Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is The Power ON In Your Association?

Today, more than ever, it is critical that your association put 100% of your focus on "doing things for your members that they can't do themselves."  If you scan the market economy at every level, in every industry, market disruption is coming at a record pace.  It used to take companies decades to penetrate an industry to become a player.  With evolving technology, companies can now own an industry in just a few years.  UBER is a perfect example of how a company can come out of no where, and in a few short years create total havoc in an industry.

If you think your industry is exempt from such disruption....you are fooling yourself.  I want to encourage you to rise above that type of thinking.  Understand that your association is the most powerful FORCE for making change in your industry, and to help your members seize the moment in this time of rapid change.  Our association figured this out in 2006.  We decided to not listen to those who were saying, "associations are not relevant", "membership is dead", "young people aren't joiners" and "social media was going to kill our meetings".

We understood a key component to thriving in a fast-paced business climate:  Individually people are strong, but together as an association, people are POWERFUL.  We seized that knowledge in our association and our performance took off over the last 10 years:
  • Membership is up 17%
  • Dues income is up 32%
  • Non-dues revenue is up 415%
  • Overall revenue is up 49%
  • Net reserves have soared to over 1,000% growth
  • Member retention is at a strong 96% annually
This growth has provided our board with incredible resources to be flexible, creative, and to take risks that members cannot invest in or take themselves.

Now for you who think we had some magical environment during that last 10 years, that has afforded all of this growth, and that our association isn't like yours...you're wrong.  Our association has had many of the same challenges as many associations have:  Old thinking, economic fallout of 2009, convincing young people that we offer relevance and value to them, and the threat of social media. 

However, what separated us from many other associations is that we CHOSE to not forget who we are, why we were created, and we didn't listen to those who claimed that associations have no relevance.

We chose to believe, with passion, that members want to be engaged.  They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  They wanted to share.  They want to meet with others like themselves and connect at deeper levels.  They want to be successful.

Your association is your member's path to that high level success.  Your association is the key to their success, because no other business model allows members to do the following 5 key elements together:
  • Organize themselves
  • Coordinate their efforts
  • Spread the cost over many
  • Build a network of trusting partnerships
  • Do things for themselves effectively they can't do individually
To succeed in today's crazy, fast-paced climate, it is critical that your association has a rolling 24- month business plan.  This plan sets the stage for how you will drive programs that will engage your members, tackle the issues that threaten their business, and networks them together to create trusted partnerships and business opportunities.

Disruptions like UBER, iTunes, and Amazon are just the beginning.  Developing technologies like the self-driven car, additive manufacturing, 3D printing, and a sharing/rental economy are going to transform how your members compete and view your association.  The question is....will you be ready?   Will your members be ready?  Do you have a process to define your industry disruption? Do you have a next generation task force helping to drive programs of the future?  Does your board have a culture of change and innovation?

If you want to get a good start in energizing your leadership and your members, consider having me do my two sessions at your next leadership conference or annual meeting on:

- How to Get Members to Scream Your Name & Beg For More
- What's Your UBER...Getting Ready For the Future That is HERE NOW

Building a strong association that has a growing membership, strength in revenues, and focused mission isn't by chance....it's by building a plan and a culture that energizes your leadership's innovation, member passion, and volunteer excitement.

Let me help you make 2016 count for your association members.  It will be the best investment you make in 2016.  If you are interested in having me speak at your next meeting, contact me at 904-334-9408, tom@tommorrison.biz or CLICK HERE to complete a speaking RFP.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meeting Planning for Today: Checklists & Timelines Don't Get It Done Anymore

This past week I noticed some conversation on ASAE's Collaborate from people looking for sample checklists and timelines to produce successful meetings.  I want to take another route than a checklist or timeline.  I discovered this planning route years ago. It is one that leaves no detail unturned and drives innovation in the planning process.

We used a checklist many years ago and did away with it.  What I found with checklists and timelines are that details can be left out because a checklist provides for things to always be done the same way.  It leaves out the process of innovation because a checklist makes you think you should follow it to a tee.  The checklist and timeline philosophy leads you down the path to believing that because it was done this way the last meeting, we should do it the same way this meeting.

About 19 years ago, I developed a fool proof meeting planning system that:
  • Ensures details don't fall through the cracks
  • Engages innovation throughout the entire meeting planning process
  • Builds team unity in the process
  • Involves everyone in the process
  • No matter what the size of the event, we are finished with everything a week before the event, while working no overtime.
I'm sure when I say "finished a week early, and work no overtime" you are initially in disbelief, but YES...we are done a week before the event takes place while working no overtime.

Here is what the process involves:

I have what we call a "Function Sheet" that is the central document for the system.  For each session, networking event, or gathering at an event, we create a Function Sheet that has all of the general event information at the top, including:  name of the event, date, time, location, and number of people expected.  Below this are 5 sections for AV, F & B, People Required, Resources Needed, and General Comments.

We start with our first planning meeting with a blank slate.  No timeline.  No checklist.  With everyone at the table we walk through the entire meeting by completing a Function Sheet for every event, from beginning to end.  This includes events like "Leaving the Office" and "Arriving at the Hotel".  Anytime there is a new event, a Function Sheet is required.  We discuss in detail each event, brainstorming what needs to happen to create a fun and exciting learning and social experience for attendees.  By working each event through a "playbook", you pay close attention to flow and transition.  It helps you be more intentional about attendee experience during breaks and in between sessions.  These aren't down times.  These are opportunities to touch attendees in an intentional way.

Once we have worked through every session/social event to be hosted at the event, our Director of Meetings creates the official Playbook for the meeting, which consists of all the Function Sheets.

Our planning group then goes through the entire Playbook from beginning to end every time we get together, and we play out the meeting in our head as if it's happening many times.  Most people focus only on what is left to be completed at each meeting...not us.  We move through the Playbook in full, through every event, every time we meet.  Each meeting we look at our Master To Do List which shares the task, who is to do it, and when it needs to be done by.  We review this each meeting with the Playbook to make sure that we stay on schedule.

Once we have all the AV orders, BEO's, and supplemental documents from the hotel, we add them as a supporting document behind the event Function Sheet that it is associated with.  This ensures that everyone knows the hotel's responsibility with regards to each event.  Depending on the size of the event, we will walk through the Playbook of Function Sheets several times.  For our larger events, we will work through it monthly.  When we approach 10 weeks out, we will work through it every week.

Once we are 10 days out, we go over the Playbook one last time, to make sure if there are any new ideas or elements to add.  If none, then we make no changes except in extreme circumstances, one week prior to the event.  Here is the thought process…if you have gone through your entire event, session-by-session 20 to 25 times, and you haven't thought of the "great idea" before one week prior, then it's not worthy of disrupting the entire plan for that idea.  This gets everyone really thinking early on in the process, because come a week out, it's a go and nothing changes.

Once onsite, we do a review of the book one last time, and then it's just a matter of execution.

The great thing about this system, is that when a team has mentally walked through the event in their minds 20+ times in the planning process as if it's happening, once onsite, it is like a well-oiled machine.  There is no guessing onsite, because you already have talked 20 times about how you are going to handle everything in the plan, and you have pre-thought how to handle all the unexpected issues that can arise and what to do about them.  Because you have worked through it as a team, everyone has a great understanding of what everyone else is doing as well.

I've had hotels tell me that they have never seen such a well executed event like ours...and with just 3 people doing large events.  Our BEO's are done 45 to 60 days out and we tell the hotel up front we will have our orders all in 60 days out.  This gets the hotel on our side big time because we looked organized and easy to work with.  The great thing about the plan is that our playbook is exported to a PDF, and myself and my Director of Meetings have it on our mobile devices to refer to.  No more carrying around 3 inch binders of paper!!  GOTTA LOVE IT!

Throw out the time line and checklist.  Live your event during the planning process.  The more you live it in your mind, the more you will create an amazing experience for attendees onsite...and be organized in the process.  Planning a meeting is not about working through a checklist.  It's about working a process that will give your attendees a memorable learning experience, that inspires them to make the necessary changes in their life or business to achieve their goals.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Creating Space In Your Members Head For Passion For Your Association

With any human being there is only so much space in our head and our heart for emotion and Associations bank on getting their portion of that space to create passionate members who lead them to success and overall strength passion.

