31 August 2012

Friday Top 5

It's Labor Day weekend! Sure, it's the proverbial last weekend of summer, and a great time for cookouts and enjoying your favorite summer activities one last time before fall. But Labor Day weekend is really about honoring labor and trade organizations (like associations?) and having a party for workers and their families. Not consumers, workers. And it's important for all of us to remember that we are more than consumers - we're citizens and workers. This day is for us!

Top 5 great moments in the history of labor:
  1. Ending child labor
  2. The 8 hour workday
  3. Paid overtime
  4. The weekend
  5. The minimum wage
And did you know that WOMEN formed the first labor union in the US?

So enjoy your cookout and beer and relaxing with your family on the last day of summer, but take a few minutes to think about what we're actually celebrating this weekend.

(If this post seems strangely familiar, it's because it's a lightly edited re-post of my Friday Top 5 from Labor Day weekend a year ago. Yes, I think this information is THAT important.)

Information from Wikipedia (Labor Day and Labor history), the AFL-CIOWorking Life, and Work at Home

30 August 2012

Proud to be a Partner

I'm excited to to report that Spark has recently joined the Higher Logic partner program.

Don't know Higher Logic?

They have a clever video you can view that explains it all. 

29 August 2012

What I'm Reading

  • Generational difference: age or cohort? Or: are today's elementary school aged kids really that much different than elementary school aged kids in the 1960s? 
  • You can't just trade in your organization's culture for a shiny new model, so you'd better learn to work with what you have.
  • Want to build a better mousetrap? Spend more time with your customers, talk to them more, experiment, learn, iterate, get better.
  • Want to be more productive? Declutter.
  • Turns out, going to conferences can lead to innovation, which is good news for the conference-producing association industry.
  • More data isn't necessarily going to improve your decision making.
  • Press pitches getting, well, pitched? This may be why.
  • Design of volunteer models? What design?
  • Forget FOMO - what about JOMO?
  • I finished Shadow of Night, and since the third book in trilogy isn't out yet, I just started The Heretic's Daughter, which was loaned to me be a friend. I'm only in the first few chapters, but so far, it's promising!

28 August 2012

Is Membership Really Dying?

Or is it just changing?

Why do we assume that all our members want and need to have the exact same relationship with us?

We understand this concept in our personal lives. We have different circles - hell, Google+ is built on it - and they aren't all our BFFs.

The large majority of members in the typical association are "mailbox members." They send you a check, you send them some magazines, everyone's happy.

Except the association usually isn't. We spend large amounts of our scarce resources fretting about why those "mailbox members" aren't more involved and trying to force them to be.

What if we viewed them as what they really are: subscribers?

I've subscribed to MIT's Technology Review for eight years. And I LOVE the publication, which you probably already knew, since I give them regular shout-outs here. Do they spend time, energy and money trying to get me to participate in their online community and attend their events and become a volunteer? No - although all those things are, in fact, available. But they aren't right for me, and MIT doesn't waste time trying to convince me that they are.

Let's do some math.

Assume you have 10,000 members. Your annual meeting regularly sees 500 attendees, at $500 a pop. Based on past attendance, your actual number of prospective attendees is about 1,000. And you have a $10,000 marketing budget.

Most of us proceed to blast undifferentiated messages out to the entire 10,000 members. Which means we can spend $1 per member trying to get people to our conference. What if, instead, we focused that $10,000 and our staff time ONLY on the 1000 prospects who are likely to attend? All of a sudden, we're only managing 1000 contacts, not 10,000, and we have $10 per prospect to market the conference. What if those focused, high-impact messages aimed only at truly likely attendees could increase conference attendance from 500 to 700? At $500 a head, that's an additional $100,000.

I'm not saying don't tell the other 9000 members that the conference is happening. They can find out about it on your website or as an item in your weekly enewsletter or association news in your magazine. I'm just saying don't do any direct outreach to them. They aren't coming, and you're wasting your money.

Not everyone is actually a prospect for everything. Invest your resources where you're going to get a return.

27 August 2012

Always the Last to Know: Brewster

In the continuing quest to make sense of all one's contacts - from Google, Outlook, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Cardmunch etc. - I'm always looking for a way to be better organized and integrated Along comes Brewster, which integrates all your contacts' myriad profiles into one view. Anyone tried it? What do you think? Share in the comments/

24 August 2012

Friday Top 5

Can you believe next week is already the last week of August? The elementary school across the street starts session on MONDAY. Where does the time go?

