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" are in a game of "Chess."

Let me further explain these.

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.

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'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

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 companies will interact and 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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When It Comes to People...Are You a Bully or a Builder

Over the course of the past several years, I've written many blog posts on my passions within the membership engagement context.  I 100% believe that if you maximize membership engagement within your association, it solves everything.

Today I want to side track on the subject of people and how we treat them.  It doesn't matter whether you are engaging members, managing your association staff, or trying to inspire your volunteers, how you treat people is 50% responsible for getting them to engage, be inspired, or motivated.

Knowing this begs the question of yourself, "How do I treat I a BULLY or a BUILDER of people?"

A couple of other questions to ponder on this issue are:

- Do you feel you need to emotionally push people around to get them to do what you want?
- Are you more concerned with being right, than having the right decision made?
- Are you comfortable facilitating the right decision vs. being the right decision?

One thing we need to understand is, life is way too hard around us on a day-to-day basis to have a boss, volunteer, fellow employee, or anyone we work with creating unnecessary conflict in our life because of something they lack.   That's right, most emotional bullies are that way because of something they lack internally.

Association work is an amazing opportunity, and is really about creating life change for many people.  We have the opportunity to provide resources and networks of people to create transformation in so many people's lives.  Yet, in this "feel good" state of transforming people's lives, some feel the need to bully or run over people to get it done.

- Is it because you have insecurities?
- Do you feel inferior to those you lead or work with?
- Do you feel you have to "look good" in front of your peers?
- Are their issues in your past with parents or relationships that are unresolved?

Hear me out on this one phrase:  "When PERSONALITIES get in the way of the PURPOSE, that is the beginning of the end of the PURPOSE."

Knowing this, why do we continue to bully those around us to try and get what we want, when it does nothing but serve the purpose of tearing apart a potentially amazing and positive chemistry?

A couple of questions I always ask people about themselves are:

  • If a small group of people see you coming down the hallway, do they seek to scatter before you get to them for fear of your wrath, or do they hang out because they want to have a moment of your time because you provide a positive energy in their life?
  • When people leave your presence, do they feel better or worse about themselves?  Do they feel lifted up and stressed out?

Don't get me wrong...there is a time to be tough, but that is usually when all else has failed.  To be a bully, and seemingly tough at every turn, does yourself, those you manage, lead, work with, and your association, a disservice.  Being a bully divides people.  Being a builder of people brings people together.

When trying to think of an acronym that could easily be remembered on how to treat people you work in any scenario, especially those you lead,  I discovered this:  "We C.A.T.E.R. to our members, staff, and those we work with."  C.A.T.E.R. stands for the following:

Confidence - Impress confidence on your people by having confidence in them.
Authority - Give your people the authority they need to get the job done.
Trust - Let your actions demonstrate that you trust they can make the right choices.
Empower - Don't micromanage.  You tell them the "What," let them figure out the "How".
Respect - You hired respect and allow them the latitude to fail AND succeed.

I'm confident if you live by the philosophy of CATERING to anyone you work with in your association, you will see an exciting environment, within a team of staff and volunteers, that will accomplish whatever goals you establish.

Remember, people want to be a part of an organization that is exciting and empowers them to make a difference.  Bullies get in the way of empowerment and create no excitement.  Be a BUILDER of people and whatc their lives transform those around them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maximum Member Engagement SOLVES EVERYTHING

Marketing General recently released its 2014 association study that
had two compelling stats in it:
  • The #1 reason members non-renew memberships is lack of engagement in the association
  • The #1 priority for 67% of associations is growing member engagement 
As I look back over the last eight years of our association's strategic plan, implementation and the incredible growth we have experienced, one thing sticks out that turned everything around:  Maximizing Member Engagement.  You see, in 2006 we decided the number one strategy in the strategic plan was to put members things for them they couldn't do themselves effectively, and do them with excellence.

