31 December 2012

Always the Last to Know: Innovation Index

Geek heaven! Just in time for the end of the year, it's Mashable's annual innovation index winners!

Some of my personal favorites include:
  • Flipboard
  • The Kitchen Aid Mixer
  • Crowd funding
  • Quirky
What do you love in this list? (I know I'm going to get shout-outs for Fitocracy.)

28 December 2012

Friday Top 5

It's a little self-referential, but it *is* the last Friday of the year. My Top 5 blog posts of 2012 (measured by number of clicks):
  1. Is Membership Really Dying?, in which I took on the concept of members versus subscribers.
  2. "My Members Don't Read!", in which I posit some possible solutions to that all-too-common complaint.
  3. Sections Instead of Breakouts, or how can we bring conference education sessions up to the quality level of the networking events?
  4. Process Killed the Association Star, in which I accepted a challenge thrown by Jamie Notter and attempted to answer "how do we get to 'yes' in our associations?"
  5. Do We REALLY Know What Our Members Need?, in which I questioned the common assumption that we do.
Other notable posts included the launch of my curation whitepaper (it's FREE, you know), a post about the Carville/Rove fracas from ASAE annual, the launch of Spark, a meme response that I'm still working on, and a post in the title of which I unfortunately used the words "Chanel suit," and you wouldn't believe the number of clicks it's gotten if I told you (I'm sure that 95% of them were mistakes).

27 December 2012

Announcing: Associations 101 Webinar Series!

Dave Will (Peach New Media), Scott Oser (Scott Oser Associates), and I are pleased to bring you a new webinar series, Associations 101.

Designed for people who are new to the profession of association management, new to particular topic in association management, or who just need a brush up on some concepts, Associations 101 will feature experienced association executives sharing 10 tips in 20 minutes on a variety of topics in association management.

Each webinar will take place on the second Friday of the month at 1:30 pm ET.

The series kicks off Friday, January 11, 2013 with Peggy Hoffman, CAE (President, Mariner Management and Marketing) sharing “10 Things You Need to Know about Volunteer Management in Association Management.”
Add one more thing to that growing list of changes that are rocking the association world: volunteering is a whole new game. Our volunteers are demanding a new set of terms from how they work to what jobs they do to the volunteer pathway in general. What’s an association exec to do? Well we’ve got a 10 things for you to consider that will help you ignite your volunteers. 
 In the coming months, we’ll feature:
  • Greg Fine, CAE (CEO, Turnaround Management Association) on diversity & inclusion 
  • Erin Fuller, CAE (President, Alliance for Women in Media) on association branding 
  • Amy Lestition, CAE (Associate Vice President, Coulter) on association publications 
  • Stefanie Reeves, CAE (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, American Psychological Association) on government relations 
  • Bruce Wardle (President and CEO, Association Management Group) on association governance 
  • Miriam Miller Wolk, CAE (Senior Director of Membership, United Fresh Produce Association) on membership sales 
And did we mention? The webinars are free, and they’ll all be archived with Peach New Media, available for on-demand viewing, also for free.

 Register now!

26 December 2012

What I'm Reading

14 December 2012

Friday Top 5

Warning: this post may get a little schmoopy. And if you know me at all, you know how rare that is.

I'll be offline and not posting next week because my spouse and I are headed out of town for a few days to celebrate a milestone anniversary. So this Friday Top 5 is for him. Five things that are amazing about my spouse (because there are so many I can't say these are the top five):
  1. Multiple times in our years together, he's held up way more than his half of the sky so I could pursue my dreams.
  2. He one of the smartest but at the same time most gentle and humble people I've ever met.
  3. He treats me so well that everyone who knows him - male or female - would totes marry him in second if anything ever happened to me. (back off - he's taken)
  4. He's an amazing cook.
  5. After (mumble mumble mumble) years together, he still makes me laugh my ass off on a regular basis.
Back later next week.

