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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

Publications share a common future

The following is a guest post from Sheri Jacobs, CAE, president and chief strategist at Avenue M Group.

What do association publications and websites and The Daily Beast have in common?

After the opening general session of the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo, a group of ASAE Foundation Gold level supporters were given the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with the session's speaker, Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, as a thank you for their support. During the discussion, Tina shared her thoughts on the future of publishing. As she spoke, I realized that just because a publication or web site is profitable, doesn't exclude it from many of the same issues associations face. And in some cases, such as The Guardian, they may not even profitable.

Here are some of the key ideas shared during our meeting with Ms. Brown.

  • The challenge is balancing trends or what is popular with telling the stories that need to be told. The decisions you make impact your brand.
  • Association publications often contain content contributed by volunteers. Do you have a gatekeeper to ensure the reporting is ethical?
  • People won't pay for quality news, they just want the news now.
  • Putting up pay walls on the web doesn't work because the culture of the web did not grow up that way. Applications are different. People expect to pay for an app. The iPad is the newsstand of the future, and the future is coming!
  • People will read your content when they trust you will give them something they don't already have.

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August 2, 2011

In search of publishing efficiency

A couple weeks ago, a new speaker was announced for the opening general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. The only bad news is that this change renders moot my previous post about the topic of the opening general session, but the good news is that it offers the opportunity to discuss here another big challenge facing associations.

Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, will deliver the opening general session keynote. She has a lengthy and varied experience in journalism and publications, and her current role gives her a first-hand understanding of multi-platform publishing.

Associations are getting in on multi-platform publishing—print, web, mobile, tablet—but few if any associations have the resources and scope of a major consumer publication. So, the name of the game is efficiency, and that's the question I hope Brown can shed some light on:

How can associations deliver content to their members in multiple formats without also multiplying work and resources?

It's a complicated question with complicated answers. I'm increasingly doubtful that creating new, tailored content for every platform that comes along will ever be a cost-effective strategy. But with that said, I struggle to make the connections between content created for a print publication and useful repurposing for a smartphone (or vice versa, or for tablets, or for the web).

Brown may have some interesting ideas about efficiency in publishing, but that will be just the beginning of the conversation. I'm eager to hear from fellow association professionals, as well, about what has and has not worked for them so far as they navigate the new publishing environment.

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November 30, 2010

One big push vs. chipping away

In any member-engagement effort, which style of outreach is more effective: a single, major call to action or sustained, long-term repetition?

Or, if both can be useful, how do you decide which one is appropriate in any given situation?

Fundraising is a simple example to draw a contrast between the options: If your association trying to draw donations for a cause, you could post a "Donate Now" button on your website and regularly remind potential donors about the need for donations, or you could host a week-long or month-long pledge drive with a specific goal to reach (and possibly a big thermometer poster that you color in as the donations come in). Or you could do both, perhaps.

I have zero experience in development, so I wouldn't know what the best option or balance would be in the example above. Fundraising, though, is just one specific kind of member engagement, and I find that I run across this choice of methods constantly in working with member volunteers. After all, to volunteer is to donate one's time and energy, rather than one's money.

Just in my slice of association work, I seek contributions from members in the form of

  • Interviews;
  • Writing articles or blog posts;
  • Submitting sample documents;
  • Rating and commenting on online articles;
  • Commenting on this blog;
  • Submitting story ideas.

Heck, even just reading an article or blog post is a contribution of one's time.

This big push vs. chip away decision can take a lot of different forms. Take our "big ideas" month theme here on Acronym last December. We could have made "big ideas" a theme throughout the year, planning one or two posts each month on that topic. In that case, though, we went with the big push, focusing nearly every blog post for a month on that topic. Given the level of member discussion online that month, the choice worked, but in retrospect, I'm not sure if we made that decision on anything more than a gut feeling.

My gut tells me, though, that a gut feeling probably isn't the best way to make the decision between a big push or chipping away when it comes to engaging members. This is a decision that any association faces, whether it's choosing between ad-hoc taskforces and standing committees or between a single-theme meeting and a series of wide-ranging conferences.

So, I'm curious what ideas you have. To our expert marketers, member engagers, and volunteer relaters out there, any guidance to share on how to balance big-push calls to action and long-term open opportunities?

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August 5, 2010

Quick Clicks: Sorry There Are So Many Edition

A lot of great stuff out there on the information superhighway this week, IMHO. Enjoy.

