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Five Governance Fails You're Probably Doing Right Now

Posted By Paul Hanscom, Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Let’s face it; it’s easier to stick to the status quo and not make waves if things seem to be working well for your board of directors. Other board members are familiar with the status quo. Presumably previous board members thought long and hard about the organization’s governance model, and this is what they determined to work best. Who are you to question their work? Besides, nothing’s broken… or so it seems.

The truth is that change can be healthy, especially if that change is called “growth” and your board needs to modernize and adapt to it. It’s a good practice to review your governance practices, policies, and procedures on an annual basis. Here are a few of the most common ways organizations fail to modernize their governance practices:

  1. Make board member orientation a one-time activity

    It takes a team to create a strong board and, in particular, to orient new board members. Senior members of the board need to provide consistent, detailed orientation to newer members. Additionally, each individual board member must take the initiative to continue his/her development throughout the term in office.

    Video-supplemented orientation can be a user-friendly training and development tool that busy volunteers access when it fits their schedule – both at the start of their terms as well as throughout as a reference tool. A great approach is to develop a series of short videos with each episode focusing on a different area of board development – reading financial statements, policies, and the general culture and functioning of the board (how they get things done).

    This offers your board a more thorough approach to orientation for new board members and a consistent base of expected knowledge and context for board discussions. Having videos online and easily accessible means board members can view and review the information whenever they like. It also is a more personable approach than handing someone a manual of printed materials and saying, “read this.”

  2. Review meeting minutes, financial statements, and committee reports in-person at the board meeting

    Don’t spend time and effort as a board presenting reports to one another and diving into the weeds on items that should be addressed by committees outside of a board meeting. This approach focuses internally on the logistics of the organization’s operations. Board meetings should focus on looking forward and tackling matters that affected your member community and your organization’s role in it. Implement a consent agenda, have reports submitted in writing in advance of board meetings and get board members to agree to review these materials before arriving to the meeting.

    A consent agenda empowers your board to get its hands around the steering wheel and start driving its own path.

  3. Present financial statements to the board and call it a “treasurer’s report”

    Numbers rarely tell the whole story. It is always helpful to provide context for board members or anyone reviewing financial statements for the organization. A one-page treasurer’s report helps focus the board’s attention and time on areas where the organization is performing significantly better or worse than budgeted. The report should depict recent financial performance, annual performance relative to the YTD budget, and a few brief bullets highlighting what board members should be attuned to. This results in fewer questions about the financial performance of the organization as a whole and clarity about where board members should direct their attention when reviewing the financials.

  4. Develop a strategic plan and annual goals, then wait until the end of the year to check in on what actually happened

    Now that you’ve cleared your board agenda of basic reporting functions, the real work is to focus on future direction and opportunities that your board members never knew existed. Boards should develop a plan that has objectives that cascade upward to organization goals, vision, and mission. At each board meeting spend a few minutes:
    • Reviewing high-level targets,
    • Addressing progress or changes since the last meeting, and
    • Discussing what, if any, board action is required to facilitate continued progress by the implementing levels of the organization (i.e., committees and staff) toward fulfilling the mission.

    Too often, strategic planning means prepping for and executing a board retreat and nothing more. It means taking a snapshot of myriad data points from your stakeholders, synthesizing these data into a story you share with key decision-makers and creating the ever-coveted “Strategic Plan” document. That’s it. The true power of strategic planning is the follow through. How are staff, volunteers, funders, and those in the community made and kept aware of this strategic plan and how it will impact them? The plan needs to be communicated broadly to all stakeholders and a system needs to be in place to keep it in front of them throughout the year.

    One organization I work with includes its mission and vision on every board agenda and addresses the strategic plan at every meeting. Each of its committees has relevant goals and objectives on every meeting agenda as a reminder of the overarching purpose for which the volunteers are meeting so they keep their end-game in mind on an ongoing basis. Each year the executive director and key staff from each department build a work plan through project management software that starts with strategic targets for the year and drills down to what needs to be done quarterly, monthly and even daily in order to make sure the strategic plan is manifest through their work.

