I lead off this week with a request to your heart. And wallet. Tonight, as you sit down to dinner, thousands of families in your area struggle to provide a nutritious meal to their kids. Food donations are decreasing, yet the number of adults and kids who go hungry every day is increasing.

In an effort to raise awareness, funds, and food as part of Hunger Action Month, starting at 6pm tonight, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina will stream live online for 24 hours from their warehouse in Raleigh. The telethon will be hosted by Gregory Ng of the popular online frozen food review show, FreezerBurns. Please visit their website and donate to our food bank, or to your local food bank.

Update: If you’re in DC, MD, or VA, check out what DelCor is doing to raise funds (and food) for the Capital Area Food Bank.

Now, back to the best of the week. Thanks for hanging in there with me, and for any help you can give to your local food bank.

My favorite tweet this week came via Dave Phillips – whom I’m featuring in my next Avectra post about association CEOs who excel at social media:

RT @ValaAfshar: Don’t do social, be S.O.C.I.A.L. – sincere | open | collaborative | interested | authentic | likeable.

My favorite hashtag of the week was from the Content Marketing World conference held in Columbus, OH: #cmworld. I have GOT to put that conference in my 2013 budget.

Mention the name Beth Kanter to any gathering of online non-profit folks and prepare for gushing adulations. Everyone loves Beth, and for good reason. She’s been dishing out good digital advice since, well, since forever it seems. Check out her tips to avoid getting content-fried – “a potential hazard for content curators,” she writes, but I’d add for many other folks who want to avoid getting distracted by the information deluge at our fingertips. All of them will bring more zen and less stress to your life.

I’ve been getting into online education lately – a fascinating area full of opportunity for associations. It’s been several years since I took an online class but next week I start one from Coursera – modern poetry. I expect it to be a nice kick to the right side of my brain. Jeff Cobb of Tagoras has been the e-learning guru of the association community before it was cool. Recently he wrote about “five key changes I think are needed if we really want to see a revolution in association education.” If you care about association education, this is required reading.

Facebook is an easy target for derision because they don’t really care about the user experience. We’re just data for sale. Despite its shortcomings, I still love Facebook because it helps me connect to family and friends in a way I didn’t have before. You see, I’m a bad friend (and sister, and cousin, and aunt) who doesn’t pick up the phone like I should, so thank god for Facebook. Alexandra Samuel pointed out another benefit – seven ways to enhance your vacations with Facebook.

Oh dear, I was going to point out a good post about things your customers wish you knew about them, but apparently the people who wrote that post don’t know that most of us HATE having to close those damn sign-up-for-our-newsletter pop-up boxes before we can even get to the post we wanted to read. So forget them.

You’ve probably seen this pair of posts from Fast Company making their way around Twitter, but maybe not. Perhaps this is the moment that will change your life! Find out from Kevin Purdy what successful people do with the first hour of their work day. And then, Lydia Dishman tells us what successful night owls get done before bed. After reading them you’ll either feel smugly awesome because you do a lot of these things already, or you’ll feel slightly inadequate because, well, you know.

Cheer up, it’s Friday!

Eight years ago, the Girl Scouts of the USA decided it was time to transform the organization. “We knew we had to…revitalize the organization to ensure we remain compelling, contemporary and relevant to today’s girls.”

“Girl Scouts was founded 100 years ago. We need to update the organization and our model, or else we’re going to lose people,” says Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA.

Sound familiar?

Think big. Act boldly. Transform yourself.

It doesn’t surprise me the Girl Scouts plan to transform themselves. After all, the Girl Scouts have been a transformational experience for many of their alumnae, including me.  According to Girl Scouting Works: The Alumnae Impact Study, Girl Scout alumnae exhibit more positive life outcomes than do non-Girl Scout alumnae, including self-perceptions, volunteerism, community work, civic engagement, education, income and socioeconomic status. Not bad.

Are your members’ lives changed because of their membership? Do they get experiences they wouldn’t have elsewhere? Relationships they couldn’t develop elsewhere? Education they can’t find elsewhere? Does your association provide a transformational experience for your members? Imagine if you did, you wouldn’t have any worries about recruitment, retention or relevance.

Read more about why the Girl Scouts have lessons for associations at the Avectra blog.

My old Girl Scout sash

I fell into the association world. During the first interview my future boss and I hit it off talking about food and travel. The position sounded interesting so I bit.

