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Why Personal Connections Still Matter

Posted By Anna Wrisky, Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Updated: Thursday, December 4, 2014

Personal Connections

We live in a culture that spends more time communicating via email, text messages and social media than we spend talking to one another or meeting face to face. Although communicating digitally is convenient, it has major drawbacks.

Sending an email to someone is great when you need to outline a process or share documents or text. It also allows the sender and recipient to communicate on their own timeline, on their own terms. However, a personal connection is lost. I work with many volunteers, members and colleagues who I have only spoken with through email. I don’t know the sound of their voice, their hobbies or interests — and in some cases I don’t even know what state they live in. When you communicate only by email or text, small talk is lost. We may share tidbits of personal information, but it’s much more difficult to create a personal friendship or relationship in an email thread.

The best way to resolve conflict or to clear confusion is in person or over the phone.

  If a member or client is upset, give them a call to remind them you care as a company and as a person, and to remind them that they are working with actual people and not machines. Hopefully their anger will be diffused when the call clears up the issue, or when a sincere apology is given for whatever mishap took place.

Phone calls and meetings keep us productive.

  We’ve all tried to work with others via email. The problem with only communicating this way is that each email is one-sided. It takes longer to bounce ideas off one another. Miscommunication and misinterpretation is common. Make the phone call or set up a meeting, at least for the brain storming and problem-solving portion of the project. Save the emailing for sharing documents and project check-ins.

Emails and texts don’t contain emotion. And they don’t give memorable experiences.

  The short, abrupt, to the point email that you wrote from your phone to a member who had multiple concerns about their project or membership can come off as cold and disconnected. Sure, you can check it off your to-do list, but what was that experience with your association like for them? How likely are they to recommend your services to others? How likely is that member to become engaged on a committee or even renew? Even these quick little responses are a chance to sell your association membership and your services. Sell the value of being a member through their experiences of working with your association staff.

Sometimes when I have a simple question for someone, I choose to use the phone instead of email or texting. This allows for conversation and connection, and promotes member engagement! Member engagement leads to member retention. Social media, email, and text messages are all great tools and resources, but taking that extra step to really connect with members and colleagues and volunteers face to face or via the phone is also important. Think twice before hitting reply or comment; that phone call or meeting might be more beneficial to you both!

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The Board Speaks: Getting on the Same Page

Posted By Darrin Hubbard, Wednesday, December 3, 2014
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Imagine this scenario:

You’ve just completed your daylong Board Meeting preceding your Annual Convention. Aside from the usual business items covered in the meeting, there was a strategic plan check-in and several sensitive or maybe even contentious topics were acted upon. Fast forward to the next day at the conference at the opening reception. A Past President, partner in the tradeshow and interested colleague asks, “How was the Board Meeting?”. How do your Board Members respond? Do they vent about a decision that did not go their way? Do they give three different answers? Do they share an outcome of a vote that was to be kept confidential until all parties were notified?

You may have left the meeting in agreement, but it is easy to see how you can lose control of the message quickly.And it is completely understandable when you think about the other responsibilities your Board Members have such as their job, thanksgiving plans, their kids, the grocery list, vet appointments… you get the point.

So what do you do? Some of our clients publish a column on board activity in the newsletter. This works well because you can articulate, word for word, the messages you want to share. The problem with this approach can be the timing. If your e-newsletter has a monthly distribution, what are your board members communicating before the information is distributed? When they liaise with your committees or partnering organizations, what messages are they sharing in the interim?

One good solution that I have found is to develop talking points. Track important conversations and outcomes during the meeting; as the final order of business, ask the board to agree to three brief talking points that are ready to be made public. What do you want people to know about the time the board just spent together? Send the agreed-upon talking points to the board in an email so they can refer to them when it is convenient. If you are proactive in developing the messages your board shares, you can better manage the communication and perception of the work of the board.

A few tips on talking points:

  1. No more than three talking points – focus on the most important points you want to be made public.
  2. Paraphrase – empower your board to use their own voice, not recite them word for word.
  3. Keep them short – make it easy for your board to recall the talking points.
  4. Put them in order of importance – do the prioritization for them.

Here are a few sample talking points that have been used over the past few months:

  • Approved committee recommendations to make website more user-friendly
  • Appointed task force to investigate credentialing
  • Established Nominating Committee and revised its scope
  • Approved operating budget for the upcoming year
  • Approved proposal to develop a new chapter
  • This year’s conference has a record number of attendees, including 25 first-timers
  • Signed an extension with the current publisher of the magazine
  • Strategic plan for 2015-17 was approved
  • Established a new award recognizing emerging leaders in the organization
  • Approved the concept for a new fundraising campaign

What does your board do? I’d be interested to hear what approaches are being used by other organizations.

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The President’s Role at Conferences

Posted By Paul Hanscom, CAE, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, Ewald Consulting, Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Annual Conference is the normally the largest assembly of your members in one location throughout the year. It is an opportunity for exchanging ideas, making connections, and advancing the state of the industry. As the “chief volunteer,” you have a unique role in facilitating each of these elements of the conference experience, all while allowing your conference planning team to take the lead in hosting the event.


Chief Ambassador

The annual conference draws new members, first-time attendees, and guest speakers from all over. These individuals likely do not have a well-established foothold in the association community and will seek opportunities to connect with anyone they recognize in the crowd. As the face of the organization, you are uniquely qualified to reach out to these individuals, welcome them to the event, and help them to make a connection with someone. Those who experience an event for the first time and develop a sense of belonging/connection will be much more likely to attend again in the future. Be sure to help these key individuals feel like an integral part of the conference community rather than experiencing it from a distance as an observer.


Discussion Facilitator

In the role of president, you become steeped in information and conversation about issues impacting the industry. You know your association members and conference attendees better than most and can serve to facilitate discussion between people who otherwise may not find a connection. Do not underestimate your ability to “grease the wheels” of industry communication by helping build relationships and foster ideas about how the industry you serve can grow, develop, and improve.


Steward of Recognition

Make time to connect with each sponsor and exhibitor representative and express appreciation for their support. This is also an opportunity to learn more about their interests and how they hope to continue gaining value from their support of the annual conference experience.


Find ways to recognize Past Presidents and industry leaders in attendance. You are one of the few people who know the full scope of contribution these people have made to the organization. Ensure that they are greeted appropriately and find a way to incorporate public recognition of their work as a way to inspire future leaders.

Tags:  association management  associations 

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Tell Me a Story: Using narrative to create more powerful messages for your association

Posted By Laurie Pumper, Friday, November 14, 2014
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From the time that we are young children, people everywhere learn how to make sense of the world through stories. I can hear some association executives now: “But how will that help our association’s bottom line? We need our board to focus on the numbers.”

My answer is that the power of narrative can help make sense of data. By adding context to numbers, your members are more likely to understand and retain the information. In addition to a spreadsheet, write a few short paragraphs about the monthly financial report: Is volatility in the stock market causing unusual swings in your investment portfolio? Were there unusual one-time expenses that make this month’s year-to-date figures seem completely off the rails — or do the expenses signal an important challenge that the board needs to address immediately?

If your nonprofit organization does fundraising, strong storytelling is absolutely essential to your success. Your annual report may show that 90% of funds raised go to directly improve the lives of young people…but without testimonials and pictures that show the story of your organization’s impact, your fundraising messages are likely to fall flat. I’ve volunteered for the Minnesota 4-H Foundation for more than a decade — and once we started including those success stories and photos of 4-H members doing interesting things, we saw better returns on our direct mail efforts. When we started using segmentation, so that (for instance) alumni donors who are especially interested in 4-H’s arts program get a story and photo related to that interest, results improved again.

More tips:

  • Include one or more case studies in articles that appear in your association’s publications. Getting the case study might be as easy as emailing or calling a member to comment on her experience.
  • If your organization does a survey to get feedback on your latest webinar, pull out a quote or two from an enthusiastic attendee that explains how useful the session was, or how it solved a problem — and use the quote(s) to promote your next webinar or your archives. This tactic also works well with promoting in-person events.
  • Rather than simply listing the names of the people in a photo, use the caption to tell a short story about what they were doing. Better yet, explain how it relates to your organization’s mission.

Additional resource:
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, by Daniel H. Pink, 2005. The book devotes a chapter to the importance of storytelling and provides exercises to improve your storytelling ability.

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How to Give an Effective Legislative Tour — and Boost Awareness of Your Organization

Posted By Becca Pryse and Nick de Julio, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
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Every May when the legislative session comes to an end, many people believe that the window to connect with legislators or agency staff has closed, because no active lawmaking is taking place. However, summer and fall present great opportunities to connect with legislators and their staff, as well as the governor’s staff and others in the administration. One of the best ways make these connections and have a positive impact is to invite them out to your workplace or one of your association member's offices or locations. Scheduling a tour with your legislators or others is one of the most effective ways to connect with them on an issue. In addition, a tour of your facility provides an even better way to reach out to legislators, staff or others and educate them about your organization, what it is you do and why it should matter to them.