13 December 2012

Constructive Conflict Is a Kind of Love

Just found a fantastic TED Talk on daring to disagree.

My favorite lines?

"Fearing and avoiding conflict means you will never get the best out of your people."

"Open networks are essential."

"Truth won't set you free until you develop the moral courage to use it."

12 December 2012

What I'm Reading

11 December 2012

Huru for the Holidays

Got enough stuff? (who doesn't?)

Looking for a holiday gift that's a little more meaningful?

May I suggest: Huru for the Holidays.

To quote from their website:
Millions of girls around the world don’t have access to sanitary supplies. They’re forced to use dangerous substitutes. They miss school every month.

In Swahili, Huru means freedom. At Huru, we give girls the freedom to stay in school. We began in Kenya, providing thousands of at-risk girls with free kits that include reusable sanitary pads, life-saving HIV/AIDS prevention information, and information and resources essential to sexual and reproductive health. Huru Kits are environmentally friendly and locally produced, creating new jobs in the girls’ communities—a cost-effective, simple solution to a complicated problem. 
I have a friend who's running a drive to purchase 500 Huru kits. Each kit costs $25 and provides supplies for a full year. You can donate here, and help a young woman stay in school.

You do, of course, know that it's been proved that the best way to raise a community out of poverty is to educate the women and give them control over their reproductive faculties, right?

10 December 2012

Always the Last to Know: ShortStack

Creating custom Facebook tabs? There's a easier way: ShortStack.

I quote the awesome John Haydon:
It allows you to create fan-gates, photo contests, and more. The best thing about ShortStack is the ability to create custom tabs that can be shared among admins and Pages.

07 December 2012

Friday Top 5

My Top 5 Takeaways from this week's ASAE #Tech12:
  1. I loved Dave Coriale's IGNITE on technology trends and innovations. If you read this blog at all, you know I'm a huge proponent of MIT's Technology Review. Dave's presentation highlighted why. We all need to be shaken out of the comfort zone of what we know and can see coming on a regular basis. Is your association going to use 3-D printing to make a new kidney for someone? Unlikely, but knowing that that's possible can help you think in new ways.
  2. The changing role of IT, or more specifically recognition of the changing role of IT. IT hasn't been "that weird guy down in the server room" for a long time. But it seems like both IT staff and the rest of the organization know that on a conscious level now, and, because of that, are able to focus on how IT supports the entire enterprise and can and should be a strategic partner.
  3. "Big data." Curious about what "big data" is? IBM (and they should know) has a free ebook. I would say that it's premature for associations to talk about "big data," though. I don't think we've conquered small data yet. What are we waiting for?
  4. Lots of talk about measuring member engagement, what to watch out for, and how to turn engagement into revenue. We're talking a lot about this, but I'm not convinced anyone's doing it well. Yet. One of the key problems I see is that staff assigns the points for various activities, and what *we* think is important may have no bearing on what *members* think is important.
  5. Finally, the best statement of the entire conference was the last thing closing keynoter Dion Hinchcliff said: "Become a change agent/revolutionary. You probably won't have your job in its current form for long anyway."
Bonus takeaway: fram. It's my new favorite term - spam from friends and family. I'm looking at you, people who still have aol email accounts.

04 December 2012

Marketing Masterstrokes

Yesterday, Kristina Twigg (Water Environment Federation), Lauren Wolfe (Higher Logic), and I presented on marketing your private online community at the Higher Logic Users' Group Super Forum.

