Category Archives: Association

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.
Advertisements

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Benchmark Survey, Member Value Proposition, Sponsor Value Proposition

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.

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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!

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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