Archive for the 'Associations' Category

15
Nov
16

Building a board strategy

dean-west

Dean West, president/founder, Association Laboratory Inc.

Good leadership requires vision. Strategic vision. Goal-oriented thinking. A team mindset.

And nowhere is this more important than in nonprofits – or for that matter, in any organization in which boards of directors make decisions.

“When working on complex engagements like strategic planning or developing membership value propositions, the ability of the board of directors to think and, through the staff, act strategically has consistently resulted in superior decisions,” said Dean West, president and founder of Association Laboratory Inc. “Superior decisions mean superior outcomes.”

Association Laboratory recently released a whitepaper (scroll down to download) on how associations can build strategic boards.

In its research, the company surveyed 25 chief staff officers and senior association leaders. In summary, there is a finite set of characteristics that define strategic boards:

  • Future focused — A strategic board understands and values the necessity of informed, future-focused strategic discussions.
  • Establishes, prioritizes and monitors goals and interim measurement standards — A strategic board values establishing strategic goals and the corresponding standards or criteria relevant to overseeing implementation of strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Models strategic decision making competencies — A strategic board models critical thinking skills, objective analysis and decision making. It challenges existing assumptions regarding the association’s future role and corresponding business strategy within the industry or profession.
  • Promotes accountability within the board and in the board/staff relationship — A strategic board values and supports an objective, accountable partnership with association management.

All this said, it’s not always easy to find and/or develop those characteristics, Association Laboratory warns.

company higher consil

Photo by Svilen Milev, freeimages.com

For starters, board members are often influenced by professional or personal interests, which may not align with those of the association. And so an ethical battle ensues.

In addition, often board roles aren’t clearly defined so members struggle with expectations. Some of that is because associations often don’t invest proper resources in training and orientation.

So what’s the key to building a strategic board of directors?

According to those surveyed:

  • Associations need to implement volunteer identification, recruitment and development strategies that ensure a funnel of high-quality leadership into the association.
  • Associations need to develop strategies to orient all volunteers to their role and the unique characteristics and corresponding expectations of a peer-to-peer decision making environment.
  • Associations need to be led by a chief staff officer and management team that understands and models strategic thinking and can apply these competencies to their support of the board.
  • The business processes of the association need to support the board’s ability to make decisions within a strategic framework.
  • Associations need to create and support a culture of personal and organizational accountability and continuous improvement.

“As competition for the time, attention and interest of our community’s best leaders grows more intense, the ability of an association to develop a compelling leadership funnel becomes a long-term strategic priority necessary for successfully achieving mission-based and business goals,” Association Laboratory said. “Modern associations and their leaders will create intentional, thoughtful strategies to foster a leadership experience that is attractive to the best and brightest of our professions and industries and will consider the support of these strategies an essential organizational core competency.”

01
Nov
16

Give back on #GivingTuesday

11-29-2016It’s hard to believe today is the first day of November. How can that be?

Today kicks off what many of us consider a month of blessings. Check Facebook and you’ll see lots of people posting about things for which they’re grateful. And later this month, we’ll spend time with family and friends giving thanks for our blessings.

Then comes another day, after Black Friday and Cyber Monday, that encourages everyone around the globe to give back.

This year, #GivingTuesday is Nov. 29. Always celebrated the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, it’s a global day of giving perpetuated by social media and collaboration. Often, organizations incorporate the day into their yearend giving campaigns. But that doesn’t mean giving can’t be done on a smaller scale.

Last year during #GivingTuesday, 700,000 people from 70 countries participated, raising $116 million.

According to a recent study by Blackbaud,:

  • #GivingTuesday has had double-digit, year-over-year growth in online donations since 2012.
  • Large organizations have received the most donations on #GivingTuesday but this trend is shifting.
  • Faith-based organizations now receive the largest percentage of #GivingTuesday online donations.
  • Online average gift amounts exceed $100 for most organizations on #GivingTuesday.
  • About 17 percent of online donation form views on #GivingTuesday 2014

“Unlike 15 years ago when online giving first began to emerge, today’s donor embraces and expects a digital option for their charitable contributions,” Blackbaud said. “The online donation has matured even if organizations aren’t utilizing all of the established best practices. There are undoubtedly going to be lessons learned from #GivingTuesday successes that will be promoted and adopted by other organizations.”

GivingTuesdayInfographicAt Event Garde, giving back is sewn into our fabric. Individually, all team members volunteer and/or contribute to organizations about which they’re passionate. For me, it’s the food bank in my area, my kids’ PTA, Boy Scouts, American Cancer Society and the Humane Society.

