August 30, 2012

What's a great volunteer manager worth?

Via Jena McGregor at the PostLeadership blog last week, a new research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research quantifies the value of a great boss. From the abstract:

"Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team's total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. Using a normalization, this implies that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker."

McGregor then draws this conclusion about workforce development:

"More people need to understand that they're better off firing a poorly performing boss and replacing him or her with a better performing one, rather than adding more workers to their staffs. Once that happens, the productivity push should shift from getting more out of people on the front lines to first getting more out of the ones who lead them."

These aren't surprising conclusions, but it's interesting to see that some hard, data-based research has gone into supporting the idea of a great manager's "multiplying effect" on his or her team.

What I'd really like to see, though, is this same research applied in the context of volunteer management. I suspect that the multiplying effect of a great volunteer manager would be even more pronounced.

For paid employees, the potential influence of a great manager has a floor and ceiling, based on compensation. A worker with a bad boss still has to work to get paid, and a worker with a great boss is only going to increase productivity so far without a pay increase.

But for an association volunteer, potential productivity covers a much greater range. A volunteer with a bad volunteer manager can very easily quit, but a volunteer with a great volunteer manager could become a passionate advocate for the organization.

So go back to those quoted paragraphs and replace "boss" with "volunteer manager" and "worker" with "volunteer," and then think about how your association handles volunteer management. Perhaps, rather than fretting over getting the right volunteers lined up, you should focus more on finding staff who are great at managing volunteers, on better training the ones you already have, and on letting go of the ones who simply can't cut it. The potential upsides and downsides of the quality of your volunteer managers are too great to ignore.


May 31, 2012

Upgrading Diplomacy Skills the Albright Way

Want to refine your diplomacy skills?

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

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


April 18, 2012

Earth Day Offers Visibility, Fun, Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 7, 2012

Are Your Internships the "Best on Earth?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 17, 2011

Quick clicks: Volunteer management edition

Last Thursday, I was busy talking about blogging rather than actually blogging, so Quick clicks took a week off. This week's edition has some extra meat to make up for it, including five posts relating to volunteer management to start us off.

Volunteer management 1. Jennifer Bennett at Engaging Volunteers shares her experience as a volunteer manager and all the inherent ups and downs. "I believe that giving someone the opportunity to make a difference or change something is worth the work," she writes.

Volunteer management 2. Lowell Aplebaum outlines a different approach for developing association volunteers: rather than explaining a role, asking the volunteer about goals and desires and matching a role to meet them.

Volunteer management 3. Terry Coatta offers some tips on maximizing a volunteer's "return on time," based on his own experience as an association volunteer.

Volunteer management 4. David Patt, CAE, tells a story that shows why it might not be a good idea for association staff to chair volunteer committees.

Volunteer management 5. Eric Lanke, CAE, shares a story of a committee chair who alienated his committee members. The cause? Not knowing which kind of committee he was best suited for. "Some committees make decisions and other committees get things done," he writes.

Crisis communications. Deirdre Reid examines the lessons to be learned about crisis communication from the National Restaurant Association amid the controversy surrounding Herman Cain, and Maggie McGary zeroes in on the social media mess the NRA has faced. Good conversation in the comments on both posts, as well.

New learning formats. Dave Lutz says shorter conference presentation formats (Pecha Kucha, Ignite, and so forth) aren't great learning opportunities on their own, and he identifies six specific factors that can make short presentation formats most effective.

Conference missions. Sue Pelletier asks "What's your conference's why?"

Association creation and development. Greg Kohn at Virtual Inc.'s Association Management Blog shares advice on how to keep a new association from falling victim to "the post-launch blues."

Speaker development. Aaron Wolowiec, CAE, lists some common reasons why speakers at association events fall short and offers several methods for vetting speakers and preparing them for improved results.

Work ethic. Stefanie Reeves, CAE, shares an association "fairy tale," replete with a princess, a wicked witch, and a taskforce report.

Management. Jamie Notter writes that, in the case of most management practices, "we have no idea what we're doing," and the first step to fixing it is admitting it.

Engagement. Anna Caraveli exposes myth no. 1 about member engagement: counting by numbers, and she argues that engagement should be measured in much deeper terms.

Google+. Maddie Grant, CAE, gives an early primer on setting up a Google+ business page for your association.

Policies and procedures. Wes Trochlil shares "a great example of managing to the rule" rather than the exception.

Blogging. Here's where I was last week: the Progress U. Blogger Summit, hosted by Delcor. KiKi L'Italien and Bill Walker have rounded up recaps and photos from the event. Plus, Dan Brady at the Giving Forum shared some blogging tips from our old friend Lisa Junker, CAE, and yours truly.


October 17, 2011

The catch-22 of volunteer recruitment

Reaching back a few weeks to a post by Shari Ilsen on the Engaging Volunteers blog, "Why I'm Not Going to Volunteer with Your Nonprofit." She adapts seven reasons people cite for not donating to a nonprofit and equates them to why they also don't volunteer. Great reading for anyone in the business of volunteer recruitment.

One of the reasons stuck out to me the most: "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you." From a personal standpoint, this probably isn't the excuse I'd give out loud for declining a given volunteer opportunity, but it's the one I'd be feeling in my gut, most strongly influencing my decision. I'm an introvert, and I don't think I've joined or volunteered for anything in my life without doing so with a friend. That sounds sad to me now that I've typed it out on a screen, but I'm just being honest.

The truth is, though, that there are a lot of introverted people like me in the world, including in your membership or pool of potential volunteers. (The Decision to Volunteer supports this dynamic: "I was asked by another volunteer" was the third-ranked channel through which volunteers first learned about volunteering with an organization, while "I didn't know a current volunteer" was among the top reasons cited by nonvolunteers.) So it's clear that asking your current volunteers to recruit potential new volunteers through word of mouth is a method that must be employed to overcome the "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you" hurdle.

But this presents another problem. Many associations lament that their volunteer leaders aren't diverse, and they struggle to find new potential leaders from beyond the networks of members who already participate. Asking your board to recruit people they know as new volunteers just gets you more people who look, think, and act the same as the leaders you already have.

So there's your catch-22:

  • Potential volunteers feel more comfortable volunteering when they know a current volunteer, but …
  • Potential volunteers who know a current volunteer are probably a lot like your current volunteers.

No one said volunteer recruitment was easy. I don't have a magic solution to offer for this dilemma, but I think the underlying strategy to break free of this problem focuses on fostering new connections. So, rather than asking volunteers to recruit a friend, challenge them each to make a new friend at your next event. Conversely, when you do identify strong potential volunteers, connect them with current volunteers as quickly as you can, so they can no longer say "I don't know anyone else who volunteers with you." Interested to hear your thoughts on volunteer recruitment. How have you tried to solve this problem?

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September 30, 2011

Organization has to come from somewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 7, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.


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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May 11, 2011

Helping a Volunteer Member Organize a Study Tour

When ASAE hosted a recent study tour of about a dozen association professionals from African nations, we thanked our lucky stars for the volunteer member who developed the idea, organized most of the memorable experiences, recruited fellow colleagues to help with home stays and mentoring/knowledge-sharing events, and now is willing to share tips to other associations keen to replicate the activity.

While many organizations have study tours as part of their regular international offerings, I'm not sure many of them are volunteer-driven and volunteer-organized.

I asked the ever-energetic Liz Jackson, president of Jackson Consulting and prime mover-and-shaker behind the African study tour, to provide her advice regarding ways that associations can support volunteer members willing to put in the work needed to pull off a study tour for international association professionals . Here are her responses:

(1) Identify the project goal. Why does the volunteer want to do this, and how will it help strengthen the association and its community?

"Certainly most associations send their members outbound rather than receive them inbound," Jackson says. "If you're receiving delegates into your own country and office, determine if it's because of a [desire for] fact-finding, training, a chance at future membership opportunities, or perhaps an international initiative. My reason for proposing it was that I'm doing consulting in sub-Sahara Africa and am working with an association [that works] with other associations....

"Associations are bursting out all over Africa, but they're currently more of a community of like-minded people than an association that's run as a business, like we see in DC.... If you assess your goals for the study tour, that will set the stage for what your program will be like."

(2) Incorporate a strong component of personal networking with participants' professional counterparts. Jackson determined after questioning potential participants that a combination of expert-based presentations and private networking opportunities would generate the most value to attendees--and U.S.-based association members.

Jackson organized two lunches and a dinner specifically for networking, and called for volunteers willing to sit with an African professional to answer questions and share ideas and advice. About 100 volunteers responded. She then contacted each, so they could choose their assignment either for lunch or dinner.

"Many delegates said that was the most impressive part of the study tour," Jackson says. "To sit down and talk about living in this country, about associations in general, progress in their country versus ours, and just having a private heart-to-heart discussion of life as it is today [was incredibly rewarding to both parties]." An association can help get out word for such a volunteer opportunity to a wider community.

(3) Don't underestimate the role sponsors can play in adding value to the attendee experience. Association staff can help a volunteer leader by identifying and connecting him or her to potential sponsors. In Jackson's case, two sponsors--etouchs and Marketing General--came aboard, organizing meal set-ups using small dinner tables at which one or two of their representatives sat to talk about applications of technology and development of technology-driven membership strategies.

"Also, if you're dealing with candidates from developing countries, the likelihood of them needing sponsorship would be great," Jackson explains. "We knew most associations in Africa do not have full-time staff, but that was the candidate we were looking for.... [Even those groups] with enough money to have full-time staffers [still were challenged by] the cost of living,.... so almost half needed sponsorship help." Jackson sought funding from potential sponsors directly and, fortunately, "had very few people say no."

(4) Understand that this type of volunteer project takes more time to execute than it might if it were on an association staffer's work plan. It took Jackson a year and a half to organize the tour, working closely with two ASAE staff members and deciding against establishing a specific committee.

"They were good about helping with the registration component, finding pre-paid hotel rooms, and other things," notes Jackson.

Study tours are time-consuming, detail-oriented, fabulously enriching projects. If your organization is lucky enough to have an enthusiastic member willing to take on the effort, find a way to support it with gusto so you too can hear the kind of study tour feedback every association wants: "This has changed my life."


April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Chance at Relevancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


April 14, 2011

Quick clicks: Small edition

This week's collection of important association links isn't "small" in terms of quantity, but it's a theme that keeps coming up, from small-sized volunteer opportunities to the small mobile devices that your members are using to the size of your staff getting smaller if you don't invest in their productivity. The level of thought-provoking ideas in the links below should be anything but small, however. Enjoy.

