Posts Tagged ‘Twitter

08
Jul
14

Six Ways to Intersect Publications and Education Events

This month’s blog post is by Kim Howard, CAE, an award-winning publisher and president of Write Communications, LLC. Write Communications works with association leaders to create mission-aligned content for every channel for measurable results. She is the immediate past president of Association Media & Publishing. Howard can contacted at kim@writecommunicationsllc.com.

Kim Howard

Kim Howard, president of Write Communications, LLC

Delivering content to your members is a cornerstone of not only your publication program, but also your education events. In a perfect world, all our members would attend our events. But because they don’t, how do we share that information while not reinventing the wheel? How do we help sell the value of our education events? How can we showcase the content in the best possible way before, during and after our programs? Here are some ideas.

  1. Go beyond an ad. Cross-promote your events in the publications that you have. When you have a regularly published magazine, your content, if it’s mission-aligned, will likely fall in line with topics discussed at your education events. Is your editorial calendar in line with broad issues that are discussed at your conferences? Are you covering your content through the applicable lens for your members? Many associations have membership that runs the gamut, from students to c-suite executives. While it’s difficult to serve them all in one publication or conference, you can successfully integrate your content to cater to the cross-section of members. I use the term education events loosely because this could mean an in-person conference, webinar or podcast, lunch and learn or brown bag, etc. Have staff, freelancers or volunteers cover the event and write an article about the topics and subsequent discussion during the event. This is an excellent way to generate content for your publication and showcase the discussion. It’s also a great way to showcase your volunteers. Many members covet a byline on your association’s blog or in your publication. Covering select sessions at your events drives home the message to those members who didn’t attend that the event’s content is something to hear first hand. Think of it as your indirect sales guy.
  1. Give sidebars new meaning. Sidebars help break up your content and add an element of information that otherwise may be awkward to include in the main story. You are likely housing your speaker’s content somewhere on your website and the subject will also pertain to something you’re covering in your publication. Remind your readers that the content is still there and provide access to it by showcasing it in a sidebar. You could have content available from a webinar, a whitepaper or a slide presentation from an annual conference session. Use it. You don’t have to showcase the entire resource—just use a link, headline and blurb. And don’t forget your association’s other resources such as whitepapers, reports, webinars, podcasts, blog posts and other nuggets of information that show your members they have access to solid industry or profession information.

published

  1. Ask speakers to convert their presentation into an article, or interview them. This approach works best if you have your editorial staff attend the selected sessions and figure out which ones will translate into content for your publication. It also helps to weed out the presenters who were less than stellar: You probably don’t want to showcase their content in your publication. And it’s unlikely their content would translate well in a new format. Add an editor’s note at the beginning or the end of the piece letting readers know the topic was first discussed at “XYZ” conference, webinar, etc. I have used this approach for years and our publications have received many excellent articles that we published.
  1. When you have a hot, timely topic of discussion, ask the speaker or panelists to write blog posts about the subject before the event. There is always some piece of relevant information that speakers wish they could include, but can’t because of time constraints or because it diverts from the subject a little too much for an event. Not only is this a good way to showcase the content, but also it creates buzz about your event and may even increase the numbers from last-minute registrations or day-pass registrants.
  1. Cross-promote your education event through Twitter. If you know that certain members are into social media, especially Twitter, and they have fast fingers, ask them which sessions they would consider covering for you. This approach works best live, but after the event, consider picking out the top five or 10 tweets from the meeting and using that information as a sidebar to post-event coverage. The great thing about this approach is that you are covering a session that may not be covered a traditional way. It’s yet another insight into the education content that your meetings and events offer.
  1. Additional ideas might include:
    1. Videos or other enhanced content in digital publications. Careful planning and scheduling can yield good video clips from members when they are onsite.
    2. Executive summaries of content, ideas or discussions to share with attendees/those who were unable to attend as resources rather than simply as informational articles. (Think of this as a note-taking service or perhaps even enhance these notes with new information to make them that much more useful).
    3. Leverage sample content/learning outcomes/ROI/testimonials in next year’s event marketing materials to make the promotion that much more compelling.
    4. Consider year-round opportunities to position your annual meeting vs. only the two to three months leading up to the conference; keep the conversations going.
    5. Consider repackaging content into an infographic or other visually interesting format to help members/attendees digest the information in a new way.

