Archive for February, 2014

25
Feb
14

That’s so…2013

Each month, we’re asking editors and content producers to share with us what they’re writing about, upcoming trends and other behind-the-scenes must-haves for the association industry.

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact Kristen Parker, digital content manager for Event Garde LLC, at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

This week’s guest blog post includes excerpts from “What’s Out, What’s In: Association Edition,” by Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

Rebranding

Out: Aging brands
In: New names, fresh logos

Globalization, digital technology, shifting markets, regulatory change—with so many disruptions in the business environment, it’s no wonder that a slew of associations remade their brands and aimed to broaden their reach in 2013. Cases in point: Lobbyists became government relations professionals; recording merchandisers became Music Biz. Associations in the fashion, mobile, supply chain, marketing and recycling industries hopped on the rebranding bandwagon as well. We’ll be watching for who’s up next in 2014.

Conferences

Out: Lavish meetings and events
In: Slim federal conference and travel budgets

There’s a new reality for associations serving industries that interact heavily with the federal workforce: Government meeting attendance isn’t what it used to be. The wave of scrutiny that started in 2012 with revelations about a lavish General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas grew higher this year as reports of excessive spending on meetings by the IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs came to light. With slimmer conference and travel budgets now written into law, association events will continue to take a hit. Associations will need to drive home the value of face-to-face meetings to government agencies that will be footing the bill with fewer dollars and congressional watchdogs looking over their shoulders.

Workplace Culture

Out: Constant collaboration
In: Time and space for solitude

This was the year when a “whole world of secret introverts” was exposed, and being quiet was suddenly cool. Thanks largely to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” momentum is building for greater understanding of different personalities and work styles to leverage every staffer’s strengths in pursuit of business goals. It was an eye-opening message for associations, where collaboration is king. Remember the buzz around open workspaces to promote teamwork? Now, not so much.

Volunteers

Out: Long-term commitments
In: Micro-volunteering

Plenty of dedicated association volunteers share their time and talents in abundance year in and year out—but that’s probably a small group of your hard-core enthusiasts. Micro-volunteering is emerging as a smart way to expand your volunteer pool and build engagement among your less connected members. Got people who can’t commit to helping plan your annual meeting, but can spend a few hours being a conference greeter? This is for them.
Editor’s note: See a related blog post for more on this.

Advocacy

Out: Bemoaning congressional gridlock (was this ever in?)
In: Putting pressure on Washington

The government shutdown in October highlighted the power of associations to show policymakers the consequences of their actions—or inaction. From air traffic controllers to businesses to Head Start and Meals on Wheels, nonprofits sent volunteers, activists and cold, hard data to D.C. about the effects of the shutdown. Their collective message: This hurts everyone. Fix it.

Learning

Out: Expert-driven education
In: Peer-to-peer learning

With competition heating up from for-profit providers offering free or low-cost alternatives to association education programs, pressure to innovate in association learning mounted in 2013. While we don’t expect to see the traditional keynote address fall by the wayside anytime soon, associations are experimenting with decentralized learning formats where peers interact in smaller groups and more casual settings. Is a “learning village” right for you? Or if you need to beef up your online offerings, digital credentialing may be the ticket. You might be surprised at how motivating a digital badge can be.

18
Feb
14

The certification conundrum

Book questionTo certify or not to certify. That seems to be the debate among association professionals.

CAE. APR. They’re just letters, right? Sort of.

When listed after someone’s name, they add credibility. And on a resume, those letter combinations pique employers’ interests since it means candidates strive for professional development. Whether it’s for prestige, a salary bump or a resume builder, people from all industries seek out certification programs.

So it’s a safe bet that just about every industry has them. But the question is, should your association offer certification programs?

Such programs can be costly and sometimes there are legal loopholes, said Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting, LLC. It’s tempting to jump on the certification bandwagon but first, it’s important to conduct research. And lots of it.

The three reasons most associations cite for starting certification programs are to generate revenue, to increase attendance at events and to one-up (or at least match) their competitors, Rops said.

Increasing revenue is a good goal to have, but it takes time. And too often, associations measure success with dollars. But money should never be the motivating factor.

In addition, while boosting attendance may seem tempting, the best way to increase interest is to improve curriculum. If your association needs a certification program to draw attendees, chances are, better content would do the trick.

Finally, while it’s human nature to compare, associations often wear blinders when doing it. For example, your association may think its program is better – and it might be. But the key is to determine the market demand.