Microvolunteering. Robert Rosenthal at the Engaging Volunteers blog points to a new, free 40-page guide to microvolunteering: "How To Set Up A Microvolunteering Project" from Help From Home in the United Kingdom. Rosenthal calls it "most comprehensive guide to microvolunteering that we've seen." I agree.

Mobile tech. You may have seen my posts here from last week's Digital Now conference or been following along on Twitter. First-time attendee Carrie Hartin shares her five takeaways from the conference, and they all point to the rapid advance of mobile technology.

More mobile tech. Joshua Paul at the Socious Member Engagement Blog offers "10 Things Association Execs Need to Know About Mobile Membership Apps." He divides the list into mobile's impact on member engagement, selecting an application, and development costs.

IT and staff turnover. Wes Trochlil asks, "Are your lousy systems affecting staff turnover?" Cheaping out on technology doesn't just make your staff less productive; it also makes the good staff leave.

Strategy. Shelly Alcorn, CAE, continues her series on big-picture association issues, this time making a case for adopting a spirit of "cultivation" in association strategic planning.

Volunteer management. Jeff Hurt attended one of Cynthia D'Amour's Lazy Leader Road Show events and recaps it nicely here, offering some key takeaways. Among them: "Instead of an annual volunteer fair, volunteer recruitment is done all year long."

Content curation. Rohit Bhargava explains five styles of curation that provide value for readers, followers, members, etc. Thanks to Maddie Grant for pointing to this one. It's a great primer if you're new to the concept. (By the way, this Quick Clicks post is the first type of content curation: "aggregation.")

Video. So YouTube is getting into live video streaming. It's too soon to know the practical impacts this will have, but as more and more associations get into virtual and hybrid events that include online streaming, YouTube will certainly factor in.


March 13, 2011

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

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

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


February 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.


November 30, 2010

One big push vs. chipping away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 26, 2010

Collaboration for collaboration's sake

A few weeks ago, Scott linked via Quick Clicks to a blog post by Marsha Rhea titled "Calling Time-Out on the Culture of Over-Collaboration and Over-Commitment." She argues that association executives are overcommitted to collaboration, leading to some bad side effects:

"[H]ow can anyone do quality work racing from one staff meeting to the next conference call with a volunteer committee … ? More association and nonprofit executives need to call time out and recognize the high cost of this behavior. Sure they do an amazing amount of good work in any given day. I admire their stamina and flexibility. Yet I am confident they need more wide open expanses of unscheduled time to do truly great work and lead breakthrough changes in their organizations."

I'd like to echo Marsha's concern about over-collaboration, but I'm not worried about the side effects. I worry about the direct effect. Is all that collaboration really worthwhile?

Associations are, in essence, groups of people with a common purpose, so our first inclination is to answer "yes" to that question. I've never quite understood this degree of faith in the collaborative process, though. It assumes that, because a solution was found via a group, it must be the best one. I just don't buy that that's always the case. (I come from a writer's background, though, where solitary work is the norm. Maybe I'm just biased.)

I can't discount collaboration entirely, of course, because I've certainly worked in some highly productive group experiences. But another reason I find the belief in collaboration puzzling is that we've all seen how it can go wrong: Show me an association executive who says she has never at least once seen something watered down by a committee, and I'll show you a liar.

To put it simply, assuming collaboration is always positive puts a greater value on process than it does on results. It ought to be the other way around. Surely collaboration is great in the right situations, but not all the time.

So perhaps the question isn't "Is collaboration worthwhile?" but rather "How much of it is?" How do you pick the right times and situations in which to collaborate, and how do you make sure you're doing it right?

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October 20, 2010

Why you say "Thank you" to volunteers

Yes, you do it because it's polite and appropriate and we live in a world--ideally at least--where human decency matters. But that's not entirely it, either. You also do it because you want the door to be open for that person to volunteer again. We know the two are connected--showing appreciation to someone and getting them to help again--but how?

One of my favorite blogs, Psyblog, sheds a little light. The post, "Why Thank You Is More Than Just Good Manners," is based on the research of Francesca Gino and others. I point this out because it was a Gino study that led me to write what I think is one of the better articles I've written, "A Piece of Good Advice." Also because I think it's possible I have a bit of a social psychology crush on her (don't tell my wife).

This is how Psyblog author Jeremy Dean summarized the results:

"In fact the experimenters found that people weren't providing more help because they felt better or it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they'd been thanked.

"This feeling of social worth helps people get over factors that stop us helping. We are often unsure our help is really wanted and we know that accepting help from others can feel like a failure. The act of saying thank you reassures the helper that their help is valued and motivates them to provide more."

Why is this important? When you think about how to appreciate your volunteers, think about how you can express it in ways that show the social value of their contribution rather than ways designed to make them feel good or boost their self-esteem.

(PS - The same thing works for your staff, too.)

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October 18, 2010

If you could measure engagement, what would you do with it?

I was in a meeting last week where we were talking about the possibilities of measuring member engagement. I've written about this before. Here's (1 & 2) two posts on the idea written back in 2007 (never would have guessed that associations would still be doing more talking about it rather than fine-tuning it). Here's one from the 2009 Annual Meeting about Charlene Li's take on it (Li will be speaking again for us at this year's Technology Conference). And here's a couple more from this year: Joe Rominiecki on tying executive compensation to engagement and just last week Brian Solis touches on it.

What I want to talk about today is the next step: let's say you've got your engagement index sorted out, you know what kinds of engagement you can measure, you've assigned point values, and you've been collecting data for a while. What should you do with that information?

I'm going to spitball some ideas here. Some of them are mine, some of them bubbled up in the meeting yesterday, and honestly, I'm not sure I can tell which is which - so let's just call it a team effort, even though brainstorming on this wasn't the sole focus of the meeting.

1. You can publish everyone's engagement index score. Ideally, this will generate some good-natured competition to improve the score.

2. You could give a badge to or recognize in some other way the people in the top 10 percent. It would be a resume builder and status symbol for members.

3. You could have a special event for the top 10 percent. What kind of event? Ideas are boundless: a special invite-only reception; a 45-minute, exclusive Q&A with the speaker after an annual meeting general session; a special planning session on content development for the organization; a 45-minute dialog with the chair and CEO about the organization; and the list could go on.

4. You could, as data accumulates, see if overall scores are climbing or receding based on actions you've taken.

5. You could, if you are an individual membership society that may have multiple members from the same company, see which companies are most engaged.

6. You could, given the same circumstances as above, see what happens when a highly engaged person moves from a company of high engagement to one of lower engagement. (Does the person's engagement go down? Does the company's engagement rise?) You could make that person and that company a prime target, with personal visits from staff to try to jumpstart new engagement.

7. You could throw a pizza party at each of the top 5 engaged companies.

8. You could create triggers that monitor engagement - if someone's engagement has slipped by 25 percent, you could contact him or her to see if the organization has let him or her down. Or if it's increased by 25 percent, you could acknowledge it, let them know that it's appreciated.

9. You could measure how the different types of engagement affect each other or affect membership. For example, are those that are highly engaged in your listservers more or less likely to attend your annual meeting than someone highly engaged in writing for your newsletters? The assumption is that as members are engaged with you, they are finding value, and will want to continue their membership. But is that true for all the different types of engagement, or are some stronger indicators than others?

10. You could use demographic data to see what types of members are most likely to be engaged with you and what types are least likely.

A caveat to this post: I don't want it to be about ASAE. It was a way-preliminary meeting. We may or may not pursue such an index, and we may or may not use such a thing in the ways described here. Just sayin'... rather than talk about what ASAE could or should do, I'd love to hear from execs out there, or folks who work with other organizations, what kinds of things they think an organization could use an engagement index for.

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September 13, 2010

Proactive accountability

I don't have any specific recent examples in mind about accountability, but it's a topic I've had in mind for a while and have wanted to get into a blog post, so here goes.

Most of the time when accountability comes up, it does so in roughly this context:

"We need to hold people accountable for their actions."

People say this about politicians a lot. It often gets tossed around regarding CEOs and boards. It comes up in relation to staff and volunteer performance, as well. In general, if you're "held accountable" for something, it's bad news. It means you're the one to blame.

This perspective seems backwards to me. It's reactive. If you're in a fuss about holding people accountable for their actions, it means you likely weren't paying any attention before and during those actions. And that's a problem for an association executive, particularly if you want your staff and volunteers to do actual work.

Instead, accountability should be built into your work from step one. Here are two examples from my experience:

  • In high school, I was a lifeguard at the neighborhood pool for three summers. Every day, the pool was packed with screaming kids and inattentive parents. But in three years, I never had to jump in the pool to save someone. Why? Because my fellow lifeguards and I blew our whistles. We blew our whistles a lot. No running. No diving in the shallow end. Et cetera. In other words, when you're proactive, you reduce the need to ever have to go into emergency mode.
  • On the Associations Now staff, we keep a running Excel file of what articles are scheduled for upcoming issues, deadlines, and who is writing or editing what. We have a weekly staff meeting in which we all have a hard copy of the lineups for the coming few months and we discuss status updates. When my name is beside an article, everyone in the department knows that article is my responsibility, and if I let the article fall through, I know that all of my fellow editors will be fully aware of that. And on the flipside, if I get something in early, everyone else knows that, too. It's all out in the open. (This system was in place before I arrived, so I can't take credit for it. Though if I ever worked on a publication without such a process, I'd install it in a second.)

Neither of these is complicated. They're just simple matters of order, organization, and transparency. They're not revolutionary systems or advanced management practices. They just have to be practiced and maintained every day, not just when things go wrong. (As a sidenote, seeking proactive accountability through transparency offers a bonus positive result: breaking down silos.)

For associations, a significant challenge is ensuring that boards and volunteers follow through on commitments. I'm curious about what proactive methods you use at your associations to build accountability into your work with volunteers or, for that matter, with staff or even with CEOs from the board's perspective. Please share in the comments.

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September 10, 2010

Is your next volunteer a 'me' guppy?

ASAE's Executive Management Listserv took a slight turn to the bizarre this week when a discussion about board member recruitment turned on a fly fishing metaphor thanks to Bob Collins of APICS and the always insightful Vinay Kumar.

With apologies to any association board members who read this--honest your staffs do not actually think of you as guppies or steelhead or any other type of cold-blooded animal--here is how Kumar broke down, in general, the types of prospective association board members (I slightly edited his work for style):

ME Guppy--it's all about him, what's in it for him. It's constantly about receiving, about taking, what can you do for me, how will this add to my resume, my ego stroking, how I will look good, and so on. In my judgment, of course.

