Sunday, August 26, 2012

ASAE 2012: Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration

The post-conference Euphoria (capitalized on purpose) that is what remains after an ASAE annual has finally start to wear off, and before all the excitement from Dallas subsides to everyday life, there are a few highlights and thoughts that stand out that I want to make sure don’t get lost in the next eleven months.

      Ideas are everywhere – Last year in St. Louis I think I poured over the guide for hours trying to choose my sessions – which would I try to go to?  Could I do half and half to double dip?   This year the sessions still looked amazing beforehand, but I worried much less.  First, the ASAE twitter feed during conference ROCKS.  Seriously, as a contributor but mainly as a learner – if you follow the conference feed you can get the highlighted learning nuggets from so many sessions.   Compile these after, review them – you can do a whole presentation for your staff on learned lessons from conference just from these alone.  With that said, some of the best ideas that I discovered in Dallas were not in the sessions.  There were three places I found a-ha moments this year:

a.       Innovation Lounge/Social Media Lounge (Sorry Mandy – I don’t remember what this is ‘officially’ called) – these two lounges, situated across the hallway from each other proved to be hubs of conversation that was at once public in who I ran into, but private in affording comfortable space to share ideas.  Eventually, when I walked in – whether it was for a break, to check email, to innovate (see the next section) or it was on my route – I could glance around the people in either place and feel ideas waiting to be discovered. 

b.      Foundation events – I am a big believer in giving back to those causes and places that help you succeed.  For me, as ASAE has given me a stronger career path, giving back to the Foundation has been a logical choice.  The opportunities I had to have conversations with fellow association professionals at Foundation events in Dallas who feel similarly was inspirational.  To hear personal stories of how their lives have been changed by association and Foundation efforts, or how they have chosen to get involved and why only fueled my fire to want to do more.

c.       Best session of the conference – At a break between sessions I was sitting for a moment in the Innovation Lounge when I was joined by a colleague and friend.  Though we had spoken often before, there was an opportunity to just ask – what are you trying to get out of this?  What do you want to do in the association world?  How can we make a difference?  A five minute conversation became well over an hour – by the end of which I had further refined by own career path, educational goals, and what I would like to try and accomplish for associations.  I believe that my colleague did the same.  Daniel Pink was an amazing speaker.  The networking and new contacts were invaluable.  My ultimate learning moment?  Hearing a colleague’s association vision, passion and journey, and sharing my own.

      Innovation isn’t only for Great Ideas – I attended the Great Ideas conference for the first time last year, and can’t wait to go back this year.  I was happy to see an Innovation Lounge this year – and though I fear the term ‘innovation’ is getting overused, the concepts of development, betterment, ingenuity and creation are still cutting edge.  This year I saw different approaches taken to how leaders collaborated and made plans.  I was part of various conversations that weren’t focused on the way things have always been, but rather on the way things ideally could be.  I saw the start of projects, initiatives and efforts that will be months if not years in the making – and they each started from a single point of synergy or debate.  Innovation appeared to be inclusive of anyone who sought it out – and this year’s conference was truly a playground for the concept.

      Inspiration from leaders, colleagues and friends – At each ASAE event I attend I am again and again amazed at the new people I meet who bring such varied strengths, perspectives and approaches to some very homogeneous aspects of the association landscape.  Through these introductions my own perspectives broaden, as I consider options and opinions that would never before have occurred to me.  I was lucky enough this year to either run across or be included in a number of meetings of leaders – both volunteer and staff – who acknowledged the important work that had to be done, but were open and excited to find different, improved paths for greater success.  With so much to learn, and so much to experience, in the end the greatest take away from ASAE12 is still the people.  My colleagues who I am proud to call friends, my new fellow professionals who I look forward to seeing again, the larger community that I want to continually contribute to….the intangibles that truly ‘make it worth it.’

There is of course more….specific experiences, hospitality and socializing (I still dance like a 7th grader, I just care a little less now), volunteering, recognition, appreciation.  One thing I know for sure – ASAE13 in Atlanta is already on my calendar.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A New Resource for Volunteer Management, Chapters, Councils and More

Ok, so I know a blog is a place to express opinion and insight, but I just received something exciting that I want to share with my association colleagues - and this has become my vehicle for that goal.