  • Innovation: In a guest post on the SocialFish blog, association exec Eric Lanke offers reasons why associations tend to be bad at innovation, based on research he's leading at the Wisconsin SAE.

  • More innovation: Meanwhile, author Vijay Govindarajan argues over at Harvard Business Review that most organizations' real innovation problem is execution, not creativity: "[I]deation is sexy, while execution is long, drawn out, and boring."

  • Diversity: Jamie Notter followed up the discussion on Elizabeth Engel's post about the TEDWomen conference with some ideas about "Why Diversity Issues Are Hard." The bottom line, he says: "The systems that perpetuate the inequality survive precisely because they have managed to convince the people with the upper hand … that the privilege doesn't exist." The post alone is a must-read, but the ensuing comments are enlightening as well.

  • Volunteer management: Jeff Hurt at the Midcourse Corrections blog offers "10 Ways To Ensure Your Nonprofit Volunteers Fail."

  • Tax exemptions in danger: Nonprofits with annual revenue less than $100,000 must file a short version of the IRS Form 990 by October 15 or risk losing tax-exempt status (and that date is an extension, by the way). This explainer on the Lancaster (Pa.) Law Blog makes sense of the new requirements for you.

  • Big questions: Elizabeth Engel, CAE, at the Thanks for Playing blog poses a question—"How do we connect with stakeholders who have public, digital and highly networked relationships?"—and then answers it in regard to her association. This is part one of a series, so I'm looking forward to more big questions from Elizabeth.

  • Websites: Chris Bonney at the Vanguard Blog suggests 11 questions to ask yourself to answer "How In Touch Are You With Your Website?"

  • Online privacy law: In another guest post at the SocialFish blog, Leslie White shares a case that shows employers can run afoul of the law by gaining unauthorized access to employees' private online sites or groups. "If you ask the owner or administrator for access to a private site and they say no, walk away," she writes.

  • Social media and employment law: Meanwhile, David Patt, CAE, at the AEM blog shares a tip he heard at an Association Forum of Chicagoland meeting that offers a way to check a job applicant's social-media presence without putting yourself at risk of breaking anti-discrimination laws.

  • Membership: Funny how, as associations are worried about membership failing as a business model, media organizations are turning to membership as the model that might save them. At the Nieman Journalism Lab, author Ken Doctor examines how membership programs might work for media orgs in "The Newsonomics of membership" and "The Newsonomics of membership, part 2." Reading how another industry views membership is a little like hearing what people are saying about you when you're not in the room.

  • Web content: Also at Nieman, a fascinating look at how Slate has had great success with long-form journalism on the web. This caught my eye at first because Slate is the homepage on my Mac at home (two facts that surely out me as a yuppie liberal), but it's a valuable read for its ideas both on how you might make in-depth content work at your association and how to inspire your employees or members to make that in-depth work happen.

  • Life: Last but not least, a link that has nothing to do with associations but one that will stick with me for a long time, from the mental_floss blog: "He Took a Polaroid Every Day, Until the Day He Died."
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July 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Straight Up

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks--just in time for the holiday long weekend (for those of you who are in the States). Here's some great reading before you head out to your holiday celebration of choice:

- Welcome to new association blogger Dave Martin! Dave just recently launched the Dirty Martini blog, with the great tagline "Association Marketing Straight Up."

- Amith Nagarajan has written three posts on the Aptify CEO blog following up on his Leadership Inspiration post here on Acronym. He's written on encouraging debate at all costs, making decisions with imperfect information, and challenging your opinion continuously.

- The Connect blog shares 56 takeaways from ASAE's Membership and Marketing Conference and Association Media & Publishing's Annual Meeting.

- At face2face, Sue Pelletier considers a couple of perspectives on the question of whether or not association tradeshows are on their way out.

- At the SignatureI blog, Marsha Rhea considers what the next 50 years might hold for associations.

- The Nonprofit University blog shares a fascinating parable about Goldilocks and the three executive directors.

- Vinay Kumar wonders if we're asking the right questions as we try to improve our organizational performance. On a somewhat related note, Chris Bailey has some suggestions on how you can listen like an anthropologist to hear what isn't being said during important conversations.

- At the Insights From a Future Association Executive blog, Bruce Hammond has started an interesting discussion about the future of magazines.

- Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog shares some lessons learned from arranging a virtual career fair.

- Joe Sapp at the Moving Through the Association World blog (welcome back, Joe!) responds to Brian Birch's recent Acronym posts on building a new website with some advice of his own.

