Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It Feels Like the First Time

Butterflies in the stomach, wondering who you are going to sit next to when you don’t know anyone, if you are going to eat every meal alone as it seems like everyone else has at least a million people they know, imagining what it is going to be like to go up to total strangers, introduce yourself and play networking roulette as you try to make new connections.  No, I am not talking about the first day of middle school – next week I am going to attend my first SHRM Annual Conference – and I know no one.

Image result for newbie

It isn’t that this hasn’t happened before – I remember going to my own association’s (ASAE) annual conference for the first time – I vaguely knew some people from their twitter profiles, but no one in person.  And then you have that awkward moment of – I know you from twitter, I mean I don’t KNOW you, I mean I follow you, but not in the creepy kind of way, I mean – can we just start this intro over again?  Thinking back on that conference, it is hard to remember what it was like to be a newbie – to try and find places I fit, to seek out those with similar interests so we could learn better together.  I think it is hard to remember because that has become in so many ways my community, my professional home.

And next week, I am suddenly a Freshman again – looking for advice about how do I fit in…and there is advice:
-         - Wear comfortable shoes (got it – lots of walking, LOTS of walking)
-         - Dress comfortably (often said in the same paragraph as It is ridiculously hot outside and bitterly cold   in the session rooms, and people wear everything from suits to shorts and t-shirts – so that is clear        and straightforward)
-         - Spend time on the expo floor meeting vendors – these are your resources and partners
-        -   Don’t try to get to every session – make a plan before you go

All solid intro advice – and I feel like I have conference experience that will let me learn and develop relationships with potential partners for my organization.  As for the networking, social element…I feel like this time around I am going to take a different approach….

Every year we bring new people in – whether it is new employees, or new members at a conference.  Create a welcome session or orientation and suddenly they are going to feel part of the community, right? What could we do, what can I do, to make that first-time experience better for all the professionals I serve, for any volunteer group I lead, or for any new-hires to my organization?  This is my chance to find out.

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Next week I get to go back to square one.  I get to be the new ‘kid’ again and take in that experience.  What does it feel like?  How do I find those colleagues that will be connections beyond the conference?  Will I be going to dinner solo?  How can a reception with several hundred (thousand?) people lend itself to meeting individuals?  What makes the attendee experience work, and what would make it work better?

I am excited to find out – to learn and explore, to take it in and to branch out.  And to have those newbie jitters once again – and this time run with them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Association Volunteer: Maximum Potential

Our organizations thrive because of volunteers.  It is their vision that leads and their efforts that drive.

Despite playing such a pivotal role, often organizations do not consider the full scope of voice and intent their volunteers could bring to the table.  Can we easily identify the delta between what a volunteer does in their agreed upon position and the larger role they play in the organization's structure and culture?  Without a clear picture of the comprehensive potential an organization would like volunteers to fulfill there can never be an intentional path created to help guide them to maximizing their impact.  Here are some of those potential areas for consideration:

1. Doing the job - This is what they actually raised their hand to do.  It is the logistical, roll-up-your-sleeves work that has to get done and what is built into the organization's governance structure.  It is the foundation of any volunteer effort since, if they are not doing what they said they were going to do, the organization's primary focus is going to be ensuring that somehow the job actually still gets done.

2. Looking ahead - As volunteers fulfill their role, it would be ideal if they could simultaneously evaluate their work to map out future improvements.  Are they fulfilling the 'why' behind the the position's existence?  Is there a different set of resources that could help the volunteer who will succeed them?  Looking even further ahead, is there a place where the specific position would evolve for a greater impact (i.e. the same job done by 3 separate groups could eventually combine efforts)?  Or, potentially, could the purpose of the position actually reach completion so that the volunteer role itself is closed out?

3. Know thy organization - Volunteer leaders, by nature of their position, are inherent spokespeople for the organization.  If someone has a question, they are often the ones asked and while they can not be expected to know EVERYTHING there is some base level of information/awareness that should exist.  Organizations that are intentional in what that level should be best prepare their volunteers to be their spokespeople.  What are the primary areas of focus and effort of the organization?  Where are there opportunities for member involvement?  Is there a PAC?  a foundation?  How an organization works to impact its members and impact the field are two sides of the value coin where a volunteer should be knowledgeable.  Setting up paths to gain that knowledge, and hopefully the passion for the work of the association that comes with it, is the responsibility of the organization.