(Oh, right, to getting Spark launched.)

If you were paying attention this past week, you could feel the seasons start to slip. The days are noticeably shorter, the sun is less intense, and there was some coolness behind some of the breezes. We are, pace my good friend Hecate, in a liminal time.

My Top 5 Favorite Things About The Shift from Summer to Fall:
  1. Even though grad school concluded 16 years ago, after 13 years of grade school, 4 years of college, and 2 years in my Master's program, the end of summer still feels like a time of beginnings to me.
  2. Appreciating the surprise when tomatoes, corn and peaches show up in my CSA box in a given week even more because I know each week these could be the last ones until next year.
  3. The nights start to be cool enough - sometimes - to open the windows.
  4. The sun is still intense, but not in the punishing way of mid-July, thus easing my fears of accidentally bursting into flame for another year.
  5. Time to reflect and think about my harvest - both actual and metaphorical - this year.
What do you look forward to as the days grow shorter?

Image credit: Photo-Fenix.com

23 August 2012

More Thoughts on #ASAE12


The Good:

I love what ASAE has done with the volunteer committee structure. First of all, they've forced us to be more efficient by scheduling MUCH shorter committee meetings. Hallelujah! Sitting in a committee meeting for 8 hours is torture that shouldn't be forced on ANYONE. I also like the fact that the committee years now run according to the work the committee does rather than the Annual Meeting schedule. They finally realized that it is crazy to, for instance, seat a new health care association committee less than three months before the health care conference. I do wonder how it's going to affect switching committees, but overall, I think it's a good thing.

I loved the recognition of CAEs, DELP scholars, the Fellows, etc. The CAE Lounge was in the middle of everything, and ASAE staff worked to have CAE hosts there around the clock to welcome people, answer questions, and promote the credential. And I loved what they did with the Johnny Cash doppelganger who recapped the meeting at the closing event, giving all these accomplished people we need to recognize and know a second virtual stage walk in front of everyone.

I chose well in my sessions. I was privileged to facilitate a challenging discussion on diversity and inclusion with a panel of passionate, outspoken association CEOs. I had the chance to sit down in a flash session facilitated by Jeff De Cagna and share thoughts with a bunch of association professionals who share the perspective that our lack of innovation is killing us, and it's time we did something about it. I laughed and thought and learned my way through another amazing set of Ignite sessions. I took frantic and copious notes as experienced association vendors and executives talked about how to form good relationships and "make it rain." Thanks to Shelly Alcorn, I got another lesson, for the second year in a row, in how sharing the truth of ourselves - even the silly, shallow, or embarrassing parts, can bring us together. And I learned a new term from Dan Pink: ambivert. I suspect I'll be using it a lot.

From an entirely selfish perspective, having just launched a new business two weeks before the event, it provided a tremendous boost for me. I had access to a significant chunk of the association world and time and opportunity to explain what I was up to. We'll have to see how they pan out, but I came back to DC with leads, baby!

I loved ASAE's continuing commitment to social responsibility activities at the conference, not only providing bodies to do projects in the local community, but also providing dollars that will continue to have an impact long after we're gone. We had a goal of raising $50,000 for the North Texas Food Bank, and we topped it by over 20%, raising over $60,000. We made a tangible difference for Texans experiencing food insecurity, and that's something to be proud of.

I also loved the fact that ASAE has embraced the concept of the after party, with semi-official events at the Aloft Hotel and Dallas's famous Gilly's. For those who missed it, we even got John Graham up on the equally famous Gilly's mechanical bull to raise money for the Foundation to the tune of $10,000. Yes, really.


The Bad: 

I expected the open general session to be political theater. I did not expect Michelle Bernard to lose control of Rove and Carville so completely that Rove got far more than his share of the air time.

I like the "yay associations!" tone, but as I also expressed in my shorter recap last Friday, we have to find a way to own up to the harm we do, too, whether it's lobbying against health care reform or financial disclosure or placing the wants of our professions and industries ahead of what's good the country and the planet. I know, the general session is probably not the place for that. But then what is? How can we celebrate the good we do without also acknowledging and taking responsibility for the damage? 