- Rebecca Rolfes suggests a new way for associations to think about growth.

- The AssociationRat blog wonders if the business world has anything equivalent to a walk-off in baseball.

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June 12, 2009

Quick clicks: You live, you learn

In honor of our "future of learning" theme this month, the first links in this week's list are learning related:

Jeff Cobb shares his own definition of learning in a recent post on the Mission to Learn blog. Do you agree? Disagree?

Cindy Butts of the AE on the Verge blog shares the story of an association educating its members through weekly quizzes on Twitter.

Interested in improving your presentation skills, or helping you association's presenters improve theirs? Jeffrey Cufaude has started a series of posts about "powerful presentations." Here's the first three posts.

The Associationrat blogger describes instituting a code of core values in his/her department.

Judith Lindenau at the Off Stage blog has a great post on transparency in associations.

Does your association want to build an audience or a community? Chris Brogan nails the distinction.

On the Socialfishing blog, Maddie Grant posted a few weeks ago to ask, "How can associations be more like Google?" More recently, two great comments have been posted in response to her question.

Pay very close attention to second-year members who don't renew, advises Marilyn Rutkowski in a recent post on The Forum Effect.

I've wondered in the past why some organizations don't allow telecommuting, and finally, an article answers my question (at least in part); the Dear Association Leader blog has more.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog wonders if association publishers might have a leg up on for-profit publishers in the current economy.

Beth Kanter posted an interesting list of nonprofit CEOs who are active on Twitter. (The list is expanded greatly in the comments to her post.)

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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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August 11, 2008

Secrets of getting published

Jeffrey Cufaude recently wrote a wonderful blog post on getting a “first look”—that foot in the door for someone who hasn’t been visible in a profession or community.

As the editor of an association magazine, I’m always seeking new authors that our readers should give a “first look” to. I’m also frequently contacted by new authors with an interest in getting that first look. So I’ve been meaning to share with you some of the secrets of being published in an association magazine:

1. Tell a good story that no one else has told before. Really, that’s all there is to it. If you do this, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you work—I will want to publish your article.

2. Read the publication, and be aware of the topics the publication covers (and doesn’t cover). You’d be surprised by the number of queries we receive from people who clearly have never cracked the covers of Associations Now, and the same was true at other publications where I’ve worked.

3. It doesn’t matter who you know. As long as you’re telling a great story that our members need to read, you don’t need to know a single member of my association, or be a member yourself.

4. Help me find you. One of the challenges in increasing a publication’s diversity is that we can’t know who we don’t know. We read other publications, attend meetings, talk to colleagues, and scour listservers for potential authors. But if you (the potential author) don’t attend meetings, write for other publications, or know someone I know, it can be challenging for me to know you’re out there. And we want to know you’re out there! Come up and say hello to one of our editors in San Diego. Just e-mail if you need to.

5. Bloggers do have an edge. Not because editors are biased toward or against bloggers, but because blogs are something we can easily find that gives us an idea of how you write and what you write about. It’s a way for us to find out about you, which gives you a leg up over someone who may be harder to find.

6. Although it’s a wonderful surprise when a great feature story arrives unexpectedly my e-mail, it’s usually better to e-mail your story idea before you start writing. I feel terrible if your article arrives and I’ve just agreed to publish someone else’s article on the same subject two weeks ago.

Association publishers, what did I miss? Are there any “secrets” you disagree with?

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July 18, 2008

Don't be boring!

I had a really enjoyable conversation the other day with Rick Pullen, editor of Leader's Edge magazine (the magazine of the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers). Rick had a lot of interesting things to say about his approach at Leader's Edge—which is a great magazine, by the way—but one thing really stuck with me: He asked, "When's the last time you picked up a boring magazine to read?”

Of course, the question is, why would any association put out a boring magazine in the first place? I'll tell you why: to avoid controversy and negative member responses to a particular article or piece of art. I think for-profit newspapers and magazines are more used to regularly receiving reader criticism (“If you continue to publish that columnist, I will cancel my subscription!”). But it seems that in association magazines, one or two member complaints about an article can lead to that association bending over backwards to avoid any similar complaints in the future—even if it’s a subject about which reasonable people can disagree, or simply something that people with certain tastes will like and certain tastes won’t like.