Even if you can’t implement all these ideas, pick one that you know will work with your membership and any internal constraints you may have. Starting small will be the first step to yielding better results for your educational events and content that you deliver to your members.

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?

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?

14
Jan
14

Silence isn’t golden in the dark

?????????????????It was Dec. 21 and we were frosting homemade sugar cookies when our world went black. And it stayed that way – dark and cold – for a week.

After seven days, all our fish were dead. House plants – dead.  Pipes – frozen and burst.  It was a Christmas we’ll never forget, and while it could’ve been so much worse, when the house dropped to 38 degrees and we moved Christmas to my mom’s, it didn’t feel like it.

What we needed then was a glimmer of hope. Some sort of reassurance that power would eventually be restored and things would once again be bright, warm and fuzzy.

But instead, we got silence.

When I called to report the power outage, the recording told me there were system problems and to call back later. When I did, I got the same message – a dozen times.  At the same time, I checked Facebook and Twitter hoping for updates – nothing.

For days, our utility company, Lansing Board of Water and Light, left thousands of us in the dark. Stores ran out of generators, food spoiled and people got sick. And still nothing from BWL.

By now, many of you may have heard about the epic public relations failure of BWL in response to mid-Michigan’s days-long power outage after a major ice storm, dubbed “Icepocalypse.”

BWL pretty much broke every rule of PR 101. In fact, it’s a great case study for public relations students, and researchers and PR firms will have a field day analyzing this communications disaster.

First, media reported that BWL General Manager J. Peter Lark left town to visit family during the outage, thinking it wouldn’t really be “that bad.” At the same time, the company admitted it had no emergency plan in place.

In other words: mid-Michigan’s second largest utility company had no idea what to do and therefore nothing to communicate – which is probably why it took three days for messaging to trickle out on social media.

There have since been a couple public meetings, at which BWL employees mostly carried the floor to praise their leader. And this weekend, BWL took out a full-page ad apologizing for the situation. But most PR pros agree it’s too little, too late.

As a trained crisis communicator, I’ve learned that an organization has about 30 minutes to respond to a situation, even if it’s just with a holding statement. Someone needs to say something to let stakeholders know they’re engaged. And it’s just common sense that the leader should never leave the scene, but instead, rally the troops.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

“Your reputation rides on how well you perform – especially in a crisis,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman, a Michigan-based strategic communications firm. “Your failure to rise to the occasion will undermine your reputation, short- and probably long-term. If your customers respect and trust you now, don’t lose them because you can’t meet their expectations under difficult circumstances.”

Crisis communications isn’t hard, but it does require preparation. If your organization doesn’t have a crisis communications plan, start one now, while things are calm.

According to Rossman-McKinney, there are three basic rules to crisis communications:

1. Acknowledge the problem with honesty, integrity and credibility. Don’t sugarcoat the facts.

2. Apologize for the situation sincerely and with care, compassion and concern.

3. Actively fix the problem and explain how and when action will be taken, what steps are involved, what challenges may arise, etc.

With these rules in mind, an organization can design its plan. Here are some must-haves, according to Truscott Rossman:

1. Identify your internal crisis team. Usually it’s your executive team and includes the CEO (always!), the COO, legal, HR, PR, etc. The team may vary based on the type of crisis but these are invariably the essential players.

2. Identify all your potential audiences and tier them based on type of crisis: internal (board members, employees, retirees, volunteers, donors, etc.) and external (starting with those directly impacted by the crisis, plus other customers/clients, vendors, suppliers, law enforcement, elected officials, media, etc.)

3. Determine your communications tools and tactics – and make sure you consider access to and credibility of those tools from your audiences’ perspectives. Traditional and digital/social media are both essential but also be prepared to think out of the box. Will phone calls, door-to-door, etc. be necessary under certain circumstances?

4. Know who will be responsible for what aspect of the crisis communications plan and have those folks prepared before a crisis. For example, if you know you will need outside expertise to implement portions of the plan, identify them now.  Also, make sure your spokesperson is the best, most credible individual.  Don’t send out the top dog if he or she comes across as arrogant, defensive, angry and patronizing. Care, compassion and concern are the leading attributes for a spokesperson in a crisis. Hire out if necessary – but make sure you hire credibility as well.