Kristina, Lauren, and I each shared our own tips for marketing community (contained in the slides below), and then we led a crowdsourcing exercise to elicit additional private community marketing advice from Higher Logic clients and users:

  • Make business cards with your community URL to hand out. Advanced tip? Have a laminating machine at your conference so people can make luggage tags with your community card on one side and their own business card on the other.
  • Have a solid strategy for roll out (and K.I.S.S.).
  • Do at least ONE mailing (maybe a postcard?) about your new community.  If your members have unsubbed your mailing list, you won't be able to get them via email.
  • Have a mobile app for the community? Use QRC for easy app download.
  • Encourage people to upload profile pictures. Send "is this you?" messages with a blank head outline periodically.
  • Pre-populate the login "remember me" box - make people opt *out* rather than having to opt in.
  • Start a blog series to attract attention.
  • Include a regular "most discussed in our community" feature in your other communications pieces (like enewsletters).
  • If your listservs are still live, link to them in the appropriate communities so the information is searchable.

30 November 2012

Content Curation and Membership Associations

It's the final day of whitepaper release week, which means it's time to focus on what associations can do about the problem of information overload to better serve our members.

From my new whitepaper, Attention Doesn't Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations:
Content curation provides a potential path to a new type of thought leadership, one that is more suited to a world where information is no longer the scarce resource. Focus is. Meaning is. Wisdom is.


Our audiences need our help. But they need it in non-traditional ways. They need our assistance learning to think clearly and creatively when surrounded by ambiguity and complexity. They need our aid placing what is happening in the world around them in context so they can ascertain potential implications, determine the most likely outcomes, and plan appropriately. And they need to be able to make good decisions, personally and professionally, in a sometimes-chaotic climate. 
 Want more? Download your free copy at http://bit.ly/WVpP4a.

On a separate note, posting might be a little slow next week, as I'll be at the Higher Logic Users' Group Super Forum and the ASAE Technology Conference. You, too? Look for me and say hi!

29 November 2012

The Solution: Content Curation

From my new whitepaper, Attention Doesn't Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations:
Information overload is not only a factor of volume. It’s also heavily influenced by the fact that the large disparity in the sources of incoming information leads to an even larger disparity in the topics and focus of the information. We have plenty of data – too much, in fact – but we lack meaning, a sense of how all the streams of information coming in fit together to point us to wise decision-making. The curator adds context, trust, and meaning to that previously disaggregated mass of stuff.
Want more? Download your free copy at http://bit.ly/WVpP4a.

28 November 2012

The Problem: Information Overload

From my new whitepaper, Attention Doesn't Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations:

The concept of information overload was originated by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock as part of his depiction of a world in which the rate of change would accelerate to the point that governments, society, and individuals would be unable to keep up – would, in fact, be “future shocked.”

The new wrinkle is that, while it was always possible for any given individual to publish to the web (assuming, in the early days, she could find a hosting service and learn to write HTML code), technology now makes it simple for anyone and everyone to publish rich multimedia content from virtually anywhere at virtually any time. Hence the zettabyte problem mentioned above, which is estimated to cost the US economy as much as 25% of the average knowledge worker’s day to lost productivity, which adds up to a $900 billion drain on the economy.

Want more? Download your free copy at http://bit.ly/WVpP4a.

27 November 2012


Did you know that it's #GivingTuesday?

"What is Giving Tuesday?" you ask.

From their website:

On Tuesday November 27, 2012 charities, families, businesses and individuals are coming together to transform the way people think about, talk about and participate in the giving season.

It’s a simple idea. Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. Join a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity.

At a time of the year when it's easy to focus on what I want to get (Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the whole acquisitive, commercial holiday season), Giving Tuesday asks us to focus on what I can give to organizations that make my own local community better.

The site allows you to search based on your state. Here's the list of participating nonprofits in DC, for instance. (I'm a firm believer in thinking globally and giving locally.)

I'm personally supporting Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. I've been a long-time supporter of Woolly. They mount productions that challenge me and make me think. They do tremendous things to support the work of new and minority playwrights. They make the arts accessible to everyone with all sorts of free and discounted ticket programs.

I'd love it if you'd support them, too, but really, *any* community based nonprofit group you choose to support today will benefit - and so will you.

Edited 11/28/12 to add: I'm excited to report, per Woolly Mammoth, that they exceded their fundraising goal for the day with $10,815 coming in from 49 donors.

26 November 2012

Attention Doesn't Scale

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present on the topic Attention Doesn't Scale: The Role of Content Curation in Membership Associations for the Indiana Society of Association Executives. As a component of that presentation, and with Jeff De Cagna's advice and assistance, I wrote a white paper on the same topic.

This week, I'm going to be blogging about what's in the white paper.

My basic premise was:
  1. Information overload, while not a new problem, has gotten so much more severe in the last few decades as to turn a difference in quantity into a difference in kind.
  2. Membership associations are making this problem worse for our members.
  3. But we don't have to. Switching from an information creation mindset to an information curation mindset is one potential way out of our dilemma. 
I'll be writing  more about each of these points in turn this week, but in the meantime, please pick up a free copy of the white paper at http://bit.ly/WVpP4a  (I don't even make you give me your name and contact information first), and take a quick look at the slides from the ISAE event:

22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving.

(Back Monday)

21 November 2012

What I'm Reading

20 November 2012

What Is Cost to Serve?

And why does it matter?

Every membership organization faces this sooner or later, and the answer, while simple, is not easy.

At its most basic level:
Revenue per member – Expenses per member = Cost to serve a member 
Simple, right?
"If membership is $100 a year, and it costs us $60 a year to mail each member our journal, that's our cost to serve, and we bring in $40 a year in revenue per member. Go us!"

Not so fast, Sparky.
  • What do you mean by “member”? (Is it just people who pay full fare dues? What about consistent audiences like your corporate supporters?)
  • How much revenue does each member actually contribute to the organization? (Do they ALL pay $100?)
  • What does it cost to recruit and retain each member? (It's probably not $0.)
  • What's the FULL list services all members use? (It's probably more than just your journal.)
  • What services do only some members use?  (Hello, annual meeting.)
  • Which services are used by audiences outside the membership? (Website? Advocacy programs? People LOVE to free ride on that stuff.)
  • What do all services actually cost to provide, in both direct and indirect costs? (Oh noes! Staff costs!)
  • How are the revenues from those services really allocated? (What percentage goes to the board's current pet project?)
In order to remain financially healthy, membership organizations must know how much additional revenue or expense each member brings to the organization.

Knowing how much revenue each additional member brings helps an organization understand more clearly how much is reasonable to spend on member acquisition.

Knowing how much expense each additional member brings helps an organization understand how to price dues and make decisions about which programs, products, and services should – or should not – be revenue generating and, in the case of programs, products, and services that are consciously chosen to lose money, how those losses can be offset.

So: what DOES it cost to serve your members? The answer may not be what you think it is.

19 November 2012

Always the Last to Know: Tech Trends

Dan Scheeler (National Quality Forum) and I are doing a session on technology trends and how they're going to change work and the work place in the future for the ASAE Technology Conference in 2 1/2 weeks, and we need your help.

We've put together a short TwitPoll to find out what tech trends YOU think will have the biggest impact on how and where and why we work in the coming years.

Dan and I plan to open the session by presenting on the top trends YOU identify. Then we're going to facilitate a discussion among all the participants about additional trends YOU think are important. Then we're going to break up into table discussions so you can talk with each other about how those trends are going to affect the workplace over the next 15 years. After report out, we'll spend some time talking as a group about how this look at future could or should change things when we all go back to the office the week of December 10.

Sounds good, right? So take the quick poll to help us start it strong. And please share it with anyone you think might be attending the conference - the more responses we get, the better the session will be.

