to develop deeply ingrained interpretations of everything about your organization. Don't allow this to guide how you deliver content and services to members and consumers, because they see your products in entirely different ways.

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March 20, 2008

Quick clicks: In with the new

- There's a new association blogger in town (at least, relatively new): Bob Wolfe of the Young Association Professional blog. I enjoyed his recent post on how he's using wikis to improve committee workflow at his association.

- The Association Forum of Chicagoland has launched a new YouTube channel. If you haven't seen the "Association Professionals Through the Ages" video they did a few years back, now's your chance (it's hysterical), but there are also more serious videos on topics like creating a business continuity plan and data mining. (Hat tip to Sue Pelletier, who linked to this from the face2face blog.)

- If you're interested in communications, the Institute for PR has started a new "Essential Knowledge Project" that may be of interest to you. So far they've collected papers on crisis communications, ethics and public relations, and trust and credibility--all publicly available.

- If you're interested in the relatively new idea of widgets, Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog has kindly collected links to more than 50 of them.

- Last but not least, this isn't really new, but it's good stuff: Jeff De Cagna and Cindy Butts have both posted their thoughts on mission statements. If you've ever suffered through hours of mission-statement wordsmithing, you might want to see what they have to say.

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March 18, 2008

On your guard

I was reading Jamie Notter's post on his blog about an education session that ASAE & The Center delivered on board-staff communications, when a thought occurred to me.

I don't think it was the case with that meeting, but often we specifically tell participants in a workshop or breakout session that it's a safehaven where they can discuss anything or get advice on anything without fear of their need getting out--which if you're talking about what an SOB your board chair is or how a person on your staff is irritating you, could be embarrassing. I'm a member of the media so I've always been sensitive to what should be reportable and what shouldn't be -- and I think most attendees get that and can be reasonably assured that the staff of the organization holding the event would be sensitive to such things.

Could the advent of social media and "everybody's a journalist" change that comfort level? Could it change the candor with which people are willing to talk about their problems and their experiences at such meetings?

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March 6, 2008

More Than Just a Pretty Website

This week marked the launch of a new website for my association. We’ve been working with developers since last November to craft a new look and feel for the site and develop a streamlined structure that would not only put a fresh face on the organization, but also make information accessible enough to cut back on the volume of calls and emails we receive. After being live for only a few days, the new design has received positive feedback. I get the sense that even the most tech-shy of our members will be giving the site another look.

The transition from our old website (and my anticipation of how members will relate to the new one) got me thinking about the major role that design plays in our use of the internet. Each time we visit a site we make initial judgments about its content based on its graphic interface. Contemporary graphics, colors, and fonts, along with up-to-date navigation and menu conventions engender an immediate and basic level of trust that we’ll find what we’re looking for. Clashing colors and poor organization on a site’s homepage quickly make us doubt we’ll read anything of value within its pages.

As manager of our website’s words I’m all about communicating value to members and other constituents. I realize that the articles, issue summaries, and event descriptions I’ve worked hard to gather and post will be viewed differently now that our site looks fresh and new. The real test will come several months down the road when a little of the shine has worn off and members expect our site’s content to live up to its pretty face. It’ll be my challenge to ensure they find the value they’re seeking.

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February 5, 2008

Utopian, dystopian, or realist?

The latest edition of David Weinberger's self-described "intermittent" newsletter, JOHO (Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization) was recently released. The first article divides people into three categories:

Web utopian - pretty much what it sounds like, these people believe the web has and is fundamentally changing human society for the better.

Web dystopian - people who think the web is having a profound effect on our lives, but a profoundly negative effect.

Web realist - people who think utopians and dystopians build the web into much more than it is, that it enables some things but has significant limitations.

A quick aside - here's a juicy tidbit to get folks upset with me: Sometime in the not-to-distant future, I plan to wrote a post on the Myers Briggs... it won't be complimentary. One of the arguments will be it's detrimental to think of things in absolutes (thinking or feeling, for example).

Pulling this post back together, I think rather than putting somebody into one of Weinberger's categories, it's more accurate to think of everybody as being on a sliding scale, with utopian on one end and dystopian on the other. (I know, not exactly a brilliant deduction.)

My point in all of this is I'm guessing most people reading this are closer to utopian. And much like the way you're supposed to use the Myers Briggs to learn to interact with those around you based on their type, I think it's useful for web utopian leaners to think about two things when talking about technology with others: (1) does the person lean to utopian or dystopian? and (2) how much does the person really care?

Assessing those two things will help you frame your position in a way that will be most meaningful to the person you are talking to.

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February 1, 2008

Legal Eagle at the tech conference

Venable LLP’s Jeffrey Tenenbaum presented on the legal tangle of copyrights, trademarks, and things associations need to be mindful of in an age of digital publication.

For the curious, he distributed an excellent set of handouts for his session.

The highlights of what the attendees were asking about:

Copyright basics—content that is created by volunteers or paid consultants is specifically not owned by the association and is owned by whoever creates it. That means magazines they’ve submitted to a magazine, handouts at a session, or even a recording of the session itself. For the association to own it, the creator must assign his or her copyrights to the association in writing.