5. Don’t over promise. It’s better to exceed expectations by fixing the situation earlier than people expected than to let them down by missing a deadline.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. A vacuum of information from you will be quickly filled by others – and it won’t be pretty. Be clear on what you know, what you don’t know and how and when you’ll provide additional information – and meet and exceed everything you promise.

CrisisCommunications_2I think it’s safe to say that BWL may never recover from its PR nightmare. And I hope you never find yourself sharing a similar fate.

Does your organization have a crisis communications or emergency communications plan? We’d love for you to share it.

03
Dec
13

Celebrating two years

Two years ago, Aaron Wolowiec had a vision. Strategic planning. Instructional design. Meeting management. They were all in his wheelhouse. But it was time for something new.

And so, on Dec. 8, 2011, Grand Rapids-based Event Garde was born.

Wolowiec, a wordsmith at heart, chose the name carefully thanks to a little help from The Image Shoppe. Writers love the phrase “avant garde,” which is often used to describe trailblazers.  Event Garde:  A clever play on words? As a writer, I think so.

“Event Garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or status quo, especially as it relates to continuing education,” he wrote for the website. “By partnering with clients to tear away preconceptions, Event Garde reveals dynamic programs, events and professional development experiences that result in thoughtful, enthusiastic and empowered learners and practitioners.”

Fast forward and it’s hard to believe that we’re celebrating our two-year anniversary.

Cally Hill

Cally Hill, director of client relations

From the beginning, Cally Hill, director of client relations, has managed the ins and outs of the business. As it quickly grew, Hill led – and continues to lead – many of the firm’s strategic marketing initiatives, including outreach to association leaders nationwide. And she’s one of the important number crunchers.

As most of you know by now, I came on board this summer as digital content manager to help Event Garde grow its online and public presence. As the main writer and “voice” of the firm, if you will, it’s my job to keep you “in the know” about association trends and topics.

In the process, I’ve formed invaluable networks, and our blog has gained quite the following. In fact, throughout the last three months, our blog posts have been included in social media roundups and stories by Associations Now. And the Twitter traction has been just as impressive, thanks to #assnchat.

Sara Miller

Sara Miller, director of meetings and development

A couple months ago, Sara Miller, director of meetings and development, joined the team. Miller is a sales guru. She’s currently working with CPAs, selling sponsorships, advertising and exhibit space.

Event Garde has a great team, said Kathleen Mennillo, executive director of the International Hearing Society. Event Garde helped IHS plan its annual convention and expo for nearly 600 people.

“Aaron’s event planning expertise, coupled with his experience in the professional development and association arena, instantly made him an integral part of the team,” she said. “Aaron is extremely organized, creative and passionate about creating successful events that leave lasting impressions on event attendees. IHS is thrilled to work with Event Garde and looks forward to executing many more successful events together.”

Throughout the last two years, Event Garde has gained the professional accolades of the American Society of Association Executives and other key stakeholders.

Wolowiec now writes a regular column in Michigan Meetings + Events magazine and he’s been featured as part of two magazine cover stories. In addition, Wolowiec has given various presentations at ASAE meetings. And he was recently named one of four “rising leaders” by MSAE.

“Aaron and the Event Garde team have been so helpful to ALTA’s Land Title Institute,” said Kelly Romeo, vice president of the American Land Title Association. “It has been like expanding our own staff without actually committing to additional hires! Aaron engages 100 percent and quickly connects with what is important to our members and students. We are looking forward to the next project with Event Garde, and many more.”

We don’t often toot our own horn. But as we reflect on the last two years, we’ve reached some incredible milestones.

And in December 2012, Wolowiec co-authored “The Meetings Report,” published in tandem with MSAE. It’s the first-ever Michigan association meetings industry survey examining the characteristics of senior education/professional development staff, characteristics of association meetings, professional speaker hiring practices, industry speaker preparation and compensation and meeting evaluation practices.

Meeting Notes

The Meetings Coach column, by Aaron Wolowiec

At the end of day, however, none of this would be possible without your support. So we thank you for trusting us with your livelihoods and for appreciating the Event Garde vision. Thank you for joining us on an exciting ride towards a new horizon.