Look at our key numbers and the increase since 2006:
  • Membership Increase:  13%
  • Dues:  25%
  • Revenue Per Member:  33%
  • Non-Dues Revenue:  132%
  • Associate Sponsorships:  68%
  • Net Worth:  1,058%
  • 98.5% Member Retention Each Year
  • Percent of Members Engaged in Programs:  81% 
You see, when you put absolute focus on meeting member NEEDS and driving issues that are important to THEM, they RESPOND with engagement.  This engagement creates a level of financial security that frees the board to take risk and make decisions that can transform your industry.
Remember, maximizing your value proposition is directly tied to maximizing member engagement.  When your association can establish new programs or services without raising dues or costs to members, you are inherently raising your member value proposition.  The more you add programs or services at no cost to the membership, the more you are adding value to why they pay dues each year.  You can only develop and add programs at no cost to the members when you have an ample amount of reserves in the bank.

I see many associations who put the strategic plan ahead of member needs, which, to me is a huge mistake.  They keep building strategic plans and wonder why members aren't engaged.  It's because they haven't connected member needs to their plan.  They have built a strategic plan through the eyes of a board that thinks it knows what members want, yet have never asked, and then wonder years later why they lack member engagement.

To maximize member engagement, there are some key elements you need that ensure your association experiences maximum member engagement.  The following are what I feel are elements you can't do without:

A Staff Who is Passionate to the Cause of the Association

When members call in and speak to staff, they either feel awesome, or not.  Many staffers feel like they have an ordinary job and they haven't themselves connected the dots as to how their job, their attitude, and their actions can help make a difference in a member's life.  Members are dealing with the difficult task of succeeding in their profession or business, and it's not easy.  The world is a very competitive, cut throat place, and the resources and network that associations bring to the table helps lessen the stress of doing business.  You need to ensure that your staff feels the passion of how they make a difference each day and they understand the cause of serving members.

Doing Things For Their Members They Can't Do Themselves Effectively
When it comes to serving members, we have to stop trying to provide benefits and services members can easily access through, yahoo, or bing.  Many of the services that associations provided years ago, are now readily available to members through technology.  It is important that associations dig deeper into their members daily lives as professionals and business owners, and look for areas that are a real struggle for them.  When you find the pain that keeps them up at night in their business, then you will discover the "medicine" that you need to provide what will maximize their engagement.  Create programs that minimize cost, maximize opportunity, leverage people, free up time, and reduce stress.  I believe you need to narrow your focus to 5 or fewer benefits that you do better than any private enterprise.

Have An Effective Communications and Technology Strategy
Once you have a group of passionate people leading the association and your programs and benefits are focused on meeting member needs, it is imperative you have an effective communication strategy.  YOU NEED TO CONSISTENTLY TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOU ARE DOING FOR THEM AND HOW THEY CAN BENEFIT.  The biggest mistake associations are making today is trying to get as big a percentage of members to go digital.  Many have focused on email communications.  At best 32% open email newsletters.  If this is your choice of communication, you are losing 68% of your audience.  I'm a believer association should do it all in an effort to get 100% of their members to read or watch something.  That strategy has paid off for us as you can see from our numbers above.  I believe associations should be doing most if not all of the following:
  • Monthly Print Newsletter
  • Weekly Enewsletter With No More Than 4-Articles in It
  • Facebook or Private Social Network (we do both)
  • Linkedin  to Tap Into Prospective Members
  • Twitter to Keep Message Consistent and Revolving on Your Home Page
  • Photo Gallery of Meetings on Flickr
  • YouTube Channel of Videos
Many reading this may wonder how many staff we have to pull of of this off.  Most thing 6 to 8.  We have 3.5.  So I know it can be done with any size association staff, big or small.  We utilize technology to do as much as possible and we have no wasted space in time.  Our team meets the first Wednesday of every month to discuss every committee, project, meeting and communication.  We plan for each month to maximize our efforts and make sure we accomplish everything. 