If you run a restaurant and you know that some people don’t like cilantro (I personally think it tastes like soap), should you stop using cilantro at all? Should you go even further and stop using spices, to make sure you don’t run into a customer who dislikes cumin or coriander? Or should you accept that tastes differ and try to make a variety of great tasting foods, appealing to people of different tastes?

That’s why I loved Rick’s question. You can try to seek out and remove anything from your publication that any member could be upset about. But in the process, you’re almost certainly making your magazine into a food without spice. You’re taking your focus off of creating the highest-quality publication you can. And then how many members aren’t reading it at all—and therefore missing out on important information about your industry/profession, and your association?

A little spice may lead to some readers disagreeing with a particular story—perhaps vocally so. But the alternative is to be bland. Be boring. And when was the last time you read a boring magazine cover to cover?

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July 14, 2008

Quick clicks: Sharing Slideshare

- Several association bloggers shared Slideshare presentations this week, including Tony Rossell's presentation on the levels of membership engagement; Ben Martin highlighted a presentation by Marta Z. Kagan on Generation Y and social media.

- The Association Social Media Wiki is back--and completely redesigned. If you're ever interested in seeing what other associations are doing with blogs, podcasts, mashups, wikis, Facebook, and in many other social media categories, visit the wiki to quickly find examples. (And if your association is active in any form of social media, you can share a link to your site(s) there, too.)

- I found a few new (or at least new to me) association bloggers recently: The Mind of a Generation Y Association Executive, by Ryan Tucholski; Thanks for Playing, by Elizabeth Weaver Engel; and the Challenge Management blog.

- Do you ever have a great idea that withers on the vine, waiting for buy-in from all appropriate parties? Jeffrey Cufaude has some thoughts on improving the idea approval process in your organization.

- FOLIO has an interesting case study about the relaunch of a 116-year-old association magazine.

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June 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Program killers, campaign thinking

A few links for your Tuesday afternoon reading:

- The Association Marketing Springboard blog has been on fire lately--if you don't subscribe, you should! My favorite quote this week: "But in a realm where member evangelism is our highest goal, campaign thinking just doesn't cut it." Read the whole post here.

- Kevin Holland at the Association Inc. blog talks (in a very inspirational way) about how associations should be giving their members something to aspire to.

- Should the person in charge of your association's strategy also be in charge of killing things that don't work? David Gammel has some interesting thoughts on this.

- Association Meetings posted some stories from readers about wild and wacky requests from meeting attendees and speakers.

- Wes Trochlil is posting some intriguing case studies on association business intelligence efforts on the Effective Database Management blog. The latest one is here.

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June 19, 2008

The Future of Association Publishing?

For someone like me who works in association periodicals publishing, there have been some ominous rumbles to listen to for a while. Newspapers are contracting and even shutting down; I just read recently that U.S. News and World Report is dropping down from a weekly to a biweekly after taking a huge hit in ad pages.

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft predicts, "There will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form." Of course, part of the problem newspapers and other publications are facing is that online ad revenues just aren't replacing those that had been generated by print ads; as print ad sales go down, the online ad sales aren't making up the difference.

In the same interview quoted above, Ballmer notes that in 10 years there will be many more content developers than there are now. So I'm wondering how many association publications are asking questions like these:

1. Who will be our main competitors as content developers in the next few years?

2. What can we offer that's of greater value than straight-up content? U.S. News and World Report is planning to focus on its special package issues, with more regular news updates available online only. Seth Godin's recent post on Amazon's Kindle offers a number of ideas for ways traditional text content could become more valuable.

3. How can we partner with individual content developers (members who write, authors, bloggers, podcasters, etc.) for the benefit of our industry/profession? Publications that already work with volunteer authors should have a strong base to build on in this area.

3. If our publication was available only online, would our members read it? If it came in e-mail, would they click on it right away (or ever)? What can we offer that would make them want to click right away?

4. What additional value does our print publication bring as a print publication? If we want the print version to still be viable in 5-10 years, what steps do we need to take to make that happen?

What other questions are you thinking about, association publishers?

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March 26, 2008

Making raw data meaningful

A fellow young professional I know is writing an article for her association’s magazine on what appeals to 20-somethings in print and online media. A group of us recently gathered to talk about how magazines, e-newsletters, and websites can grab our attention and keep us reading. All of us agreed that the creative use of graphics helps us stay engaged, but we’re interested in more than just decorative images. We like the option of absorbing complex information through combinations of standard text and pictorial representations of trends and ideas.