4. Give. - Our volunteers already give so much - of their time, as they attend meetings and work on projects and committees.  They give of their money as they are often some of the top-purchasers of products and programs.  They give of their personal capital as they vouch for and market the association to their colleagues.  There are also other areas where the association would want their volunteers to give, where the amount they donate is less important than being able to say that support for these arms of the organization is in action and not just words.  Two examples could be when there is a PAC that tries to drive the success of the profession forward through advocacy, or when there is a foundation that is working to improve the profession through research or investing in the next generation of professionals. A balance of explicit expectations of how a volunteer is a leader for the organization during the time they serve with recognition for those volunteers that truly step up to lead in the maximum capacity sets the stage for volunteer examples that others can learn from and emulate.  If we don't recognize the leaders that we need others to also be, how will their actions ever translate into leadership lessons for future volunteers?

If our volunteers not only did what they signed up to do, but were thoughtful in how it could be done better going forward, while representing the organization in knowledge, word and action we would see association evolution driven by the professional in whole new ways.  Not every volunteer will necessarily do all these things, but if we never establish a system where we paint the picture of a fully engaged volunteer, the path of learning to gain the knowledge necessary to play that role and the recognition of those that step up to fill the shoes, then maximum volunteer potential will only be reached by happenstance.

What is the maximum potential you want to see in your volunteers?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Power of Why

(In a fun cross-blogger collaboration with MemberViews, there is an ongoing series of posts with thoughts for emerging association professionals.  This is my contribution - enjoy!)

            I believe that the further we get in our careers, the more we discover that the questions we ask have the potential for learning and growth much more than the answers we receive.  Honing focus on our assignments, gaining organizational vision, insight into industry direction and determining our own personal career paths are each potential adventures of discovery – fueled by the question why.  Depending on how we utilize this three letter word, we can paint a self-portrait of an up and coming organizational leader, or a stubborn employee who isn’t a team player.  Here are five perspectives on the question why:

       1.  “Why are our resources aligned with these priorities?”  You have read the mission and the vision, you have reviewed the strategic plan.  The true value that an organization is trying to produce is often a deeper narrative than what resides in these pieces – and how an organization assigns its staff and finances can tell the backstory to how it is trying to achieve its goals.  Asking for better understanding into the formula behind organizational success can demonstrate that you are looking to be a key contributor to that success.  In addition, these insights can show opportunities for cross-silo collaboration and cooperation, building bridges and help you produce stronger results.

“      2. Why do I have to do this?”  When we know how the work that we have on our plate impacts the success of our organization we often find greater feelings of achievement/accomplishment.  With that said, there are also times that we have to do what logistically needs to get done.  This question can be a double edged sword – asked in the right context it shows intent to be a key organizational contributor, asked in another light it can be taken as petulant.  Navigating the delicate balance is essential to demonstrating that you can get the job done with the right attitude.

        3. “Why do I have this job?”  A question for personal reflection, it is important to take stock and align how your current position reflects that career path you are pursuing.  What are you looking to learn at this job?  What successes will be milestones that will show future employers what you bring to the table?  How is your current position not just a job, but an intentional step in your successful career path?

        4. “Why are certain topics trending in industry discussions/publications/conferences/online forums?”  Knowing the path you want to take in your career means knowing where your industry is going.  What publications do you read?  What blogs make you think, question and push your own pre-conceived concepts?  Keeping abreast of industry issues, problems and opportunities coming down the line will never be part of a job description, but should be part of our personal resolution.  Discovering our personal professional paths in an intentional fashion means also exploring the professional universe where we will have our journey – so start drawing your map!

       5.  “Why do I rock?”  What are your strengths?  How do you keep those strengths in your mind as a toolbox and intentionally bring them to the table with every assignment you have?  What tools do you want to develop to add to your repertoire?  We each need to know what we bring to the table, both so we can use those strengths for awesome results and so we can build teams around us to help balance our areas for growth with others strengths. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Welcoming New Members

Members often join for a single reason – perhaps it is a conference, or signing up for a course or certification, or wanting to join a local component.  Whatever the reason may be, this single point of entry is the typical ‘organization perspective’ they have when they come through the door.  Of course, our organizations offer much more than just one point of value – we strive to create many opportunities for further development, networking, growth and professional success all leading to the greater success of the field.  Yet, what do we do most of the time?  After the member joins they are automatically added into the marketing stream and receive email after email with further upsell, treating them as a customer first and a member second.  If we want to see a rise in membership engagement, in awareness of everything that is available to a member we must reverse this prioritization.  This starts with how we welcome members.

For the welcome stream to be effective, it is important to prioritize what communications members receive shortly after joining.  This is a unique time when they haven’t yet start to receive the range of communications that the organization emails and when there is a higher likelihood of getting their attention.  It is often beneficial to have a strategic discussion with the marketing arm of the organization on the possibility of implementing a marketing ‘freeze’ for the first XX weeks after a member joins (XX determined by how long your introduction period is – probably at least 4 weeks, and not more than 8).  Exceptions should be factored in such as:

1.      Regular newsletters/e-journals/e-publications that are member benefits and not sales.

2.       Hubs of member activity – such as an annual conference.  Limited marketing for these events that are the not-to-miss programs of the year may still be worthwhile.

Lining Up the Players:

As you open your spreadsheet, or draw your welcome calendar with open slots, there are a number of questions to answer before you slot anything in:

1.        What are the key areas of value for your organization?

2.       How can you provide a taste/example of that value for someone who has never experienced it before – that is more than just descriptive copy?

3.       Are any of these pieces more foundational, and as such should come earlier in a welcome stream rather than later?

Once you have the answers to these questions, it then drives down to slotting them into a logical stream.  Here are some generic examples of what may be included:
Welcome Letter w/ Membership Card – The first touch, identifying their new status upgrade from customer to an investor in your organization, and as such, in their career – a member. 
o   Call to Action: Login, fill out the rest of your demographic information so we can tailor the association opportunities to your path
o   +1 idea: Can they access their membership card at any time on your site, to print it out?  While the importance of having a ‘paper’ card continues to be debated, having this as a simple, .pdf option is no cost to the organization once it is initially created and allows the member to remember that they ‘belong’ at any time
Personal Greeting from CEO/President – A letter in a personal tone from an organizational leader.  This is a good opportunity to do a brief history/vision/state of the union of the organization in a narrative form.
o   Call to Action: Have a strategy summary page where members can take a quick glance at current organization initiatives, linking to the full strategic plan for those that are interested.  This is a great chance to connect those that are interested to where the organization is going and why!
o   +1 idea: Feedback link/email.  If the leader who signs the greeting is willing, include a link or email where any questions or feedback can be sent from the new member.  While replies may not always come from the CEO/President, proactively seeking inquiries and thoughts from day 1 of membership can help with long term retention and overall process improvement.
Journal/Publication – Is a key benefit of belonging exclusive access to a journal or publication?   If so create a directed invitation to experience this live.
o   Call to Action: Have a ‘highlights from the current issue’ communication that has an embedded link where the member can go read any of the articles.
o   +1 idea: Do your members also have access to past editions of the publication?  Why not prompt them to explore that valuable resource with some content-curation.   Share excerpts with your top 5 most-read articles from the previous year, with links where to find the full content.  This gives new members an easy taste of the best-of-the-best.
Website Orientation - If you were a new member, would you be able to easily navigate your website to find the high value points?  Do you have 3-5 specific places which you would like to showcase to new members? Run a live tour of your website for new members.
o   Call to Action: Run a monthly ‘webinar’ where you can screen share and walk new members through your website with high impact points for them to remember.
o   +1 idea: Record a top run through of the presentation and offer it as recorded content for those who can not attend the live version
o   +2 idea: Invite a different member of your Board of Directors to participate on each monthly call and let them welcome new members and take a few questions.  This personal touch and connection to the organization’s leadership can quickly build relationship bridges with the new member.
Learning Opportunities – Do you house your learning opportunities in an online learning platform?   This time of orientation is your opportunity to both demonstrate the wealth of value for members contained in that platform as well as some quick tips on how to navigate its inner workings.
o   Call to action: A summary of what is on your online learning platform with a link on how to get started.  Quick steps to getting started can be helpful here.
o   +1 idea: If you have free pieces of learning you can offer, whether as a .pdf or interactive module, this will invite the new member to experience a taste of your content, that type of learning you offer and the pathway to discover more learning opportunities
Community Connection – If you have smaller communities that connect professionals by geography, specific industry affiliation, topical interest, etc (also known as components), then you are faced with the opportunity of more targeted value for your members and the challenge of getting them to ‘join’ additional mini-societies.
o   Call to action: Have a letter of welcome go out to new members from the Chair of one of your communities, keeping the introductory copy similar but rotating the ‘sender.’  Within the letter have a link to a piece of recorded content that a community has produced and/or a sample website for one of your geographic communities to show the ‘why’ of getting involved.
o   +1 idea: If segmentation is not too difficult, include a specific invitation to the next chapter/virtual event targeted specifically to where the new member resides/demographic information.
  Conference/Meeting – For many organizations, their annual meeting is a central hub of learning, networking and member growth.  Often the value is in the live experience – something that is only gained by attending.  Therefore, an introduction to that meeting has to give an impression of that experience.
o   Call to action: Compile a brief ‘highlight video’ of what happens at the conference.  Send a testimonial from a first time attendee on the impression they had, and link to the video.
o   +1 idea: As a bonus, link to a piece of recorded content (i.e. a keynote, general session, etc.) so that the new member also gets a taste of the learning that they will find.
  Career Resources - Whether your professional is currently in the job hunt or is simply looking to explore their personal career path, an introduction to how you can help them with the next step, and the steps after that too is key.
o   Call to action: What are the top visited resources your members view/use?  Connect your new member with that resource as an example of what they can find in the career section of your site. 
o   +1 idea: Has your job board directly helped your members get that next position?  Capture a few of those stories, and weave that narrative into the introduction to your career center.

