Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Are You Here and Do You Know Your Vital Signs?

With it being the end of the year, it's typically a time of reflection and a renewed energy towards making the future better.  My question to you is, do you know "Why you are here" (your association mission), and "Are you looking at the vital signs that can instantly tell you if you need some type of change"?

I want you to watch the following video.  It's 180 seconds seconds, and is a powerful message from John Maxwell, one of the leading speakers on purpose and leadership.   Take a moment to listen:

You see, just as knowing your purpose is a stability for successful people, your association mission is a stability for your association.  Your mission provides a confidence to your members that the industry could tumble tomorrow, but you will be OK because you are a member of our association.  The question is...do you have the right mission for your membership?  One they find great confidence in?   Is your mission clear, measurable, achievable, and supports the future picture of your organization and its member's needs?

I'm a believer in that before you can decide your mission, you need to look at your association's vital signs to see how much and how radical your change needs to be.  In my opinion, there are four key vital signs you need to be looking at every quarter on a graph to see a big picture perspective.  These graphs will tell your board in an instant if they need to make change, and where to make it.  The following are what I feel are the four key vital signs of an association, with a supporting visual for you to see what they look like for our association, with a line where we made change:

Total Membership - Tells you the health of your membership.  This line doesn't have to always be growing, but at least steadily moving upward because you are not in the membership business.  You are in the business of doing your purpose, and if done with awesomeness and clarity, non-members will want to convert to supporting members.  You can see before the line in the middle, if that is all you saw, you would know instantly you needed to make change because of the downward trend.  Our change has provided steady increases towards our previous highs in membership.

Per Member Revenue - This tells you the participation by members in your overall association activities. This number is simple...all revenue paid by members the previous 12 months including dues, meetings, programs, training, etc, divided by the number of total members each quarter.  As the following graph shows, when this association made some real change, their per member revenue rose over time from $1,500 a member, to $2,000 a member.  With a membership of 370, that is $185,000 of new funding.  They would have had to recruit 100 new members to gain the same.  We all know it's much easier to get members to spend more with you, than to recruit a new member...

Rolling 12-months of Revenues and Expenses - This helps you to see how the flow of income and expenses are each quarter, so you can quickly judge how your overall decisions are impacting both. You can see that when our per member revenue began to rise, it had a nice impact on our revenues. Costs began to rise as meeting participation rose, but seeing that on this graph, we have been able to curb expenses and keep revenues up.  The reason a graph is so important is it tells you the relevance of a number at a period in time.  The same number can look good or bad depending on if it's on the upswing, or on a downward trend.  Graphs make every number clear whether they are good or bad.

Total Net Member Surplus (Net Worth) - This tells you the overall health of everything.  If this number is rising, your overall health is good.  If this number is falling, you have a problem because you are dipping into reserves to pay bills.  Not a good thing.  When you look at this graph, tell me if you and your board were looking only at the graph to the left of the line, don't you think you would start thinking about making some changes...and quick?  Some of the same numbers on the right hand side look good because they are on the rise.  The same number on the left is bad because it's in the middle of a severe decline.  Visualization of your vitals signs are empowering in motivating decision making.

The moment these visual images were created in picture format of our 4-key vital signs for this board to look at, making change became easier.  No board wants to be the board that drove the association into non-existence.   Downward trends in the key vital signs are truly disturbing to any board, because they can now see how their decisions are directly related to the health of the association.

In my 15+ years as a CEO of three different organizations, I have found the following to be keys to them all growing to be the best at what they do for their industry and members:
  1. Graph out your key vital signs to get the big picture of where you are heading.
  2. Establish your mission that is clear, achievable, measurable, and supports the future picture.
  3. Identify your controllable and uncontrollable threats that will get in your way of achieving your mission
  4. Create an action plan to achieve your mission, taking into account threats.  Have an action item to deal with each controllable threat, and a contingency action item for each uncontrollable threat if it occurs.
  5. Make sure to continue to plot out your vital signs to watch the impact of your action plan on the overall success, or need for an "innovation adjustment" to them.
  6. Debrief your action plan with your board and staff, and look at your vital signs each quarter to look at where you said you want to be, where you are, and any "innovation adjustments" needed to bridge the gap.  The key is to watch your vital signs and make changes as needed.
Having an association that rules your industry is not that complicated to obtain.  The key is to know your vital signs, know your resources, know your members needs and wants, and match a plan of innovation and action that meets those needs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Connecting With the Next Generation... Not as Hard as You Think!