16 November 2012

Friday Top 5

It's the second of my Month of Thankfulness posts. Having just been through a fairly contentious election, I thought today might be a good time for a Friday Top 5 focused on what I'm thankful for as a citizen of the United States.
  1. I'm thankful that I live in a representative democracy, where many brave, passionate people, like the suffragettes and the civil rights marchers, have fought to make sure every person's vote counts.
  2. I'm thankful that, although we still have a ways to travel, we've made so much progress, even in my lifetime, on issues around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability/disability, and other key measures of diversity.
  3. I'm thankful for the Bill of Rights. It's hard to pick favorites among them, but I do have to give a major shout out to the First Amendment.
  4. Even though I grouse that the media has become overly beholden to corporations and too many "news" outlets are merely ideological entertainment masquerading as objective journalism, I'm thankful for a free press that is mostly well-intentioned and mostly tries to get the facts straight and reported correctly.
  5. I'm thankful that I live in a country where every day, so many wonderful people fight to increase tolerance, and justice for all people (not just "rich people" or "people who are like me" or "people who believe what I believe"), and to make our society more caring, and to protect our environment and minority rights, and to bring the arts to everyone (not just people who can afford them), and to feed and clothe and shelter people who need that kind of help...and sometimes, sometimes, they even win.
Image credit:BronteHeroine

15 November 2012

"That Sounds Risky..."

Back in June, Leslie White (Croydon Consulting) and I presented a session for ASAE's Finance and Business Operations Conference (FHRBOC). It was a simulation on risk management. We had assumed, given that it was a room full of accountants, that everyone would a common understanding of, and language around, risk.

Boy, were we wrong.

And it got us thinking: when senior teams are trying to make decisions together, do they suffer from the same problem? A lot of what we do or consider doing in associations involves the assumption (and hopefully mitigation) of risk. What if senior teams don't share an understanding of what that means? How can they even have good, open conversations?

Well, as soon as we started thinking about good, open conversations, we realized we'd want to involve Jamie Notter (Management Solutions Plus), too.

So here's what we've come to:

In today’s environment, an association’s success is contingent on its ability to make good decisions quickly. Heading in the wrong direction, or simply treading water while you try to decide, will move you further and further behind your competition. Today’s competition is tougher, and the margins are thinner, so we simply can’t afford to fumble our way through decision making.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the management team level. Here you have a group representing diverse interests that is tasked with making strategic decisions to support the whole enterprise. Yet the topic of how decisions are made (and what methods and processes would be best) is rarely tackled explicitly. Despite the imperative mentioned above, we actually do fumble our way through decision making.

As consultants, we see this problem and want to do something about it, but only if it actually makes sense to association execs, and only if we're not duplicating what other smart consultants in the association space are already doing. So we have a few questions for you.

  • What is your experience with decision making at your organization?
  • What kinds of conversations do - or don't - you have about risk?
  • If you are experiencing problems in these areas, what impact is it having on your organization? Your staff? Your relationships with your volunteer leaders?
  • Is there a need here?
  • Have you worked with somebody great who's helped you through this, where we should talk to her first or just get out of her way and let her do her work?

Short version: we think there's a problem here, we're interested in trying to figure out how we fix it, but we're not interested in trying to reinvent a wheel someone else has already done a better job creating.

What are your thoughts?

14 November 2012

What I'm Reading

13 November 2012

Help Us Decide

Scott Oser (Scott Oser Associates), Dave Will (Peach New Media) and I are considering launching a webinar series.

“BOR-ING. Everyone has a webinar series these days.”

Ours is – we hope – going to be a little different.


  • They’re going to be SHORT. 
  • They’re going to be FREE.
  • They’re going to be about ALL KINDS OF TOPICS in association management.
  • They’re going to feature presenters, association executives and consultants, who are RECOGNIZED EXPERTS in their topic(s).

But we need your help to make it that way.

We need you to tell us what is most valuable for you, so we drafted a survey.

“Oh no! Not another survey!”

You might actually want to take this one.

The concept we’ve been working with is an Associations 101 or Top 10 Things You Need to Know About… (a variety of topics in association management). They’d come out fairly frequently and live in a library where you could listen at any time.

Sound good to you?