Scheduling and planning a visit may take a bit of time and thought. Following are tips for you and your organization to give an effective tour and leave a positive, lasting impression with your guests:

  • Inviting and Scheduling a Visit: The first step in setting up your visit is to send a formal invitation to your prospective visitors. An invitation may be extended via letter, phone, email or even in person. Make sure that you follow up with them or their staff to ensure that the invitation was received. It is also important to remember to leave a sufficient amount of time between the invitation and the proposed date so that it may work with their schedule. Keep your date somewhat flexible if you can. Be sure to talk with either them or staff to confirm the date and length of time.
  • Develop a Plan for the Tour: Once you have sent your invitation and have a date on the calendar, it is key to plan your tour accordingly. Make a list of items you want to cover, areas of concern you want to point out or success stories you want to promote.
  • Tour Guide: An effective tour is only as good as the person who will be giving it. Be sure to pick someone who is knowledgeable of the facility, the process and other areas. A number of questions could arise during the tour and it is best to be prepared. It is also a good idea to make sure that your guide is well spoken and personable.
  • Promote Yourself: Make sure that you use this time to promote your facility, association or members for the work they do. Let your visitors know about your good work and the successes that you have achieved. Don’t be afraid to involve others or even have your visitors participate in a project or activity. This is a great way for them to learn more about an area and gives them something to talk about the next time your association comes up.
  • Housekeeping: While it might seem like a no-brainer, make sure that your facility is clean and presentable. Those attending the tour will associate your facility with your organization. It is key that you paint the picture you want for them. As they say, appearance is everything!
  • Compliance: Make sure that you are compliant with laws and are meeting regulations. The last thing you want to do is be non-compliant and then invite representatives of the state to your facility. It could make for a hard time down the road in getting any changes to policy made.
  • Other Items to Think About: Consider possible media coverage, meals, transportation for a larger group, special accommodations such as handicap access, etc. It is best to talk with the point person for your guests to see what concerns they might have with any of these items. Some public officials welcome media involvement — and some don’t.
  • Follow-Up: Now that your tour is over and it was a success, there is one last step — to follow up with your guests. Make sure to send a note thanking them for coming to your site. Include your contact information so they can reach out to you at any time if they have questions or want to bring others back for a second visit. Also make sure that you get back to them with answers if any questions arose that could not be answered during the visit.

By following a few of these key steps in the planning process, any organization will be on the path to giving an effective tour that should leave a ringing endorsement with your guests.

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Nine Ways to Make Sponsorship Success Easy

Posted By Paul Hanscom, Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Updated: Sunday, October 26, 2014
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Whether embarking on a sponsorship campaign for the first time or reviewing sponsorship options that have been in place for a number of years, it is important to have a process in place that engages input, boosts value, and nurtures sponsor relationships over time. This process maximizes sponsor value for the organization and the sponsor’s feeling of being a valued partner. You can get there with these nine steps.

Why Should Someone Sponsor?

Sponsorship creates a meaningful partnership between a vendor and your organization. Through sponsorship, a supplier demonstrates commitment to advancing your organization and industry as a whole. Sponsorship builds a vendor’s credibility and develops a good rapport in the industry. It also diversifies your revenue sources, and can assure additional funding to allow your organization to better serve its mission.

When you seek sponsors, don’t be timid. You are offering them an opportunity that may be their best — if not only — chance to get the word out about their product or service to a very targeted market. The alternatives available may be expensive, impersonal, and/or have a low return on investment (e.g. mass marketing, cold calling, direct mail). Don’t undervalue what you can bring to a sponsor.

Identify Sponsor Prospects

Consider how your organization identifies sponsor prospects. Are you regularly branching out to new prospects or do you wind up contacting the same few vendors over and over again? While it is important to nurture and reinforce relationships with long-term supporters, you also want to cultivate new relationships. Ask yourself which vendors in your industry might benefit from getting their name in front of a targeted audience — your audience. Companies that have no previous involvement with your organization could see sponsorship as their vehicle to launch into the market.

An additional way to identify sponsor prospects is to research companies that are sponsoring similar activities at a different scale — be it local, regional, or national. Find organizations that are similar to yours and see who is supporting them. If they serve a similar demographic, it is likely that the sponsor will want to support you as well. Companies that have a history of supporting organizations in your industry will naturally benefit from sponsorship with your association.

Communicate Value to Your Sponsors

Start with the data you already possess. If you have demographic data on your group, share that with prospective sponsors to illustrate who they can reach. This concept also applies to event participant lists and the board of directors roster. Demonstrate the breadth and depth of your organization’s reach to decision-makers in your group. This is valuable and compelling information to companies, especially those with a limited marketing budget. By providing this information, you guarantee exposure that other marketing approaches may not be able to muster. Several analytics platforms track the number of hits that your website is getting as well as how many viewers clicked a specific sponsor’s link. This is another concrete measure of sponsorship value.

A key element of success in securing new sponsors is the person who makes the ask. Your organization needs people on your side who are influential and able to capture the attention of decision-makers. Think of the top five companies/leaders in your field and make sure you have a contact with each of them. Ask your board members to name leading companies and people they consider to be key thinkers. By securing support from known authorities in the industry, you demonstrate that you can likewise connect sponsors to these leaders. Establishing a connection to industry authority is very valuable; you will have an easier time getting the attention of a prospective sponsor if you can offer them this type of value.

