Monday, July 6, 2015

Associations Are More Powerful Than You Think!

There are many in the world of associations who are preaching
against the world of associations. They are claiming that associations don't work, they are out of touch, people don't want to pay dues and the membership model doesn't work.

They couldn't be farther from the truth.  The association model is the STRONGEST model for assimilating people for a cause.  Period.  There is no strong model.

I like to compare the traditional association model to that of the traditional car model.  Cars of today have the same four components they did in the 1960's, with an engine, body, frame, and four wheels.  The car has always been the best and most efficient mode of transportation for the average person.  Yet the cars of today outperform cars of the 1960's, because of technology advancements and re-engineering.

Associations are exactly the same.  The traditional model of today encompasses the same core elements as the 1960's, in that associations provide groups of people with a common passion, a purpose, and a chance to:
  1. Organize themselves
  2. Coordinate their efforts
  3. Leverage the costs over many people
  4. Do things as a group, they could not do individually, effectively
  5. Build trust to take advantage of business opportunities
There is no other business model that allows a group of people with common passion and purpose, to pull off such great accomplishments as the association model does and "sustain itself."  For all of you who believe the internet and social media can assimilate people with a common purpose, you're fooling yourself, because someone has got to execute and do the work.  Social media allows people to talk, write, and shout out a lot, but at some point, someone has to leave their computer and do the work.  This is where the associations rules the day.

With technology advancements in social media and other online platforms the association model has been made stronger and more powerful because:
  1. We have now given the smallest member in the most remote location an opportunity to be involved in the conversation.
  2. We have empowered our members to connect 24/7.
  3. We have engaged our members to have a louder voice because the voice has expanded.
  4. We have become more important as a trusted filter to the incredible amount of wrong information on the internet.
The reason people view the association model as dead, is because many CEO's and execs have viewed technology advancements as a threat to their control and association model, instead of the path to re-engineering that which can propel their association to expand their reach to rule their universe.

Creating a powerful machine called "Your Association" comes from understanding the three types of members all associations have and the three levels of engagement that all operate in. Once you understand these dynamics in measurable results, you can then build a plan to reach each segment of your membership to strengthen their engagement with the association.

Remember, the #1 reason members site for leaving is "lack of engagement."  Yet associations continue to have issue driven strategies and no plan to meet their members where they are.  Poor choice in my book in today's world of associations.

I know this, because our organization still runs a traditional model.  However, since 2006, our association has aggressively made technology advancements and re-engineered our habits, and the member satisfaction, member loyalty, engagement of the younger generation, and financial strength of our organization has never been higher.  Check out these performance measures:
  • Retention rate is 96% year end and year out
  • 80% of members are engaged in at least one program
  • Our young executive series management training program sells out every year
  • Dues income is up 39% from where it was 10 years ago
  • Our non-dues revenue is up over 400% what it was 10 years ago 
  • Net reserves have increased over 1,000 in last 10 years
All of this with one of the largest economic downturns and slowest recoveries in American history.

Here's the deal and what I have figured out:
  • People WANT to accomplish something bigger than themselves with groups common to them.
  • People WANT to be a part of something exciting.
  • People WANT to believe in an organization who can empower them to make it happen.
If any association implements technology advancements, and the right re-engineering around the five core association elements mentioned above and 10 key elements I teach in my session How to Get Members to Scream Your Name and Beg For More, I believe your association can rule your universe and engage the loyalty of your members.

If you would like to see the deliverables I've been providing associations over the last three years in working with their leadership, CLICK HERE.

Associations don't need radical change.  They need a systematic shift in small steps to rebuild their value proposition and confidence from their members.  If your association needs to find hope in themselves and strength for the future, I can help them find it.

Good luck in your journey to engage, excite and inspire your members to build a group a members who aren't just strong, but YOUR ASSOCIATION STRONG.

Monday, June 8, 2015

You Can't Give What You Don't Have

On a typical Monday, I would find myself pondering and writing about how to solve Association organizational issues with membership, non-dues revenues, meetings, etc.

Today I want to get a little more personal and talk to you, the association professional.  As I look around and listen to many executives face-to-face and online, I hear in their voice, that they are missing something in their life.  They want more from their career.  They want more meaning in their life.  They want to feel like they are growing, yet many can't find a good path to a meaning and fulfillment, because of the personal issues going on all around them called.."LIFE."

Growing debt, struggling relationships, a terrible boss, and just feeling unfulfilled to name a few.  For many, the lack of passion and quality of life you are experiencing right now is far from the vision you had coming out of high school or college.  You want to change, but you don't know the path to change.

There are four reasons people don't take the steps to get to the next level in their life, or pursue their dreams:
  • Fear:  Many are scared of failing or taking a risk. 
  • Don't Like Change:  New things make people uncomfortable. They want things to stay the same.
  • Blaming Others:  Many use the "blame game" to keep them from making the effort to pursue dreams.
  • Comparison:  A feeling of "insecurity" when compared to others will stall your efforts to pursue your dreams.
My question for you is, "Which one of these is holding you back from pursuing the life that you want, so you can feel the passion and fulfillment that you want in work and life everyday?"  To make the necessary changes that you need to make, it is crucial that you identify the reason(s) why, and work through them to joy and fulfillment.  Once this barricade to change is gone, your life is FREE to be whatever you want it to be!

You see, serving in a non-profit association of any type, at any level, is about SERVICE to others.  Service is about giving and passing on a passion of value that provides better opportunities for the people or businesses you serve.  In the life of SERVING others, "you can't give what you don't have."  If your personal life feels empty, unfulfilled, and without meaning, it will come across in your service to your members as you work with them.  But, if people are happy and fulfilled at home in their personal life, they will excel at work with less stress and anxiety.  Now we can ALL use a little less stress and anxiety...RIGHT?

