Category Archives: Association Management

Failing Fast, Hard and Often – How to use strategic risk strategies to succeed

FailChange is critical. It’s also risky. There are 4 inescapable facts to keep in mind.

  1. We cannot succeed without regular, meaningful change
  2. Some changes will fail
  3. Some changes will fail at first but become successful over time
  4. There will always be a vocal contingent of opposition

There are some changes that are simply essential. You have to do them on an ongoing basis.

Events

Don’t keep serving the same meal. No matter how good it is, people will tire of it. Even if your event is awesome in every way, it will die if you don’t keep it fresh. Also, don’t forget to keep your event price current. Make sure you know your costs and that your price at least ensures break-even.

Member Programs

Keep ahead of the curve. The content, format and delivery of your member programs must continuously position your association as the leader in your sector. Take a chance on radical new ideas for content. Borrow ideas that are working in other industries and professions.

Member Discount Partners

These are the companies you partner with to deliver their services to your members at a special member price. Are your partners working with you to deliver great value to your members? Or not? It’s better to have one great partner that values their relationship with you than many who deliver sporadic, inattentive service to your members. If a member is disappointed with their first call to a partner, they’re not likely to continue down the list. They’ll just assume the whole program is of no value.

Membership

As your industry or profession evolves, it’s important to ensure your membership categories are keeping up with the changes in your sector. Are they still relevant or do they need revisions? It’s also critical to increase member prices on a regular basis. Remember, your costs go up every year. If membership prices do not go up by at least the cost of living each year, you’ll be forced to make a large price increase down the road.

Tips for Pricing

  1. Communicate increases well in advance
  2. Use association leaders as advocates
  3. Keep increases regular, to keep them small

Tips for Member Categories

  1. Keep it simple: No more than 3 categories
  2. Do market research in advance: Where is there potential confusion? Who will be impacted?
  3. Get feedback
  4. Communicate, communicate, remind

 Managing the Opposition

There will always be opposition to change and often the most vocal opponents are long-term, highly influential members. Sometimes they fear losing the comfort of a known quantity. Sometimes they resent the dismantling of a program or event that they helped initiate years ago. How do you deal with the opponents?

  1. Bring them inside the tent. Invite them to be on a task force or committee that’s driving change. If they feel they have input to the future, they are more likely to want to be part of it.
  1. Keep communication open. Don’t hide from the opposition. Keep the lines of communication positive and open and build relationships on common ground.
  2. Nothing works better than success. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every successful change weakens the opposition to change.
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Filed under Event Planning, Association, Association Management Issues, Member Engagement, Association Management, High Performance Organization, Successful Conferences, Member Value Proposition, Issues Management

Performance Metrics for Associations – Are You Driving Blind?

CautionWe’re way behind but we’re getting better.

Our sector is way behind the for-profit world, but we’re getting better. We know from our annual survey of Canadian membership associations, that the vast majority of Canadian associations do not track and manage the basic metrics of their business. Until recently, even the concept of managing a membership organization as a business was a foreign concept. However, this is starting to change.

Most Canadian associations are now on board with the fact that they are running a business, and that they must operate as a business to be sustainable. Some Canadian associations are starting to track the most basic performance metrics such as the new member attraction rate and the member retention rate. But we have some distance to go. One of the biggest impediments is weak membership database software (or worse, Excel spreadsheets!) that do not record the data that is needed to calculate the performance metrics.

Why does it matter?

Metrics tell us where we are now. Tracking them over time tells us where we are headed. Are we moving forward? Are we on a sustainable path? Without this information we are driving blind.

The basics – what must we track?

We need to track metrics in four areas:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Strategic objectives
  3. Member value
  4. Financial status

Sustainability; the key metrics

  1. New member attraction rate. This tells you how well you’re doing in terms of bringing new members on board. This should be at least 10%. If it’s not, you need to have a retention rate of more than 90% just to keep membership at the current level.
  2. Current member retention rate. This tells you how well you’re doing in terms of holding on to your existing members. This should be at least 90%. If it’s not, you need to have a new member attraction rate of more than 10% just to keep membership at the current level.
  3. Member satisfaction rate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this needs to be at least 85% to keep the membership organization sustainable. You need a regular member survey to assess this. To keep it simple, consider asking this one question as part of the renewal process.

Strategic objectives; the key metrics

Our annual survey of Canadian membership associations tells us that almost all associations have a documented strategic plan. This has improved dramatically over the past 5 years and that’s great. Now we need to ensure we track our progress. This is the metric we need to track.

  1. Milestones status

Your strategic plan should show multi-year (3-5 year) objectives with milestones, and dates, that your association must hit in order to be on track to achieve your strategic objectives. At every board meeting, or at least quarterly, report on where you are in meeting these milestones.

Member value; the key metrics

  1. Member Engagement in association programs. You’re investing precious resources to deliver member value. This includes events, professional development initiatives, knowledge products, member-only discount offerings and other member services. How many members are engaged in taking advantage of these services? This is what you need to track.
    • Set targets for member engagement in each program and track them year-over-year.
  2. Government/stakeholder relations. For many associations, this service is the heart of the member value proposition. Track your impact. What have you accomplished against the base case of what would have happened if you were not doing anything? Your impact is not only whether or not you’ve achieved you GR/SR objectives, but what has/has not happened as a result of your efforts. You may not have accomplished your objectives (yet), but you have at least ensured that the dial has not moved backward. What value has been achieved? Even if decision-makers have not chosen to heed your counsel, your members are aware of what they need to do to prepare themselves for coming events. This is what you need to track.
    • % of members on GR/SR committees. How engaged are your members in the volunteer work your staff needs to support your GR/SR program?
    • Open rate on GR/SR information bulletins. Do your members care? Are they listening?
    • Meeting requests/call-ins. How often do decision-makers contact your association for input?
    • Influence/progress against base case. What would have happened if your association was not engaged with decision-makers?

Financial reporting; the key metrics

  1. Balance Sheet. How many months of operating expenses are covered by your net surplus? Report on this separately by both liquid and illiquid assets. Your net surplus should cover at least 12 months of operating expenses.
  2. Income statement. For each monthly statement, show where you are against budget and against last year at the same time.

Next Steps

  1. Figure out how to collect the data you need to report and track these metrics.
  2. Establish a regular reporting format and schedule to keep your management team and board informed.

Want more information and the details of how to calculate your performance metrics? Check out our webinar on this topic.

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Association Trends – What’s Happening in Europe?

Dutch DelegationBy Asif Ahmed, Manager at Zzeem

Zzeem recently hosted an European-Canadian summit to exchange views on how associations and Association Management Companies (AMCs) operate across Canada and abroad. The 10-member delegation represented various Dutch associations and AMCs. There seemed to be a lot of similarities and differences between Europe and Canada not only in the way associations are run but also in what members perceive as value.

Current research demonstrates that networking is the major reason why people become members of an association in North America. Similarly, it stands true for the Dutch too. One member of the delegation noted that “an opportunity to meet peers and socialize” is the reason why people join an association and go to events. It’s the member to member interaction that everyone is looking for whether it be in Europe or North America. The other similarity that I observed was the fact that their members are looking for smaller, more intimate events where there are more opportunities to talk to the attendees as opposed to the big conferences with umpteen education sessions where people are busy trying to catch the next session.

One of the associations in the Netherlands has had huge success in achieving record attendance at their events by making them free for members to attend. The story doesn’t end there. They have gone a step further by penalizing the no-shows. Yes you read it right! They charge 30 Euros (CAN $45) as they consider it to be disrespectful to register and not show up at the event.

In The Netherlands, they have incorporated XDP which stands for Xperience Design Project.

The next generation of conferences are evolving as multidisciplinary, experiential marketing platforms to better personalize the learning and networking options for attendees. They’re also a hell of a lot more fun.

— Greg Oates

This is fairly a new phenomenon for the North American market. So what is XDP? It is an event built specifically for leaders who plan, design, execute, and support association events and want to:

  • Attract and invite the right people to their events
  • Create positive experiences for the audience before, during, and after the event
  • Keep attendees engaged and, most importantly, coming back

Young Professionals Network (YPN) is yet another growing trend that all parties are experiencing with respect to the structure of their associations. The Europeans have made great strides to empower the younger members by letting them have their own Board and budget for events, which is laudable. However, the challenge they’re facing is the transition for the young professionals to move over to engagement in the ‘regular’ association (for a lack of a better word) once they have crossed 40.

At the end of the day, it was a very meaningful exchange and my regret is that we didn’t get a chance to record the audio of the conversation. Nonetheless, I am happy that they left with some sweet memories – of the mutual learning and the Timbits that we ordered.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Governance, High Performance Organization, Leadership, Member Education, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition, Volunteer Engagement

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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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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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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Tips for Chairing a Meeting

chairing a meetingThe primary role of a chair is to:

  1. Ensure the agenda is followed and completed on time
  2. Ensure the meeting stays on track
  3. Ensure both sides of a discussion are aired
  4. Ensure the necessary decisions are reached

Some tips for better-run meetings include:

  • Ensure clarity; explain the overall purpose at the start of the meeting, specific discussion items, identify action items, roles, responsibilities and timelines;
  • Create a balance between people, issues and time;
  • Talk less, listen and facilitate decision-making without imposing your position on the group;
  • Be impartial ensuring that your leadership position does not tilt the scales in favour of your position over others;
  • Ensure meetings are run in the spirit of fairness, equality and mutual respect;
  • Keep the meeting on track: remind people of the agenda items and intervene if they digress;
  • Manage the meeting time and work within the allotted timeframe. If more time is required, determine as a group whether it needs to allocate more time to the topic, reschedule another meeting or move to the next topic;
  • Encourage and manage participant contributions by creating a balance of speakers. Allow everyone to have an opportunity to speak and be part of the discussion;
  • Encourage members who oppose something to propose an alternative;
  • Follow up and review the agreed action points in between meetings; and
  • Review the effectiveness of the meeting to ensure future meetings are effective and efficient.

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