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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
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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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The Importance of Knowing Your Audience

Posted By Jess Myers, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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The Boy Scouts of America, seemingly forever, have told their charges to “Be Prepared,” even making that simple mantra their official motto. Those words, or a version of them, are ones to live by when dealing with the media, and speaking to a wider audience. Be prepared, or more importantly, don’t be unprepared.

One important preparedness key to a successful encounter when you speak publicly, be it in an interview with a local reporter, or in a conference address before 100 attendees, is to know who you’re speaking to. When prepping for a conference it’s easier to know, generally, the makeup of the audience. Use that information – who they are, what concerns them, what makes them happy – to your advantage, catering your message to answer questions they may have before they ask, and anticipating questions they may have which have not been answered, yet.

When the phone rings and a reporter is on the other end of the line, it’s a different challenge, but no reason to panic. Again, know with whom you are speaking.

If you get a call from the lifestyle writer for your local community newspaper, they’re probably looking to write a nice, positive story, and it’s something in which you will want to participate. If you get a call from an investigative reporter at Dateline NBC and they have questions about policy, it’s probably something different and you should be cautious.

A simple way to get to know your audience is to buy some time. Take down the reporter’s name, phone and email, the name of the media outlet; ask what questions they want answered and ask about the deadline for the story. It’s OK to ask the reporter to email you a list of questions. Then tell the reporter you need to gather some information and you will get back to him or her. Give an approximate time you’ll call back (generally no more than 90 minutes later) – and make sure you do call back.

In the time you’ve given yourself, find out more about the reporter and, if necessary, the media outlet. The simplest way to do this is with an Internet search. For example, searching for “Joe Smith, Northern Minnesota Times” will often produce a list of the reporter’s past stories, a bio of the reporter and some additional information about the media outlet.

With that research completed, if you’re comfortable with proceeding with the interview, take some time to prepare talking points for yourself. These are key points you want to get across in your talk with the reporter – salient facts and important opinions that you want to offer. Think about what things you would want in the story if you were writing it, and get those points across in the interview.

Some other important points about knowing your audience when speaking publicly:

  1. Everything is on the record: When you’re talking to a reporter or in front of an audience, you’re never “just chatting.” Everything you say – from the minute you say hello, to the minute you say goodbye – can and will be used. In this era of instant social media, words can be world-wide on Twitter or Facebook in seconds, so choose them carefully. Saying, “this is off the record” means very little to most reporters. In fact, most will say “then don’t tell me” if it’s off the record.
  2. Don’t bluff: Reporters, and most audiences, can smell bluffing a mile away. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have that information. Let me get it for you or find someone who can answer that.” In fact, it’s much better to say that than to try to fake your way through an answer. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. Trying to bluff your way through an answer is going to leave the reporter unsatisfied, at best, and can be disastrous.
  3. If you’re asked about a problem, talk about a solution: The mark of a great politician for years has been the ability to take a question about a problem and provide an answer about an opportunity. For example, if a reporter calls and asks about a safety issue, talk about all of the strict measures in place to help prevent safety problems. If the audience asks about an issue with a website, an appropriate answer would be to cite all of the measures in place to find and fix website problems. They ask about a problem, you talk about a solution.
  4. Don’t argue or debate: The old adage on dealing with reporters has been, don’t get into a fight with folks who buy ink by the barrel. Always remember, they will have the last word. At worst, say “We clearly see things differently, but let me look into that further.” And again, look into it further, and call them back.

Tags:  audience  be prepared  ewald consulting 

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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





Association website


Direct mail


Promotion at events


Personal sales calls


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




Local events


Association-sponsored events


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.


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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