The interactive graphs in USA Today and fact-rich charts in Good magazine are great examples of publications taking raw data and making it meaningful. The imagery serves multiple functions: an eye-catching device, a tool for comprehension, and a gateway to engagement, leading readers to build affinity for the publication.

In today’s world of information bombardment, I think the preferences expressed by my 20-something colleagues are actually shared by readers across generations. People seeking either professional development or personal enrichment in print and online media need access to learning tools that fit into a busy schedule while still imparting real meaning. Association publications can increase their appeal to 21st Century readers of all ages by thinking progressively about interactive content.

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March 13, 2008

Two Heads Are Better Than One

As the publisher of essentially a one-man magazine, StoneDimensions, I face of myriad of issues on a day to day basis. Add to this, the fact that prior to the conception of this project, I had never worked a day of my life in publications; and you start to get the picture that publishing this magazine has been an extraordinary learning experience for me.

Sitting at my desk this morning to begin processing orders (we sell this magazine in bulk to our members for distribution to their customers and design partners) for volume 2 issue 1, I was really hoping to develop a more efficient process for entering orders, running credit cards, emailing receipts, etc. It was time to streamline this process, but I kept returning to the comfortable method I had fallen into more than a year ago.

I decided that I was going to do something I had rarely done before…ask for help. I figured that asking someone to critique a process that I developed would be a terrifying experience…and it was. However, after about 10 minutes my boss stopped me and we reviewed everything that went into entering an order by putting it on a whiteboard. There were several steps that could easily be consolidated and several more which could be eliminated all together. AWESOME!

It is now 4:06, and those 100 orders for 20,000 or so magazines have been processed in literally half the time that it took me to enter the orders for any of the previous 3 issues. Swallowing my pride and realizing that two heads were better than one saved me at least one day of mindless order processing. I learned a life lesson today.

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February 29, 2008

"I don't know. Please help me figure it out."

I am learning a lot of leadership lessons these days. Mostly having to do with embarking on projects I can sorta kinda get my arms around, but which expand from manageable to giant when poked with a stick. One such is launching a magazine. Which seems like maybe a sensible person would understand was going to be a Really Big Challenge, which I sort of knew, but didn't really know. I'm not, it seems, so very sensible these days.

So the project is plugging along, and I'm learning all kinds of things that aren't surprising, but aren't easy, either. Like: When launching a flagship publication, you'll have to make design decisions, for which it would be good if your visual brand was articulated somewhere (ours wasn't, so we had a diversion while we created a graphical style guide).

And governance decisions (who will decide the editorial tone of the thing, anyway? How much power should we give the volunteers? And how much should we keep? Before inviting them, we need to define their roles.)

And business decisions (What's a reasonable percentage to give your ad sales vendor? if they take away your online classified section headaches, is that worth an extra 5%?)

All that is totally aside from the part I expected to be the hardest: creating a concept for the magazine, and an editorial calendar, and finding a cadre of writers and giving them assignments (We must first figure out author agreements that are fair to the publication and the [unpaid] authors).

So as my anxiety rose, I decided to do something a little risky: ask the whole staff to volunteer to sit around a table and thrash some things out - I literally just needed someone else to help make decisions.

So I stood up with my flip chart and outlined the work, and said: "There's more to be done than I can or should do on my own. And there's stuff I need help thinking through. I need other heads around these questions. I need volunteers."

And was greeted with silence. Stony silence.

So I sat down - I knew I had a couple of allies out there I could rope in (they weren't at the meeting), so maybe I'd made a doofus of myself, but really I was no worse off with workload. The agenda moved on, and at the end of the lunch something great happened. People stood up, walked over and put their names down to help --almost half the staff volunteered.

What was really great, though, was this: a colleague pulled me aside and said "That was very brave, to ask for help like that. People don't ask for help here. If you don't get enough help, it's because it's not the culture yet. I'm glad it's changing." Another wrote to tell me she liked my 'I don't know everything so let's work it out together' approach.

Asking for help is a lesson from waiting tables. When you're so busy you can't catch up, you've got to be able to stop and articulate what you need. I gained allies because I admitted the job was too big for just me. And the decisions got made, the work is getting done. And everyone who helped has a stake now. That's my favorite part.

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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....