Start the Dialogue

If any of the leaders in your organization already have a relationship with a prospective sponsor, they may be the natural choice to take the first step to make contact. However, for those sponsors who are being contacted for the first time, it is best to begin by familiarizing them with the organization. One way to do this is by adding the sponsor prospect to your newsletter or magazine mailing list. Send them a complimentary copy of your association’s special publication along with a personalized letter of introduction. Now your potential sponsor will have some frame of reference when you call about sponsorship rather than making a complete cold call.

Oftentimes we speak at a sponsor prospect by explaining what our sponsorship opportunity will give them before we ask what the sponsor is looking for. Get their interest, biggest challenge, and see if you can help them. Ask them, “Who are your ideal customers?” and, “What are you looking for in the sponsorship? How do you want your company to be thought of in this industry?” Ask the sponsor, “What is your biggest challenge?” For some, it is finding the decision-makers at industry companies. For others, it is a challenge to announce a new product launch. Some are looking for the right environment to help them network more effectively. In each case, your sponsors have unique challenges. It is your job to discern whether or not your organization is able to help them address these challenges and connect them with potential customers. These questions will tease out whether or not sponsorship is a wise investment. If the answer is a great big “No,” then it’s in everyone’s best interest that you move on. Don’t waste resources providing sponsorship benefits that are not appreciated or even wanted! If sponsorship does not appear to be a good fit for the organization, it is best to identify this early. If sponsorship has a lot to offer to the prospect, answering these questions makes their decision to sign up even easier. Sponsorship is a partnership, not a one-time sale. Nurture the relationship all year long and follow up to keep the value fresh in your sponsor’s mind.

Set Sponsorship Fees Right

When setting sponsorship fees, remember that you are selling an investment in the sponsorship experience, not just a one-time expense. Set your price to the market and don’t underestimate the value you can offer to a sponsor. If affiliation and sponsorship support with your organization generate sales and notoriety in the industry, your sponsors will come back every time. Communicate this value.

When estimating a sponsorship fee structure, there are a variety of elements to consider. First, if there are multiple levels of sponsorship, each fee must be less expensive than the sum of each smaller level to entice a sponsor toward a larger investment. Likewise, make sure to guard your ability to tailor a package to meet a large sponsor’s interests. If a prospect wants to give you money, make sure that there is a fitting way for them to do so.

Sponsor Recognition

You’ve secured your first sponsor. Congratulations! Who knows about it? Did you get the word out to members? Did you thank the sponsor in your industry magazine or newsletter? Sponsorship is an important decision for many companies and you need to provide some visible result right away. Sponsors need to feel the value of sponsorship as soon as possible and for the length of their support — be it for one event or five years. Make sure to get the word out about your new sponsor so they know they are appreciated from the very start of the relationship.

Be creative when acknowledging your sponsors in writing. Write a feature article that profiles the sponsor, why they are involved with your organization, and what benefit they offer to your readership. This is much better than simply listing them in the magazine or newsletter because it helps your members relate to the sponsor and it even further clarifies to the sponsor why your organization is the right fit. You could place a sponsor’s ad in the publication for free. As more organizations move to electronic publications that may not be as conducive to ads, having an exclusive e-newsletter sponsorship can be very valuable to the sponsor and lucrative for your organization. However, it is important to consistently tell your e-newsletter sponsor how often your website is visited. Certainly ask members if they are sensitive about giving out their electronic information before you provide this to a sponsor.

Make sure to recognize your biggest sponsors at your biggest event. A supplementary “Sponsor Thank You” event that will likely get low attendance from the people your sponsor wants to meet and is a poor use of the resources you’ve worked hard to secure.

The Multiplier Effect

The value of sponsors to your organization is not limited to the price tag you put on sponsorship packages. There are plenty of ways that you can partner with your sponsors to multiply the benefits to your organization, the people you serve, and the sponsor. If a high-level executive at your sponsoring company is the authority on a subject of interest to your members, you can include this individual as a speaker at one of your events or s/he could present an award to one of your members. This is a way for your sponsor to get exposure, your members to get cutting-edge information, and for your organization to be reinforced as an authoritative forum for such interactions. The sponsor will have a keen interest in helping you promote the event by distributing information to its own customers — people who may not know about your organization yet, but who could be prospective members. Don’t forget to ask your sponsor about the best way to let its customers know about the event and their support for it. Ask for a link from the sponsor’s website stating, “We are a proud sponsor of organization ABC.”

Follow-Up & Feedback

Send prompt follow-up to sponsors after an event is held or a publication is printed with statistics about the number of attendees/readers, any press exposure about the event/publication, and any measure of their exposure. Send a reminder of the cumulative recognition received as a sponsor for your organization: press releases, call for entries, registration piece, even a printed copy of an email promotion. It is compelling to see — in one place — all of the points where the sponsor received exposure through a consistently branded message.

