Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Don't have these 4 Association Conversations in Public

Why do business people risk private conversations in public settings?

Taking the morning off, I had breakfast by myself at a restaurant. I was a forgettable presence in my jeans, fleece, Oprah magazine and reading glasses.

In walked two people who were seated at a table next to me, who I knew, but they did not know me. And it was a job interview. Clearly they must have thought that I was disinterested in what they had to say, along with others there, because the conversation was happening as if it was private. In the middle of a restaurant. Could I do damage with the information from that discussion? Could others?

A few weeks ago a very annoying executive spent close to 30 minutes going over his entire strategy for a case that was happening, while we both waited for our cars to be repaired. I was trying to work and he was loud and arrogant. He was blatantly unconcerned about the fact that my blackberry could have taped his conversation, and he had no way of knowing if I was an attorney for the other side of the situation. Did I know who he was when his car was ready and his name was called?

For as much is said about revealing too much online, there is way too much revealed by having private conversations in very public settings. If you underestimate those sitting near you, it's possible the one who hopes the conversation is confidential may find it wasn't.

Here are 4 association conversations that should not be done in a restaurant or other public location: (includes conversation on cell phone in public location)

1. A job interview
2. An employee evaluation
3. Legal strategy
4. Legislative strategy

Others present are likely under no obligation to keep your public discussion private. If there is someone sitting a few feet away from you, it's not private.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New word: Thank-a-thon

I learned a new word: thank-a-thon. Last week, two association execs participating in a twitter chat used the term in reference to efforts to thank members.

What I understood it to mean is staff setting aside a specific date/time to churn out a large volume of thank yous to members; or a designated event where the purpose is to do specific thank you outreach to volunteers (which could be volunteers and/or staff).

Thank-a-thons do not have to be about making phone calls (and some, like me, may not want to get phone calls) - it could be writing email, sending personal cards or personal notes.

Naturally, I also had to Google it - and found an organization that has scripted phone calls as part of its thank-a-thon, with varied purposes for the effort besides just saying thanks:

1. Cultivating donors: Saying thanks and explaining where their money went and/or brief updates
2. Feedback: Saying thanks and asking if they have input, suggestions or questions (then be sure to follow-up if they do)
3. Participation: Saying thanks and asking if they have interest in participating in events or activities; and learn from their response
4. Leads: Say thanks and ask if they know of others who may be interested in joining the organization, attend events or being more involved

That organization also indicated thank-a-thons should not be about asking for money, but if someone offers to contribute, to be prepared to take their donation.

For more on giving thanks, check out this excellent blog post on the importance of setting aside time to give thanks, and the importance of keeping track of who deserves to be thanked.

You could likely list people just from today to thank. So thank them, and thank-a-thon.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Say it in 90 Seconds

What if you needed to describe what matters most in 90 seconds?

Yesterday, 28 associations met with our Governor-Elect to give ideas about what could improve the business climate in Maine. Organized by two association execs, each participating association got 90 seconds to highlight its top concern(s); with the option to provide further detail and/or additional concerns in writing. Each association had one member (could not be association staff) "at the table"; and could have up to 3 additional (max) attending in the audience (CEO, lobbyist, other member/staff.)

A huge amount of info was communicated, including significant time at the end for Q&A, in about 90 minutes. An accomplishment that would seem unlikely when getting direct input and involvement of 28 groups.

The AE moderating the session had a yellow card to indicate that 60 seconds were up; and a red card to indicate time was up (30 seconds later). It worked amazingly well, and here's why:

1. All participating were told the time limit at the outset invitation to the meeting.
2. The 2 time-used cards were very visible to all, and she was sitting directly next to the Governor-Elect so speaker could not miss it.
3. If only 90 seconds, there is no choice but to be very specific and focused.

Note: The first speaker spent time explaining the size and purpose of that association, and ran out of time before even getting to an issue. Everyone following only said their name, business, and association - and got instantly into the issue.

4. Encouraging delivery of additional comments in writing ensured all knew they would have their entire message and issues delivered too.

Also, the media was invited and sufficient space was provided around the table for the photographers and news cameras to move around during the discussion. Which is another kudo to the AE organizing the function - the meeting was positively set up to facilitate media interaction - from a lobby area for media interviews, to place cards with names of attendees/organizations, to having it able to be live-streamed.

Lesson: Say it in 90 seconds. It's enough time to deliver what is most important, has no choice but to include relevant sound bites, and keeps the meeting moving.

It was a great format for delivering info from a large number of associations.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fire Up that Laminating Machine

At a training session this week, 3-4 sentence case studies were printed on laminated index cards. I'd never seen case studies laminated. Later was an exercise to teach association execs how to do "impact answers" to challenging questions members ask, and the sample questions for the practice session were on ... laminated business cards.

I don't know why I found it so intriguing, but did think laminating:

1. Made the facilitator appear to have taken great care in providing professional materials
2. Retained the case studies and questions in a format that would easily be able to be used again

Going to have to find the laminating machine at the office now ... Here are a few other potential things to laminate:

1. Invocations and oaths of office
2. Wallet-sized contact info for officers, staff, etc.
3. The well known one: Business cards for luggage tags

Any other ideas of things to laminate?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

Blog Action Day: Each year on October 15, bloggers around the world agree to blog on a single topic. This year's topic: Water.

1. At meetings, ask for water in pitchers, with glasses. Not paper, not disposable water bottles, not plastic cups.

2. In your office, ask staff to bring a glass/cup from home to use with the jugged water dispenser. Not paper, not water bottles, not styrofoam.

Want more facts about the impact of water on the world: Go to Blog Action Day's special site.

Also, below is a widget with petition set up by Blog Action Day 2010 for a UN effort related to water. Note that has a link on very bottom of the widget (in the blue bar) for those who want to create their own (free) petition. As Associations consider engaging the public more in public policy issues, online petitions used throughout social media may be an option to consider.

Change.orgStart Petition

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

3 Good Comments to Start a Board Meeting

A new chairman was recently appointed to a Board. Knowing his background, it's clear he's chaired and/or attended hundreds if not thousands of meetings in his life. He's also too busy to have meetings that waste time. His 3 opening comments:

1. We will always start on time. Courtesy to Board members who are prompt.

2. We will stay on task. Don't search out extraneous discussions.

3. You will be asked to confirm you had what you needed for this meeting.

The outcome: We started on time, we stayed on task, he confirmed we all had what we needed. The group had increased productivity, in a shorter period of time.

If you are chairing a group, setting expectations with a group can have very positive results.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Conferences: Pack your Flag

If your association has its own flag, ask a conference hotel or facility to fly it while you're there.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

3 Reasons to use only text in your e-newsletter

I'm sometimes asked why our association e-newsletter isn't loaded with a template, graphics, colors, and pictures. In fact, it's only text (and links.)

3 Reasons:

1. Want it to be readable. Many members are now reading everything on mobile devices. Check out what a heavily formatted and imaged newsletter looks like on a very small screen. Not good. Keep it simple so it can actually be read.

2. Want ease of redistribution. We encourage members to take sections of our newsletter to redistribute to their clients/customers/others or into social media. The easiest way to copy and paste a portion of a communication is by having it in a format that is easy to copy and paste.

3. Want it to arrive. Anytime there are embedded graphics and templates there's increased potential it's going to be blocked, land in spam or quarantine, or will be flagged as having an attachment and recipients may not open it. It needs to arrive in order to be read.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Want an Action: Great Social Media Threat

Got this great threat by email this week. And the red lettering was a good touch too:

"Just a reminder that if you haven't already done so, please send me a picture of you and your guest by end of business tomorrow.
Warning: If you do not submit a picture, (names) have threatened to comb the internet for the 'perfect' picture of you or someone who sort of looks like you!"

Social media does increase the potential to threaten better, and unfortunately, to follow-through too. My picture sent in less than a minute in response to this.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Email: It's the SENDER and the Subject Line

Many members don't open email because of the Sender name, the Subject Line or both. And the Sender name is as important, if not more important, than the Subject Line.

1. Use a known name as the Sender. Don't create a new generic sender name (or new domain name) for something you may urgently need your members to read - such as comments@, noreply@, etc. If the user has never heard of that Sender, there's increased potential it won't be opened. If you can use the name of a person who has credibility (president, CEO, company owner) it will increase open and response rates.

2. Have a known way to identify it's from your organization. Many email messages I receive that want me to do something (like respond to a legislative call to action) don't make it clear who the message is from - or that there's any urgency. Assuming your organization has a name or acronym, use it somewhere in the subject line to show it's from you. If possible, be consistent with how you identify messages from your organization. Subject lines like "look what they're doing now" read like spam.