YOU Guppy--it's about continuous giving. But this guppy can run out of energy at some point because she can overcommit, out of goodness to serve. So initially it's a great start with lots of energy, but they can run out of nourishment at some point.

WE Guppy--she is about both giving and receiving. She knows that when those she is serving are successful, so is she. And when she is successful, she has more to give. She sees her success and the success of those she serves as intertwined and interrelated. The more she gives, the more she receives and vice versa.

What struck me is what is often the case with generalizations: the ideas and descriptions resonate, but then most of the time they break down at an individual application level. I can't imagine something that would be much harder than divining someone's motivation at desiring to join a board of directors. When I volunteer my time and energy on something, the complexity behind my motivations is hard for me to work out and accept myself, and would almost always include components of all three of these categorizations. Which one is slightly (or maybe even significantly) ahead of the others is most likely determined by the specific job as much as anything else.

We've all seen the ME volunteer, right? I imagine a lot of us have seen a ME volunteer transform into a WE volunteer. Now we might pat ourselves on the back for being able to train someone to be a good and productive volunteer. But it just might be that a slightly different volunteer assignment--and when you're on a board, you're going to be talking about many different issues, each could be considered a different assignment--is the difference.

In any event, it's an interesting discussion point, I think. The ideas of what metaphoric hook and metaphoric bait to use to land a metaphoric guppy in the desired category was also part of the conversation. (I told you it got a little bizarre. Good, but bizarre.)

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August 5, 2010

Quick Clicks: Sorry There Are So Many Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Life: Last but not least, a link that has nothing to do with associations but one that will stick with me for a long time, from the mental_floss blog: "He Took a Polaroid Every Day, Until the Day He Died."
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June 25, 2010

Doing it one better

A few years ago I had the good fortune to work with Monica Bussolati and the magazine design team at Bussolati Associates. I reconnected with her briefly at the Association Media & Publishing conference and she told me that a practice they started with the magazine they designed for me had become a staple for her studio--almost a calling card. The practice was this: A team of designers worked out ideas in a collaborative process: a messy but exhilarating affair where people came with ideas and they brainstormed around those ideas with a concept or two that emerged as the chosen ones to move forward. Then, rather than plow ahead, the group meeting ends with the direction for everyone in the group to take the top idea to their desk and make it better in the next 30 minutes or hour. They would come back to the table, and the results were often spectacularly better.

I tell the story because there's no reason this practice wouldn't work outside the creative atmosphere of a design studio. It could be an excellent challenge to any work group: Develop the absolute best solution you can as a group, then go back and make it even better.

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June 18, 2010

When Learning Happens in Committees and Task Forces

Some of the best collaborative learning experiences in any association or nonprofit can happen informally through volunteer experiences on committees and task forces. Learning belongs on your agenda along with the business of dialoguing, deciding and doing.

Formal learning takes place through leadership development programs, board orientation and officer training. Informal learning can happen through the new ideas and information flowing through our work and as brief "teaching moments" about our culture and practices routinely built into meeting agendas.

When our committees or task forces are charged with analyzing and deciding a critical issue, we can be intentional about using critical thinking processes and tools to be more effective. We could be disciplined about answering certain strategic questions or checking particular perspectives.

When we falter in our ability to communicate or get a project done, we can use action learning practices to reflect on and improve our group interaction and effectiveness.
At the end of each significant meeting, we can evaluate how well we accomplished our objectives and agree on how to be more effective next time.

When we set our goals and plan of work, we can explicitly declare what we want to learn individually and collectively. This should be as important to us as what we want our committees and task forces to achieve. The higher the level of accountability a group has the more open and willing its members should be to coaching and holding each other accountable for the success of the organization.

Instead of seeking volunteers who already have relevant experience and knowledge, we might be wiser to seek volunteers who are excited about learning how to do something bold together. Know-how is not hard to find when we start with leaning to work collaboratively.


May 7, 2010

Findings (and questions) on volunteering programs

If anyone is considering expansion or launching of a corporate-nonprofit volunteer program, I strongly suggest reading the latest Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey (pdf), which contains some helpful and even surprising data from its poll of 303 companies with more than 1,000 employees. Here were some responses that made me ponder:

1) The top metrics used by companies to judge the success of cash-based philanthropy in terms of business goals are "impact on employee morale" (55%), followed by "impact on employee professional development/skills" (48%). These ranked far higher than "impact on sales (31%) and "differentiation from competitors" (29%).

Question: With that insight, are nonprofits emphasizing enough internally positive benefits of volunteering to individual employees and the staff overall, rather than the more traditionally pitched benefits of positive "stakeholder relations" and boosted warm-and-fuzzies about a brand?

2) The frequency with which corporate senior management is requiring progress reports on the company's social goals is likely higher than I suspect many nonprofits realize. Respondents say that top leaders want social progress reports every month or quarterly (26% each) or even weekly (20%).

Question: Is your nonprofit providing enough updates to keep managers and their bosses supplied with fresh information about the impacts (both long and short) of their cash philanthropy and staff volunteer programs? That's anywhere from four to 52 updates being made to the highest decision makers each year. Keep data and stories fresh by installing a corporation donor communication system that ensures corporations aren't simply sent a single thank-you and chirpy summary of a one-time event. The survey report shares more data around this issue that seem worth a conversation as well.

3) While 65% of corporate employees can choose the issues and nonprofits they want to volunteer for, 60% of employees also are self-selecting volunteer opportunities based on the professional skills they may develop.

Question: Is your nonprofit or association breaking down each volunteer task by skill needed or developed, so you can best pitch and recruit corporate employees? The write-ups I see often just define the project or task that needs doing, with maybe a line about the impact it will or could have on the nonprofit's clients. The survey shows a need for a more skills-specific approach.

With so many nonprofits holding major spring-summer events that require extra volunteers, this survey could be a good starting point for a brown-bag lunch discussion on volunteer recruitment and retention, as well as philanthropic pitches.

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April 16, 2010

Cooperation: Catch the fever!

Came across an interesting article about social "contagions" last week on Slate. It points to recent studies that have indicated that behaviors or qualities like smoking and drinking habits, obesity, and even loneliness can spread from one person to others (not via physical "infections," but psychologically).

They mention some positive behaviors that are contagious as well, one of them being cooperation. One study says "cooperation and 'paying it forward' by one person can infect dozens if not hundreds of people" and reach "others as far as three degrees of separation."

Some obvious implications for associations here, of course. We're in the business of moving large groups of people to action, fostering volunteering and collaboration, and so on. If cooperative behavior is indeed measurably contagious, it would behoove us all to be doctors and treat the condition in the reverse: facilitate the actions and environmental qualities that would allow cooperation to "infect" as many people as possible.

Those articles are a good read, so check them out. Here's hoping this area of study yields further conclusions that could help associations drive engagement and foster collaboration. Those of you who regularly work directly with members and volunteers, any ideas or thoughts about what methods can help the collaborative spirit go viral?

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April 2, 2010

Ask why, not just what

A couple weeks ago, I volunteered as a judge for an awards program. When I originally signed up for this duty and when I filled out an online evaluation survey about my volunteer experience, I was asked "Why do/did you want to serve as a judge for this program?"

I like that I was asked that question. It had an open-text answer field, so I explained in my own words why I volunteered, and I hope the association is able to use that info to its advantage. It was a good reminder to me that the answers to "why" questions are extremely valuable in a way that the answers to "what" questions can't quite reach.

Consider these two "what" questions that could appear on any member or volunteer application or survey:

  • What types of resources or educational programs are you most interested in receiving or attending?
  • What types of volunteer opportunities would you be most interested in?

And now consider these two "why" questions:

  • Why did you join this association?
  • Why did you sign up to volunteer?

In either case, you'll get some pretty good info about your members (quantifiable data, even, if you do it right), which you can use to match your offers with the appropriate segments of your members. The difference between the two, however, is the difference between interests and motivations.

It's great to know that a member is interested in writing for your journal. It's even better to know that she's interested in writing for your journal because:

  • She sees it as a prestigious publication in which to appear.
  • Or, her company wants to gain exposure for a new product it has developed.
  • Or, she is writer by training and she wants to exercise her writing muscles in a way that she isn't able to in her normal job.

These are three very different motivations, and knowing which one applies gives you the ability to directly appeal to that intrinsic, personal benefit when informing that member of future events, products, and volunteer opportunities.

But you can't get that info about motivations if you don't ask "why."

I told the association for which I volunteered that I wanted to serve as a judge to see and learn from the best examples of work in our industry. The networking was nice, sure, and so was the sense of contribution to industry, but learning from the best definitely topped my list.

If that association leads with "learning from the best" the next time it tells me about an event or a chance to volunteer, I'll be more likely to sign up.

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April 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Think outside the office

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks! I'm actually on vacation for a few days (Scott has kindly agreed to make sure this post goes live while I'm out), so I'm wishing all of you a good day from a remote location.

Here are some of the latest and most interesting posts from the association blogging world:

- There's been some passionate discussion of the decision to remove a recent post here on Acronym. (All other elements of that discussion aside, I'm personally grateful that we have readers who take Acronym so seriously and care so much about whether or not that decision was a good one to make.) KiKi L'Italien considers several sides to the debate, while Shannon Otto comes at the issue from a journalistic perspective. Elizabeth Weaver Engel added her take to her weekly "What I'm Reading" post.

- Deirdre Reid posted a "New Volunteer Manifesto" (and a great discussion sprang up in comments). Deidre will be expanding on her manifesto in a new weekly column on the SmartBlog Insights blog. Maddie Grant highlights some of her favorite aspects of the manifesto in a SocialFish post.

- Peggy Hoffman continues her "Truths About Volunteering" series with truth #17.

- Jamie Notter makes a case for three new leadership mindsets for the future.

- Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog offers some advice for associations dealing with chronic unresolved issues.

- The Plexus Consulting blog has some questions about the line between a working environment that's too comfortable and one that's too stressful.

- Jeff Hurt at Midcourse Corrections has some very interesting thoughts on why you shouldn't crowdsource your next conference.

- Speaking of conferences, Joe Gerstandt would like to ask why your commitment to diversity isn't fully reflected in your conference's speaker lineup. And Lauren Fernandez wants to know why more panel discussions don't include a contrarian point of view.

