15
Apr
14

Nonprofits struggling to meet demand

brokenpiggybankLast week’s post focused on the economy, and here I am writing again about it.

But I want to foster discussion on Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2014 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey, the results of which it released on April 7. NFF is a community development financial institution.

Leaders from more than 5,000 organizations participated in the sixth annual survey. The big takeaway: Nonprofits were hit especially hard when the economy crashed, and recovery hasn’t been easy. In fact, many nonprofits are seeking new funding sources.

Perhaps even more startling is that while 80 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their services, only 56 percent could meet those needs in 2013. And only 11 percent of respondents thought 2014 would be easier.

“Americans rely on nonprofits for food shelter, education, health care and other necessities, and everyone has a stake in strengthening this social infrastructure,” said Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund. “The struggles nonprofits face are not the short-term result of an economic cycle; they are the results of fundamental flaws in the way we finance social good.”

Antony Bugg-Levine

Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO, Nonprofit Finance Fund

Much of that “social good” is financed by government grants. But nonprofits that receive such funding have experienced a sharp decline in financial support, which means they’re exploring other avenues for financial stability.

According to the survey, 31 percent of nonprofits will change the ways in which they raise and spend money this year. In addition, 26 percent will pursue an earned income venture while 20 percent will seek funding other than contracts and grants, such as loans or investments.

In the survey, 41 percent of nonprofits reported long-term financial stability as goal. But 55 percent of organizations have three months or less cash-on-hand and 28 percent ended their fiscal year with a deficit.

As a result, nearly half of the nonprofits reported collaborating with others to cut administrative costs. Other strategies: cutting funds and changing the business model. As another cost saving tool, organizations are relying more on volunteers.

The good news, though, is that 37 percent of organizations plan to hire additional staff and 51 percent plan to invest in professional development in 2014.

As you well know, nonprofits are crucial to communities, especially those that serve low-income communities. Take Meals on Wheels, for example. In June, Associations Now reported that 70 percent of senior nutrition programs, such as Meals on Wheels, have reduced the number of meals they deliver while 40 percent of the programs have scaled back delivery days. According to the Meals on Wheels Association of America, many senior nutrition programs receive federal funding through the Older Americans Act, which took a huge financial hit as a result of the sequestration.

In short: It seems 2014 will continue to be tough for nonprofits, but they’re coping as best they can.

I’d like to write more about this topic as 2014 unfolds. So tell me: Has your nonprofit been affected by the economy? What do you think of the survey findings?

08
Apr
14

Economically engaging

economic downturnThings were humming along pretty well a few years ago. Gas was, well, relatively affordable, grocery bills were somewhat manageable and people were working.

And then 2007 hit. As the economy came crashing down, many of us lost jobs, houses and much more. Stocks and investments plummeted. Luxuries fell by the wayside.

Fast forward seven years, and the U.S. is slowly coming back, experts say. But consumers are cautiously optimistic and their spending reflects hesitation.

And that’s affecting nearly all industries and associations, according to a new Association Laboratory whitepaper released last month, which discusses the future of association engagement.

Simply defined, engagement is the relationship between a person or a business and an association. It considers touch points, interaction and influence. Measuring it is important for success, but doing so has become much more complicated since 2007.

“The recent economic downturn provided evidence that as the economic situation deteriorated, membership engagement, as measured by anticipated membership revenue, decreased,” according to the whitepaper.

For the purposes of the whitepaper, economy was divided into public and private sectors. In a recent study conducted by Association Laboratory, association executives revealed only minimal hopes for more engagement, mainly because of budget constraints of state and federal governments. The public sector has been hit especially hard by the recession, and professional development – which often includes association memberships – has fallen victim to budget cuts.

The three biggest factors affecting engagement, as reported by association leaders: reduced investment by federal and state governments; business mergers/consolidation; and nontraditional competitors entering the market.

In addition, as companies operate with leaner staffs, people have less time to commit to professional development. Return on investment has become increasingly important as some companies justify their existence in an uncertain economic climate. Also as a result of restructuring, decision-making is becoming more team-focused, and, quite frankly, things like association memberships and dues don’t take precedence.

As a result of tough economic times, government agencies – and the public sector in general – are facing more scrutiny.

So what does all this mean for associations?

engaging customers“To improve engagement, the association needs to identify and develop a deep understanding of the primary audiences, stakeholders or markets it serves,” Association Laboratory said.

