Category Archives: Association

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

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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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

Member Engagement Starts with the MVP

Association-MVP2

I was speaking with a board director of one of my favourite clients yesterday and he was troubled by the lack of member engagement at his association. I asked him, “what is your member value proposition?” He responded that he knows they provide value  but he’s not sure how to describe it. He told me that they get lots of non members out to events but they can’t seem to covert them to membership.

He told me that association staff and directors “freeze” when they’re asked, “why should I join?” This is a huge problem with a simple solution. There are only 2 steps.

  1. Take the time to understand and articulate your MVP (member value proposition) in a way that answers, “what’s in it for me?” for the member. Find out more about your MVP http://www.zzeem.com/MemberRecruitment.aspx.
  2. Train, rehearse, train. Drill that MVP into every staffer and director, repeatedly. Each staffer and director is an ambassador and they must be able to answer the WIIFM question in their sleep.

Like any other product or service, the value of membership is no more or less than the value the individual member attributes to it. How much does he or she “need” the membership, what money will it put in their pocket, what emotional value does membership provide (or substitute Maslow’s Hierarchy here) and how much can they afford to pay?

Ultimately you value your membership just like any business would value a product or service.

Answer these questions.

  1. Who are you selling to?
  2. What is the member value proposition to that type of member?
  3. Can the member value proposition be quantified? For example what is the member discount on events and how many are there?
  4. What are the competing opportunities for membership services? Are there other associations who compete with you for members? If so, what do they provide and what do they charge for membership?
  5. How much can a prospective member afford to pay?

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Your member value proposition is not a laundry list of what the organization does. It is a succinct, compelling description of the value of membership to the member. The value proposition of your organization is what makes your existing members renew each year and brings new members in the door.
  2. What is the credibility and visibility of your organization? If it is a well-established, trusted and highly credible institution it’s worth more than membership in an organization that no one has heard of. That’s why you pay more for a degree from Harvard than for one from the University of West Quackenbush.
  3. What is the visibility of your member services? If your organization does a great job of marketing the value of the membership then it’s “worth” more.
  4. What is the quantifiable value of the services provided by membership? Do members receive a significant discount on events and other services? Do you provide professional education or certification? If so, what is the value of the education?

Remember it all starts with your member value proposition. This is the bedrock of the sustainability of your organization and many organizations cannot articulate it. Last year, our annual survey of membership organizations told us that less than a third of organizations surveyed were highly confident that all of their board members could clearly state their value proposition to a prospective member.

Find out more about how to articulate your member value proposition www.zzeem.com/MemberRecruitment.aspx

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KISS Your Board

kissyourboardHow to Inform your Board in Five Minutes or Less! You may have heard me say – High Performance Organizations have boards that make good decisions. Typically management provides information to assist with the decision-making process. Unfortunately, many boards receive too much information that’s poorly organized – derailing timely and effective governance practices. Complicated financial statements and complex management reporting are key symptoms of dysfunctional decision making. Using the K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple, Silly”) principle will help you better equip your board to make timely and informed decisions. As a general rule of thumb directors need three things:

  1. The right information
  2. The right comparatives and metrics
  3. The right format

The first two of these elements should be presented as a consistent set of back-up reports with metrics that directors can refer to for more information. Performance metrics are a valuable and simple way of tracking organizational health. A brief dashboard that shows 3 years of comparable metrics with actuals against targets is an excellent, at-a-glance tool. The last element, the right format, is the 5 minute report that notes only those items that require direction, decision or action by the board or one of its committees. The information presented should cover four key areas:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Strategic Objectives
  3. Member Value
  4. Financial status

Let’s use an example. The board needs to know the organization’s financial status and usually they are provided with a set of financial statements and little if anything else. As a management tool, financial statements reflect a specific point of time and its relevance changes over time. Often financials include too much or little detail. Many smart people are overwhelmed when presented with pages of numbers and are reluctant to admit they do not understand how to dig through the data to find the relevant information.

Instead, present well-structured financial management reports. Everything an organization does is reflected in the numbers. Well-designed financial management reports should quickly and simply communicate the big picture; answer “Are we moving towards our objectives?”, “Are there risks or opportunities we need to address?”; and reflect on the organization’s management. Keep it simple –present data in a format that is easy to review, analyze and understand. Too many details complicate and mask key issues. Use a table that includes high level, key functional line items. Also highlight year over year trends and progress against targets in key expense and revenue areas.FinancialResults In addition, a good management report should support the statements by drawing attention to items of note, adding details to explain variances and specify where the board needs to make decisions. It is not a list of activities highlighting how your time was spent.

As an example, financial reports might show that a program is under budget. Does this mean we’re doing a good job by containing expenses or does it mean we’re not delivering the planned programming? You may need to flag the variance as it may mean that the organization is not providing good member value and the board may be required to provide direction to rectify the situation. By keeping it simple, well-structured management reports facilitate a board that is informed, high functioning and engaged in proper risk management and member value. In addition it can intelligently seek opportunities, monitor key milestones and move the strategic plan forward – all for the betterment of the organization and its members. So pucker up and K.I.S.S. your board! For more information on this subject download a copy of our “5 Minutes or Less” workbook. For more information on association topics, check out our live interviews with association leaders on our VIMEO channel http://vimeo.com/zzeeminc including Part 1 and Part 2 of webinars on this topic.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, High Performance Organization