July 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An Olympic Celebration of Excellence

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

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

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

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

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


July 24, 2012

Walls and Fences Can Lock In Associations Unnecessarily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 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 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.


August 8, 2011

One step at a time

What's wrong with baby steps?

Nothing at all, judging by several ideas shared in Learning Labs so far at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. In the three separate sessions I've attended, speakers extolled the virtues of incremental improvements in their associations' work.

In "Coping and Managing as a Small Staff Executive" on Sunday, Lydia Middleton, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, talked about saving time and money for her association by moving to a virtual staff model. But she didn't completely abandon the brick-and-mortar office. Instead, AUPHA is transitioning. They've reduced office space from 3,500 square feet to 900, and staff work from home two days a week.

Later on Sunday, in "Email Marketing in a Mobile World," Amy Hager, communications and online member services manager at the Satellite Broadcast and Communications Association, talked about small, simple tweaks to emails to make them more mobile friendly, such as limiting subject lines to 30 characters and changing the "view the online version" link to "view the mobile version." The latter led to a 173-percent increase in clicks on the link, she said.

And this morning, in "Is There Money Hidden in Your Data," Wes Trochlil said there's one simple change that most associations can make to improve their data-gathering practices: stop collecting data that you don't use to make decisions.

We discussed small-scale innovations here less than two weeks ago; clearly it's a theme that continues here at #asae11.

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July 28, 2011

Moving Beyond Your Own Debt Ceiling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 12, 2011

Looking beyond the board for leadership

Time for more insights from a content leader at the upcoming 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo. Today, we've reached out to Jeff Beachum, CAE, executive director at the Interior Design Educators Council, Inc., who will lead an Annual Meeting Learning Lab titled "Love our Mission: Moving from Board-Centric to Extended Reach!" Jeff shares an interesting story about managing significant change at IDEC.

How did you get your board to buy in to a new structure and culture that focused on discovering leaders outside the traditional pipeline?

Beachum: About five years ago, the Interior Design Educators Council, Inc., began to see significant growth. In just five years, we have experienced an 80-plus percent growth of members, with more than 50 percent of our membership having been a part of the organization for five years or less and another 35 percent expected to retire within the next 10 years. The combination of healthy growth and the clamoring needs of an expectant membership was creating tension on several pressure points within the organization.

IDEC has survived for more than 40 years with a board-centric organizational flow, resembling a "good old boys" network. Everyone in the organization felt compelled to connect with the president and the board. Real pain kicked in when the membership surpassed 400. It was common for board members to feel significant relief when their term ended.

So, recognizing the trail of bloodied board members left in the wake of their service, the leadership began serious work: an already-strong mission statement was restated and simplified, and a new organizational structure was subsequently birthed that included almost all of the activities previously established but within new "organizational homes."

By the time we arrived at this point in the reorganization discussion, an inordinate amount of receptivity to the vision was being celebrated. Leaders were now willing to engage in a bit more risk, and the process was becoming a challenging adventure. Success was begetting success. Challenge to change was greeted with anticipation, and courage came easier.

The board quickly recognized that the traditional pipeline of leadership was woefully inadequate. There were not enough "good old boys" to fill the new roles. In fact, the reorganization required leadership to think and lead differently, and some of the membership would not be able to make the mental transition as leaders. The board began to embrace new initiatives and policies that would allow for the discovery of new, innovative, and emerging leaders. These initiatives and policies included:

  • A formal policy requiring a call for leadership to be posted for all vacant or changing leadership positions, allowing all members to volunteer or be nominated.
  • Accepting successful experience outside of the organization to hold more weight than it once did when selecting candidates for leadership.
  • Enabling leaders at the grassroots level to be more confident that their ideas will be listened to and heard.
  • Purposely creating smaller leadership roles for the next generation of leaders in hopes that they will emerge with experience under the tutelage of proven veterans.

Significant change requires significant leadership with vision, courage, and resolve. Once the grip of leadership had been relinquished, it produced a positive and powerful result, moving IDEC from being board-centric to having extended reach.


July 5, 2011

Building blocks of small-staff association staffing

Time for another installment of "Posing a Question to an Annual Meeting Speaker." Offering their perspective today are Michael Gardner, CAE, executive director of the Gypsum Association, and Lydia Middleton, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration. Gardner and Middleton will lead a Learning Lab at the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo titled "Small-Staff Association Staffing Models."

After the executive director, what is the most important staff position to create in a small-staff association?

Gardner: I think the most important person other than the executive director is the person you hire who monitors your involvement in any organizational financial transactions. For fiduciary transparency purposes, you have to have at least two individuals involved in your financial process. If I am hired tomorrow to start a new association, one of my first tasks is to hire someone who can put a wall between me and the organization's money. The same person needs to have the authority to alert the board if I attempt to misappropriate any funds.

Middleton: I agree with Michael's answer 100 percent. It is critical to have some checks and balances around the financials. That said, I'd take a different perspective, as it is possible to entirely outsource your financial management to a firm that can provide many checks and balances. What is not so easily outsourced is member service. At the end of the day your association is made up of your membership, and keeping them happy and engaged has to be the primary priority of most associations. If I was an ED and could only hire one person, it would be someone who would focus on member recruitment, retention, and customer service. I think I could find a way to outsource or contract for almost everything else, but that piece is critical.

Gardner: Good point. Really highlights that, while we are both small staff, our specific points of emphasis can be radically different based on the make-up of our membership.

Middleton: Absolutely!

Thanks Michael and Lydia. Readers, who would you add to your small-staff association next?

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June 1, 2011

From small to mighty

It's Small Staff Week plus! Or there were a couple of stragglers that I just couldn't fit into last week's schedule -- my fault, certainly not the fault of Mary-Margaret Armstrong from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, who wrote the following post on planning for expansion.

The Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) began in 1977 with a mission to further the advancement and impact of women in healthcare worldwide. Until 2000, the organization's activities centered in one geographic location, at which point interest in the organization ascended rapidly, transforming the entire association.

People from all across the globe expressed the desire to launch new chapters, and we needed a way to tap into this passion and commitment, and, moreover, to capitalize on the momentum that had swung behind our mission.

Where to begin? At the time we had 3 staff and about 4,000 members - resources were tight, and time was precious.

We needed a process. One that was repeatable, straightforward, measurable, and sustainable.

We embarked on an 8-month journey beginning with a blank sheet of paper. In September 2008, our masterpiece was unveiled and has served as the framework for our organization's geographic expansion.

Our four phases of development outline specific activities, deliverables, and maturation milestones: Interested Party, Pre-affiliate, Affiliate, and Chapter (see the snapshot overview below). We crafted a detailed implementation plan with mapped responsibilities and oversight to individual corporate board and staff roles to ensure the process had pull through and sustainability. In only 10 years, the organization has expanded into 15 chapters, including overseas, with more than 6,000 members, holding nearly 300 programs around the world, and drawing more than 14,000 program participants.

HBA Chapter Dev.jpg

Our next challenge is to embrace new ideas for building communities beyond geographical boundaries including leveraging technology and social media. I invite you to join in this conversation to share ideas on how you are expanding your association's reach, the challenges you face, and solutions you have found to advance your mission.

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May 27, 2011

What it takes to improve yourself

This Small Staff Week post was written by Marianne Fray, CAE, also from the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association.

It takes a village to get an advanced degree or a credential. Is it worth it? I suggest knowing what you want to achieve before taking the plunge!

I am one of nine professional staff who works for the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA). The HBA is dedicated to the advancement and impact of women in healthcare worldwide. We have more than 6,000 individual members, nearly 120 corporate partners, 15 chapters throughout the U.S. and Europe, and nearly 250 volunteer leaders. We have enjoyed significant membership and product growth in the past three years. The time commitment to achieve this success, with so few staff, is significant. So, where did I find time to pursue certification, and was it worth it? There is no question the answer is yes, because I wanted to better understand the not-for-profit world.

I grew up in the for-profit sector, holding positions in marketing and sales in the telecommunications industry. My previous employer offered to pay for my MBA, so I thought, "Why not?" The discipline of balancing my workloads at school, work, and home served me well as I pursued other professional and personal goals. The MBA opened doors for me and gave me confidence to serve my clients even better.

When I transitioned from for-profit to not-for-profit, I quickly learned that there were different lexicons. I was introduced to governance, membership, component and government relations, Roberts Rules of Order, motions, bylaws, etc. I could read a balance sheet, but felt lost in this new world. I needed a more focused understanding of this new sector.

I decided to pursue my CAPM, Certified Associate in Project Management, as I was working with project managers. A CAPM helped me better understand and speak their language. Preparing for this exam was very different than earning my MBA. A certification or credential tests for specific knowledge and proficiency in a particular area or related areas. An advanced degree, on the other hand, focuses on building broad knowledge in a functional area, while strengthening critical-thinking and team-building skills.

With the required 5 years experience in not-for-profits under my belt, along with the experience of earning my CAPM, I was now qualified to sit for my CAE. If I thought pursuing my MBA and CAPM while working full time was hard, balancing the workload in a small association while preparing for the CAE exam was almost unbearable. There was no team to back me up at work. It would have been easy to put it off, thinking I would get to it one day. I got through, literally, a day at a time. I allocated most of my personal time to study.