Associations should understand the needs and expectations of their industries, especially as some companies contend with new market strategies and trends. They need to concentrate only on essential services and needs, which means legacy programs may have to be cut.

In addition, fostering professional networks will be key to improving association engagement. And relationships will need to become more intimate, which includes developing brand ambassadors.

“The decision-making environment facing associations will be complex and dynamic,” according to the whitepaper. “It will challenge many of the assumptions associations have used to guide membership and engagement strategy. Associations that invest in understanding their market more fully and aligning their strategic initiatives and organizational structure more closely with market needs will have a much higher likelihood of developing and sustaining membership engagement.”

Association Laboratory provides suggestions on how to use the data and recommendations.

Key questions for discussion:

  1. Who are the primary, secondary and tertiary audiences essential to the mission and market success of the association?
  2. What are the leading economic and business or professional influences facing the association’s members and what are the implications of these forces on their attitudes and behaviors relative to engagement?
  3. What is the historical culture of engagement within the industry and profession and what are the implications?
  4. What benefits and goals of engagement do key audiences seek and how are those benefits reflected in choices relative to the association?
  5. How should we define and measure engagement and modify our strategies based on performance?

How would you answer these questions? Has your association been affected by the sluggish economy?

01
Apr
14

Navigating Extreme Association Trends

ASAE held its annual Great Ideas Conference in Orlando, FL last month. During that conference, Scott Oser and I had the pleasure of presenting a session titled, “Under Pressure: Navigating Extreme Association Trends.”

More than 50 association executives hailing from across the country attended our session. We were pleased so many of our colleagues were willing to take the plunge, as this session required an extensive amount of audience participation.

Ultimately, the goal was to openly discuss three apparent trends in the association community. They are as follows:

  1. Membership is dead
  2. The demise of face-to-face meetings
  3. The social media imperative

Attendees were led through a series of exercises that allowed them to reflect on what they thought about each trend, how they believed the trend related to their organizations and any action items they might want to explore upon returning home. Fortunately, our colleagues were not shy. Following is a summary of their insights.

sprint-unlimited-my-way-undead-zombie-commercialMembership is dead; or is it?

This so-called trend has been heard loud and clear throughout the association community for years now. Although it’s received a lot of press, there are a number of recent studies indicating that membership in many associations is, in fact, growing.

After reviewing facts supporting both sides of this trend, attendees did not believe that membership is in a desperate state of decay. Rather, attendees agreed that the membership life cycle is changing and lapses in membership, when members leave for a period of time before returning, are becoming more common. They also discussed the need for more personalized membership experiences, requiring more membership data and a more targeted marketing approach. Finally, nearly all participants agreed that if associations understand the needs of their members and have a strong value proposition, the existing membership model is a viable option so long as tweaks are made based on industry needs.

conferenceThe demise (or rather reduction) of face-to-face meetings

Everyone’s professional development budgets are strapped these days and time is limited. We’re all busy; there’s simply no going back. So while our participants indicated a necessary reduction and consolidation of face-to-face meetings to right size the number and type of meetings planned each year, there’s simply no evidence they’ll be canceled altogether (at least not in our lifetime). The reason is simple: networking. In fact, in a global survey of 2,300 Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95% said that face-to-face meetings are both key to successful long-term relationships and to building strong relationships.

We did, however, determine that this shift in the professional development landscape has rightfully encouraged many of us to re-evaluate our face-to-face meetings to ensure exceptional attendee experiences that focus on learning research, supporting the styles and preferences of our attendees. Moreover, there’s a renewed emphases on identifying and offering quality topics and facilitators that meet attendee needs (vs. wants). This has resulted in tighter value propositions and more thoughtful marketing collateral. Many had also explored hybrid conference models (including live streaming, virtual expos and the like) as a means of opening up their associations to new audiences.

Social-Media-Manager-Job-DescriptionThe social media imperative; are you crazy?

The introduction of social media has had a profound impact on the way associations reach their members and customers. In fact, there’s been so much talk about social media and its benefits that you might think failing to allocate marketing resources to social media would justifiably harm your organization. While a good number of associations are using social media to their advantage, there are an equal number of associations that are not. And believe it or not, they exist to tell the tale.