So I was thinking on my plane ride today as I was looking at our Annual Meeting attendance, our new board members to be installed at the meeting and some recent pictures of me with members, and I noticed how the young blood is beginning to take shape within our association.

It frankly was quite exciting because I have heard many around the country say:
  • “Those young people are not joiners.”
  • “They don’t see our association as relevant.”
  • “They don’t feel like they need us.”
  • “They only want to connect through social media.”

 As passionately as I think "the association model is the strongest business model for banning people together to take action to make lasting change", I also think "associations offer young people a special connection and bond they can’t get anywhere else."

Young people have a desire to meet face to face.  They do join things that are relevant to their lives, and they don’t just connect through social media.

The problem with most associations is they are not embracing the youthful ways, which causes the “disconnect.”  They instead are trying to force their age old ideas on young people, who think those ideas aren’t good anymore.  They are seeking more!

Our association goes out of its way to make the young people feel important and give them a platform to be a part of the process.  We make them feel like their ideas count.  We tell them they ARE THE FUTURE!  We have created a premier industry management training program that energizes them and lets them know they have achieved something.  We educate them that this program is their stepping stone to serving at the highest levels of leadership in our industry.

If you want to attract the young people in your industry, take a lesson out of the military advertising, where young people join by the thousands everyday.  Young people believe they will see their world in ways they never thought possible, have an amazing experience along the journey, and be better off in the end, all while fighting for an amazing cause.

We have followed that model, and it has worked with amazement.   We even end every one of our online webcasts with, “You're not just strong.  You're MTI Strong!”  

I encourage every association to take a look at your next generation outreach efforts, and see what will it take to let young people know they can trust you, that you care about them, and you do things in a way that will be exciting to them.  They want an experience for sure.  

Associations need to "connect" with where younger people are, to draw them in, and sometimes that means taking somewhat crazy steps.  Let me leave you with one example.   Earlier this year, I found out one of our participants (a 24 year old), in our Young Executive Management Program, was the 2008 National Beer Pong Competition Champion in Las Vegas.  After finishing our networking dinner at the first meeting, and looking for what to do next, to keep the networking and bonding among the managers lively, he said he happened to have his beer pong table in his truck.  I told him to go get it, asked the banquet manager if we could keep the room open until midnight, and told the other 20 participants to meet us in the banquet room for some team building.

What transpired was amazing.  I sat in awe, watching 20 managers from different parts of the country, relax and bond as they connected with one another, forming teams of two, and playing beer pong for 3 hours.  They talked business, shared war stories, and laughed a ton.  My favorite comment came from a conservative guy named Dave, from the midwest.  He turned to me at one point and said, "Tom, this is so far out of my comfort zone, but I'm having the time of my life."

You see, we allowed a group of young managers to connect at their level, inside a game they enjoyed, in a safe and controlled environment.  We made it a team building event, used it to our advantage to connect and built loyalty among our next generation.   Throughout the night they learned strategy, focus, accuracy, patience, teamwork, and moderation.  Most associations would have stuck them in a room with an open bar and let them drink uncontrollably, or let them go out on the town, where who knows what would happen, and been okay with that.  Not us....we wanted to create more for them.  

We wanted that connection between them and our association...and we got it.

I suggest all associations figure out where your connection point is with your next generation, and go for it, even if it looks unconventional for associations....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

WOW...This Membership Thing Really Works!