In December of 2010, I earned my CAE. Yes, it was worth it for me, and professional development is essential for you as well. Whether you thinking about a certification or other training or education, it will always look insurmountable when you think of yourself as being alone. But the unifying thread between all of my post-baccalaureate achievements was the full support of my family and team members. I'm convinced that no one earns an advanced degree or credential on their own; it takes a village. I am grateful for my village, and I encourage those thinking of taking the plunge to look to their village for support too!


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 26, 2011

Investing in volunteers

Nikki Jones is the director of finance and administration for the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, and is the latest author in Acronym's Small Staff Week.

If you are a staff member at a small staff association, I don't need to tell you that you can't do it all by yourself. I've been the staff director of finance and administration for the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for a year and a half and I can tell you that even if you are a department of one, you'd be wise to invest in the volunteers who are your unpaid staff.

The HBA's model blends a small paid staff with hundreds of volunteers across our 15 chapters. We offer them experiential leadership, meaning they have an opportunity to learn new skills in a safe and supportive environment. That is the professional advantage of HBA membership. What that means to me as a staff member is that my team of treasurers on the chapter boards vary greatly in accounting skills, and it is my job to support and nurture each one while maintaining business accounting standards.

Some of my chapter treasurers come with years of professional finance experience, others not so much. While my job is demanding, I always make time for training and supporting my volunteers. I think spending time up front training is a far better investment than cleaning up a mess later.

A piece of advice I offer is to invest in technology. After careful research we chose a cloud computing system that offers our chapters in-depth budget and finance information that each treasurer can access from a computer. We work with a bank that offers online banking. We have just instituted an online system for ordering marketing materials and stationery. I trained staff and volunteers to enter expenses, examine budgets, and track spending as they go. I also created step-by-step guides with screen shots where needed to serve as an initial training and ongoing resource for staff and volunteers. A large amount of time went into setting up these systems, but that investment will pay off in time saved in the future.

At HBA we offer both group and one-on-one training. Our Leadership Institute, offered each fall for volunteers, enables them to start their year of service with the knowledge and resources needed for success. One part of that day of training is a session where all chapter treasurers are trained together. This is our only face-to-face formal meeting, and it is great to have the volunteers meet each other. Each month I lead a conference call with all of them to discuss issues, share best practices, and offer support. We also use these calls to celebrate successes.

Another investment I made was to provide one-on-one training via web conferencing to each treasurer. This allowed me to gage their skills and, maybe more importantly, get to know each one as a person. This rapport is needed to assure each chapter treasurer feels she can come to me with questions or problems.

When it comes to finance, I'm gentle but firm. I'm responsible for the HBA's finances, and I take that seriously. My association counts on my expertise. I need to know that I can answer every query the auditors have each year at tax time.

I'm very busy, but never too busy to add to the investment I've made in the HBA volunteers. It gives me such great satisfaction to see my treasurers grow in skills and confidence as the year progresses. Being part of a small staff association is demanding and not always easy, but the rewards are truly great.


Working virtually: A benefit or a barrier?

Small Staff Week continues on Acronym... this post is from Laurie P. Cooke, CAE, CEO of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association.

As a very small-staff organization, starting with just me in 2006, I started out in a spare office in Philadelphia offered to me by a generous board member. When I found my first employee - a perfect hire - who lived in North Carolina and considering that the organization's members were spread across the U.S., I decided to try out the growing trend of working virtually. When the second hire - again a perfect hire - lived in yet another state, I accepted that this business model was something to embrace.

We now have 10 perfect-hire employees from northern New Jersey to North Carolina and each employee is working from their home office. This has allowed me to hire the best person for the job regardless of their geographic location. Having five years of working as a virtual organization, we are now well placed to reflect on the benefits and barriers that an association faces.

We have found many benefits to this arrangement including significantly lower overhead costs for office space and equipment; employees have the ability to work from home and manage their work-life activities with more control over their time and choices on priorities; and our multiple locations gives us more access to our members and chapter leaders with ability to attend events and have deeper relationships with volunteers.

We have found many barriers including technology challenges when an employee has technical issues and has to resolve much of this themselves which as non-technology folks can be time consuming and frustrating; difficulty to manage work-life balance because your work becomes your life as your office is in your home; and the ability to bond as a team when you are not co-located so no chance to share small talk over the water cooler.

What have you found to be the case working virtually - is it a benefit or a barrier?

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May 25, 2011

One small step for the busy executive

This Small Staff Week post is from Caryl Garais Tynan, director of membership services at the American College of Phlebology.

Small staff associations struggle with a huge list of duties, juggling multiple hats with limited resources, and time. Recently, I attended a time-mangement class, and they had great motivators and ideas, but one idea that stuck with me was an email management tool called RAFT.

The instructor said that we should strive to have clean in-boxes and regardless of how you manage your tasks with flags or by printing out emails, this principle can help you quickly get through to the core of your email/file system.

As many of you know, we hear many great ideas, but how many of them do we truly implement. My email intake is very large, so I decided to give it a shot.

RAFT stands for Refer, Action, File, or Throw away. The principle is to apply these four categories to each email and each piece of paper that hits your desk. It is simple, easy to implement, and, even though a messy desk is a sign of genius, this can change your work life. When I read email, I can refer it, which means to forward (or print and forward) then delete it. Emails that require action can be flagged (with a color) or printed for a to-do or action pile. When the action item is complete, it is either thrown away/deleted or filed for history. Emails that need to be saved for archive/history can be filed accordingly. Emails that are just simple responses or do not require referral, action or filing can be thrown away/deleted. This leaves your inbox virtually empty except for action items that are flagged.

I never thought it could happen, but my desk and email has reached a new organization level. Staff thought I was quitting because of the lack of paper on my desk. That made me chuckle.... keeps people on their toes. There are moments when I lax on the RAFT method, but quickly realize that I have to get back on track to keep my efficiency at a high level. This was just a 5 minute portion of the day-long, time-management presentation, but it made the entire meeting worth while. It is hard to find what works for you, but when you do find it, you can't help but share the wealth!

The RAFT method is a survival technique that is integral to my organization. I hope it works for you.

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Small staff organization, big staff workload

Small Staff Week continues with this post by Amy Guzewicz, membership coordinator at the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators.

Small staff organizations have their perks; the large workload isn't one of them. One of the most wonderful things about my organization, to me, is the size. This gives me the opportunity to expand my skills, knowledge, and expertise in ways in which I would never have the opportunity at a large organization. However, having a small staff organization can also be a negative thing.

Don't get me wrong, small staff associations shouldn't be saddled with a negative connotation. In regards to workload, however, working at an organization with only a few staff can be challenging at times.

I work for a company of two organizations: one is the parent organization and one is the child organization. I work for the child organization--a staff of five, including the executive director. Together, our two organizations put on our annual congress and symposium every year.

One of the most frustrating things that large staff organizations don't realize (a parent company, for example) is that while the small staff organization may only have 5 people, each of us is critical to our organization and we carry a very full workload that often spans across content boundaries (network in the small organization circles and you're going to run across the government relations-IT-HR person or the editor-marketing-membership-designer person).

Because the workload is just as intense as at a larger organization, and because of the variety of roles thrust on each staff, our work lives can seem chaotic. Workers at small staff associations have to be ruthless in their approach to organizing their work. We have spent considerable time developing systems to keep our staff organized--and happily the effort is noticed. However, it remains chaotic. Just when things seem to be coming into balance, something new will fall onto our plates. Being rigorous in our approach to organizing is the only hope.

Related to the workload, a second frustration is innovation. We are a bright, creative staff, and we come up with tons of interesting ideas. I'm not exaggerating--we literally have file cabinet drawers labeled "Projects 2012 and on." We love jumping on new projects and bringing them through to a final product or service. Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of the work we do, and I'm constantly amazed at all that we are able to accomplish (thanks in no small way to staying organized). But I still think about the ideas in the drawer; the things we could accomplish if there was more human capital to work on them.

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May 24, 2011

Building a culture of acknowledgement in your association

This Small Staff Week post is by Peggy Hoffman, CAE, owner of Mariner Management, an association management company and consulting firm:

A little while ago I read Patricia Morgan's post "To Appreciate, First Acknowledge" on SmartBlog on Workforce and felt as though the message was doubling important for those of us in the small staff association world. You see while it focused on paid staff, it hit the nail on the head for unpaid staff too. And as we in small staff org know, our unpaid staff is as critical to us and to achieving our mission as our paid staff.

She points out a curious statistic from "How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life," that indicated 65% of Americans say they receive no recognition at work. That's not unlike what we've heard from volunteers via ASAE's Decision To Volunteer study. We saw that while the issue of acknowledgement wasn't a deal breaker, it also wasn't seen as a done deal. Volunteers rated it a C+ when asked how satisfied they were with it. When I've asked association execs how they feel they do, they say of course we acknowledge our volunteers. Interesting, the employers said the same about paid staff.

I wonder if that last belief is simply a case of not being in tune. If you run a Volunteer Appreciation Day or program or event, you are likely to think you've got it covered. Same if you regularly do a thank you to volunteers in your newsletter. But acknowledgment at that level is much like our "call for volunteers" - it's a task list item, a basic. As volunteers told us in DTV, a "call" is not asking me to volunteer. A direct, personal request is asking. A direct, personal recognition is the same idea.

