Saturday, January 30, 2010

Uh, Oh: Your Association Member Ordered WHAT?!

What if you had in your records something really personal about a member that has nothing to do with the association directly?

An association is an affiliate member of a major online retailer, and receives a commission on orders generated from their link, along with a report.

Good news: more non-dues revenue income
Bad news: report shows a member ordered a "personal product" (use your imagination)

Many of us likely underestimate how much we're revealing about ourselves in ways we don't fully understand when we do a search, go to anyone's site, or place an order especially through a link from another site. Until I started a blog and added (free) analytics code, I really had no idea how much any site that I visit could learn about me.

Do you have a policy on what your association will do with reports that show ordering histories on products not directly sold by the association? Is it appropriate for the staff to redact information such as member names, names of books, or types of products ordered?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

10 Thoughts from a Virtual Participant

Yes, even virtual participants in association meetings have expectations. Today I participated in an association's virtual Town Hall Forum. Much better than flying to DC for those 3 hours.

A few thoughts:

1. Big thank you for virtual option. Thank you to every organization that provides a virtual attendance option. There just aren't enough hours in a day or in life to participate in so many meetings. I absolutely loved having a virtual option, because it's a meeting I absolutely would have needed to attend in person otherwise. The meeting info was important, as was hearing the debate.

2. Big thank you for the learning opportunity. Every time I participate as a virtual attendee it helps me to know what to do when my own association may offer a virtual participation option.

A few lessons:

1. Notify virtual attendees when technical problem - and be sure the people at your phone number know the status. The email said the link would be activated at 9. It didn't work. Expected an email acknowledging the problem - never came. Tried to email - no immediate response. Tried to call - the receptionist said many calls but no idea what was wrong, and there was no one to transfer the call to. If you're the organizer of anything with a virtual attendance option, have a plan for how you're going to notify your large virtual audience if something goes wrong with the technology (e.g., email addresses of those who signed up, text, Twitter, etc.) At a minimum, be sure whoever answers the phone at your organization knows the status if something is going wrong with the technology.

2. Use a Twitter hashtag and announce it. If you're going to first base with virtual programs anyway, may as well try for a home run. Expect that your virtual audience has experience even if you don't.

3. If you're voting in person, have an option for virtual audience vote too. There were many substantive decisions made but the only ones voting were the ones in the room. Even if you need to separately tabulate and report the live votes from the virtual votes, would be important to have some sort of voting option for virtual attendees. I wanted to participate, not just attend.

4. Have someone in charge of the what's displayed on the screen - and update. About an hour into the forum, the moderator wisely noted that it might be better to have the updates included on the screen - for both those in the room and the virtual attendees - rather than just his "face in high-def." He wisely even took a 5-minute break so the status of decisions could be put on the screen. Someone should know how to do that in real-time so a break isn't needed. But at least it happened.

5. Consider the hold music. During the break there were lyrics/music about "turn me on." And it wasn't about technology. I ended up muting the hold music, which meant I couldn't easily tell when the program resumed. Does there have to be music? Virtual attendees are probably multi-tasking back at our desks and don't need new noise.

6. When you turn on the microphones, tell the panelists. There's always someone who doesn't realize that their microphone is active again - and hundreds of us are listening to personal conversations. Whoever is handling the virtual portion needs to have some kind of agreement with the panelists about the microphone situation.

7. Explain what's going to happen with all the questions submitted, but not answered. Virtual attendees were encouraged to ask questions but clearly not all can be covered during a program that has specific time schedules. Someone should explain what, if anything, would happen with questions asked by virtual attendees that didn't make the cut for the program itself. Would the answers be posted? Will they get a personal email? If it's nothing, then I guess that's the answer - and say that. But hopefully the answer isn't there's no response.

8. If possible, give us more of an idea of what we're missing. This may be under the category of attendee expecting too much, but I would have liked more visuals about what I was missing by not going there. If it's not possible to scan the room to show how many are there, maybe taking pictures before the webinar and having those scroll before the webinar starts and during the break (e.g., from dinner the night before, Capitol Steps, Newt at breakfast, networking pictures, etc.) to show what else was missed.

Again, I'm really grateful virtual participation options are being more widely used and improved!

Monday, January 25, 2010

8 Lessons Association Execs Can Learn Like Student Athletes

I sometimes teach a new association executives "boot camp" and often try to figure out where we actually learn what the position entails. Because my teenagers play sports I realize there are certain lessons kids get playing high school varsity and college sports that applies to association executives too:

1. Allow Yourself to be Coached. Sometimes you're going to be asked to play a different position than what you believe you're best at, or to change how you do something. Give the other position or alternative your best effort too. You may find you like it, you may learn something, it may help the organization more, or you may find how grateful you are you don't have to play that position all the time. And when you are corrected/coached, learn from it. There's a reason there's a coach.

2. Don't Blame the Referee. Sometimes you really are the one who made the mistake, or underestimate what others see in your performance that you may not have seen or believe. Before you blame the referee, try to figure out the call.

3. There are Rules. It doesn't matter how much you might prefer to play in a non-rule environment, or how much you hate rules - they exist. Athletes can't just decide they don't want to play by the rules, and neither can association executives. Your state corporate statutes dictate certain rules, the IRS has rules, your bylaws may require certain rules, pension plans have rules, insurance policies have rules, PACs have rules, and on and on. Learn the rules, then play by them. If there's room for rules to be changed, you can work towards that. Where there are rules, there are often penalties too. You likely won't get to decide if you want those to exist or not either.

4. You Improve by Playing against Excellent Players, not Bad Players. Find the best you can find and play with them. That's how you get better. Ask questions. Watch. Find out how to be part of their team even if it's just going to a meeting with them or finding out the methods behind their excellence.

5. Sometimes it Really is about Winning. When you're 9-years old and playing T-ball of course "everyone's a winner" even if they lose. As you get older, especially into high school varsity and college athletics, winning matters. When members join associations it may very well be for legislative, regulatory and legal action on behalf of an industry. If your association needs to win an issue, you need to ensure a win. As one of my daughter's shirts says, "I don't train for second place." You shouldn't train for second place either - if you want a relevant organization. And yes, members keep score.

6. If you don't train, then don't be surprised when you aren't good or aren't ready. Really, how often are good players out of the game for a variety of reasons and then everyone realizes no one else knows how to play that position or can adequately fill in? When I worked for a large national association I spent a lot of time intentionally learning a lot of other people's jobs (above and below me) and was constantly offering to do more and more. When it was time for me to actually do ten other jobs than the one I had, believe me I knew how to do many of them, and/or who to call to find out how. There wasn't a chance I wouldn't know how to throw the ball if I was called to be quarterback. Association management isn't luck. It's training and skill.

7. You're Not the Only Athlete - or the Only Sport - or the Only Budget. There comes a time in every sport where kids learn that there isn't enough money - and it typically seems very "unfair." A team might be asked to give something up, or do with less than what they strongly believe they're entitled to. A single sport is just one part of a bigger athletics department, and athletics is just one part of a bigger school budget. And someone is paying those fees that have to be divided many ways, and there really isn't money for everything. How is it "fair" for the school to spend money on (fill in the blank) when the team or athlete can't have (fill in the blank)? Because that's how it works. Administration is balancing many costs and many demands, and if there are huge problems to be solved - you will be asked to do more with less. May as well learn that in high school or college sports.

8. Take pride in your team and school. A big lecture student athletes get is to have pride in their team and school, and how that's reflected with what they do in social media too. In many schools, you're even going to be off the team depending on what you post - and there are codes of conduct. Some adult employees seem to think that maybe those same lessons student athletes get won't apply to their own career? For example, that someone seeing a party picture from that last conference isn't actually going to translate into the "gosh I'm glad we didn't promote her" decision - or into "ouch - is this how the members think he's spending their dues"? Everyone knows that employees and prospective employees are researched online, right? Just like athletes are.

What you learn on and off the field as a student athlete, you may just need in your association management profession too.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The receipt with invisible writing

While going through receipts I found one already has the writing completely faded. Clearly problematic for anyone who needs to document what they've spent, especially if there's a reimbursement. Also problematic if not entirely sure what location/cash payment it might have been if not yet submitted for reimbursement.


1. Make a photocopy of receipts that are not on regular paper to ensure longevity; and to have something that will last for later documentation/audit. The IRS has more years to check than your ink life may give it.
2. Take pictures of your receipts when you travel. If you lose one, you can always print out a photo to use, if necessary, with your expense reports. And you can file digital images for future access too.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Improve your banquet program

There's no excuse for an ugly or expensive banquet program, menu, or agenda. Look at what you're giving now and see if you can do it in-house with better quality, significantly less cost and/or more creativity.

A recently-married colleague noted his wedding had programs (pictured) made with bordered card stock, with silk flower and ribbon from craft store tied onto each. It made them beautiful.

Here are a few other ideas:

1. Personalize with pictures. Even if you use Microsoft word, photos are easy to add.
2. Upgrade your paper stock, look for designs or try glossy paper. Makes a huge difference.
3. Less is more. Challenge yourself to fit everything onto a single page, or single fold. Do you really think people read page after page - in the dark? Or take it home?
4. Check out the local craft store. Unique ribbons, silk flowers, stickers, scrap-booking art, and who knows what else may completely transform your brochure.

5. Templates can be your friend. Software programs have many options already available (e.g., Publisher), or search for/buy a pre-designed template online for a low fee.
6. Personalize the ribbon. Add the name of the association, the incoming officer, the theme. And tie that.

Other thoughts:

1. It's easy to copy/paste sponsor logos and meeting logos where YOU want them;
2. Your in-house copier may provide much higher quality results than you'd think;
3. Saving money. Don't have staff time to tie flowers onto programs as hundreds attend your event? Ask volunteers at ANY meeting you have if they'd stay after for an hour and help ... or bring in a temp for a few hours.

Anything you've done that changed-up your banquet programs?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Travel Tip: Hotel Iron from Hell

Do you test the hotel iron before using it?

The only packed dress shirt of a consultant at a meeting today was ruined when he found (the hard way) that his hotel iron had coffee or a dark liquid inside it instead of water. It's a really nice hotel too, and hard to imagine who in the world does that (bitter housekeeping employee? drunk guest? someone who was trying anything to heat up coffee?)

I once ruined a favorite linen jacket that had water drip onto it from a hot iron; and others have certainly had "sticky things" on the bottom of the iron not noticed, then ironed permanently into travel clothes.

Do you routinely check the bottom of a hotel iron and/or test it on a towel first? Does the coffee stored in the iron make me know for sure I will from now on? Yes.

[End of the story: yes, the hotel did offer to buy him breakfast and launder his shirt. Not that either really helps at 8:00 for an 8:45 business meeting.]

Monday, January 4, 2010

If we're fundraisers, why didn't we ask?

How many opportunities do we miss to raise funds - for any purpose?

At a free online conference today everyone was asked to give "at least $5" to a scholarship fund for the kids of a real estate blogger who passed away. There were 2600 attendees. It's worth the ask, because if everyone did it, that's $13,000. But any amount of money would be meaningful to the family. Check out this promotion.

The organizers understood:

1. There were 7 hours of free online programs, that was really valuable. Isn't that a good time to ask?
2. All the presenters were donating their time. Isn't it easy to ask others to donate, when you're donating?
3. To include a picture and tell a story. In this instance, they reprinted how the dad who passed away had described himself online. That is the format this audience relates to.
4. Make it easy. I clicked from a Twitter link. Paypal and credit card options. Didn't have to leave my desk. The same way I didn't have to leave my desk for the education program. There's also a link on their site.
5. They actually said during a program "at least $5 or even $1" ... I really think it's the "or even $1" that got my attention ... the idea that even $1 could make a difference made we want to give much more than $5.

Maybe members are asked for money all the time by us, and many other organizations. But if we make it at our "no charge" events, make it personal, make it easy ... why didn't we ask? If we're fundraisers for scholarship programs, foundations, causes, even PACs, there are opportunities to ask that are overlooked.

For many causes and many families, getting contributions can make a huge difference ... even $5 at a time.

Note: picture of Warmath family. To donate to a scholarship fund for the kids, even $1, go here.