I’m not the only one. I bet many of you accidentally landed in associations. After that first job, we were hooked. We were promoted or moved to another association. We learned that despite some similarities, each association is unique.

Even if you’re an association veteran, you still need to get oriented to your new one. Orientation shouldn’t only entail filling out forms and signing the employee handbook. It should help you understand your new organization, members and responsibilities.

What should associations teach new staff? I have a few ideas of my own, but I also reached out to the Twitter community to see what they thought.

A day in the life of your member

When I worked at NAHB, I attended a two-day class for local and state association CEOs. We learned about the entire home building process from land purchase to home closing. At the end of the two days, I finally had some understanding of what our members really did for a living.

Please read more about new employee onboarding (and the rest of this post) at the Avectra blog.

new employee orientation onboarding training association

Photo by U.S. Army/Flickr familymwr

Blogs are not dead! That was the verdict from DelCor Technology Solution’s unconference last month: Progress U. – Blogger Summit. I’m go glad I got up to Arlington VA to attend, it was a great day of conversation. DelCor’s publishing a series of follow-up posts from the Summit. The first talks about the state of blog reading and writing today and why blogs are a good idea for associations.

DelCor’s second post discusses Six Barriers to Blogging – And How to Bust Them. Don’t let limited resources, organizational culture, staff’s full plates, fear, lack of confidence orleadership’s unfamiliarity with blogs discourage you.

We’re so lucky to have access to free tools for professional development, like blogs, but there is a potential downside: cognitive overload. Back in August, Ed Rodley, an exhibits professional at the Museum of Science in Boston, wrote about Dealing with Your Cognitive Load. His post received so many replies from the museum community that he compiled their ideas into four more posts.

I must share something he said in Part 4 – it’s what drew me into the rest of these posts because it’s so spot on about personal growth:

“All of the strategies listed above have one thing in common. They don’t require anything aside from your own desire to learn. As someone who has worked in a large institution for most of my professional career, it’s easy to succumb to the mindset of waiting for permission to do anything. This is especially true of old-school “professional development.” There are forms to be completed, signatures to be garnered, and justifications to be gathered before any learning happens. But in the current climate, waiting for anything seems like a recipe for getting left behind.

Speaking of traditional nonprofit organizations, how many of them have a full-time employee dedicated to managing volunteers? Yeah, not many. In associations, volunteering is a benefit of membership, often the benefit that brings them back year after year. You’d think more resources would be directed at keeping members engaged and satisfied, but no. Susan J. Ellis at Energize, Inc. says Part-time Volunteer Management Means Equally Limited Volunteer Involvement.

In this brilliant post Jamie Notter, author with Maddie Grant of must-read book, Humanize, points out that social media is just a wave knocking down a corner of your sand castle. But be ready, he says. “The tide is coming in. Social media is giving us a bit of an advance warning that things are changing.”

While Eric Lanke was visiting one of his members, a manufacturing company, a simple sign on the wall provided a moment of clarity. He brought the mantra back to his association, it’s one that works in any organization: help the customer succeed.

I started this selection with two posts from an unconference, I’ll end with a post that Jenise Fryatt wrote about Event Camp East Coast: How an Unconference Changed My Life.

That’s it for now, happy reading!

Lady Blogger with Her Maid, after Vermeer by Mike Licht (Flickr)

This morning I was reminded that I spend a lot of my time in a world that’s very different than the world many others live in. Maybe I’m in a bubble.

When the citizens of my world go to an educational session or a conference, we bring our laptops and phones. We take them out, listen and type, tweet or text. This is how we digest information, learn and share.

But not everyone understands our behavior, including many in the association industry — people responsible for providing an effective learning environment for their attendees.

Is it really a question of etiquette?

Yesterday on the ASAE membership listserv an association director expressed his frustration that at a recent panel session 60-80% of the audience were on their phones or laptops. He found it disrespectful. In another session he discovered that some were taking notes but others were using email and Facebook or playing games. Should associations ask people to turn off their phones and laptops during a session?

Another association director likened the use of laptops and phones at conferences to their use at the dinner table or during staff meetings. He suggested that organizers politely ask attendees to turn off all electronic devices so they can better engage and learn. He believes this bad behavior will spread as smartphones proliferate and provide more access to the outside world.

Maybe I’m not the one in the bubble.

tweeting at conferences raleigh freelance writer

Photo by I'm Mr P (Flickr)

It’s not about you; it’s about us, the attendees.