When someone’s glass is overflowing with the demands of daily life members have no room for either emotion or passion for an association to make a connection. When you look at associations we are all about engaging a member’s passion with our purpose to have a positive impact on the association cause.  If there is no room for the purpose and passion of the association retention and volunteerism suffer. 

Hear me on this. If a member is NOT personally fulfilled in life they cannot be professionally fulfilled in the long term.  If they are not professionally fulfilled you will not reach them as a member. 

Anyone reading this understands the personal daily grind of life. For many
trying to keep all the balls in the air in meeting the demands on your life can truly suck the passion right out of your soul. Studies show the frustration and challenges faced by many of our members:

  • 55% of Americans are unhappy in their current job
  • Over 60% of Americans have some type of debt in collection
  • 50% of marriages are ending in divorce
  • Over 60% of America are overweight
These are a lot of our association members. While they are dealing with debt marital issues
unhappy with their job or battling health issues we are trying to grab their attention and get them involved in our associations. Unless we can make a personal and emotional connection
especially with the younger generation associations will always struggle to sift through the maze of the daily grind.

Between all of the personal and professional responsibilities and demands in our members’ lives it can be almost overwhelming to many. Just to name a few are: 
  • Increasing debt
  • Family responsibilities
  • Overwhelming children activities
  • Work related demands and stress
  • Relationship issues
  • Volunteering
  • Not enough time to get everything done
  • Health issues creeping in
 The 4 numbers I mentioned earlier illustrate this. Just these four areas of people’s lives are enough to create undue stress and anxiety that makes it hard for members to buy into the passion an association desires and needs.  When members are overwhelmed personally they are overwhelmed at work. If they are overwhelmed at work they have no emotional space to become connected passionately to the cause of the industry association. In life many want to improve their circumstances but many don’t know how to or what path to take. They want more than a return on their investment…they want a RETURN ON LIFE.

People need hope. They need to know there is a path for moving from struggle to success…from sorrow to joy...from no time to “I got this”… from emptiness to fulfillment. They need a path that can actually help them live out their hopes wishes and dreams that they aspired to when they left their parents house after high school and college.

I want to encourage associations at the 2015 ASAE Annual Conference to give thought to the following: how can you help your members find that path of hope success and fulfillment
that will help them to eventually free up the space in their head and connect in with your association.

 I have a first step for you to consider:

Being a consummate life coach I personally launched a new ground breaking personal development book on July 4th of this year called How to Get People to Scream Your Name and Beg For More.  It speaks to this very topic and since its launch has been changing the way reader’s think about their life.

It unpacks the following four components in everyone’s life helping them to live the best life possible and reach their hopes wishes and dreams:
  • 4 areas of life that everyone must plan for in order to reach your dreams. 
  • 4 elements that keep you from reaching your dreams. 
  • 4 elements that control 99% of your success in reaching your dreams. 
  • 4 characteristics you must possess to reach your dreams.  
Consider getting your copy of my new book and see if this message will resonate connect
and inspire your members to make positive changes in their lives.  Making those changes will most likely free up the emotional space in their head you need to connect them with the passion of your association.

If this book resonates with you I would love to speak at your next conference bringing hope and inspiration that your members need in order to live passionately and empowering them to get engaged in your association. Check out the following links:

- Read the first chapter for FREE by CLICKING HERE
- Purchase the eBook/Audio version on Amazon by CLICKING HERE
- Purchase a printed copy for a special $15 ASAE conference rate: CLICK HERE
- Submit a keynote RFP by CLICKING HERE

Regardless of what you do let 2016 and 2017 don’t just give your members a return on investment.  Give them a RETURN ON LIFE. Members who receive a return on life
will create more passion and member engagement than you could ever pay for.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Associations Are More Powerful Than You Think!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

You Can't Give What You Don't Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Strategic Planning: Issue Driven vs Member Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the "Silent Party"

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

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

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

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

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

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

The moral of this story is:

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

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

So You Think You Are In The Membership Recruitment Business?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board Innovation (BI)

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Need to Become the CEO of Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me further explain these.

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 strong...you're association strong.