Author Archives: erinatzzeem

Even Associations Experience the “Seven Year Itch”

Seven Year ItchThe “Seven Year Itch” is more than just a romantic notion made famous by Hollywood, where partners take stock of their relationship and decide whether it’s working or it’s time to find something new and “better”.

This also happens to associations and their association management partners.

After all, association management is like any other relationship. In the beginning, each partner is excited and looks forward to a great future together. However, after a time, the “honeymoon period” comes to an end; reality sets in and both parties realize neither one is perfect.

It is at this point that both parties must address any challenges or concerns that arise – real or perceived – in a timely, open way. Otherwise, one or both run the risk of becoming resentful and dissatisfied. These negative feelings can further fester and negatively impact the relationship.

Communication is key to managing the “itch”! – 4 tips

  1.  The moment you think you have an issue – big or small, address it right away.
  2. Keep all conversations open, honest and constructive with solutions and measures of future success identified.
  3. Coordinate quarterly “touchpoint” meetings with the association’s leadership and the association management executives to discuss the relationship. This is when you both highlight what works and where improvements can be made.
  4. Once a year, conduct a more in-depth annual review that includes board and staff feedback prior to your discussion.

Don’t be intimidated by the “Seven Year Itch”.

I am aware of many associations who periodically evaluate their management services and/or conduct an RFP process to compare other services and fees – often around the seven-year timeframe. This is healthy and is a great opportunity for each partner to assess the current and future relationship. It represents a new stage in your relationship, where both of you have the opportunity to build upon what you have accomplished together.

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Filed under Association Management, Association Management Issues, High Performance Organization, Issues Management, Leadership

Reducing Risk in Sponsor Relationships – Is your sponsor platform on solid ground?

sponsor relationshipAssociations need a well-executed delivery process to ensure a highly professional experience for their valued sponsors.

Yes – a High Performance Organization™ understands the Seven Steps to Successful Sponsorship and the importance of Attracting and Retaining Sponsors.

But it’s not just about the sale. Take a step back and consider your key tracking and communication pieces – they are the unsung heroes of a successful sponsorship program!

  1. The Sponsorship Tracking Sheet

In any sales effort, it is vital to manage your prospect list. The tracking sheet keeps you on a clear path and directs your communication efforts and messaging. It tells you – who was a past supporter, when, and at what value? Who declined and why? Who will benefit from being a sponsor? It also provides current contact information and outreach tracking – all in one place.

  1. The Sponsorship Prospectus

The sponsorship prospectus is the foundation of your campaign. It should be attractive, professional and informative.  The prospectus provides key information about your organization, and full details of your sponsorship offerings. It is important that the information is presented in a clear, logical and easy to read manner. Consider using charts that highlight the different benefits per sponsor value or list the opportunities with details about the deliverables in order of value and privileges.

  1. The Sponsorship Letter of Understanding (LoU)

The Letter of Understanding (LoU) is essentially the “contract” between you and the sponsor. It outlines precisely what you are delivering to the sponsor, and what is required of them. It ensures that the sponsor knows exactly what to expect, and reduces the possibility of misunderstanding or disappointment.

The LoU should be accompanied by an invoice. The sponsor should return a signed copy of the letter, with the payment, before any privileges are delivered.

  1. The Sponsorship Deliverables Chart

Once the sponsorship has been secured, it is important that both you and the sponsor meet your obligations. In some cases, once a sponsor has been secured, it falls to another team member to manage the deliverables and make sure that deadlines and requirements are met. This internal document makes sure that all team members understand what is required of the association and the sponsor, and when.

  1. The Sponsorship Thank You Letter

Associations often overlook the importance of formally thanking a sponsor.  A hand-written card signed by the president, executive director and/or conference chair can go a long way toward demonstrating your appreciation of their support as well as the ongoing value they bring to your association.

This may seem like a lot of work – and it is! But it is the backbone for strong and long term relationships with your sponsors. If you’d like some help to build your platform, find out more here.

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Filed under Event Planning, Sponsor Value Proposition, Sponsorship

Have We Turned the Corner? 2016 Benchmark Survey Highlights

Survey Image-2Zzeem conducted the fifth annual survey of Canadian membership organizations for 2016. The numbers tell an interesting story. Below is a short synopsis.

NOTE: A more detailed summary is available here.

In a nutshell, associations are not out of the woods yet, but we may have reached a plateau from which we can move upward. Industry and trade associations are lagging professional associations so for them, it may take a little longer.

Finances

Trend in Membership Numbers, Revenue

Each year, respondents are asked for the 3-year trend in their membership numbers and gross revenue. Last year we saw a sharp spike upward in the respondents who were reporting a downward membership trend and a more muted but still meaningful increase in the respondents reporting a downward revenue trend.

