Archive for the 'Professional Development' Category


How will new overtime rules affect your organization?

OT-Map-FINAL-medium-600x300In May, the United States Department of Labor released new overtime rules that will take effect on Dec. 1.

Since December will be here before we know it, nonprofits are already making adjustments, as the new rules will have significant implications for the nonprofit sector.

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, it all comes down to salary requirements.

With limited resources, many nonprofits can’t afford to pay their staff big bucks. Under the new regulations, most employees earning less than $47,500 will be entitled to overtime compensation. So think about your events and meetings. What will that mean?

That said, it’s a complex formula for understanding compliance, but the U.S. Department of Labor has published resources.

According to DOL, employers have a few options:

  • Pay time-and-a-half for overtime work.
  • Raise workers’ salaries above the new threshold.
  • Limit workers’ hours to 40 hours per week.
  • Combine options above.

The council offers some tips, as well.

“Employers have various options to comply with these change in overtime rules, ranging from increasing exempt employees’ salaries to the new level, converting them to hourly employees and paying overtime or making other changes to benefits or operations,” the National Council of Nonprofits said. “Nonprofits with budget years ending on June 30 will need to develop new budgets for the fiscal year beginning in six weeks that take these new changes into account. Nonprofits with budget years ending on Dec. 31 have more time to adjust and plan for 2017.”

In addition, the rules allow for the use of volunteers under certain circumstances, but DOL warns nonprofits shouldn’t use volunteers to skirt the regulations.

Working overtime

The department contends its new regulations will ensure companies – including nonprofits – adhere to the Fair Labor and Standards Act. It also says the new regulations will lead to a better work-life balance while increasing productivity and reducing turnover.

“Job titles never determine exempt status under the FLSA,” DOL said. “Additionally, receiving a particular salary, alone, does not indicate that an employee is exempt from overtime and minimum wage protections.”

Regardless of the exemptions the new rule provide, associations are concerned about the ramifications. According to ASAE, more than 250,000 associations submitted comments on the proposed rule to the department last year.

“Because the rule would dramatically expand the number of employees now eligible for overtime pay, associations and other employers could be forced to lay off staff or limit employees’ work outside of core business hours, stinting employees’ career growth and harming productivity,” wrote Chris Vest on June 1 in “Associations Now.”

Additionally, Alex Beall wrote about the new regulations, offering advice from Julia Judish, special counsel with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

“Once the employer has identified which of its currently exempt employees would convert to nonexempt, the employer should start now requiring those employees to do the equivalent of clocking in and clocking out and track their average hours,” Judish said.

As December approaches, we’ll track the new DOL overtime rules and report changes and their implications for nonprofits.

Until then, if you’ve got tips to share, please email Kristen Parker at We’d love to share them!


The growth spurt continues for associations

membership-associationWhat keeps association leaders up at night?

According to Marketing General Inc.’s 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, it’s issues such as balancing a limited budget, engaging younger members and understanding what members truly want, especially in terms of networking and professional development.

The good news, though, is that associations continue to grow.

Slightly up from last year’s report, this year 49 percent of associations reported a growth in membership. The largest individual member organizations (those with more than 20,000 members) were the most likely to see increased growth. In fact, only 14 percent report of respondents indicated no change in their number of members, a decrease from 16 percent in 2015.

For most associations, membership renewal rates didn’t change this year. Nor did the top methods for recruiting new members: word of mouth and email. Perhaps not surprising, associations said conferences and trade shows are also common recruiting tools, ranking No. 3.

Magnified illustration with the words Marketing Plan on white background.

So why do associations remain popular? Most association executives believe members join for networking and continuing education opportunities.

Other key findings from the MGI report:

  • The primary internal challenges to growing membership are difficulty in communicating value or benefits, insufficient staff and difficulty meeting members’ needs due to a broad membership base.
  • Competitive associations or sources of information (34 percent) and economy/cost of membership (31 percent) are the biggest external challenges to growing membership.
  • Nearly 80 percent of associations with increasing renewal rates indicate increased participation in their private social networks, with Facebook and Twitter being the most popular platforms.
  • A majority of associations consider the average age of their members to be between 45 and 54 years old.
  • Similar to acquiring new domestic members, the most effective methods for recruiting international members is through word-of-mouth recommendations, email and by promotion of or at an association conference or trade show.
  • The majority of associations currently have a separate strategic initiative or tactical plan for increasing engagement (58 percent).
  • More than 30 percent of associations offer certification of some kind.