Over the last year, I've been hearing and reading from many people about the "so-called" change in the association membership model.  How you "must" look at the "free dues" model to succeed in the future.  How people will not pay you for what they can get for "free" on the internet, and that young people are not joiners.

I'm here to tell you I'm more excited than ever about the paid membership model!  We live it everyday here at MTI, and it is working better than ever, because we have put our focus on three key areas "every" association must do in order to create amazing value, charge "RETAIL" dues to their members, and have them love paying it.

KEY #1!
You MUST Provide services and products that your members can't provide themselves effectively.  Did you hear me?  Provide themselves effectively.  Let me share the big lie many have bought into...members can get everything more effectively because of the internet.  IT'S NOT TRUE.  Here is an example.  I was at a FSAE Think Tank, with 35 top association executives a couple of weeks ago.  We were talking about this subject, and an executive right next to me started talking about the issue of, "he didn't need FSAE to be able to pull together people and have a meeting like this.  Members don't need an association for that anymore as much," he claimed.  He has BOUGHT into the LIE!  I immediately piped in and stated that, "You paid $50 to be at this 2-day event with 35 of the best minds in association management, and you're telling me, that for the $50 you paid to be at this amazing event, you could pull together this crowd for 2-days?  Who's going to do your day job?"

You see, this executive didn't understand how to relate his own value to the value he was receiving from his association.  It would cost thousands of dollars in raw cost, time, and lost opportunity cost for him to take time away from his daily association duties to pull together a 2-day meeting of 35 association executives.  Each attendee received it for $50 from FSAE.  That is amazing value!

The association I manage, MTI, is experiencing this amazing phenomenon every month.  This past month, we sent a letter to 45 former members, to let them know if they were continuing to use a copyrighted legal document on their invoicing, that that was for MTI members only, and they were subject to penalties and fines for copyright infringement.  MTI had just spent $10,000 to strengthen the document earlier in the year, and didn't charge members a dime.  The phone rang off the hook, and numerous former members have rejoined.  Why??  Because they recognize MTI was doing something "more effectively" than they could individually.

Many Assns. Membership Model
KEY #2
Narrow Your Focus of Benefits!  We don't live in a, "throw it on the wall and see what sticks" world anymore.  It is imperative associations pick the 3 to 5 things they do better than anyone in the world, and handcuff their members to it, and give them a reason to love it.  MTI does 5 things their members need, better than anyone in the world of its industry, and that members CAN'T do effectively on their own:
  1. Online training that is relevant and member driven.
  2. Monthly, quarterly, and annual benchmarking to help members make great business decisions.
  3. "Instant Access" to 5 professional consultants, and the largest network of heat treaters in the world, to get quick solutions to daily operations and technical challenges.
  4. Instant, online connection to members online, with like areas of expertise, demographics, and years experience.
  5. Face to face conferences that allow members to combine business with pleasure, and experience nice economies of scale, while connecting their families with other industry families, as well as, business opportunities and education (becoming a nice trend for associations).
No one in our world provides those 5 things better than we do, and members CANNOT do them more effectively themselves.

KEY #3
Do ALL that you do with the WOW Factor.  Members want to be a part of something exciting and bigger than themselves, and they want to know three things when looking at you as an association:
  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Do you care about me and my needs?
  3. Do you do EVERYTHING with EXCELLENCE?
We do everything to ensure our member experience at every level is not boring, but has the opportunity to create memories and emotions that drive them to love our association.  For example, we don't just ask people to update their online profiles.  We have a 60-day spectacular, online event, where if you update your profile, you will be placed in a drawing to win one, of two, $250 American Express Gift Cards for Christmas!  We will hold the drawing in a video, and call the person up live to capture their excitement, and push it out for members to see.  This shows members they are part of something exciting!

Our performance reflects that excitement:  Our membership is 15% higher than it was 6 years ago.  Our per member revenue is 28% higher, driving our total member surplus up 572% by year end 2011 (during an economy in 2009, where our members sales dropped as much as 70%).  Our member sales are back to record levels, and that growth in member surplus has allowed us to do some pretty amazing and valuable things for our members, without adding cost to them.  Now that is a valuable member model!