This appears to have stabilized in 2016. In 2016 we saw a sharp increase in the number of respondents showing a flat trend in both membership and revenue. Although the percentage of respondents showing an upward trend has been steadily declining since 2013, the rate of increase in the downward trend has substantially abated.

Current survey results in the U.S. are showing an uptrend for associations. If Canada follows the U.S. as we often do, this trend may be reflected in Canada in the not too distant future.

Reserves

Financial reserves have increased substantially from 2015. The percentage of respondents with a surplus that would cover more than 1 year of operating expenses has increased from 36% to 56%.

Industry/Trade Associations versus Professional Associations

The 2016 survey shows that industry and trade associations are more likely to be struggling in the current environment than are professional associations. The reasons for this may be related to the following facts:

  1. Corporate Membership. Industry and trade organizations are much more likely to have corporate rather than individual members. The employees who are the direct users of member services are often not the decision-makers who approve the member dues payment. If the decision-maker is not aware of the member value, and/or if cost reduction is on the agenda, then memberships are vulnerable.
  2. Amalgamations/Takeovers. Canada has seen considerable consolidation in its corporate landscape over the past few years. When 2 companies combine, one membership is lost to the association. Also, when a Canadian company is taken over by a foreign firm, the head office decision-making is no longer in Canada and Canadian memberships are vulnerable.

Looking for higher revenue?

If higher revenue is important for your association, consider adopting as many of these attributes and practices that make sense for you. Organizations that have these attributes and practices are more likely to have an upward revenue trend and those who don’t, are more likely to have a downward revenue trend. The top best practices are noted in the diagram below. Those on the right, with a yellow highlight, are consistent with the results for 2015. Those on the left, with a green highlight, are new for 2016.

Increasing Revenue

For further information, a more detailed summary report is available here. Copies of the full survey results and commentary are available free to survey respondents. Contact erin.roberts@zzeem.com.

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Filed under Association, Benchmark Survey, High Performance Organization

Bylaws – Your Association’s Playbook for a Winning Team!

playbook

Many directors think bylaws are something the association is required to have but don’t see it as a vital tool for how they do business. It is considered complicated and full of legal language that no one really understands. Often no one looks at them and they gather dust.  This is a CRITICAL mistake!

Think of your association as a sports team and the bylaws your playbook. Essentially the bylaws provide important instructions about the team and individual players and how the association plays the game. If the board doesn’t follow the “rules”, the association and individual directors can face serious consequences.

Association bylaws are designed to ensure stability, continuity, and structure. They are a required legal document that represents an agreement between the association and its members. They provide the foundation for good governance practices which in turn should lead to positive results.

It is important that your bylaws: 

  • REPRESENT REQUIRED LEGISLATIVE REQUIREMENTS AND INTENT: The jurisdiction under which your association has been incorporated has specific acts and legal requirements that must be included in your bylaws and governance structure.

TIP: Invest in hiring a lawyer who specializes in not-for-profit legislation to provide the bylaw content and ensure your bylaws are compliant with current legislation.

  • ARE HIGH LEVEL AND SIMPLE: Provide just enough detail to ensure the association has adequate direction and is compliant. Address high-level governance issues such as the association’s purpose; board and officers structure, position descriptions, responsibilities, terms of office, succession and removal, official meeting requirements, membership provisions, voting rights and requirements, conflict of interest processes, how bylaws can be changed, and other non-negotiable items that reflect the association’s work.

TIP: Create policies that are separate from the bylaws. They will allow your association to address more detailed governance requirements in a less rigid format.

  • ARE RELEVANT: Things change and your governing documents need to reflect new realities and opportunities. The board and staff should review the bylaws annually and make revisions as needed.

TIP: Make sure the changes make long-term sense and will not unduly restrict the organization’s progress.

  • ARE SHARED AND UNDERSTOOD: All directors are legally bound to follow everything in the bylaws and what it means for the association. If a grievance is filed by a board member, volunteer, employee or recipient of services, the law typically sides with the bylaws. Ensure that new directors receive the bylaws upon installation and all directors and staff re-familiarize themselves with the provisions regularly.

TIP: Ensure an overview of the association bylaws are part of an annual Board Orientation session.

Don’t leave your bylaws on the sidelines – make them part of your winning team!

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Governance, High Performance Organization, Issues Management, Leadership

When Should the CEO Tell the Board, “No”?

Crowds of people protested against environment pollution in outdoorThe CEO reports to the board. Right? Yes. So if the board directs the CEO to do something, he/she should do it. Right? Not always.

When should the CEO say No? When the CEO’s responsibility to the organization is in conflict with a directive from the board.

How might this occur?

When the board directs the CEO to take an action that puts the association and/or the CEO at risk of meaningful liability or seriously threatens the sustainability of the organization. Examples include jeopardization or violation of contractual agreements and violations of relevant legislation and bylaws.