When presented with points and counterpoints to the use of social media, our colleagues did not easily reach consensus. What they did agree on, however, is important: If you are going to use social media, you must have a strategy in place that leverages best practices and you must allocate the appropriate resources to effectively implement your plan. If you are not using social media smartly, or if you are unnecessarily pulling your staff away from other essentials products or services, you may be doing more harm than good. That said, participants seemed to concur that most organizations should have some form of social media presence. At the very least, if a member or a prospective member searched for your organization on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, they should find a link to your website for more information.

Final thoughts

This session was held on the very first day of the conference so we were able to follow-up with participants for the next couple of days. Time and again we heard from our colleagues that they appreciated hearing both sides of each trend. They also enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss with their peers how each trend applied to their unique situations. Many attendees told us that far too often only one side of the issue is presented. Moreover, it’s often implied that going against the grain would somehow result in dire circumstances. Both Scott and I believe this is rarely the case and are very happy we were able to bring attendees together to discuss a number of the most “controversial issues” facing our profession – if only for 75 minutes. More conversations like this need to happen in our organizations before new ideas are implemented if we are to remain viable, solvent organizations in the future.

Tell us: Where do you fall on each of these issues?

25
Mar
14

Association e-learning: what you need to know

Sarah Lugo

Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive

This month’s guest blog post is by Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Associations are beginning to grow their education departments by bringing member education online. Why? Selling courses and certifications online provides a new revenue source for the association while adding more value for members. At the same time, members who can’t attend a conference or workshop benefit from the convenience of on-demand content. But it’s difficult for many associations to determine the types of offerings they should provide online.

Want to get off to a good start with your association’s online education products? Here are my suggestions for best-in-class member education:

Give members what they need and want
. Will an eight-hour course be something members will utilize or do they prefer shorter “mini modules?” The education members want online will likely differ from what they want at a conference. Analyzing the online education products your competitors provide can also help you determine what already exists and what your audience wants. The best way to determine what your members need and want is to ask. Survey your members and gauge their interest in potential topics and formats. While you’re at it, ask members what they’d be willing to pay for these offerings. For tips on surveying members and valuing your education products, check out Digitec Interactive and Tagoras’ recent webinar.

Keep it fresh. The shelf life of an online course is not indefinite. Keep your content fresh by re-purposing and updating content routinely to ensure it’s both relevant and timely. Pre-plan your content’s maintenance schedule and decide how you’ll determine when the content has “expired.” One suggestion is to look at the data from your Google Analytics account and the association’s learning management system (LMS) to determine which courses are least popular among members. The trick is to refresh the course or webinar before traffic has died down completely. If the content has become so outdated that members have quit purchasing it entirely, consider whether the topic is still relevant to your members.

Invest in marketing. Most associations do an excellent job of marketing their annual meeting, but few know how, or even attempt, to effectively market their online offerings. Developing and delivering education is an investment like any other initiative. Don’t sell yourself short by assuming, “If we build it they will come.” Getting members involved early on (i.e. surveying) is also helpful in obtaining buy in. Keep members abreast of your plans to offer online education and begin marketing your offerings well before they launch. Once you’ve launched your first course, continue to roll out additional offerings and utilize features within your LMS to “up sell” members on related courses. You can read more about marketing your education products on the Association eLearning Blog.

e-Learning Concept. Computer KeyboardEducation is at the core of professional and trade associations, and technology-enabled learning is quickly gaining popularity with membership organizations. Associations are uniquely suited to provide members with specialized professional development and continuing education, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to get started with association e-learning and begin bridging the skills gap for your members. There is value in offering online education, and with these tips you’re sure to get off to the right start at your associations.

18
Mar
14

Numbers and trends and data…oh my

canstockphoto7351376-landingpageIn this day and age, we’re inundated with data. And some of us thrive on it. Especially event planners.

Data are key to improving your events, to giving your customers and potential clients what they crave. But how do you know which data are important?

It’s something called event intelligence, the subject of a new(ish) Professional Convention Management Association whitepaper by Eric Olson, CEO and president of Zerista, and Staci Clark, global marketing strategy manager for Cisco Systems.

Simply put: It’s about more than numbers on a page or stats.

Eric Olson, president and CEO, Zerista

Eric Olson, president and CEO, Zerista

“The data available to us today goes well beyond simple reports, like how many people showed up to an event,” Olson and Clark said. “New technologies and reporting tools are moving event data usage from a traditional focus on topline metrics, which provide a quick readout of your event, to a deeper dive into analytics that provides valuable context.”

