I’ll admit it: with less than two years in the association world, I am an association newbie. I’ve belonged to a few in my day, but it’s only recently that I’ve taken on any leadership positions. So when sitting down to write my MemberViews blog about my advice for the emerging association professional, you’re getting my insider view on my trip to the top!
Try It All
My first bit of advice I have for any association leader is this: try it all. “But Sarah!” You’re saying to your computer screen. “I don’t have time to try it all!” Well association pro, you’re right. Nobody has time to try it all, and you have even less time.
But the only way you’re going to jump on board with the “next big thing” (and impress the heck out of your members) is to keep an eye on and experiment with some of the “still little things” rolling down the track.
Of course it’s up to you to decide into which you’ll invest some valuable time and attention. There can be a huge payoff, however, if you manage to step outside the box every once in awhile.
Listen to the little voices
All it takes is one opportunity to be heard for an emerging professional to not only blossom in his or her professional life, but in your association as well. When you make an all-call for ideas and feedback, take that seriously and read and respond to the comments you get. “But Sarah!” You’re saying now, “I don’t get any feedback! I would love to have some comments to respond to!”
Then maybe mix up how you’re asking. If an email blast doesn’t work, try an idea lab or a brainstorming session. Make an event specifically to appeal to the emerging professionals. Speaking of the “next big thing…” it’s your emerging leaders who may have a better corner on those trends.
Try to stay positive and purposeful in your communication
As with any stressful job, association leaders, especially those with smaller staffs, have a lot going on. They can sometimes get discouraged with ideas that are constantly being batted down by the board, catching blame for something he or she had no earthly idea about, or just the demands of a constantly engaging job and attempting to balance that with a personal life. It’s not easy and sometimes you just need to let it all out.
By all means! Let it out! But be strategic in where you vent. Make sure you’re not holding any important information back from the people who need to hear it; if you have a consistent complaint there’s a good chance that it’s actually something the board and other association pros need to hear. And definitely make friends with your members, but when you decompress after a long day at work make sure your perfectly innocent venting doesn’t leave them with a bad taste in their mouth about your association!
Being in such early days in the association world, I have the following closing statement to this advice column: association pros are rock stars. Not only do you have to be completely and thoroughly knowledgeable about your association's business, market, and mission, but you have to be thoroughly versed in leadership, budgeting, marketing, new media, and human resources as well. Keep fine-tuning and honing those skills, even after you don't think you need them anymore. That amazing blend of skills will serve you well in your professional life and beyond!
Association professionals are often so busy planning events and putting together learning programs that they sometimes forget the purpose behind all of those great programs and events: their members.
If you’re nodding sadly that this is you, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. Spend a few minutes answering these questions about your members and you’ll be back on track!
1) Who are your members?
If you had to describe your average member to someone, what would you say? Age? Gender? Family situation? Geographical region? All of these factors come into how your association can best serve your members.
2) What matters to your members?
This isn’t just about their jobs or your association, either. It’s about their lives. Are they mostly single with a thriving social life, or are they generally married with kids? What is the most important thing to them? That’s important to know, as well as where your association ranks in there. Remember that it might be your career, but it’s their extracurricular.
3) What do your members enjoy?
Separate from priorities are what your members do in their valuable down time for fun. When you answered the last question as to where your association ranks in order of the importance in their lives, it may have been pretty low. That’s ok! Where you can get in, though, is on their list of things they enjoy.
4) What do your members say about you?
Don’t send a survey; don’t conduct a poll, just think for a second. Based on the feedback you have heard, how would your members grade your association? Consider things like events, learning programs, technology, leadership, accessibility, and value.
Now stop. Go through that exercise, and go about your day. Has your thinking changed, even in the slightest? It’s always important to keep your members in mind. Remember they are the past, present, and future of your association!
For more tips on how to engage with your members, download our free guide to member engagement today!