- Jeffrey Cufaude continues his great "What If Wednesdays" series with a post on expiration dates for new products. I love this idea!

- Tony Rossell encourages us to shift from a cost-control mindset to a growth mindset, before it's too late.

- Kerry Stackpole tells a story about the power of passion when it's combined with persistence.


March 3, 2010

Engaging Young Professionals

Thanks for that wonderful introduction, Lisa. I look forward to interacting with the other Acronym readers.

I'm excited to begin this foray into the association blogosphere and hope that my contributions to Acronym help articulate the value that young professionals (YPs) can bring to an association. However, I certainly can't speak on behalf of an entire generation so much of what I write will be based on issues relevant to the broader association community.

That being said, I do want to use this opportunity to discuss some considerations for engaging YPs within your association. Too often we categorize people by characteristics that they embody: age, skills, knowledge, or other demographics. And while these identifiers can play an important role in building camaraderie, they can also be harmful and lead to broad generalizations and prejudice.

Rather than resorting to sweeping statements (I cringe whenever I hear "Entitlement Generation"), it's important to treat YPs just like you would any other members. What does that mean? It means that associations have to demonstrate value and provide relevant benefits to YP members. More often than not, YPs want the same things that more seasoned professionals desire: access to expert content, advocacy, a gathering place for like-minded individuals, and the ability to make a difference. To successfully engage your associations' YPs, you need to show that you understand their needs, that their opinions matter, and that you value their support and contributions.

At the same time, YPs have an obligation to prove that our contributions can go beyond "knowledge of social media". We have to be able to express our feedback positively and respectfully. Believe it or not, YPs are capable of providing constructive criticism. But we won't be taken seriously if we don't approach situations with good intent, or if we don't step up to leadership roles when opportunities arise. If we assert ourselves and prove that we are willing to do the work to make valid contributions, we should trust that our associations will continue to provide benefits and services to meet our needs.

Each one of us has the ability to positively impact an organization. We should always remember that, despite generational or other differences, we're all on the same team and we all want to see our associations succeed.

If you're interested in more insight on engaging YPs, I recommend checking out the "Make Room for Us" article on page 36 of the January 2010 Associations Now supplement, The Volunteer Leadership Issue. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I'm one of the YPs interviewed, but I think the questions raised by the editor and the answers given by YP volunteers offer some unique perspectives. And if your association is interested in ramping up your recruitment efforts of YP members, you should check out Avenue M Group's just-released benchmarking study, "Attracting Young Professionals to Your Organization," which can be downloaded from their Web site.

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February 12, 2010

Engagement tied to executive compensation

I generally loathe reality television, so I didn't watch "Undercover Boss" on CBS this past Sunday, but this week Steve Tobak at BNET's "The Corner Office" blog interviewed Larry O'Donnell, COO of Waste Management, who was the show's first subject.

The interview is generally interesting, but one comment caught my eye. O'Donnell says he was interested in participating in the show as a way to increase employee engagement at the company, which has 45,000 employees. He's a firm believer in employee engagement at all levels, and the company measures it regularly. In fact, he says:

"Not only is it a metric, it's actually in management's bonuses. Engagement is critical, and this is a whole new way to go about it." [emphasis added]

How do you like that? Tying employee engagement to compensation. Associations talk a lot about engagement, but are any of them tying it to staff compensation? If not, I think they could:

  • Member engagement. If you've figured out a reasonable way to measure member engagement over time (volunteer applications, online discussion activity, knowledge contributions, net promoter score, however you want to track it), you can pin these numbers to bonuses for volunteer or membership directors and staff.
  • Employee engagement. This might be even more abstract an intangible, but if you can gauge the mood of your staff in regard to engagment or loyalty over time, you can tie it to bonuses or compensation for the CEO, COO, or other senior staff. Waste Management does a yearly employee survey to measure employee engagement.

I've only been thinking about this as long as it's taken me to type up this post, so this is a fairly rough idea, but I wanted to make sure I passed it along, because I think it's worth considering. Engagement is a sign of a lot of other good practices, so it would be interesting to see it incentivized for staff and management at associations. And incentivizing anything with money works in two ways: it motivates people more directly (say what you will, but money talks), and it also shows your staff and membership that you're serious about engagement if you're willing put money at stake for it.

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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!


January 12, 2010

Introducing a difficult concept to the board

As part of our emphasis on governance, we're asking a few CEOs to talk about having critical conversations with their volunteers. Here's an insightful two minutes from Tanya Howe Johnson, president and CEO of Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, on how to introduce a difficult concept to the board of directors: (1) position it as board issue, not a personal agenda, and (2) find a champion.

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October 29, 2009

Building a better member

The November/December 2009 issue of Miller-McCune magazine features a great article titled "Building a Better Citizen," which cites a slew of research showing that local governments that actively seek citizen involvement in the democratic process create healthier, happier communities. Essentially, the key to building a better citizen is get the citizen more involved in his or her local community and government.

This really isn't earth shattering, but I see a lot of parallels in this idea to volunteerism and member engagement at associations. The article (which isn't available online, sadly was posted online Nov. 2) highlights Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam's idea of "social capital":

Putnam coined the term "social capital," to describe the intangible, value-laden benefits of a strong network of community relationships. In short, he argued, things like trust and cooperation—the building blocks of democratic governance—are products of positive, sustained social interaction. [...]

Putnam's research revealed that communities where social capital is high are more likely to experience lower school dropout rates, less crime, fewer hospitalizations, and higher rates of economic growth ... .

This fits nicely with findings from Decision to Volunteer and the Economic Impact studies:

  • The most common ways an association volunteer first learns of a volunteer opportunity:
    • Through a local chapter or section;
    • At a meeting, conference, or other event;
    • By being asked by another volunteer. (DTV)
  • The primary indicator of future attendance at a meeting or event is past attendance. (Econ.)

So, to recap: direct opportunities for involvement → initial involvement → social interaction → continued engagement → high "social capital," → a healthy, happy community (or association).

The most important message from the article, however, is that the onus is on governments to drive involvement. "... Americans seem ready to re-engage, but they also, somewhat paradoxically, expect government to pave the way. [...] In other words, Americans need cajoling."

Same goes for associations. It's your job to get the ball rolling. That first item in the arrow trail above is all on you as an association leader. Fall short, and none of the rest happens, but once members do get involved, they're significantly more likely to continue engaging. That's how you build a better member.

Again, this isn't a new idea, nor is it rocket science, but it's interesting to see the parallels between community/government involvement and association volunteerism and engagement. If you can get your hands on the print edition of Miller-McCune, that article is worth a read.

I have a big idea rolling around in my mind about the best catalyst for member involvement, but I'll save that for another post next week. (You're welcome to share your ideas, though, of course.)

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October 23, 2009

Re-envisioning volunteer management programs

Loads of associations and nonprofits are participating in Make a Difference Day this Sunday, showcasing just how responsive organizations and their members have been to President Obama’s National Call for Service and passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.
A look at the numbers shows that neighborhood engagement levels have risen sharply since 2007, with a 31 percent increase in the number of people who worked with neighbors to fix a community problem, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. And Points of Light Foundation CEO Michelle Nunn isn’t alone in her viewpoint that the past year indicates a “change in the course of civic responsibility in our nation.”

As a result, though, high-quality volunteer management has never been more important. That means associations and nonprofits should be rethinking their longtime volunteer management processes, training, and communications to best leverage this influx of new talent and enthusiasm.

I’m thinking of my own volunteer and philanthropic experiences with certain nonprofits. They weren’t always pleasant, and I’d estimate that I only did one-off projects for about half of them because they just weren’t particularly memorable, fun, or fulfilling enough to warrant my loyalty, even if the overall mission of the organization was laudable. With so many great causes, why would I want to stick with a group that couldn’t get its act together to articulate why my efforts or knowledge would make a particular difference?

I like that I’m seeing more organizations turn to social media to build real-time communities of volunteers so they can share their experiences and ideas with others. Facebook “parties” celebrating a successful service day, for instance, are great fun to relish afterward. Tweeting to other volunteers at a similar event elsewhere can be a hoot when it gets competitive about who is picking up the most trash, stuffing the most food boxes, or collecting the most used clothing. And Flickr is a fun way to tell a feel-good story through images and brief captions.

I urge you, as more people than ever agree to come help you out with everything from service days to fundraising, to spend some time looking at your volunteer management programs with fresh eyes. Share what changes you’re making, please. Are you surveying volunteers more often? Offering more flexible service opportunities? Developing richer profiles of volunteers so you can better tap into free talent? Gathering evaluation data to track satisfaction and engagement levels? Boosting your training? Clarifying the value proposition both to the volunteer and to the recipient/beneficiary?

Make a Difference Day seems like a good time to ask yourself if you really are making as much of a difference as you and your volunteers could be.


October 16, 2009

Quick clicks: Where's my crystal ball?

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

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

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

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

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

- Bob Sutton shares his top 10 flawed management assumptions.

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

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

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

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


September 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 23, 2009

How do staff members rein in volunteers? Or should they?

I have been on a number of committees, councils, task forces, etc., etc., during my 14+ year career in associations. I have also served as staff liaison for a number of committees while working in a membership capacity for an association. I typically enjoy every minute of both of those roles, but I have recently become more away of an issue many associations are facing--the chair that has a different opinion from staff and other committee members yet a personality that does not allow them to see the perspective of other key players. I hope you can provide your insights into the situation I am about to spell out in detail.

In every volunteer structure, not every member of a committee can be the chair or vice chair. There need to be as many "worker bees" as there are "queen bees" or things get very confusing very fast. What I am wondering is, what does a staff member or a "worker bee" do when one of the hive leaders is not willing to listen to the rest of the bees and is only willing to see things their way? Should the staff interject? Should the "worker bees"? As an individual committee member, do you as a dedicated volunteer stand up against the "queen bee" and fight for what you believe is the smarter way of doing things?

Personally I see that all of these options have their pros and their cons. Unfortunately this is a common, yet complicated situation to have to deal with. As a staff member you do not want to discourage the "queen bee" but you also cannot discourage the entire rest of the committee by letting the chair make the decisions for everyone involved. In many ways I think the "worker bees" are more important, as they are typically the ones who do the most work and then will want to become leaders in the near future. I am not saying that all "worker bees" are great, but if the "queen" is part of the problem, shouldn’t we hope that one of the many "workers" will be able to get things moving in the right direction? I would love to hear your thoughts and advice.