Don't buy the lie!  The membership model works.  The key is focusing in on the 3-things I've stated above.  I know, because my staff and I live it everyday!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why the Traditional Association Model is Stronger Than Ever

A lot of talk has been pouring over the internet recently regarding whether the traditional association model works in today's crazy, fast, and ever changing environment.  The answer is...it is more powerful than ever.   Let me share why.

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 model that allows a group of people with common passion and purpose, to pull off such great accomplishments as the association model does.  For all of you who believe 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 such as social media, gotomypc, go to meeting, Skype, and mobile, the association model has made the association model 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.
I know this, because our organization still runs a traditional model, with a baby boomer board of directors, baby boomer members, and committee structures.  However, over the last six years, 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.

Here's the deal:
  • 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, I believe they can rule their universe and engage the loyalty of their members.

As the commercial says..."Life comes at your fast.  Stop talking and start doing."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keeping it Real for Associations

Question?  Why do you believe “who” you believe when it comes to credible information, and blog postings on growing your association?  As a CEO who meets the challenges everyday in membership recruitment, engagement, meeting budgets, exciting volunteers, and driving a board to make change, I read a lot that comes through my computer via Twitter.  Some will work in reality.  Lots are theoretical ideas, that are driven by a series of assumptions due to changing dynamics of demography and technology.  The truth is that many of the ideas being circulated give no thought as to the vision and leverage of an organizational structure like associations.

Do you enjoy them because they are your friends, or what they say sounds profound and they are good writers, or because you can actually implement what they are saying?  I’ll give you an example.  At the 2011 ASAE Great Ideas conference, as the lead keynote was presenting, people were tweeting these incredible phrases he was stating.  A couple of us at my table, who are run associations, began to see that he did not understand how associations are run.  His corporate examples of Apple, Toyota, and Zappos, weren’t models that were relevant to growing an association, and his ideas were off base.  Yet people continued to tweet his profound statements that don’t work in, or are not relevant to, an association or non-profit business model.

 Let’s face it…1,000 companies/individuals together are more powerful than one of them.  I’ll even go further to say, that 1,000 companies/individuals that are organized through an association are more powerful than 1,000 companies/individuals who are joined together by social media.


I will restate what I stated in my last blog post…The association model is NOT dead, but is as strong as it has ever been!  What is dead, is the age-old thinking by baby boomer CEO’s, who are in charge of associations.  They are running a great business model right into the ground, and think their problem is because all their baby boomer members are retiring soon.

Those who see the future as doom and gloom because baby boomer members are retiring, have they not seen that the Gen Y generation is 40% larger than those boomers?  That spells OPPORTUNITY!  Business 101 folks:  The greatest opportunity lies when a shrinking marketplace is replaced by a larger, growing, and more intelligent marketplace.

With that said, I want to give all association professionals some advice as you seek out guidance from what you read in the blogosphere.  Ask yourself a couple of questions before you BELIEVE and ACT:

1)   Have they ever sat in the position as an association leader?
2)   Have they been successful in executing what they are claiming?
3)   Has anyone in the association sphere executed what they are saying?
4)   Are there measurable results from any association to back up their theories and ideas?

Think about it.  If you are shooting a score of 100 in golf and you want to get down to mid 80's, you don’t ask someone who doesn’t play golf for advice.   You certainly don’t ask someone who is shooting 95.  You ask someone who is consistently shooting in the low 80's, or a professional in the game who can provide just one or two tips that are executable immediately, allowing you to see short term results for longer term game change.