There still isn't enough time for sessions. I know we need to provide plenty of time for the exhibitors who are paying large sums of money to be there. But many of us don't need seven hours on the show floor. Of course, the flash learning spaces are open during the exhibits, and maybe it's my fault for not organizing people to hold unconference sessions in them during the exhibit hours. But there has to be a way to make the exhibitors happy and still provide more than seven breakout slots over the course of three days.

On a semi-serious note, it was weird for this rabid Eagles fan to be at Cowboys stadium and not do something like start a fight. I did engage in a little mischief, OF COURSE, but you'll have contact me privately to find out what it was (if you haven't already heard).

22 August 2012

What I'm Reading

  • Are you familiar with the singularity effect? It has a huge impact on people's willingness to take action.
  • I'm checking out Associations Unorthodox, Jeff De Cagna's new e-book, and how awesome is it that it's free? Pretty awesome, I think!
  • Harvard Business Review takes on the gift economy, the transaction economy, and their impact on success in social media.
  • Help your organization catch the innovation virus.
  • Made a mistake? Show strength by admitting it and apologizing.
  • Your mom was right - be nice!
  • Joe Gerstandt points out that words have power, particularly when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
  • Want to get more done? Learn to delegate effectively.
  • Actually, the customer ISN'T always right.
  • Creativity --> innovation, as long as you add one key intermediary step: implementation.
  • Think crowdsourcing innovation is impossible? Here are 40 examples - with links - that demonstrate how successful it can be.
  • SEO grows up, so stop trying to game the system (you know who you are). 
  • After finishing A Discovery of Witches, which I enjoyed very much, I moved on to the second book in the trilogy, Shadow of Night. Great summer reading!

21 August 2012

Making Innovation Happen

As you're probably aware, Jeff De Cagna recently conducted a survey on innovation among association CEOs.

The results are out, and he's summarized them in a short video:



The biggest things that stood out to me were:

Association CEOs have a lot of confidence in themselves. They have a lot LESS confidence in their staff members. But they think their staff members have lots of confidence in them. This, to me, represents a SERIOUS disconnect.

Association CEOs think that innovation is important, but they don't think their boards support that.

Association CEOs think their members trust them even less than their boards.

So the upside is that CEOs are starting to get the message that making way for experiments with new ideas is important, but there's still a lot of finger-pointing about why it doesn't happen.

20 August 2012

Always the Last to Know: Print Friendly

One way to make sure stuff on your website doesn't print oddly is to PDF it. Of course, that has other problems, not least of which that it can really screw with your SEO. You know what's easier? Print Friendly. It's a great utility you can add to your site to allow things that otherwise might print oddly to, well, not.

How does it work?


Simple! And saves trees! And printer ink! And irritation!

17 August 2012

Friday Top 5

I plan to write a fuller recap post next week, but for now my Top 5 Tweets from #ASAE12:

1. Response to Maddie Grant's observation about the closing general session video:
I think this is a huge problem for associations. I have lots of friends in GR, and, as a political scientist by training, I don't think lobbyists are evil. But we have to find a way as a community to own not only the fact that some of community members lobby for funding for alternative energy but also the fact that some of our other community members lobby to prevent the government from raising fuel efficiency standards. We need to own our own shadow.

2. Response to Romeo Arrieta's tweet about retiring Baby Boomers:
I think this is also a huge problem (obviously). Aside from the fact that there are fewer than half as many butts to fill the seats Boomers will eventually leave, plenty of Xers, tired of waiting, are looking to career alternatives (guilty!). I really don't know how we solve this, but in 5-10 years, it's going to be a crisis.

3. Response to Shane Feldman's observation that continuing to add in math is infinity, in life is insanity:
As we can all share more and more with each other more and more seamlessly and on more and more platforms, we all run the risk of social fatigue. Don't make things worse for your members.

4. At the IGNITE session:
This struck me particularly hard because of the session I facilitated the previous day, "We Are the 1%: A Frank Conversation About Diversity." CEOs Pat Natale (ASCE), Pat Blake (ASGE), Greg Fine (TMA), and Kevin Lynch (NIB) had an open, no-bs conversation about ALL types of diversity. I think we tend to focus on race/ethnicity and sexual orientation to the exclusion of many other types of diversity, particularly physical disability. The final question I asked my panelists was one Pat Natale had posed on one of our prep calls: "So what?" Two of the panelists specifically addressed the issue of hiring people with visible physical disabilities. What is your organization doing in this area? Anything?

5. At Jeff De Cagna's innovation lounge session on his new book, Associations Unorthodox:
Oh man, how much time have you got? This one is an epidemic in associations. Why don't we execute better, consistently? What's holding us back?

16 August 2012

Welcome, Association Universe!

Speaking of content curation, there's a new player in the association world: Association Universe, a new site/newsletter specifically designed for association executives.  It's similar to Wild Apricot, only hopefully they won't just delete my account and everything I've ever posted there with a "Whoops! Too bad for you!" and to the Association Resource Center, only it's not just for small staff.

Association Universe is aggregating content from a bunch of source, including this blog, to focus on the issues important to association executives including management, marketing, membership, events, development, programs, technology, innovation and much, much more.


You can get a free account and then customize the topics you'd like to follow for a daily or weekly summary email. I think it will be a great resource, so check it out!

10 August 2012

Friday Top 5

It's here! As you read this, I am probably on my way to Dallas for the 2012 ASAE Annual Meeting.  Top 5 Things I'm Looking Forward To:
  1. The amazing session I'll be facilitating on Sunday, August 12 at 1:30 pm (in the first learning lab timeslot of the conference) - "We Are the 1%:  A Frank Conversation on Diversity." Four bold, courageous CEOs are going to speak openly about issues of diversity and inclusion from the CEO perspective. Our prep calls have been amazing. I'm just asking the questions - they all have incredible, no bullshit insight to share. Don't miss this one. Seriously.
  2. Getting to introduce Spark Consulting to the association world. Selfish, I know, but it's my baby, and I'm proud. There will be flair.
  3. Participating in the Tuesday afternoon service project to benefit the North Texas Food Bank. I'll bet you can still sign up to join us...
  4. The legendary YAP party. Monday, August 13. 9 pm. Hard Rock Dallas. You ARE coming, right?
  5. Dan Pink's closing keynote on Tuesday. Love his stuff on the science of motivation, and I can't wait to hear more.
Photo credit: jaredkuper

First timer? Make sure you check out John Chen's advice.

(no posting until I'm back next week - in the meantime, check me out on Twitter)

09 August 2012

Tweeting Your Notes

I'm moderately active on Twitter...other than around conferences, when I am a profligate tweeter.
What's that all about?

I use Twitter to take my conference notes.

Colleagues have, in the past, asked me to explain how I do it, and with the ASAE Annual Meeting about to kick off, it seems timely.

What I do is not fancy.

Tweeting my notes, laptop version:

If there are outlets and wi-fi, I use TweetDeck on my laptop. I add a column with the conference hashtag (in this case #ASAE12). I look up the speaker/s in a given session so I know their handles. Then I summarize their main, key, salient points in less than 140 characters so I can append the conference hashtag and hopefully a /via @whoever said it.

Tweeting my notes, iPhone version:

If there is a lack of wi-fi or outlets (or both), I use the Twitter app on my iPhone. I go to Discover and search for the conference hashtag and the speaker/s handles. Then, once again, I summarize the main points and tweet them (which is a little more challenging to do when I'm typing on the iPhone virtual keyboard rather than my trusty MacAir).

Taking notes during a session keeps me focused, so my mind isn't wandering to my email or Facebook or I Can Haz Cheezburger. Taking notes via typing rather than writing ensures I'll actually be able to make them out later (my handwriting is terrible). The 140 character restriction and the fact that I'm often on the slower iPhone keyboard force me to dig for the meat rather than just transcribing everything that's said. And the sharing benefits the community of people watching the hashtag.

After the conference, I go back into my own Twitter profile and do a simple copy-n-paste on my tweet stream, then run a few simple Word find-and-replace jobs to clean things up a bit. I suspect there are more sophisticated ways of dealing with the tweets post-event, but I haven't spent the time to research them, so if you have advice on that count, share it in the comments.

That's it.

How do you capture content you want to remember at conferences? What tech tools and tricks do you use?