Patricia makes the observation "appreciation has the biggest impact when it is given randomly," drawing from B.F. Skinner's discovery that random reinforcement more strongly anchors behaviors than consistent reward. I'd add that it's not just that it's random, but that it usually means it is also personal. Stepping up to a more meaningful level of acknowledge really means creating a culture of acknowledgement in our associations. This rich culture is characterized by both the task list items like the Volunteer Appreciation Day or thank you's in our newsletters and the random acts.

Patricia offers her 10 tips for building a culture and I'd add to those:

  • Be sure to attribute ideas, tips, editing help, resources, quotes to members - even the smallest ones, e.g. "this article was culled from conversations with ...."
  • Incent your staff to "pay if forward" by giving them a budget or supply closet of trinkets and thank you's they can use at will to acknowledge volunteer efforts - and then make them accountable to use them.

For some more reward & recognition ideas, check out High Performers Have Enough Coffee Mugs.

How are creating a culture of recognition in your org - for paid and unpaid staff?

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The nimble advantage

Small Staff Week continues on Acronym... this post is from Joseph Normandy, executive director of the Vermont Insurance Agents Association.

Small associations, thy name is nimble...

How many times have you heard that? What? Never? I get it, but it's very true.

I have run both large and small groups, and the advantage small groups have for a quality exec is that you get to touch each operation point and trust each employee that shoulders the various efforts.

That is where the long-range plan comes into play. Created by current leadership, past chairpersons, and staff, this critical give-and-take session will separate the pie-in-the sky dreams from the realistic goals a small staff and small budget can accomplish (and they should be able to accomplish a lot, or you have the wrong team). Small organizations do have resource constraints but being nimble in those long-range plans is a huge advantage. You're not dragging around all the momentum that a large organization carries with it. Often, a large organization will lose focus because an elected leader will see it as "their" year and they are going to adjust the ship in a different direction and thus any long-range planning document is useful only as a doorstop. Small staff organizations can build flexibility into their planning; they can analyze their environments and change appropriately with staff and elected leadership working together to chart the best course. The key is planning smartly.

You want to have a good year, your staff wants to have a sense of success, and surely your leadership team, especially your chairman/president, wants a good year, and that can only be achieved through a working long-range plan. Such a working plan is one that everyone follows and is flexible enough to enable the organization to capitalize on circumstances, but provides enough guidance and support to thwart outcries from singular individuals that want the group to address their pet issues.

Being nimble is fun, and used wisely, it is one of the greatest advantages of working for a small association.

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May 23, 2011

The advantages of knowing how to cook a burger

The first post for the Small Staff Week on Acronym is by Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, deputy director, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Be sure to read all the posts from the week.

Last year Joe Rominiecki blogged about the CBS TV show Undercover Boss and posed a question to small staff association executives: is there an advantage to being more familiar with the work of the staff because of the size and lack of resources in a small staff association? Or would you prefer to hire someone to man the burger and fries station while you handle the "typical" duties of the CEO?

In the time that I've worked for a small staff association, I have found myself juggling the duties of a full-time Communications Director, Membership Director, Acting Executive Director, Social Media Guru, Trade Show Coordinator, Conference Planner, and Dog Behavior Consultant (Ok, I work for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, so that last one is not as odd as you think!) While I would love to have a large enough staff that could handle all these duties so that I could find out what that thing called "sleep" is, I think the experience of being able to understand your association from the ground up is invaluable.

For one thing, I believe anything that helps you gain empathy for your staff's day to day realities keeps one humble and open to taking input from all levels of your staff. Years ago in my first jobs after college, I hated working as an administrative/executive assistant, but now I look back and see those years as the best sort of training ground for learning how to think on your feet and solve problems quickly. When our association creates new programs and membership benefits, the plans are circulated to all our staff, from administrative assistants to directors, so that we can determine how the program will affect the membership and the association through everyone's eyes and experiences.

Another advantage is that I find small staff association personnel tend to have a strong grasp of the bigger picture of an association because, while they have their own specific duties to focus on, such as accounting or marketing, they are not as ensconced in those areas as staff in larger associations can be. The constant exposure to issues outside their own particular sphere, whether it be membership retention or marketing the annual conference or using social media, tends to create staff who consider all departments when making decisions and builds a stronger sense of mission for the organization. I've experienced less turf battles in my small staff association than in larger organizations and more cohesion among the staff.

Of course there are obvious disadvantages. The constant influx of work and need to multitask as an executive director can be exhausting, and the lack of resources and points of view can contribute to an insular world view when it comes to your association. Given the choice, I prefer knowing how to cook a burger, or in our case, handle a membership phone call, do the page layout for our latest member magazine, or answer a reporter's question about the best way to house train Fluffy.

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Small association staff week

We've got another themed week for you here on Acronym--this time we've asked people who work at associations with 10 or fewer staff to provide guest posts. We've got several posts over the next few days offering this perspective, including several from different staff at the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association out of Fairfield, NJ.

We may have a post or two this week from outside the theme; you can access all the ones from this week in the Small Staff Week 2011 category (will add the link after this is posted). I'll be putting them all in the system, but each one lead with a quick identification of the author.

As always, please jump in and provide your thoughts, tips, and experiences--we welcome conversations on Acronym!


May 4, 2011

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 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.


February 25, 2011

How Would an Oscar Affect Your Organization?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 23, 2011

Managing Court-ordered Volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!


June 25, 2010

Marketing on a shoestring budget

Here's our third and final post from consultants who helped facilitate a series of Idea Swaps for small staff executives recently. Here, Sue Bowman from The Haefer Group summarizes the points emerging from discussions on how to market when resources are scarce.

When hosting the discussions at my table, I started the dialogue with a question: What about marketing keeps you up at night? The small staff execs who participated in this round of discussions had two common and related anxieties: 1. they wear multiple hats--only one of which was a marketing hat; and 2. they had very limited budgets.

The easy answer that addressed each of these stressors is for small staff execs to rely on one of the popular marketing packages to send frequent e-mails to their members, emphasizing the features of the organization. After two hours of discussion with three separate groups of small staff execs, we determined that perhaps the easy answer wasn't necessarily the correct answer. Instead, it turned out that the following concepts are more likely to produce better marketing strategies and fewer panic attacks.

Heavily Promote Member Only Benefits
Members and prospects need to understand how your organization:

  • Makes them smarter

  • Saves them money

  • Makes their lives easier

Don't take it for granted that your existing communication materials already do this. Our discussions focused on how we often talk about what we do but not the personal benefit we provide to members.

Understand Key Metrics
It's tough to market smarter if you don't know where your successes are coming from. Look at return on investment from various marketing channels. Understand who's coming, who's leaving, and why it's happening.

Maximize Your Use of Volunteers to Help the Organization Market
Have members and volunteer leaders contact prospects/renewing members to focus on value--from a members' perspective. Make sure EVERYONE knows the value elevator speech. Reward success with publicity and recognition.

Segment Messaging
In the case of e-mail marketing, change up your messaging in your typical contacts. Segment, segment, segment! Target vulnerable members, like those in the first several years of membership.

Build Your PR Program
Do some research, look at related sites on the internet to build press contacts. Keep the flow of information going.

Use Social Media Discriminately
Everyone agreed that there are many opportunities to market organizations using social media--including LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. The challenges that presented themselves included the time commitment, keeping content fresh, and competing organizational priorities. The majority of participants thought it was best to focus on one element and do it well.

Easy isn't always the way to go. There is no silver bullet to marketing success. But these strategies should help you sleep just a little bit better.

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Using free tech tools

Our second guest post from a consultant who led a small staff discussion at a recent Idea Swap comes from Rob Miller, Principal of AssociationCIO (contact him for more tips), who talked about ways that free and cheap technology can level the playing field for associations with few resources. Yesterday, Rhea Blanken looked at how to balance the different demands that executives at organizations with limited resources face. Later today, we'll hear from Sue Bowman on how marketing can be effective even with limited resources. To learn from your peers, be sure to check out ASAE & The Center's small staff online conference. Here's Miller:

Most organizations rely on standard off-the-shelf software tools such as Microsoft to run their business. The problem is that they cost money, and, for an emerging organization, this can be debilitating. Inexpensive and free options now exist for many of the most important technology tools such as office software suites, voice and video conference services, webinar, collaboration, and survey tools. What are you waiting for? Go get some free stuff!

Here are few of my favorites:

  • Google offers Google Voice for local and long distance service. The product allows a user to link into their mobile or LAN phone for placing or receiving calls. The cost? Nothing!

  • offers free webinar service for up to 20 participants in a meeting or $19 for up to 50 participants in a meeting. The product includes recordings, playback and multiple presenter workflows.

  • offers free conference services for up to 250 participants.

  • offers free video conferencing for as many 6 participants simultaneously.

  • The free web analytics tool from allows a user to compare web traffic of one URL against the web traffic of another, such as a competitor or like organization. (But if you are the web master, it is usually best to check the results by yourself first.)

  • enables organizations to evaluate the quality and activity of a website. This is an excellent tool to deploy just before signing the acceptance form of a major website redesign project.

  • There are so many free tools available in the marketplace now. Before you buy - always pause, open up Google, type in the words "Free [insert your target]" and pursue the options.