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September 1, 2009

Using Social Media Volunteers Creatively

While I was reading about the National Business Travel Association’s recent updates to the NBTA Corporate Social Responsibility Toolkit and its offsetting of carbon emissions of its August 2009 conference, I saw that—a popular nonprofit that arranges and advocates offsets for organizations—was advertising for “social media volunteers.” Rather than the usual request that members who use social media serve as viral marketers, volunteers were being invited to “help set the record straight about offsets,” because “there’s a lot of misinformation on offsets in social media.”

I like that whole concept of virtual volunteers with multiple purposes, and though it seems obvious to add this concept to an association’s array of volunteer opportunities, I haven’t seen many other organizations that do so. Okay, maybe they have easily downloadable widgets and logos, but an actual specific purpose like serving as a rapid-response team member for misinformation? Not really.

What other ways could social media volunteers be actively engaged? I'm talking about a real strategy, one integrating into your overall volunteer management strategy and practices. Are you offering enough options for volunteers to leverage these tools in ways that appeal to them, not just to address our needs? Have you thought about holding a tweetfest, for instance, on getting your message out? Do you have ideas on whether or how Facebook users could, as a group, be galvanized into a new type of volunteer corps? Who else is using social media volunteers who may have "lessons learned" and advice?


July 24, 2009

Are you making it easy for your members to volunteer?

It’s safe to say that many (if not most) associations are struggling with two realities these days: attracting younger members and engaging members as volunteers. The old understandings about joining an association and serving in a committee or leadership structure aren’t foregone conclusions the way they once were. This is particularly true for younger workers who want flexibility, recognition, and interesting work from the get go, and may not instantly “get” the value proposition that a professional association brings.

We know that volunteers are more likely to renew, attend annual meetings, and engage more deeply with our organizations, so we have a vested interest in structuring successful volunteer programs. But what are we doing to respond to these new realities? Though many associations have made concerted efforts to attract younger, more diverse volunteers through outreach and marketing campaigns, the single thing that could make the biggest impact may be thinking differently about the volunteer opportunities we offer.

ASAE’s Decision to Volunteer describes typical barriers to volunteering, among them: inconvenient location, not offering short-term assignments, the volunteer opportunity costing the volunteer money (due to travel or other unreimbursed expenses), and not offering virtual opportunities.

Think about your own association’s typical volunteer roles, and answer the following questions:

• Are most of our volunteer opportunities within multiyear committee or officer structures?
• Do we require face-to-face travel or engagement for the majority of our roles?
• How many project-based or short-term assignments are available?
• Do we offer virtual, asynchronous ways to volunteer?

A solution that addresses many of these barriers may lie in your association’s social media strategy. There are numerous ways that short-term, virtual, convenient assignments can be crafted within the tools you’re already using to build community or communicate. Here are a few options that have worked well for us:

• Leading month-long book club discussions on our wiki or Ning
• Serving as organizational “docents” in Second Life
• Greeting new members of our Ning every few days for a month
• Short-term guest blogging
• Offering an informal “UStream” live event about a particular topic

All of these options allowed us to tap into our members’ expertise and provided opportunities that were exciting and rewarding. In some cases, these short-term assignments have been the gateway for a particular volunteer to serve in longer term volunteer assignments (such as a Special Interest Group officer or board committee member). In all cases, it brought the member closer to our organization, fulfilled an identified need, and diversified our volunteer pool.

What are some ways that you are creating opportunities that make it easy for your members to volunteer?

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Quick clicks: To the Moon!

Good afternoon! Some reading material for your Friday:

Several association bloggers were inspired by the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. (Was I the only one who got choked up watching the footage from the first moonwalk on all of those 40th anniversary documentaries?) Jeff De Cagna asks if we've lost our ability to imagine impossible goals like putting a man on the moon. Kevin Holland responds with some thoughts on why the competitive spirit is so important to the creation (and accomplishment) of such goals. Mark Bledsoe at the Association Okie blog also has some thoughts on the moon mission and BHAGs.

In case you've missed it, Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog has been doing a series of posts based on a benchmarking study he conducted on association membership marketing practices. You can access all of the posts so far here.

Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog wants to know why we default toward creating formal structures for groups of volunteers, when they might be perfectly happy as a more informal group.

Cecilia Sepp reminds us that volunteering is a commitment to be taken seriously.

At the Mizz Information blog, Maggie McGary wonders if associations are prepared for the way advertising is changing and will continue to change.

Bruce Turkel at the Turkel Talks blog reminds us that learning is only useful if you actually use it.

At the Association Voices blog, Steve Drake has posted part three of his "Reinventing Associations" series.

Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog has some important questions your organization should be asking (and you should be asking yourself, too).

Eric Casey at the Association Unbound blog has a few pet peeves he wants to air out. (If you're enjoying the "classic association blunders" conversation here, I bet you'll enjoy Eric's post.)

Stephanie Vance shares some advocacy advice with an acronym. (Say that three times fast!)

Cynthia D'Amour advises team leaders (and chapter leaders) that you can't expect blind faith from others.

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July 3, 2009

Quick clicks: Virtual fireworks only

For those of you in the United States, have a great holiday weekend! Here's some reading material to take with you:

Jamie Notter challenges associations to try for truth.

Bruce Hammond shares his experience on "the other side"--as a volunteer--and the lessons he sees for associations.

Tony Rossell is hosting an interesting discussion on incentives and membership recruitment. Elsewhere, Ellen Behrens at the aLearning blog is also thinking about incentives and how to make them effective.

Ann Oliveri at the Zen of Associations blog has some ideas about how to better engage association employees.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog asks whether trade associations can be truly global.

NTEN's blog lists 10 disruptive technologies your organization should be thinking about.

Michele Martin has a helpful post on making social media and learning more accessible to people with disabilities.

Peggy Hoffman shares an interesting picture of how a for-profit company is interacting with and engaging its customer community.

Harvard Business's Conversation Starter blog has a recent post on three ways to make conferences better. It's interesting to see what someone outside the association field sees as radical suggestions to improve conferences and meetings.

Here's an idea you can easily apply in your work: the Signal vs. Noise blog suggests that changing your writing instrument might help you focus on the big picture.


June 12, 2009

Volunteering: Prom Queen Status Continues

You can’t open a newspaper these days without reading a major article about the popularity of volunteering, whether it’s how to use it to find a new job, where to go for opportunities, or what the true impact of volunteers is. Here are a few observations and resources:

- The nonprofit NeighborWorks America has activated thousands of volunteers for its week-long NeighborWorks Week of community service events in more than 300 U.S. urban and rural areas. The organization, a leading trainer of community development professionals, also has launched a social media tool called to enable virtual networking, job hunting, and information exchange among emerging and established community development leaders and volunteers. The tool aims to address the “crisis in leadership across the nonprofit industry and a lack of diversity in the leadership of the field.”

This site gets personal fast with its ever-changing slideshow of images (you can load yours up as well), its list of relevant blogs, news, events, and more.

- The United Kingdom just wrapped up its 25-year anniversary celebration of Volunteers Week, which ran June 1-7 and sought to “raise the profile” of volunteers and encourage others to join in. I especially like that the Web site enables visitors to share “thank you” stories that detail what volunteers actually accomplished. Why don’t more organizations do that? And this is the first time I’ve seen this number: According to TimeBank, a volunteering nonprofit in the UK, “73% of employers would employ a candidate with volunteering experience over one without.” That ought to inspire some folks to get out and give back.

- And finally, buzz continues to grow for the world’s largest gathering of volunteer and service leaders-- the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in San Francisco June 22-24—which has the theme “Civic. Energy. Generation.” Co-hosted by Points of Light Institute and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the conference is running a steady stream of stories, news, retrospective videos, and insights on its Facebook page and Twitter.


March 17, 2009

Being prepared when members have too much time

Here’s a Times article relevant to associations that might be easy to miss as it’s buried in the local New York news section. It highlights how charities are seeing an influx of volunteers.

The idea this sparked in me was the need for associations to tailor a short-term volunteer package aimed at raising the profile of a jobless member while giving the organization a boost of knowledge for content.


February 25, 2009

It's not an idea, but it sure is a great line

This from Matt DeMarco from the American Farm Bureau Federation at his session on engaging volunteers:

When someone asks you to volunteer, "what's the politically correct way to say 'no'?"


"I don't have time."

Love that line, by far my favorite of the conference.

And there was an idea attached to it—a really good one. You're getting the politically correct version of "no" because the ask isn't right. You need to engage the prospective volunteer in conversation, ascertain if they are most likely to volunteer because they want:

-to make a difference
-personal or professional development
-social opportunities

From there, tailor the ask to the desire.

See the handouts from the presentation for the next month.

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February 24, 2009

Creativity at the farm bureau: Getting volunteers engaged

The folks at the American Farm Bureau Federation had a problem. Their membership has grown and grown and grown—every year for 40-some years. Their problem obviously wasn’t about getting members, it was about volunteers at the local level not being engaged.

To combat the problem, as Matt DeMarco and Margaret Wolff from the federation explained in their Great Ideas learning lab, they developed a series of training sessions, with a board game (Make It Magnetic: How to Attract and Keep Unbeatable Volunteers) as both ice breaker and educational development. The board game is rigged, of course, and has cards with scenarios, but all the scenarios are bad and no one can make any progress. Here a few of my favorite scenario cards from the game:

When you show up to volunteer at the annual meeting, someone hands you a stack of envelopes to stuff and says, “You should be able to handle this. It’s a real no-brainer.” Go back to start.

Your shoes get ruined because at the last minute you are asked to give tours of the dairy barn instead of working in the refreshment stand. Lose a turn.

At your first meeting, one of the board members leans over to you and says, “Being a Farm Bureau volunteer is easy work. All you have to do is show up and sit through the meeting. Then you get free cookies and coffee.” Go back 1 space.

What a joke! Every year we talk about new ideas for the annual meeting. But when it comes time to plan, we do the same thing, right down to the green beans and chocolate cake. Go back 2 spaces.

No one talks during the board meetings. They wait until they get to the parking lot, then trash the president behind his back. Go back 2 spaces.

(Don't worry there's a different set of cards to play with for the end of the training. A sample: "Your child comes home from school with a Farm Facts booklet donated by the county Farm Bureau.")

A snapshot of the game:


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February 23, 2009

Unsession ideas

There's an "unsession" on vibrant volunteerism in associations going on throughout Great Ideas (brought to us by the Component Relations Council). The session has included both face to face conversation in the unsession area and "virtual" discussion via flipchart. The flipcharts are set up around the area with questions at the top; attendees can leave their answers whenever they'd like.