Our members don't buy a product or service.  They buy the following:  There is strong... Then There is MTI STRONG.  They buy into a philosophy that they are stronger with our people and resources than without.  That only comes through having a group of staff who is passionate and focused to the cause, focused benefit structure that are things members can't do themselves and a communication structure that makes them FEEL your presence in their business or career.

Take time to get your full staff together and assess these three areas.  Ask everyone to write down on paper the following:

2 Things we are doing that we should be doing differently
2 Things we are not doing that we should be doing
2 Things we should stop because they are completed or irrelevant

Collect the pieces of paper and start making change.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Keys to Your Conference Experience Transforming Your Association

It's that time again... FSAE and ASAE conference fever is reaching epic proportions for many.  Many are looking at the conference schedule, shopping for things to wear for the theme nights, getting ready to see their industry friends, and just looking forward to getting away from the office.

For many however, the thought of appearing on the scene at a conference where there are hundreds and even thousands of attendees, with so many choices for sessions, and a schedule that runs from 8 am to 2 am with hospitality and networking...CAN BE A BIT OVERWHELMING.

The question do you plan ahead to maximize your ROI at the conference?

I've been going to the FSAE and ASAE conferences since 2006 and in that time frame, our association has grown over 1,000% in net worth with only a 13% gain in membership.  Yes, I said over 1,000%.  A big reason for this is me, as the association executive, having a plan to extract the best ideas, from the best minds, on the latest ideas and trends, that meet our needs.  By the way, our non-dues revenue is up 133% annually from where it was in 2006.  I share these numbers with you because I don't believe we would have achieved those types of numbers had I skipped conferences, or had no plan to maximize my conference experience.  Many of the ideas and changes that my association has made, have come directly from information gained at sessions, and in networking with other attendees.

I wanted to address why I feel that people don't think they received a good return on investment when they attend a conference.  There are 2 main reasons you will never receive, even at a good conference, a great return on investment:

FIRST:  You don't have a plan to gain what you need because you haven't identified what you are looking for.  Every association has issues that are stifling their growth...some you aren't even aware of yet.  Over the last 8 years, before every conference I attend, I identify the following before ever leaving:

  1. Two current challenges our association needs to solve in the next 12 months,
  2. One future challenge I see on our radar screen that we need to be thinking of solving, 
  3. What technology shifts do we need to be making in the next 12 months?
Knowing those three things on a piece of paper, before I leave for conference, allows me to identify the potential solutions.  I don't need to solve every problem because I'll be back there again in 12-months with a couple of other new challenges.  Knowing this allows me to focus on the big picture items.

You see, the problem at most any conference is that we are so caught up in writing down or tweeting every profound statement a speaker or colleague says, that we forget to write down the idea that connects the statement to one of your association needs.  We are just collecting the dots, not connecting the dots to actions that can transform our associations.  I've always told my staff, I would rather you come back from conference with the two ideas that can change our world, than 10 pages of notes of what you learned.  

Yes, you must obtain knowledge at conference, but more importantly, you must connect ideas to action for maximizing your conference ROI.  My rule of thumb at conference is simple...I have my notepad app open on my iPhone, and during each day of the conference, I'm writing down three things relative to the three items mentioned above:

1) One NEW IDEA I learned that I can implement for a specific need for my association,
2) What are we going to DO DIFFERENTLY ON MONDAY when I return to the office,
3) One NEW CONTACT I made who can help me make the change.

With that one piece of paper, and only 3 things to look for each day, you will find what you are looking for. I know, because our association has grown over 1,000% partially because of strategically attacking every conference I attend.

I hang around the "best of the best" at ASAE, and I can tell you that if I didn't attend ONE session, I would always walk away with those three questions answered, and am able to make great change, based on what I've learned, after each conference. Most of my new knowledge is gained just walking down the hall in conversation with a colleague, or networking after hours with friends...discussing what went on in the classroom. Learning is NOT all about what happens in the's about the application that takes place outside of the classroom.