Let’s face it: you have to have a sharp, regularly updated website in this day and age to be relevant. Association pros are experts at a lot of things, but website development is rarely one of their skills, so they often outsource their association’s website development.
But that comes with a lot of questions. Here are five things you need to consider when shopping for a website developer before you begin the initial search!
1) What does your website really need to have?
Take a look at your current website, or even if you’re starting from scratch, imagine how your website looks in your wildest dreams. Another good idea is to find another association website you like and admire. Note the functionality and perhaps you’ll even see the trademark of the developer on it. If it’s the format you like, be sure to write that down, as well as key menu items that you see translating well to your association’s website. If there’s something missing, note that as well. A conversation with a website developer should be a back-and-forth, discussing capabilities and desires, as well as cost. Remember with websites the sky’s the limit, but you often have to pay big money for the highly customized ones! Keep in mind, though, that there are many website templates out there that can meet your needs and be adjusted to reflect your association without breaking the bank.
2) Integration with your AMS and payment processing
Usually the first request out of an association pro’s mouth is “I need my members to register for events and pay dues on my website.” If your website doesn’t allow that capability, it’s probably not worth the investment. Another big consideration is your AMS. Integrating your AMS with your website will not only help with updates but also encourage members to participate in the online communities!
3) A smooth, clean look and feel
Have you ever been to a website that’s just too busy and you just can’t stand to spend much time on it? Your website has a lot of information to share, but it doesn’t have to all be on the home page, and it doesn’t have to all be in your face. Clean, tidy menus and links are a great way to go and make an organized website that’s easy to use.
4) Easy to update
It would be nice if you could just carry your website developer in your pocket with you, but unfortunately that can’t happen. When you invest in an association website you need to be able to update it and fully understand the back end yourself, even if you’re only adding blog entries or pictures. Websites aren’t things you can create once and then forget about for several years; they need to be dynamic!
5) Money, honey
The amount of money you’re willing to spend really will make a difference between a highly customized website that takes a little longer to put together and a website that is still highly effective, but in an already-made template. Talk with your board first. Find out how much money you can allocate to this cause, and then start the conversations.
All of these things are important to the purpose of your website, but another huge consideration, especially when creating a website from scratch, is content. What are you going to put on your website to attract new members, encourage donations, and increase involvement and member engagement? Having a good amount of content ready is a great start and will help the design process move along much smoother.
Did you know that MemberClicks offers web design services as well as our awesome Association Management Software? Click here to see our offerings in web design!
Association leaders have to juggle a lot of tasks, and technology can often help with that. However, there are a lot of technology solutions out there, and finding a system that works for you can create some challenges in itself!
Many associations find that an Associaion Management Software (AMS) solution is the best way to juggle many association tasks. (Confused about what an AMS is, anyway? Click here for a complete explanation!) Ideally after initial set-up and implementation, your AMS will be good to go forever! Who needs to go through that complicated AMS shopping process twice? But often associations grow and change faster than technology, and sometimes what was a perfect fit a couple years ago isn't quite right for your association anymore.
That's why it's so important to check in on your software fairly regularly! Answer the following questions to get started:
Am I happy with my AMS?
Can my members easily use my AMS?
Is my AMS fitting my needs?
Naturally there's a lot more to consider when it comes to analyzing your AMS for use and effectiveness. If you're looking to do a deep analysis of your current AMS (and you shoudl!) take a look at our free guide to help you with that process.
There are many places for leadership in your association. It’s one of the things that make associations in general great! But sometimes because of all of those leadership positions one falls through the gaps and there’s an oversight, a committee without a chair, an event without a point person, a meeting without a main speaker. It’s a fine line, though, in associations to point out a gap in leadership without assuming all of the duties yourself. Here are the first things you should do in case of a leadership emergency:
1) Start with the most obvious solution
If you’re familiar with Occam’s Razor, you’ll know that often problems need not be overthought. Often the answer is the simplest one. Why is there a gap in leadership? Is the current leader struggling with balance of work, home, and association life? (Arguably, that might be the #1 reason association leaders may come up short.) Perhaps a temporary issue is causing the holdup: a cold, a vacation, or even at this time of year, tax time or snow days. Perhaps no official leader was ever named. If it’s a simple problem like that there could very well be a simple solution that doesn’t require a lot of time, vetting, and voting like a new leaders would. The “why” behind a leadership gap will not only help you solve it, but it’ll prevent problems from cropping up in the future.