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June 24, 2010

Learning to ride the leadership roller coaster

First up of our consultants who lead discussions among small staff associations is Rhea Blanken from Results Technology, who had these takeaways from her session:

Ever feel like you can't get out of the weeds long enough to lead your association the way you wish you could and know you should? Ever feel buried in minutiae, unable to take reflective time to image the future? Feeling unable to use the simplest time management tools because there is no time? Does this sound like a familiar small association staff chorus?

The problem with this long-standing attitude is that it's technically not really a problem. A problem is defined by its "either/or," "yes/no" quality--a decision is made confirming an action and eliminating others. A small association executive has the doing/imagining as well as the managing/leading roles constantly at play--it is not an either/or situation yet we talk about it that way. We must plan more time for "and."

This "and time" requires seeing one's efforts as a set of interdependent principles and actions, each necessary over time to create positive sustainable results to advance the organization. Too much attention on one side or the other will leave the organization lopsided. Too much concentrated activity and resources in the present will leave no room for future planning and vice versa. This is the paradox or contradiction of leadership--respecting the necessary tension between taking the time for now and making the time to think for later. Stop expecting it to be either/or. As often as not, "and" is what it looks like when it's working.

What's necessary is to create a neutral space where comparison, inquiry, discussion, and examination allow the staff and the organization to put into play the positive aspects of the supposed contradiction. This balances both sides rather than trying to force a solution into one. When we try to solve something that is not designed to be solution-based, we get resistance to the solution. A quick review of failed initiatives from board and staff is likely to reveal the reality of this circumstance. When we manage these paradoxes for their benefits and perspectives, we see attainable results. As Abraham Maslow said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Reach into the whole tool box.

A Few Perspectives Along the Roller Coaster

  • Leaders who see the "and" rather than the either/or of life are more effective at mediation, better able to anticipate and diminish problems from occurring, and tend to be better decision makers since they are not limited to either/or scenarios.

  • Make time in your schedule to think in the now and the future. Distinguish between problems that are inherently solvable and finite, and those that are both unsolvable and unavoidable. Investigate both the positive and negative aspects and effects of each side. Then combine the points of view in each to get a more complete picture of the known situation.

  • Be mindful of the organizational preferences to one side over another--if it favors one view over another then the decision is likely vulnerable to being overly focused and out of balance. Be clear on the positive and negative preferences the organization holds for one side over another and the reasons (check out sacred cows and historical baggage).

The bottom line
"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome."
- Samuel Johnson

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Small staff associations: How to manage with limited resources

A few weeks ago, ASAE & The Center held a few Idea Swaps where prominent consultants lead discussions with association executives who had between 1 and 10 staff. The execs and consultants left energized by the discussions and we asked a few of the consultants to give us some takeaways from their sessions. As many small staff execs prepare to take part in our online conference, Creating the 24/7 Small Staff Association July 13-15, we thought we'd share these takeaways from three of the Idea Swaps in posts today and tomorrow.


March 26, 2010

Sponsorship innovation

I've been thinking about sponsorship opportunities, and the challenge of communicating value and ROI to sponsors. Sometimes, I'll be honest, I've sold sponsorship packages to people and not been completely convinced the entire investment was worth it, but they had a budget they wanted to spend and made their choice. However, I've also noticed that many of the corporate contacts and advertising agencies we work with are increasingly looking for ROI justification. What about these crazy ideas?

  • Offer money back as a refund if the sponsor is not satisfied with the results of the sponsorship?
  • Offer a full or partial refund if an event that is sponsored based on an event attendance level isn't met?
  • Offer a scaled sponsorship fee related to actual attendance (pay $2000 if attendance is between 50-100 people, etc.)?
  • Only bill for the sponsorship if it generates X amount of leads or sales for a company?
  • Create an actual ROI report for every sponsorship opportunity, based on some kind of standard, shared with each sponsor after the event?
  • Sell exclusive, multi-year sponsorships for certain events?
  • What about sharing profit margins and costs with sponsors, and working with them to help you find an appropriate balance for the association and for them?
  • What about letting sponsors share in major decisions related to the sponsorship (like food selection, meeting space, curriculum, etc), or letting them plan the specific sponsored event completely, with staff support and some controls?---note to all meeting planners, please don't kill me if your sales department asks you to do this
  • Providing/arranging for specific one-on-one time for sponsors and attendees for in-person events---attendees would love this, right?

I am coming at this from a relatively small association and these are half-baked ideas at best right now. I would love to hear feedback from all types and sizes. And I'd love to hear any innovative ideas related to sponsorship!

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March 5, 2010

CEOs flipping the proverbial burger

On Wednesday, Steve Tobak at BNET's The Corner Office blog offered another interesting perspective in response to the CBS TV show Undercover Boss. When I wrote here about it three weeks ago, it was about executive compensation tied to engagement. This week it's a more simple question: should a CEO be able to do the front-line jobs of his or her organization?

Tobak's answer to the question is "no," and I agree with him. At an association, for example, I wouldn't expect a CEO to be able to code a website, juggle meeting logistics, or synthesize research data. A smart CEO hires people who are more skilled at these roles, anyway. And conversely, I wouldn't expect the specialists who do those jobs to be able to facilitate the board of directors, speak on camera as the face of the organization, or even just manage a large staff.

But I don't think Tobak quite says enough about the need for a CEO to have a deep, personal understanding of how the actual work of the organization is executed. To stick with the burger metaphor (in fact, the Undercover Boss episode in question was about the CEO of White Castle), I think the CEO ought to know exactly how long the burger should cook on each side, because the quality of the burger is what the customers experience. Understanding the craft that makes the company's customer experience possible can only better inform the CEO's decisions.

Associations don't make burgers, of course, but they do produce meetings, seminars, knowledge resources, advocacy, and so on. The association CEO should understand the details of crafting these efforts successfully.

This all begs one question, though: what about CEOs and executive directors of small-staff associations? Under a certain number of staff, a CEO doesn't really have a choice but to understand a lot of the front-line work, because he or she likely has to be the one personally doing much of it. So I have a couple questions for association executives out there:

  • At a small-staff association, is that experience with front-line work an advantage, or would you rather be able to delegate more duties?
  • At a larger association, is understanding front-line work a challenge for the CEO?

I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

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January 19, 2010

Earthquake Response Efforts Continue

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


October 28, 2009

Are you a Control Freak?

During a dinner conversation with my wife last week, she told me (in so many words) that I had a controlling personality. But don’t worry, this wasn’t a fight--we talk to each other like this all the time. She is a psychiatrist, and it is so refreshing to be able to talk to someone who understands behavior and personality from a medical/clinical perspective. It is much less threatening for some reason. Although sometimes it’s not easy to hear!

I am a nice guy and generally not manipulative or negative by any means, but I do think I tend toward being a control freak sometimes, as I like to influence the people around me and move them in the direction I think they/we/the association should go. I justify this to myself by telling myself "I am using my powers for good," but at the end of the day, I need to learn better how to let go.

Here are some things I’ve noticed that might make some of us "control freaks":

- Unable or unwilling to delegate important projects to others

- Micromanaging staff behavior or work

- Feelings of worth increased when people agree with you/go your way

- Volunteering/taking on many new projects or extra work. This can be a good quality, but leading a project is the ultimate way to gain more control and influence

- Constantly finding yourself in the middle of things, playing the mediator

- Being inflexible when it comes to ideas that aren’t, um, your own

- Anxiousness when things change quickly. Do you wear out pens by constantly writing/re-writing over the words on your notepad?

Please don’t judge me, and please be honest with yourself and others. Sometimes these skills above come in real handy! But I think ultimately they can be be both positive and destructive, and I’d like to hear from others on how they have proactively managed their natural tendencies. Or, if you aren’t a control freak, maybe share experiences where you worked with a freak and helped them let go a bit.

Are you a control freak?

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October 8, 2009

My Top 5 Things to Remember in 2010 as an Association Professional

As we move into a new decade, what are the most important things we can focus on in our profession? Here are my top five:

1) Priorities Over Majorities: Most people aren’t great at naturally prioritizing, and the majority of the people you know will focus on everything but the most important thing (because the important thing is always the hardest thing). We association professionals should get really good at prioritizing everything quickly, including emails, workload, educational programming, and volunteers. Oftentimes this will be challenging, as many will focus on things that aren’t that important long-term. For an example in educational programming prioritization, check out our Prioritized Educational Agenda.

2) Control Technology or It’ll Control You: When evaluating any new technology for your association, from a pencil to Twitter to a new website, always ask: Where will this be in 5 or 10 years? What part of our strategic plan or mission will this technology help us deliver? This exercise can help us navigate the increasingly complex balance between doing what is new and cool, and doing what makes the most sense for the organization and its members. In other words, don’t let technology drive your decisions; implement decisions with technology.

3) "It’s the Content, Stupid": Over and over, people have come to the realization that quality, accurate information and education always trumps flair--flair should support and entice, not serve as the foundation to our educational and event planning. Our world is becoming inundated with cookie-cutter speakers doing cookie-cutter presentations, and cookie-cutter websites and social networks. How do we develop better, more specific content and provide time for people to learn? Every person has the capacity to grow when they are challenged by someone they respect; how do we challenge our members while maintaining and increasing their respect for the association?