An association executive's daily attitude should have fire and passion that drives them to help every member that they come in contact with, not because they have to, but because THEY WANT TO.
To maximize your meaning and fulfillment in your personal life, you must take a look at the four elements that will control 99% of your success in pursuing the quality of life that you want:

Choices:  Your choices throughout your life either expand or limit your opportunities in the future.  If you are feeling a sense of frustration in your life, you need to look back at the choices that you made and ask yourself, "Did my choices get me here?"  For many,  the answer is "yes",  and your frustration in life comes from a conflict between what you thought your choices were going to give you, vs. what the real world gave you.  Many have people have bad skills at making good choices.  It is important you make sure that you make sound choices, from sound information and input from others who also have good choice making skills.

Time:  Is the way you spend your time helping or hurting you in achieving the life that you want?  For many, if you look at what their goals in life are, and compare them to their day-timer, you will see very quickly that they will not reach any of their goals.  How you spend your time will directly impact whether or not you make your life goals. Take time to look at your goals for the life you want, and at the end of each week, ask yourself, "What did I do this week to help me get closer to reaching my goals?"  Sadly, for many it's not one single thing.  Connect your time with your goals and you will see an amazing difference in your life achievements...personally and with your association career.

Money:  This is a big one.  Money is such an emotional issue for everyone.  I gave my son a birthday card once that read, "Money isn't everything.  But it sure makes life easier."  That is so true.  Money can't buy happiness, but it can alleviate many pressures that come our way.  If you have ever run tight on money, you know what kind of pressure I'm talking about.  How you spend your money, either personally, or in business, will dictate if you make your life's financial goals or not.  You can't say, "I want to retire early in life", yet never put any money away in savings.  Many big decisions in life come at a cost or investment of money.  Make sure you connect your spending habits with your financial goals.  The pressures of life will be minimized with the fulfillment that you will have in knowing that you will have the money to reach your goals.

People:  The number one influence on humans is the people that we surround ourselves with.  If you surround yourself with good characters, you will have a good character.  If you surround yourself with bad characters, you will take on bad characteristics.  Why?  Because we have a need for acceptance and approval at many levels.  Many people with a good character have been lead to make bad choices, in order to gain acceptance from the rebellious crowd that they were hanging out with.  If you want to rise in your profession, you must network with people who also want to climb.  If you have a certain vision for your life, you must network and hang with people who also have a similar vision.  To hang on a regular basis with people who do not engage and encourage your goals and path to achieve them, will hold you back for your entire life.  If you are to reach your life goals, sometimes you must make hard choices to minimize your time hanging around people who are not headed in the same direction in life as you are.  Does that mean you ignore them?  Absolutely not, they are human beings and need to be encouraged to reach their goals as well.

So I ask you…"Do you know your personal goals in life?  Do you know where you would like to be in 1-year, 5-years, 10-years?  Do the choices you make, how you spend your money, how you invest your time, and the people you hang out with regularly, support your path to achieving the quality of life you desire and want?"

If not...it's time to make some changes.  Make those changes in the four areas that I talked about, and you will begin to see personal fulfillment, that will come through in your passion and service for your work everyday with your association members.  You no longer serve because you have to…you serve because you WANT TO.  Big difference!

If you would like to know more, I launched my new, ground-breaking book on personal development at the Book Expo America show in May 2015 called, How to Get People to Scream Your Name and Beg For More.  This new book is a 360 degree view of your life, and the steps that you need to take to achieve the ultimate life that you desire.  Numerous outstanding reviews have come back from highly respected association executives saying how spot on and practical the book is for personal development.  I would encourage you to pick up a copy.

CLICK HERE to read Amazon book reviews.
CLICK HERE to listen to audio excerpt on Amazon.
CLICK HERE to read the first chapter excerpt.
CLICK HERE to visit the book website and purchase.

A year from now, you can either stay where you are at today, or you can be on your way to achieving the quality of life you desire...It's your choice.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Strategic Planning: Issue Driven vs Member Engagement

When your next strategic planning retreat takes place, will your board's focus revolve around being "issue driven" or "maximizing member engagement." If yours is like most associations, it will be "issue driven."  Typically, boards spend countless hours researching, surveying each other, discussing and looking at what the key issues are within their industry with no considerations to how they impact member engagement. They come up with what their five key initiatives for the coming year, put them in a nice printed document, and over the course of the year write updates and take pictures of how awesome those five initiatives are progressing.  Yet many of these associations still have a retention problem. Many members aren't intimately familiar with the strategic plan and think that is something only privy to the board.  Hence, they are "not engaged."

Are many of the initiatives taken on by your board and their strategic plan important?  YES.  But many of the initiatives are not as important day-to-day for many members of an association.  They do nothing to draw in and "engage" members into the emotions of the association.  Members continue to be just "dues paying" members and not "believers."

I'm a big believer that strategic planning should start with member engagement, not the issues of the year.  Think about this question:  "Would you rather have 20% of your members who fully understand and believe in your strategic plan, or would you rather have 80% of your members fully engaged in programs that connect them into the energy of the association?"

If you look down the benefits list of many associations, past coming to the annual conference or government advocacy, they have little to offer their members.  What do members, who don't like to attend meetings or have a distaste for the political process, have as value in an association where these are the two overriding benefits?
Are you an association that has so much focus on intangible benefits, that members can't really see the true value of your association?

I'm a big believer that it is critical for an association to have as much, or more, value for members who don't attend meetings and don't like the political process, as those that do.  Why?  BECAUSE THEY MAKE UP THE MAJORITY OF YOUR MEMBERS.

I recall sitting in a board meeting for an association that I was a volunteer for.  One of the staff members gave a report on the membership committee's latest conference call.  Having only a few people on the call, they began to talk openly about the list of people who were late on their dues.  The Chair of the Membership Committee stated on the call to the staffer, "We are really struggling with these calls.  If anyone doesn't come to annual conference, we don't know what to tell them as to why they should renew their membership."  WHAT?

Is your association in this space of "perceived" value, or lack of value past your annual conference?  ...Or do you have a value proposition that is tangible and drives member engagement so members feel and touch your value every day, week, and month?

I would challenge every association to look at your value proposition and ask yourself, "If we had no meetings and did not participate in government advocacy, what is the real value to our members?"

If you have little value, your association is always at risk of low retention and churning members to replace those that leave.  You sell membership hard, sell a lot of intangibles, and once they are in and realize that you have little tangible value, they leave.  This is a problem for revenues, volunteers and the strength of the association.