Reading over the flipcharts, there's some interesting thoughts being shared. (For those of you who aren't here, leave a comment with answers of your own to these questions!)

In one word, list your favorite volunteer management tool.

- Telephone
- Email
- Twitter
- Conversation
- Trust/truth
- Listen
- Authentic appreciation and a hug [hey, that's not one word!]

Why do you volunteer?

- Fun
- Love
- Purpose
- Loyalty
- Improving my personal brand
- Network
- Give back

What's the most difficult volunteer skill to teach?

- Set priorities
- Delegation
- Group play
- Letting go
- Time management
- Conflict resoltion
- Culture of inquiry
- Innovation
- Doing rather than thinking
- Giving up ownership

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February 10, 2009

Some Nonprofits Report Record Number of Volunteer Inquiries

A number of major nonprofits are reporting a large surge in new volunteers for community-based projects in an apparent response to President Barack Obama’s National Call for Service. The latest is Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which credits Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for an impressive 25% increase in volunteers during its annual Mentoring Month in January—a new record.

In January 2009, nearly 32,000 Americans inquired about becoming Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors compared to just over 25,000 last year. A recent national advertisement featured the president endorsing National Mentoring Month, while the First Lady had been encouraging Americans to “consider mentoring at-risk children for ongoing service.”


January 30, 2009

Be One With the Crowd

Great to see all the commentary and coverage of Jeff Howe's keynote on crowdsourcing during Tech.

What baffles me is the conceptual disconnect in not understanding crowdsourcing as being one and the same as the essence of what member associations are at their core. Lisa somewhat captures this in her "love" post, but still references crowdsourcing as something other. Which also reminds me of Douglas Rushkoff's lecture on how "people want to be geeks for the things they care about," a few Annuals ago.

Don't be fooled. While crowdsourcing is what those Web 2.0 whizkids call it, it's what good associations have been doing all along!

Three IGDA examples come to mind:

- Example1: Whitepaper Writing. To this day, I don't really know who they do it, but our Casual Games Special Interest Group writes an annual whitepaper with dozens of contributors from across the globe and they edit/publish it via our wiki. When converted to pdf format, it's usually over 100 pages long, and is considered a definitive resource for the industry. It is produced for free completely via volunteer labor, and it is made available for completely free.

A few years back, one board member thought it wise to package up the value in their paper and sell it (or at least put it behind the members-only fence). When discussed with the SIG, they were ready to mutiny. They purposefully contributed their knowledge freely on the assumption it would be shared as far and wide as possible, to help others as much as possible and done in the context of their love for their profession/industry. So ya, we dropped that idea fast and don't plan to charge for whitepapers or make them for members-only.

(As an aside, that whitepaper example is a perfect case of narrowly defined business models getting in the way..)

- Example2: Facebook. A handful of the IGDA's long time members felt it was important for us to leverage the rise of social networks, like Facebook, etc. So, they went ahead and started a Facebook group, which got up to a few thousand members and a ton of activity, before I or anyone on staff even knew about it. I found out when one member invited me to join the group! They've since handed over the "keys", but their passion for the org pushed them to bring it where they felt it was needed, and members just want about connecting and creating value for each other.

- Example3: Global Game Jam. This very weekend, nearly 2000 student, amateur and professional game developers with endure a 48-hour marathon to create quick-and-dirty experimental video games. And, it'll be done across 52 different sites in 23 countries. The effort is the collaboration of several chapters and SIGs, and the IGDA staff barely got involved (ok, well, we put up the cash to purchase the domain name, and help ship out some materials). We're not making a penny from the effort, but wow, those developers are going to have an experience of a lifetime!

I see my work and the work of the IGDA as a race to keep up with the crowd, to hand members water bottles from the side of the road and cheer them on as they head up the mountain stretch. Sadly, I see too many association putting up hurdles in the path, worrying about control and brand and revenue streams, getting caught up with fancy technical terms.

Be one with the crowd, or risk being trampled!

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December 5, 2008

A different kind of bookkeeping

We’ve been talking a lot about the big picture of volunteer management. But it’s important to remember the details—and the individual volunteers—too.

We should take the time to sit down and map out all the people involved in running our associations. How long have they been around? Who have they recruited to join them in the leadership group? Are people starting to burn out because no one’s around to shoulder part of the load? Is leadership capacity slowly dwindling and dragging down the organization?

Someone just resigned—does the president know what to do or does she just start performing that function herself? A new member writes an email wanting to get involved—how do you answer?

So often, we focus so singlemindedly on our programs and technical issues that we forget what I call “people bookkeeping.” It’s a little more qualitative, but in the long run, no less important than keeping the finances in order. Taking time to think through what will make volunteers happy and productively engaged has a tremendous ROI, even if that means scaling back other programs or initiatives for a time.

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Talking to volunteers about volunteer management

In an earlier post, Peggy talked about how c-sixes are different from c-threes when it comes to the issue of volunteer management. C-threes are much more apt to have a thought-out process for volunteer management, and to discuss volunteer management explicitly among staff and leadership. C-sixes are less likely to have a plan, even though trade and professional groups are equally dependent on the work products of members donating their time. I’ve looked at a lot of leadership training programs in my tenure as a chapter relations person and the issue is generally in the background, left for people to infer.

This is a complicated issue: leaders don’t like to think about themselves as just “volunteers.” Although staff people see the value in this word as a term of art, people in most industries think it means something you do in a soup kitchen—not in a boardroom. So, for political reasons staff might beat around the bush as a shortcut for the education and persuasion they’d have to do otherwise.

You also have to sell volunteer leaders on the importance of leadership development. As leadership progresses through the ranks, they may forget their days when they were lower down on the totem pole. They forget to put themselves in the shoes of the newer leaders. A conscientious staff can help with this problem, but with limited success unless the volunteer leadership truly gets it.

Another problem is the audience. In a national or other parent organization’s efforts to develop its leaders, we’re training the trainer—training volunteers who will then train other volunteers at the component or local level. Sometimes when preparing leadership development programs, we forget that at headquarters we’re teaching our folks to go out and lead others, not necessarily how to do everything themselves. Staff, committees, leadership and so forth sometimes make a hash out of their chance to communicate with this group by coming at leaders with information that is clearly out of context for their interlocutors.

My take is that we should be explicitly talking about volunteer management to our leaders and future leaders. We should work through the challenges and figure out how to meet them and still get the job done. We should contextualize our training to help volunteer leaders help other volunteers. (Some principles can be found here in the seminal article by yours truly.)

How does your organization handle this? If you are a national organization, are you in a position to help volunteers help other volunteers? If so, how? Let me know in the comments, I’m interested …

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November 25, 2008

Understanding volunteers

In two previous posting Nick Senzee and I have asked questions about the volunteer dilemma facing associations. In response, Bruce Hammond in his posting on the Volunteer Experience observed that if we "made the effort to understand our volunteers' needs and desires, we can and will alleviate ourselves from having to deal with 'a volunteer problem.'"

Nick Senzee and a team of ASAE members who started a volunteerism wiki entry on Associapedia expressed a similar observation saying "as a staff person, putting yourself in your volunteers' shoes is essential to ensuring proper volunteer management practices . This should be done reflexively and at every step of this process."

I don't think many associations are doing this and it could be because we don't know how to effectively or because we just don't have the time. But yet I see first hand as the chapter administrator for several organizations, tasks being asked of chapter leaders that don't address needs and desires.

For example, asking volunteers to fill out lengthy reports or call delinquent members. (I know, before you cast the first stone, someone needs to call delinquent members but there are very few volunteers who relish this task and are much more likely to call new members.)

So the question is how do we effectively do this - systematically track volunteers' needs and desires? Is there a Net Promoter Score equivalent for volunteers?

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November 18, 2008

Can Policies and Volunteer Enthusiasm Get Along?

All associations have policies and procedures as well as volunteers. In the ideal world, these two would work in tandem and complement each other. For example, policies and procedures would increase the volunteer’s enthusiasm because it helps them make their idea a reality. Unfortunately, this seldom is the case. Policies and procedures bog down the creative process, frustrate volunteers who only have a limited amount of time to devote to these details and cause tension between staff and volunteers.

What can be done? (A quick disclaimer – I have not implemented policy light, but this seems like a plausible approach.)

First, volunteers in their first 1-2 years should have little interaction with the policies and procedures, if possible. This approach provides them time to learn the organization and volunteer structure. If they begin a project that necessitates policy involvement, pair them with a higher-level volunteer. Second, once volunteers are more mature and ready for additional responsibility, they should be introduced to ‘policy light (pl).’ PL would include a high level summary of the policy as well as high-level bullets of action items. These easy-to-read documents would help the volunteers to turn to staff for full details and in turn, develop a positive working relationship with staff. Lastly, if the volunteer is ready for a higher level of commitment, send them the full policy and procedure manual, ask them to serve on the board of directors or hire them!

How does your association foster volunteer enthusiasm while enforcing policy?

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Does the Volunteer Program Have No Clothes?

Nick Senzee in his posting “Is there a volunteer problem?” intends to take the private, internal conversations we’re having in our individual association to a public conversation on how to change the volunteer model we in associations are saddled with at this time.

We know from the Decision To Volunteer (and if we’re honest from our own trends in volunteerism) that the model is indeed changing. It’s not that members don’t want to volunteer. The research underscored that volunteers are motivated to help associations accomplish change for the greater good and in doing so feed their own professional development. What is changing is how they volunteer and what they need to volunteer. That’s what’s behind the struggle for associations. We’re expecting volunteers to do the same jobs and carry the same loads with the same support and training that we’ve given them for the past 30 years. I think Decision to Volunteer is our version of the story of Emperor’s New Clothes.

You see, I would argue that the emperor (association) isn’t wearing any clothes in that the vast majority of associations don’t have established, formal volunteer management programs. We haven’t spent the time or focus as have our c3 cousins (charitable, service organizations) on assembling volunteer management programs that have robust recruitment, activation, training, evaluation and recognition programs. It may be because our c3 cousins recruit volunteers that become members while we’re focused on selling memberships and then suggesting members can get more from their membership by volunteering.

Also, did you notice that associations focus on just one small group of our volunteers: the leaders? These are the volunteers who form our committees and governance boards. For them we hold leadership conferences, listservs, webinars, conference calls and the like. But, they only represent about 18% of our national leaders and 23% of our local leaders according to Decision To Volunteer. Meanwhile, 60% of our volunteers are episodic and fall below the radar in many ways.

