March 7, 2011

YAE Week

It's pretty scary when a group of rogue members hijacks one of your communications vehicles!

Luckily for us, those rogues were more insightful than inciteful -- consider this a big public thank you to everyone who contributed while our defenses were down; it was a job well done.

And now we're back to our regularly scheduled Acronym programming. I think we'll have a guest post or two this week, we have the economic study to explore, and beginning this weekend we'll be reporting from the Great Ideas Conference. It's good to be back!


March 4, 2011

Lessons Learned on Sustaining Momentum and Navigating Change in Times of Transition

Given the ups and downs in the economy in recent years, many philanthropic and charitable organizations changed their funding priorities, reflecting the world's changing landscape. Small organizations, particularly nonprofits, have been forced into a Darwinian competition of sorts, fighting to survive on scarce resources and sustain programs with limited assets and investment.

As a young professional working on a grant-funded program in a small nonprofit, my experience has been filled with challenges. One of the toughest things in my career was receiving news that we wouldn't have follow-on funding to continue the implementation of our planning efforts. When a colleague at the start of a newly funded grant project asked me for advice—not only on secrets to our successes but tales of our failures—I was compelled to share a few nuggets and lessons learned with others.

Here are a few tips to guide those struggling to maintain morale and momentum in times of transition. Consider the following:

  • Keep expectations realistic. Keep in mind that funding priorities and organizational goals change. Some of the best planning goes without full consideration of circumstance. While contingency and sustainability planning are always included in the thinking and strategic process, know that surprises are possible.
  • Communicate. It is important to maintain a dialogue with any funders, but make sure that the project staff, partners, and stakeholders are talking with each other. Communication is essential to creating a healthy environment. It allows for all parties to build trust and create a neutral, trusted atmosphere for idea exchange. It is also helpful to converse with others working in your particular space. Be willing to ask questions and share information. The key to your success and avoiding common mistakes lies in the lessons learned from others. This has become positively encouraged and simple in the era of social networking. Tap into your network and get support from others.
  • Be flexible. When change happens, embrace it and adapt with it. You've become adept at clearly articulating programmatic/organizational needs, strategies, and demand for why the project will make a difference. Using this model, make this case for yourself as a valuable team member and contributor. As the business strategy changes, consider your own growth and expand your perspectives; this is an opportunity for you to become an active change agent and a catalyst for innovation.  
  • Maintain balance. It may be a natural inclination to fully immerse yourself in the job and lose focus of you. While it is important to work harder in such circumstances, it is not necessary to work longer. You may be forced to make some sacrifices, but keep in mind that your personal development is just as important as your professional development. Keep your interpersonal relationships on track by alerting people of your situation. They may be a valuable resource and able to offer advice or ideas. Put an emphasis on achieving success not only on the job but in your personal life as well.

Tia Abner is program coordinator, global health informatics partnership for American Medical Informatics Association in Bethesda, Maryland. She serves on ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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Out of Work and Relocating in a Down Economy

In our line of work, we use statistics every day to suit our needs; we use them to show how great our new membership recruitment program is doing, to showcase the growth of our industry, to track the progress of a competing meeting. We very rarely feel the need to relate to the numbers on a personal level, except as it relates to our chosen industry. Like most people, I watched the news and I heard the statistics about the downturn in the economy, and then a strange thing happened: in the summer of 2009, I became part of those faceless numbers. I lost my job due to the economy.

I got down, and then I got angry. Once the anger was over, I updated my résumé and I evaluated my options as a young association professional. I pulled out every business card I had collected over my career and I started to network. At no point in my career have I ever sent more emails or résumés, nor done more research and examined every possible nonprofit career website.

The biggest breakthrough came when I realized that it was okay to examine opportunities outside of my current geographic area. Once I felt free to look at positions up and down the Eastern seaboard, I found more and more companies willing to set up interviews. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for December 2010 was 9.4 percent; that's a lot of competition. To me, what that meant back in 2009, and still means today, is that you have got to do something to set yourself apart; whether that's relocate for the job, earn your certification, speak a foreign language, or have a skill set that nobody else can claim.