Our association is highly "member engagement" driven in our strategic plan, and have been since 2006.  The numbers are incredible!  Since 2006, we have had a steady 13% increase in membership, our per member revenue is up 33%, our non-dues revenue is up 133% on an annual basis, and our net worth has grown over 1,000%.  All because we put most of our focus on programs and services that deliver direct and tangible benefits to our members.

Hear me out on this.  When your net worth grows a 1,000%, your Board has the financial resources, and incredible flexibility to take risk on issues important to your membership. You see, when members are engaged, it creates the strength to drive issues important to your association.  However, if you drive issues, it doesn't drive member engagement.

As you approach your Fall leadership retreat with your Board, think about approaching your plan from a perspective of, "What programs or services could we do to engage 80% of our members in something that would be meaningful to their career or company?" If you do that successfully, you will see engagement, loyalty and retention go to levels you could only wish for.

Do what our board did in 2006... Take the Association Revolution Challenge, an intense full day strategy session that puts member engagement at the center of the mission.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Meeting Innovations...How a "Silent Party" Changed Networking

If your annual meetings are anything like ours, you have an incredible array of social functions and general sessions that engage the senses and emotions of attendees.  Our goal is to deliver an experience that far outweighs the educational content.  Yes, content is important and is a chief part of the agenda, but we want our members talking for years about the experience.

I was told once, early on in my career, that no one will ever remember what they learned at a conference, but they will remember the experience and memories you provided for them.  I took that message to heart.  In the planning stages of any meeting we ask ourselves, "What is going to be the "X" factor at this meeting that people will say years from now, 'Remember in 2014 when they did…?'"

As with any conference, networking is a key function at our meetings.  At every event you can hear the buzz of people talking over anything and everything having to do with business and personal life.  Each event fosters that networking atmosphere...except for our final night dinner.  Our final night dinner, like most, is a fun-filled evening that ends with a live band for dancing and entertainment.

The challenge we have always faced is that you can never get a band to play low enough so people don't have to try to talk over the band in order to be able to network effectively.  Our final night dinner always played out the same once the band kicked off.  With 190 people at dinner, a third of the group would leave and go back to their rooms as soon as the band started playing...due to the band being too loud.  Another third would go into the foyer to network, and the final third would stay in the room with the band and enjoy dancing.  The band fragmented the group, simply because of the volume, and by 10:00 pm the room would be almost empty…except for the remaining 10-20 die hard dancers.

Enter the "Silent Party"

When we started planning this year's spring meeting, we discussed at length how we always get a lot of feedback on the volume of the live band and that networking is impossible.  Many didn't like it because a lot of key people would leave and go back to their room, thus limiting the networking opportunities.

This year, I proposed to our Programming Committee that we try the "Silent Party" concept that I had experienced on a cruise last year.  For anyone not familiar with a Silent Party, it's pretty simple.  You have whatever type of music playing over the house sound.  When you kick off the dance party, there are two DJ's at the front of the room, and beside them are sets of high quality music headsets...playing dance music on two completely different channels.  Those who want to dance can come up, grab a headset, put it on, and dance the night away.  It is awesome because you can switch back and forth between the channels, so if you don't like what's playing on one channel, you switch to the other one.  The DJ's have mics that they use to talk to the dancers to keep them engaged in the music and the experience.

The beauty of the Silent Party is that it solves everything.  Dancers can come to the dance floor and enjoy
a fun and exciting experience.  Those who don't dance can stay in the room, listen to light music, and not need to scream just to talk, plus they can have a few laughs watching the dancers with headphones on.

RESULTS of the Silent Party?  Where a live band drove off 70% or more of the crowd by 10:00 pm, we still had 80%+ of our dinner group in the room at 10:45 pm.  People were actively engaged in networking, having fun, and enjoying the evening because we removed the obstacle that stood in the way….the live band.

This is not to say that we will never have a live band again, but it proved to us that we don't need live entertainment to have a great night.  Another lesson learned is that some of your members, who love to dance, will not buy into the concept because they like the live music atmosphere, and some will not want to wear headsets.

What I will tell you is that if the goal of your dinner is to foster networking, then you should give the Silent Party, or something like it a try.  People who always leave early thought it was one of the most innovative dinner concepts they have ever seen.

The moral of this story is:

- Know what your "real goal" of an event is.
- Pay attention to what your attendees are saying in your surveys.
- Think outside the box in solving the problem.

We thought our goal was to provide entertainment on the final night…we had it wrong. Our goal is to foster an environment that creates an opportunity for everyone to participate…the Silent Part did just that.

Monday, April 6, 2015

So You Think You Are In The Membership Recruitment Business?

When you look at your association, do you really know what business you are in? When you look at many association's business models, you would think they are in the membership recruitment business.

Everything they do is about recruiting new members. Yes, they pay some attention to current members, but the raw focus is, "How many members did we recruit this year over last year?"  Yet, nothing in your bylaws or governing documents say that recruiting more members furthers your mission.

Is recruiting more members important?  Absolutely.  However, I believe we are in the membership engagement business, NOT membership recruitment. Many associations sacrifice retention and engagement to put a full court press on recruitment.

The picture you see at the above right is the visual trend display of our association's growth of total membership, versus our growth of total net reserves.  In that same time frame, our per member revenue (membership engagement metric) has risen over 35%.  Current members are spending more dollars with the association because we have been focused on building high value. That value in programs is far beyond government advocacy and annual conferences.  I know many associations who give you a blank stare when you ask them what their value proposition is for those members who don't like the government process and don't attend meetings.  They have NONE.


Hear me out. It is critical that your members who don't participate in government advocacy and meetings  have just as high a value proposition as those who do.  Having that value will drive dollars spent by members with the association.  As more members get engaged, and word gets out that your association is doing things to transform their companies, other non-member companies will want to jump in.

Here is the cool part.  Because your have such a strong value proposition and strong retention rate, you can put focus on your mission, protecting the way your members do business, and taking risk on member's behalf.  So how do you grow your association through nice, steady increases in membership that drive strong retention, higher per member revenue, and strong growth in your net reserves?