As a reminder, please like our Facebook page. We’ve made it to 500 likes, but we’d love to have hundreds more! And remember to follow me on Twitter and use the hashtag #assnchat.

We look forward to an exciting year ahead as our team continues to explore new projects and possibilities – and we hope you’ll be a part of that journey.

19
Nov
13

A Tuesday ‘thank you’

GivingTuesdayEditor’s Note: As Thanksgiving approaches, we all start thinking about our blessings. So it seemed appropriate to dedicate this week’s blog post – and probably next week’s – to the topic of saying “thank you.” For next week, I’d like to write about how you thank your customers and/or give back to your community. So please drop me a quick note at Kristen@eventgarde.com!

But for now, one way to give back and say thanks: #GivingTuesday. This week’s guest blog post is from Kate Olsen, vice president of strategic projects for Network for Good, a technology platform that facilitates online fundraising and giveback opportunities. She tells us how your association/organization can participate in #GivingTuesday.

For more information, check out the #GivingTuesday Facebook page and the Twitter feed and use #GivingTuesday and @GivingTues.

Kate Olsen

Kate Olsen, vice president of strategic projects for Network for Good.

#GivingTuesday occurs on Dec. 3 this year and is an opportunity for companies, nonprofits and individuals alike to get involved for the greater good.

For those not in the know, #GivingTuesday is a campaign to add a national day of giving to the lineup of shopping days Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. It’s a prime opportunity for nonprofits and companies (and individuals) to collaborate for the greater good. Here are four steps to ensure your partnership’s success.

1.  Seek mission and values alignment.

There are many reasons to form cross-sector partnerships: promotion to a bigger audience, inspiration from new ideas and approaches and access to additional skills, more resources and knowledge. And there are also just as many reasons not to partner: Support can come with strings attached, lack of trust, conflicting goals and mission creep.

To ensure you create a winning partnership, take the time to make sure there’s a good fit between your mission and the corporate partner’s brand identity and goals.

Luna’s Pure Prevention campaign provides a great example of nonprofit-corporate alignment. As a provider of nutrition for active women, Luna teamed up with the Breast Cancer Fund to find and eliminate environmental and preventable causes of breast cancer—a major health issue for women. It just makes sense.

2. Leverage complementary assets.

Assets are any resources that you and your corporate partner bring to the table. In addition to funding, assets can include people, skills, audience reach, relationships and technology.

A partnership is not just about getting access to corporate philanthropic dollars: It’s about true collaboration. Think about what assets your nonprofit has that will be of value to a corporate partner, and vice versa.

You have invested in a brand, program portfolio, supporter base and other resources that will help make the partnership a success. Never discount what you bring to the table.

3. Design the right partnership architecture.

Thinking through the goals of the partnership and designing a measurable campaign will help ensure transparency and focus, especially if you use those measurements to tell stories with impact. How can you engage supporters in relevant and meaningful ways? How will you measure their participation and communicate results?

One framework to help structure the partnership is the ladder of engagement. Offer your audience multiple ways to participate with your partnership based on their level of passion and commitment to the cause.

The No Kid Hungry campaign, led by Share Our Strength, does a great job of offering multiple ways to take action: donate, advocate, sign a pledge, spread the word and raise money for your cause.

How can you offer a ladder of engagement for #GivingTuesday? First, understand where your supporters congregate online; then design calls to action that leverage those channels. Here are a few ideas:

  • #GivingTuesday Twitter chat (Encourage corporate sponsors to pledge $1 per tweet.)
  • Random Acts of Kindness Facebook campaign (Have supporters share acts they performed or  witnessed.)
  • Inspirational generosity pins on Pinterest (Have supporters share what generosity means to them.)
  • Kind deeds caught in the act on Instagram (Feature photos of generous acts and giving.)
  • Messages of hope and generosity on YouTube (Feature testimonials about how giving affected their lives.)

Network for Good 4. Measure and communicate accomplishments.

Evolving a partnership requires taking the time to understand where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished and how you can keep improving. Communicating impact to partnership stakeholders is a vital piece of that process. It’s also important to communicate that to your donors, and never forget to say thank you!

