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“Members Matter Part Two – Engaging Members”

Part one of “Members Matter” focused on why association executives need to remember that the foundations of associations have been and will continue to be about using the power of the collective in promoting your association’s profession and/or industry. It also reminded us that we cannot treat members as a transaction, but must keep them as the core focus of everything we do. Finally, if we are working on the issues that most affect them, they will respond in kind by maintaining their membership. In summary, members matter.

But serving members goes beyond creating a valuable membership proposition and core offerings for them to buy into. A thriving association engages their members in multiple ways. First, the association must ask and listen to what members want and need out of the association. But we must take it one step further, we must also uncover what it is that members don’t even know that they might need yet. How does an association achieve a deep understanding of what members may need that they don’t even know they need? It is called being visionary and providing leadership.

Most associations do some type of member satisfaction survey, collect evaluations after events, interview new members, conduct exit interviews and other traditional information-gathering activities. All of these are important activities. What is being missed or lost is the engagement of members in thought leadership.

Amazing things happen when you bring together brilliant minds into the same room and ask the right questions.

I have read too many threads of discussions, articles and books on why we need to do away with committees and change them to task forces or some other type of group that has a limited scope, time commitment and directive, with the idea that it be disbanded as soon as the work is complete. Some of the reasons for this is that associations are experiencing a decline in membership volunteerism, committees that continue to exist without producing output or feedback from members about time commitment. My firm belief is that it is never about time or money, those are easy excuses. Volunteers want to be part of something successful, worth their time and money and provides a positive and rewarding volunteer experience. If those things are in place, the lack of people willing to volunteer goes away.

Not all volunteer opportunities are the same and not all members are designed for the same type of volunteer commitments. Volunteer and engagement management is somewhat of a science, but not that difficult to figure out. However, a commitment to getting it right is vital.

In its most simplistic form, my philosophy on building engagement and member volunteerism goes along these lines.

1. Segment your volunteer groups’ profiles: task-focused, advisory and visionary/strategic.

2. Create an infrastructure which matches an individual’s profile and strengths with the appropriate category of volunteer engagement. For example, if you have a volunteer who is willing to roll-up their sleeves and do hands on work, don’t place them on a think tank group. If you have a high- level visionary, who is better-suited to prognosticate about the future, define alternative futures or participate in high-level visioning or strategic thinking, don’t place them on a more task-focused work group.

3. Good committee members don’t necessarily make great committee chairs; good committee chairs don’t necessarily make great Board members; and good Board members don’t necessarily make great Board officers. Really define the skills, passions and requirements of each segment of your volunteering activities and match the individuals to the right opportunities.

4. Use volunteers’ time wisely. Make sure that each volunteer group or opportunity is well-defined, managed and has a directive/scope. How many of us have experienced the frustrating volunteer experience of serving on a volunteer committee or Board and each year, we start out defining what the group is about or it’s role? It is the fastest way to lose a volunteer. Not only should the group and it’s role and outcomes be defined, but each volunteer should be interviewed and strategically-placed to match their passions, talents and skills.

5. Finally, reward the behaviors you want. Recognize volunteers for their contributions. Celebrate the successes. Ensure that staff and members are partners. Make engagement a priority. Don’t be afraid to ask members to serve. Have term-limits for all volunteer positions. Provide feedback, and in some cases, intervention for volunteers who have gone rogue (always make sure it is member-to-member and not staff-to-member).

Remember, members matter. If given the right opportunities, they will engage in the association. An engaged member is a retained member. But also, they become champions for the association, it’s mission, new members and growth. Make engagement a priority and members will make the association a priority.





Members Matter – Part One

If you follow the association management community discussions, you will come across conversations about how associations should consider doing away with the traditional membership models and volunteer committee structures. Further, discussions about reducing the sizes of Boards, using search firms to vet and select Board members and transitioning into a more corporate-style of business, where associations have customers, not members, are prevalent in many conversations, books, articles and social media outlets. But lost in the conversations are the core of why we exist as associations — the members.

Perhaps I am an association purist, but I still believe that members are the reason associations exist. Whether you are a professional association representing a profession, or a trade association representing an industry, your core purpose should involve delivering value to members.

I am open to new ways of thinking about membership. I think that associations have to look at new and innovative ways to attract and retain members, as well as serve non-members in their profession or industry, and turning them into members may not always be the end goal. What I am resistant to is moving away from the idea of associations representing the power of the collective, a common purpose and keeping members and members’ needs at the forefront of their purpose.