If your current membership is engaging in your member programs, meetings, and volunteering, you have a great story to tell those who are not members.  If your member engagement is lacking, why would a non-member want to be a member if current members don't even participate?  For this reason, I believe associations should put focus on value and member engagement FIRST, and everything else will follow.  This leads me to my simple math equation for effective association growth in membership, revenues, and financial strength:

Board Innovation (BI) plus Staff Execution (SE) times Wow Factor (WF) equals Maximum Member Engagement (MME) plus Financial Security (FS)

For associations to sustain themselves long term, they must have maximum member engagement and financial security.  If you lack either one, your association will perform average, at best.  If you don't have a good level of member engagement, many will say that you don't represent enough people to speak for your industry.  ...or "your benefits and services appear to benefit just a few, and not the full membership", or "why join, your current members don't see any value?"  If you don't have financial security, then you don't have the financial resources to take risk for your members and invest in the necessary programs to meet your mission.

So what are the three things necessary to have Maximum Member Engagement (MME) and Financial Security (FS)?  You can make a list a mile long if you would like, but it really boils down to 3 categories which all others fall into:

Board Innovation (BI)

Board innovation comes from having a business savvy mindset from your Executive Committee and CEO that filters down to your full Board.  This group must lead the way for the rest of the board to get outside the box and think creatively about how they can engage the members in new ways.  They must create programs and meeting structures that hit at the heart of their member needs.  It's critical for the board to, at least every two years, analyze the question, "What can we do together for our members that they can't do for themselves effectively?"  Answering this question is the key to maximizing your value proposition. Remember, non-members come to an association to help solve major problems. Do you know what their problems are and are you solving them?

Staff Execution (SE)
Once the board has a sound direction for the association to take, the next phase is staff execution.  This is a blend of staff working with the key volunteers (when needed) to execute each program, service, committee work, and meeting, to empower your members to accomplish the association mission.  When people see real change and results happening within the membership and their own experience, they become excited and tell others.  Members want to see excellence within their staff, they want to have a confidence that the staff is passionate about their association, and that they take pride in doing it with excellence.

WOW Factor (WF)
This speaks for itself.  In everything that your association provides for your membership, does it exemplify excitement, passion, and an emotional experience that draws them into your association?  This is everything, from the way you answer the phone at your association offices, to the entertainment you provide at your conferences.  Members should "feel" your membership…not just purchase it.

Bottom line, do you have an effective membership engagement strategy?  If not, you should start today.  The future of your association depends on it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Need to Become the CEO of Your Life

Working in the world of associations is such a fulfilling and rewarding opportunity. We get to live out our passion for helping people, while watching our efforts having a dramatic impact on life, business, and industry.

However, sometimes it becomes more like a job, than a passion, and we begin to feel burnt out with all the demands that can come from serving people. I remember hearing a speaker say, “We aren’t growing burnt out because we are over-worked. We are burnt out because we have forgotten why we do what we do.” That was so profound to me when I heard it, and it caused me to look internally at myself. The person was right…you can not give what you do not have.

In the world of non-profit work, we need to have passion and purpose in our own lives, so we are able to give passion and purpose to our members. However, with our own personal lives as busy as our work life, it can be a real challenge. In those moments of your life when you think your circumstances are at their worst, remember…things are never as bad as they seem, and you have more control of your circumstances than you think. It is at that moment, that you need to become the CEO of your own life and take control.

As I listen, study, and look into the lives of the thousands of people I meet every year, I’ve come to believe that each one of us has a “quality of life” in mind that we would like to be living on a day-to-day basis. It’s a quality of life that brings fulfillment, passion, joy, love, rewards, and a stress-free life. For most, when they look at where that quality of life is, and the actual quality of life they are experiencing, there is a gap. For some, the gap is small, but for many, the gap is huge.

Many are waiting on life to happen in some fashion. Waiting on enough spare time to begin to enjoy life. Waiting on enough business to seize opportunities in the market. Waiting on enough money to have a child. Waiting on the market to change to buy a house. Waiting on the ideal life partner to make you feel loved. Waiting on retirement to start experiencing your bucket list.  Waiting, waiting, waiting...  Waiting for WHAT?
One day you wake up and you’ve lost 20 years of your life waiting in the rut of work, kids growing up, and just life happening. Your soul feels lost, your heart passionless, and your energy tank is on empty. It’s time to stop waiting.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that life doesn’t happen to you, life is what you make a choice to do, and what opportunities you seize when they come your way. Everyday, people have opportunities dropped in their lap, yet they choose to NOT seize the moment and take advantage of them. A great quality of life doesn’t just come to you. YOU make it happen.

In my opinion, to make the quality of life happen that you desire, there are four essential areas of life that you must have a plan for. Your plan isn’t some, “I’ll wing it” type plan, but a plan that has been well thought out. For each area, you need to work through what you want, the threats to making it happen, and the steps you need to take to achieve it. The four areas of life to plan for are:
  1. Career
  2. Relationships
  3. Financial
  4. Physical Health

Each of these four areas drive everything in your life from family, retirement, to professional development. If anyone of these areas is lacking, it will have a negative impact on your ability to achieve the quality of life you want.

To help people achieve maximum success in these four areas, I’ve developed what I call The Path to the Ultimate Life visual. The Path to the Ultimate Life visual has four blocks on the inside that I call “Pillars,” and four words on the outside that I call “Characteristics.”

The four Pillars on the inside are the four forces that have the most impact on the four key areas on your life mentioned earlier. They are:
  1. Choices (How you make them)
  2. Money (How you spend it)
  3. Time (How you invest it)
  4. People (Who you surround yourself with)

The four words on the outside are the four Characteristics that you must have to do the fours Pillars with excellence. Those are:
  1. Attitude (It must be positive and good)
  2. Ability to Adapt (You must embrace change)
  3. Communication (A skill set you need to master)
  4. Perseverance (Nothing worth having is easy. Never give up)

I contend that if your life is not going the way you want, or if you are not getting the fulfillment out of life you want, one or more of the four Pillars are out of alignment, or you lack the skills in one or more of the four Characteristics.

The questions for you to ask yourself are:
  • How big of a gap do you have between the quality of life that you want, and the actual quality of life that you are experiencing?
  • What Pillars are out of alignment, and what Characteristics do you need to work on, to make change and close your quality of life gap?
  • What steps do you need to take to make it happen?

Life is short. The time to start living your passion and purpose is now. Everyone from your family, friends, coworkers, and members will see a difference in you as you begin to live the quality of life you desire. Work on the four Pillars and four Characteristics, and bring them all in alignment with your quality of life goal.  Good luck in your journey to living the ultimate life.

This blog is a part of an exert from my new 25-chapter book, on How to Get People to Scream Your Name and Beg For More. See full details at ScreamYourNameBook.com.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

We Think We Are In A Game Of "Simon Says"

As I enter my 20th year of association management, I have come to realize that many association executives lose sleep at night, have conflicting emotions with their board/volunteers, and seem frustrated over the leadership direction of their associations. This frustration comes from a passion to run the association as if it's their own business....but it's not.

You, as the executive, know what the best practices are.  You know how prepared leaders should be to make key decisions, and that they should leave their personalities at the door.  Many times, volunteers and board members don't care about best practices...don't consider all the information available for a key decision, and many even bring their personal agenda's with them.

Those three elements can create frustration for association executives at any level, given that volunteers aren't working in the business of the association everyday. Volunteers get to peek in and make big picture choices, that on occasion, make you grit your teeth. They vote "yes" or "no" on an issue that goes against what you know to be best practices for associations that are growing.

I want to offer advice, provide encouragement, and offer hope to leaders of associations.  You must remember:

1) The association is not your party. It's their party.
2) As staff executives, you are not in a game of "Simon Says"...you are in a game of "Chess."

Let me further explain these.

IT'S THEIR PARTY
The association was created and designed for your members, and controlled by your members. They get the final say. I think this rubs many association executives the wrong way, because they grow into feeling that the association is theirs because they take pride in it, and have a passion for the cause and membership. However, at the end of the day, it's their party. Their decisions. Their consequences for the decisions they make. You need to be a great facilitator of the process that allows your Board and volunteers to create the association that they want to serve them. Many have unengaged boards. Many have engaged boards. Some have awesome value. Many have little value. Your role as an association executive is to help your Board and volunteers to discover the value that can expand the association membership, strength, and engagement, in the industry that you serve. The key is to know when to lead your Board, and when to facilitate your Board. No matter what you believe the decision should be, an effective association executive always provides the right information for the decision, and the consequences of voting one way or another, so the Board can make an informed decision and can live with the consequences of the vote, whether positive or negative.

WE ARE NOT IN A GAME OF "SIMON SAYS", BUT A GAME OF "CHESS"
Because we lose sight in thinking that it's "our party", we can fall prey to thinking that we are living in a game of "Simon Says,"  Simon says, "You will be prepared for the Board Meeting."  Simon says, "You will read the monthly financials every month." Simon says, "You will read all committee reports." Simon says, Simon says, Simon says.  What frustrates many association executives is that many aren't ready for a Board meeting, they don't look at the financials, and don't read the committee reports. They aren't listening to "Simon Says" in order to make what we feel is a good choice.  Once you realize that you are not in a game of "Simon Says," but rather, a game of "Chess,"  you can relax and breathe a bit, and begin to use your people skills to motivate your Board members and volunteers.  You see, each volunteer moves and makes decisions differently.  Like Chess, some move diagonally, some move one space at a time, some jump up two spots and then sideways once, and some move wherever they want to...whenever they want to. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, you just need to realize it, embrace the reality, and then manage it well. Each of your volunteers comes with different education, styles, and experiences, accumulated over their lifetime.  It's important as an association executive, that you be able to recognize those differences, and discover how each "chess piece" within your volunteer base moves, so you can effectively work with them to stay focused on the mission, to expand your value, membership, engagement, and strength.

I know many reading this don't like the element of "politics," or managing personalities in life, but if you are an association executive, that is an element that you chose when you accepted the job as CEO or Director of a department of an association.

In conclusion, here are a few tips to help you sleep at night:
  1. Remember, it's their party.
  2. Learn to play a good game of "personality chess" with people so you can connect with your leaders.
  3. Study the various personality styles so you know how to speak into their strengths.
  4. Provide them all the information, both good and bad, so they can make great decisions.
  5. Always provide the consequences, both good and bad, so they can live with the outcome of their decision.
  6. Make sure to document decisions effectively so you can point back to policy for future Boards.

Stay passionate. Keep the fire burning. Stay the course. We all make a huge difference in people's lives in the arena of association management. Take great pride in that, because you're not just strong...you're association strong.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Key to Recruiting the Next Generation... It's Very Clear

You know... funny thing about how data jumps right in your face and says, "It's so apparent what the answer is to a question." For years associations have been squirming to find a solution or path to have a deep value proposition to recruiting the next set of volunteer leaders and members. People have said they aren't joiners. Well if you don't relate to them, YES that could be true. People have said they won't pay dues. Well if you don't have value, YES that could be true.

However, if you look at some crucial data, it is crystal clear WHERE the value and benefit of an association is for the younger generation. Try and follow me here...

Everyone keeps talking about how the younger generation will have like 10 jobs before they are 35. I keep asking myself... "Where are those jobs going to come from?" If you look at the demographic of our population, here is how they breakdown according to a nationally known demographer, Kenneth Gronbach:

- 78,000,000 - Baby Boomers (Born 1945 - 1965)
- 69,000,000 - Gen X (Borm 1966 - 1985)
- 100,000,000 - Gen Y (Born 1986 - 2010)

The coming generation of young people is massive. Here is the hook when you understand the numbers.  Baby boomers worked in the same job for 30 years and retired.  They didn't job hop because they were more loyal than other generations.  They didn't job hop because there weren't any great paying jobs laying around because their generation was so large.  There were plenty of executive candidates for most every job.

Fast forward to Gen X. I can remember in the 90's seeing articles on how companies were giving ski vacations, flex time off and all kinds of other benefits to attract top talent.  Why do you think they had to do this?  Look at the numbers. There are 9,000,000 few people meaning there were more executive jobs than there were qualified candidates. Employers had to give away benefits to attract the best.