I was honored this past year to serve on the ASAE Component Relations Council, and besides finding a whole new network of colleagues and friends I got to work on an amazing project with my friends Trevor Mitchell, Holly Duckworth and a host of other association leaders.  And the final product of that work is ready and will be available at the ASAE Annual Conference!

This will be a great resource to association professionals who work with volunteers, chapters, councils, SIGS, or any other type of component.  It will help associations looking to strengthen their relationship with their components, or establish member groups. The chapters were each written or updated by leaders in the volunteer and association world - presenting a host of approaches and insights.

We will have an official book launch on Sunday, August 12 from 1:00-1:30 at the ASAE Bookstore at the Annual Conference where you can come and meet the host of authors and editors and find out how this resource can help you and your association.

Questions?  Want more information?  Just let me know!

Can't wait to see everyone in Dallas!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What a Year Can Do

Though I did not realize it at the time, ASAE Annual Conference 2011 in St. Louis  was a turning point in my career.  I went in literally knowing no one.  One year later and life is very different.  I am a CAE.  I am an active volunteer.  I have found friends and colleagues in the association world.  And I can not wait for the conference in Dallas.

There have been some really great posts lately on how to get the most out of the ASAE Annual Conference – so I don’t really feel the need to repeat those key insights.  Instead, I found that Annual Conference was a beginning to a number of paths that I did not realize I was going to walk this year – and that is what I would like to share:

1.   Path to Learning – So I knew before I went to Annual last year that I wanted to get my CAE, and had been accepted to take the test.  I had NO idea how to exactly get there.  At conference I learned about review courses (I ended up taking the one with MSAE – never guessed I would be studying flashcards again!), study time lines, test taking strategies and met others also attempting the exam this past year.  It was at annual that I ended up meeting my eventual study buddy, and sure enough – 9 months later we both passed. 

2.     Path to Sharing – ASAE ’11 was where I first learned about the process of session proposals for additional conferences throughout the year.  With the encouragement of some new peers I submitted proposals that ended up with me in a Dr. Seuss hat at Great Ideas ’12.  Yes, my whole office has seen that ignite.  Yes, I am still referred to as ‘the rhyming association guy.’  And yes, it was SO much fun to do.   Annual definitely provides a chance to learn about presentation tips, techniques and opportunities during the year.

3.   Path to Volunteering – As association professionals, we know 6 words we can hear from members that can make a huge difference – “What can I do to help?”  Turning that around, and asking that of the ASAE staff has let me meet some amazing people, have thought provoking conversations, and most of all be able to give back to the profession that is my chosen career path and livelihood.  ASAE ’11 was where I first got the chance to start asking, and still do.

4.   Path to Giving – Having seen how much my professional life has been enriched by ASAE, it only felt right to start giving back to the organization that is giving me so much.  Over the past year I have become an ASAE Foundation donor, and though of course I would like to give more, I know that the contributions I have been able to make are going to great causes, research and initiatives.  If we don’t invest in our own profession, how can we hope to see more opportunities for professional recognition and success?

5.   Path to Community – Of everything I have gained, it is the colleagues – many of whom I am honored to call friends – that have made this past year amazing.  At events and meetings, or over meals and drinks, I have been able to learn so much from each of them, meet so many more from their connections – and feel like I have a community where if I have a question, I can ask and not only receive a dozen answers, but two dozen offers to help.  Starting these friendships at ASAE '11 truly was my biggest gain.

So I come back to ASAE Annual Conference this year from a different place.  This time I come feeling already part of the community.  I have times where I am going to be able to volunteer.  I know both what formal learning opportunities I want to engage in, and how to keep my eyes open for those moments of insight that can pass you by.  I get to walk the stage at an obscenely early hour to be recognized for my CAE.  Having gotten so much, I signed up this year to be a mentor/buddy/new friend to a first time attendee.  Though I am only going on my second year, I hope that I am able to share with them that, with an open mindset to learn, connect and get involved, ASAE Annual Conference can be a career and life changer.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Grassroots Innovation Leader

On a recent association chapter visit to southern California, a chapter president I met described a unique volunteer that he had on his board.  This volunteer was the one who was always suggesting five more things that the chapter could do, or ten ways the chapter could do what it was already doing better.  Lots of ideas, lots of energy....