Collectively this year, Event Garde has given to Children’s Miracle Network and Kalamazoo Strong and we also participated in American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Those are prime examples of causes and organizations to which companies can give on Nov. 29.

But even though #GivingTuesday is right around the corner, it’s not too late to plan. Those interested in giving can download toolkits and browse resources on the #GivingTuesday website.

In addition, MobileCause offers some strategies to help organizations get started.

Some tips:

  • Create a branded, mobile-friendly platform to help your members and stakeholders participate.
  • Collaborate with local businesses to match #GivingTuesday donations.
  • Add a “donate” feature to your website or social media platforms.
  • Organize a volunteer project in which employees and members can join together to make a difference.

Is your organization participating in #GivingTuesday? Tell us about it!

18
Oct
16

The communications struggle continues

2016-association-communications-benchmarking-report_page_04If you’ve been following this blog for the past five years (heck….even the past year), you know I’m a communications nut.

Seriously. It’s the center of everything I do – from my personal life to my professional life.

Without communication, both internally and externally, there’s no content, no strategy. Nothing.

But not everyone knows how to communicate, at least not effectively. That goes for businesses, too.

Last January, I wrote about Naylor’s 2015 Communication Benchmarking Study. Naylor has been conducting the survey for five years, and last year, the survey found most associations were continuing to struggle with communications. In fact, only 6 percent reported having a communications strategy.

Fast forward: Naylor recently released the results of its 2016 Communications Benchmarking Study. And….you guessed it. Associations are still struggling.

The top two communications challenges reported this year: communications clutter/overload and the inability to communicate membership benefits effectively. Both challenges have increased since 2011, with 69 percent and 67 percent of associations stating those are the largest obstacles.

At the same time, nearly 80 percent of associations said their members ignore their communications – up from 59 percent in 2015.

Also of note:

  • More than half of respondents recognize a serious or significant problem with the lack of revenue generated from their communication vehicles.
  • Most respondents believe they are good at creating relevant content, and more than half are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of members’ needs. But, as stated above, those efforts are often being ignored.
  • Although 57 percent believe they could improve member engagement by improving their ability to customize for different subgroups, not many are actually doing it.

While under staffing remains a top concern among associations, especially in the communications department, some positive trends emerged in the 2016 survey.

communicateThis year, more associations reported success in helping their members find desired information quickly and keeping them informed about education opportunities and events.

While e-newsletters and print magazines remain top communication vehicles, associations seem to be expanding their communication vehicles. For example, according to the results, Facebook, webinars and online career centers have gained traction.

Finally, again this year, associations reported difficulty with communicating to young professionals. While integrated communication is paramount to success, segmentation and customization of communications is key to enticing young members. As such, Naylor advises associations to develop specific events, communications and mentoring opportunities unique to this group.

“In general, associations are doing a better job at organizing information and making it accessible to their members, as well as keeping their members informed about new events and education,” Naylor says. “It’s more critical than ever to make every message count. And while associations appreciate the importance of segmenting member data to provide tailored communications to combat the ‘overload’ challenge, a relatively small percentage feel they are leveraging technology available to do this effectively.”

11
Oct
16

Change is good…right?

innovationLeaves change. People change. And yes, businesses change.

But what about associations?

Most of us realize innovation is key to driving a business forward. New ideas, new inventions, new strategies, new operating plans. The options are limitless – even for associations.

Associations aren’t often regarded as agents of change, but recently, Marketing General Inc., in conjunction with the National Business Aviation Association, polled association professionals to learn how they set innovation goals, how they support innovation, what rewards and recognition they offer and how they set metrics for innovation.

Nearly 350 associations participated in the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report, which found most associations are at least moderately innovative. That’s a recent development, however, as most didn’t start focusing on innovation until the past five years.

According to the survey, association innovation tends to focus around a few main areas: website and social media; conventions, conferences and seminars; education programs; and membership, technology and marketing (56 percent each).

the-secret-of-innovative-companiesIn addition, associations reported that innovation flows from the top down, with CEOs and other leaders serving as the primary drivers of new thoughts and ideas. In addition, collaboration and communication and encouragement are the most common ways associations support innovation.

And it seems there’s not much middle ground. Associations either fully support innovation or not at all. At the same time, there are challenges – lack of resources being No. 1. Also, most associations don’t set goals to achieve innovation and often, there aren’t reward programs for striving toward and achieving innovation – perhaps because it’s an expectation, and, in some cases, a culture.