3. Members don't know legislative bill numbers. Seriously, stop using numbers in your Subject Lines. Unless all the recipients are on your legislative committee or deeply involved in politics, adding a bill number to a subject line is going to be totally meaningless to the recipient.

4. Tell them it's coming, tell them how to find it if they missed it. If you're sending something important - like a survey, important update, call to action - tell the members it's coming and when to expect it. After you send it - tell the members how to find it every way you can (Twitter, Facebook, login, web site, etc.) -- i.e., what the name of the Sender and what the Subject Line was - so they can find it in their mail file. Or, tell them where else that info might be located (if there's somewhere else).

5. Assume they're reading your message on a mobile device. Send your own message to you and see how easy it is to read on mobile. If you've bombarded an otherwise readable message with too many graphics and attachments, rethink how you communicate by email.

Remember, it's the Sender and the Subject Line that will determine what is opened.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good Idea for Group Photo

Need a creative way to say thank you or goodbye? Consider taking a group picture spelling out an acronym or a word. Then blow it up to a large size and have matted or framed. Have those in the picture sign it as added bonus.

Given at a retirement party tonight - letters are acronymn of a division the retiree managed - and his staff.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Council versus Counsel

Another association management word confusion ...

Council is a group or body of government.
Counsel is an attorney, person or advice.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Way to Win: Google the Opposition

In these interesting times of transparency and online exposure, one step to always take in political battles is to Google the opposition. It's somewhat human nature these days to want to brag online about everything you did right to win, without remembering that someday you might need to win again. That roadmap of a past victory you post online might be the roadmap your opposition finds to know your strategy (or to use as their own strategy) in the next challenge.

1. Research your opposition and find out who has been hired - then Google them
2. Go to sites of their strategists and see if you can find anything relatable to you - especially case studies
3. Google their key players and see if they have sites, blogs or Twitter accounts where they brag

We recently won a big political issue and I'd love to blog about ten other things we did absolutely right to win. But I won't. Because might need to win again someday. And if you think you might need to win again, don't publish your roadmap either. But always check to see if your opposition published past victory strategy. Google is your friend.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Improved To-Do List

I can only manage everything that needs to be done by keeping lists. Each morning I organize the list and start by doing the one thing I really don't want to do the most, so that I don't have to think about it anymore; and then work on whatever absolutely has to be done that day next. Then everything else, along with what wasn't at all anticipated, but surfaces any given day.

In the past few weeks what absolutely had to be done was so dominant that it made it fairly clear what is missing from this organizational effort: being sure to actually do something I love or want to do each day.

My poor dog, who loves to go on walks, was finding his outside time cut by about 80%.

So time to improve the to-do list. If you are able to do what you don't want to do, and able to do what absolutely must be done - then at least put on your list things you really want to do - that make you happy. Write them down. Check them off too - just like the bad stuff, the busy stuff and necessary stuff. It changes everything.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

5 Ways to Allow Your Association to be Robbed Mid-Day

I never thought a stranger would actually come into our association office building and rob it mid-day, with staff in the building (including me), until it happened.

A few weeks ago, a man walked into the back door of our association, into my office (steps away from the back door), and stole my wallet and Blackberry. Probably took less than 30 seconds. It was clear it was a man, and a stranger, as there is surveillance tape at local businesses where my credit card was used within minutes of the theft. The purpose of stealing a Blackberry is the first thing most do when they discover it missing is to call their own number - which alerts the thief when to stop using cards.

In talking with local police and local businesses, here are common ways to allow your association to be robbed mid-day, and how you can prevent it:

1. Keeping back doors unlocked. It may be a nuisance to always have to use a key, but it provides the best protection for your office staff and items to have locked doors.

2. Not noticing intentional distractions. One person comes in the front door asking for directions or pretending to solicit something, someone else comes though another door and takes items from offices and spaces.

3. Allowing "guests" to walk through the office solely by mentioning an employee name. Our neighboring office had laptops stolen by someone saying a guest of an employee (but not). It's very easy to find employee names online. Have someone either escort guests to the employee, or ask the employee to come to the front of the office.

4. Reception desk with no receptionist. Imagine how much can be taken if there is no one at the reception desk, and no bell alerting someone is coming through the front door.

5. Allowing (fake) repair people into the office. Very easy to buy branded work clothes at Goodwill, thrift stores, yard sales or online. If there is no knowledge by staff present that a repair has been ordered do not just let someone walk through your office.