While the volunteer had quickly taken a position on the chapter board, the other board members did not always love his participation.  His ideas would quickly span beyond the role of his position by either stepping on the toes of their title or potentially giving them additional assignments to their already busy volunteer workload.

Recognizing the potential in this volunteer, and not wanting to lose their insight or enthusiasm, the president created a new committee position for the coming year - the strategy chair.  Instead of overseeing one aspect of the chapter, this coming term the volunteer will be responsible for doing what they loved to do: crafting reflection of what the chapter should be doing that it wasn't and how it could be doing what it already did better.  These evaluations and suggestions would be submitted to the board for presentation and review, and in an ongoing strategic direction review process will be evaluated for implementation possibilities and timing.

 First, I am grateful to the chapter president who realized what they had in this volunteer and did not just passively allow them to reach a point of frustration that they turned their energy elsewhere.

More than that, I love the concept of a position of chief innovator for a chapter.  While some of the best innovation comes from the input of multiple perspectives and I would not be surprised to hear the eventual formation of an innovation committee of some kind, the idea of having a chief innovator for each component - or for every association as a whole - is a concept the I love.  Innovation as intention and not convenience.  Innovation as continuous and not sporadic. Innovation as recognized effort and not a passing suggestion. For growth, vibrancy and longevity this is what our associations and components need.

I am not yet sure if you can create the position without having the right person to fill it, but having it as a concept that is front of mind so it can be put in place when the right leader(s) comes along is something that I certainly intend to pass on to the rest of my chapters.

And do you think this chief chapter innovator has now been identified as a potential future leader on the larger association scene?  You better believe it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Life After CAE

Only now, over two weeks after taking the CAE, as I sit outside a cafĂ© in Amsterdam on a layover, do I finally feel like life is returning to some sense of normalcy.  For someone who reluctantly started a blog in the first place, there has been a small something missing inside of me as the weeks have rolled by and I have not posted.  As I started my CAE journey in January my friends who had just taken it assured me that my life would be very different in the coming months.  While they were right, I am not sure they knew just how encompassing that statement would be.

First, the obvious.  For the last 2-3 months before the CAE, I had no life.  No, really - between work, CAE studying and family time there were no empty slots in my schedule.  Past times such as reading for pleasure, blog writing, and….oh, I don’t know – spending time with friends were shelved.  There was so much to read, so much to discuss.  There were times where my experience served me well in preparing me for CAE scenarios.  And then there were those domains that the more I learned, the more I found out I did not know.  By the time the day of the test arrived, I at least felt like there really was no more I could have done to prepare myself for the exam.  Three hours (and 5 minutes) later, I walked out – slightly numb, definitely in a daze and in a state of disbelief that it was over.

Did I pass?  I have heard of people who have walked out of the exam confident they passed with flying colors who fail, and others who walk out lamenting that they got the most basic questions wrong who pass.  Me?  I think I did ok, came up short and will have to retake it.  6 more weeks upon writing to find out – and also not the point of this post.

So what have the two weeks, reentry into life period been like you ask?  I had a book waiting on my nightstand that took me under a day to devour (a bookworm, I am usually reading 2-3 books at a time – to only read CAE books was probably one of the greatest challenges).  Slowly I have been able to find the time to call and reconnect with old friends.  In my four and a half months of studying I missed new babies and jobs, a wedding and a separation, a lot of birthdays (just wasn’t on facebook everyday to remind me) and who knows what else.  I have yet to tackle my Google Reader, which haunts me with the number of well over 1,000 posts waiting to be read that  I know I should just hit “Mark all as read” but am pre-remorseful over the missed insights.  Exercise, better eating, sleep – they are all leveling back out.

So if it is all returning to the way it was, what has changed?  In short, me.  I am confident that I would like to become a CEO of an association someday.  While there are many paths that people take to achieve this position, I can not imagine aspiring to this goal without the knowledge that I have gained.  My studies for the CAE have given me insight into aspects of the association world that, simply, never crossed my mind before.  Now when I hear about an affinity program I think UBIT.  When before I saw exclusivity agreements in discussion I never realized the possible connect to anti-trust risks.  Though I may not be an expert in every area, I feel as though I have a working knowledge of most and am clear on where I need to really continue to concentrate my educational development.