The best way to tackle this? Combining quantitative (hard) and qualitative (soft) data. A good example: Measure how much your event gives back to the organization. For an exhibitor-focused event, after you’ve asked the questions about budget and purchase intent, evaluate whether exhibitors attended sessions or product demonstrations for new solutions or products. If so, chances are, you met their customized needs.

At the same time, be wary of big, flashy numbers, Olson and Clark warn. While it’s tempting to focus on record attendance, if your event isn’t drawing the right crowd for, say, your exhibitors, it doesn’t matter how many attendees you have. In other words, it’s the right mix of quality and quantity.

According to the whitepaper, there are three building blocks for event intelligence: attendee intelligence, operational efficiency and performance and business value measurements.

Staci Clark

Staci Clark, global marketing strategy manager, Cisco Systems

Attendee intelligence focuses on demographic and behavioral information. What are your attendees’ buying patterns? What are their interests? Data are gathered through survey and registration systems and once gathered, your organization can analyze data for patterns (i.e. technology interest).

Operational efficiency is less exciting, but equally important. Areas of focus include spend data, food and beverage stats and registration and housing trends. Such information will allow your organization to spend less to do more. Not to mention, you can ensure your attendees are well feed and that they’re comfortable in the space you’ve allotted.

Finally, business value: Don’t stray from your business goals. Identify and write down your organization’s ultimate goal. Do you want to increase your participation by 100 participants? Do you want 150 more vendors? Do you want to net $10,000 more in revenue? Make sure everything you do is aligned with your goals.

“Events have changed. Every stakeholder expects more,” Olson and Clark said. “And the key to serving them better is locked in the data that surrounds every experience. Every event organizer should be focused on data. Yet, with deadlines to hit and events to produce, can event organizers be expected to do it all?”

Yes, but keep it simple:

  • Collect as much data as you can, even if you don’t use it.
  • Set measurable business goals before you start analyzing data.
  • Focus on what’s important. If you can’t change something with a set of data, ignore it.
  • Bring in the experts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help analyzing your data.

Tell us: How do you gather and use data for your events?

11
Mar
14

New data: Volunteerism at an all-time low

volunteer-11As parents, I think most of us want to instill in our children the importance of giving back. Thus the reason I’m PTA president, I teach Sunday School and chaperone field trips.

As a working mom, it’s sometimes hard to manage professional and personal commitments, but new federal government data suggest that we working moms volunteer the most.

That said, volunteerism is on the decline, according to a new report released Feb. 25 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report found that volunteerism fell 1.1 percent in 2013, with a total of 25.4 percent of people reporting some form of volunteerism. This figure is the lowest since the bureau started the survey in 2002.

Data were collected through a supplement to the September 2013 Current Population Survey, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment for the nation’s civilian non-institutional population age 16 and older.

According to the report, about 62.5 million people volunteered at least once from September 2012 to September 2013, averaging 50 hours. And, as mentioned above, women volunteered more than men.

Surprisingly, while we’ve heard that Millennials and younger generations find volunteering important, 35 to 44 year olds volunteered the most, while 20 to 24 year olds volunteered the least.

Why? Because many of us in our mid-30s and mid-40s are parents. Specifically, the report found 44.5 percent of moms vs. 38 percent of dads volunteered. Religious organizations took the top spot for volunteering, followed by schools, sports groups or other youth extracurricular groups.

Other key findings of the BLS survey:

  • Married people volunteered at a higher rate
  • Those who achieved a higher level of education volunteered more often and were more likely to volunteer with multiple organizations
  • Part-time employees volunteered more than full-time employees
Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

The data may be surprising, but it’s important for associations to keep them in perspective, said Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC.

“There isn’t clear indication of why [volunteer hours are down], but remember that this study looks at community volunteering, which is different from association volunteering,” she said.  “We do know that people have less time and more work responsibilities, so it makes sense that volunteering is down and will continue to be until we create accessible volunteering.”

So what’s the key, especially to attracting young, energetic volunteers?

Gen Xers are inspired by entrepreneurial approaches and celebrate individual effort and risk-taking, Hoffman said.

