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!


April 7, 2011

The (possible) government shutdown

I recently had the good fortune to speak with Jerry Heppes, CAE, the CEO of the Door and Hardware Institute, and I asked him how the impending shutdown of the federal government would affect his government relations and advocacy efforts. Here's how it went (my commentary is in italics).

Q. What will the effect be on your group?

My members are in commercial construction and that industry has been in dire straights recently. If the government shuts down, they're the biggest owner of property in the country, so if they shut down for an extended period of time, that translates into less construction and that would be a bad thing for us--but I don't think that will happen.

I imagine that's the perception of a lot of associations: a short-term shutdown, while not ideal, is not anything to get too twisted about. If the shutdown were to drag on, however, it would likely have much more serious effects on the U.S. and global economies--and even many associations that were mostly immune to the recent recession could run into serious issues.

Q. What about ongoing efforts you have with agencies?

We do some work with the Department of Justice and the Department of Education and some other agencies--school security, the Stars Program (an energy initiative), that sort of thing. If the government shuts down, you don't just stop. There's always things you can do to get you're part of the work on the projects done, to get it ready for when the shutdown ends.

Again, sounds like the place most associations are in. If there happens to be an imminent deadline for an issue important to your members, or if you'd been working on securing a meeting with a government official for months only to have it scheduled for next week--well, I could see why you wouldn't have quite such a laissez-faire attitude.

Q. How is this going to end?

Well, I don't think this is something that will drag on for months; I think they'll get something worked out. And if a government shutdown is what it takes for the American people to get a better-managed budget, well then that would be a long-term win for us, despite whatever damage might come from the short term.

So there is a silver lining after all. Maybe.

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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


February 25, 2010

Quick Clicks: Home runs

Welcome to another edition of Quick Clicks. Thanks to all the association bloggers who give us so much great stuff to link to!

- On the SmartBlog Insights blog, Rebecca Leaman wonders whether it still makes sense for nonprofits to attempt to drive traffic back to a single website "home base." Her question started a great discussion in comments.

- Andy Sernovitz has some thought-provoking comments on how you can take advantage of changing customer expectations (even if they might seem threatening at first glace).

- Jeffrey Cufaude has started a new series of blog posts he's calling "Wednesday What Ifs?". So far, he's tackled paying for dues and other programs and services in multi-year increments, giving implicit rather than explicit permission, and focusing on consistent quality rather than on the big breakthrough.

- Cindy Butts responds to some recent Acronym posts with her thoughts on the pursuit of perfection.

- Kevin Whorton has a great post at the College of Association Marketing blog on the surprising disconnect between the words and actions of one focus group.

- Jeff Hurt has great advice for pumping up the networking potential of your face-to-face events.

- If you're an "emerging leader" and you've ever thought, "When do I just emerge already?" Rosetta Thurman has a post for you.

- Shelly Alcorn at the Association Subculture blog has launched an interesting series of posts applying the rubric from Jim Collins' new book "How the Mighty Fall" to associations.

- Six is apparently a big number this week: A guest post by Mack Collier on Lauren Fernandez's LAF blog shares six truths of building successful online communities, and Aimee Stern shares six great ideas she got at a recent Super Swap.

- The Nonprofit University blog has some thoughts on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and its implications for nonprofit organizations.

- David Patt has some interesting observations about behavorial differences he's seen with older and younger colleagues. What do you think?

- Jeff Cobb at the Hedgehog & Fox blog has four questions whose answers might predict your future success. (And at his other blog, Mission to Learn, he has a post I loved on learning lessons he's gleaned from watching his toddler.)

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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 15, 2009

Obama as nonprofit leader?

President-elect Barack Obama continues to tap leaders from the association and nonprofit sectors for key appointments and advice during his move to the White House and the start of an aggressive plan to boost the faltering economy, address a range of social and environmental ills, and strengthen the ability of Americans to respond to his national call to service.

Obama announced Tuesday that he was appointing William Corr, executive director of the well-known nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Long a part of efforts by the Obama transition team to examine the inner workings and impact of that important health agency, Corr will now serve within the latter under yet-to-be-confirmed former Sen. Tom Daschle.

A partial list of members on an Obama transition team of nonprofit representatives from philanthropic and nonprofit organizations appeared in a mid-November 2008 article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Now, the number of people Obama is inviting to slide from that group into the actual structure of federal entities continues to grow as the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday nears.

In addition, The Los Angeles Times has a short article about an “unprecedented step” under consideration by Obama’s political staff: creating a permanent “service organization that would use the vast corps of its grassroots campaign supporters.” The nonprofit may be independent but run from within the Democratic Party’s structure, says the article. Its focus, according to an unnamed Times source, would be natural disaster assistance.