But here’s the thing – even if I don’t pass the CAE (in which case I hope I will the second time), I am a better association professional for the experience.  This is not something that should only be for those aspiring to C-level positions.  In my review there were a number of times that I said – if I had known this, then the actions I took as a specialist/manager/director would have been different.  CAE preparation is not about a test – it is about knowing your profession so you can act from a knowledgeable and reliable standpoint.

I no longer look at our association world, or the nonprofit world in general, the same.  I have a greater appreciation for the complexities that must be constantly balanced for fairness, legality and success.  Though it has only been a few months, I feel older (or maybe the CAE just gave me more grey hair) – but in a good way.  And all of that is tempered with an excitement for how much more there is to discover and know.  I know that this has just been one step in my journey….but it has been
a defining one.

It feels good to be back.  It feels good to write again (never thought I would say that).  Sorry I was gone so long – but I hope my time away will lead to a greater level of insight in my posts.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Association Marketing: Do You Want to Get Rocked?

While I may not watch the Super Bowl each year for the commercials, I will admit it is hard to decide when to leave the tv to get more chili - during the game or the ads.  How is it that something that usually most of us find to be an annoyance in the middle of our shows, listening to music on the radio or waiting for a movie to start is something that we actually look forward to each year?  I think because we know that, for those few hours, the ads we are going to see are going to be awesome (and when they are not, you better believe we talk about that as well).

So we may not have a Super Bowl as a draw in the association world, but that doesn't mean we can't try to make our own marketing approaches memorable and something the customer comes back to again and again.  And for those who may say, associations do not have the budget of a large company producing a full blown commercial I would like to draw your attention to the ad for

Simple, funny, engaging.  And the message is pretty clear.

In a world of best practices we often fall back to our most comfortable patterns - an email blast followed by a postcard followed by another email blast, maybe a 15-day online coupon, a scramble when the numbers aren't there, two more email blasts to compensate, etc.  It is hard to break away from common pattern, so I understand why this is the default where most associations turn - and for many they can bring about success, even if much of the time it is only incremental.  What if instead we did not think a 1-3% growth was good enough?  What kind of marketing would we need to do to really grab attention?  To speak openly to our members and professionals, and make our message less about us (whether us is the association or the product/service it is advertising) and more about them?

The ASAE Foundation announced a new innovation grant program at Great Ideas 2012 in Colorado Springs.  Though marketing is not my forte, I hope that a number of creative professionals in that area submit for one of the grants.  We need our best practices to turn from our usual practices into creative, ahead of the curve practices.  If we can continue to shift our marketing messages from sales and advertisement to personal product/opportunity connection, if our message become more about the individual professional and less about the association, if we can create ads that members HAVE to show their colleagues - I think we would not only see much higher returns, but expect them as well.

Who knows, maybe the interludes at ASAE Annual Conference one year soon will be amazing association ads that we will all tweet and buzz about....and though the goal may never be for an attendee to ever say "Oh, I can to the session to see the ads" it would still be pretty cool if they were that good.

Monday, February 20, 2012

You've Got to Know When to Hold 'Em

I was recently reading a great post on the Mizz Information blog (thanks Maggie!) on Why Having Staff be Facebook Emissaries is a Bad Idea when I came across this comment: "My advice?  Hold steady with your Facebook page."  Good advice - except do associations really excel at deciding to 'hold steady?'

Waiting May Not Easily Compute in the Association World

Evaluating the professional environment, assessing resources, opportunities and risks and deciding to wait for a period of time before making a change is an oft-found foundational business practice.  The real estate industry, the stock market - inaction has to be an acceptable action decision if profit and benefits are to be maximized.  For a number of reasons, I think this concept is harder for associations to digest.

1. Volunteer Leadership Position Terms - For many volunteers, especially board members, there is an inherent need to 'get something done' during their term in office.  While this drive is to be applauded and we certainly don't want leaders that take office solely for the title or line on their resume, the desire to 'do' can often conflict with logical arguments to pause and let plans in action run their course.