I think several things drive association executives to extreme thinking. First, membership recruitment and retention take work. Some associations lack the basics in their processes and misdiagnose the core problems. Second, a new book, article, white paper or other medium comes out offering a whole new philosophy, and association executives look at it as a fix to their ailments and drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. Hey, as one consultant posted, someone needs to be first, right? Finally, associations are too stuck in past models and do what we call insanity — the definition being, doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

I think some of us need to go back to the basics and remember, members matter.

One of my favorite quotes is by Jim Dalton, CAE, “Members don’t pay for the association to solve its problems, but pay dues for the association to solve their problems.” Dalton’s words get to the very heart of what associations must remember about members — if the association is working on the issues that are and will impact their profession and business, then they will find value. If they find value, they will stay in the association, possibly get engaged and even step into leadership. It is our job as association executives to continue to seek what our members need and build and drive value.

What members do notice is when the association is more focused on attracting new members more than they are retaining the ones they have. They know when the association starts viewing them as a transaction versus a long-term relationship. They know when they matter and when they are turned simply to a means to an end.

So if your culture has shifted to where members feel like they no longer matter, they will leave.

Stay tuned for part two: driving membership value, engagement and retention.






The Power of Women

Let’s face it, sometimes being a CEO is a lonely job. Being a woman and a CEO, well, it can be very lonely at times.

A year ago, I was under a tremendous amount of work pressure and my husband suggested that some of my challenges may be specific to being a woman leader. So I did something about it.

I asked two other women association CEOs to consider being part of a networking/support group. Selecting the two women was very easy, as there were two women that easily came to mind. I admired them both and knew some of our common challenges, but that we also have different leadership styles and personalities. With that combination, I knew had something to learn from them and it may have been just what I needed to get me through my rough time.

It was one of the best decisions I have made. I believe in the power of women and far too often, we don’t support one another enough professionally. These two amazing women have grown to be my “go to” circle for advice, wins, challenges and friendship. I could not have anticipated the tremendous value that I would gain by taking a risk and  being vulnerable and trusting them with my insecurities, fears, wishes and successes. They didn’t just get me through my rough patch, but inspired me to be better and keep stretching.

Maybe its just me, but the conversations about women in leadership have been getting a lot more coverage. Whether its the “Lean In” conversation, or even the blunder made during the last presidential election of the “binder of women” — I feel that women are speaking out more. But not necessarily with a collective voice.

But not all women are the same, neither are our leadership styles. Just the general perceptions of women in leadership seems to generalize women and the way they lead and view the world.

I remember being a teen and writing  a paper for school based on an article “He said, She Said.” Essentially one of the examples captures the spirit of the article. The one that I remember the most is, if you looked at a man’s desk and it was messy, the perception was that he must be a busy man. But if you looked at a woman’s desk, the perception was “wow, she must be disorganized.”

Unfortunately, that article’s messages and common themes are still prevalent today. Men and women are viewed and judged differently.

The challenge is that as women we can be our own worst enemy. If we  could stop judging one another and start supporting one another personally and professionally…if we learn that the proverbial glass ceiling can be shattered by a mere change of perception, we can start changing ourselves and the world.

In the interim, I will use the power of my circle of women to help me to be better at trusting other women, supporting them and celebrating our differences. To my 3W colleagues, you know who you are, thank you for being my mentors, teachers and friends. I am better for having the power of women behind me, beside me and in front of me, paving the way. You have helped me recognize the power of women.






Susan’s “All Things Association Management” Blog

Welcome to my first blog…

I started in association management in 1999 as a director of finance. Soon I was a deputy executive director/CFO, then an interim CEO of a for-profit subsidary of an association, then a senior strategic advisor and finally, a CEO.

You can say that association management is in my blood. Little did I know that in high school, when I became a state vice president in the Arizona Chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America, that I joined my first association.

Many years later, after moving to Kansas City for my husband Michael, I joined a professional association as a director of finance. Managing the finances quickly wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to know more about the association and all lines of business. That strong sense of curiosity and willingness to learn just about anything related to association management started me on the my adventure of being a career association management executive.

I was lucky. I had a great boss in my first association who took a huge risk on a young professional and gave her room to grow and learn. My poor staff and colleagues who experienced my proverbial “bull in a china shop” years, I hope forgive me as I grew professionally and personally in those early years. Because my boss, Peter Hermann, was such a great mentor and teacher, I fast-tracked my career and became a CEO at the young age of 32.

I am not that young pup anymore, and with the years, has come more wisdom and maturity, but never have I lost the love for learning and taking on new things. Finishing my eighth year as a CEO, I now have a strong desire to share, mentor and teach others, along with my insatiable appetite for continued professional development and learning.

I hope to impart some wisdom along the way with my blogging.