Other key findings:

  • Changes in the industry or profession and technological developments are the biggest motivators for adopting innovation.
  • Among organizations that have rallied around innovation, communication has been key to getting everyone on board. Permission to take risk also plays a major role in getting personnel on board with innovation.
  • Those organizations with a specific system tend to handle new ideas in a variety of ways: 50 percent rely on staff initiative; 48 percent have a special committee or group; and 41 percent develop new ideas with the CEO.
  • Increased member engagement is the most common way to measure innovation efforts.
  • In those organizations where innovation is not supported, respondents cite departments and people being very siloed as a principal cause for the lack of support.
27
Sep
16

What is Your Volunteer Culture?

jn_headshot_1601

Jamie Notter, founding partner, WorkXO

This month’s guest blog post is by Jamie Notter, founding partner, WorkXO

I think a lot of associations have a love/hate relationship with their volunteers. At one level, these folks do a LOT of work — for free — so their contributions are highly valued. We couldn’t accomplish what we do, given our resources, without these members moving the ball forward for us. And on top of that, we are membership organizations, so it’s the members who should really be driving things. These members ARE the association, right?

But there is also the shadow side of volunteers. You know, the ones who push too hard for their own personal agenda or are willing to reverse an entire strategic direction that was set by the leadership simply because they have a different view. These are the volunteers who drive us crazy, but we tend to throw up our hands about it, going back to that conclusion above: It’s THEIR association, so what can we do?

Well, it turns out there’s a lot you can do. Just because volunteers don’t get paid (therefore you can’t really fire them), does NOT mean  they are not subject to one of the most powerful forces you have at your disposal as an organizational leader: organizational culture.

Yes, there is a culture for volunteers. There are expectations about how things get done, and every volunteer has an experience of what it’s like to get things done at your association. They know how agile you are, how much collaboration is valued, how much you rely on technology and what level of transparency is expected from them. Even though they can’t get fired (unless they do something really horrible), the existing culture actually drives their behavior, so if you want different behavior, you need to shift the culture first. So here’s the big problem: We don’t set the culture for volunteers; we let them do that. After all, it’s “their” association.

I don’t think we realize how much value we are destroying by taking that approach. By maintaining a workforce that is that large, operating without a clear culture and having nothing in place to actually hold them accountable to a culture that drives the success of the organization, we are all but guaranteeing mediocrity. And I’m not saying all volunteer cultures are bad. That’s not the point. The point is you don’t know exactly what your volunteer culture is, and even if you do, you have set yourself up to be powerless to change it or shape it in a way that helps you accomplish your mission.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Earlier this year, at WorkXO, we released our Workplace Genome Platform to help organizations align their cultures with what they know is driving success. The platform revolves around an employee survey that helps you understand your culture with the precision and the nuance needed to make real and meaningful change inside your organization.

Now we are applying that same research and methodology to volunteers. We have converted the survey and the rest of the platform into a version that focuses specifically on volunteers. It gathers data from the volunteers themselves and will show you in great detail what your volunteer culture is truly like — across levels, geographic locations and volunteer tenure. Then we’ll help you determine whether that volunteer culture is aligned with what drives your success. Like the regular platform, it includes the survey and a year’s worth of resources and support to ensure the data you collect are converted into actions that generate meaningful change inside the organization.

This has the potential to unlock incredible value. Imagine volunteers who really knew what they were getting into when they signed up, where their routine behaviors were carefully aligned with what drives the results of the whole organization and where their experience as volunteers actually matched what they were promised as they were recruited. Suddenly, the traditional staff vs. volunteer battles would go away, because you’d all clearly be part of the same culture.

For example, here are four of the cultural building blocks on which we collect data in the survey:

  • If a process, procedure or approach is not working, we can correct it with ease.
  • People can make decisions and solve problems around here, even if they are not “in charge.”
  • We embrace change in this organization.
  • We eliminate activity that doesn’t move us toward our goal.

Again, these are just four of 64 different measures. When you start to see how different volunteer groups experience the culture and can pinpoint the contradictions and other patterns, it will open your eyes to the areas that need to shift in order for you to be more successful as an organization.

If you’d like more information on the program, please fill out our contact form and mention the Volunteer Edition, and we’ll get materials out to you.

20
Sep
16

Clearing up association chapter confusion

hires-trade-assocAs I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of Public Relations Society of America, and I’m actively involved in the Central Michigan Chapter of PRSA.

While I enjoy attending PRSA functions across the country – during which I can network and learn from colleagues – I more frequently attend chapter meetings and events.

Obviously, convenience plays a big factor, since venues for chapter events are within the Lansing area. But also, I feel most comfortable swapping industry stories, exchanging business cards and hearing about trends during CMPRSA events.

And so, for me, my chapter is of the utmost value.

But that’s not the case for associations across the board, according to a new benchmark report by Mariner Management and Marketing.

The report found associations rely on their chapters for member engagement, leadership development, membership recruitment, marketing communications and local resources.

Probably not surprising (at least not considering my experience), networking and education are the top services provided by chapters. At the same time, the central organization frequently offers promotion assistance for events and meetings and helps with database management.

When it comes to dues, for the most part, central organizations, rather than chapters, set dues rates and collect dues. And in most cases, members are required to belong to the central association if they choose to also belong to a chapter.

As for training for chapter leaders, the most common form is an online discussion forum, with associations providing four educational offerings on average.

77Mariner also looked at the perceived value of chapters. Associations ranked professional development and advocacy as most important. However, when ranking the effectiveness of chapters in delivering services, such as membership engagement and leadership development, there’s a gap.

So it makes sense that alignment causes the most angst among associations. In fact, 37 percent of survey respondents said their chapters are somewhat or rarely aligned. However, only 5 percent of associations measure the ROI of their chapters.

“While there is nothing explicit in the survey data, we know from open-ended comments as well as conversations with respondents that there is an undercurrent of discomfort with the status quo on chapters, and some associations are trying new things here and there,” Mariner said.

In fact, the study found only 13 percent of respondents scored their chapters in the top quintile, indicating that many associations view their chapters as rather ho-hum.

This could be because, as Mariner says, there are two major obstacles associations face:

  • The boards of most associations with geographic chapters draw many of their directors from those same chapters and these individuals are invariably reluctant to make substantive changes.
  • Much of the resistance to change also stems from lack of data due to fragmented, disconnected or non-existent systems, which make an objective assessment of chapter performance difficult at best.

So what do you think? How do you rank your chapters? Tell us here.

13
Sep
16

Pay attention to what matters most

same-pageThis probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but it seems associations and their members aren’t always on the same page.

According to a recent report by Abila, what members want from associations vs. what associations think members want don’t always align.

For example, millennials just starting their careers often turn to associations for job opportunities and career advice. But baby boomers, who are winding down their careers, may instead rely on associations to provide industry news and trends.

The problem: A one-size-fits-all approach to association management and communication doesn’t work, but associations aren’t always good at segmenting their memberships.

Furthermore, many professional organizations take pride in providing numerous meetings and conferences when instead they should focus on job opportunities, credentialing and certifications, Abila found.

“Understanding generations and how they like to engage now is essential for any organization,” Abila said. “And acknowledging that an emerging generation will change the rules of engagement down the road – and planning for that – will help ensure success.”

Some key takeaways from the Membership Engagement Study:

  • Sixty-eight percent of members feel organizations are responsive to their needs, while 91 percent of organizations think they’re responsive to members.
  • Only 63 percent of members feel they’re getting good value for the membership fee, while 81 percent of organizations think they’re providing good value.
  • Seventy percent of members feel the organizations to which they belong are the voices of the industry, while 84 percent of associations think they’re the leading voices.

I alluded to it earlier, but segmented communication is crucial to member retention. In the survey, members said they most want to hear about industry news and trends, followed by professional meetings. Third: networking opportunities.

Perhaps surprising, however, was social media’s influence. While millennials indicated they’re much more willing to use social media platforms to connect with associations, email is still the No. 1 communication tool. Email messages were the most popular, followed by e-newsletters.

In terms of frequency, members said monthly communication is optimal. For social media, weekly communication is satisfactory.

career-journeySo what does this all mean?

“First and foremost, organizations need to have a sharp, well-defined understanding of where members are in their career journey and cater their content and communication strategy to address the needs and desires of their members based on age and/or career stage,” Abila said. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach no longer works in the targeted, highly personalized and technologically advanced world in which we live.”

Abila offers some tips:

  • An association should explore data within its AMS to identify new segments of its membership. Doing so will help associations tailor communications and think strategically.
  • Paying special attention to members who are just beginning their careers will reap great rewards – especially in terms of members retention. More than any other demographic, millennials (and in some cases Gen Xers) need career guidance and networking opportunities.
  • When it comes to programs, education and professional development, associations should offer a variety of choices, from hybrid to online to traditional conferences, and they should explore a spectrum of content delivery options. Simply put: Determine members’ career needs and meet those.
  • All the above is moot unless associations know their members. To learn more about their members, associations should engage in dialogue and survey them about their membership preferences.



meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

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