Links are ok—as long as you are not implying that the content is in some way owned by your organization, linking to someone else’s work does not violate copyright.

Mashups and making other changes—it’s a gray area. Tenenbaum reports that this is one of the areas where litigation is relatively common. In general, you can take someone else’s work and, if you change it enough so that it is a completely different expression (essentially it becomes a different work). How much change is enough? It’s a risk, and if you engage in this sort of activity, you should be prepared for lawyers and courts to decide.

Contributory infringement—let’s say a member posts someone else’s copyrighted work on your blog as a comment. If the association has no monitoring system and no disclaimer that people must agree to before posting comments, is the association liable? The horrific answer is, yes. The same is true for postings that violate antitrust. The simple solution is a click-through form where authors agree that they will not post anything that infringes the rights of others (or antitrust laws or any of a number of other things).

Fair use guidelines—Using someone else’s copyrighted material without permission is allowed, albeit in a very limited context. The three basic guidelines:

The amount used is a small percent of the total.
It is being used for an educational purpose.
Your used cannot infringe on the copyright owner’s ability to earn a profit on the work.

The big red flag—when developing a new product or service, associations typically use a hodgepodge of staff, volunteers, and paid consultants to develop it. It is critical to get all nonstaff members to sign a copyright release form, or the pieces that they develop belong to them, not to the organization.


January 24, 2008

The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game?

What does the Super Bowl have to do with associations and nonprofits? You’d be surprised. Almost 90 millions Americans are expected to watch the Patriots-Giants game February 3, so I’m hearing buzz about the involvement—current and past—of associations in everything from cool messaging for lucky ticket-holders (Mothers Against Drunk Driving and cab wraps), to those super-popular, ultra-expensive TV ads (let me get out my list).

Recently, for instance, I ran into online speculation about whether any of this year’s $2.7-million, 30-second ads either from old-timers (Federal Express, Pepsi, Gatorade, etc.) or newer-comers (, Victoria’s Secret) would prove as controversial to associations and nonprofits as in 2007.

Last year, the National Restaurant Association was noisily unhappy when a “demeaning” Nationwide ad depicted singer-now-more-famous-for-short-marriage-to-Brittany-Spears Kevin Federline as a fast food cook fondly recalling his glory days as a rap singer. The post-airing ruckus about Federline’s apparent unhappiness with a fast food career upped the online viewing of Nationwide’s ad by an estimated 12%, according to market researchers, and has piqued interest in the company’s advert this year.

Likewise, America’s beloved Snickers bar got in trouble when its marketers created a Super Bowl ad that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation accused of promoting prejudice and violence against gays. In the ad, two mechanics sharing the candy bar accidentally kiss and then “try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by ‘doing something manly,’" said HRC in a press release. In addition, one of the three alternative endings to the commercial shown on the Snickers Web site depicted the men “violently attacking one another – which sends a dangerous message to the public condoning violence against gay Americans.” Parent company Mars Inc. pulled the entire campaign the day after the game.

And, finally, who can forget the General Motors ads with that appealingly pathetic factory robot that was fired from its job for making a mistake? The resulting “suicide” via a leap off a bridge in a dream sequence sparked immediate reaction from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which was furious about the “inap­propriate” use of “depression and suicide as a way to sell cars.” Surveys showed that the public appeared to agree the nonprofit.

Click here for a fascinating free abstract from an article published in “Measuring Word of Mouth Vol. 3” by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association that further details the influence of controversy in building brand awareness via Super Bowl ads.

This year, nonprofits and associations might have greater concerns because of the increasing sophistication of marketers, who now create elaborate and engaging cross-media campaigns aimed at building excitement and brand awareness well before kick-off time. According to Peter Hershberg, managing partner, Reprise Media, “Unlike many lost in the previous years, marketers are expected to finally use search and social media sites to capitalize on the excitement and brand awareness generated by their ads in the big game.”

Continue reading "The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game? " »


January 14, 2008

Small Rant Re: No Way to Sell a Meeting

I have been invited to a AMA conference for "medical communicators" - seems like a great opportunity to network with my counterparts from around the country, and it's even on 'my' coast - which heightens the appeal. So, I've told them I'm planning to go. In fact, I've told them four times, and counting.

Three separate sources in the organization have sent me emails inviting, then prompting me to reserve a spot. The first message, from someone I’ve met, wrote "Respond to this message to let us know you're coming, and you'll get a discount." So, I did, and he confirmed it, twice.

The next message, from someone else, sent two weeks later, said "Respond by the early-bird deadline to get your discount."

Confused, I wrote my contact to ask whether I needed to pay by that early-bird deadline, or just reserve a spot, which I had already done. Twice.

He apologized, and assured me that my place was held, and I had nothing more to do – real registration wasn’t open yet, anyway. Fine. A bit miffed, I waited to hear when *real* registration was open.

Except then I got another "Early Bird Deadline Extended!" message from the original contact on January 9, telling me about the new 'pre-registration deadline.' Which, thinking I've already responded, I skipped, until this weekend when I looked more closely at the message. This one actually links to a registration site. And the language has changed!