4) Partner to Prosper: In a global world, we must get better at sharing and partnering. Associations bring people together because there is strength in numbers; do we live by our own mantra? No association should see another association as a direct competitor.

5) This Social Network Will Self-Destruct: Over time, new things become old ... be prepared for social networking apathy. Some people are getting tired of Facebook or spending less time on such applications, and many people use social networking casually and aren’t that engaged in it. Most people still value in-person interaction and community, or associations would be long-gone by now. Don’t get me wrong, some social networks online are valuable and 2.0 technology is great, but I would argue that many social networks will lose value over time, unless they offer something more than just putting a hit out on your friends in Mafia Wars. Where will all of these networks be in 5 years? Check out this interesting article from Wired Times in 2004.

Please share your thoughts, or share your own Top 5 for 2010!

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September 24, 2009

Efficiency vs. Creativity

As I sat in a recent board meeting, and we talked in circles about subjects we have already talked in circles about, I saw impatience and heard frustration. I even heard some bellyaching. Have you been there?

I have noticed over the course of my experience in committees and even staff meetings that sometimes you have to pound your head against a wall several times before you get somewhere. At the same time, our world and business culture drives us toward efficiency and speed—many measure the speed of the meeting these days, not the quality. In our association, our members are all business owners and managers, and they are used to delegating work in meetings, and less used to consensus building and constant evaluation of any given topic. I am here to say that some of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of for our association came when we deviated from the agenda--please don’t pelt me with rotten tomatoes.

Let me give another example. I recently started a task force concerning a topic that is pretty controversial in our industry. I hand-picked 8-10 individuals for the task force, and set the first meeting.

About half of the folks made it to that first call, and we had a meandering, big picture discussion. I then assigned some work and set the next meeting 1 month later. At that meeting, the other half of the folks showed up, but none from the first bunch! We had basically the same conversation, but came out of it with completely different ideas and action items.

Both groups were creative, and the repetition was pretty inefficient. However, the combined ideas are more powerful than either alone. I’d love to claim that this was all by design, but honestly they are a bunch of hard headed folks and I couldn’t get them to stay on track.

My questions to you are:

- What are some tips and tools to manage the balance between efficiency and creativity or efficiency and thoroughness?

- What are some tips for group dynamics without reading a book on it?

- How do we prepare for meetings and help engage and foster creative discussion, while avoiding repetition or off-topic discussion?

Please, don’t just answer having an agenda or applying good meeting management skills ... we all have those or we wouldn’t be here. I mean new, creative ideas that I know people are using out there.

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September 14, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

After traveling and visiting with some of our key prospects and current sponsors/customers, I will now share 2 things. 1) Recap where my travels have positioned us to-date 2) Predictions about the future that I’d like you to argue with me about.

Sales Recap

Here is where my travels and follow up phone calls have placed us:

1) Within 2 weeks, I expect to have secured a little less than 50% of our sponsorship revenue goal, and our next fiscal year hasn’t even begun yet. This allows us to move into a new year with confidence, and gives me more time to focus on the second 50%, which is always harder to sell.

2) We have already sold more booth space this year than at the same time last year, and have secured the majority of the major booths on the floor.

3) We have commitments from most major advertisers and are planning an increase in magazine advertising commitments for 2010 because of our value-added packaging (discounts on advertising/sponsor/exhibiting if they commit to all three early).

The Future

Here are some thoughts as we move into a new economy:

1) Corporations are much better at spending their money wisely than any other entity on the planet. The days where large sponsorships will be dropped with no ROI analysis may be over.

The traditional viewpoint from associations, that large corporations are cash cows, will continue to lose ground and become obsolete.

2) Kiss that Gold/Silver/Bronze model goodbye. Just like any other customers, companies want choices and options, and they want to be able to customize.

3) Partnerships for education. Many companies now have the same basic goal as associations; educate customers ... these corps want to do so in a way that makes them look good; how do we leverage and partner with them in education, without tainting it? How do we make sure that there are opportunities for all partners to participate without exclusion? How do we leverage their resources and knowledge to deliver better quality education?

4) Trade shows are still a strong business model, but I think companies will be smarter about which ones they attend moving forward, and may reduce some of these lavish booths we’ve seen in the last ten years.

5) Packaging is the key. We need to position our sales efforts to create value year-round for them. We should be a one-stop-shop for getting a product or service message out via email, web, print, and in-person. We should increase their sales or at the very least increase their opportunity to sell.

6) Sponsors need respect. I get really frustrated when a company supports a program (makes it possible even), and members barely even register that they exist. How do we educate our members and help them appreciate sponsors, and not ignore them or see them as just a way to get a free dinner?

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September 9, 2009

On the Road Part 2

-664 miles (one way)
-4 cheeseburgers
-3 snickers bars
-1 rains storm
-1 giant locust stuck to my leg
-1 construction delay
-Got lost in the middle-of-nowhere

Meeting 1: Meeting with one of our core exhibitor/sponsor companies, this company has been with the association basically from Day 1. Overall, the relationship is strong, but in the recent past, a program we were putting on created an unforeseen, non-favorable situation for this company. I know they aren’t happy with the circumstance, but I also know that had a great experience overall at our recent annual symposium.

Good Things: The meeting was very comfortable and relaxed, the relationship is in good shape, allowing us to move past the negative issue –addressing it directly, then moving on --- and maintaining the level of sponsorship and exhibiting for the next year.

Things Learned: I found out that this company is going through a fairly significant business-model change, and are investing in some equipment to diversify their business. Unsure of how this will apply to us/our industry, in some ways it is a divergence from the industry, but I know there must be a way to align their new model with some marketing concepts through us and our magazine.

Meeting 2: Hooked up with another staff member and drove to a meeting that is about 2 years in the making. This particular set of contacts used to be involved and supportive of the association, until several years ago some actions were taken by the association, and specifically a member of the board, that pushed this company away. The past 2 years have been a ‘toe in the water’ atmosphere as we feel each other out again; it was helpful that I was not in a leadership position during the time the incident occurred, and all involved parties on our side are not on the board/staff rosters anymore. Giving these folks plenty of space the last few years helped I think.

Things Learned: This contact, the decision-maker, is a very interesting and sharp entrepreneur. My sense is that he makes many decisions based on trust, and by us traveling many miles to go see him and his colleague, it has really helped re-establish a trust that was damaged years ago. We didn’t ask for the sale, we didn’t present any numbers, we just talked to them and set the next meeting...that’s the point of a sales meeting, to either close the deal, or set the next meeting, right?

Overall, these two meetings simply reinforce the philosophy that the basic foundation of strong, sustained sales is the quality of the relationship...not just in the good times, but in the bad times too.

Please feel free to share any experiences you’ve had where major sponsors/fundraising supporters were upset, and how you handled it!


September 2, 2009

On the Road, Day 1

My road warrior tally so far is:

-490 miles
-2 cheeseburgers
-1 Snickers bar
-1 rain storm

Road Warriors:

-Sales Manager of our outsourced national publication

Meeting 1: Meeting with a very large, diverse company that has exhibited for years at our annual show, with a small 10x10 booth only

Good Things: Met the marketing manager for a key division. Got some great face time with 3 key contacts, and helped them learn more about our association, magazine, and programs.

Things Learned: We did not establish a clear goal for this meeting, and accordingly the meeting was not very focused. It was informational-based, I did not learn anything about how they feel about key industry issues. How could I have broken through the wall?

We rushed the pitch, as the feeling from the clients was reactive, they were waiting for us to provide information and guidance. This placed us in control, but we did not know where we wanted to steer the ship. Our sponsorship/advertising packages, which add savings between advertising with the magazine and sponsoring with the association, may really help us salvage.

Meeting 2: Meeting with a major sponsor from the last 2 years, who is cutting back due to budgets/cost issues.

Good Things: The meeting was very relaxed and friendly. The two individuals were comfortable with us, and we learned about a number of frustrations and challenges they face.

Things Learned: Learned that they are going back to their core business model, as over the past two years they have expanded outside their core business. Learned that a key influencer/decision-maker does not like print ads, and is more interested in driving targeted contacts to a specialized website. Learned that they have several large-dollar pieces of equipment that they want to sell.

Meeting 3:
Meeting with a major manufacturer. Unfortunately, 2 key decision-makers did not participate as planned, forcing us to deliver our message to an influencer. We are aware that this client is not happy with some charges from our trade show through the decorating company, leading them to significantly reduce booth space next year.

Things Learned: Working hard to resolve the decorator situation put us in a decent position, if not strong. However, very disappointing that decision-makers are not in attendance, having trouble figuring it out, don’t want to over-interpret it, but it is a rejection to some degree. After some probing questions, confirmed my suspicion that the key decision maker does not see the value in both a booth and sponsorship at the show. Having trouble finding my ground in terms of next steps with this client; I know that reducing their booth size will impact them ultimately more than us (although I regret the loss in revenue and need to create a plan to replace it), but not sure putting the full court press at this time would be adding value for them or the relationship long-term.

Please share your sales stories, successes and failures, here!

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August 31, 2009

Death of a Salesman?

Over the next two weeks, you will see 3 posts from me journaling a road trip I undertook this summer, meeting with some of the key exhibitor/sponsors of our association, and a few prospects whom we’ve identified as potential strategic partners. My goal is to share some real stories about the challenges and opportunities that I have encountered when trying to build strong, lasting partnerships with key supporters. I hope also to get feedback from many of you.