How? Research: What’s already out there? How can your certification program complement – not compete with – existing programs? Remember, Rops said, just because your competitor does it, doesn’t mean you should.

Ask your members what they want. But rather than simply asking if they would be interested in a certification program, explain to them the specifics of the program – goals, eligibility criteria, testing requirements, etc. – and provide a timeline. This will help to avoid the inflated “yes” answer.

Mickie Rops

Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting LLC

“The key is to agree to step back and strategically consider what you are trying to accomplish and determine if certification is the most effective strategy for accomplishing it,” Rops said. “Yes, this may delay progress for a month or two, but it may very well save your association a costly mistake or help develop a certification program that’s much stronger for it.”

But where does an association start? The first step is to determine goals, and this might be a good project for a board of directors. Possible goals could include protecting health and safety, enhancing career mobility and opportunities for individuals or providing performance standards. Once you determine goals, make sure they align with your association’s mission.

Next, an association should weigh opportunities vs. obstacles, Rops said. Certification programs can provide improved visibility for the field/industry, but they can also create a rift between certified and non-certified members, and with partnering organizations. Your organization needs to decide if that’s a risk it’s willing to take.

And finally, associations should examine whether offering certification programs is truly feasible. Things to consider: Do you have enough staff to support such a program? Do you have enough funds? (Research alone usually costs $100,000 plus, Rops said.)

I’d like to open this up for further conversation. If your organization offers certification programs, what was the impetus for starting them? How do you measure the success of such programs?

11
Feb
14

Goodbye e-learning

TechStockPhotoAs a former journalist, I love data. And trend data are even better.

So when I came across “Association Learning + Technology 2014,” a recent report by Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, founders of consulting firm Tagoras, imagine my delight!

Young or old, technology has redefined the way we learn and work. As 8-to-5 days at the office have slowly turned into 24-hour social media networking from the car and virtual meetings during the kids’ soccer practices, social media has filled in the gaps.

“The world of continuing education and professional development has changed dramatically in the past few years,” Cobb and Steele said.  “To meet member needs and stay out in front of the competition, you need to arm yourself with real data targeted to help you grow your programs.”

The 52-page Tagoras report provides such data, which were collected based upon a survey of 200 trade and professional associations. “Association Learning + Technology 2014” is designed to help association leaders strategize for a new learning landscape, while meeting their members’ needs for convenient and quick access to information.

There’s a goldmine of information in the report, which you can get for free if you subscribe to Tagoras’ free e-newsletter.

I’m sure the trends and data provided in the report will provide future blog fodder. But for starters, Cobb and Steele have abandoned the term e-learning and instead use the term technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning.

Nearly all survey respondents – 88.7 percent – indicated they use some form of technology-enabled learning. The most popular form of such learning, according to the report: webinar.

As for social media, 33 percent of respondents reported using YouTube for learning programs, followed closely by Twitter (32 percent). Facebook was next, followed by LinkedIn. Nearly 37 percent of those surveyed indicated they have a mobile learning platform, and live streaming – rather than virtual conferences – seems to be an upcoming trend.

Another key takeaway: The majority of all respondents report technology has increased their revenue from educational offerings, but less than a quarter have a strategy in place to launch new learning platforms.

Cobb and Steel found organizations that consider themselves to be very successful:

  • Report increased net revenue from their education offerings as a result of their use of technology for learning.
  • Have a formal, documented strategy for their use of technology for learning.
  • Have formal, documented product development and pricing processes that cover their technology-enabled and technology-enhanced learning.
  • Offer facilitated online courses, gamified learning, virtual conferences and at least some mobile learning.
  • Use a learning content management system (LCMS).
  • Offer a formal credential (e.g., a certification or license), regardless of whether the credential is their own.

As the association industry transitions into technology-enabled learning, other trends will emerge, the report said. There will be:

  • Growth in implementation of learning platforms and their integration with other key systems, like association management systems.
  • A continued focus on professional instructional design to help ensure educational products are effective.
  • The slowly growing use of social media for learning and increased dabbling in emerging products, like microcredentials and massive courses.
  • An increase in competition that will, in turn, drive experimentation as associations look at how best to deliver more value.
  • The professionalization of the education function overall, as the adoption and integration of sophisticated technologies increase the demand for savvy, experienced leaders in the continuing education and professional development business.
Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

“We want to see more associations develop and use a strategy to guide their use of technology for learning,” Cobb and Steele said. “Gut-level governance can work, but more consistent approaches empower staff all over the org chart.”