So what does this mean for the future?

The MGI report includes best practices, predictions and tips from association leaders who participated in the survey.

As one respondent said, “Associations will need to find services that can’t be provided by any other organization — such as professional credentials. Networking can be online and social; professional development can be searched online; and knowledge is not valued, as information can be easily gathered. But status can only be gained by peer review and credentials are important.”


Survey says: Most of us are lifelong learners

technology-beginner-blog-imageOn the last day of school, I told my kids I wished I were still a student. I explained “adulting” is hard, and they looked at me like I had five heads.

Truth is, I love school. I’m a self-professed word nerd, but I also love learning about pretty much everything, which is probably why I’m determined to get my master’s degree one of these days.

I guess my love of learning shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, most Americans – 73 percent to be exact – define themselves as lifelong learners.

From do-it-yourself projects to professional development, Americans want to learn, the report found. Most learning occurs in traditional places, but the Internet is quickly becoming a reputable knowledge source.

Of those who responded to the survey, 63 percent of working adults have taken a course or engaged in professional development throughout the last year to improve job skills, mostly for career advancement. Perhaps of special interest to associations, 36 percent of the workforce sought education for a license or certification.

At the same time, 65 percent of those who participated in professional education said learning has expanded their professional networks.

In addition, the report found those with high levels of education were more likely to seek out education. Pew Research Center contends this fact negates the argument that the Internet democratizes education. Again, however, the report said those with lower levels of education turn to the Internet for education.

And the report found those who learn professionally are also more likely to learn personally – more good news for associations/organizations representing recreational industries.

sharing-is-caring-social-learning-in-the-workplaceWhile technology continues to evolve in the education arena, the Pew study found many learners aren’t aware of digital learning options. For example, 61 percent of respondents aren’t aware of distance learning while 80 percent aren’t familiar with massive open online courses (MOOCs). Even fewer learners are aware of digital badges.

In terms of industries, those working in the government sector, more than in other industries, represent the highest number of professional learners. No. 2 was education, followed by nonprofit organizations.

I alluded to this above, but most professionals participate in education at their workplace. The Internet is the second most common platform, followed by an offsite facility, such as a hotel. And, head’s up to associations: Conventions and education programs take the No. 4 spot.

Perhaps not surprising, the report found attitudes about learning shape people’s desire to seek out educational opportunities. Most of us like the idea of lifelong learning, but very few yearn to sit in a classroom. In fact, 58 percent of respondents say they’re constantly looking for opportunities to grow.

“Two large forces are driving fresh interest in the way people learn and why they learn,” said Pew Research Center. “The first force is the rise of the Internet and its disruptive potential for education, both for the formal purpose of gaining extra training and credentials and for the informal purpose of learning new things in hope of personal life enrichment. The second force is the steady advancement of the ‘knowledge economy,’ in which economic value is increasingly derived from working with sources of knowledge and in which more and more jobs are built around knowledge workers who use information to ‘create original knowledge products.’”


Facilitator’s oath: Responsibly introducing challenge by choice

11330016_10155540882430524_2140224877497510125_nHave you ever considered how you or your presenters introduce new content to learners?

Last year I had the opportunity during a site visit with a client to partake in The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium. If you’re ever in the area, you absolutely have to check it out. The technology is quite remarkable within the outdoor recreation industry – and the memories, particularly if you’re new to climbing, will last a lifetime.

The Adventure Forest itself spans nearly six acres of the tree canopy. After completing a briefing on how to use the “always-locked-on” gear, guests climb into a main tree platform where they can choose from 15 different trails that are color coded to indicate the degree of challenge they offer.

Trails are marked just like ski runs, with some suitable for novice, some for intermediate and some for advanced climbers. These trails include more than 165 challenging crossings made of rope, cable and wood. Among these crossings are more than 20 zip lines. The most challenging trails are up to 55 feet above the ground.

So, picture me. While I was initially an eager student, my ego quickly deflated as I reached the very first platform. As I surveyed the challenge before me, I considered both how I would cross it and what might happen if I fell.

As an experienced outdoor professional and coach, my client immediately became a trusted friend, confidant and mentor. She encouraged and supported my active engagement, perseverance and growth – but all within the context of challenge by choice.