Suddenly I'm confused and a touch panicky - have I just cost my employer money by assuming I was all set? 'Pre-registration deadline' sounds like the date by which one must *pay* to get a discount.

So I go online this morning to register, though I may be late. Better to get it done, anyway. But there is no program, there is no fee to pay, and aside being forced to RSVP for a luncheon identified by acronym I don't know and that is not defined, there’s nothing specific at all.

I think all I’ve just done is tell them I’m coming. For the fourth time.

This is no way to market a meeting. For all their outreach, I still have little idea what I’m in for.

I don’t know yet: when is the housing deadline? When will real registration open? Now that I’ve pre-registered through their system, will it let me register again when it’s time to choose my itinerary and pay? And when exactly might that be?

Lessons: 1) ‘Save the date’ marketing is great, but keep the number of messages at that end limited – to one or two. 2) Know what the right and left hand are doing. It confuses and alienates people when they get duplicated messages that don’t acknowledge what they’ve already done to respond. 3) Don’t aggressively market the event until you’ve got the program, deadlines and details set. 4) If you want people to pre-register, make it *real* pre-registration, so that it’s possible to pay at that time. We don’t want to register twice.

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January 7, 2008

Video snacking

Elliott Masie's Learning TRENDS e-newsletter today has an interesting riff on ways to use video to reach your members and customers. He cites a New York Times article on the rise of lunchtime video--office workers viewing some news or entertainment highlights with their sandwiches.

Masie suggests, "What if we harnessed the concept of Video Snacking for learning? Imagine your organization producing a short, 5 to 7 minute show every day for viewing during lunch."

Could your association take this idea and run with it in a way that works with the ebb and flow of your members' schedules?

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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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November 10, 2007

Cross-cultural connections -- kind of

Social media is about social connectivity, and while English may be the de facto language of business, language can be a severe restraint in making connections with different cultures. This post points to a tool that is nothing short of amazing. Not surprisingly, it comes from Google: the Google Translator.

With this tool a user puts in your Web site and chooses from 11 different languages to translate the page into. In three seconds or so, the page appears, but it’s been translated into the chosen language. To test the service, we performed rigorous, extensive research, which consisted of one staff person fluent in Spanish and another who does pretty good with German looking at translated Acronym pages. This extensive research led to the conclusion that “it does a pretty good job.” One example of the confusion they saw: The post “If you can’t beat them, join them” was translated as “If you can’t hit them, join them.”

In case you don’t trust this extensive research, the Wall Street Journal had an article (creepy article, if you ask me, as it talks about how Ford relies on machine translation for translating assembly procedures for its international assembly plants—they say it’s “not perfect” but it’s “good enough”… Good enough? Yikes, I’d rather they be closer to perfect if I drove a Ford.) and ars technica has an in-depth blog post looking at a Spanish translation.

Oh, and, of course, there’s associated widgets. Here's one. If you can find a place for this monstrosity of a widget icon, you can show people that your site is instantly translatable into other languages.

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October 17, 2007

Crunching the words

Building on Jason’s excellent post yesterday on "Crunching the Numbers," we’ve been experimenting with using ManyEyes to analyze the content in Associations Now. I’ve only just started playing with it, but so far it’s been interesting.

A tag cloud shows me that some of the most commonly used words in our August-October 2007 issues (other than the obvious “association” derivatives) include “board,” “member” and its derivatives, “open,” “leader” and “leaders,” “questions,” “information,” “power,” and “responsibility.” I’m comfortable with that (although I think the word “responsibility” was somewhat skewed by our social responsibility coverage in the September issue).

Word trees are fun to play with, too; you enter a word or phrase and you can trace its uses in their immediate context. For instance, in August-October 2007, our authors talked about how associations are …

- "much more influential with the political sector than the economic one"
- "starting to look more and more like businesses serving a consumer niche"
- "obviously different from public companies in important ways"
- "going to experience higher membership growth"
- "heavily invested in maintaining their prominence and influence"
- "capable of addressing the practical needs of individual members"
- "pretty good at managing internal issues"

We’re going to continue to upload data until I have a year’s worth of issues up there, just to see what we can see. And of course, since ManyEyes makes all data publicly accessible, you can work with the data sets as well—search for “associations” under data sets. Are there other analyses that might be worth doing? Ideas are welcome!

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August 22, 2007

Tag clouds as evaluation tools

Jeff De Cagna recently posted two tag clouds comparing an article he wrote for the August Associations Now on “ungovernance” with a more standard article on association governance. The two tag clouds, side by side, show distinct differences in the terminology that each article uses and emphasizes.

Setting aside the subject matter of the tag clouds Jeff created, I think he’s on to something that could be an interesting or even enlightening way to evaluate your association’s communications or publications. What if you created tag clouds based on your last few months’ worth of press releases, or your last newsletter? What would it show you about the words you use frequently and the words you downplay?

We’re going to try creating tag clouds with stories from the last few issues of Associations Now. I’m curious to see what we can learn from the exercise.

(Wondering what a tag cloud is? Wikipedia has a basic explanation. Wondering how to create them? Jeff created his through Many Eyes, a free website sponsored by IBM.)

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