I'd like to clarify that I don't want to seem to have taken relocation lightly; I realize that it is not something that everyone can just up and do. I was fortunate to have a supportive spouse and a great network of family of friends to encourage me. In the end, I sat down and looked over the volume of opportunities where I was versus where we could be, and there was no contest between the two. I would really encourage others who have faced a similar situation to respond with the decisions they made, and how they came to the choices that they did and why. Please share; you never know how you might help someone else!

Stacy Bromley Cheetham, MPA, CAE, is operations manager at American Urogynecologic Society in Washington, DC.


Get on Board! Young Professionals on Boards of Nonprofits and Associations

Many young (or new) professionals are interested in serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit or association. That's why a group of us (Shana Campbell, Gina McClure, Jennifer Teters, Garen Distelhorst, and I) from ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2010 developed a toolkit to provide helpful information on how you can find a board position, increase your chances for being selected for a board, and learn how you can best contribute as a board member. 

We created a survey that was sent out to young professionals to learn how they have been successful with getting on a board. The purpose of the survey was to gain insight into the tools and processes that young professionals used to get on a board of an association or nonprofit. The information from the survey was also found to be valuable for executives as it helps them understand the benefits of having a young professional on their board.

The survey asked questions like:

  • Why do young professionals want to serve on a board of a nonprofit or association?
  • How do young professionals find out about board positions?
  • What are the three most important actions that a young professional can take right now to improve his or her chances of being recruited or selected to serve on a board?
  • What assets, skills, or experiences do you think were essential for a young professional to be successful on a board?

This survey was supported by Boardsource, Humanics, Young Non-Profit Professionals Network and the ASAE Young Association Executives community. 

The results of the survey and project will be presented at the 2011 ASAE Great Ideas Conference on Monday, March 14. In addition, there will be follow-up publications released after the conference. If you're interested in this topic we would love to see your comments.

Rebecca Swain-Eng, MS, works for the American Academy of Neurology in St. Paul, Minn. She is a graduate of the inaugural class of the ASAE Leadership Academy.

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March 3, 2011

Three Ways to Connect Your Social Media Outposts

Facebook, Twitter, your website, forums, newsletters, and so on: How do these pieces fit together?  Here are three easy ways to connect your community and improve your online strategy.

  • Cross-post on a regular basis. Your outposts are one big media organism that wants to be fed. Is there a great discussion on your Facebook page? Link to it from Twitter. Is there a thought-provoking article in your last e-newsletter? Post it with a discussion question on your favorite forum. The trick is to have a 360-degree view of all of your content. For every piece of content you release, ask yourself, how can this be repurposed, and where? Before you know it, your community will start buzzing, and your number of engaged members will increase.
  • Designate a staff member. The core of the disjointed social media problem is usually behind the scenes; no one knows what's happening. You don't need to hire a whole new position or create a staffing bottleneck through your webmaster, simply appoint someone in your marketing or communications department who is responsible for monitoring your social media outposts. Over time, this person will gain the ability to see the big picture of what is happening on all platforms and keep the rest of the staff informed accordingly. He or she does not need to be responsible for content generation or even be the sole poster to the outposts, but you need someone around to say, "Maybe we shouldn't post four times to Facebook today; our market is saturated," or "Someone asked a question about this great topic over on LinkedIn; we should send them over to the discussion happening on Facebook."
  • Simplify your presence.  The natural social media tendency is to fill up as much space on as many platforms as possible. While you may increase your association's footprint, this tactic is usually counterproductive. Instead of having a separate Facebook page for every special interest group or an official page on each obscure networking site, manage a few outposts really well. When associations develop too many outposts, connecting them together becomes an unnecessary burden. Identify where you members are most likely to engage with you, and invest your resources there.

Sara L. Wood is manager of digital communications at the National Court Reporters Association in Vienna, Virginia. She is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2012 and her Twitter handle is @SaraLWood.

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Ready or Not, Here They Come: Boomers in Social Networking

Ready or not, generations X and Y, here come the Baby Boomers straight into the world of social networking! You can either prepare your association for them or not (and then experience the heartache of a lost demographic).

You've read the headlines, and despite what your internal readership surveys might say, it's probably a safe bet that even if you work at an association with a more mature membership you're still going to need to get ready for the next wave of social-media users.

The number of Baby Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960) using social media increased by 88 percent in the last year. Almost half of all Boomers are now on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking service. And according to a recent Pew Study, the group of social media users age 65 and older has grown 100 percent; a much faster rate than those stereotypically thought of as being "connected online."

So what does this tell us young professionals in the association community? Get ready for some social-media outreach to your older audience, even if you think your core demographic isn't on Facebook or Twitter yet. Because they will be, and soon!

According to an ASAE survey, 57 percent of associations are already involved in some type of social media outreach. Awesome! But if you're part of the 43 percent who aren't there yet, start working on your strategy now, and be prepared to make your case for social media to your president or board members, because despite age being a deterring factor for nearly half of users online, it's not going to stay this way forever. Don't believe me? Check out what AARP, the authority on mature audiences, has to say about Boomers online:

Have you already garnered a huge following of older adults on Twitter, or created an active community of engaged users for your more mature members? Share those tips and best practices, and help your fellow association professionals learn from your experience!

Chrisi West is web content manager at Military Officers Association of America in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2011.

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Create a Virtual Learning Conversation for Members

Technology is changing the way we do everything: how we connect, communicate, and—most importantly—learn. Associations are changing the way they think about virtual learning experiences and creating virtual learning conversations for their members.

Event Location: Online
Platform: Webinar
Speaker/Topic: Confirmed
CAE Approved: Yes

But are you ready to host a virtual learning conversation? Does your webinar include tactics to engage attendees, or will attendees be checked into their inboxes? It's time to take traditional learning strategies and incorporate them into virtual learning environments using technology to support. Here are some ideas:

  • Start by referring to speakers as thought leaders and ask that they do less dictating to the audience and provide more thought-provoking exercises.
  • Encourage thought leaders to further interact with attendees by incorporating real-time polling, hosting quizzes, asking questions, including contests or prize giveaways, and providing handouts or worksheets.
  • They can even end with a required follow-up action or session where attendees report back to the group. Hold attendees accountable for their takeaways.
  • Also select a platform that allows attendees to interact during the session via pings in a chat log, or perhaps add a Twitter RSS widget so tweeps can follow and tag tweets.
  • Record sessions so you can market across membership materials and archive these recordings to begin building a learning portal accessible to members 24/7.
  • Request continuing education credit for your sessions; this makes the one-hour time investment digestible.
  • Lastly, ask for personal reflection and feedback; you can learn a lot for very little additional time investment.

Please share your feedback and comments. I'm trying to change the world one boring webinar at a time.

Lauren Wolfe is marketing and communications manager for Higher Logic in Washington, DC. She is vice chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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Four Secrets to Connecting with Student Members

Enhance your communication and engagement with your association's student members (and future professional members) with these four secrets. 

  • School is a student's first priority. Students will always put their education first. But no need to worry, that's what students should be doing. Therefore, it is the role of the association to be the go-to resource in furthering a student's education and understanding the profession.
  • Using technology on a daily basis does not make students tech savvy. Students use Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis; however, a Twitter-addict may not understand, for instance, how to use a fillable PDF document for an awards application. In developing member benefits or making processes more efficient, it is important to recognize the possible technological boundaries of your student members.
  • Students are younger than you. Although it may seem logical, it is important to recognize that the typical student member is younger than most of your staff members. In creating marketing materials or designing programming, it is important to make sure you are communicating with students at their level.
  • Associations should be the professional link outside the student bubble. Member faculty are a great resource in demonstrating to students the bond between their profession and the association. If shown the association's impact in professional lives, students will continue their membership as they enter the "real world."

Student members present a unique membership group, and with these four secrets, your association will enhance its student membership experience.

Lilliane Smothers is assistant for student relations at American Dental Hygienists' Association in Chicago.

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March 2, 2011

Latitude is Leverage: How a hands-off approach to management enables top achievement by driven young professionals

If your view of young professionals centers on the notion that they are merely collegiate graduates who exhibit know-it-all without the wherewithal behavior, keep reading. While most positions need to follow a full-year cycle in order to contribute value, harnessing the energy, exuberance, and creative ideas from young professionals who have not yet been tainted by the system or culture of your company may indeed aid in the execution of applying your experience. Wisdom could be explained as a combined balance of knowledge and experience.

Young professionals occupy a unique position in that they contribute their outsider advantage while simultaneously monitoring their adherence to new ties at your company. If you can cultivate young professionals to engage in a mutually respectful, challenging and trusting environment and the personality and required skill-set match your company's needs, you may gain insight from a different kind of wisdom.

I have a boss who is really more of a mentor than anything. He is there as a sounding board, and allows for idea generation - no matter how extreme. Sure, some ideas are admittedly "off the wall," but the initial spark and engaged follow-through on the good ideas trumps the rogue ones. We work at the speed of trust, and we embrace the philosophy of "punishing mediocre successes and celebrating epic failure," all while maintaining a good sense of humor and humility.

Kai Gansner is director of member services and vision scoping at Optimist International in St. Louis, Mo.


It's a setup...for success!

"I was waiting to see if they'd do it." "I wanted to see what they'd do." Both statements demonstrate a passive approach of observation when tasked with making sure others get something done. Both make me cringe.

Observation is valuable when the situation warrants. Boundaries are tested. Levels of gumption and competence are assessed. However, when the situation doesn't warrant (new professionals), is it waiting for failure? Put differently, is it taking the onus away from the observer to set others up for success?

For an incredibly simplistic example, let's look at my puppy, Pollock. I want Pollock to ring a bell to tell me when he wants to go outside. I put the bell on the door and tell him to "touch" it to go outside. Then, should I wait to see if he'll touch the bell when he's ready to go outside? Or, do I treat him after I coax him to touch the bell every time he whines to go outside, and then gradually stop treating when I know he's got it? For Pollock, the answer is obvious.

Maybe the answer is obvious for your new professionals, but maybe it's not. Next time you're tasked with making sure others get something done, know that if you don't set them up for success, the failure is yours too. So, set them up for success by:

  • Making sure they understand the end goal

  • Giving them the necessary tools

  • Checking in with them

  • Giving them constructive feedback when they've gone astray

Then, when you know they're ready, feel free to observe...and be ready to congratulate them when they succeed!

Jennifer Johnson works in information services for Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors in Lakewood, Colo.

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The middle path

I am not only a young association professional at the age of 30 (if that's young anymore!), I am a growing association professional attempting to walk what Buddhists call the middle path between two distinct generations, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. Like many of us out there, at 30, I'm on the cusp of both Gen X and Gen Y. While I may have some Millennial traits, I'm definitely a Gen Xer through and through. So, my outlook on life and work is very different from my Baby Boomer boss and from my Millennial assistant. And yep, you guessed it...this leads to continual conflict and miscommunication in the workplace. So, I'm left trying to figure out how to make peace when it's not really in my genetic makeup to do so.

Below I describe two situations I have encountered in my professional career. In talking with my young professional colleagues, we can all relate to situations like these. There is no concrete right or wrong answer to these scenarios, but please feel free to comment on this post with your thoughts on how to handle these situations. In the comments section, I will share how I handled them and my suggestions on how to find common ground amidst these two generations. Remember, walking the middle path between two distinct generations is often a difficult journey to undertake, but it's the path we must all learn to walk as our workplaces and the world around us is always in flux.

Scenario #1
You're out of town for a work assignment for a week. Prior to leaving, you make sure to meet with your assistant to review projects so she knows she'll have plenty to do while you're out. You also make a point to note that you will be accessible by email, phone, and text and not to hesitate to contact you with questions. You do not hear much from your assistant, so you assume things are going okay. You return to the office and your boss wants to have a chat with you. While you were out, your assistant went to her and told her that she did not have anything to do and was waiting on you to complete other projects. Your boss then tells you that you need to make sure you are not the one holding up projects and that you need to delegate more. You return to your office to find things printed out and in your inbox, things that could have easily been emailed to you while you were out. Feeling at bit blindsided, what do you do to resolve this matter?

Scenario #2
This is your assistant's first job right out of college. He has a great work ethic and strong skills, but is struggling with fitting into this new world of work and starting out at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. He thinks that many of the administrative tasks are beneath him and makes that known to his colleagues, statements that you happen to overhear from time to time. On top of all this, he has taken it upon himself to delegate his work to the part-time administrative assistant and the intern. Then, one day while he's out sick, he checks his e-mail and forwards tasks to another assistant to complete since he's out. This other assistant is confused about priorities now that multiple people are sending her things and she's a bit offended. When you find out about all of this, what do you do?

Alyssa A. Pfennig, CAE, is director of membership and event services at Raybourn Group International in Indianapolis, Ind. She serves on ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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Showing up isn't half the battle

You've heard the saying or something similar, "showing up is half the battle." It's what they tell teenagers in high school to get them to go to class. By that dated logic, if you show up and do something, anything, you'll find yourself with a passing grade. In today's marketplace, that approach might get you noticed, but not much beyond that. In fact, I'd argue that if you show up and don't meet expectations, you'll be viewed as a distraction.

Members of Generation Y face several challenges that they must deal with effectively on a daily basis to prove their value, such as a limited experience base, skepticism and general stereotypes (e.g. Gen Yers don't have work ethic, they lack professionalism, they are all experts in social media, etc.). While there are also some inherent benefits that come with being Gen Y, we'll focus on what I consider the most difficult challenge to overcome: skepticism.

Skepticism is what that new middle-aged and older client has when they are meeting with you for the first time and you propose a new idea. It's that nagging feeling while that new idea you proposed is intriguing, as a young professional you lack decades of experience to take you at your word. When you are meeting with a new client, the stakes are raised, the margin for error diminishes. You haven't established a rapport with this group. Let's be honest, if you were 10 years older that new idea likely would have been far less contentious. You have to establish the relationship, prove yourself, and overcome the inherent skepticism.

While skepticism is the most difficult to overcome, it is also the most powerful. If you can make that positive first impression, back your ideas with sound strategy and proven success, and give them something they didn't ask for, you'll create a rock-solid relationship.

Darrin Hubbard, CAE, is an account executive at Ewald Consulting in St. Paul, Minn.

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March 1, 2011

Want to achieve something great? Fail!

It happens quickly and without warning. You receive that first job offer after college and progress nicely in your association career, only to find you're hit with a setback. You may have been laid off, fired, passed over for that promotion, or maybe you totally screwed up that big project--it's devastating! The failure seems like the end of the world.

Young personal finance blogger and New York Times bestselling author, Ramit Sethi says in a blog post from early last year your next actions after that point are what separate good from great. "If you want to ACTUALLY achieve something great, treat rejection as a normal step in the process. Expect it. Manage it. Take action and the next time you get shot down, remember that means you're just getting started."

Every young professional should be prepared for personal and professional failure by following his advice.

Expect it - Expect that failures will come. This does not mean viewing the world as the glass is half empty all the time, but most successes involve risks and failures at some point. Don't believe me? Take a look at history. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for lack of creativity.

Manage it - It's ok to have feelings of defeat after a failure but don't have a pity party. Treat the failure as a project and manage it. Come up with a plan to resolve or fix the issue.

Take action - Learn and move on. Insanity is often referred to as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting new results. Make plans to not repeat the same mistake. After you've devised an action plan, take action.

Remember, no matter how disheartening an unexpected failure may be, it could just be the start of one of the greatest accomplishments of your life.

Irving Washington is program manager at National Association of Black Journalists in Washington, D.C. He is a member of ASAE's Leadership Academy Class of 2012.

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Time vs. Creativity: Four ways to win the tug of war

The opportunity to be creative presents itself often. Whether I am starting a new project, revamping an old program, or trying to do more with less, I am confronted with the challenge of finding a creative solution or idea on a daily basis. While I love the opportunity to be creative, I find there is a huge roadblock in my way that keeps me from reaching my creative peak.

My biggest struggle is having the time to be creative with the vast number of responsibilities and projects on my desk. On top of that, timelines created by eager board members and committees can be too tight, and the business of board meetings and managing committees can be a huge time consumer. This time pressure creates a tug of war between "just get it done" and "how can we do this better." So how can we push through this roadblock?

The tried and true techniques for time management can get us farther down the path to creativity. Staying organized, prioritizing your projects and eliminating time wasters all help to create more time. But, I have found this is not enough. Here are four ways to win the time vs. creativity tug of war:

  1. Be deliberate. Find opportunities to be creative. Make a note on your to-do list next to the things you would like to spend creative time.

  2. Know your goals. Understand what matters most to your board. Those are the things you should spend most of your creative time on.

  3. Know your role. Understand what your unique role in your association staff team is. Your creative energy should focus on the things you do that no one else does.

  4. Pick your battles. You will not always win the tug of war. Choose your battles carefully based on your goals and role to make your creative energy count.

Kimberly S. Paugh is director of membership at Raybourn Group International in Indianapolis, Ind.

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I'll stop the world

Leadership means many different things to many different people. Often, as volunteers, we think the more work product we churn out, the more leadership we exhibit. However, I'd like to present a competing perspective.

As chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee (YAEC), I found myself doing exactly the opposite this year. Essentially, I decided to stop the world (a phrase we often use in my office when one project must take serious precedence over all others currently in progress). This deliberate time out would allow us to focus most fervently on strategic planning.

Since August, I've been significantly less concerned about overall work product and much more focused on structure, process, and long-term goal setting. After four years of this committee's colored existence, it was time to take a step back and evaluate the following:

1. What is our mission? What is our purpose and why do we exist?
2. What is our vision? What is our future and where are we going?
3. What are our values? What do we believe in and how will we demonstrate it?

Adoption of a simple strategic plan that clearly and honestly answered these questions then prompted us to set goals. Although ideas from each committee member were considered, not all were adopted. In total, 13 macro-level goals--each supporting our new mission, vision, and values statements--were divvied up among the various subcommittees.

Next on the to-do list: committee calls. During our in-person meeting in December, we restructured the agenda of our monthly committee calls. These meetings now begin with a five-minute ASAE staff spotlight, followed by a committee member check-in that's no more than one minute each. A full 20 minutes is then dedicated to a strategic discussion topic (examples include defining the committee's target audience and opportunities for engaging YAEs at the annual meeting).

With our remaining time, we entertain questions from the subcommittees; each subcommittee provides a brief status report (updates to measurable objectives only); we tackle new business; and we encourage YAE shout outs, opportunities for collaboration, kudos, and announcements.

Finally, we've spent considerable time these last seven months talking about leadership. On more than one occasion, industry expert Jamie Notter has challenged us to think about leadership not as an aspiration, but as an accessible skill set that can be obtained through connection, clarity, commitment, and learning. We will engage him one final time in July to evaluate our effectiveness both as a committee and as individual leaders.

So, my question to you is this: Do you recognize when it's more prudent to stop the world--either in your organization or in your volunteer commitments--than it is to churn out more work product? What would prevent you from putting on the brakes? How might you overcome these obstacles?

Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, is director of education and associate partnerships at the Health Care Association of Michigan in Lansing, Mich., a Diversity Executive Leadership Program scholar and chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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February 28, 2011

Why an AMC is a great place for the young association professional

Opening up my email early on a Monday morning, I see my conference chairs have decided they would like to add a live Twitter feed stream at our conference. Not having done this before, this could easily make for the start of a very bad day, but luckily I work at an association management company (AMC) and recalled having a lunchroom conversation with a coworker about their client adding the very same thing to their meeting. Instead of dread, I just head down the hallway to my coworkers office to discuss the details of this project.

If you would have asked me what an association management company was five years ago, I would have just stared blankly back at you. Little did I know then, an AMC would be the single greatest influencer of my professional career and has prepared me for my role as associate executive director in ways only an AMC could offer.