Try to communicate feedback to your sponsors from the event attendees or publication readers. This can include testimonials from surveys or evaluations, focus groups, or interviews. Most importantly, ask the sponsor about the sponsorship experience, which is the first step to renewing support as a sponsor the next time.

Other nice extras

There are plenty of little extras you can use to help a sponsor relationship grow. You could offer to host one of your events or meetings at the sponsor’s facility. Most sponsors will be eager to show off their offices. Suggest they volunteer with your organization and/or join a committee so they can meet others who are passionate about your mission and learn more about the social culture of the group.

If this is your sponsor’s first time participating, provide personal introductions and guidance on how to make the most of their sponsorship. If there are sponsor representatives at your event, ask if they wish to meet a specific someone. See how appreciative sponsors are when you provide a personal introduction to someone they would like to meet for the first time.

Nurture the Relationship

Develop sponsorship packages with an annual renewal. This allows your sponsors and your organization the ability to build sponsorship into an annual budget and plan accordingly. Additionally, annual renewal means that you only have to ask each sponsor for a financial contribution once — and they get recognition all year long. Sponsors and fundraisers alike say that it is easier to ask once for a large contribution than to solicit smaller amounts every time your organization has a new initiative. Do not confuse this with a suggestion that you only approach each sponsor once per year. Remember to check in frequently and consistently throughout the year so your sponsor does not develop the sentiment that every interaction with you is a financial one. Make sure your sponsors are cognizant of their sponsorship and the benefits it affords them.
Send communication related to their business. Send congratulations if they receive an award or if one of their staff receives a promotion. Make a point to visit top sponsors at their own office once a year so they feel valued. Survey them and host a focus group of current and prospective sponsors to get new ideas for an established event. Never assume that the benefits you offered a year ago are exactly what sponsors want today.

Keep the Momentum

Set a sponsorship recruitment goal and revisit it often. Keep the board and pertinent committee members informed of your progress. While there are several methods to communicate sponsorship options to your prospects (including blast email, direct mail, or a template message from key volunteers), personal contact through phone calls or in-person meetings is often the most effective way to communicate because it conveys how important this support is to your leaders, your organization, and your cause.

Wrapping it up
Be sponsor worthy. Tell sponsors and prospective sponsors why your organization is a unique value to them. Show them the value. And write your own sponsorship success story.

This is a sample of the content in our e-book, Maximizing the Sponsor Experience. Download the full e-book now!

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Crisis Communication Management

Posted By Katie Wilkerson, Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Updated: Thursday, October 16, 2014
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How to Land on Your Feet When the Floor Caves In

By instinct, humans are wired to panic in times of distress. Fight or flight. But are these really the only options? When a crisis happens, the most important thing to do is breathe. Close your eyes and take 10 seconds to prepare yourself for what happens next. Now, open your eyes, put on your game face and let’s get to work.

When a crisis strikes, always remember that good communication is crucial. Being able to disseminate information to your stakeholders and the media in a clear, concise and timely manner can help save an organization’s reputation.

No one and no organization is invincible. Mistakes are inevitable and the only way to face them is to be prepared. And unfortunately, crossing your fingers will not suffice. Having a clear-cut plan in place prior to having a crisis on the horizon will give you a running start.

Just like snowflakes, no two crises are the same. However, many have the same characteristics and can be dealt with in much the same fashion. Because of this, steps have been developed as a blueprint crisis communication management plan. When a disaster is in sight, these steps can be the key to survival.

Step 1: See it coming
Anticipate a crisis before it happens. Have a specific plan in place for all possible situations. If the day ever comes that you need to be on the defensive, you will be ready to stand up and take action.

Step 2: Pinpoint your crisis communication team
Before a crisis hits have your team assembled, trained and prepared to face it. The team should be aware of all plans.

Step 3: Choose spokespersons
It is important to have a clear voice during times of crisis. Choose your spokesperson wisely. This person (or persons) need to be able to communicate effectively, efficiently and in a timely matter to those needing answers. The best spokespersons are knowledgeable, both of the organization and the crisis, and credible.

Step 4: Prep spokespersons
Do not send someone into the lion’s den without first teaching them how to tame the lion. Be sure to train the spokespersons on how to act in front of the camera and media, how to respond to specific questions and what can and cannot be disclosed. They should have a solid set of talking points and key messages in-hand. The number one rule of a spokesperson is to never say “no comment”; whether the fault is yours or not, this makes you look guilty and dismissive.

Step 5: Institute notification and monitoring systems
Back in the good ol’ days, the media was limited to the use of phones and fax to spread the word of current news. Now, they have the ability to spread the word at their fingertips through email, websites, and social media. It is important to set up systems to monitor both the media and feedback from those important to your organization.

It is equally important to use these immediate outlets to reach your stakeholders, employees and others invested in your organization. The news will, without a doubt, be better received coming from the source as opposed to the media. Being the first to comment is essential.