“The prospect of a president being able to guide a service or relief agency outside the framework of his government is a unique development,” writes reporter Peter Wallsten. Read more about the controversy that this proposal is already generating.

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November 3, 2008

The headline was a no brainer

This is how it read on The Washington Post website:

"Online social networking sites, or socnets, are changing how people get their political news."

First, and most importantly, I think everyone will agree that the term "socnet" should be banned with perpetrators subject to slow torture.

With that out of the way, the article is interesting in its underscoring of the changes in the ways people get and provide information. It's not really a new idea, and the fact that it is especially true for political information will surprise no one reading this blog. What the article made me think about was that it's one thing to believe that change is occurring, it's quite another to be doing something about it — what are associations doing about it?

If political advocacy is a major part of your mission, do you know the quantity and quality of the involvement of people affiliated with your organization in social media? Are they pushing forward ideas that synch with your organization? How are you training members to get involved in these areas?

If you think social media is just a bunch of navel-gazers — a group of people all blowing hot air at each other — I tend to agree with you to a point. I think it's probably ok if you can't answer the above questions right now. However, I do think the time for ignoring it is past. The circle of people who are engaging in these online communities has grown too large, and the circle who read without engaging is also larger still. The 2000 presidential election was dominated online by The Drudge Report. In 2004, Dean's fundraising and major media (perhaps most notably ABC's The Note) were the major signs that political news and ideas were traveling differently than before. In 2008, it's too numerous to count in both large and small ways. The next page is already beginning to turn; you need to make sure your organization has something to say about what is written on it.

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October 22, 2008

Presidential Candidates Speak on Work-Life Issues

Sick leave. Child care. Eldercare. Health care. You can now tap into notes from several conference calls about work-life issues with policy leaders from the presidential campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Hosted in September by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute (FWI), the calls incorporated questions posed by business leaders in the work-life field and enabled business and community leaders nationwide to listen in.

"We consider it very significant that both campaigns have taken work-life issues seriously," says Ellen Galinsky. "This is the first ever Presidential campaign in which both nominees have formally articulated their positions in this arena.”

Among the questions addressed were the following:

- What are the work and family life issues the candidate feels are most important to address?

- What is the candidate's position on workplace flexibility? What are the roles of the government, employers and employees in providing workplace flexibility?

- Should the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) be changed and, if so, in what ways? Should it be paid? By whom? Should sick leave be established and paid? By whom and for whom?

- How would the candidate address issues of the time famine that so many employees experience?

- How does each candidate plan to address the impact of the gas crisis on commuting employees?

- How can work life issues help address the spiraling cost of health care?

- What if anything, does either party plan to do to support the 45% of employees taking care of our growing elderly population?


May 9, 2008

Voter protection coalition kept busy

Many people at the Global Summit for Social Responsibility last week asked me about coalitions and industry-wide efforts that are underway and how they can learn more about them. I’ll be blogging more about such efforts in response, and anyone can access an ever-growing list of association and nonprofit coalitions working on a wide range of social, environmental and economic issues on ASAE & The Center’s Social Responsibility website.

One joint effort I’m hearing about relates to voting—not the usual voter recruitment campaigns but the access to and ability to cast your vote. In this week’s North Carolina and Indiana primaries, for instance, a Voter Protection Hotline created by the Election Protection Coalition—the largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition in the U.S.—took almost 800 calls about voting problems from residents in both states.

The coalition also uses hundreds of volunteers to monitor polling places during primaries, answer questions from confused residents, and most recently paid close attention to problems related to Indiana’s controversial new requirement that a voter produce a government-issued photo identification. The group is especially concerned about voters who were turned away by undertrained poll workers giving incorrect information, voting machine problems, and outdated or wrong voter registration rolls—the most common problems found in numerous state primaries, according to the coalition.

Participants in the coalition vary state-to-state, but national partners include the nonpartisan National Campaign for Fair Elections of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Right's Voting Rights Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

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June 28, 2007

Research on political attitudes of young people

Just a warning, this post is based on a political poll, though Acronym remains an apolitical blog. I ran across the survey and thought other organizations who have as part of their missions the influence of policy would be interested in how 17-29 year olds answer several dozen political and policy questions. A PDF of the full results of the study conducted for The New York Times, CBS News, and MTV are available on the New York Times site, as well as other places.

Here are some of the results I found most interesting or are different than what I would have thought they'd be:

• 50 percent say their job opportunities are excellent or pretty good -- more than 15 percent more than three years ago.

• 56 percent say "the government in Washington cares about people of your generation" either a lot or some. Cynical me, I thought that number would be much lower.