SECONDLY... if you are not getting a great return on investment, you are hanging around with the wrong crowd. You only learn as much as the attendees around you can conceive. If you hang out with people who aren't great innovators in their associations, and they aren't looking to learn, then your return is going to be little-to-none.  If you are hanging around the BEST MINDS, then your return is going to be huge!  So, if your crowd isn't providing a great return on ideas at conference...find a new crowd!

A few other key tips for maximizing conference success:
  • Study the schedule of social events and network online with other attendees to find out where those "creative minds" are going to be networking at, the BE THERE and meet them!
  • Bring lots of business cards and make sure you come back with none.  NETWORKING is key!
  • Study the sessions and choose the ones that speak specifically to the challenges and opportunities your association is facing in the next 12 to 24 months.
  • It's OK to HAVE FUN at a conference.  Conference is a time to REFRESH, REFUEL, REENERGIZE, AND REVITALIZE your perspective on your industry, as well as, your life.  Take advantage of the out of class activities, the city/resort you are in, and after hours networking.  It's what makes the event so much more than just a conference, creating a lifetime of friends and memories.
Bottom line...YOU are in control of your conference experience.  Define what you are looking for..make a plan before you arrive...connect with creative people...write down the key things that you can implement for change...and execute them when you return. 

Watch TRANSFORMATION happen in your association!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Effective Association GROWTH is SIMPLE MATH: BI + SE * WF = MME + FS

As we end the first quarter of 2014, as a fellow association executive, I want to ask you a couple of questions:

Is your membership engagement strategy better, the same, or worse than it was 1 year ago?  2 years ago?  3 years ago?

Is your association building BELIEVERS, or just a roll of dues paying members?

Are you just providing services, or are you forging a MOVEMENT/ REVOLUTION within your industry?

In order for your members to truly be believers and to become part of your "association movement", they must be engaged at some level.  That engagement builds your movement, increases revenue per member, volunteerism, and helps you achieve maximum member engagement.  When maximum member engagement is actualized, recruiting becomes easier and retention rates rise leading to financial security for your association.

You see, if you have any set of members that are not engaged at some level within your association, they are, what I refer to as, "at risk" members.  These are members who have no real buy-in to your association.  They have been paying dues for any number of reasons, but have chosen to NOT engage in any programs, services, or volunteering.

These "at risk" members on any given day, can, and do, make a choice to non-renew their membership to save money and dedicate their resources elsewhere.  The next question for you is, are you tracking membership engagement in any fashion to be able to identify your fully engaged, somewhat engaged, and not engaged members?  If not, you should be.  It allows you to target  your messaging to each category of engagement, so as to draw your members closer to you.  There is no reason to send a company or an individual who is engaged in 80% of your programs, a letter to get more engaged.  They need a THANK YOU letter.   Someone who is only a "newsletter member", should not get a letter thanking them for all their participation…they aren't participating.  Rather, they need to get an encouraging letter asking them to get more engaged in programs, while also thanking them for their support.

Our association has actually established an Annual Engagement Award, which recognizes all members who are engaged in 75% or more of the association programs, and volunteering at some level.  We want to put those members on display to inspire others to be more active in the association.

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 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 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 fund the necessary programs to meet your mission.

So what are the three things necessary to have MME and 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.  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.

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.

Remember:  BI + SE * WF = MME + FS

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

And the #1 Membership Recruitment Tool IS.....

When you look at your membership recruitment strategy, my question always is, "Have you empowered your members and especially your suppliers with the tools needed for them to communicate your story to non-members?"

Many think that just telling a member to call 3 or 4 of his "buddies" in the industry and say, "Hey, you should join because I think it's a good thing" gets the job done.  NOT IN TODAY'S membership environment.  Or pressing your staff to recruit 10% more members this year when they don't believe in your value proposition isn't going to work either.