There are of course other organization hubs that you can build out here – certification focus, research, volunteering, etc.  What you include in the welcome stream should reflect the engagement priorities of the organization, and ideally should be tied to those points of greatest value. 

While the decision to join is often made because of a single point of value entry (attending the conference, taking a class, a certification, etc), the decision to renew is usually based on the value the member finds in belonging in that first year.  A robust, vibrant welcome stream is one of the strongest investments an organization can make in keeping its members.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Defining "Membership Growth"

In the past few weeks I have had a number of conversations with some good friends and colleagues where they used the phrase “membership growth” but in each case their definition differed.  Essential for any association, and almost always a key factor in their strategic plan, a clear understanding of what you mean by “membership growth” is needed to truly measure if the efforts you are making match the results you seek – so here are a few definitions that may apply to what you are trying to do:

Traditional Definitions

      New Member Count Increase – You have succeeded in attracting new members to your organization – congratulations!  Key to this growth is an understanding of WHY they joined – a particular product?  A connection with a component?  A fellow professional encouraging them to do so?  Their employer requiring membership?  Tracking the reason for joining will let you hone your recruitment techniques to connect with the right professionals in the right way.

        Specific Segment Count Increase – In my world this has recently been that our count of global members has grown as opposed to domestic.  Depending on the focus of your organization, these could be segmented by geography, experience in industry (student, young professional, retired, etc), investment in organization (prospect, customer, custom member, full member), etc. 

       Increase in Renewal Numbers – Your organization is retaining a higher percentage of members, resulting in month over month/year over year longer affiliation with your organization.   Particularly when calculating the lifetime value of a member, the longer their affiliation the bigger bottom line return your association will see.
        Total Member Count Increase – Most often the addition of numbers 1+3 above – and also most often the bottom line the Board wants to see.  This is an increase in the total count of members affiliated with your organization.

Less Traditional Definitions

       Member Engagement – Are more members taking advantage of the value engagement opportunities that you present?  Are they getting more involved?  Is there an increase in conference attendance, resource utilization and feedback on your current offerings?  Perhaps an increase in member engagement means greater dialogue – members commenting of private and public social media platforms, participating in surveys and research or achieving your certifications.  Any of these factors could be considered membership growth.

     Volunteer Participation – Though I have only heard it used this way once or twice, an increase in the number of volunteers and/or growth in the tasks they accomplish may indicate a growth in membership as well.  Particularly for organizations where there is a strong reliance on volunteer efforts for membership drives and localized value and programming, this may be a key factor in the expansion of the association.

If your organization has a definition of membership growth I have missed, please add it to the comments below.

At different moments, with varying stakeholders, the definition you intend for my ‘membership growth’ may not be the same one that others are picturing.  While in general ‘membership growth’ is a yay factor, it is key to know what you are celebrating!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Satisfaction vs. Happiness

Surveys fill and often overfill our lives.  As we look to improve the services and resources that we offer our members, and in turn increase their engagement with our organizations, we too turn to these tools to evaluate how we are doing and what changes we need to make.  Of any of these, few are as uniform as our member satisfaction surveys.  They can include the basic “Is your membership fitting your needs” to a long listing of individual products that are touched by member pricing and benefits and evaluation therein.  Thinking about these surveys I wonder…

Is satisfaction the same as happiness?