I love reading the blogs, love new thinking, and love new ideas.  However, the thinking and new ideas have to be something that can actually be implemented and work successfully.   Just trying to keep it real for the association community.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


First, I have to say that ASAE was amazing this year in their ability to deliver an incredible event, in a city that many were skeptical about.  Hats off to ASAE and St. Louis for providing one of the most exciting learning environments in recent memory.  I flew to Washington DC and back in one day, shortly after ASAE Los Angeles, to be a part of a special meeting with ASAE’s leadership to discuss the failings of the event.  It’s obvious they listened to the group.  Thank you ASAE for listening and delivering.

What I love about a conference, is that it can give people the opportunity to live out their purpose and experience their passions.  My purpose is to drive people to live life in a way where they never look back and say, “I wish I would have…”, but instead say, “I did!”, and to reach beyond themselves to experience the “ultimate life.” ASAE provides me an opportunity to engage with those who are in challenging times, and need someone to help them see a positive direction for themselves or their association.   There is nothing more rewarding than helping people move from one place in life to a better place in life.   That was never more evident than when I challenged people at the YAPNation Network-FEST Event to come to the stage during the song, "I Got a Feeling", and put money in the bucket for the Joplin Red Cross.  During the entire song, people just kept coming with money.  It was an amazing experience.  We raised $2,900 that night!  Thank you ASAE for giving me and YAPNation a platform!

My passion is drums.  I’ve played drums since I was 5 years old, and was playing in bars when I was 13 years old.  Having the chance to play a dozen rock songs, and then jam a solo at Jive and Wail, at the YAPNation Network-FEST event, rocked my world!  It was like being on top of the world, performing the very thing that gives you the most pleasure, and knowing your closest friends in the association world were there to experience it with you.  The greatest moment was the next day, when a friend tweeted during the general session, “@tommorrison is better than the drummer playing in the general session.”  It will be a memory etched in my life forever.  Thank you ASAE for being a path to living out my passion!

For the rest of this post, I want to lend some reality to the world of association management.  I always ask the question of people when they are listening or reading on association management, is the person teaching or writing, sitting in the stands, or are they playing the game?  There are many things from the stands that really look good, but won’t work in the real game. Now having a little time to digest my thoughts after ASAE, my goal is to lend some reality thoughts from a CEO who is living the dream, and the success of an association that has grown over 500% in net surplus in 5 years, increased its membership 7.5%, and increased average revenues per member by almost 30% in the same time frame.  ...And I have a board and membership, that looks just like any other baby boomer group (I put their picture up in my ASAE Innovation Session).

Many are not going to like to like this statement, but we don’t have an association model problem.  Did you hear that?  We don’t have an association model problem.  We have a leadership problem.  It all starts at the top.   It is no different than the evolution of cars.  Cars today still have a frame, a body, wheels, and an engine.  Yet, cars in the 80’s would never compete with cars of today in performance, because of the advancements made in the technology components, and reengineering around the frame, body, tires, and engine. 

The same is true for associations.  The core of the association model is still as powerful as it was 80 years ago.  Associations who are experiencing exciting growth in their organizations are making constant advancements in their association components, as well as, reengineering themselves like new cars, which enhances the performance of their core association components.  Key components associations should reengineer that will lead to incredible growth in member excitement, loyalty, and revenues are:

  1. Narrowing your focus on doing programs and services for your members they can’t do themselves, allowing you to charge “retail dues.”  As Heath Ledger stated in The Dark Knight, “When you are good at something, never give it away for free.”
  2. Implement technology that allows your members to connect with people, content, and their membership purpose...24/7...year round.
  3. Create an experience for Gen Y that hits at the heart of why they want to belong to your association.  If you reach this group, baby boomers leaving membership for retirement is not an issue for your association.  Gen Y is 40% larger than baby boomers….Get IT!
  4. Developing not just a conference, but an exciting learning experience that engages member’s emotions into gaining a new perspective on their industry, and refreshing their sprit personally.  It’s not about the learning, but the experience that brings them back.  Get the spouses there...you have them for life.
  5. Leveraging the power as an association of many to infect change in the industry.  When your membership is convinced they are an army, not just a soldier, it empowers them to be a part of something bigger than themselves, that can help create a better marketplace for their companies.
  6. Develop a communication structure that engages every demographic group where they are; including print, email, video, and social media.   Do it ALL to reach ALL!
  7. Think BIG!  Do it all with a WOW Factor!  Members want to be excited about their organization. 

Growing your association is about living in a constant state of innovation, and chasing the ultimate level of relevance to your membership by focusing on the 7 areas above.

...And this can’t start from the bottom up as some might think...that takes a generation to impact change.  When it comes from the top down, an association can turn on a dime and rule its industry.    I know because I’ve lived it in the two associations I’ve ran as CEO.

Again, we don’t have an association model problem, we have a leadership challenge.  When association leadership turns from being governors, to business savvy leaders, we will see an exciting new breed of associations that have reengineered the components of the core association model to dominate their world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Staff Meeting 24/7...It's the ONLY WAY

Have you ever been in a staff meeting and wondered how much time was actually quantifiable as productive time in the meeting?  How many of the people sitting in the staff meeting were just sitting there listening to people give updates that did not impact their day-to-day work assignments?    How much productivity and labor dollars are wasted in associations spending 2 to 4 hours going over projects, meetings, and committee work, to make sure everyone is, “in the know?”   ...And how do we keep everyone “in the know”, on the developments of the projects, meetings, and committees as a staff, to ensure we don’t miss any details?

No matter what size the association, keeping the information flow throughout your office efficient, so that the right pieces of information get into the right minds, at the right time, and it be documented in a central area, is always a challenge.


Recently, I was asking these questions as I sipped a cup of coffee, listening to the waves crash onto the shore.  This is usually where most of my innovation happens by the way J.  As I pondered the question, I then started asking myself, do we have the means already in-house, technology wise, to engage an inter-office structure that could equate to a 24/7 staff meeting, where when we sat down, everyone “already” knew the updates, thereby making staff meetings shorter and more targeted at more effective brainstorming, due to everyone already being “in the know”?

As I started panning through the various technology we have put in place the last 24-months, it struck me:   Our social technology system has subgroups, within main groups, that can be made private.   That instantly led me into creating a private group called, “Staff Meeting 24/7”, that is not accessible to our members.  Only staff personnel can view it.  I then created a subgroup for every project, meeting, committee, and benchmarking survey we currently have open, making the appropriate staff a member of the subgroup.  I then created one discussion forum called, “Status Updates”, for everyone in the group to post any type of change or update on that particular meeting, project, survey, or committee.

This was revolutionary in my mind, because my staff would always tell me, there is so much information in my brain as CEO that needs to be released to them on the projects we are working on, and it doesn’t get released because of my busy schedule.  Now all I have to do is post my latest set of information/questions in each subgroup, and the appropriate staff receives it.  ...And when they reply, the staff and I get that...no more claiming, “I didn’t know I was suppose to do that.”  ...No more waiting until next staff meeting, 3 weeks from now, to know another persons activity’s are going to have an impact on your department.  Now, inter-office communications, and all association activities related to staff are centralized, fully listed with up to date information, and instantaneous.

This has streamlined our operations tremendously, and put focus with our staff, because if something is not listed in our subgroups as a meeting, committee, survey, study, or project, we aren’t working on it as a staff.  It has made our staff meetings more focused and shorter, because our agenda is the list of subgroups in the Staff 24/7 group on our social media site, and everyone is already informed through the status updates posted.  Now important information is not in someone’s head, it’s posted centrally, so we can all focus on the most important aspect that drives member value…driving creative ideas that solve member problems.  Now that’s innovation...and it was right at our fingertips.  We just had to ask the right questions, and start exploring our technology.

For those of you wondering who the Metal Treating Institute uses for social technology, we use the MemberFuse platform by Avectra.  I would highly recommend no matter what vendor you use, seek to use it to its fullest.  Live in discovery zone as you ponder how to help your staff be more efficient.  The technology you need may be right under your fingers.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Success at an Annual Conference: WHAT'S THAT?