Step 6: Identify stakeholders
Identify those who are important to your organization. These are the people to focus on; you want them on your team. How you handle the crisis will be reflected in how others perceive the organization. Be upfront with stakeholders, explain how you are correcting the mistakes and deliver results.

Step 7: Develop and keep holding statements on hand
Holding statements are generic comments that can be altered and used immediately after a crisis hits. These should be developed and reviewed regularly by the crisis management team.

Step 8: Assess the crisis
Once a crisis hits, gather any and all information you can. Every single fact and development is helpful as your form your responses and develop your action plan. This is most effectively done by having a plan and team in place prior to a crisis occurring.

Step 9: Key messages
Aside from the holding statements, the team should develop statements specific to the crisis. These statements should be simple, factual and in the interest of the stakeholders.

Step 10: Analysis
After a crisis, a thorough assessment of what went right, what went wrong, and what could be improved upon must be done. This allows you to strengthen your crisis management plan and better prepare your organization for the next possible disaster.

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Membership: Rules of Engagement

Posted By Jacquie Durant, Tuesday, October 14, 2014
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You worked hard to get them, now you need to keep them. We all know that the best way to retain our members is to get them involved.

The way we communicate and engage our members has changed considerably in the last ten years. What hasn’t changed is that even in these high-tech times, we all still want to be asked to contribute, friend me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or join my LinkedIn group.

Many associations send new members personalized, generic welcome letters/emails as they join. In some cases, the next time members hear from the association is nine months later when it’s time to renew, and then the association wonders why many first-year members don’t renew.

Develop a plan to reach out to members at regular intervals throughout the year; send them a personal invitation to attend an event; invite them to join a committee; solicit their feedback at the 6-8 month point asking if membership is meeting their needs.

The plan will be more effective if you get buy-in from your membership committee and make it easy for them to reach out to new members. Prepare talking points and sample language for your membership committee to personalize and send to new member lists. Putting together plans to reach out to members at regular intervals of 3 months, 6 months and 9 months has proven to be very effective.

Great plans have varying messages:

  • 3 Months: Thank them for joining and give them an overview of their membership benefits. Most new members may not remember all of the benefits that your association offers. Link these benefits sent in the email back to your website where it has more detail and how they can make use of these benefits.
  • 6 Months: Encourage new members to get involved and remind them (again) of their key benefits. Perhaps you can include a testimonial from previous new members on what they found helpful when they were first starting out in the profession or as a new member and how the association was able to provide value.
  • 9 Months: Include a survey to see what benefits are being used and what benefits the association may need to offer. New members are great critics and it’s helpful to find out what they’re actually taking advantage of.
  • 12 Months: Thank them for being a member and encourage them to get involved and renew.

Connect with new members early and often; invite them to get involved. It’s well worth the effort.

Tags:  engagement  ewald consulting  jacquie durant  membership  non profits  retain membership  rules 

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The Secret to Successful Budgeting: Have More Income Than Expense

Posted By Bill Monn, Monday, October 6, 2014
Updated: Thursday, October 2, 2014
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A solid, profitable budget is just that simple: take in more than you spend. Creating that winning budget is a confluence of science and art – and sometimes a favorable wind.

Step 1: Start your budget planning by thoroughly understanding where you are. Concentrate on the big 3 — revenues, expenses and margin. Where are your revenues, expenses and margin relative to what you planned for in the current year? Look at them together as well as individually. A spike in expenses is not necessarily a bad thing if there has been a corresponding spike equal or greater in revenues. Conversely, a big jump in revenue could be a mirage if you have had a bigger jump in expenses. Review variances from your budget. If attendance is lower than projected for monthly events, understand why. Is it program content? Cost to attend? Location? Time of day?

Step 2: Understand the trends. Once you have a good feeling for where you are, take the time to understand where you’ve been. Two points on a chart are a direction, three are a trend. Go back at least three years — four is better — and graph your revenues, expenses and margin. You can do this for every event or every element of your organization, but at the very least roll up the overall numbers. Look at the variances on the chart and they will show maximum and minimum boundaries for budgeting purposes. In the absence of any major changes (adding or eliminating an event, for example) the science of budgeting tells you that next year’s budget should be within this range.

Step 3: Boldly wade into the future. This is where the art of budgeting will guide you on projecting in a more aggressive or conservative vein. You’ve done the left-brain stuff in analyzing the data of where you are and where you’ve been. You can poke at them all you want, but they won’t change. What can your right brain leverage from all that is spinning around? Is the economy on an upswing? Has anything changed that will require your members to need more of your services — such as a requirement for new or additional education credits that may prompt them to attend your conference? Has competition for your services or products changed? Are there opportunities to impact your cost side — such as transitioning from a printed newsletter to an electronic newsletter?