When we ask our members and customers about our products, satisfaction seems to be the right gauge.  They made a purchase, used one of our products – did it meet their expectations?  Would they recommend it?   What modification would they like to see?  Next to tracking purchase/usage this can be one of the most effective tools we have to measure how effective each product is.

Membership is an animal of a different color.  Though sold on a website, membership is not a product as much as it is a relationship between the member, the organization and the community.  I find it hard to believe when a member is thinking about renewing that their ultimate decision is based on whether or not they were ‘satisfied’ with their membership.  To me, that sounds like – did you have enough line items in your list of benefits?

The value of membership comes down to relationships and engagement.  Did they participate?  Did they take action?  In short, did they feel like they ‘belonged’ and grew from that belonging? 

Following this philosophy, the question of membership renewal becomes less cerebral and more emotional.  While a satisfied member may renew, a happy member will.

Generating happiness is harder in some ways – we essentially have to say, how is what we are creating AWESOME?  How do we ensure that our tools and resources evolve from independent silos to connected experiences that leave our members smiling?  That they walk away on such a high that they can’t wait for their next taste, and with their happiness they want to pay it forward and get others involved? 

If we incorporate easy and logical into access, interweave community sharing and connection into usage and recognition and reward into completion, everything from conferences to certifications will become happiness generators.  And if our members find a place where their money buys them both the knowledge and network access they need combined with an emotional high, the question of membership renewal will be much easier to answer with a positive response.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Get Rid of the Volunteer Cliff

Associations need volunteers.  We rely on our volunteers for strategic insight, strategy and direction.  Our volunteers become our subject matter experts, serving as guides and gurus for one another under the association framework.  Through our volunteers we benefit from local or specialized groups and programming.  For every organization there is a path of growth and recognition, however formal, that a volunteer travels.  Their journey may start from handing out name badges, and in a number of years they may end up on the Board of Directors.   These paths are neither constant nor pre-established, but they exist and we rely on them to drive our organizations forward just as much as we look to the bottom line on the financial returns to be ever growing.

The primary focus for most associations is to feed the pool of volunteers.  As organizations expand there is an ever enlarging demand to fulfill the number of responsibilities to make everything run.  Recruiting new volunteers, avoiding volunteer burnout, creating a volunteer acceleration curve – these are all primary foci of associations.  Yet, instead of creating a volunteer path I believe too often we create a volunteer cliff.
A volunteer has given to you organization – they have climbed the proverbial volunteer ladder and reached the pinnacle – be it the association BOD or their own local chapter presidency – I ask, what next?  Too often we make the assumption that there are lifetime diehards who are so committed to the association that without a next step they will find their own next step of involvement.  I believe this is taking for granted one of our most valuable resources.

We all know volunteers basically work a part time job in the time they commit to our organizations – for no pay.  If we can not help them realize what options they have to continue that volunteer growth, then we risk losing their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for the very things that make our associations great.  So they have been Chair of the BOD – even Past Chair – what next?  Do you have a suggested path they should follow?  Options for how they can continue to contribute that are portrayed in a manner that does not seem to be a step backwards?

I believe this is one of our neglected groups of volunteers – the PVIPS (Post VIP’s) – they have had the limelight, influenced the direction of the organization – locally or globally – and have been ‘put out to pasture.’  If you do not have specific ways they can stay involved, then the assumption that they will is false.   Here are just a few options:

1.       Mentorship: for next gen leaders, for those entering the profession, for forming ‘clubs’ of past presidents, vp’s, treasurers, etc – how can these leaders take their hands-on knowledge and serve as mentors to those that come next and beyond
      Advisorships: Rather than mentoring a person, what if these leaders still had the option to submit feedback on the strategic direction and initiatives of the organization?  The BOD would have a knowledgeable source to rely upon for perspective.
      Implementation:  Neither the BOD nor the staff can do everything – and we should not expect them to do so.  After identifying strategic initiatives and creating task forces, etc – what if these leaders stepped into roles of direction and implementation – something nature to their past leadership experience

Of course there are more options – but in whatever path(s) you establish, to forget about your FIBS (Former Important Big Shots as used in my org – yes, they have ribbons) is to let go of one of your most valuable resources.  Our long standing volunteers deserve thanks, recognition, and assistance in understanding how they can continue to contribute and lead.  That path divination is in many ways up to us.