2. "Me too! Me too!" - Another association or two are piloting a program or approach shift.  Well, if they are doing it, don't we have to do it as well?  Maybe the association will also take a similar course, but to do so simply because someone else is without taking the time to evaluate if it is a good fit with your association is a mistake.

3. The ROI of Waiting - While choosing to hold back on an action should be a researched/informed decision, ultimately it is still difficult to prove the ROI of waiting.  Whether it comes to the explanation of financial statements at the end of the fiscal year or if it makes an annual review a more difficult conversation, the return on avoiding loss is a much more complicated discussion and explanation.

Inaction - a Calculated Decision 

When we are talking about choosing temporary inaction, there should be extra emphasis on the word 'choosing.'  Not taking action based on missed communication, ineffective time management or forgetting is not a calculated decision.  A decision to wait needs to be based on an action - a decision made after surveying the environment and resources at hand that leads to the conclusion that waiting will produce better results in the long term.  Here are just a few reasons why an association may decide to wait:

1. Prioritizing Resources - If there are only 2 million things that an association can do at a time, and do them all well, then there should be careful evaluation when project 2 million and one arises. Is it more important that any of the other agenda items, and if so what is going to be put on hold until there is more time?  Choosing to hold off on a lower-priority program rather than continually adding to-do's when resources are already maxxed out is a good decision.

2. Short Term Only Success - A new shiny model arises, and a number of other associations jump right into the mix.  There is a fine line with being behind the curve, and waiting to see how an experimental model is going to work out beyond the initial start period.  An example of this is the concept of free membership.  Could this be the way that the association world goes eventually?  Maybe.  Is it a viable choice now - yes, if you can demonstrate that the revenue loss from membership dues is found in non-dues income and a larger membership participation.  From what it sounds like at this moment, many organizations that have been trying this option have not found this success just yet - so while we may all need to look at alternate membership models, if an association chose to wait a little longer to implement this one, they would certainly have good reason to do so.

3. Lack of Volunteer Leadership Support - Ultimately, we are volunteer-led associations that exists for the professionals we serve.  If association staff move forward on major initiatives that are in conflict with what the majority of the volunteer leadership feels is the right way to go, that will damage the important relationship that exists between the two.  Hopefully, if staff feel that a certain program is to the benefit of the association and is needed for continual improvement and growth, they can work with those volunteer leaders to get a lay-leader voice and champion and eventual approval.  Choosing to wait to make sure that you have volunteer support for initiatives is one way to ensure an ongoing relationship of cooperation and respect.

Waiting may not be easy, but in the right situation it can be the best choice at hand.  We should not dismiss choosing to pause if it will benefit our associations in the long run - we should just be able to explain if and when we are going to hit play again.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Guest Appearances

Over the past few weeks I have played in the world of guest blogging, and thought I would share the post listings here:

1. The Beginning of Membership as We Dream It - On the Affiniscape Blog.  After reading The End of Membership as We Know It and discussing future membership model iterations, I think that there is a 'sweetspot' where associations have the chance to take a step back and explore what membership would be if there were no limitations.  Defining membership first from our imagination may help direct the paths we take to be ones we want and not just ones we need.

2. 5 Tips to Keep Your Association Website on the Curve in 2012 - On the AssociationTech Blog - As 2012 ramps up there are a number of articles that have come out describing steps to take to make sure that your website stays forward looking.  For many associations, our websites still struggle to be 2005 much less 2012 - here are 5 quick tips to use when evaluating if your association website is ready for today before moving to tomorrow.

3. Leader Tomorrow?  Work on these Skills Today - On the Millennial Chat Blog - Whether in your volunteer efforts or in the workplace, do you see expanding leadership positions in your future?  Here are just three suggestions of areas of concentration and development today that can help those future pursuits.

And though I have not yet posted, I am excited to participate with newly certified CAE Lauren Hefner on her new blog on the CAE experience - . With posts from those who have tried to become a CAE, those who have succeeded, and those who are in the process of studying/testing (that last one is me) - this blog has the potential to be a great resource for all association professionals who look to get their certification.

A new post will be back on association141 soon - see you then!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Membership Renewal Should be More Than a Business Transaction

I recently received my first renewal invoice for my ASAE dues and (warning: ruining the ending of the story) – I renewed.  The network and community I am a part of, the volunteer opportunities and ways to give back to the association world I have discovered – all of it makes my continued relationship with ASAE as a member a no-brainer.  I am looking forward to receiving what I think is one of the best examples of a membership card in the association world – my foldout from ASAE with a trophy on front with my years of affiliation, personalized to my membership.  

So, now that you know the ending, I have to say that the renewal process I experienced as a member was….well, not cutting edge.  Perhaps it is unrealistic expectations, or that since my track is membership I look with an ultra-critical eye, but I think there are a number of basic lessons we can tease out of the first phase of the ASAE renewal cycle.  (I renewed after the first phase – I know further down the line that if you do not renew you received additional asks and person phone call follow ups.  If the full ASAE renewal cycle plan is available for member review on Collaborate, it would be much appreciated if someone can post the link in the comments below)

1.      1. Invoice first? – Ok, call me crazy, but I just don’t keep stamps in the house.  With the way that postage continues to escalate I know I should buy some of those ‘forever’ stamps that will hold the price steady – but I just don’t have anything to mail.  My bills are online, I usually send e-cards, and when ordering items, Amazon is my buddy.  Though I know there are people who still prefer to renew from a paper form, mailing or faxing it in, I can not believe that this is the majority of the association population.  I really believe that in today’s membership world, the first formal renewal ‘ask’ should be electronic.  I rather click through, pay through the site, and be done in under three minutes.  The benefits to this are a win-win all around – saves the member time and postage/finding a fax machine, online renewal should be tied to the AMS so that upon payment renewal is immediately acknowledged, and best of all – not printing an invoice and mailing it saves costs.  Yes, if I do not renew after the first email/e-outreach then send the invoice – but give me the chance to do it online first!

2.       2. Online Renewal Path Identification (ORPI) – Ok, so I wanted to come up with a new association acronym – but in all seriousness, it is an important one.  On the renewal invoice I received there was information for sending it back in, and faxing it in.  There was the general association website, but no direct url/link was given for renewal.  If I wanted to renew online, I was on my own to find the path.  Granted, there is a link from the homepage, but if the invoice is going to be sent it should be comprehensive in providing the different renewal options.

3.       3. Missing the Warm Fuzzies – While for an association membership renewal is a transaction that is counted and depended upon for the budget, this is not a member-centric perspective.  Ideally, a member has a relationship with their professional community thanks to the association, and the discussion of value attributed with that relationship is ongoing throughout the year.  When the time comes for membership renewal, the ‘ask’ can start from a place of conversation and appreciation.  Thanking the member for their ongoing participation, recognizing that their affiliation with the association has made it a more rich and vibrant community.  With the help of members, some highlights of what has been accomplished, and what the association is looking forward to in the year ahead.  Then the opportunity to remain part of the conversation and important endeavors the association and its members is set to tackle in the year ahead – and the member can renew to remain a vital part of that effort.  I think the direct opposite of this approach is to simply send an invoice with what is owed, demographics to fill out and some general website information.  It is a missed opportunity to remind members of why they want to be members in the first place.

4.       4. Online Renewal should have Glitter – For most AMS it is difficult for the system to recognize the difference between membership renewal and buying a book when it comes to processing the transaction.  I understand that is where we are technology wise, and am ok with that for now.  With that said, the screens leading up to the decision to renew, and the automated response that is sent after should stand apart.   A purchase of a product is a singular transaction – a renewal payment is a commitment to an ongoing relationship with the potential for MANY purchases, volunteer involvement, etc – do we really want to treat them the same?  If we can get the emotion into the logistics of renewing membership, and make a member feel good immediately upon deciding to remain part of the association then that is a huge stake in the ground when the next organization opportunity presents itself.  (Note: I did receive an email letter to this end 8 days after I renewed)

I want to say that I think ASAE rocks – the community I have found and the professional I am becoming because of the association is simply invaluable.  I am guessing that the next steps in the renewal cycle are more engaging, and perhaps speak to some of what I addressed above.  I guess it is just the association professional in me that had hoped that experiencing my own membership renewal with my professional association would be a lesson in what to do rather than what not to do.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't Ask the Members, Talk to Them

In her latest blog post on Thanks for Playing, Elizabeth Engel asks how we have more interaction with our members - the best solution to the quandry of finding out how to better serve them.

First, let me be clear what I do NOT think the answer is - more surveys.  In an age when we can survey for free with a few clicks on the keyboard, we are asking for feedback way too often (you can see my previous post on that rant).  Surveys may give us a snapshot of a member opinions for that moment in time, but they become outdated the moment we receive the results.  What is worse is that we can not hear the tone, background, new ideas or suggestions that the member may use while taking the survey (as alluring as the 'anything else to add' box is).  Surveys serve their purpose - benchmarking and evaluating - but they are not what is going to let us know on an ongoing basis how to better serve our members.

Now that I got that off my chest - here is what I think we should be doing, and each of these suggestions fall under the same goal.  We have to stop asking our members what they want or need, and instead talk to them about it.  Through conversation and interaction, members will not only know that we are listening to them, but we will be able to build upon their ideas and even have them share with one another.  Here are three 'hows':

1. Use social media the way it was intended - to connect and not advertise.  Want to kill a LinkedIn discussion?  Post a marketing campaign to get people to register for your next conference.  Want people to stop following your association's twitter account?  Use it to promote educational products.  Seriously people, the point of social media is NOT marketing, and though that may be a happy by-product, we need to do a better job at respecting the medium where we are trying to connect with our professionals. 

What if months before our next conference, we crowd sourced sessions?  What if we did not stop at crowdsourcing for ranking, but let the session topics each be presented and discussed for their merits and pitfalls.  Before even putting their presentation together a speaker would have better feedback on what attendees are looking for, what they need to learn, and why they find the topic interesting.  Incorporate that into your next conference, and watch as each person who participated in one of the discussions feels part of the conference community months before showing up.

What if we showed some praise and virtual love to association volunteers - from board members to badge stuffers - giving them a social media shout out.  How much would we reenforce their commitment to the association?  How many new volunteers could we find through the discussions that would ensue about how awesome the member is and why? 

Private social networks, twitter, facebook, etc - they are all meant for back and forth between people.  Not between members and an association - but between people.  Are we engaging with our members as a person, and not as a faceless organization?  Is it an acronym who is posting a query, or a real person who cares about the answer and will continue talking?  If we are going to be there for our members, then we have to be there. 

2. Phone calls are in, email is out - How many emails do we get a day?  100? 300? More?  Let's be clear - cutting through the email clutter that is our inbox becomes more and more difficult.  Taking the time to craft a thoughtful answer is often a luxury many professionals no longer feel that they have - after all, while they work 20 minutes on one email another 100 emails poured into their box.

But if we can talk to them on the phone, it is a wholly different story.  A conversation on the phone at this point is unique - a chance to be heard with emotion and not an emoticon.  Even if it is after a member has decided to leave our association, a conversation about their experience is much more valuable than any exit survey, and between the two it is the former that will increase the likelihood that they will return someday.

While we may not have the full staff time we need to make all these calls, there are companies out there that have this expertise in the association community.  It is worth the money.  You want dollars and cents? How many renewed memberships, conference registrations, or certification courses would it take to cover $40/hour?  You want real value?  How many stories of a member expressing that they felt the association truly cared about them because they got a personal phone call welcoming them back and asking if they need anything would be too many?  And for those of us on staff, the next time we can call a member with a question instead of shooting off an email - we should really try to do so.

3. Go to them, instead of expecting them to come to us - I know this is going to be the least popular suggestion of all, but we need MUCH bigger travel budgets, and staff need to go to where the members are.  That means more visits to chapter events.  That means being in person for council strategy meetings.  That means going to join members for tours or social events.  It means face-to-face, honest conversation.  It means listening.  It means showing up. 

Yes, we have a unique opportunity at our conferences to interact with members in this way - an opportunity that we should try to take advantage of, but in reality often due not since we are working from 5am-11pm every conference day.  Going to where our members are show they we care enough to make the time to be there for them.  It shows we are willing to make the investment in their profession, in their career, in them.