It is my firm belief that many associations do not focus on the sales process enough. I also believe that no matter what type or kind of association you work in, and really no matter what your position is, a focus on the principles that guide the sales process can help you in your work. These principles include:

- Friendly, open communication, always looking for added value
- Qualification--is it a good fit for you, and you for them?
- Identifying a need
- Proposing a solution
- Follow up and consensus-building
- Closing the "sale"
- Deliver what you promised, maintain and grow the relationship

I have to admit, it’s a little frustrating when I post blog entries and get no feedback; let's try and break the record of the last 3 months, I'd like to see if we can reach 15 replies, answering any of these questions:

- Why do I hear association professionals talk a lot about marketing, but less about sales?
- Who is the best salesperson you know, and why?
- How are fundraising and sales similar? How are they different?
- Why do some people hate being asked to 'sell' something to someone else? What first comes into your mind when you are asked to sell something?
- Why do we always focus on new ideas for non-dues revenue, and less on upselling or increasing the investment from current players?
- Can the sales process apply to volunteer recruitment?

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July 30, 2009

Communicating No Salary Increases to Staff

It’s one of the more difficult and unpleasant conversations you have with staff. When and how do you communicate the news?

The “when” is easy: Don’t wait until December 1st to tell staff. Keep staff informed earlier, perhaps as early as mid-summer (assuming you are on a calendar year and typically award increases at the end of each year). Nobody likes bad news dropped on them at the last minute, especially when it has to do with their paycheck. And, if there are other benefit cutbacks likely, tell them sooner rather than later.

Now, the “how” part:

1. Tell everyone at a staff meeting so everyone hears the exact same message at the same time. Be compassionate in your delivery. Acknowledge that you are sharing in the pain. No one is exempt.

2. Give yourself some “wiggle” room. You may decide to phrase the news in terms of “it is very likely that…” or “although circumstances may change, my sense is that…” It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Especially when it comes to salary.

3. If possible, mention other perks that will be explored as compensation. Things such as extra vacation time, free lunches, or other perks can go a long way in sustaining morale.

4. Invite staff to meet with you one-on-one after the meeting should they have further questions or want to voice individual concerns. An open door policy is critical to maintaining your role as leader.

5. End on a supportive note. Acknowledge the hard work everyone is doing. And remind folks that the economy will improve.

If there is any way to squeeze merit bonuses out of your budget in lieu of salary adjustments, make this happen. Rewarding folks based on their accomplishments, and not waiting to the end of the year to do it, helps soften the bad news, and further reinforces staff’s commitment to excellence.

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July 27, 2009

Emergency preparedness: How prepared are you?

On June 11, 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a global pandemic of novel influenza A (H1N1) was underway by raising the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6. This action was a reflection of the spread of the new H1N1 virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus. At the time, more than 70 countries had reported cases of novel influenza A (H1N1) infection and there were ongoing community level outbreaks of novel H1N1 in multiple parts of the world.

Since the WHO declaration of a pandemic, the new H1N1 virus has continued to spread, with the number of countries reporting cases of novel H1N1 nearly doubling. The Southern Hemisphere’s regular influenza season has begun and countries there are reporting that the new H1N1 virus is spreading and causing illness along with regular seasonal influenza viruses. In the United States, significant novel H1N1 illness has continued into the summer, with localized and in some cases intense outbreaks occurring. The United States continues to report the largest number of novel H1N1 cases of any country worldwide; however, most people who have become ill have recovered without requiring medical treatment.

Given ongoing novel H1N1 activity to date, CDC anticipates that there will be more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths associated with this pandemic in the United States over the summer and into the fall and winter. The novel H1N1 virus, in conjunction with regular seasonal influenza viruses, poses the potential to cause significant illness with associated hospitalizations and deaths during the U.S. influenza season.

As many of us prepare to host annual conventions and expos this fall, now’s the time to consider issues of emergency preparedness. At its core, emergency preparedness is an issue of social responsibility. As meeting professionals and association executives, we are obligated to make decisions and take actions that will enhance the welfare and interests of not only our members, but of the general public, as well. As we consider the number of people who will travel to our next major event, can we honestly say that we’re adequately prepared for an outbreak of H1N1? What about any number of other crisis scenarios that could affect our next meeting or expo?

Take a moment to reflect on your association’s emergency preparedness. How prepared are you? What crisis scenarios have you experienced first-hand? Was your crisis response plan successful? What did it look like? What would you do differently given the chance? What resources would you recommend to others who are just now considering issues of emergency preparedness?

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July 23, 2009

Challenges in Forecasting Budgets for 2010 and Beyond

Recently our Executive Committee asked that we draft pro forma budgets not only for 2010 but also 2011 (our fiscal year is the calendar year). They requested that we devise two different scenarios for the two-year time period: one being an optimistic case where we envisioned membership would recover almost to where we were in 2008 by 2011 (our membership took over a 15% hit this year) and meeting attendance would climb back to near “normal” levels by then; and the second being a pessimistic scenario in which membership and meeting attendance remains rather dismal.

(Note: Our association has returned positive returns for each of the past 7 years with a forecasted loss for 2009 forecasted to be at about 5% of operating budget.)

This exercise forced us to think through the ramifications across all our programs and services and showed us what the net impact to Cash Flow and subsequent Reserve Balances would be under the two scenarios (not surprisingly, under the Pessimistic Scenario we projected operating losses for both years, whereas under the Optimistic Scenario a nominal loss next year and then a profit in 2011).

While it is very challenging to project membership and meeting attendance particularly in “unusual” times such as these, the exercise was beneficial in several ways:

a. It gets the news out in front of the board well in advance and gets them thinking about the “what if” scenarios and plausible implications to our budget

b. It forces them think through what level of operating losses they can live with and whether additional cuts might be warranted (we provided additional cuts which might be considered, some of which would affect some of our programs & services)

c. It also opens up dialogue with the board to think strategically about which legacy programs can in fact be disbanded, and offers an opportunity to engage in a frank discussion about new sources of non-dues revenue as well as ways to re-invigorate membership recruitment.

Has anyone been through similar exercises with their boards?

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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 16, 2009

IRS Form 990 – Conflict of Interest Policy

With the new changes to the IRS Form 990 comes a series of questions which associations should answer affirmatively to minimize the chance of the dreaded IRS Audit. Three of the recommended policies all associations should have in place are: (1) Document Destruction, (2) Whistleblower Policy and (3) Board Director Conflict of Interest.

Concerning the Conflict of Interest Policy, there are several procedures which should be put into place:

1. All board members should sign a written Conflict of Interest Policy Statement every year. The Statement gives the individual the option of either acknowledging no conflicts of interest, or noting any areas of concern.

2. At each and every board meeting, the board chair should ask if there are any conflicts the association should be aware of. The outcome should be included in the board minutes.

3. The board should vote upon this procedure PRIOR to it taking effect.

Associations should consult with their Auditors to ensure compliance as the rules do change and are subject to slightly different interpretation depending on the auditing firm!

Does anyone have a different interpretation on this particular policy?


July 10, 2009

Difficulties in Managing Web-based Seminars

With the weakened economy, and its dampening effect on member travel, we are all looking for alternative sources of non-dues revenue. Web-based seminars (webinars) have become a ubiquitous presence on the educational front. However, the challenges of hosting value-added programming that actually make money are real.

First, you need to research compelling topics.So you survey the membership and find a few ideas. Then you need to find the speaker. You approach one of the better-known experts in your field and, happily, she agrees.

With your webinar provider already in place, you spend time training the speaker on how to administer her presentation during the actual webinar. You set a price point (deciding on per-site pricing instead of per-person, to encourage broader participation and add value). And as with live events, you spend time managing registrations (even with online credit card purchases, there are always questions) and even more time promoting, promoting, and promoting.

Two days out, you only have two people registered to attend. What went wrong? What could be done to help ensure a win-win webinar experience for associations and their members and customers?

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Welcome Larry Sloan!

Good morning! I'd like to welcome our newest Acronym blogger, Larry Sloan. Larry will be joining us for the month of July to share his perspectives on some of the challenges facing association CEOs today.

Larry is president of the Adhesives and Sealants Council Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland, and a CAE. He originally joined the Council in 2001 as director of member services, and was promoted to senior director in 2004 before becoming president in January 2005. He started his career as a chemical engineer, entering the nonprofit sector in 2000 as director of membership for the Consumer Specialty Products Association.

Please welcome Larry to Acronym. I'm looking forward to reading his posts!


July 6, 2009

The art of triangulation

Triangulation (from The location of an unknown point, as in navigation, by the formation of a triangle having the unknown point and two known points as the vertices.

This is my job. I take any number of known points, and I work on finding the unknown...not because I enjoy it, and not because I think about it very critically; but because I have to! And chances are, so do you.

If you are in association management, then triangulation can (or should) be your best friend. It can help you find innovative solutions to problems—even some problems you weren’t aware you had. So let’s take this powerful concept and try to break it down into a process.

Tips to help you find the unknown points:

- Have a system in place that tracks all major good ideas that come from committees—treat them like your reserve accounts, an investment in the future. Formalize this tracking system into your planning in the form of a Queue of ideas that committees/staff review annually. Kill the bad ideas (yes they do exist), don’t let them get in your queue, they will muck it up.