Think about how much you leave on your desk, including laptops, iPads, Blackberries; and how much next to your desk, including purses, wallets. Spending a few minutes a day securing your valuables could stop it from theft - should theft be the intention of someone entering your association office building. Lock your back doors. Install notification systems for when someone enters your building during the day.

What we fortunately don't know is what would have happened had staff encountered the thief. There's much more at stake than just equipment and valuables. Take precaution.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2 Meeting Suggestions from Judith

My friend Judith Lindenau has these 2 excellent meeting tips in a recent blog post:

1. Publish the Twitter hashtag along with the meeting registration materials

My comment: how oh how have we not learned this yet?

2. Get rid of the cheesy advertising name tags when members head for [Capitol] Hill

My comments: Amen! I don't think it matters at regular conferences, but when we wear the badge with Members of Congress and their staff we shouldn't look like paid billboards. Or at least put our legislative message on the lanyard instead of a vendor name.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Banquet Table Decoration Idea

From a dinner held at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: A little stuffed animal elephant with each place card. Thought it was a great idea: easy to pack, fairly inexpensive, endearing, people actually want to leave with it. Bringing new meaning to "the elephant in the room," the tables were set up in an area of the museum with a gigantic taxidermied elephant.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to Address Criticism about Your Association's Service in Social Media

A recent blog post by Drew McLellan has great ideas for dealing with criticism about your organization's service that may appear in a blog post. I believe his tips also apply to associations and certain criticism in various social media, including blog posts.

Summary of the right things to do, according to Drew:

1. Monitor your name, such as with Google Alerts. Then make contact if there's a negative post/comment about your association you believe warrants follow-up - such as if a member had a bad customer service or program/product experience. Suggests the first step is to address it in the blog post's comments section directly, to start the conversation, and so others can see it too. With the situation in the blog article, a company rep called Drew directly but did not include a comment on the blog post.

2. Talk like a human, "not a corporate drone." Tone is everything. We all know the difference.

3. Apologize. More than once. If someone believes they got bad service to the degree they will even write about it, at a minimum you can apologize that your organization made them unhappy. Other times you will sincerely regret that the mistake or bad service happened, and they should get an apology for the action.

4. Explain what you're going to do with the information. It's what I want to hear when I complain, so others surely want to hear it when they complain to me.

5. Do not chastise them for writing about your association, or ask them to remove or alter the blog post. It will be tempting, but don't. (Of course, you can silently pray they will remove it.)

6. After an issue is resolved, offer a goodwill gesture if you can. One time my dentist kept me waiting longer than usual and his assistant gave me a $5 gift card to Dunkin Donuts as an apology after the appointment. Even if it was a small token, it did make me believe my time was valued and the inconvenience recognized.

My additional tips:

1. Be sure the entire staff knows about the issue and comment when it happens. Others may ask about it; plus it will increase internal awareness about how bad conversations don't always end when the phone call or moment ends. I sometimes find if one staff person gets it wrong, others might be on the verge of getting it wrong too - either by having the wrong information or not knowing how to correctly resolve or address a specific problem.

2. Create your own case studies. If there are situations you believe or know COULD go wrong, preemptively discuss how those situations would be managed. Ask your staff what they would consider an appropriate goodwill gesture at the end of a problem that needed an apology.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Plural of CEO and AE

Once and for all I am deciding the plural of CEO is CEOs, and not CEO's. And the plural of AE (Association Executive) is AEs, not AE's.

Like my earlier dilemma of cancelled versus canceled, neither CEOs or CEO's has ever looked correct to me.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

6 Signs Your Personal Twitter Account is also your Professional Account

Sure, you might add the words “this is only my personal account” to your Twitter account profile. But you really can’t say it’s not your professional account too, if it actually is. The truth might be that it is your professional account, but you're including a lot of personal comments and pictures about things that have absolutely nothing to do with your association. It's okay for an account to be both, but don't say it's only personal if it isn't ...

Here are 6 signs your personal account is really your professional account too:

1. You don’t even have a professional account. Seriously, if you don’t even have an account with your identity to use for business purposes, chances are good your personal account is your business account.

2. Your association members are following you on that “personal” account, and you’re using your personal account to follow association members too. If you’re not taking any steps to completely separate your professional contacts from your personal account, it’s not just your personal account.