If you need inspiration, just check out the A Day Made Better thank you video for a refresher on powerful storytelling and expressing gratitude. You can also see how Phoenix House recapped its 2012 #GivingTuesday campaign and closed the loop for campaign participants with a heartfelt response from program beneficiaries.

Remember: Corporate-cause partnerships are all about relationships, collaboration, execution and impact (and fun!).

10
Sep
13

Mission possible: Finding and keeping volunteers

It’s the first board meeting of the year and the room is packed with enthusiastic volunteer board members. And later that month, committee members flock to your building to discuss the assignments for the year.

But slowly, throughout the year, people stop coming. Projects hit roadblocks. And by the end of the year, you find it harder and harder to recruit – and keep – volunteers.

Sound familiar?

It may be that your volunteers are bored, says Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

Elizabeth Engel

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

Unfortunately, many organizations are stuck when it comes to volunteers, she said. Like zombies, committee members engage in busy work instead of generating new ideas to further the mission of the organization.

Part of the problem is traditional committee structure doesn’t allow for quick decision making, Engel said, and that doesn’t work when GenXers and millennials are accustomed to 24-7 information and networking. We get impatient.

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, these generations – which in 2011 surpassed Baby Boomers for volunteerism – value virtual networks and don’t often communicate face to face. But because of traditional volunteer models, defined by committees, boards of directors, meetings and high levels of commitment, these young professionals may be hesitant to jump in.

So that’s why associations must embrace mission-driving volunteering, Engel said. She and Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC, recently co-authored a whitepaper, “The Mission Driven Volunteer.”

“Volunteers’ work has to have meaning and impact, where they can clearly see it advancing the mission of the association,” Engel said. “That’s the cake. Recognition, rewards, honors and all that jazz are nice, but they’re the icing. Get the cake right first.”

For example, there should be volunteer opportunities other than joining committees or boards of directors.

“The most innovative volunteer opportunities I’ve seen recently are related to tasks like crowdsourcing,” Hoffman said. “The most innovative association staff positions are volunteer services director, director of member engagement and volunteer coordinator – all of which allow someone to focus on this area.”

When volunteers feel empowered to contribute to the good of the organization, using their own skills and passions, they’re more willing to give their time, the authors wrote.

According to Engel and Hoffman, here are some hallmarks of a mission-driven volunteer program:

  • Projects are evaluated based on how they contribute to the organization’s mission.
  • Structure is built around project-oriented teams rather than the budget cycle.
  • Volunteers are selected based on competencies and skills rather than for position title, tenure or political reasons.
  • The litmus test for maintaining standing committees is breadth of oversight (i.e. fiscal oversight, leadership development/nominations) or legal requirements (i.e. state or federal laws requiring an executive committee).
  • It embraces and enables micro-volunteering.
  • It democratizes volunteering, allowing more people to participate and for those volunteers to create their own opportunities.

    Peggy Hoffman

    Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

To sum it up, while younger generations are willing and enthusiastic volunteers, they seek different kinds of volunteer experiences, ones that are less about structure, position and prestige, they wrote. They want experiences that are focused instead on independence, meaning, impact and “getting it done,” none of which are easily accommodated by the traditional committee model.

“People like variety, so the question to ask [if you’re struggling to keep volunteers] is whether people were driven out of your organization because of a lack of variety,” Hoffman said. “And a good percentage of volunteers stop because life changes their availability – a new job, a new responsibility at work, a new baby. So the question to me is, how do we address this by crafting volunteer programs that recognize this?”

One solution: micro-volunteering. Think about it as bites of volunteer work: short-term projects, flexibility, ad-hoc committees and taskforces. Micro-volunteers contribute 49 or fewer hours per year and contribute most frequently in ways related to content (research, conducting literature reviews, analyzing data, preparing background information for regulators and press, reviewing proposals) or teaching and mentoring, Engel said. In the whitepaper, Engel and Hoffman present some questions upon which associations can reflect:

  • Which of your standing committees have gone “zombie?”
  • What does your demographic breakdown of volunteers look like? Are you seeing a surge in GenX and millennial volunteers? What are you doing to discover and accommodate their preferences in volunteering?
  • Among your current volunteer opportunities and groups, which support primarily infrastructure? Which support primarily mission? How could you go about getting more into the mission support category?
  • What types of decisions in your association would benefit from a deliberative decision-making process? Which would benefit from a more rapid decide-experiment-learn-iterate process? How do you see your committees and taskforces contributing to this?
  • What current volunteer projects could be turned over to mission-focused taskforces?
  • What current volunteer projects should be dropped to allow you to refocus volunteer and staff resources on mission-driven projects?
  • Ad-hoc volunteers give the least amount of time but as a group represent the largest number of volunteers. Can you identify yours? What do you know about them? How different – or similar – are they to your volunteer leaders?
  • Have you audited your volunteer opportunities to assure a variety of options that target low, medium and high commitment, as well as differing levels of task complexity and expertise required?
  • What do your volunteers say is working and not working for them?
  • How visible is volunteering in your association?
  • What is one action you could take today to start your association on the path to mission-driven volunteering?
"The Mission Driven Volunteer," by Elizabeth Engel and Peggy Hoffman

“The Mission Driven Volunteer,” by Elizabeth Engel and Peggy Hoffman

You can download “The Mission Drive Volunteer” from Engel’s website. Of special interest: It includes three case studies of associations that recently changed their volunteer programs and are now flourishing.  So read it and let us know. Do you need to make some changes?

Editor’s note: You can follow Hoffman and Engel on Twitter at @peggyhoffman and @ewengel. For more information on this topic, please read Aaron Wolowiec’s column in the fall issue of Michigan Meetings.

06
Aug
13

The many hats of marketers

Scott Oser

Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates

Editor’s Note: This week’s guest blog post is by Scott Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates. He’s speaking this morning at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Follow along in real time on Twitter using #asae13  and continue to monitor Twitter for feedback from Oser’s session.

A couple months ago I wrote an article for “Associations Now” about how marketing requires different skills than it once did. As more potential tactics and options for marketing have emerged, more is expected of a marketer.

You can read the full “Associations Now” article here, but following is a quick summary of just some of the roles marketers are now expected to play:

  • Channel expert. It’s the marketer’s job to be informed about all the traditional and new marketing techniques.
  • Implementer. Marketers must have strong implementation and project management skills.
  • Data analyst. Association marketing professionals must understand how to read and interpret the numbers.
  • Brand champion. In most associations it’s the job of the head marketing professional to make sure the essence of the brand is reflected in everything the association does.
  • Community creator. The stronger your community and member engagement, the more effective your marketing will be. So it’s up to the marketing professional to help create that engagement.
  • Cheerleader and politician. Marketing requires trying new things and some staff members are more resistant to change than others. Therefore, it’s necessary for a marketer to get people on board even when they’re skeptical.

While I was at the beach a couple weeks ago on a brief vacation I re-read the article I wrote. I thought about how even though the role of a marketer has changed and the number of ways in which we market has grown, the goal of our marketing has remained the same.

Regardless of which of the roles above we play and regardless of which medium (direct mail, email, telemarketing, word of mouth, social media, etc.) we use, our main goal is to show recipients the value of what we’re asking them to do so they’ll act.  With all the competing products, services and marketing messages, this has become increasingly difficult – but increasingly important – to do.  Unfortunately, many marketers focus on the role they play and the tactics they use but don’t always do a great job of knowing their target market, the different needs of the segments within their target market and the messaging they need to use.

You can be the best marketer in the world but the bottom line is that value drives response.  Do you understand your value proposition and are you communicating it well?  If not, I recommend you take a step back and start working on that as soon as you finish reading this sentence.

Scott Oser Associates
Scott Oser Associates was formed in 2006 to develop customized solutions to solve unique membership, marketing and sales challenges. It has partnered with a large number of associations, for-profit and non-profit organizations to increase their bottom lines from memberships, marketing and sales efforts. Oser has more than 17 years of marketing experience in the association and publishing industries. Before starting the firm he worked for market leaders like National Geographic Society, AARP and Science. You can follow him on
Twitter

16
Jul
13

Thinking and thriving

Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna, founder of Principled Innovation LLC

As I wrote last week, this month I’ll be exploring some shifts in association management that some might say are extreme.