2) Brainstorm a backup plan
Say it’s not a simple problem, or that the simple problem is such that the leader has to step down entirely. What next? Before you bring other people into the fold, take some time to think of a solution on your own. This serves a few purposes: it makes you look like a forward thinker, it could prevent you from assuming all the dropped details yourself, and it presents a solution, or at least a partial one, to the leaders who are already in place (who will thank you for it!) Don’t worry, you don’t have to have everything figured out, but a few suggestions for next steps are a great place to start.
3) Run by a close circle first
Before you present the issue and your possible solutions to a larger group like a leadership team, committee, or board or someone powerful like a CEO or President, pick a few friends’ brains first. Outsider perspective can be a big help and show you the big picture, and you never know how you can solve a problem without the need for bigger leadership intervention.
One final word of caution: don’t be shady. Definitely don’t rush to point out gaps in leadership without at least considering these first three steps, but also don’t sit on that information for too long. What’s your association already focusing on? Is this a critical issue at this time? Perhaps it’s wiser to bring in leaders earlier in this process when it’s something time-sensitive like an event. However if you come to the board, the management staff, and members with a thought-out problem, cause, and at least partial solution the one with the future in leadership with be
As many associaton professionals know, careers can sometimes take an interesting turn. Many of today's association leaders would say that while their careers didn't necessarily start out with association management, they're delighted that the path led them there and they found a very rewarding career in the association community.
Deidre Reed has a similar story. She'll tell you what she wish she knew starting out in the assocaition world and what she wishes she had asked to clear the path ahead.
I never expected to work in associations. Frankly, they weren’t even on my radar. But I was leaving one career and in search of another. I took an association job just to have some stability and income while I figured things out. Little did I know, back in 1999, what a rewarding and fascinating profession I was about to enter.
Looking back, I wish I had asked for advice. It took me several years to find my way. If we were to have a “learn from my mistakes” conversation, it would go something like this.
Never stop learning. You will succeed in this profession if you live to learn. This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Don’t shortchange yourself. Make time for learning even if it’s on your own time. Your older self will thank you.
Be observant. Listen to and watch people. You have to understand human behavior, both individual and group, if you want to motivate, manage and lead staff and members.
Give yourself time to think. You need time every week to plan ahead, set and review goals, and let your brain work its way around challenges and issues.
Develop a DIY professional development habit. Set aside time to read association management blogs and publications, participate in Twitter’s #assnchat (Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. Eastern), and attend association events. If your boss doesn’t give you the time or budget to do these things, do it on your own time. Put aside a small amount of every paycheck, even if it’s only $10, toward professional development. It’s an investment in your future, just like your 401K.
Join your state SAE even if you have to spend your own money. You’ll meet a network of peers that could become lifelong friends.
Look for mentors. Find people in your office or at another association who are active in your SAE or ASAE. They might not consider themselves mentor material so don’t even use the word “mentor” around them. A conversation with them could develop into a mutually satisfying relationship.
Find association peers. If you’re surrounded by colleagues who are only there for the paycheck, don’t be discouraged. Don’t follow them down their boring, soul-deadening path. Find people either in your office or other associations who are around your same age and career level. Twitter makes this so much easier now. Arrange monthly meet-ups. Make them your mastermind group.
Make friends all over the building. Avoid eating lunch alone. Don’t isolate yourself in a departmental silo. Learn about the work your colleagues are doing. How can you help them? How can they help you? What member stories can you share? What can you teach each other?