3. You login to that account during business hours, at your place of business, from your office computer. Chances are good your employer doesn’t allow you to have extended personal phone calls or multi-hour visits from friends during the workday, so don’t confuse social media as enabling you to be “social” with those exact same personal contacts during the day if that isn’t clearly translating to your profession. Unless you genuinely believe it’s okay to spend hours a day interacting with personal contacts, then why would you even login to sites filled with your personal friends during the workday? If the answer is because that’s where your professional contacts are too, then it’s your business account.

4. You conduct association business using your personal account. Are you being asked to speak at meetings, answer association-related questions, and comment on or respond to work-related issues using your personal account? If yes, it’s your professional account. If these same people would not call you on your home phone number on weekends, or show up in your living room with those same requests, then don’t think they’re “personal” connections when they’re actually “professional” connections.

5. Your association attorney has already told you that what you do on that personal site can create liability for the association. If you're already aware and on notice that you absolutely cannot shield your association from liability for your statements just by using the words “this is my own personal account” then chances are good that it’s a business related account too.

6. You use your personal account to identify yourself when you are at meetings funded by association dollars. What Twitter name are you putting on your conference badge, in your presentations, on your handouts, on your business cards – if it’s your personal account, and not a separate business identity/account – then why do you think you can call that account personal?

I am absolutely not pretending that any of my "personal" accounts aren’t loaded with members and member interaction. Absolutely everyone in my life – professional and personal – are combined in both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. And yes, I have a separate page on Facebook for my Association and there is a branded Twitter account for my Association that I use. But my "personal" accounts are routinely used for association business too - by both me AND my association members/other professional contacts.

If you say you do have them completely separated, and your account is “strictly personal”, where’s the evidence that’s true? See the six bullets above.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

13 Tips for a Board of Directors Meeting via Webinar

Today was my first Board of Directors meeting via webinar, with 53 present. Specifically used GoToWebinar with the conference call dial-in option. There is option for headset or speaker access but that seemed way too advanced.

13 tips:

1. Do a practice webinar meeting in advance with your President. You need to know what you're doing, but so does the person presiding at that online meeting. Also good to practice with another staff participating too so that person can keep track of details, along with knowing how to find answers during the meeting, if necessary.

2. Keep the setting that reminds attendees by email the meeting will start in an hour.

3. As mentioned before, be sure to give many instructions in advance, including how to get help if they can't login. My advance email to participants, and the meeting materials, explained how it would work (e.g., "for each action, there will a motion by the President Elect, then a second by the First Vice President, then you need to push the button to raise a hand if you'd like to comment or make an amendment and wait until you're called, then you'll vote online by a poll feature".) And: if they have trouble, explain where to call or email - and be sure to have staff available to help. Be sure to let them know (in advance materials and on the screen they see why they wait) that they do not need to announce they have arrived because the system records their names.

4. Remind attendees to not put smart phones near their computers and phone lines, and to turn off television and radios. Can cause static and sounds. In addition to reminding them not to put the call on hold or to talk to others during the call. One time on a conference call (for another organization) there was a dog barking with 100 on the line. Mine. So maybe mention the dog too? There are mute features to turn off the sound for anyone but the presenter, that may be worth using before opening lines during discussion period.

5. Set your poll (vote) questions up in advance, but be prepared for new ones (such as amendments). Be sure to learn the "share" feature so everyone can see the results.

6. Tell your non-voting members what to do during the vote ("poll"). I didn't so a few started to click "abstain" (one of my poll choices). Next time will say, if you don't have a vote, don't vote on action items.

7. Announce how long they will have to vote in the poll. I said 45 seconds. 30 seconds would have been plenty.

8. See what you can't see. Next time I'm setting up a second screen to run a user session simultaneously to my own presenter session. I could not tell what the attendees were seeing on their screens because I had way more on my screen than just the presentation itself.

9. Turn off IM, Tweetdeck, anything else that's open on your computer. If you multi-task (like me) up to the minute you start the meeting you might forget something is still open. And you never know whose IM might appear.

10. Ask if the webinar meeting was a good idea or not. At the end of the meeting, the President had me send a poll question asking attendees if it was a good option, or not. It's good to ask and get the immediate feedback, before they leave the webinar. (By the way, overwhelmingly positive response.)

11. Check out the attendee report after the webinar. Will show you how long each attendee was on the webinar and how each individual voted on each poll question. Very handy backup.

12. Learn, then take the next steps. My president and I have already decided we want to learn the more advanced features - such as turning the presenter control from one person to another; and using web cameras for the key presenters.