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May 31, 2007

A variety of voices

The May issue of Associations Now featured a column from Bruce Butterfield and Susan Fox urging readers to educate themselves about the perspectives and needs of the millennial generation. We received an interesting e-mail in response from Brynn Grumstrup Slate, which I’m posting here with Brynn’s permission:

As an engaged ASAE member and a member of the Millennial generation, I appreciated the column “Preparing for the Millennial Tsunami” in the May issue of Associations Now. The article would have been even more effective, however, if it had integrated the voice of a Millennial in addition to the experienced views of Bruce Butterfield and Susan Fox and shared a first person perspective on the work habits and career goals of this emerging group.

Although much of our generation is still in school, a sizeable number have already joined the workforce and are striving to make a difference as members of association staffs. One third of the staff at my AMC is made up of Millennials and we are hardworking, dedicated, and keenly interested in both learning from more experienced peers and sharing our own ideas and strategies.

To truly keep abreast of the evolving association workforce,
Associations Now needs to feature articles not just about Millennials, but by them. As Butterfield and Fox mention in their column, Millennials are eager to connect and to collaborate. I urge you to feature voices from across generations, allowing association professionals of all ages the opportunity to be enriched by one another.

I certainly agree with Brynn that Associations Now (and other ASAE & The Center publications) should feature writers from all generations. As an editor, I want to encourage a richness of dialogue and content that’s only possible when writers come from all walks of life. Dominance by a few generational groups (or ethnic groups, or socioeconomic groups …) immediately dilutes that richness, and keeps us from hearing things we need to hear to keep the association community cutting edge and relevant.

But at the same time, I always get nervous about the possibility of tokenism—picking authors like ingredients in a recipe, focusing more on who they are than what they have to say.

Clearly there’s a balance here, and it’s one that any editor is used to aiming for. But I’d be curious to hear what Acronym readers think. What ideas would you suggest for increasing the diversity of authors in an association publication (not just at ASAE & The Center, but at any association)? What about increasing the diversity of involvement in all decisions an association makes?

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January 13, 2007

Day 3 of idea a day: Rethinking books

Before we get to the idea, a thanks to Jeff De Cagna and Jeffrey Cufaude for making the second idea better.

Before all seven days are over, I'll try to have an idea that is original (or mostly original), but today, another pilfering. I first became aware of this idea in an article for Associations Now by David Gammel in January 2006. One of the things he talked about was a publishing company called Pragmatic Programmers. Its unique way of publishing is to release a "beta" version. Interested readers download a PDF of the mostly complete book. It has typos, isn't typeset, and may contain some factual mistakes. Readers are encouraged to send corrections, which then get incorporated into the final product. It's created a collaborative book publishing environment. Its customers have ownership in the end product and the end product is better than it would have been. It's been a very successful venture for them.

It's not hard to see how associations could take advantage of this model; associations almost by definition have a community of interested people who could be significant collaborators. I also think the idea could stretch beyond book publishing. I've wondered how I could do an Associations Now issue this way. Could such an idea be adapted for other content, such as education?

And keeping with the theme of stealing ideas, here are some other places using a model similar to Pragmatic Programmers (Note: I didn't engage in any heavy research, so I'm not saying anybody did the idea first or that anybody is copying anybody else.)

Several publishers use Safari's online book publishing, a system it calls Rough Cuts. Peachpit Press is one of them.

We Are Smarter Than Me

And something that hits a little closer to home: We Have Always Done It That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change by Five Independent Thinkers. This book was published as a blog before being printed and bound. Copy the idea. (And buy the book; you won't regret it.)

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November 17, 2006

WeAreSmarterThanMe.org

Traditionally, associations had a competitive advantage over commercial publishers because they represent both the content experts (authors) and the buyers (members). Plus, association publications could be road-tested and peer-reviewed, representing best practices if not the industry standard.

If that's your niche, hold on to your hat.

In case you missed the story in the Wall Street Journal Online edition earlier this week, London-based publisher Pearson is teaming up with Wharton and MIT's Sloan School to create a business book authored and edited by a "wiki" online community. More than 1,000 have already signed up.

The book will be called We Are Smarter Than Me. "One goal of the WeAreSmarter project," the online WSJ reports, "is to see how a wiki can organize and balance material provided by experts such as consultants and professors and managers who are using the techniques in their own business."

Like the nonprofit online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, this effort distills the wisdom of many, scrubbing out personal opinion through community-enforced rules.

Fans of James Surowiecki's 2004 best seller, The Wisdom of Crowds, will recognize the shift from forecasting to best practice.

Are you harnessing the wisdom of many to revolutionize your publication program?


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