Step 4: Mix them together and make magic. An age-old practice is to hedge bets with conservative numbers on revenue and aggressive numbers on the expense side. This also is referred to as sandbagging. Trust your trending data on this. If you have a long history of results for a particular area, you are not planning anything significantly different and there are no external drivers, then you can be pretty confident you will have a similar result. If you have an area where results have bounced around over the years, you should be careful in projecting a big swing either up or down.

We’ve observed a number of pitfalls to watch out for during the budgeting process. Be alert to these.

  • Cutting and pasting last year’s budget into the new year. This approach often misses trends or fails to capitalize on opportunities. If attendance at monthly events was down 50 percent in the first half of the year and up 50 percent in the second half of the year, then just rolling over last year’s budget numbers into the new year could miss a big opportunity. Even worse is a trend where attendance is falling. Or, if your numbers are significantly underperforming in your current budget, why would you roll those numbers over into the new year?
  • Calculating where the organization will likely finish the current year and projecting those numbers into the new year. Although this is less risky than rolling over the previous year’s budget as described above, it also runs the risk of not appreciating trends and doesn’t draw on the trending analysis of the past three (we still like four) years.
  • Saying that budgeting is not the job of the whole board. On the contrary — it is the job of everyone on the board to invest the time and effort to build a budget that brings value to the organization’s members. Leaving the budget process entirely up to the president or a treasurer is not good governance.
  • Don’t exclude your committees. Some of the best structures ask committee chairs to come forward with a budget for the board to review. Committee members often are closest to their activity areas and have the inside line on why (for instance) attendance at monthly meetings was down 50 percent in the first half of the year but up 50 percent in the second half of the year.

What about reserves?
A topic deserving an article of its own: We recommend that our clients maintain cash reserves equal to 1-2 years of operational expenses as the sweet spot for most organizations. If your organization has well-established programs that produce consistent results (the trend band referenced above is narrow), then less reserves are required to accurately project a budget. If an organization has more variables in its budget (a major revenue source is grants, for example), then a hedge toward greater reserves is recommended.

And finally…
Your budget should not be a once-a-year exercise that you do in the fall and then tuck away for the year. Said another way: Do you know everything that’s going to happen in the next 12 months when you adopt a budget? A monthly review of your organization’s financials is terrific discipline to gauge how you are performing compared to your plan. High-performing organizations do periodic reviews and reallocate as appropriate. So if your monthly meetings are drawing 50 percent more attendance in the first half of the year than projected, your organization has the opportunity to capture those excess funds in real time and fund a program or initiative in the second half of the year rather than just letting the extra money sit until the end of the year. You don’t have to spend it — but you can.

Tags:  bill monn  budget planning  ewald consulting  expense  income 

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10 Hot Moves to Use in the Boardroom

Posted By Paul Hanscom, Thursday, September 25, 2014
Untitled Document

1. Read the “owner’s manual”
Whether you’re new to the board or just starting a new term, it’s always a good move to familiarize yourself with critical governing documents. This includes articles of incorporation, bylaws, policies and any additional governing documents that guide the association. These documents should be readily accessible and used regularly. Governing documents dictate how the association operates, and you need to understand how things get done if you are to be successful on the board. Having a clear understanding of the association’s governing documents helps you avoid any unnecessary questions as well as potentially embarrassing or damaging misunderstandings.

2. Embrace your responsibilities
The board as a whole has a number of important responsibilities to fulfill. Different experts will define these in different ways, but they essentially all relate to three things:

  • Setting and monitoring the direction of the association to ensure efficacy and service to the mission, which includes goal-setting, policy-making, and fiduciary duties.
  • Oversight of the chief staff executive, which includes hiring, replacement, and regular performance review.
  • Serve as ambassador of the organization to key stakeholder groups, and the industry at large through membership and fundraising outreach.

Strive to go beyond simply knowing what is expected of you as a board. Make it clear which of these responsibilities is being fulfilled through each board discussion and action.

Individual board members have responsibility to carry out the board’s work between board meetings in a number of ways that are nuanced to every organization. Articulate these in a position description that is reviewed annually.

3: Bring stamina to board recruitment efforts
Having a strong board is rarely the product of chance. A nominating committee that convenes a few short months prior to the board election will be substantially less successful than one that makes a year-round effort. Each year the board should inventory the skills and demographics of its directors (e.g. personalities, backgrounds, industry positions) compared to organizational goals and demographics of its membership. This type of “gap analysis” helps the nominating committee to target its recruitment toward areas of need over the coming year. Clear criteria should be established and used uniformly to ensure that individuals are qualified and committed to serve on the board. Individuals who sit on the board but do not meet the identified needs of the association do a disservice by prohibiting more qualified members from a position on the board.