Then please help us out by taking our survey so that we can make the series the best it possibly can be.

12 November 2012

Always the Last to Know: Speek

Do you ever do conference calls?

(duh - of course you do)

Do you get tired of playing "who has the 800 number?" with the other participants?

(don't we all?)

Have you tried Speek yet?

It's a FREE service that is web/VoIP based - but you can use a regular phone to participate - and allows you to create a personalized link you can share to conduct a conference call anywhere, any time. 

How easy is it?

This easy:

So what are you waiting for? Get Speeking today!

02 November 2012

Friday Top 5

Theme month alert! November's Friday Top 5 posts are going to be devoted to things I'm thankful for.

This week: Spark Consulting edition.
  1. I'm thankful to Shira who, although not the first person to suggest going out on my own, was the first person to lay out the case that got me thinking seriously about doing it.
  2. I'm thankful to the MANY MANY association consultants who were willing to share their time and expertise with me as a I tried to figure out HOW to do it.
  3. I'm thankful to my fantastic first clients. Hopefully there will be many more in the coming years, but the first ones are the ones who let you realize that this could actually work.
  4. I'm thankful to my web firm who's giving me a great price on my gorgeous new site that should be up any second now.
  5. I'm thankful to my spouse who, when I first proposed the idea of launching my own business, said only: "I think you'll be great at it. I think you should do it," even though it was going to have a MAJOR impact on his life.      
Also, I'm going to be on the road for some great events next week, including ISAE's CrossConnect Conference, so posting is liable to be a little light.
Image Credit: Paula's Ponderings

01 November 2012

Got a Story to Tell?

Public service post today. A friend of mine is a paid blogger for Razoo, and she is looking for stories to tell. Her beat is organizations that are doing social good around the following issues:
  • food insecurity
  • homelessness, especially homeless veterans
  • the coming higher education loan default bubble
  • arts education
  • human trafficking
  • the immigrant experience in the United States
  • millennials engaging in philanthropy
 She also has a personal interest in anything with a foreign policy or international angle.

If you can help, either comment or drop me an email.

31 October 2012

What I'm Reading

30 October 2012

MarComm Makeovers

Is your magazine frumpy?

Is your blog out-of-date?

Are your social media efforts mismatched?

Join me and Mitch Arnowitz (Tuvel Communications) at MGI (623 N. Washington Street) for the November Alexandria Brown Bag on Thursday, November 15, at 11:30 am.

Mitch and I and a panel of experts (aka the Brown Bag attendees) will provide on-the-spot analysis and advice for the samples you bring to help improve your marketing and communciations efforts.

This will be an interactive session with a computer and Internet access available for pieces like your website, landing pages, or social media outposts. If you'd like the group to look at a print piece (like a brochure, postcard, magazine, etc.), please bring enough that we can pass them around (say 5-8 copies).

Show off what's working at your organization, or get the input you need to take your marketing and communications efforts to the next level.

Register now! It's free!

26 October 2012

Friday Top 5

It's the information overload trifecta! Top 5 Interesting Facts about Information Overload:
  1. Although the concept has existed since at least the first century C.E., the term itself was originated by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock.  
  2. There is now over one zettabyte of information available electronically in the world. What's a zettabyte? It's a thousand thousand thousand terabytes, or about the amount of information contained in 250 BILLION DVD movies.
  3. Information overload costs the US economy approximately $900 Billion a year in lost productivity.
  4. It would take the average individual five years to view the amount of video content that will be being created EVERY SECOND in 2015.
  5. Human beings still have 24 hours in a day. 
 What does all this mean? Watch this space...

Image credit: The Sheffield Institute

25 October 2012

Little Billy

OK, so Tuesday, I posted a serious video about information overload. Today it's time for a funny video on the same topic:

24 October 2012

What I'm Reading

23 October 2012

Are You a Digital Junkie?