So you've registered for this event called an annual conference, with hundreds or thousands of attendees, and an overwhelming number of learning labs.  You spent the time convincing a supervisor, CEO, or yourself, that the return on your investment is going to be worth the effort to pack clothing for four to five days; that the time away from the frantic pace of the office, and spending long days learning and networking, are worth the money spent.

When you consider time, effort, and money, a tremendous amount of resources go into attending an annual conference.  Yet, I personally am amazed at people who get to the end of a conference and say the words, "I really didn't get much out of the conference!"  REALLY?  I'm thinking, "I learned the one idea that is going to reshape our membership, or revenues, or our entire value proposition."  What sessions were they in?

Having reviewed conference surveys for a number of years, how do we have one attendee that says, "I've been coming to conference for 30 years, and thought the keynote was the best EVER," and another person says, "I didn't get the keynotes presentation?"

Ten years ago, I implemented a system for myself to attack any conference, to guarantee I would come away with ideas that could transform our association over the next 12 months.  Remember, true success is not about a one time dynamic shift in all you do, it's a small set of incremental changes, made over a period of time.  Staff and boards can handle small incremental change much easier than sweeping change.

Using the simple system noted below has provided me the ideas that have helped our association over the last five years grow its member surplus over 450%, increase per member revenue 28% on just 7.5% growth in total members.  All this, through the up and down economies of 2009 and 2010.

So here are the keys to getting the most out of any conference you attend:

Decide whether you want information or ideas - I always ask people the question, "would you rather return with 12-legal size pages of great information, or 2-sentences of an idea that could transform your association?"  I find people are so focused on writing down what the presenter is saying, they never transform what they are saying into something actionable.  Me personally...I want the GREAT IDEA!

Define and write down the 2-top challenges your association needs to solve now, and the 1-top challenge it needs to be looking at solving in the next 24-months.  This keeps you focused in the presentations to listen and write down the actionable ideas you know will work for those challenges.

What to write down at conference - I don't require myself or my staff to write any notes on what the speaker is saying at any session.   I only require we make note of the following items for each day we are at conference to review at the end:

1) A new idea or new way of doing something we already do
2) What are we going to do differently on Monday when we return
3) One person I met who can help us make the change we need

Putting focus on these three items each day of a conference has helped us cut through the mass of information, and zero in on ideas and people that have led to the amazing growth and excitement we have experienced.  ...And it is continuing in 2011.  We are slated to grow our member surplus by another 17%. 

A couple of closing comments:  Don't get caught up in the information.  Get caught up in the ideas that you can actually implement, that are clear, achievable, measurable, and support the future vision of your association.  If you have reached the end of a conference and don't have any ideas, you need to change the crowd you hang with at conference.  I personally could miss every session at conference and still walk away with a great return on my investment, because I feel I hang with the most innovative minds in the industry.  We like helping each other solve our challenges so we can achieve the greatest success both personally and professionally.

So get your pad or mobile device out, and define your challenges you are looking to solve.  If you are looking and listening, you will find all the answers at conference.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How to Be a Real Change Agent in Your Association

Associations are currently experiencing one of the biggest dynamic shifts in technology and demographics ever experienced in human history.  Business is changing at lightening fast speed, traditional business models are no longer relevant, and each demographic group wants things differently.

One of the biggest challenges associations face today is motivating and inspiring their Boards to face the facts, and take steps to move their association’s communication strategy, value propositions, and member service models into the future.

The problem is this means “change”, which many Boards do not like.  Let's take a look at some of the trends impacting associations in the next 3 to 7 years; boards need to start thinking about NOW:

·      Social Media growing as a predominant mode of communication for those under 30
·      Association’s value proposition being questioned more than ever
·      Internet providing so much information for free that associations used to have control over
·      Associations struggle to connect the membership dots for Gen “Y”
·      Mobil communications putting information resources in the palm of every member’s hand

The question is….what is your Board going to do about it?