Here’s a real life example.

A client of ours was experiencing a cash flow challenge. The CEO and CFO informed the board and made recommendations. The board ignored the recommendations and instead, instructed the CEO to immediately draw down the entire amount of the organization’s line of credit. The CEO and the CFO were both aware that this action would trigger an emergency alert at the bank, resulting in a negative outcome for the organization. Despite this knowledge, the CEO immediately executed the board’s instructions.

The bank, predictably, responded by cancelling the line of credit and demanding immediate pay-back of the funds drawn. The organization narrowly averted bankruptcy and limped along until another organization took it over.  Predictably, the board fired the CEO and the CFO.

The members were not well served. Had the board followed the recommendation of the CEO the outcome would have been different. What should the CEO have done instead?

Before executing the board’s instructions, the CEO should have advised the board that he/she would be requesting a confirmation of the board’s direction in writing with an acknowledgement of the advice provided by the CEO and the risk associated with executing the board’s instructions. The CEO should then have communicated with the board via email. The email would have reiterated the advice that the CEO provided and requested confirmation of the board’s decision to direct a different path.

Verbal conversations will be remembered differently by participants after the fact. It’s human nature.

When the board is requested to confirm a questionable directive in writing, where the consequences are clearly articulated, it inspires sober second thought. Had this happened, the results for the organization might have been different.

Is this a career limiting decision for the CEO?  Quite possibly. Let’s not sugar-coat the outcome.  The CEO’s job is to accept the risk of job loss to fulfill his/her obligation. Humans are complicated and directors are all human. But they don’t have your knowledge. That’s why they hired you. Have the courage to take the personal risk to fulfill your obligations to the association you serve.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Governance, Issues Management, Leadership

Attracting and Retaining Sponsors – Remember the Holy Trinity

trinityYour ideal sponsor partnership is not about “selling” your event to a sponsor. It’s all about delivering value to each major stakeholder; the “holy trinity” is that crucial intersection between your association, your sponsors and your members. When you get it right, all three stakeholders are receiving value from the relationship.

 

  1. What’s in it for the sponsor? This is your sponsor value proposition (SVP). It answers how this partnership will help your sponsor to (a) Sell their products and services, and/or (b) Enhance their brand by aligning it with yours?
  2. What’s in it for your association? How will this partnership (a) Enable you to deliver more value to your members, and/or (b) Increase the visibility of your association?
  3. What’s in it for your members? How will the association’s relationship with this sponsor help your members to (a) Learn new skills, and/or (b) Find a product or services that will help their organization?

If you can nail each element of the holy trinity, you’ve got a powerful partnership.

When you’re considering your value to sponsors, don’t forget to include both event-specific and year-round opportunities.

Year-round or single event? Think about the best fit for your sponsor. Is the right partnership for this sponsor a year-round relationship where they have visibility with your members at every event and every member communication? Or is it best for them to have relevant visibility at a single event?

And don’t forget; hold onto the crown jewels. Make sure that your year-round sponsors receive a “jewel” above and beyond that available to event sponsors. Perhaps this is a speaking opportunity or unique visibility. Never sell the “jewel in the crown” on a stand-alone basis.

Find out more about your SVP.

A strong SVP is also one of the 8 elements of the High Performance Membership OrganizationTM

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Filed under Association, Event Planning, High Performance Organization, Sponsor Value Proposition, Sponsorship

Are You a Good Host? Or do you leave members to figure it out on their own?

WelcomeAssociations spend a lot of energy trying to attract members, engage volunteers and recruit directors and staff.  But what do you do once you have captured them? Do you make them feel welcome and valued at events? Are you a good “host” or do you leave members to figure it out on their own?

Onboarding is an essential, yet often overlooked, part of association management. It is critical to ensure immediate engagement and ensure members are familiar with the resources and opportunities offered and to feel that they fit within the organization. Otherwise, you risk losing their support before the first year is over.

Turn the focus onto them by anticipating their expectations, needs and wants and help them to fulfill these:

  1. Identify and articulate the Member Value Proposition (MVP). Ensure leaders understand the MVP of the association, and can easily state how the association addresses member needs.
  2. Create a new member onboarding process. Ensure they receive extra attention in the first 12 months to get them engaged.
  3. Director, volunteer and staff training. Ensure that your association leaders are trained to be good hosts at events.  This means “working the room” at association events, introducing members to each other and make everyone feel valued and welcome.

The time and effort spent on the front end being a good host and designing good onboarding processes will pay off immediately and contribute to your sustainability and success.

Find out more about your MVP.

A strong MVP is also one of the 8 elements of the High Performance Membership OrganizationTM

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Filed under Association Management Issues, High Performance Organization, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition