Category Archives: Association Management Issues

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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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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Is Your Accountant Smoking Something? Who says you will lose your NFP status with a reserve fund?

Pink Piggy BankIf you are told your not-for-profit status is in jeopardy by having a surplus or an operating reserve of more than 3-6 months, it is time to find a new accountant! The Canada Revenue Agency has made no statement ever about the amount of operating reserves that is acceptable for not-for-profits.

To determine the optimal reserve amount, High Performance Membership Organizations™ assess their potential risks, strategic projects and opportunities. For most organizations three – six months is simply adequate for shut down. However, the organization needs resources to take advantage of opportunities and to survive a challenging economic environment.

It is also important to have a board approved Operating Reserve Policy which articulates the minimum reserve amount, identifies the purpose of the reserve, defines any restrictions related to certain funds, and outlines when and how the funds can be used. In addition to ensuring transparent processes, it also provides a level of understanding as to why the organization is maintaining reserves.

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Using Earned Media to Increase Your Association’s Visibility

pic-media-strategySuccessful earned media is public media exposure that results from your successful efforts to create content that (a) provides journalists with a story that is sufficiently intriguing to their audience to get published and (b) segues effectively to your association’s messaging and increases your visibility.

How do you “earn” media exposure? It’s free but it’s not cheap. It’s not cheap because it takes constant vigilance and creative thinking to develop stories that are both media-worthy and effectively communicate your messaging. This requires the effort of staff members or external consultants.

Here are 3 tips:

  1. Use Google Alerts or a similar service to inform you of stories that you can piggy-back onto and segue to your messaging.
  2. Be prepared to repond as soon as a headline breaks. In order to do this you need to be well-prepared.
    1. Develop your top key messages first. What information do you need to communicate? e.g. The province needs more social workers or, we need to reduce the barriers to cross-border trade.
    2. Develop language that will provide a segue from likely headlines to your messaging. For example, let’s say that your key message is that Manitoba residents would be better off if the province had more social workers. The headlines most likely to provide a natural segue to this message would be “bad news” stories in which an individual falls through the cracks in the system and suffers a negative outcome.
    3. Contact the journalist who wrote the story and offer one of your trained spokespeople as a commentator. Ensure they’re well briefed before you get a call back!

A typical segue to use for all stories of this type might contain these 3 elements:

  • “We’re so sorry to hear that <this unfortunate event> took place on <date> at <location>.
  • “Unfortunately this might have been avoided. We have so few social workers in <the relevant system/location>, their case loads are far beyond acceptable levels. Unless the situation changes, unfortunate events like this are likely to continue to occur.
  • “Fortunately, the solution is both simple and cost-effective. Studies show that social workers actually save the province money <insert data>. By increasing the ratio of social workers to case files by xx% we could avoid an estimated <xxx tragic situation description> each year.…and so on.

Let me leave you with 4 steps to success from Warren Weeks of Weeks Media

  1. Ask yourself: Why do we want media coverage? What do we hope to accomplish?
  2. Who are we trying to speak to and what do we want them to do?
  3. Write the story. What will make an interesting read for your audience? (refer to #2, above)
  4. Which journalists should you pitch the story to? Do your research. Look at what they’ve published and ensure their audience is a fit with your target audiences.

Read our blog on visibility for more on this topic.

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