Before we complain about our volunteers, shouldn’t we first dress up the emperor? How can we reach out to all of our volunteers, not just volunteer leaders? What would a volunteer management system for episodic volunteers involve? How would it be different than what most associations do today? Who’s been to the tailor?

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November 13, 2008

Is there a volunteer problem?

I get to go to a lot of board meetings of different chapters around the country. Some are great, some are a little frustrating, and some are out of control (you know, in a good way). But in all of them, I have to think there’s a better way for us, as headquarters staff, to support them and make the whole experience more usable for everyone.

So many issues we have in small organizations stem from lack of time. Sometimes I wonder if we’re seeing a sea-change among our chapter leaders. Life has gotten super busy. Headquarters organizations can’t afford to saddle volunteers with our own sloppy, "just-because" processes or workflow. I’m telling you, these people (just like me and probably most of you reading this) do not suffer busywork gladly. And why should they?

So many basic principles of volunteer management are ignored or just plain violated that folks can be forgiven for not filling out our forms on time. As with just about any professional society, our folks are likely to volunteer to improve their career options, because their friends are involved, to explore their strengths and to use their skills and experience in a different context.

We should really feed these needs a lot more than we do. But the issue gets really weird when you consider you have volunteers managing other volunteers. So then you get to teach the volunteer to manage other volunteers, who have to manage other volunteers. And it’s pretty common for people to volunteer for the wrong reasons. So you can see where the whole thing can be a bit unwieldy.

Back at the ranch, I’ve been working with ASAE’s component relations section council and we've been taking a serious look what makes chapters tick. We've gotten behind "the decision to volunteer." The curiosity stems in part from the proliferation of communities just about everywhere you look. (And the fact that mainstream folks in lots of fields explicitly talk about the benefits of community can take one aback.) But why oh why does it seem to take more and more work to get the same level of participation back at the ranch? How can we harness the power of community that Facebook and Twitter and so forth seem to have captured so effortlessly? Is that possible or have we missed the boat?

Anyway, we've decided that looking at the volunteer issue could clarify some of this. Is the definition of volunteering changing, do we need to adapt our model to the hectic, bottom-line-focused society we live in? Do we need to just build online communities and never have a conference? Or do we just need to focus on building nice, cozy in-person relationships and let the chips fall where they may?

We tried to make a start in our associapedia entry but we’d like to have a broader conversation and listen to what you folks have to say. Any thoughts?

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September 4, 2008

Position versus Purpose Support

The other day a coworker and I had a discussion on who the customers are for association professionals. We determined that ultimately, our customers are our members’ customers, since they benefit from the education and networking opportunities we provide to the association members.

This led us to the realization that, as component relations focused professionals, our approach of preparing volunteers for their specific roles as volunteer leaders and their specific positions in our volunteer structure may inhibit our ability to best meet our customers’ needs. At times we become too focused in the details and this hinders our message to the volunteers on their (and our) purpose – to train members to increase the level of service to their customers. In this case, those customers are the members of the chapter that volunteer leader represents.
What’s the difference between position and purpose driven support? Position driven support includes providing agenda templates, budgets creation and financial monitoring training and leadership development programming. The goal is to prepare volunteers for the operational and administrative functions that will allow them to be successful throughout the year. Examples of purpose driven support is recommendations on how to understand member needs and training on how to use current technology to create training to meet member needs (such as webinars). These prepare volunteers to provide opportunities for members to mature in their professional career.

At times, purpose and position driven support are the same thing, such as provided training on how to do strategic planning. Oftentimes, especially in the mid to late volunteer year, the two diverge and association professionals tend to focus on position driven support. After all, our day-to-day job is to manage volunteers; stepping back to provide purpose-driven programming requires additional effort. Both approaches are needed to be successful component relations professional.

What do you think the divide should be between position and purpose driven support? 50/50? Perhaps 80% position and 20% purpose at the beginning of the volunteer year and vice-versa in the latter half?

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August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 23, 2008

Vodcast:: Recognizing volunteers

The latest installment of This Week in Associations completes the 3-part series on Decision to Volunteer with an interview of Bob Farrace from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. (See the previous segments.)

In this one, Bob talks about how NASSP hopes to use their participation in the study, and offers an interesting take on recognizing volunteers—offering the idea of copying a volunteer's supervisor on a letter expressing thanks for the valuable service.

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

Note: The next installment of this week in associations will launch a new topic: association information technology—where it is, where it should be, and why. Look for it the first week in August.

July 16, 2008

Giving Back Through a Community Day of Service

For the kazillionth time in the past two months, I’ve run into questions or requests from associations and nonprofits interested in exploring or organizing a “Community Day of Service.” Here’s the short version of my answers:

Yes, loads of associations are now doing this—and many have been doing them for years.

Yes, some do not spend a whole day on the event. You can always start with a half-day of service or even, as one association does, an “hour of power” (members sign up to donate at least one hour per month of free phone counseling).

Yes, many days of service are scheduled next to annual meetings, conferences, or events. Attendees and local host cities do a wide range of volunteering on such days, everything from mentoring local students to improving public facilities to bagging food for the hungry. New Orleans, in particular, appears to be the focus of the most service days and legacy gifts from organizations meeting there.

Yes, examples abound. Here are a few:

- NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network, an organization of nonprofit technology professionals, organized a Day of Service in March 2008 that included free strategy consulting services for 27 nonprofits, as well as installing a wireless network at a community center. See how they set it up here.

- Volunteers of America’s Day of Service in June 2008 involved restoring a local high school and church with its 350 volunteers “to help rebuild parts of St. Bernard Parish that remain devastated by Hurricane Katrina.”

- Myriad state legal associations host community service days targeting everyone from immigrants to needy senior citizens to nonprofit organizations.

- Many athletic, health, and fitness associations have long histories of a Day of Service. For instance, this year, more than 2,500 people in the National Basketball Association united in June to build houses and playgrounds, and to clean up schools and neighborhoods in New Orleans. You’ll find more info and some cool videos here.

For advice on organizing and partnering for a Day of Service, visit and read past the Martin Luther King Day of Service sections to the bulleted lists of tips.

Yes, information is out there about ways to identify and reduce possible legal liabilities associated with “doing good.” Tyra Hilliard, CMP, an assistant professor in the Event and Meeting Management Program at The George Washington University, spoke at ASAE & The Center’s 2008 Springtime about this topic, as she has at several other association meetings. This good article summarizes her recent MPI presentation, including her plea not to back away from community service projects and her description of laws and measures that reduce potential legal risks associated with such activities.

Yes, an ever-growing list of corporations, from Wal-Mart to Marriott International, have conducted a Day of Service that involves thousands, even tens of thousands, of employees with great success and results. In the latest issue of the Journal of Association Leadership (summer 2008), which just mailed, I describe how three corporations—United Parcel Service (UPS), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and Motorola—use social responsibility as major drivers within their businesses. One element of that strategy? An international Day of Service for employees. Check it out, especially the one by UPS. Sorry, it’s not online yet, but it will be shortly, and I’ll include the link then for non-subscribers.


July 9, 2008

Vodcast: Making Volunteering Easy

Here’s a quote from the second installment of “This Week in Associations,” which continues a look at the upcoming ASAE & The Center publication, Decision to Volunteer. This segment’s guest is former Acronym guest blogger Peter O’Neil, CAE, who talks about what his association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, got out of its participation in the study.

“Governance structure is probably the biggest overlooked opportunity for most trade and professional societies. We did shift our volunteer structure, governance structure about four or five years ago and what we did was move our technical committees, which for us is the hallmark, the backbone, of what we do through what our volunteers do through that structure. We shifted them to work groups and off of these work groups there were various project teams. And, the project teams enabled individuals to come in and do some very discreet pieces of work, say write a chapter in a textbook and then leave.”

So the question I want to leave readers with is, what changes have you made to make volunteering for your organization easier?

Oh yes, and check out the video, too:

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

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April 30, 2008

Stories as Influencers for Socially Responsible Behavior

Compelling stories have emerged as potent tools in forwarding discussions about what values members gain when their associations are involved in socially responsible practices, programs, and goals. At both my morning and afternoon tables at the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, association professionals barely took a breath between sharing and commenting on each other’s stories, whether they had to do with an organization’s actions or an individual’s choices. Frankly, it’s a challenge to capture every anecdote for later thought or follow up, but one colleague told me that he had taken almost 25 pages of notes in less than six hours!

I’m feeling especially attuned to the power of storytelling today because I’m halfway through the excellent book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, which I thought would be good prep for the summit. Also, co-author Joseph Grenny—whose last best-seller, Crucial Conversations, was referenced several times at my table today-- is speaking August 19 at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting and Expo.

According to Influencer, “people will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required.” Stories that guide people to those conclusions must contain both “a clear link between the current behaviors and existing (or possibly future) negative results” and “positive replacement behaviors that yield new and better results.”

Those of us at the summit today heard such “high-point stories” recounted on the stage, in the coffee line, and from attendees at some of the 14 connected sites across America. I liked the examples given by CEO Scott Steen of the American Ceramic Society. First, Scott described the rapid membership growth achieved by the National Association of Counties after it cleverly arranged a deal with a corporation that allowed the association to provide prescription discount cards to members for free distribution in every county in America.

Second, he cited the National Academy of Engineers’ inspiring work with members to identify 14 “grand challenges” such as making solar energy affordable and reverse-engineering the brain. The organization then spotlights research and grant money focused on those topics. “They’re saying to their members, ‘Here is where to go to make a difference as an engineer,” explained Scott, adding that the organization is using the initiative to “define their mission in the world and show how engineers and their industry are making huge differences.” I can’t wait to hear what comes out of Thursday’s “dream” process….


April 24, 2008

Volunteer Screening Procedures: Too Lenient?

Are we associations and nonprofits so grateful for volunteers of almost any ilk that we don’t ask too many questions? Apparently. According to a new report by the National Center for Victims of Crime titled “Who's Lending a Hand? A National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices,” one in three American nonprofit does no background checking of volunteers, while almost one in eight (12%) doesn’t screen volunteers for anything.

The center, a major advocacy organization for crime victims, was using the survey to identify characteristics of organizations that do “regularly screen volunteers, the screening methods used, and the role of these screening results in organizational decision making.” As of 2006, 61 million U.S. residents volunteer. It’s not surprising then that of the surveyed organizations that do screen, almost half reported that they had uncovered "inappropriate" volunteers through that process.