So many Boards are controlled by a predominantly baby boomer generation, who in large part, rebel against making any radical changes away from how “its always been done”, and adapting their associations into the technology age.  Even knowing the under 30-year old member is a fast growing set of members who communicate differently, Boards still persist to keep traditional, ineffective models of driving member value and communication.

Having influence on getting your Board to consider the wave of change is an art, and a system of communication.  The following are crucial to being a key influence of change within your Board:

Establish the Problems You Need to Solve as an Association
I’m amazed at how many associations approach solutions because everyone is doing it, or without identifying the problem first.   People only make change when two things happen:

1.     They are aware a problem exists
2.     They are sufficiently disturbed enough about the problem to make change

If you, as the “change agent”, cannot articulate the problem to your Board, and cannot share the relevant information to disturb them enough to make change, you will never see innovation and creativity to keep pace in today’s fast changing environment at the Board level.   When your Board fears what will happen if they don’t make change more than the changes needing to be made, then and only then, do you have a Board ready to make radical innovations to maximize their value proposition to the member.   The key is to define your problems.

Survey Your Membership for Their Thoughts and Input
Your Board serves your membership, that is why they are elected.  A key element to influencing your Board into change, is to survey your membership on their thoughts to problems and solutions.  If your Board is pushing you to go one direction with an initiative, and a survey says that 70+ % of your members feel the value isn’t there and you should go another direction, your Board will be hard pressed to push the initiative knowing less than 30% of the members feel it’s the right move.   Make sure to keep your finger on the pulse of how your overall membership views programs, services, and technology and put that data in front of your Board for their review.

Network With Your Board to Understand Pushback
As you are setting the ground work for any type of change, it's important that you be having open conversations with all your Board members individually, to see who is going to be the “nay sayers.”  Not changing because you just don’t like change is not a valid reason for not making change.  You need to find the nay sayers first, and help educate them why change will be a good thing.

Pick Champions on the Board Who Will Carry the Message
The best people to be pushing change are other Board Members who believe in the change.  As you network with your Board on issues of making change, discover who your  “change agents” can be, and provide them enough information and support, for them to be effective in driving your Board to make change.

Present the Facts of Why Change is Needed and What the Risks are of Doing Nothing
If you are looking to make positive changes in your association in any area, it's imperative you present relevant facts so Your Board can see the reasons why they need to consider options for solving the issue presented.  They also need to know what the ramifications will be for doing nothing.  The best example in everyone’s face right now is “social technologies.”  Over 97% of all under 30-year olds communicate through a social network.  If you knew this as an association, it would make sense that your association needs to implement some type of social technology to bring your future members together in a format they really like using.  Doing nothing could leave your association open to future members having the perception you are not innovative enough for them, and you're not relevant because what you offer, they can get for free somewhere else.   Remember the KEY Component to membership value...engagement and retention...doing things for members they cannot do themselves effectively.

Put Responsibility on the Board for Choosing the Right or Wrong Solution
In my experience, if you have laid the problems out very clearly, communicated what potential solutions are, and what the ramifications are for the association if they do nothing, the Board will almost always choose change, because they don’t want to be known as the Board who stood in the way of growth.  Make sure they understand they are the ones making the final decision...not staff, and they are responsible for the negative results that could happen if they do nothing.

Your Board Has to Have the Confidence YOU CAN PULL OFF THE CHANGE
This goes without saying, but I have to say it because I see some CEO’s who are frustrated at their Boards for not making change, and when I listen to them talk about the issues, I can hear, "the Board doesn’t think the CEO has the ability to make the change happen effectively so lets do nothing".  Make sure you have what it takes in leadership skills and staffing to be the “change agent” in your association.

Tom Morrison is CEO of the Metal Treating Institute.   Through using the above plan, over the last 5 years MTI has seen a 7.5% increase in membership, 28% increase in per member revenues and 482% increase in overall net member surplus.