In addition, Millennials thrive on cross-mentoring with older volunteers, especially when it comes to technology, said Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

“This presents a terrific way to build relationships between the generations, to create micro-volunteering opportunities for your younger volunteers, to allow them to develop the professional skills they seek through volunteerism and for your Boomer volunteers to learn new skills as well,” she said.

But first you have to ask, Engel added. In fact, according to the BLS study, 40.5 percent of people volunteered because they were asked.

And feedback is just as important. Engel and Hoffman suggest asking what interests volunteers, and it can be done casually during drinks, a quick poll or during a conference call.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC

“You can ask people to suggest topics for your newsletter, magazine, blog, webinars or conference, or vote on topics others have suggested. You can ask people to rate an article or comment on a blog post. You can ask people to post a question or an answer to your LinkedIn group, private community or list serv.

“You can ask people to make a personal call to a new member, welcoming her to your association. You can ask people to serve as welcome ambassadors at your chapter events or as meeting buddies for first-timers at your annual conference. You can ask attendees to share their thoughts at a town hall meeting at your next event. You can ask people to take a poll or short survey. You can ask people to share your content through Facebook or Twitter. You can ask them how they’d like to contribute to your association. Truly, you’re only limited by your imagination,” Engel said.

For more ideas on attracting volunteers, check out this previous blog post about mission-driven volunteering.

What trends are you seeing in your volunteers? Are you surprised by the findings of the BLS report?

04
Mar
14

Sharing our Great Ideas

The ASAE Great Ideas Conference is right around the corner. If you’ve not attended before, I highly recommend looking into it (if not this year, then next year). The event focuses on creative approaches to everyday issues in association management and is built around the sharing of – you guessed it – great ideas.

Unlike other events, this conference offers a relaxed, but business-oriented environment where you can step back from your day-to-day routine and be exposed to new thinking. Likewise, many of the ideas garnered at this conference can be immediately tweaked and applied to your own organization.

Scott Oser

Scott Oser, president, Scott Oser Associates

During this year’s program I have the good fortune to be speaking with my two favorite Osers – Donna and Scott. Scott Oser is the president of Scott Oser Associates and has more than 17 years of marketing experience in the association and publishing industries. Throughout his career, Scott has excelled in developing, implementing and analyzing multi-channel direct-marketing programs and is highly skilled in creating effective membership, marketing and sales programs.

Together, Scott and I will present:

Under Pressure: Navigating Extreme Association Trends
Sunday, March 9, 2:45 – 4 p.m.
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Plaza D

The session description reads as follows:

Countless authors and thought leaders claim to have identified “The Next Big Association Trend”—the end of the traditional membership model, the demise of the face-to-face meeting, the rise of the social media imperative. It’s confusing to know who to listen to and how it all applies to our organizations. Join us for an open and honest discussion about some of the most highly debated subjects in the industry today. We’ll clear the air about these polarizing association trends and you’ll leave with a simple strategy for evaluating the appropriateness of the next “Big Trend” within the context of your association.

Whether or not you’ll be in Orlando, join the discussion on Twitter by following @aaronwolowiec, @scottoser and the hash tag #ideas14 LO1.

Donna Oser, director of executive search services, Michigan Association of School Boards

Donna Oser, director of executive search services, Michigan Association of School Boards

The second Oser I’ll be speaking with is Donna Oser, CAE. Donna currently serves as the director of executive search services for the Michigan Association of School Boards; however, she also has extensive experience as a management consultant, coach and facilitator and specializes in membership, non-dues revenue and business innovation. We worked together to develop the myLounge concept for ORGPRO in 2013 and have since facilitated a number of presentations together. Some may say we’re kindred spirits.

Together, Donna and I will present:

The Solution Room: Burning Issues Resolved
Monday, March 10, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Florida A

The session description reads as follows:

The Solution Room is an innovative framework for knowledge sharing that provides participants with a brief but powerful consulting session on an issue or a topic of their choosing. Participants can expect to walk away with a variety of ideas and resources that can be immediately applied to their greatest workplace or personal challenges. Come prepared to actively participate!

Moreover, session participants will debrief the Solution Room framework and identify its applicability to their own organizations. Once again, you can join the discussion on Twitter by following @aaronwolowiec, @donaoser and the hash tag #ideas14 LO2. Handouts for both sessions will also be available here later this week.

In the meantime, tell us in the comments about a session you’re presenting at Great Ideas – or one you’re particularly interested in attending.




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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