Reasons given for not screening volunteers included concerns about cost, usefulness, and potentially offending volunteers. Those issues should pale in the face of a recent audit of 3.7 million background screenings in the past five years that found “more than 189,000 individuals with at least one criminal conviction had tried to volunteer or work for a nonprofit organization. Of those, more than 2,700 were registered sex offenders.”

But your organization does screen, you say? Check that you’re not among these “troubling gaps” revealed by the national center survey:

- 22% of screening nonprofits don’t call references.
- 25% of screening organizations don’t conduct any type of background check.
- 66% of organizations that do background checks don’t check fingerprint databases, which the center says is “the most reliable form of criminal background check.”

Bottom line? Here are the center’s top four recommendations for associations and nonprofits:

1. “Consistently and comprehensively screen volunteers, particularly if they will work directly with clients or have access to sensitive client information.
2. “Include in-person interviews, personal and professional reference checks, and national criminal background checks of names and, if possible, fingerprints.
3. “Check state databases, such as child and adult protective services, in states where volunteers have lived.
4. “Decide which histories will disqualify volunteers, screen for such histories, and re-screen at regular intervals.”

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April 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Deep thoughts

There's some great thinking going on in the association blog community and elsewhere this week--plus some neat tools and ideas.

- Kevin Holland at Association Inc. proposes some new rules for association growth, and Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog adds his thoughts.

- Jamie Notter of the Get Me Jamie Notter blog has some musings on the challenges of volunteer management, especially when some volunteers are more helpful than others.

- Lindy Dreyer at the Association Marketing Springboard blog talks about how associations can support members in transition.

- The Logic + Emotion blog shares some great examples of companies using social media to directly and imaginatively engage with their customers.

- Cindy Butts at the AE on the Verge blog has some great early results to share from a social media campaign her association is undertaking to promote home ownership in Maine.

- The Newseum's website has a cool tool: a map linked to the front pages of hundreds of newspapers from around the world.

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March 17, 2008

Next Traditions Discussion Thread


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

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

+What role does tradition play in your association?

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

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

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


March 4, 2008

Quick clicks: Free, annual meetings, volunteer management

Association bloggers have been putting up great posts lately:

- Mike Mason of Communicatio has been busy for a while, but he's back with some great lessons learned at his annual meeting (note that the links go to two separate posts).

- Several association bloggers have read the new article "Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business", a preview of the upcoming book by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail. (Based on what they have to say, I have to make time to read it myself.) Ann Oliveri reacts here, and Cindy Butts shares some notable points from the article as well.

- The Dear Association Leader blog shares some ideas for using good personnel management techniques to be a better volunteer manager.


December 13, 2007

The Power of a Dog-gone Good Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 29, 2007

“The Membership” Doesn’t Exist and Other Thoughts

Recently, Scott Briscoe wrote a thought-provoking membership article “Should you be serving or leading your members?” As we think about the future of associations, the wants and needs of membership deserve critical consideration. Hopefully some of our respected marketing and membership folks will weigh in, since they have important insights. Here are some thoughts which I hope will further discussion:

Thought 1: “The membership” is a myth. We can’t generalize about membership. If “the membership” means a homogenous, unified, like-minded body, then it doesn’t exist anymore than “the electorate” or “the consumer” exists. What exist are various member, electorate and consumer segments. Each segment has its own common or shared interests or aspirations. For example, there are association members whose primary interest is expanded knowledge. Among the electorate are red-dog Republicans. And there are consumers for whom “green” is more than a color. Point is, while these are important segments, they hardly represent the entire spectrum. Success in membership and marketing depends on identifying and understanding your markets and the voices of the customer. Membership success, like the success in any market, is seldom achieved by thinking and treating everyone like they are a size 6.

Thought 2: Volunteer vision frequently is a 12-month window. Our active volunteer members often see things in short term, annual perspectives, particularly if they have a one year leadership position. Governing boards, even with 3-year terms, often have difficulty focusing attention beyond one year at a time. The “project oriented” Millennials may have an even shorter attention span. So this leaves the staff to see and deal with the longer term strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the association—if is to be done at all. Since volunteers often define success as 12 months of smooth sailing (no problems please), is it any wonder that the natural tendency is for volunteers to focus on (this year’s) wants rather than (longer term) needs? Beyond membership, how do you suppose the 12-month window influences successful strategy, operational execution over time and other cross-enterprise and intra-enterprise performance?

Thought 3: Traditional models may not match emerging membership challenge. My association model will hardly surprise long-time observers of associations. Many older associations, like mine, were founded for “higher purposes” (ASME was founded in 1880 for public safety, property protection and growth/access to the engineering body of knowledge). We tend to be about engineering, not engineers. Our thinking for 127 years has generally been that what is good for engineering is good for engineers and others with technology interests.

We have a culture where volunteers “mature” their leadership by volunteering for increasingly more responsible roles, over extended time periods. Our members self organize into common interest groups, often working together for many years, to build and share knowledge, community and advocacy. I regularly give out 15, 20 and 30 year pins to staff. We are a fine organization with great traditions.

As a global association, in a rapidly changing world, we are increasingly required to be an agile, innovative and performance-oriented enterprise. Here’s the emerging challenge: Members and volunteers who may: 1) be primarily motivated by their individual, personal interests; 2) have less disposable time, resources and patience for “leadership ladders” and extended, time-consuming volunteer commitments; and 3) identify with their peer interest group rather than the enterprise. Can the challenge be successfully resolved in the old, traditional membership models? What’s the definition of insanity: doing what you’ve always done, the way you always have, and thinking you’ll get new and different results?

Where are the new membership markets, voices and models? How do we reconcile wants and needs?

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October 24, 2007

Associations Pitch in to Help Southern California Fire Victims

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

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

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

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


March 21, 2007

Work/Life Balance: The Social Impact of Personal Choices

In December 2006, Senators Chris Dodd and Arlen Specter launched a bipartisan caucus on Children, Work and Family in the US Senate. The purpose of the caucus is to look at the problems faced by working families - to revive a conversation last addressed deliberately in our legislature in 1983. In their words, “The mission of the caucus is to bring national attention to the ‘kitchen table’ issues that impact individuals, families and our economic security.” To put it mildly, I think that’s a swell idea.

Since I began thinking about how we are 'missing' a conversation about associations and social responsibility my family has relocated, expanded from two people to four, and I am now a telecommuter full-time, working for an association across the country in an odd schedule (5:30 AM to 1:30 PM local time), in part to accommodate the needs of my family and to try and balance them. When I log off in the afternoon, I help my husband put the kids down for a nap, grab a shower and try to catch up on reading or housework or occasionally, exercise. To use the inadequate language of the current debate, I am occupying a strange limbo between being a stay-at-home mother, and working mother.

I am extremely lucky. I have managed to continue working full time though I have two children under age three – they are in daycare twenty hours a week, which depending on your perspective is either very little time, or far too much.

My hunch is that if you’re thinking that’s very little time, you’re a working parent with a working spouse. If you think that’s far too much, you’re either in a family where one parent can stay home, or you expect to be in that situation if and when you do have children.

My husband also has a flexible schedule – he is employed full-time and then some, a professor teaching a full course load at his primary employer, and two distance-learning classes every term for the institution he left in Georgia. Half of his work is completed from home while the kids are sleeping, or while we watch a movie on the weekends.

You don’t come here to read personal blogging, however, but bear with me just a bit longer, because I do have a point in telling you how I balance work and family.

I hope I can make it clearly: For too long, families like mine have been juggling the demands of childrearing and work in relative isolation. A recent study from UC Hastings shows that when articles surface about women in the workforce, they don't tell the whole story, and they talk of personal ‘choice’ – as in, feminism was about women having the ‘choice’ to work or stay at home. That language has put us in a complicated place.

Since I became a mother, I’ve determined there is another conversation we are missing, and it’s related to my first conviction: associations have a role to play in finding peace in the so-called ‘mommy wars’, and it’s in our best interest to lead employers towards fixing this enormous social problem. In the coming months, and the coming posts, I’ll be exploring how we got here.

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August 22, 2006

Mission Without You

I'm at ASAE & the Center's annual meeting this week. I've been having lots of conversations with friends and colleagues around topics that could all generally be filed under the Web 2.0 banner (since it's such a mushy definition). The conversations and environment of the meeting have clarified something for me about the potential impact of empowering individuals and small groups to have much greater impact via the Web.

In short: people can now pursue the mission of an association, with or without them, by connecting, organizing and acting via the Web. The national association is no longer a pre-requisite for pursuit of the mission.

To highly web-savvy people this probably sounds like a bit of a non-sequitor but it creates a fundamental identity crisis for associations. What is the role of the association if your members can pursue your mission without you and do so just as effectively, if not more so, in some cases?

I do not believe this spells the end of associations. Too many people have been burned on predicting that one. :) But I do believe it provides new opportunities to facilitate the mission and purpose of your association in a much broader context than simply through the direct operations of the association.

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July 24, 2006

Beltway bias

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 11, 2006

Death of the Anonymous Web?

According to Hitwise, social networking site has laid claim to new bragging rights: Most Visited Site on the Web.

If you're not sure what MySpace is, read this.

Conventional wisdom states that the Internet is, among many other things, an outlet for anonymous communication, even though we all know that our every click and data transmission can be (and is) recorded by the computers that handle our data. Admit it: You’ve typed and sent things that you would never have said in conversation. Internet users want privacy, right?

That's why, on the surface, MySpace seems like such an anomaly. If the Internet is a place where users can be anonymous, then why are millions of people divulging personal, identifiable details about themselves to millions of other people? A plausible explanation is that there are some other factors at play, and this phenomenon cannot be attributed entirely to adolescent carelessness.

Is it possible that anonymity is not all it's cracked up to be? In previous posts to Acronym, on our blogs, and during a session at a recent conference, David Gammel and I have discussed the economics of attention, and how attention can be viewed as currency. If the attention of our peers and people in general is a form of currency, could it be that people are actually trying to attract attention, using blogs, podcasts and other social media outlets to get it? If this is true, what are the implications for associations?

Most associations recognize members in one form or another, bestowing attention on them. We have awards for star volunteers. A profile of a member with an interesting hobby in the magazine. Periodic lists of new members. But if members are truly eager for attention, is this enough?

How can associations give members the attention they crave? This is an interesting new dynamic of member relations that needs to be explored.

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