Now here comes Gen Y.  100,000,000 of them. I'm telling you they will not be job hoppers because there won't be enough top jobs to fill.  There will be many more candidates for management and executive positions than there are jobs.  I've told all my kids in their early 20's to find a great job with a good company and ride that wave to retirement.  Supply of management is going to be plentiful and you will not get to jump from ship to ship.

Here is the hook.  If you are a young person and you are let go of your job through reorganization or
any other reason, don't you want to have three to four companies on speed dial that have told you, "If you ever decide to leave, come talk to us." When young people are in the interview process for a management or executive position, don't you think they need to set themselves apart from the competition by demonstrating on their resume they are an active participant in the industry? Of course.

This provides the golden hook for every association, especial professional societies.  Over the next twenty years, young people are going to want to have a connected network of people who "want to hire them if they were ever available" as well as "a list of training and industry projects they have been involved with" to let the employer know, I'm great, I excel and I'm good for your company.

If you have ever been let go from a job, you know how frustrating it is to find a new job. You spend months sending out resumes and collecting unemployment longer than you want. Your anxiety levels rise to all time stress levels. It seems all your friends who landed jobs... Knew Someone!

Well where did they meet that someone? In a network from within their industry.  Two things things young people will need when they find themselves without a job:

- A network who knows their qualifications without a resume because they are involved
- A list of engagement in the industry to separate them from the competition

I recently shared this philosophy with a recent association during my presentation and I looked over and the President had a big smile on his face. I asked him later what the smile was and he said, "I just figured out out new slogan for the next generation.  Why join our association? The time to build your network of people is not when you are fired." I thought that was quick thinking.

You choose to do what you want with the data as an association.  But I'm here to tell you, if you have ever been let go from a job and wondered what your next steps should be.  You get to choose to send out 250 resumes a week for 6 months or make 3 phone calls and have a position by week's end from someone you are connected with through the association who already knows your value as an executive.

I don't know about you but I see opportunity and strategy for the future.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Member Engagement Solves Everything.... An Interview With Tom Morrison

As we have completed another year at our association and I look back at our success in Board innovation, program participation, past presidents staying involved, leadership development, next generation involvement, non-dues revenues programs growing and active volunteerism, it boils down to one factor:  MEMBER ENGAGEMENT

It is crucial if you are going to pull your association into a place of growth, strength and overall loyalty that you have an intentional membership engagement strategy in every area.

Recently I was interviewed by the Michigan's Business Network as a part of an online radio program with the Michigan Society of Association Executives on how engagement impacts associations, staff and volunteers.  Every employee of your association should listen to this program.

CLICK HERE to visit the radio interview page.

IMPORTANT: Once on the page, scroll to bottom and click on the PLAY Icon.

Make member engagement your top priority in 2015 and 2016. If your current members aren't engaged, what makes you think non-members will want to join.




Wednesday, January 7, 2015

6 Steps to Creating a Tropical Paradise Out of a Tropical Storm (Part 2)

Just before the year turned to 2015, I wrote part one of 6 Steps to Creating a Tropical Paradise Out of a Tropical Storm.  These 6 steps are an absolute key for your association if you are going to be successful in the next 10 years.  Remember, success is not some magical discovery that just happens. Success comes from a set of well thought out strategies with purpose, that keeps you focused on your target, and passion to drive your actions and flexibility to adapt and seize unforeseen opportunities.

The first three I discussed in part one were:

ONE: Blend Young and Old to Maximize Energy and Wisdom

TWO: Build Your Internal Technical Knowledge and Leadership Upstream

THREE:  Be On The Cutting Edge of Technology

The next three steps to creating a tropical paradise out of a tropicaal storm are as follows:

FOUR:  Excite Your Customer - Do You Have Rock Star Status?
One of the reasons Apple has been such a success the last 10 years is they sold a "lifestyle",  and an emotion for their product.  Most people buy Apple because they want Apple.   There are many other companies like this as well.  The question for your company is, when people in your industry think of what you sell, does your company rise to the top?  Do people want to "FIND a way" to do business with you because your company is on the cutting edge, and you make people feel good about where they are going, and they can trust that you will pursue them with excellence?  …or do people think they are just another person buying something from you?  When you can inject EMOTION into your brand, customers come to you.  They seek YOU out!  So my question is, how are you blending the use of video, social media, the web, and direct mail into your "Emotion Brand" to have your customers, not only buy your product, but feel an experience when doing business with you?

FIVE: Be Transparent
You do business in an open society.  It's not fair, but it's real.  When you screw up, it will most likely appear on twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or some other feed.  Tons of people will know, even while you are still trying to hide it.  Your entire brand and culture needs to revolve around being transparent.  Allow your customers to have access to your work in progress portal so they can check the status of their order.  Post performance stats for your company so departments and employees can get excited about the success of the company.  You want your customers, members, or employees to look at your company as a part of them.  Find some type of profit sharing program to give every employee some "skin in the game".   I love a company I met not too long ago who gives every employee, down to the janitor, a percentage of the profits every quarter.  I don't think those employees are going anywhere.  There are obviously some areas that need to be for "your eyes only", but for the most part, members, customers, employees, and vendors need to know you are being up front, honest, and transparent with them when you are dealing with them.  Give no one a sense that they need to start digging into the details.  If you have nothing to hide, you hide nothing.  Openness and honesty build trust and loyalty.

SIX:  Review Your Business Strategy at Least Every 24 Months
I believe every association and company should have a comprehensive business plan.  This plan should define your market, customer, brand, culture, and how you will pursue your market.  I believe 24 months is the optimum length for reviewing your overall company or association business plan.  You can't live in one-year increments because sometimes it take longer than 12 months for strategies to gain momentum, and with longer terms, things change to dramatically.  Companies who review their business strategy every 24 months, have an opportunity to look at how their market and customer needs are shifting.  How does your company culture need to adjust, and what changes in execution need to happen to maximize your company success?  Each time you open up your plan, there are only three questions you need to ask for each aspect of your business including, sales, marketing, people, pricing, operations, etc:
  1. What are we currently doing that we need to be doing differently?
  2. What are we not doing that we should be doing?
  3. What are we doing that we need to stop because it no longer ads value?
When you look at the demographics of the United States, the future is very bright?  Those who build their value based on member needs, follow these six steps, and deliver with a WOW factor are going to see membership grow to all time highs, build new revenue streams, and make a big difference for their industry.