Preparing for an upcoming presentation, I found this terrific video that was, apparently, a student project, on the topic of information overload:

22 October 2012

Always the Last to Know: Quirky

Got an idea for the next Snuggie or ShamWOW? Or for something amazingly useful, like a power strip where each outlet can pivot or a croakie for your earbuds? You need Quirky, a social product development website. You come with the idea, the community improves it, and they provide the design staff to make it happen.

19 October 2012

Friday Top 5

On Tuesday, I presented at and attended a small staff association workshop. We had presentations on generational issues, developing personal leadership, marketing, AMS selection, going green by going virtual, raising more money from your events, communications and negotiation. WHEW! We covered a lot of ground!

My top 5 takeaways from the day were:
  1. Mobile is not just the new frontier for communicating with and engaging our members, it can also be a great source of event revenue via ads, sponsorship, and prime placement spots.
  2. If you're thinking about going virtual at your office, DO NOT ignore the human factors. Many people get a significant percentage of their social circle and social interaction from their work colleagues. You have to help them plan for and make that transition.
  3. Learn how the money works.
  4. When thinking about generational diversity in the workplace, it's important to be knowledgeable about and aware of generational cohorts and their characteristics (Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, Millennials), but it's also important to remember that there are some things that are universally true about 25 year olds or 40 year olds  or 62 year olds.
  5. If you're curious about what a person's relationship to authority is likely to be, look at her/his relationship with her parents and other institutions from adolescence and early adulthood.

18 October 2012

Is It Ever OK to Fire a Member?

Of course you know I'm going to say "yes," right?

So the real question is: when? And how do you do it without creating a PR nightmare in a social world?

(Here's one tip: don't use a post-it.)

We all have "problem" members. You know - the person who calls or emails constantly to complain. She's never happy with what the association provides. He doesn't feel that you respond appropriately to his complaints. Sometimes she's on the board or in a volunteer leadership position, and the association never does anything right. He not only complains to the staff, he complains to other members (and, in fact, anyone who will listen). God help you when she attends a face to face event - she'll park herself somewhere and gather a crowd while she moans about everything from the temperature of the rooms to the content of the educational programs to the qualifications of the plenary speakers to the food at lunch.

Of course, it's always more than one, and you certainly don't want to throw over anyone who demonstrates the first sign of being unhappy with something. Not only will it kill your reputation, it will kill your retention rate.

So how do you identify when someone has crossed from "problem" to "cancer"?

First, listen openly to her complaints and honestly assess whether they're valid. No association is perfect, and while sometimes the squeaky wheel is just being a pain in the ass, sometimes she's the canary in the coal mine.

Second, think about how he expresses his displeasure. Is he respectful? Does he share things with association staff who are in a position to do something about his issues, or does he just yell at the receptionist? Does he offer suggestions to fix the problem? Is he willing to compromise on a solution? In other words, will you EVER be able to make him happy?

Third, measure how much time, energy, effort she's really 

Finally, assess how prominent he is. Yeah, I'm advising that if someone is well-known and well-connected, go more extra miles for him. We all tell ourselves that all our members are equal, but that's not *really* true. This is one of those cases where who you are matters.

So let's say that the person's complaints aren't valid, she expresses them inappropriately and is never happy, no matter what you try, she's taking up far more than her share of everyone's resources, and she's not the Board chair who is also the CEO of the largest, most respected company in your industry. In other words, you *can* fire her.

So how do you do it?

Aside from "carefully," it requires an actual conversation with the problem member in which you calmly lay out the facts of his unsatisfactory interactions with the association and explain that you're terribly sorry that you are unable to meet his expectations. Then you explain that you will be refunding his dues for the most recent dues period and that when his membership term is up, you will not be bothering him with a renewal invoice (so yes, you're giving him back this year's dues but not canceling the membership). Then you wish him well, and encourage him to think about checking out the organization again in a few years. Throughout the conversation, you walk the fine line of polite but firm.

Yes I have done this and it did work. Anyone else?