13. Do you need the beep, beep, beep. With 53 joining the call it's actually really, really noisy as they come and go. If it's an option, consider removing the beep alerts. I had asked attendees in the instructions to hang up versus putting the call on hold. The bad news: beep when they leave, beep when they return.

GoToWebinar has many resources, and a very speedy Twitter person who instantly offered assistance when I mentioned trying it online.

Any tip I may have missed?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Easy Snacking for Meetings

Saw a good way to handle large or small group snacks today: bucket or basket with random packaged snacks. Affordable, easy to store, can give many options for preferences.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

4 Life Lessons for an AE - From the Helm

My colleague Susie writes a column, "From the Helm," in her association magazine. A recent issue includes advice that she says sticks in her head ...

1. "You don't even know me" - when visiting a member (at a prior association) he informed her that his company is 15% of the membership, but she didn't spend much time with him or know him well. She did after that. Her message: You need to know where your business comes from too - just like your members do.

2. "When someone is looking for a fight, don't give in to them" - a disgruntled former employee sent retaliatory and accusatory email out. Her response: none. He went away as it's difficult to fight with someone who won't fight you back. Her message: "some things are worth fighting for, but sometimes you just have to let it go."

3. "Wear something befitting your position in the community" - At an association "night" at a large basketball arena, she was selected to shoot a free throw at halftime - and made it! Was very glad she didn't just wear jeans and a t-shirt because 100 members were there, and the picture was in the local newspaper. Her message: You represent your association when you walk out the door.

4. "Put on your lipstick, Susie" - At a chaotic event, a member leaned over to her and said "put on your lipstick, Susie." The message: Even if everything around you is falling apart, it is important to have the appearance of having it together.

Susie says these 4 lessons help "present a good knowledge of members, a calm demeanor, a decent presentation of myself and self-assuredness."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Best Definition of Transparency in Associations

Finally ... a great definition about transparency in associations ... by Dave Phillips, in his Chairman's article in REALTOR AE magazine (Winter 2010): [emphasis mine]

"The first step is to understand what transparency means in an organizational context. In the past transparency simply meant that you freely shared information with your members, but today it means much more.

More than telling the simple truth about what you did, transparency is the act of making known your intentions - what you are thinking about doing, how you are planning to think about it, who is going to be involved, and why you are thinking about doing it.

Then, after you have completed whatever it is you set out to do, you have to tell members what you did and why. The new transparency is no longer just about allowing members to see what the association has done; it's about inviting them to observe the process, and even to get involved."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Can association executives ever skate to perfection?

How perfect are we at our best?

Two recent blog posts on the ASAE site got my attention … One, where the writer says if association executives casually discuss problems at their association with other association executives it's some sort of a breach of professionalism; then another that says it "sucks" to try to be perfect when perfectionism is what we believe is expected of us. My thoughts:

1. We can't be perfect. Even if all association executives did was ten things instead of hundreds of things, perfectionism is an impossible standard. If we delegate to any degree internally then we have to rely on staff. If we hire outside experts we have to rely on them. If we do it ourselves, we either need to convince ourselves that it's possible to be an expert at everything; or believe that humans and/or computer systems don't inherently have the potential to be fallible, and then somehow rise above that to be perfect. It's not possible.

2. The best place to learn is from each other. I can't imagine how many potential problems I was able to avoid in my career because another association executive shared something that went wrong at his/her own association -- and I either immediately thought "uh, oh" or when a similar situation arose I had already given some thought to that potential problem. Because a big part of what we do in association management includes volunteers, yes, sometimes a problem could have a "people" aspect to it. When I do programs for new association executives I believe they actually learn more from how many things have gone wrong in my career compared with the very vast number of things that have gone right.
And if you don't tell me what went wrong at your association, how will I know how to avoid doing that exact same thing too?

I was inspired by a back story on Olympic speed skater Apolo Ono where in discussing his training said that he approaches every day thinking "is this the best I can be." Then I think of the short track speed skating races where there are false starts, disqualifications, legs cut on blades, pushing, getting outmatched, mental roadblocks, high expectations - and that's just for an athlete doing one thing over and over. And where the ice conditions and distance are predictable.