Lead your members into the future starting today.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Six Steps to Creating a Tropical Paradise Out of a Tropical Storm (PART 1)

If you haven't been paying attention, you may not have noticed that the economic environment, in every capacity, has been shifting from an industrial revolution, to a technology revolution.  Demographic shifts we see worldwide are already starting to bring the industrial revolution back to North America, but in a technology revolution fashion.  Opportunity and momentum are slowing building for amazing prosperity!  The question is, "Are you and your members ready for it?"

For every association and their members, whether individuals or companies, the shift to compete in today's economy is fast, furious, dynamic, and unforgiving.  You no longer make money in spite of yourself, or because you inherited a business from your parents.  Competing today takes strategy, vision, purpose, execution, and the ability to look back and learn lessons, so as to not repeat costly mistakes.

I have had the fortunate pleasure of being around some of the most innovative for-profit business owners in my life.  I've paid close attention the last 10 years because I could see change coming.  Change like we have never seen before, and at a rapid pace.  Over the last 9 years, our association has grown tremendously by paying attention to a set of six business principles that work in any non-profit or for-profit business.  

These six keys to maximizing future success come from dynamic shifts that you will not stop.  These shifts are coming, some are already here, and some we haven't seen the full impact yet. 

As you approach 2015, you have two choices when dealing with these uncontrollable dynamic shifts:
  1. Battle the waves of change and fight against the stream, or
  2. Adjust your sails and sore with the waves.
I would highly recommend anyone reading this post to adopt #2.  If you pursue #1 with the, "We have always been successful doing it that way" attitude, then you run the risk of jeopardizing your organization, brand, and the families they support.

The following are the first three of six key areas that all companies, whether non-profit or for-profit, need to ensure they have a part of their business strategy to maximize their future success and be here in 5 to 10 years.  You can read about the last 3 keys in my next blog post next week:

ONE: Blend Young and Old to Maximize Energy and Wisdom
The United States population, right now, is in the biggest shift in demographic groups in our history.  Whether it's employees, customers, or suppliers, you are dealing with the "OLD" largest generation in history clashing with the "NEW" largest generation in history.  In the middle, you have a generation fighting to be heard.  The challenge is, how do you build a respect for tradition, be open to new ideas, and give a voice to these generations so as to maximize their ability to be cohesive, want to work for you, and want to do business with you?  It is critical that your company invest in resources to help teach each generation and varying personality groups to build trust, care, and respect for differences for one another.  It's amazing what happens when someone begins to understand, "It's not personal, they just have a different way of thinking.  Let's work this out",  as opposed to, "I'm right, your wrong.  It's my way or the highway."  When you have young and old working together in a cohesive blend, your company will begin to see magic happen in value, productivity, and profits.

TWO: Build Your Internal Technical Knowledge and Leadership Upstream
It is proven time and time again that TRAINING pays huge dividends both on the line, and at the top.  No matter what your company sells, quality technical training for your admin and line personnel allows them to work with less errors and greater decision making, which maximizes a customer's experience.  I personally love it when a line staff person can solve my problem intelligently instead of, "let me get my manager."  Empowering your people through effective technical training in every capacity pays off in every way.  With training comes building a set of leaders for your company that people look up to, respect, and have a passion for within your industry and company vision.  Remember, just because you have someone that can do the work of your company with excellence, doesn't mean they know how to lead and manage the people who do that work.  Leading and managing is an entirely different skill set.  I'm never amazed at how many great employees hate their job because their boss has absolutely NO PEOPLE SKILLS.  How did company executives think his/her brash management style was going to work out with employees, customers, and suppliers?  IT DOESN'T.  Your most profitable companies in the future with loyal employees will invest funds into building upper management who lead by example, create heros from their workers, build teams not egos,  and are nice to deal with.  You want a culture where people WANT to work for you, customers WANT to do business with you, and suppliers WANT to give you what you want in terms and service you need to be competitive.

THREE:  Be On The Cutting Edge of Technology
This goes without saying.  Competition is fierce and human capital is every organization's largest expense.  Other factors like Obamacare are adding cost to the system that causes you to have to raise your pricing in order to stay in business.  The question is, "Which of you are going to blink first to raise your prices?"  Many will fear this step for losing customers to competitors who don't raise prices.  Eventually they will go out of business for not charging enough, but can you afford to lose and wait until the customer returns?   Leveraging technology with your company to minimize the human capital needed to grow your business is a must in the future.  This doesn't mean you add robots and let your staff go.  It means, start looking at your business differently.  Where can you add technology to streamline your productivity?  Where can you shift your workers to maximize your customer experience?  Companies who have the perfect blend of high-tech and high-touch will be your most successful companies in the future.

Next week, you will read about keys four through six in Creating a Tropical Paradise Out of a Tropical Storm.

Lastly, I will say this about the need for individuals and organizations to leverage associations.   The #1 place every individual or company needs to be to maximize their resources is a member of their professional society and trade association.  If you choose to do business without being a member of an association, you are choosing to be a lone wolf, go at it alone and leave valuable resources on the table for your competition.  As a member of an association, you can leverage networking, training, social media, benchmarking and research, to give you an inside competitive advantage for pennies on the dollar.  I always say..."There is strong, then there is Association Strong!"

So I ask, does your association and members have these areas on your priority list of action steps for 2015 and beyond?  Remember, the market is unforgiving.  As Jack Welch, former CEO of GE stated, "When the rate of change is greater outside the organization than inside the organization, that is the beginning of the end of the organization."

Stay tuned for next week's post...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What is Your UBER or Zillow?

Everyday technology is changing our lives.  It's changing how consumers live and purchase.  It's changing how companies do business and market their products.  For an association, technology can be an association's best friend, or its worst enemy.