To start us off, I spoke with Jeff De Cagna, founder of Principled Innovation LLC. From what I gather, he’s perhaps one of the most respected experts on new thinking.

After serving as an association executive for more than 10 years, De Cagna launched his company in 2002 to challenge association boards, CEOs and executives to build their organizations to thrive in an uncertain future.

“Simply doing more of what your association has always done definitely is the wrong answer,” De Cagna said.  “It never has been more important for associations to imagine a different future for themselves [while also] gaining a richer, more intimate and more empathic understanding of their stakeholders’ most desired personal and professional outcomes. With this kind of deep insight, associations can break free of the past and reorient their strategic priorities for the future.”

De Cagna is author of the e-book “Associations Unorthodox,” which discusses six shifts in thinking. It lays the groundwork for new strategies and helps association leaders plunge into a future that may seem murky, at best. Associations can no longer rely on membership to survive, and De Cagna explains why.

Below is my Q and A session with De Cagna. For follow up, you can reach him at jeff@principledinnovation.com and follow him on Twitter at @pinnovation, using #assnchat.

Q: What inspired you to write “Associations Unorthodox?”

A: Quite honestly, I was very concerned about the advice being given to association leaders about how to build organizations that will thrive in the years ahead. Much of that thinking remains firmly embedded in the traditional assumptions of association management and fails to recognize the relentless speed and intensity of the societal transformation currently in progress. What’s going on now is not more of the simple linear “change” to which we’ve become accustomed. Instead, we’re experiencing something much deeper, which I’ve come to call “The Age of Transformation.” And it’s not going away anytime soon.

So I wanted to make a strong statement about the need for association leaders to think and act beyond orthodoxy if they want to create the opportunity for their organizations to thrive.

Q: Who should read this book?

A: The primary audiences are association boards, CEOs and C-Suite executives, but I like to think “Associations Unorthodox” is appropriate for anyone who’s serious about creating a more vibrant future for associations. And frankly, given the shifts I’ve outlined in the book, the more stakeholders who read it, the better. We need to continue the conversation about what it will take for associations to grow,  and we need to include as many different voices as possible in that dialogue. That’s the only way we’ll be able to challenge our community’s most deep-seated assumptions and begin to create what’s next.

Q: Among the six shifts presented in the book, you encourage associations to “go all in on digital” and focus less on in-person meetings. Do you think face-to-face events are obsolete?

A: Absolutely not. People still want to make face-to-face connections and that will never change. However, I do think there are far too many meetings. Association stakeholders are much busier and much more protective of their precious personal time. Meanwhile, their employers are trying to control costs, leaving fewer dollars to attend meetings, and those budgets are always among the top targets for reduction or elimination.

As such, association leaders need to give serious thought to having fewer, more meaningful gatherings that are worth the investment of time and financial resources for their stakeholders. Keep in mind that only a relatively small fraction of most associations’ stakeholders actually attend their in-person meetings. To reach more of their current and future stakeholders, then, associations must make more significant investments in the creation and delivery of new value in digital form. These investments are long overdue, and they are an essential part of reorienting association business models for the 21st century.

Q: How do you respond to committed advocates of face-to-face interaction who believe that it can’t be replaced?

A: We need to move beyond the fine debating points and get to a more fundamental question: What can our stakeholders actually afford? And, again, I’m not just using the word “afford” in a purely financial sense. Time away from family, the office and customers are also costs that our stakeholders must bear. So while in-person interaction may well be superior, and our stakeholders may prefer it to other forms of interaction, they still may not be able to afford it. And yet we still need to create value for these stakeholders, even though we may never see them. Going all in on digital is a necessary step in that direction.

Let me add that it’s a long-standing association orthodoxy to view people who attend events as the most loyal and committed stakeholders in our organizations. Indeed, in many associations, stakeholders who don’t show up at meetings are an afterthought, except at renewal time.  As our organizations come to fully embrace their digital futures, however, association leaders will need to flip this orthodoxy and stop thinking of in-person attendance as another test of stakeholder fidelity.

Q: The transition you’re describing will be difficult for many associations to make. What advice can you offer to their leaders?

A: While “it’s an opportunity to network” might be a generic value proposition for a meeting, the value conversation might be something like, “How can we collaborate to make a face-to-face gathering a more meaningful and viable option for you and other stakeholders in your network?” And we should be clear that the value conversation is not about doing another survey. Quite literally, it’s about creating opportunities for direct and meaningful conversations with the association’s current and future stakeholders and their distributed networks of connections. The learning developed through these conversations will help leaders evaluate and choose among opportunities based on an empathetic understanding of stakeholder problems, needs and outcomes.

To fully embrace digital, I really believe senior staff and voluntary leaders need to flip the orthodoxy that technology represents nothing but expense for the association. On the contrary, in today’s environment of social, mobile and cloud computing, thoughtful investments in technology will create appreciating assets on which associations can capitalize to create and deliver new value and capture new revenue streams over time.

Q: You’re speaking at ASAE’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta next month. Will you be discussing any of the issues raised in “Associations Unorthodox” in your session?

A: Indirectly I suppose. My learning lab on Why Boards Are Killing Association Business Models will take place at 3:15 p.m. Aug. 4. The session is based on the article I wrote on this topic for the March 2013 issue of “Associations Now,” and I will explore five reasons why most boards are underperforming as business model stewards for their organizations. In addition, I will share some “next practices” boards can adopt to more deeply integrate business model thinking into their governing work.

In “Associations Unorthodox,” I make the case for building a strategically legitimate board as one of the six shifts. There’s simply no question that embracing a 21st-century sensibility is essential for boards to establish their value to stakeholders.

So while my learning lab at ASAE13 is not explicitly about the book, some key themes from it certainly will come up during our conversation. I know it’s going to be a fun session!

09
Jul
13

Extreme trends or the new normal?

ASAE Online Engagement Center

An online engagement center at the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting. Photo courtesy of ASAE on Flickr.

A couple years ago, I was sitting at my desk when I got a text message from my dentist with an appointment reminder.  So naturally, I checked Facebook, which encouraged me to “like” his page. Yep. Even my dentist has climbed aboard the social media bandwagon.

The truth is, I’m a customer, and these days, I text rather than talk and my smart phone works harder than my laptop. I check news on Twitter and connect with friends on Facebook. Good observation for a dentist, right?

But it’s not just my dentist. It’s my doctor, my employer, my grocery store, my gas station.

Times are changing. And this is how customers operate. In a 24/7 plugged-in  society, businesses need to embrace change and welcome technology.

Some might say this is extreme. But is it?

This month, I’ll be writing about a couple trends that could help associations remain viable – perhaps even become more profitable – in a constantly changing world. I’ll talk to two experts in innovation, Jeff De Cagna, founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and Sarah Sladek, founder of XYZ University. Both strategists have graciously agreed to share some of their much sought-after advice.

De Cagna’s book, “Associations Unorthodox,” may one day redefine association operations. In the e-book, he lists six radical shifts toward the future. Especially of interest to association professionals: Go all in on digital.

De Cagna argues that face-to-face experiences are becoming obsolete.  By offering more digital platforms, associations will better engage and serve their members in the methods they prefer. Gone are the days of 10-page newsletters and here to stay are the days of SMS alerts.

And it seems American Society of Association Executives is listening.

During its annual meeting, which will be held Aug. 3-6 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, ASAE will engage and connect members – even if they can’t attend physically. For example, ASAE Annual Meeting Daily Now will be blogging about the event. And, by the way, if you want to join the blog roll, you can do so.

The Twittersphere will be buzzing with tweets, Instagram photos and hashtags during the event. You can follow along on Twitter using #asae13  and the handle, asaeannual. Also, ASAE is collecting a list of Twitter handles, and is asking people to join the Twitter roll, even if they don’t plan to attend. And, of course, there’s Flickr.

I’ll ask De Cagna what he thinks about all this, so stay tuned.

Next up will be Sladek. Her book, “The End of Membership as We Know It” explores the new challenges and opportunities facing organizations. Membership isn’t dead, she argues, but associations must look toward the future.

This should be an exciting month of blogging! I know there will be counterarguments and hesitations, but fostering conversation is what this blog is all about. So until next week, I hope you’ll spill it here.

What trends are you noticing? Are you embracing social media? Is there anything you’d like me to ask these two great minds of change?




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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