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.