• 58 percent say they have paid a lot or some attention to the 2008 presidential campaign. I realize the campaigns are in full swing and its great to be a political racehorse junkie right about now, but I didn't think anybody else was paying very much attention at this point.

• 48 percent say they expect to be worse off than their parents' generation -- 25 percent say they will be better off and 25 percent say they'll be the same. I'm just surprised the outlook is that pessimistic.

• 23 percent say the economy will be most important in determining who they vote for; only 20 percent say Iraq.

Another series of questions asked if government policies on specific issues were important. The issue with the most "very important" answers was trying "to reduce gas and oil use by consumers." The issue beat out such notable issues as "job training and job opportunities for younger workers" (a no-brainer high score based on who was being surveyed), "provide insurance coverage to people who don't have it," and "loans, grants, and student aid that helps pay for college."

Finally, since I am a bit of a political racehorse junkie, I have to slip in one political observation. It would appear that younger democrat-leaning people are more passionate about the leading presidential candidates than their republican-leaning counterparts. When asked if they are likely to vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate, they lean democratic 54 to 32 percent (that's a bit more left-leaning than all adults, which are split 49 to 33 percent according to a different recent survey). But when asked if they were enthusiastic about any of the candidates now running for president, Obama leads the list with 18 percent, followed by Clinton at 17 percent. The next name on the list is Giuliani, who is only backed enthusiastically by 4 percent.

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March 30, 2007

Effective advocacy

I recently had the rewarding experience of attending ASAE's American Associations Day Legislative Fly-in. Wendy Kavanagh, the executive director of the Georgia Society of Association Executies, let me tag along with the Georgia contingent on four of their meetings.

It's always fascinating to see the First Amendment — the right to petition government — in practice. In our case, we saw the staffs of two senators and two representatives from Georgia. Our three main objectives in the meetings were to talk about association (or small business) health insurance plans, ethics reform, and jumping in front of any possible legislation dealing with spam and associations' ability to email their members. (For more on ASAE's public policy initiatives, see the public policy web site.)

Perhaps more interesting to a wider audience was one of the sessions led by Amy Showalter, president of The Showalter Group. Amy's presentation was called "Why Winners Win — Best Grassroots Practices from TSG's Fortune Power 25 Grassroots Benchmarking Inventory," and looked at the success and failures of some of the top lobbying groups as listed by Fortune magazine. Her conclusion is that five factors seemed to really make a difference when it comes to persuading an undecided lawmaker to vote the way your constituency would want them to.

1. The legislator's margin of victory in his or her last election. If it was close, then letting them know how many voters you have and how influential they are counts for a lot.

2. Having a "left-leaning" staff. That's the case with the Fortune 25, because most of them advocate for issues that generally fall to the right of the political spectrum, so having someone who lenas the opposite way on many other issues may be able to connect better with an undecided lobbyist. A better way to think of this finding may be to say having a lobbyists that leans toward the opposite side of the political spectrum than what your organization is typically labeled may help you.

3. Number of face-to-face meetings. Contacts count a lot.

4. Number of key influentials. Can you document the reach of your group in a convincing way?

5. And, like it or not, money matters. If you max out your PAC contributions to a candidate, Amy's research suggests they are more likely to move from undecided to your column. It's likely that the contributions help get your organization noticed — your message still has to resonate with the legislator, but getting noticed is a significant part of the game.


November 10, 2006

Counter-Americanism to diminish?

I have a relative (by marriage) who is an American citizen living in Turkey. Ever since September 11, 2001, he has been writing essays on American foreign policy, and emailing them to his entire address book. His essays have have been not too kind. In the years since Operation Iraqi Freedom, his essays have become more and more critical of American foreign affairs. His most recent essay, which I received yesterday, was entitled "Thank You," a gesture of appreciation to American voters who ousted the Republican majority on Tuesday. His glee over the change in leadership at the Capitol is not at all uncommon.

Perhaps the most difficult to address trend identified in Mapping the Future of Your Association, ASAE & The Center's most recent environmental scan, was the Counter-Americanism trend. I led a 16-week online exploration of the eight super-trends identified in the study, as well as helped to lead a session on five of the super-trends at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting in Boston last summer. In all of my reading and discussing with colleagues about the super-trends, nobody had any concrete suggestions on ways to defend their association against, or take advantage of, the Counter-Americanism super-trend. The only apparent solution was to change our government.

Today, a few days after the election which has seen the balance of power in our legislative branch shift dramatically, I can only hope that our predicament changes for the better. While the election falls short of a full regime change, I will be very interested to see how the international reaction will manifest itself. Will Counter-Americanism wane?