Pause and reflect before reacting. Expect stressful times. You might start the day expecting to work on specific tasks and projects, but find yourself dealing with other pressing problems, issues and people that weren’t on your list. You will constantly juggle a variety of deadlines and demands.
It’s natural to react quickly and emotionally to these stressors – those same reactions save us in life and death situations. But in the workplace, you must develop the habit of pausing before reacting, and thinking rationally, not emotionally. It’s not easy. Yoga helps, but I don’t expect you to practice yoga as a professional development tool – although it’s not a bad idea.
Become aware of your reactions to your own behavior (self-judging), other people’s behavior, stressful situations and change. If you learn to pause and reflect before reacting, you won’t stress yourself out so much and you’ll be a positive influence on the people around you.
Don’t be a workaholic. Never put in crazy hours because you think you should, except, of course, for those special times in the meeting, magazine or budget cycle that require it. You and your brain need time off to recharge. You know the people who are always boasting about how busy they are and how late they stayed in the office? They’re not paragons of virtue to emulate. They’re doing it wrong -- “it” being life.
Never be defined by your job. If you develop that limited mindset, retirement will be rough. Yes, your job is a huge, rewarding part of your life, but it’s just one part of your life. Make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the relationships and experiences that add color and passion to life. Find people, causes and hobbies to love. You’ll be a happier and more interesting, creative person and professional.
Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who worked at the National Association of Home Builders and the California Building Industry Association.
Clickers love Small Staff Associations, but coming in a close second and third is baked goods and giving back. We were able to combine the two in a bake-off for the Ronald McDonald House! Clickers gathered yesterday afternoon with mixers and ingredients and paired up to prepare some amazing desserts for the families and kids who need special medical care. Read more about the Ronald McDonald house, their important work, their needs, and how to donate here!
There are a lot- and I mean a lot- of polarizing political topics these days. Luckily few lead to any real, immediate physical violence in America but they all impact citizens in one way or another. You as an individual and a citizen are bound to have strong opinions either way. Perhaps you will be compelled to share your opinions, and you should. In America we’re afforded that right. However a private citizen is one thing, and a leader of an association is another. Here are some things to consider before sounding off:
1) Is your name synonymous with your association?
Many business leaders, for example, can’t comment politically without appearing to represent their entire company. Would you run into a similar challenge, or do you keep your personal life separate enough so that nobody will say, “The leader of ABCD says she is against…”
2) What would your members think?
It’s tough to censor yourself at every turn, but if you are speaking up and your association could be connected, make sure the sentiment is shared. Imagine how annoyed you’d be if someone else spoke on your behalf.
3) How does this issue directly impact your members, or does it?
There are a couple schools of thought here: either it doesn’t impact them but it does impact you or it does impact them and impacts you as well. Either way, there’s an excellent case for both speaking up and silence. It’s a tough call.
4) Who’s already saying something?
Remember that no matter how different you may be from the loudest mouthpiece, you’ll likely still be associated with them. Is that a connection you want to make?
5) What does your board think?
We know, running everything by the board is a tedious process but it really is the safest mode. When in doubt, talk it out.
6) Is this political issue part of your association’s mission statement?
If it is, then it’s almost a no-brainer that you’d want to make your associations’ opinion known. In fact, you could proactively contact local news outlets as an expert commentator. Just make sure there's a consensus in the opinion.
Does your association have a social media policy in place already? Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to get some guidelines together. Social media can be an incredible catalyst for change but it can also be a PR nightmare. A great place to start is our social media ebook, which covers all things related to online interaction. Download it here for free!
Your association could potentially have members and even administrators in different cities, states, or even countries. With that distance and occasional disconnect, sometimes it’s hard to tap into all the resources you have at your disposal in your local area.
“But we have no local area!” You may be telling yourself. That may be true! But what about chapters? How about where your events are held? Even if you only have a few big events a year, capitalizing on the local area is a great way to make those events attractive, worth the cost, and inspire return visitors.
So how do you tap into the local charms that you can use to make your meetings and events more attractive and fun, plus gain local support for your association?
This one is pretty simple. If you want the city on your side, be on the side of the city! Share local events with your members and show up. Volunteer to help, and see if you can negotiate wearing an association T-shirt or keeping your business cards or a one-pager information sheet handy. They’ll be happy for the help, and you probably won’t be the only local business or organization volunteering!
Another great idea is a volunteer day. Call local parks and see if they have any volunteer programs or maybe a local sports team has a 50/50 raffle they support, then rally some help. It's great team building, an opportunity for your members to "give back" and an easy starter event for someone to coordinate who is just dipping his or her toes into association leadership.
If you and your members are unable to contribute time, perhaps there’s room in the budget for your association to contribute money. Often a monetary donation will buy you a spot in a program, a plaque, or a nod during a presentation. That could go a long way in local goodwill and your association’s publicity!
Get to know local relevant employers
Knowing the “bosses” of local employers relevant to your association is super beneficial for a lot of reasons. Besides having an inside track on hiring habits and openings, (which is bound to delight your job seeking members) you’ll also learn about company events that your association could be involved in. For example, if you find out that a local employer holds a volunteer day or company picnic perhaps they would be interested in your help!
Capitalize on green space, cool events, and new restaurants
Find out where the nice parks, the new, cool, and highly rated restaurants, and fun events. Then share that information with your members and event participants. It’ll save them the time from looking it up themselves and it’ll further connect you to the city by sending customers to local businesses.
Meet the press
Finally, you never know when you could be of use to the local media. Follow reporters on social media and engage with them from time to time. Ask around and see if any friends of friends are newspaper reporters or TV talent. Not only can the local news be great for publicity for your association but local journalists really do have a pulse on the community.
You’ll be surprised how much the local community can rally around your association and be true advocates for the work you do, even if they have nothing to do with the purpose of your association. Simply by being a good neighbor you’ll gain fans and cheerleaders for life!
Need some help planning that big event? We can help! Click now to download our free guides.
Today in my newsfeed I had a wonderful gift waiting for me: this great article on Socialfish by Amanda Kaiser: 5 Elements Of Your Association’s Brand. I found it particularly interesting because in talking with association professionals many consider their association separate from the regular needs and efforts of marketing. For example, yes, they want word out about their association, but marketing? Nah. We just need more members.
It seems counterintuitive, though. Marketing is just promoting and selling products or services. In other words, “spreading the word” about your association and selling memberships.
Perhaps your association doesn’t want to pick up a hard sales pitch, and that’s a pretty good instinct to follow. People are marketed to constantly, and while your members may be willing to pay dues to participate they certainly don’t want to pay to be "sold to." However as Amanda points out in her article, knowing your association brand is a good thing. Let’s use Seth Godin’s definition for these purposes: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. (Read the rest of Seth’s thoughts on brand on his blog!)
So going on that thought of feeling and expectation, let’s go back to Amanda’s post. She submits five essential brand elements as product, promise, look, voice, and story. You could probably answer all of those about your association if you sat down and thought about it right now. Really, read the rest of Amanda’s analysis. It’s great!
So once you have your brand, then what? In my experience, new ideas and different ways of thinking often crop up just in carefully considering your brand, but if not chew on this big important question:
Does everything you do reflect your association’s INTENDED brand?
For example, say your association’s brand is fun, innovative, and professional but casual. You regularly publish industry reports that are certainly helpful to your members but they are very data-heavy, difficult to read, and require some pretty intense interpretation. Those reports don’t reflect your association’s brand, but a quick, easy-to-read analysis will. You should still provide the reports but in a context that works for your members.
The branding conversation is a big one. Businesses spend big money and often hire outside marketing firms to deal with these things, but your association is just a collection of people. Establishing your brand could be as simple as a brainstorming session with your members answering the questions, “How do you feel about our association and what do you expect?”