Think I'm crazy? Tell me in the comments.

Image Credit: Corbis Images via Habit Forming Success

17 October 2012

What I'm Reading

16 October 2012

Membership Marketing on a Shoestring

I'm presenting on the topic above at the Events By Design Small Staff Association workshop today, and while it's too late to join us, I thought I could share my best membership marketing tips for small staff associations (aka "the handout") with everyone.

Find a complimentary organization or two, and swap member lists, swap magazine ads, swap e-newsletter promotions, swap banner ads, swap conference attendance/booths/speaking spots, etc.

It takes time, but you can do personalized, segmented HTML emails using some very simple shareware tools, some skill, and a little legwork. It doesn’t require subscription to RealMagnet or Constant Contact, etc. (although that does make things WAY easier).

Word of Mouth! 
Who are your passionate members and volunteers? If you know, ask them to spread the word about the exciting things you’re doing (you are doing exciting things for them, right?). If you don’t know, FIND OUT!

Customer Service! 
Don’t underestimate the value of excellent customer service at every level, from the CEO to the mail clerk. Retention is even more important than recruitment – it’s a much lower cost, higher value transaction. “How can we serve our members better today than we did yesterday?”

Little Things Mean a Lot! 
Get the invoices out on time. Track who’s paid and who hasn’t paid. Proof read all written communications. Test your emails to make sure your links work. Double-check to make sure your return address (snail- or email) is correct in your marketing materials.

15 October 2012

Always the Last to Know: Raspberry Pi

Have you noticed that while a lot of people know how to USE computers these days, not a lot of people understand how they actually work? The people who used the first PCs were tinkerers, because they had to be - the computers were really, really basic and didn't automate much for you (remember when you had to know how to make it load the operating system?).

Eben Upton, one of this year's Technology Review TR35 (top innovators under 35), aims to change that with the Raspberry Pi. It's a Linux-based, programmable, tinkerable, hackable computer, designed to engage kids and turn them into the next generation of computer engineers and scientists, not just users. And it's $25.

12 October 2012

Friday Top 5

Seasonal post alert! I'll be picking up the Halloween candy this weekend, so in honor of that, my Top 5 Treats to Hand Out (based on popularity among the kids in my neighborhood):
  1. Blow Pops. Unbelievably popular, at least on my block. Hands-down winner. Seriously.
  2. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups singles.
  3. Hershey's miniatures.
  4. Single-serving bags of M&Ms.
  5. Boxes of Nerds.
(Hey, I can't be serious all the time :)

11 October 2012

It's Not About the Notices

Membership retention isn't about renewal invoices: how many you send, when, in what format.

Or at least, it isn't ONLY about the invoices.

When someone decides to join your association, she's responding to a promise made - your brand promise.

Your association has promised her a certain experience with your communications, your staff, and your events. You've promised to make her professional life better in tangible ways.  You've promised to connect her with other professionals who share her goals and passion, who can help her become a better professional, and who she, in turn, can help in the same endeavor. You promised to make her investment of time and money in your organization worth her while. Are you delivering?

Do you know what your brand promise is? Because it doesn't matter what you think it is. What matters is what your audiences think it is, and how they translate their experiences with your organization.

Are you living up to it? Because if you're not, it won't matter how awesome your renewal pitch is, or when you send it, or how many times, or in what format. People will leave. Sure, not all of them - there are some members who will renew virtually no matter what. But everyone else - and believe me, that's the majority of your members - is at risk.

Got churn? Declining membership? Before you freak out about "should we send 4 or 5 notices?" or "should we start sending them 3 or 4 months in advance?" ask yourself: "are we keeping our promise to our members?"

Yeah, it's a bigger question and may be a harder problem to solve, but unlike sending an additional notice, it will actually cure the disease rather than slapping on a band-aid.

Image credit: awesome branding word cloud from the Journal of Hospital Marketing blog