- Prioritize projects/ideas using board outcomes and strategic plans. Some things are more important and relevant than others. The hardest part of implementing a strategic plan is filling the gaps (the things it doesn’t tell you to do). Use your good ideas as glue for the gaps.

- Look for similarities, and don’t be afraid to partner with other committees/associations. Be ready to convince people that a hybrid of their idea with someone else’s idea is really the best way to go.

Real-life example that is (hopefully) working:

Conditions Before Triangulation
- SIMA is developing a Certified Snow Technician program, an idea from the Certification committee...committee is stuck, having a hard time figuring out how and what to deliver as a hands-on test for CST’s

- SIMA Education committee decides it wants to do training for safe operation of equipment

- Numerous SIMA exhibitors have recommended an outdoor demo area during the annual show

After Triangulation
At its next annual show, SIMA will conduct a Demo Day with 10 equipment providers, who will partner with volunteers to deliver a safety and efficiency training curriculum. That curriculum will be used for the basis of the CST program.

Maybe triangulation is the wrong word; maybe E pluribus unum is a better descriptor?


June 22, 2009

Remote Staff as an Asset

In this century, more and more individuals are moving toward working part-time or full time from a remote location. This trend will continue, as we begin to integrate personal and business lives into a more cohesive, and perhaps even healthier, lifestyle. Associations are uniquely positioned to view this trend as an asset, not a liability.

Let’s not forget that productivity has nothing to do with proximity, it’s a function of culture, good management, and personality. If you are confident that the intersection of these three items at your association is strong, then read on!

Realizing remote staff as an asset will allow you to see the following opportunities:

Communication can be maintained, and in some ways enhanced, by distance. For example, two personalities who are extremely diverse may actually work better together if they have some distance, and communicate less in person and more via email/chat, or by phone. In-person meetings are still important and can be arranged based on proximity/need.

Use the remote location to further your interests. Is the remote employee on the other side of town closer to the printer that you use? Are they in a different state that allows them to travel to other industry events for less time/money?

Less interruption can lead to increased productivity. We are all constantly interrupted, and the office atmosphere is one of the most invasive spaces to work in many places. A remote worker at home may be able to schedule more interruption-free time.

Expect extended availability. It seems like a fair exchange that if a remote individual receives some serious bennies, like working in their pajamas, having a more flexible schedule and being able to save money on gas, that you can realistically ask and expect them to be more available for phone calls and other issues during non-business hours.

Managing traditional and non-traditional employees does pose some challenges. Some tips are:

Treat them differently. It’s okay to do this, because the goal is to re-align their job descriptions and duties with their remoteness; they are satellite offices, and should have different expectations than in-house staff.

Barter. Any staff member who works remotely will not be able to, for example, answer the phones constantly or do specific admin tasks; trade these out with other tasks that they can do from anywhere, for example asking them to update the website more often, etc. Being proactive and showing the in-house staff that they aren’t expected to double their workload may help alleviate any feelings of unfairness.

Accountability knows no bounds. Proper accountability, in the form of defining the task and responsibility, setting parameters, providing a small set of boundaries, and asking staff to report back, really does not have anything to do with distance. If you really think about it, there have been remote employees in many industries for decades, in the form of outside salesman. Now we just have more tools to make it easier.


June 17, 2009

If You Build It

We’re all familiar with the concept popularized by the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams,” which suggests that if you build it, they will come. I’m wondering how many association professionals actually believe this to be true.

Several months ago I researched web and audio conferencing solutions, selected a very reputable company and began work customizing an interface that is both user-friendly and cutting-edge. All this, of course, after piloting a series of virtual education programs that were very well attended.

We then surveyed our members and identified more than 150 different program ideas that were both interesting and appropriate for health care professionals statewide, all of which lend themselves to either web or audio-only formats.

I worked diligently to select the most innovative topics and to secure the most respected thought leaders in our industry. We also identified a very reasonable and affordable rate at which to offer these programs to our members.

We then launched a new biweekly education newsletter, as well as a monthly education-at-a-glance e-mail, to help promote these programs. We also mailed a memo from our president/CEO outlining our newly-expanded educational programming and provided our members with an easy reference tool intended to assist them in navigating our complete education suite.

In 30 days we’ll send another mailing with more literature and a fun promotional item to help create additional buzz. We’re also sharing our reference tool with anyone and everyone who’ll listen to our spiel.

And still we have low participation during our newly-launched and very professionally-produced virtual education programs.

My question to you is this: Have you experienced a similar situation with a new product or service? How long did it take to “catch on” with your members? What else can be done to encourage “early adoption”? What advice do you have for others who may be experiencing this same predicament?

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June 15, 2009

Armchair Psychiatry & Your Association

Our lives are filled with so much noise that it’s hard to filter out the important from the not-so-critical. However, as humans, our filtering process is exceptionally important. The better we understand what our personal filters are, the more we gain more insight into how we interact with (and manage) others.

My conversations with my psychiatrist wife have had a profound impact on how I think about this topic. Here are some concepts that I’ve learned from her that have helped me better understand my own filters:

Projection: In the most basic sense, this is when one person’s unwanted feelings or thoughts are projected onto someone else. For example, as a manager I may be insecure that my work isn’t as detailed and organized as it should be. Instead of realizing or addressing my own anxiety, I may focus more on the shortcomings I perceive in the work of those who report to me, micromanaging them in the process.

Personality: Some doctors say it can’t be changed after a certain age. People often say ‘that’s just the way I am, don’t try to change me’. The Buddhists say that we hold to ideas about who we are that are unrealistic, as we are made of infinitesimal pieces that are constantly changing. Others say they can measure it and tell you if you are a networker or an introvert. Who is right? The truth may be that they all are; it is extremely hard to change certain pieces of ourselves or others, but it’s also extremely possible. And isn’t that what great leaders do, change people?

How does this apply to association management? If I could practice what I preach in this blog entry, I’d have a way bigger ego than I already do—but I’ve found that if I can absorb some of these concepts into my filter, it helps me navigate a bit.

Here are some tips for rethinking how you approach people in your day-to-day relationships:

- Treat people as you’d like them to be. Note: Use this concept only with positive feedback, never criticism. Constructive criticism is a management tool, not a way we interact with those around us on a day-to-day basis.

- People behave the way they do because they are getting something out of that behavior—even negative behavior provides results. Look for the results a particular behavior is providing.

- When you interact with someone, especially someone you dislike or are having a disagreement with, picture them as they may have been as a child. Think of them when they were 10 years old and got their feelings hurt. Think of them in the sense of a composite of all of their experiences—some they could control, most they could not.

- Don’t worry so much about being taken advantage of.

- Trust people until they give you a reason not to.


June 8, 2009

Social networking and choices

As we all become inundated with information on the why and how of social networking, (the choices: should we become LinkedIn, join Twitter, or find ourselves on Facebook), and hearing what we can gain from our time online, I realize that I must now look at my own time and make some personal decisions. When online, am I using social networking as a personal or professional tool? Do I want to share what I’m doing at work or on my home-based business while on Twitter? How much time can I spare from the many other chores I should be working on to stay connected?

After joining Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook I was like many of you and spent far too much time eavesdropping on others. I occasionally posted a message about what I was doing, sometimes even taking time to ask or answer questions and chat with others online, but generally, I was an outsider watching others post. Now, I find I’m ready to make some of the decisions that determine if Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are a benefit or a detriment to my daily life. I’ve analyzed the people I “follow” on Twitter and realized that many don’t interest me. I simply don’t want to read the daily inspirational quotes they pass on. I am working to change those that I follow and see if my interest grows. I find I benefit most from LinkedIn by reading the group discussions that take place and occasionally joining in and sharing my views. I also have determined to keep Facebook for personal use and will use it to keep in touch with family and friends.

With this basic outline I can now move forward, adding social networking to my day at my discretion. I plan to talk with my association about making a Social Networking Business Plan soon, to see if we should be utilizing its potential to benefit or reach our members, and I’ll keep reading the articles that cover the why’s and how’s to give me clarity on the subject. Have you had to face these same issues in your daily routine? How did you deal with the time, the question of personal and professional use, and the use of these online tools for yourself?

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June 1, 2009

Keeping Membership a Value

When working with members, it’s easy to concentrate on the members that demand the most attention, pay the most dues, or seem to be the best fit for the association. When talking with one of our members recently, one who has remained a faithful member for over thirty years, I realized again how important it is for all the members to feel important, to feel they are a value to the association and that membership is worth more than the dollars they spend each year on dues or the time they volunteer on committees.

At times like this, when the economy is shaky and companies are questioning their expenditures, it is more important than ever to make sure our members feel the value of association membership. It is helpful to know not only why they joined, but why they continue to pay their dues. Some no doubt do it out of an obligation to the industry

that supports them, some do it to make valued connections that could bring additional business their way, and some continue their membership without even thinking about why. “We’ve always belonged,” they say when writing the check. But under what circumstance will they decide they are no longer getting value for their money?