If you are going to be successful in new member recruitment, it is imperative you have "the tool" that communicates the power, passion and excitement of belonging to your association.  This tool should be used by every volunteer, supplier and staff member.

That tool is a "VIDEO."  Having a membership video that is more than members just saying things in the camera and more than just sharing your benefits is crucial to inspiring non-members to join.  


Having a video as a tool allows your suppliers to easily forward your membership recruitment piece to all of their customers.  A video makes it easy for a volunteer or board member to send the video to his colleagues and say, "I would like you to watch this video and I will call you in 5 minutes."

If the video is great, the only question your volunteer needs to ask is.. "So why wouldn't you join with us?"

I'm writing this blog today to encourage every association to get outside your thinking and construct a professionally produced video that is inspiring, motivating, shows off your members and displays the power and presence of your association.

The Metal Treating Institute just launched its new membership recruitment video and it has already after first viewing got our board all fired up about membership in 2014.  It quickly reminded them the power they have collectively than individually.

I feel a fire burning in our volunteers that is going to push our membership recruitment to the next level.

Seek to find the right message, music and mission in a video that will engage your non-members to become members.

CLICK the video at the bottom of this post to view MTI's new membership recruitment video.   
Remember... No matter what industry you are in, we are all much stronger together than separately.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Key to Taking Risk in 2014 is Non-Dues Revenue

It is amazing to me how many association professionals believe that because you are a non-profit, that means you can't think like a "capitalized for profit" business when it comes to managing and developing new programs and services.  There is a lack of innovation, seeking out member's business needs, and listening for those things that could be huge drivers to member engagement, expanded revenues, and rising net worth.

After the 2009 economic bust, every non-profit should be doing everything it can to enhance revenue streams to build its reserve funds.  You never know when such a decline may happen again, and the last thing any association wants to have happen is to be forced to deliver less value and cut programs, because they didn't have enough money in the bank to thrive.

  1. Having significant reserves in the bank allows the board of directors and the association, to take on more risk when it comes to new program development, than members could take individually.  
  2. When you have significant reserves in the bank, your association can afford to create new programs without increased cost to the members.
  3. With significant reserves in the bank, your association can afford to NOT CUT costs during a downturn, just for the sake of cutting costs.  They can afford to keep member programs running full steam ahead, and the brand high.
You may be asking yourself, "Tom, what do you consider significant reserves?"  I'm glad you asked.  I believe that over one-full year's budget would be considered significant enough reserves. 

The next question you may be asking is, "Well Tom, how do we build up those significant reserves?"  That is another good question.

In order for associations to build healthy income streams, it take a diverse set of non-dues revenue streams that include meetings, services, training, and interest income.  Yes, I said interest income.  Think about it...if you have $1,000,000 in invested reserves, there are conservative investments in the marketplace that you could be earning $25,000 to $40,000 on your money, depending on your risk tolerance.  So don't rule out interest income as a revenue source.  

When looking at non-dues programs, there are three types to look at.  I personally believe that two of them should get very little of your time, and the third one should get all of your time.  It is critical that associations build value based benefits and programs, because the next generation doesn't have the emotional attachment to it that their grandfathers and fathers had.  The WWII and baby boomer generations birthed a lot of the associations.  Gen X grew up as kids in them, and have somewhat of an emotional attachment.  Gen Y is far removed from the birth, and with that emotional detachment, they are looking for value.  The following are the three types of benefits:

Program Type #1 - Those Your Members Can Get For Free Anywhere
Associations used to have a lock on those types of programs that generated information.  However, the growth of the internet and Google search have virtually taken away this golden handcuff for associations.  We are not the only place to get information now.  An Association's niche in this area has been changed from being a knowledge provider, to being a knowledge manager.  There is so much information available now, that members can "WASTE" a ton of valuable time wrapped up in it.  The value of an association is in being able to get the right information to your members...quickly.