4. Get active in the boardroom
Board service is a privilege that is not afforded to everyone. Board meetings are a unique opportunity to gather the brightest minds in the industry to guide the future of your profession. Fellow directors on the board, and the membership as a whole, expect each board member to be an active participant in board meetings. This means:

  • Prepare for meetings – read materials and ask clarifying questions in advance.
  • Attend all meetings and arrive on time.
  • Follow the agenda – if there is something you would like added to the agenda, request that before the meeting (ideally, before the board materials are distributed).
  • Actively listen during discussions so you make well-informed decisions.
  • If you leave the meeting with an action item, execute it with alacrity and report when finished.
  • Support others in their work and keep each other accountable.

5. Engage the right volunteers
Board member attention should be focused on a handful of key governance responsibilities. Encourage additional volunteerism in the organization to help fulfill the work of the organization toward the board-established outcomes. The #1 reason why members say they don’t volunteer with their industry association is because they were never asked. “Asking” someone to volunteer doesn’t mean sending an email to every member of the organization soliciting their participation (although that is a valid approach). Asking a member to volunteer should be a direct, personal, one-on-one request that reflects a thoughtful effort by the board or committee chair to match needs of the organization with skills/passions of qualified members. Board members who serve as good ambassadors to their organization are well-connected in the membership community. When a situation comes up that requires volunteer support, they collectively know of at least one or two individuals who can be asked to step up and get involved.

Additionally, members have a stronger commitment to the association if they volunteer. Research by ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership has shown that volunteerism has a direct positive impact on an member’s sense of connection and the likelihood that s/he will renew his/her membership in the coming year. By this rationale, the more volunteers you can recruit from among your membership, the stronger your association’s community will become and the better your member retention.

6. Take time to plan
Periodically devote time to deeper examination of your industry and the organization’s role in it. Prepare for your planning by conducting both quantitative and qualitative research to better inform your examination. Review these data and identify what trends emerge in perceptions, participation, and funding streams. What do these trends say about the way your association is serving its members? Additionally, how do professional, economic, political and industrial environments impact the way you do business now and into the future? Spend time together as a board crafting goals and strategies that are responsive to current as well as future market conditions.

A stumbling block for many groups can be determining the “right” way to conduct annual and/or strategic planning. There are as many different approaches to planning as there are organizations going through the planning process. Don’t let your search for the “right” way keep you from initiating this process. Start by collecting just a few critical data points and gathering input from members and program participants. Dedicate a short amount of time during a board meeting to discuss what was learned from this feedback.  You may be surprised to find out what issues members are most concerned about and how your association can better position itself as a resource to address them.

7. Don’t get confused by “experts”
There are plenty of articles, websites, videos, and consultants that serve as resources to support organizations in good governance practices. They each share unique perspectives, experiences, knowledge and best practices to guide associations to perform better. However, the sheer scope and variety of opinions on governance can be overwhelming. By the same token, ascribing to one governance model as the “right and only” one unnecessarily boxes an association in, making it inflexible to changing market conditions that demand new thinking. Don’t get confused by tomes of expert opinions regarding board governance; be open to adjusting your approach so it works best for your board in its current state.

8. Check the dashboard but keep your eyes on the road
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are critical metrics for your organization’s operations, much like dashboard gauges in your car. It is extremely important that the board identify what KPIs to assign to organization-wide goals in order to perform adequate oversight over time. At the same time, it can be unhealthy for a board to ruminate over numbers and reporting and lose sight of big picture changes in the industry. Sticking with the dashboard/car metaphor, it is important to watch the speed of your vehicle and adjust it appropriately if the road begins to curve. Keep an eye on the dashboard, but make sure you are watching the road.

9. Know the resources available
The most successful boards are not those with know-it-all directors; they’re the ones that know the resources they need to get the outcomes they desire. This can be as simple as knowing and implementing basic rules for decision making in meetings like Robert’s Rules of Order. It can also mean having connections to experts on legal, financial, insurance, and industry-related nuances that support the organization through a unique challenge. Benchmarking and best practice resources are available through ASAE, state societies of association executives, BoardSource, and many other organizations. Publications and professional networks, whether in-person or online, can be invaluable as you address governance matters.

10. Show appreciation and have fun!
Serving on a board of directors can be challenging, but it can also be a whole lot of fun. We often forget to take the time to thank our peers on the board for their commitment to serving the greater good of the industry. There is a value exchange between the contribution that individuals make through board service and the satisfaction they receive as a part of being involved in a great organization. Set aside time to thank board members and volunteers frequently for their work making your organization one with which people are proud to affiliate. Make your appreciation genuine and specific to something they’ve done or results they’ve achieved.

Do good work and enjoy your volunteer leadership experience!

The Decision to Volunteer: Why People Give Their Time and How You Can Engage Them. Gazley, Beth and Monica Dignam (Aug 16, 2008).

Tags:  board member  boardroom  ewald consulting  member recruitment  paul hanscom  tips 

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MANAGEMENT | View all Management articles
A Successful Year Starts with a Solid Budget by Bill Monn
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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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