While all this may seem overwhelming, “Associations Learning + Technology 2014” is an incredible measurement tool for associations, regardless of size and budget. As associations plan educational programs, sessions and conferences, it’s becoming increasingly important that technology take center stage.

But it’s O.K. to start small. Maybe the answer is a hybrid conference – in-person and live stream. Or maybe it’s establishing a professional group on LinkedIn. Or perhaps smaller associations can establish a YouTube channel and provide “tips of the day.” (By the way, this is a great project for interns, who love to create videos and are social-media savvy.)

The point is: Don’t be afraid to taste technology. And don’t leave your clients and members hungry or with a bitter aftertaste in a world full of ripe and delicious technological treats.

So, tell us, are you embracing technology-enabled learning? How do you incorporate technology into your matrix of educational opportunities?

04
Feb
14

Volunteer management: I gotta feeling

jugglingLike many of you, I’ve been known to juggle a handful of volunteer roles in addition to my nine-to-five job at any given point in time during my association management career. (Who am I kidding? When’s the last time I was able to get away with working an eight-hour day?)

Scanning my current commitments, I now serve on the editorial advisory board for Michigan Meetings + Events magazine, I’m a subject matter expert and facilitator for MSAE, I’m the luminaria chair for the East Lansing Relay for Life and I’ve recently been appointed to the ASAE 2014-2015 Professional Development Section Council.

Whether volunteer, volunteer leader, staff liaison or some other essential component of the volunteer management continuum, we all know what a good experience “feels” like. The sense of accomplishment from a job well done, the delivery of a long-anticipated product or service, a new friendship or business contact and the list goes on.

According to The Decision to Volunteer, association volunteers also expect a chance to work with like-minded people, network, keep skills sharp or learn a new skill, pass on their knowledge and contribute to a cause they believe in. Above all, people who volunteer for associations expect to be involved effectively.

Emphasis here on the word “effectively.”

Unfortunately, the study goes on to state that “turnover among association volunteers is high.” So why is this the case? In my experience, it’s because something is out of place or doesn’t “feel” right. Following are just some of the examples I’ve experienced over the years:

  • Volunteers are unhappy or frustrated.
  • Little to no direction from staff/organization.
  • Volunteer leaders are unprepared for meetings.
  • Few measurable outcomes are achieved.
  • Communication among volunteers is unpleasant.
  • Lack of resources to support scope of work.
  • Contributions are not appropriately recognized.
  • Milestones and deliverables are continuously delayed.
  • Lack of information or decision-making authority.
  • Workload is disproportionately assigned/assumed.

photoOther addressable issues in The Decision to Volunteer include poor follow-through with volunteers, lack of support or training and unclear roles.

And with the amount of work our associations set out to accomplish each year, we simply cannot afford to perpetuate these types of off-putting experiences. In addition to committees and councils, volunteers support our organizations as board members, SMEs and speakers (many of whom are uncompensated).

Following I’ve compiled just 10 simple ways we can take ownership of the volunteer management process (both as staff and as volunteers):

  • Identify a strong staff partner to support volunteer success – continuously refining his/her skills.
  • Align the group’s scope with the organization’s strategic plan.
  • Establish clear goals and expectations – communicating them early and often.
  • Ensure all new volunteers are oriented/trained.
  • Draft agendas for meetings and conference calls – and share them at least a week in advance.
  • Maintain appropriate communication levels between meetings – and in your volunteers’ preferred styles.
  • Create fun opportunities to build trust and camaraderie.
  • Quickly remove roadblocks, barriers and challenges that inhibit progress.
  • Celebrate successes – both large and small.
  • Strive for a proportionate distribution of responsibilities.

With our propensity for putting out fires, not to mention the countless other responsibilities that fill our task lists, it’s no wonder we don’t “evaluate” more regularly the volunteer experience. In fact, it’s usually not until something goes wrong that we take the time to identify and institute best practices in general.

So allow this to serve as your reminder. Check in on your volunteers this month. Assess their experiences, as well as those of your staff. Don’t become a turnover statistic. Leveraging just some of these course corrections while there’s still time could have a profound impact not just on your volunteer numbers, but on engagement and membership, as well.

In the meantime, tell us in the comments what you would add to our list of volunteer management best practices. What works particularly well for your organization?




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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