Program #2 - Those You Are Going to Do Whether We Are Members or Not
These programs generally focus a lot in the area of advocacy.  With all their strong efforts in state capitols and Washington D.C, .almost every association has heard this comment after delivering to a prospective member, "Well you are doing that whether I'm a member or not, so I'm not interested right now."  With the distaste many have with the governmental process, for many associations, there is a huge risk making this the key value you bring to the table.  For some it works, for the majority, it does not.

Program #3 - Doing Things For Your Members More Effectively Than They Can Do Themselves
In my opinion, this third type of program or service is where associations should focus the vast majority of their time.  This type of program maximizes value because it fits a direct need or want of the member.  Yes, they could do the program on their own, but at great cost in time and financial resources.  

Some key programs and services that associations can always do better than their members are:

Networking Meetings:  A member could never bring the best minds together once or twice a year for the cost of dues and the meeting.  The time it takes to coordinate a meeting alone would take them totally away from serving their own customer.

Online Training:  This is like printing money.  Once your content is in place, members enroll, take courses, and money flows into the association bank account with little human interaction.  If you are not doing online training, you are missing an amazing program that saves your members a great deal of money on training, and drives revenue into the association.

Financial Benchmarking:  Being able to see how you compare to your competitors, sales trends, and cost ratios, help any association member to make really good business decisions.  Benchmarking takes an unclear future and makes it pretty clear, if done right.  Another benefit of benchmarking is if you get great participation, there are companies who will purchase the compiled results from the association.  Again, members could never do this alone because other members would never submit their financial numbers to a competitor, but they would submit them to a third party research firm that the association has partnered with.

Leadership Training:   When it comes to leadership training, large companies can afford to bring in a high-caliber company.  The average association member, which represents about 90% of memberships, cannot.  They have to be satisfied with little, to no training at all.  Our association has proven that if you choose a top notch leadership training company, who trains Fortune 500 companies, and bring them aboard, then you can provide the same high-caliber training to every member for a fraction of the costs.  The benefit here is, you engage the next generation of leaders, and you have a year in the program to motive and inspire them as to why the association is so important to them.

The key behind discovering the programs and services that will maximize your member engagement and per member revenue reside in two things:
  1. Having a great understanding of how your member operates, and what their pain points in business are.
  2. Choosing to develop programs in areas that the association can do more effectively than the member can individually.
Our association developed this mantra in 2005, and since 2006, our per member revenue has increased 33%.  The increase in annual services income has played a large role in our association going from having 1 month of reserves in the bank in 2006, to now having 15 months of reserves in the bank today.

So what is your next step:  Take a team of members and staff, and analyze every aspect of your member's business, operations, and financials.  Look for the areas that cause your members the most heartache in the daily grind of doing business, and solve those pains with programs from your association.

A key element to program development is, who should you use as partners.  We only partner with the best in any area.  I've placed the companies and contact information for our partners for your reference. I have also included a couple of companies I know who are excellent in their area.  For meetings, I've noted a few incredible speakers because they brought great value to our meeting experience which led to higher attendance.

Financial Benchmarking
Ilumen: - Michael O-Schannesey - 404-446-1600 x1607

Online Training Platform  www.mindflash - Jason McMurtry - 800-771-1900 x21-

Others in Online Learning
Peach New Media: - Dave Will - 770-805-6292 -
Digitec Interactive: - Amy Bassett - 407-299-1800 -

Leadership Training Program
The Corps Group: - Kyle Howlin - 678-464-7037

Key Speakers Who Will Bring Value to Your Conference
Kenn Kington: -
Kenneth Gronboch: -
Janine Driver: -
Dan Thurmon:

Association News & Conference Video
Association Studios: - Jim Wacksman - 850-556-9669 -

Website and Graphics Design
Design Extensions: - Jay Owen - 877-378-6101

So there you have it, the choice is yours in 2014.  Don't let dues drive your value!  Seek out the areas that are the most painful to your member's daily operations and needs, and plug in programs that will maximize engagement and revenues.  Remember...."You will only achieve, what you can conceive."