We need to make sure we never stop asking our members what is it that they hope to gain from being a member. Is it the association logo on their cards, serving on committees to make connections, the networking opportunities, or did they simply join on a recommendation and really aren’t sure why they keep their membership active? How can we support them through the good times and the bad? We need to ask, we need to know. We must never fall into the trap of making assumptions about our members. Don’t assume we know why they joined, or we know what we need to do to keep them on board, or how to bring them back when we lose them to hard times. There has never been a better time to become a good listener and invite your members (or potential members) to open up and share. Everyone can win if we ask and then listen.

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May 26, 2009

Finding ideas

Last month, I was fascinated by Ashton Kutcher and CNN’s race to reach the 1 million followers mark on Twitter. (As you may have seen, Ashton won.) Reading through the coverage, I’ve been wondering where the idea for the competition came from. What inspired the idea for the challenge? What inspires you to think outside the box?

Ideas, like "I should get a million followers," often come about when we least expect them. We’re chatting with colleagues, family or friends, often not even talking about the subject that inspires such a movement but perhaps random thoughts and ideas, and sparks begin to fly. It’s these random chats, these idea-sharing opportunities that often inspire us to collaborate with each other to achieve success on one project or another. We shouldn’t shy away from these moments, even if the ideas we come up with are not really feasible or practical and are eventually tossed aside for another. That is all part of the process. If you find that you aren’t coming up with these little sparks of genius, these ideas that motive others to movement, perhaps you aren’t chatting with the right group. Maybe it isn’t the strangers we meet on LinkedIn and Twitter that will drive us to new ideas. Sometimes it’s the staff in our own office who are often not asked what they think on a subject they would love to share ideas on, or maybe it’s just your drinking buddies or shopping friends who would inspire you most.

So don’t be afraid to gather in groups and share that idea that seems stuck, or as you fear, even a little stale. Ask for advice from those around you and toss around ideas that might improve your projects or services. See what happens when you meet with your group, perhaps monthly or weekly, and let the sparks of great ideas fly where they may.


May 25, 2009

Beauty School Dropout

Writing this post, I’m reminded of the song “Beauty School Dropout.” You remember it, right? If you close your eyes—just for a few seconds—I’m sure you’ll recall the stripped down set, the low-budget costumes and the bad choreography. I’m also betting you’ll remember at least some of Frankie Avalon’s infamous lyrics.

Like Frenchy, I’m looking for some direction. After months of planning, programming and editing, I’m happy to report that our new web and audio conferencing services are up and running. It was the first significant project I managed in my new role as director of member relations, and it was a tremendous learning opportunity.

Dozens of long-term care professionals will be speaking in the coming weeks. Their knowledge and expertise will provide our members with valuable education in a convenient and cutting-edge format. There’s only one problem: our members just aren’t visiting the association's Web site to sign up for these innovative, new programs. And while I wear many hats, I’m once again reminded that I’m not a marketing professional.

So, my question to you is this: What clever marketing strategies have you used to increase traffic to your association Web site? How can I attract people to our flashy, new registration site when it’s one of many things competing for attention on an out-dated, disorganized, content-heavy association Web site?

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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 5, 2009

"Green Desks"--An Option for Meeting Attendees?

While many association meeting planners are adding special educational programs and tracks on adopting more environmentally friendly work habits and goals, the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Supplies has crafted an additional approach for its upcoming conference: a "Green Desk."

The Green Desk, which debues at the July 2009 AWFS Fair, provides “a place where anyone in attendance can stop by to ask questions related to green practices and issues that are impacting virtually all businesses.” This one-on-one approach is in addition to the association’s education track, “Going Green,” to help corporate members move to more sustainable products and processes, and to meet new “green building” standards.

I like the idea of associations offering such "green coaching," even if it isn't more complicated than serving as a one-stop resource desk at an event to pick up relevant tips lists, discuss the latest industry eco-trends and benefits, or connect members interested in the same green steps.


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 22, 2009

Ring my bell!

No, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Anita Ward. And, no, this is not an ode to “Disco Week” on American Idol. The words “Ring my bell!” actually have a very different meaning around my office. Recently, we instituted a new recognition program. Each time a member of our staff experiences a significant professional achievement, we ring a bell that now sits proudly in the center of our building.

Significant achievements could include a new member joining the association, meeting a major deadline, completing a long-term project, securing a new contract, launching a new member benefit, obtaining a new milestone or successfully executing a program. Whatever the achievement, our small staff of 10 convenes in the hallway each time the bell is rung to celebrate and debrief.

The key here is that our bell is rung as soon as the achievement is realized – it’s immediate gratification. Recognizing significant achievements in the moment, rather than waiting for a regularly scheduled staff meeting, allows us the opportunity to properly recognize each accomplishment and its contributors. Regardless of title, we find that each of us is equally eager to obtain the next achievement; with it comes the opportunity to ring the bell.

This new recognition program serves two main purposes. First, it provides staff a forum to publicly recognize achievements. Second, it keeps us motivated. With a small staff, it’s easy to lose sight of everyday achievements. Collectively, our staff works diligently and carries an ambitious workload. Taking the time to recognize achievements in a timely manner renews our commitment, offers much-needed mental breaks and positively impacts morale.

So, my question to you is this: What motivates you to do your best each and every day? What are some of the unique ways your association recognizes significant staff achievements?

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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.


March 8, 2009

Now how did THAT happen?

I am a CEO and Education Director of a small staff association. For most of my professional life I have been a licensed health care provider and educator; in some ways I am an “accidental” chief staff officer. A couple of years ago the executive committee of the association approached me to help troubleshoot some issues. The organization had recently lost a key staff person and was struggling to stay upright during a very rocky transition. A business manager had been brought in but resigned after only a few months, leaving the association in a worse position. Having served as the board president of the organization four years earlier, the exec committee thought I could provide some insight about the association and help assess its situation. A few weeks as a consultant turned into a year as chief operating officer, and transitioned to the chief staff officer a few months ago.

It’s been amazingly busy and I felt overwhelmed at times, learning the skill set of organizational management. Resources such as ASAE, especially the Diversity in Executive Leadership Program (DELP), and other association professionals have been very helpful (lesson number 1: no one goes at this alone!). I’ve been able to come to place where, while everyday is still daunting in challenges, it becomes a bit easier to see the brass ring - all of the intricacies of fulfilling the organization’s mission from a broader perspective. It’s easy to become lost in the minutiae of day-to-day operations - and sometimes that’s really important to do. Yet staying down in the weeds can be disorienting; the CEO can’t afford to lose the crucial sense of direction.

Membership is a key example. Our association has had a steady number of members for the past 5 years. No contraction yet no growth. The staff and board have had meetings to talk about why this is the case. Many reasons have been cited - not enough advertising; not enough benefits; few outreach efforts, to mention just a couple. In thinking this over, larger questions came to mind: Just who is our membership? Why do they join? Is there a need that we not meeting? Is there a segment that we are not thinking about? As simple as these questions are, we have actually few answers - no surveys, no data crunching. The mechanics of attracting new members becomes easier if the organization is clear about whom it really serves. We’re working on finding the answers to these questions right now, going through our database and asking existing members about why they joined. We hope to also ask those folks who are NOT members why that’s the case.

We’re using low-cost tools to do this, and it’s slower-going than I would like, but I also know this information will help us in the long run, and make us stronger in the process.

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March 4, 2009

Dipping the proverbial toe, or jumping into the deep end?

Hi and thanks for taking the time to peruse through a first time blog entry. As a later-comer to the not-so-new world of social media I wanted to find out first hand how to relate to these forms of communication. I am not entirely sure how integrative I want this all in my professional and personal lives. Yet the potential of social media to interconnect people in new ways is both intriguing and exciting. At the Great Ideas conference I decided to go “all in” and really follow other association bloggers who were present, listen to the discussions and try my hand (okay, pecking fingers) at tweeting content during the sessions.

Thinking about it afterwards, I felt both exhilarated and a little overwhelmed about the experience. On one hand, listening to the live discussion and watching it translate into an online event through Twitter was amazing. At times there were discussions happening outside the classroom regarding the topic; then the occasional question came from the online world back into the session itself. Amazing! Here was an ability to engage an audience without significant high tech engagement and still carry the significance. Simultaneously I was following other folks tweeting about the other sessions I couldn’t attend. Wow!

On the other hand, at times I simply couldn’t keep up with the flow. I am a bit older and a bit set in the ways I absorb information; as I clumsily worked my smartphone keyboard I would be distracted and miss part of the live discussion. The twitter stream was hard to grasp too - having to scroll back up to track the online comments, or doing a search for a hashtag were cumbersome tasks. Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t do justice to what the speaker was trying to communicate in 140 characters, resulting in an inadequate comment or not sending one at all. As a regular presenter and educator I wanted to not denigrate the information, even as the topic was ironically about social media.

So, a week after my own internal experiment, where am I? Still interested and intrigued - heck, I’m even willing to embarrass myself through the occasional blog. I’m tweeting less, for which my nonassociation friends are grateful. My posts are more directed, working on content as well as style. I haven’t yet begun to figure out how to integrate/separate pure personal from pure professional. I’m not feeling as unconsciously incompetent (not knowing what I don’t know) as I did two weeks ago; yet I’m not sure if I’ve reached conscious incompetency (knowing what I don’t know). I certainly do thank the ASAE folks who helped me to work and understand this technology, whether in sessions or online. That’s the wonder and power of associations - getting great ideas from folks willing to help out!

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