08 August 2012

What I'm Reading

  • Google's getting into fiber? Yes, indeed.
  • Joe Gerstandt has an outstanding post, the first in what's going to be a series, proffering a series of questions about diversity and inclusion designed to help you hack your organizational culture.
  • Got manifesto? (I am definitely going to get on this, ASAP.)
  • Two of my very favorite GRs wrote a fantastic piece for the August issue of Associations Now on how to play the long game in advocacy work.
  • Finding a better answer to “what do you do?”
  • Who's minding your cobwebs?
  • Don't let the dog days get you down
  • Productivity tools for remote workers (I think they're pretty useful even if you don't work remotely).
  • I'm also reading A Discovery of Witches. The prose is pretty purple, but the plot is fun and offers some unusual angles on the tropes of the fantasy genre.

07 August 2012

Creating Corporate Relationships That Fit

Tomorrow, I will be at the Bridge Conference, presenting on corporate fundraising with Laura Feldman, a colleague from the Children's Hospital Association.
Say NO to financial support?! In association fundraising, sometimes saying no to corporate funders is as important as saying yes to new revenue. But knowing how to determine when to say no is difficult when a company is offering your organization money, free stuff or both. Laura and I will share guidelines, processes, and criteria for vetting corporate suitors to help you get to the happily ever after of corporate partnerships.


Laura and I are presenting in the Corporate and Foundation Fundraising track at 2:15 pm. If you'll be attending Bridge, I hope to see you in our session!

06 August 2012

Always the Last to Know: Hadoop

If you're not a major data geek, you may not have heard of this yet. But Hadoop is a new data storage methodology that could basically upend the entire world of Big Data. It was created by the Goog (unsurprising) and nurtured by the open source community and Yahoo!. When Google and Yahoo! are working on something together, you KNOW it's big.

Hadoop allows for distributed computing around large data stores, where the data may not be in compatible formats. Lots of Big Data companies are using it now.

So it gets me thinking: how might this affect the AMS market? It's not going to happen today, obviously, but I think the database vendors need to be paying attention.


03 August 2012

Friday Top 5

Well, I survived my first week of being self-employed, and even managed to avoid getting into any fights with myself. The Top Five Things I Learned This Week:
  1. The association community is awesome. I mean, I already knew that, of course, but the outpouring of support has been tremendous. Y'all rock!
  2. The spouse and I need to make finishing setting up my office space a priority. Working on the dining room table is upsetting my inner neatnick.
  3. It's really hard to remember to take breaks when you're working for yourself. Must remember not to sit in the same spot typing on the computer for 9 hours straight.
  4. It is SO much faster to implement cool ideas when the only person you have to check with is yourself.
  5. My love of shoes and extensive shoe collection are both well-known. But you know what's better than wearing a pair of amazing heels? Spending sizable chunks of every day barefoot.

02 August 2012

So What Is Spark, Anyway?

Spark is a boutique consulting firm that provides strategic membership and marketing services for associations that have the willingness and capacity, at both the staff and board levels, to ask tough questions, take some risks, and reach for significant goals.

A little about my consulting background:

I have 15 years experience in association management. Although my primary focus has been in membership, marketing, and communications, my experience has been wide-ranging, including corporate sponsorship and fundraising, technology planning and implementation, social media and Internet strategy, budgeting, volunteer management, publications, and governance.

Prior to launching Spark, I consulted in online campaigns and marketing and Internet and social media strategy for Beaconfire Consulting, and in a wide range of subject areas in association management in the not-for-profit consulting practice at RSM McGladrey, Inc. My clients have included trade and professional associations of all sizes, social service organizations, and charitable and cause-oriented organizations - the gamut of the tax-exempt world.

I combine a focus on finding and implementing creative solutions with a broad understanding of the association sphere. Throughout my career, I have excelled at increasing revenue, public presence, and member satisfaction while decreasing costs through a focus on the efficient and effective use of staff and technology to serve organizational goals and constituents.

Key services include: marketing strategy and execution, membership recruitment and retention strategy and execution, and creating partnerships.

Forget settling for incremental growth by making minor changes to what you're doing - we're going to uncover and solve the root problems that are holding your association back.

If that sounds like a match to you, give me a shout at ewengel@getmespark.com or 202.468.3478. And remember, a phone call, lunch, or coffee is always free.


01 August 2012

What I'm Reading

Big week = short list. What can you do?