To start, the AMC model provides associations with executive leadership, specialists, and professional services. My AMC is structured in a way that each client has its own staff, and the support services (such as IT, web, accounting, HR, etc) are shared among the clients. Now, you may be asking what makes an AMC so much better for young association professionals (YAPs)? Well first, I'm not saying an AMC is better for the association, I'm saying different. I'm not making any judgment calls on what type of structure is better for an association's members or their mission. What I am saying is AMC's can give YAPs a unique experience.

What type of experiences? For starters, how about having a mini-ASAE in your office? As I mentioned in the story above, instead of one membership or education department, imagine having access to 10, 15, or more people doing a similar job, just a few feet from your desk. It only takes a few conversations to track down a person who can show you how their client handled a similar new project your volunteer leadership has thrown at you. This becomes especially useful when you are located outside of the DC/Chicago markets. As someone located in the tropical paradise (if I wish enough it might come true) of Milwaukee, Wis., the pool of people working in association management is a tad smaller.

AMCs also offer you a window into multiple organizations at the same time. Unlike a stand-alone, you are exposed to a wide variety of organizational cultures that range from formal and business-like to some that seem to be more of an extended family. Having this exposure allows you to learn what type of organization culture fits you without having to jump jobs.

Finally, for YAPs, payment comes in many forms, the first of which is experience to put on your résumé. AMCs afford you a great opportunity to gain broad experience in a relatively short amount of time. Although I have technically only worked for one client my entire time at my current AMC, I have had the opportunity to work on cross-team projects with a number of internal groups and attend other client's annual conferences.

These are the main reasons I feel my experience working at an AMC has been a valuable asset to my career, but as I'm still in the beginning stages of my career, I would be interested in hearing from others as to what about their first job in association management made a lasting impact.

Benjamin H. Butz, MPA, is associate executive director of the American Association of Medical Society Executives, a client of the association management firm Executive Directors, Inc. in Milwaukee, Wis. He is a graduate of the inaugural class of the ASAE Leadership Academy.

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Through the maze: A career in association management

When I first entered the workforce at an association in Denver, I would often ask my colleagues how they had come to enter the association management profession. More often than not the response from seasoned professionals was that they just sort of "fell into it." My entrance into the association world was similar, and I quickly found that the experience was not uncommon among other young professionals.

In fact, a small group of us (Benjamin Butz, Jennifer Connelly, Emily Crespo, CAE, and me) from ASAE's Leadership Academy for Young Association Professionals Class of 2010 were so curious about how one both discovers and navigates the association management career path that we decided to do a little research. Our goal was to ascertain some ground-breaking data that would allow us to definitively outline the association management career path and provide a checklist of assets needed to succeed as an association executive. What resulted instead was a sort of toolkit (pdf) that we hope will help young (and not-so-young) professionals better-understand the myriad career opportunities available through association management. The 24-page resource provides an overview of the association community, illustrates why associations offer important career options, and highlights some of the benefits of working for associations.

In addition, we interviewed association professionals from diverse backgrounds to see if we could define a true career path within association management. While these narratives did not result in a checklist, they did allow us to identify some common experiences that helped our interviewees navigate their own career paths: mentoring, networking, volunteering, professional development, passion, flexibility, and ultimately a desire to make a difference in the world. As Jeffrey N. Shields, CAE, executive director of National Business Officers Association said in his interview, "If you're service-oriented, focused on fostering relationships, and passionate about the association's mission, you'll find a wonderful career opportunity in association management."

So what's your story? Can you relate to the other professionals interviewed in this toolkit (pdf) or did you grow up dreaming of being an association superstar?

Beau Ballinger is a project manager at AARP in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the inaugural class of ASAE's Leadership Academy and serves as chair of the content subcommittee for ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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It's a Takeover!!!

That's right, the young association executives have overtaken this blog. This is Beau Ballinger, project manager at AARP, and we, the young executives hereby commandeer this communications channel.

EDIT: By the way, you have the Young Association Executives Committee to blame for this!

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