And best of all, these conversations will give us better knowledge of what our professionals do, how they use the knowledge we try to provide for them, and what their own measures of success are better than any survey monkey poll.

None of these answers are revolutionary, and all take effort,  Yet, if we are going to be good at answering the question of how we can better serve our members, it should take effort.  We should need to be out there, listening, reacting and working with and not just for our members. 

Seriously, the time to start the conversation is now.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Challenge Accepted: Make the World a Better Place

Though I have been playing blog catch-up lately, when I came across Maddie Grant's great post/challenge on what steps each of us plan to take in 2012 to make the world a better place I could not resist responding. 

1. For the association world: Collaborate.  No, I am not talking about the ASAE social network platform (though it is a great place to connect with colleagues and get involved).  I am talking about associations working together to work together.  There are so many of us out there, and each association has the things it is REALLY good at, and those areas where we are constantly struggling (and pouring resources) to just tread water.  In 2012 I am going to identify those models I have that are the top 10% of what I see out there, and find corresponding associations that excel in other areas for the potential of collaboration.  If my association can help them with our model of success, and they can help us with theirs perhaps neither would waste so much time or resources in reinventing the wheel.

2. For the world world: Be polite.  It may sound very kindergarten, but I really believe that the power of 'please' and 'thank you' can win against a rude imperative any day.  It may not always be easy to accomplish this one in a frustrating situation, but if it was easy I guess it would not be something that takes an extra effort to do.  We want the world to be a more peaceful place?  The answer starts with the words I choose to use. 

3. For me: Pick Up Trash.  Ok, so the back story to this one is that I grew up in NJ near Six Flags Great Adventure.  I worked there for a summer or two (take it from me - you never want to run the Guess Your Age/Weight Booth) and Six Flags would give the staff 'bugs bucks' to spend on food/merchandise if they saw you setting an example.  One of the primary ways to earn bugs bucks - pick up trash instead of walking by it.  It has stuck to this day, and if I am about to walk over a piece of trash an internal pull tries to get me to pick it up and throw it away.  I guess I am going to start carrying hand sanitizer wherever I go, because in 2012 I am going to do my part.  The Earth doesn't need to wait for someone else to pick up the litter I walk over - I will make this world better by making it cleaner.

Not sure if these are really the deep, insightful ways that others have pledged to help the world in 2012 - but I think they at least have the right intention.

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

To Find the Right Answer, We Have to Ask the Right Question

At this point, most associations have accepted the reality that membership, as traditionally structured, is changing.  The question that comes up again and again is - do we have a truly worthwhile value proposition?  Or perhaps the statement - if we only had the right value proposition then more members would renew and a greater number of our customers would become members.  Here is my problem with this approach - have you ever heard a member use the words 'value proposition'?

Even though the term may connote the same meaning as what we are trying to achieve, if we are truly trying to be more member-centric, we should build the value of membership on what is at the heart of the association premise as a whole - because of a professional's membership in their association, they will know more, progress further faster, earn more money over their lifetime, and have a stronger network of colleagues and contacts. 

In short - if someone is a member of their association, they will be a better professional and have a better life.

As we shift from a long list of benefits to focus on the impact-value of truly useful offerings and opportunities, we also need to transform the theme of the narrative we are telling. 

- Is a central member benefit a private social network?  We need to share stories of those who were able to solve problems and find opportunities using that network. 

- Do members get exclusive job offerings?  If so, we should share the testimonials of those that have found their next step because of that opportunity.

- Can young professional members participate in a mentoring program with Fellows/experienced mentors?  We should turn this benefit into an invitation.

-  Are there volunteer positions that are exclusively for members?  Let's tell the 'so what' - have those who have held the position talk about what skills they learned or contacts they made by serving that they then used to advance at work. 

If we create benefit opportunities that customers can easily weave into their own story of success, then the value of membership is both personal and obvious.  The impact of the association transcends the benefits it offers and becomes a platform for ongoing professional growth and success. 

Smarter, better, happier professionals - the formula for that result should be our value proposition.