We can wake up each morning with a dream of being the best we can be, and we can train, and consider ourselves an elite professional - but like speed skating we absolutely cannot control all the variables that impact our runs. We can watch the tapes, we can be coached, we can train, we can do the same races over and over. But part of our professional legacy has to be allowing ourselves to be part of those tapes - the ones with "the agony of defeat" that serve to warn and help others. And, unfortunately, we can't will ourselves to be perfect. Because regardless of our sport or our career, there's a human element.

Monday, February 15, 2010

One must-have (at all times) for Association CEOs

What item does an association CEO need to have available at all times: A blazer.

Here are 4 reasons (special thanks to colleague Ginger Downs who relays this to groups of new association execs) ....

1. Media: Any number of events or tragedies could cause you to need to be on-camera with a statement from your association with very little notice. You may not have time to either quickly shop or go home to change.

2. Angry Members: If an angry member arrives at your office, and you need to address the situation, put on your blazer. A blazer does give a show of authority that is often necessary when resolving problems.

3. Unexpected testimony and meetings: If you are called to testify before any governmental group because an unexpected development occurred that you need to address in person, or find you have a meeting scheduled you weren't anticipating, you'll likely wish you had business attire. Casual offices doesn't mean everyone else's office is casual, or that your members will hope to find you dressed casually. A blazer can make a big difference.

4. The Wrong Dress Code: Ever show up to speak at an event and find the audience interpreted the dress code differently from what you were expecting? Or, the room could be a million times colder than you were expecting. Always bring a blazer along to any speaking engagement ... just in case.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Associations can learn from "Blind Side" marketing

How do we as associations engage our base, and grow it?

I'm fascinated with an article in the New York Times about the movie "The Blind Side" that includes a description about how they built an audience base. Such as:

"In this case Grace Hill [Media] took the unusual step of offering online sermon outlines based on 'The Blind Side,' with clips that could be used in churches equipped with video screens. According to Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kosove, about 23,000 churches downloaded the sermons, laying an exceptionally strong base for the film."


1. Online outlines and clips. How good are we (really) at giving outlines and clips to be downloaded and delivered?
2. Where's your possible audience? Some of what we do might be completely appropriate for discussion in a sermon - do we ever think to work outside of our traditional audiences for messages for our respective industries?
3. Relate to me. How much thought is given to who is delivering the message to draw in the audience? The article says real football coaches appealed to sports fans, Tim McGraw to country fans, and others to other demographics. Do associations change up its messengers for its various audiences?

And speaking of that movie: Go Sandra Bullock. Hope she wins the Academy Award.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

6 tips for a less chaotic webinar or conference call

If you're hosting a webinar (or conference call), be sure to do these 6 things:

1. On the same email you send to participants with dial-in/log-in instructions, include: a) how to mute the call when listening; b) how to un-mute the call; c) how to ask a question during the call

2. Go over those 3 details again at the START of the call (remind them it's on their email too), AND when it's time to take questions. If you only have instructions on a slide, and then REMOVE that slide from view, the Participants might not remember how to un-mute or ask a question when it's time.

3. If you have a feature where attendees can "raise their hand" to ask a question, be sure to maintain control of that as the process. If dozens of people can just start asking questions at any time, by speaking into the phone, while others are "raising their hands" using the web system, it gets chaotic.

4. Have the list of email addresses and phone numbers of attendees. If a participant does something wrong during the call, and you can figure out who it is - you'll have three ways to TRY to track them down to correct it -- that is, email, text and phone. (For example, when an attendee takes another call in the middle of your webinar without muting - and no one can hear anything but that phone conversation; or they put the call on hold and everyone gets to her their hold music/message). OR, if you don't know who it is, send an email out to everyone saying THIS IS YOUR WEBINAR HOST - PLEASE DISCONNECT IF YOU ARE TAKING ANOTHER CALL OR PLACED THE CALL ON HOLD.

Better yet, find out in advance if you as the host have the ability, and then how, to mute everyone on the call - especially if that happens.

5. Respect everyone's time. Do not say over and over "who's here? who's here?" especially if you're just going to do a roll call at the start of the call anyway. Ask your call or web provider HOW you can tell who is there. You SHOULD have a process to have the attendee names appear as "present" or require them to "sign in" as part of the log-in process.

6. And my pet peeve: can we ever escape from the "how's the weather" discussion while we wait to start on any conference call or webinar? Some calls I try to arrive exactly at the start time just to avoid the host going on and on about weather everywhere. Pick ANY topic but that one - or just say "I know you're all multi-tasking so we'll wait for the roll-call to start talking".

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.