18690_10155540882440524_7361364456760786838_nChallenge by choice is an important principle in adventure-based programming. While simple in principle, challenge by choice is complex in both practice and reality. The simple principle is that participants are invited to participate voluntarily in each of the various activities and challenges. A participant may choose to sit out of an activity and this right is to be respected both by others in the group and by the instructors.

The same should hold true of presenters:

  1. We should encourage and support active engagement in our sessions.
  2. We should invite learners to participate in each of the activities and challenges we present.
  3. We should respectfully permit participants to sit out of an activity or challenge.

In other words, we should introduce new content in a responsible and approachable way. After all, you wouldn’t take new climbers out on the Double Black Diamond trail in the adventure park without first developing their confidence and climbing skills on the purple and yellow trails.

For me, two major factors generally determine whether or not content is introduced responsibly: number of learners and sophistication of content.

Number of Learners

The first factor presenters should consider when introducing new content is the number of learners participating in the activity or challenge. By roughly dividing the session in thirds:

  1. The first third should introduce activities or challenges comprising the learner and just one other participant (i.e., pairs or neighbors).
  2. The second third should introduce activities or challenges comprising the learner and two or three other participants (i.e., small groups).
  3. The final third should introduce activities or challenges comprising the learner and the balance of the participants (i.e., large group).

11270478_10155540882435524_4624567221505202688_oSophistication of Content

The second factor presenters should consider when introducing new content is the sophistication of content delivered in the activity or challenge. If we consider ASAE’s new learning levels and again roughly divide the session in thirds:

  1. The first third should introduce foundational activities or challenges that focus on awareness and factual recall.
  2. The second third should introduce applied activities or challenges that focus on understanding and comprehension.
  3. The final third should introduce strategic activities or challenges that focus on application and implementation of technical or detailed topics.


Following are several real-world examples demonstrating these tenets in action:

  1. A foundational activity or challenge for a pair in the first third of the session might include a brief 3-4 minute introduction to includes names, titles, organizations and recall of relevant prior knowledge on the session topic.
  2. An applied activity or challenge for a small group in the second third of the session might include a 10-15 minute case study seeking to build on, apply or enhance existing knowledge using content in practical applications.
  3. A strategic activity or challenge for the large group in the final third of the session might include action planning to focus learner ideas, takeaways and next steps or a focused conversation to lead learners through a phased reflection.

What insights might you add as presenters consider responsibly introducing new content or challenge by choice within their own sessions? Leave a comment with your insights.


7 secrets of thinking like an entrepreneur

2016-05-03_0835On Thursday, April 28, I had the opportunity to present a webinar on learning portfolio audits as part of the CommPartners Education Innovation Series. I define a learning audit as a systematic review of a learning program or a learning portfolio to determine the strengths and weaknesses with the ultimate aim to guide subsequent improvements. But what does that have to do with thinking like an entrepreneur?

Approximately 27 million working-age Americans are currently starting or running new businesses. What if you could replicate the secrets of their startup success within your own department or organization? Despite the cliché image of entrepreneurs who achieve great things simply flying by the seats of their pants, the most successful businesspeople approach their work with intentionality.

As education providers, we routinely inherit programs with unclear or undefined outcomes; we operate in an increasingly competitive professional development environment with fewer resources and budget-strapped attendees; and we consistently grapple with unrealistic revenue and attendance targets while forgetting to sunset programs past their prime.

My approach to learning audits is designed to help association professionals and industry partners leverage their inner entrepreneurial spirit to categorize, audit and optimize the programs that comprise their learning portfolios, resulting in a stronger brand, an elevated reputation and more loyal participation.

Following are the seven entrepreneurial secrets as originally imagined by Peter Economy in this article and my interpretation of how they translate to the learning environment.

Business handshake

Secret 1: Build a solid relationship bridge.

Business is all about relationships, and building strong relationships is a pathway to success in both business and life. Identify key stakeholders (e.g., staff, board, volunteers) who are or who might potentially be affected by learning programs in your organization. Each will likely have a unique perspective/stake in the learning audit. Then, develop, implement and monitor a communication plan that answers the following four questions:

  • How will we ensure different silo groups buy in to the need and benefit of this project?
  • How will we ensure key stakeholders become a part of the process (e.g., taskforce)?
  • What is our preferred process/procedure and frequency for check-ins/progress reporting?
  • How will we promote/celebrate key milestones?

Secret 2: Slow down to lead.

Business is moving faster than ever, but great leadership means slowing down to take time to focus on doing the things that are most important to your success. Therefore, carefully delineate the three buckets that comprise your learning portfolio before moving forward:

  • In-person programs (e.g., annual meetings, multi-day conferences, full/half-day programs);
  • Digital/online programs (e.g., podcasts, webinars); and
  • Other resources that educate members or have the potential to educate members (e.g., blogs, newsletters, websites, magazines).

Secret 3: Choose your mindset.

You’re the one who decides the path you will take both in life and in business, and you’re the one who can change it. Determine the scope of your learning audit: either big picture or detailed. A big picture audit identifies for each of your three buckets the overall mix (e.g., type of event, number per year, strategic organization alignment, key performance indicators), the trends (e.g., quality of content, speakers, learning and instructional design) and the relationship to your organization’s body of knowledge. Conversely, a detailed audit drills down to measure the attainment of established outcomes for each individual program, and illuminates recommended changes at the program level.

small-business-owners-unclear-on-health-care-660x369Secret 4: Know your business “health” metrics.

The most successful businesspeople know exactly what makes their organizations tick, and they keep a very close eye on the metrics – making timely corrections when necessary. A typical in-person audit might resemble unbiased third parties observing and taking photos throughout an event; scheduled face-to-face interviews with learners and speakers; or small focus groups or consensus workshops themed around a particular topic. Back at the office, paper audits might include programs assessed against an established rubric; aggregate program evaluations and trend identification; or responses to new survey questions when the necessary data is simply not available. Furthermore, an entire education portfolio might be evaluated to ensure program outcomes align with the organization’s mission, vision and values statements or environmental scanning might be conducted to determine what previously unforeseen member needs might be lurking right around the corner.

Secret 5: Be determined.

Being determined isn’t just having the strength, fortitude and persistence to move forward against the odds, but it’s also being strategically prepared for the battle. In this case, if the standard audit tools and processes aren’t a good match for your organization you might consider these additional audit formats recommended by consultant and researcher Will Thalheimer.

Secret 6: Resolve to succeed.

Know that you can succeed, and then put all of your energy into it. Once we resolve ourselves to achieving something, then nothing can stop us. And it starts with developing a report according to stakeholder needs/wants – either written or verbal (or both). In crafting the report, carefully consider the length/duration, the language used and whether or not to include the raw data/findings.

candidate-1570478-2014-08-07-23-16-24_cSecret 7: Be prepared to swim upstream.

No one ever said that finding success in business or in life was going to be easy, and frankly, it’s not. Often you’ll find that you’ve got to swim upstream – against the current – to make great things happen. At this stage it’s time to implement new ideas/recommendations and sunset underperforming/mature programs, products and services. ASAE offers a three-step workbook for selecting and sunsetting association programs, products and services. The steps include building a team, deciding what is important and creating an efficient method.

So what approaches have you found most successful in auditing either a single program or an entire learning portfolio? Please share your thoughts or leave a comment.


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news May edition

Gina_ARC denim_edit2-1

Gina Sutherland, director of education and events, CalSAE

Q & A with Gina Sutherland, director of education and events, California Society of Association Executives

Q: If you could be a summer cocktail, what would your name be and what would you taste like?
A: My summer cocktail name would likely be “Blinded by the Light” because my husband always teases me about my pale, Irish-influenced skin tone. I’ll skip over the taste in lieu of styling – a sleek, tall cocktail glass with a Krazy Straw and a festive drink umbrella. (Cool drinks need protection from the sun too!)

Q: It’s a beautiful day in California. What would we most likely find you doing?
A: Ideally I’d escape the valley heat for a relaxing day in the mountains. If we’re at home, we’re indoors during the day and looking forward to the delta breeze blowing in the evening so we can lounge on the deck, barbecue and play ball with our fetch-obsessed Boston Terrier, Just Jack.

Learn: Q: How do you learn best? In a coffee shop with lots of noise or in a quiet, library-like setting?
A: It varies. Sometimes the energy of a coffee shop helps me initially dive into content, but then I need to retreat to a quiet setting for focus. There’s a vacant, small restaurant space up the street from my house. Fingers crossed someone sees the potential for it to be a café. It’s next door to the library, which is surrounded by a tree-filled park. Coffee shop, quiet space and nature – a learning environment dream come true!

Network: Q: Tell us about one of your favorite personal or professional networks. What makes it special?
A: CalSAE, of course (as well as the greater SAE community). I love learning from and sharing ideas with our members and content leaders, particularly those who are exploring new formats for their education programs and events or collaborating with us to experiment with different formats. We can be an education playground and members can take lessons learned from our experimentation back to their own organizations.

Transfer: Q: Think about a topic in which you feel you’re quite knowledgeable. How would you use this knowledge to better your industry?
A: As an education and events director for fellow association professionals, my tendency toward being an extreme learner is perhaps the best way I can better my industry. The more I learn about trends impacting society, association management and events, the better I can design education and event experiences for our participants.



Some must-dos for ASAE’s annual meeting


Aplebaum pic

Lowell Aplebaum

In anticipation of the ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition, which will be held Aug. 13-16 in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’ll be providing some tips on how to maximize your experience.



To start us off, Lowell Aplebaum shares his advice. Follow him on Twitter at @LowellMatthew.


Do you have some tips to share? Email Kristen Parker at



  1. For each session time slot, map out a first and second session choice. It is very acceptable at ASAE to switch sessions if the content or format doesn’t accommodate your learning style. Having a second choice in your back pocket can make this easier.
  2. A few weeks before, start following the conference hashtag on Twitter (#asae16). You will see a stream of information about sessions, receptions, etc.  Better yet, you will start to virtually “meet” some of people who will be there. I actually found the colleague who eventually became my CAE study buddy by first connecting on a Twitter chat!
  1. Registration opens at 7 a.m. on Saturday so make sure you get there early rather than waiting until Sunday.
  2. Check out the Hive/New Bee Lounge. Though they shift the name sometimes, this lounge will have a new “bee” sticker (yes, it is a bee) that is unobtrusive on your badge, but a good wink to other newbies too.
  3. Make sure you arrive in time for Opening Reception, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Everyone flows differently – some like to show up and just play pinball, bouncing from new person to new person. Others feel more confident when networking with a buddy or even a small group. Think about how you best meet people and try to set yourself up for networking success before you even step in the room.
  4. giveGetOpening Keynote (or any of them) – Move up! The back may fill up more quickly, but that isn’t because that’s where the best seats are located. Want to see and hear better? Sit near the front.
  5. Session selection – Think of the individual sessions you attend as a “choose your own adventure.” Did you just meet someone and are having a really interesting conversation? Pivot, go to a session together and see how you can help each other learn. If you’re following the conference Twitter stream and hear some interesting buzz about a session, attend. Ultimately, you might want a mix of sessions. And don’t count on outlets. Most session rooms won’t have many outlets, if any at all. Those that do will quickly be in use by those who show up to session early. Think about your charging needs and carry a backup battery for your phone just in case.
  6. Attend a Community Section Reception on Sunday. The YP one is a great place to start, though any of these are open and offer smaller networking opportunities to meet new colleagues.
  7. The Expo Hall is a place to secure new vendor relationships and also to see what’s on the horizon for association tools, resources, partners and locations. If you aren’t coming with direct business to do, still walk the hall, using it as a learning experience. Expo Hall hours throughout two days are long. If you find you have exhausted the floor, that’s the perfect time to check out some of the lounges that are available. At a minimum, the ASAE Foundation lounge the past few years has sponsored Chuck Fazio’s Headshot Lounge where you can get free professional headshots. Also, the lounge hosting the ASAE Career HQ is good to check out (or even see if they have a really low-price career coaching session available).
  8. Non-ASAE Sponsored Receptions – By the time you get to Sunday night, you will have met a few people so ask where they are going and join in! Remember – It isn’t about how many receptions you attend, but about what you do with the time you spend at each. If the people attending resonate with where you are/what you’re looking for, stay and talk.
  9. Awards & Recognition Breakfast – This optional event on Monday morning is early. With that said, do you want inspiration and vision for the future of our industry? Come see our next leaders.
  10. ASAE Foundation – The ASAE Foundation is our industry’s entity, supporting our field with research, innovation grants and investments in the future of associations. There is a foundation donor reception on Saturday evening before the opening reception for those who make a certain level donation. Besides investing in your profession, this reception is smaller than the opening and filled with others that have taken that next step to invest in the association field as well. It’s a worthwhile way to get your feet wet at your first conference.

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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