    As a result, the organization has seen clearer, sustained alignment of the many parts that make up the organization. Everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

  5. Set objectives that are vague and let the staff and volunteers figure out the details

    Objectives are the true measure of effective implementation of a strategic plan. If you do not spend the time to carefully craft sound objectives, then you risk losing your trajectory as an organization and your stakeholders’ accountability to advance the organization's mission as the board sees fit.

    By creating SMART objectives, an organization’s staff and volunteers are able to assess progress toward their objectives throughout the year and make changes if necessary to make sure they deliver by the end of the year and, if not, they know why and adapt programs for future implementation.

    Two potential outcomes from using and communicating SMART objectives are more focused engagement by volunteers and an increase in funding from sponsors who have a better understanding of what specifically their investment is being put toward.

These are just a handful of ways that organizations fail to make the most of resources, volunteer time, and technology to function at their best. If your organization has similar outdated governance practices, make a point of discussing them with leadership and find a way to improve. Your organization and your colleagues will be better for it.

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Membership Development is More than a Committee Responsibility

Posted By Eric Ewald, Tuesday, September 9, 2014
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Associations can get disastrously siloed when it comes to the important work of the organization. Many follow conventional wisdom that states that the board of directors, as stewards of the organization, defines organizational mission, vision and goals — and committees exist to support the work of the board. OK, but…

A common problem can occur when the Board simply concludes it has done its job by assigning membership development goals (including recruitment and retention) to a committee and then monitors progress via reports at board meetings. The problem is that this approach sharply limits utilization of the best membership marketing channel.

The 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report (Marketing General Incorporated, 2014) details the most effective marketing channels for acquiring the most new members as follows:

Most Effective Marketing Channels for Acquiring New Members

Word-of-Mouth

47%

Email

42%

Association website

28%

Direct mail

24%

Promotion at events

24%

Personal sales calls

17%

Cross-sell to non-members who by products/attend events

16%

Chapters

11%

Local events

11%

Association-sponsored events

11%

In our world full of surface-level likes, endorsements, posts, tweets, etc. (information overload), a growing number of people rely on colleagues and friends for very real advice and guidance. Yes, social media can channel “word-of-mouth” — but Advertising Age estimates that only 7%, yes, just 7% comes from social media (Neff, 2012). According to Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising (Nielson, 2012) report, 92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from people they know, above all other forms of advertising — an increase of 18% since 2007.

The implication of these statistics: Organizations focused on growth need to create evangelists of as many members as possible rather than simply tasking a membership committee with achieving recruitment and retention goals. Start with Board members, other committee members and staff. All should be familiar with and passionate about the mission and goals of the organization. They must also be very familiar with how to join and how and why to get involved. Branch out from there to include other members who aren’t part of a committee to participate in the ongoing membership development goals of the organization. If your organization delivers enough benefit to the industry or profession as a whole (in addition to members individually) then members are helping themselves — because the organization will become a more effective and powerful representative of the industry or profession.

Start today. Get these trusted sources to help you tell your organization’s story to increase membership. It is in your interest and theirs.

References:

1. 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. 2014. Marketing General Inc. Alexandria, VA.
2. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Report. 2012. Nielson. New York, NY.
3. http://adage.com/article/digital/ge-study-proves-consumers-respond-shared-content/232324/

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Quick and Easy Marketing Moves to Boost Conference Attendance

Posted By Julie Cygan, Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Conference season is upon us and organizations are in various stages of marketing their events to build awareness, solicit exhibitors and sponsors, and, most importantly, ensure strong attendance. Strong attendance is the most critical of these activities. People want to attend an event that is successful — and attendance is a very visual, quantifiable measure of success. They see the conference as an opportunity to network and exchange ideas… so more attendees means more opportunities to connect. Sponsors and exhibitors are primarily interested in maximizing their exposure to decision-makers in the field and the value they perceive through conference sponsor/exhibitor opportunities is directly related to event attendance. Additionally, media contacts and stakeholder groups the organization hopes to influence will be more inclined to give attention to the organization if they know that its conference is a strong industry forum.

The following five moves can help give your conference an extra attendance boost.

  1. Send a special invitation to members who have never attended a conference before. This can be particularly impactful if the letter comes from an organizational leader like the board president or someone who has a direct relationship with the member. Even if a member is not able to attend the event this year, you will still gain some insight into why, which could result in changes for future years.
  2. Reach out to all new members who have joined in the last year. Again, this can be an invitation from a volunteer leader. Many organizations have an “ambassador” assigned to orient new members for the first year, which provides a natural fit for this. New members likely are not aware of the full value that is available through the conference experience, so a personal outreach effort to discuss this could be just what is needed to pull in a few more member attendees. You can bet that when the first-year member receives his/her dues renewal s/he will remember this invitation.
  3. Engage members, fans, and followers through social media. Most organizations find that they have a whole group of professionals who are loosely affiliated through social media but have never been contacted directly by an individual of the organization to ask them to engage further. The conference is the perfect opportunity for these individuals to convert their online interest into in-person networking. Make an effort to connect one-on-one through social media with people who haven’t engaged through another forum; you may be surprised at the responsiveness.
  4. Cross-promote with companies and organizations that support your membership. Many sponsors and exhibitors overlook the very easy promotional value they can gain by simply contacting their current and potential customers to encourage them to attend the conference and visit them while they’re there.
  5. Offer an incentive to those who help build attendance. This can be as simple as recognizing event promoters online or at the conference. It can be as involved as providing financial credit toward membership dues, event registration, advertising, or even cash back. An incentive-based campaign that recognizes successful attendee recruitment can generate new attendees, new members, and grow the overall organization.

While each of these moves is intended to boost conference attendance, they have the added bonus of giving the organization an excuse to contact and be front-of-mind with members and/or important industry supporters. This outreach may result in collateral benefits to the organization such as increased member retention and engagement by members and supporters in other activities of the organization. The impact that can result from a few little extra marketing steps can be significant and make the conference attendee experience all the more enriching.

Tags:  attendance  conference  event planning  ewald consulting  julie cygan  marketing 

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Show Me the Money: Political Action Committees

Posted By Nick de Julio, Tuesday, August 26, 2014
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An effective tool in building relationships with decision makers

Citizens have many opportunities to influence the legislative process — hire a lobbyist, join an association, volunteer on a political campaign or ballot initiative, or contribute financial resources. You can contribute to an individual candidate, state or local political party unit, or to a political action committee (PAC). Many organizations form PACs as a way to provide financial contributions to candidates for office who have been helpful to the organization in the policy arena, and to candidates who may show an interest in the organization’s issues into the future. The following information explains how Political Action Committees work in Minnesota; laws vary by state and federal laws apply to campaigns for federal offices. There are also issue-oriented PACs, commonly referred to as Super PACs, that are formed to advocated for a political position or candidates, but they are not allowed to make contributions directly to candidates for office.

What is a PAC?
PACs are organizations that obtain contributions from individuals and distribute donations to candidates for political office, promote or defeat legislation, or support or oppose a ballot question.

Where the money comes from…
PACs have strict rules about who they can collect contributions from and who they can contribute to:

  • PACs may accept contributions from individuals, other registered PACs and political party units, as well as individual candidates’ campaign committees.
  • Anonymous contributions and contributions from associations that are not registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board cannot be accepted.
  • PACs cannot accept any contributions that are designated by the contributor for a specific candidate (also known as “earmarks”).
  • Corporations cannot donate to a PAC, although there are some exceptions regarding non-profits.

Where the money goes…..
Once the PAC has raised money, it is restricted to certain types of contributions or expenditures:

  • A PAC can contribute to individual candidates, political party units, and to political committees or funds either registered or not registered with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board.
  • The PAC can make direct expenditures and independent expenditures, or expenditures made on behalf of a candidate, without their permission.
  • PACs are also allowed to spend money on their own operating expenses.

Campaign Contributions and limits
Candidates and elected officials can accept contributions from many sources  — individuals, lobbyists, political committees and political party units. Candidates cannot accept contributions from corporations or anonymous contributions over $20.

During a legislative session, candidates and elected officials cannot receive contributions from lobbyists or PACs.

Candidates and elected officials also have limits as to what they may accept from lobbyists, political units and large donors during a two-year period. If they go over these limits, they must return the funds to the original source.

  • In a non-election year, a PAC can donate $2000 to candidates for governor, $1500 for attorney general candidates, and $1000 to candidates running for secretary of state, state auditor, or the state legislature.
  • In an election year, the limit jumps to $4,000 for governor, $2,500 for attorney general, and $2000 for secretary of state and state auditor, and $1,000 for the state legislature.
  • There are no limits on contributions to state or local political party units.

Details on the contribution limits can be found at the MN Campaign Finance Board.

How are they held accountable?
PACs must register with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, which regulates the PAC. Upon registration, a PAC needs a chair and a treasurer (who can be the same person) as well as a bank account. Once the PAC is registered, the treasurer needs to submit an annual report of receipts and disbursements. For each contribution, the PAC must report the name, the address and/or registration number, the employer, the date of payment, and the amount of payment. For expenditures, the PAC must report the specific purpose of the expenditure. The Board makes software and training seminars available to ease the process of reporting this information.

Tags:  decision makers  nick de julio  PAC  political action committee 

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How I learned to stop writing headlines and start loving my audience

Posted By Laurie Pumper, Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 19, 2014

By Laurie Pumper, CAE, Communication Director, Ewald Consulting

Everyone who writes for associations wants to get the largest possible audience for that material. However, one of the best ways to gain that attention often gets left until the end of the process. Many busy writers give little thought to the headline — yet that short bit of text can make the difference between so-so readership and virality. Here are some hints to help bring your headlines and other short-form messages to life.

Why do your readers care?

Having a strong call to action can help you create a strong headline. But determining what will motivate readers means knowing your audience. It was one of the first lessons I learned in journalism school, and it is just as relevant now. Are your members likely to read your message at work, at home, or on a plane? Do many of them use mobile devices for emails? Learn what inspires your members; learn what they fear; learn as much as you can about them. Then use that knowledge to develop great content (and headlines) to meet their needs.

Does a picture really say a thousand words?

Especially on magazine covers and social media platforms, you have the opportunity to draw in your readers with a great photo. The best photos convey the emotion you want your audience to feel. Research has proven that people of all ages will focus on a face immediately to seek meaning and connection.

Keep your language simple

If you try to jam too many ideas into your headline, it will be difficult for readers to understand what the article is about. It’s best to rely on a simple sentence structure for headlines.

Sweet emotion

Even people who believe that they rely on logic to make decisions actually rely on their subconscious emotions to make many decisions. Use an emotional message (in conjunction with a photo, if possible) to help convey your story. Bring it back to what is important for your audience. “Tax bill passes legislative committee” probably won’t get as many readers as “Tax bill could mean funding cuts for ABC members.”

Some people love a mystery

If the headline gives just enough information to intrigue readers, they will want to learn more about your topic. A good question can help drive traffic to your content. Like many of the other hints provided here, it’s best to use this type of heading occasionally.

Pop: More than a word from Dr. Seuss

Using a pop culture reference can add fun to your headline. Just be sure that your readers will understand it. If your group has global reach and/or if your readers include everyone from the Greatest Generation to Millennials, it may be more difficult for pop culture to translate well. Sometimes, even if people don’t recognize the reference, the language may provide a clever turn of phrase or an engaging way to talk about your content. Even if you’ve never seen the movie Dr. Strangelove, you may have liked the rhythm of the headline for this article.

Mix it up

If every headline you write relies on the same formula, it gets dull. If every subject line includes the word “Urgent,” people will learn that most of your messages really aren’t that urgent.

Does length matter?

There are many opinions on the ideal length for a headline or subject line. My general preference is that shorter is better, but I have seen powerful headlines that are long. Many Content Management Systems set a limit on the number of characters for headlines and subject lines; keep those in mind as you craft messages for different platforms. Your audience makes a difference, too; I’ve found that attorneys or academics are more willing to read a long headline (and the full article that follows).

Just because someone else wrote a crummy headline, you don’t need to use it

Many association leaders aren’t trained as writers: they’re doctors, land surveyors, occupational therapists, and other people who really understand their subject matter. As an association communicator, I see myself as a partner who can elevate that subject matter to connect better with the intended audience. Don’t misstate or exaggerate, but add emotion and clarity.

Try, try again

For the best headlines, don’t be satisfied with the first one that pops to mind. Sometimes, divine inspiration strikes — more often, you’ll get better results by brainstorming a bunch of ideas. Whether or not you agree with its political bent, Upworthy has managed to drive millions of views to its videos. The Upworthy mantra is to write 25 different headlines before choosing one. Try bouncing ideas around with a co-worker or a volunteer; feedback from someone with a different perspective can generate fresh ideas. If you do have to work alone, do the brainstorming to come up with a bunch of possibilities; then walk away for awhile. When you come back, a fresh eye will help you choose the best option.

Spell check, proofread, read it again

Headlines, captions and subheads are all more likely to have errors that are missed during copyediting. Don’t rely on your software to spell-check; you could misspell a name or use a correctly spelled word in the wrong place. Don’t ruin the impact of your perfectly crafted headline by letting a typo slip past you!

Don’t stop at the headline

You’ve chosen the perfect headline — congratulations! Now keep practicing your skills on subheads, captions, email subject lines and social media posts. All these spaces give you an opportunity to reach your audience with just a few well-chosen words.

Tags:  Ewald Consulting  Laurie Pumper  writing headlines 

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Signs Your Association Won’t Be Around in 8 Years

Posted By David Ewald, Monday, August 11, 2014
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The great advisor to CEOs, Marshall Goldsmith, wrote a book, What Got You Here, Won't Get You There. I have paraphrased that, saying often to my staff: "If we were doing business today the way we were eight years ago, we'd be out of business. And, if we are doing business eight years from now the way we are today, we will be out of business."  Every organization need to change, adapt and improve — associations are no exception. Organizations that fail to do so may not be entirely gone in eight years, but they will be well on the path to irrelevance.

Here are five signs that your association won’t be around in eight years:

  1. Failure by leaders to keep pace with technology (often blaming it on their age or budget).

    I'm amazed when well-paid people who have been in their careers for years admit, "I'm bad at technology". Take a class. Read a book. Hire someone. When the leaders give up on technology, so does everyone else. Problems with technology are one of the greatest morale busters in any organization.

  2. Failure to recognize that the world has changed.

    Unless we stay abreast of current trends and push our own organizations to be faster, better, smarter they will fall behind. The assumption that an organization can continue to do things the way it always has is a losing proposition and one guaranteed to fail. Other organizations are working hard to change, and improve. If you don't pay attention, you just don't realize it.

  3. Failure to confront recurring problems and solve them.

    Time and again, organizations find themselves dealing with the same problems: people, technology, product quality, systems, service quality. They talk about the problems with no resolution while often having their attention lured away by a new, "bright shiny object" — much to the frustration of their staff.

  4. Failure to invest in staff.

    Staffing is usually the largest budget item in an association. Not investing in finding great employees, then training and working hard to motivate them, is like trying to drive an IndyCar on wagon wheels. Those who are content with a weak staff are content with a weak organization. Find the best people you can, then give them what they need to do a good job, and do what you can to reward and retain them.

  5. Failure to harness the power of volunteers while directing the energy in a consistent direction.

    Like a fast-flowing river, volunteers provide the energy for an organization. Unchecked, that energy can overflow the banks and overwhelm operations. Unmotivated, the streambed dries up and the power goes away. Engage your volunteers.  Let them share in the joy of moving an organization forward.

Associations with their finger on the pulse of their members, our economy and world at large thrive and grow well. Those that do nothing more than stay the same quickly go the way of the buggy whip manufacturer. I'm planning on my business being here in eight years – how about you?

Tags:  association management  associations  business  david ewald  ewald consulting  success 

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KNOWLEDGE & RESOURCES

MANAGEMENT | View all Management articles
A Successful Year Starts with a Solid Budget by Bill Monn
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MARKETING | View all Marketing articles
9 Marketing Ideas for Your Organization by Kathie Pugaczewski
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MEMBERSHIP | View all Membership articles
A Holistic Approach to Membership Recruitment by Darrin Hubbard
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VOLUNTEERISM | View all Volunteerism articles
Three Ways to Stronger Volunteer Engagement by Paul Hanscom
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