Back in the day, it used to be, that only well funded companies had the resources to develop technology that could alter our economy.  Now it just takes a couple of passionate college students in a dorm, with programming skills behind an idea, to make things better or more convenient.

With technology being developed so fast, the question for associations is, "who is studying the marketplace, and who is spending time on your research and development, to ensure technology advancements don't rule out your association's relevance to your members?"

Case in point is UBER and Zillow.  Both of these apps have transformed their respective industries.  Both are causing the the taxi and real estate associations a lot of heart ache over their impact.  Both could have been discovered and developed by their associations.

Think about the value proposition for the taxi cab associations, had they developed UBER.  It would have been a dramatic increase in value for their membership.  Instead, they are spending their dues dollars in court fighting UBER rather than promoting it.  Zillow is causing the same type of heartache in the real estate industry, and is in direct competition with Realtor.com.

My question again to every association is...."What is Your Uber or Zillow?"

Private industry knows that associations make big dollars on training, benchmarking, and conferences.  They are working harder than ever to use technology to capture your members.  If you snooze at the wheel, innovations like Uber and Zillow will find their way into your industry, leaving you on the outside looking in.

It is critical for all associations to be looking with their eyes wide open, at the changing demographics, business climate, and purchasing trends in their industry, in order to identify the "Uber" opportunity in their industry.  Why you ask?  Think about the value proposition and non-dues revenue impact of Uber had it been discovered and launched by the taxi association.  It would have been huge.

Every association has a set of young people they are looking to empower and engage in their association.  This specific area is the perfect place to engage them.  Establish an R & D committee made up of your younger members, and empower them to discover how the association  can leverage their resources to discover your industry's "Uber".

Challenge them to discover how business will be done differently in the future...how companies will interact and operate...how consumers will purchase...and how information will be transferred, related to what is important to your industry.

Challenge them to develop the next wave of technology that could transform how your members get to do business and interact.  Remember, technology's biggest impact is when it enhances process, tears down obstacles, or increases revenue/profits.

If you sleep at the wheel, technology in itself will minimize your association's relevance over time.  But if you invest in R & D, and stay ahead of the curve for your member's benefit, you will gain loyalty from your members, and a revenue stream that will sustain your association's future.

Discover your Uber or Zillow today!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Association Staff #1 DRIVER to Maximizing Member Engagement

In the world of associations, all members join your association for one reason or another.  Typically they join to help them improve areas of their career or company through training, benchmarking, networking, government relations, etc.

According to current association research, the #1 challenge of associations is "engaging members in the programs that can help them improve their business."  That sounds so ironic given members have come to the association for help.

If we, as associations, can harness the energy within our associations to help members understand they have joined an exciting place that can lead them to the answers for most everyone of their challenges, we will maximize their engagement, therefore solving many of our association's challenges.

However, I believe the #1 obstacle of associations "maximizing member engagement" is their own staff.  Associations are relying heavily on their volunteers to engage the members, when the members themselves have their own daily jobs to work.  "Volunteer help" to engage members should certainly be expected, but not relied upon within any association.

The #1 group of people who should be required to engage members in programs are your staff.  When I say staff, I mean 100% of the staff including HR, accounts payable, meetings, etc.  Any staff person a member could connect with in any fashion should be required to engage members.

The problem with staff is usually membership interaction on programs and services typically falls to one person who is in charge of membership with smaller associations and a small department in larger associations.  Here me on this... "With only one person or department in charge of membership, you will never maximize member engagement."  One person or department can never have the type of interaction with the majority of your members needed to maximize engagement.

Membership Engagement should be the responsibility of every employee whether you have 2 staff members or 200 staff members.  Every employee should be required to at minimum know the following:

1) Year Association Was Established
2) Mission and Vision Statements of Association
3) General Understanding of the Association Strategic Plan
4) General Knowledge of Each Benefit/Program the Association Offers
5) How the Benefits/Programs Connect to the Success of the Members

If you were to have a test TODAY on those five topics with everyone not in the membership department, would they pass or fail?

Think about how many times a day everyone not responsible for member interacts with members and none of them typically discuss any of the above because they don't have intimate knowledge of it.  You see, when your staff can connect the five items above to the success of your members, it breeds passion for them to make a difference each day.  They understand, as a staff person, WHY THEY EXIST in the organization.  That what they do everyday really is life changing for people you serve.

There are two main aspects that drive associations.  PURPOSE and PASSION.  When the two intersect, you now have a CAUSE to fight for.  My question is, "Does your employees understand the CAUSE they are fighting for or do they think they just have a job?"

To many associations have PURPOSE and PASSION among their people, but they are not intersecting each other for the benefit of the association.

When PURPOSE and PASSION intersect for a CAUSE, you then have a level of energy within your association staff where EVERYONE buys into maximizing member engagement so the association thrives.  When member engagement grows, it's like a chain reaction that grows:

  • Program participation
  • Per member revenue
  • Volunteerism
  • Meeting attendance
  • Membership Retention

I have personally witnessed this over the past 8 years within our association where equipping ALL of my staff with the knowledge they need to engage members constantly has led us to increase per member revenue 33%, annual non-dues revenue 132% and overall net worth of association 1,058%.

Incredible numbers from simply ensuring ALL staff are a part of the engagement process.

I would encourage every association reading this to do the following:

  • Make sure your staff KNOWS first had the five things I listed above about your association.
  • Meet at minimum quarterly as a staff to discuss openly your value proposition and the five items
  • At each meeting, have 1 or 2 staff members present your value proposition from their perspective and discuss it to learn the varying angles people see your association.

Lastly, I would encourage you to have your association staff take my 90-Day Association Revolution Challenge in the 4th quarter of 2014.  Don't let your staff go into 2015 thinking the same old way.  My "live" Association Revolution Challenge Workshop has received rave reviews by boards and association leaders across the U.S.   I now have an online version that makes a "staff member engagement strategy session" affordable.

Take the steps to maximize member engagement today by equipping your staff and connecting the Purpose and Passion for your association CAUSE.  To see our SPECIAL OFFER for $200 off the Association Revolution Challenge, visit www.AssociationRevolution.com.