If a speaker or moderator told me to turn off my phone or laptop, my first reaction would be bewilderment. My phone is on silent, why should I turn it off? I’m taking notes on my laptop. What if I want to tweet?

My bewilderment would turn to anger and resentment. How dare you tell me how I should learn? How dare you tell me how I should capture my thoughts and ideas? I’m eyeing the path to the exit door.

Learning and sharing tools.

Why do we use phones and laptops during educational sessions? Here are the positive reasons:

  • We take notes. Writing by hand is not as easy or speedy as it used to be for me. I can type quickly, delete, edit, highlight, bold, italicize and use color fonts on my laptop.
  • We tweet. We share information with those who can’t be here. Some of us might use Facebook instead to do this.
  • We communicate with other attendees. We go to conferences not only to learn but to also meet people and build relationships. We make plans to meet others for lunch, coffee or a beer.
  • We’re live-blogging. We might do this instead of taking notes or to provide a summary of the session to those who can’t attend.
  • We email or text reminders or ideas to ourselves and others.
  • If I’m lucky, I get into a special mindset at educational sessions. It’s professional development so my “work” mind is on. But, because I’m not in my office, I’m stimulated by new surroundings and information, and my mind goes into creative mode. Ideas appear out of nowhere about all kinds of things, sometimes not even related to the session’s topic, but that’s okay. I never want to shut the door to good ideas and I get a lot of them while sitting in sessions.
tweeting at conferences phones laptops raleigh freelance writer

Photo by catspyjamasnz (Flickr)

On the other hand…

Sorry, but there are just as many negative reasons why we’re on our phones and laptops.

  • Your speaker is not compelling. They read their presentation. They’re boring. They’re nervous. They’re selling.
  • We’ve heard it all before. It’s too basic. We’re bored.
  • The presentation isn’t being delivered in a learning style that works for me.
  • My brain is at capacity. It’s late in the day; I just can’t listen any longer.
  • I’m really not interested, but I had to come. I have work I need to get done, emails to check…

What’s in it for you?

Why should you encourage your attendees to pull out their laptops and phones? If you want them to have a rewarding and enjoyable learning experience, let them learn how they wish. If they choose to goof-off, that’s their choice, as long as they’re not bothering anyone. They’re adults wasting their own (or their company’s) money; you’re not their mother.

I suppose you probably spend a lot of money marketing your educational sessions and conference. How would you like free word-of-mouth (or word-of-mouse) marketing? Everyone with a phone or laptop is a potential ambassador of awesomeness if you provide them with an exceptional experience and encourage them to talk about it.

Help them help you. Give your attendees enough wifi, outlets and chargers. If wifi is too expensive at one venue, find another. Hotels and convention centers that don’t provide affordable wifi don’t deserve anyone’s business. It’s time for them to get out of the bubble too.

We all come to conferences from different worlds and perspectives. What works for you may not work for me. Keep that in mind and live and let live.

I’ve been a busy blogging bee lately. Here are a few of my posts on other blogs.

Give New Life to Your Press Release

With the rise of social media, some pundits have declared the press release dead. Others say that’s an extreme view; a good release still plays an important role. However, too many releases deserve the dustbin — poorly crafted, irrelevant and self-serving announcements disguised as press releases.

Read more…

The Power of Personal Learning Networks

It’s an exciting time for lifelong learners. Sources for news, information and knowledge were limited when I first entered the association management industry, but now, thanks to social media, options for learning are unlimited. As a result, we’re bombarded with words and ideas.

Read more…

Is Boomer Leadership Failing Millennials?

Millennials have been pushing my buttons lately, but in a good way. In my last post I looked at the online discussion about the value of association membership that Joe Flowers’ post provoked. This week I read a post by another Millennial blogger, Josip Petrusa – Attracting Millennials to Your Event and Why You’re Failing at It. He wrote of a recent PCMA conference. “It’s as if no one had a true grasp on who and what the Millennials are all about.”

Read more…

To Be or Not to Be, a Member

Last week Joe Flowers tweeted, “After a lot of thought, I decided to not renew my (ASAE Young Association Professional) membership.” I suggested he blog about his decision. His reasoning is probably shared by many association members so his peers would benefit from hearing his views. His post spurred a passionate conversation about associations and membership.

Read more…

Social Media and Political Action Lessons from Egypt

“Every Egyptian I talked to on ground this week laughed when I told them some think tech was not a vital tool for organizing.” Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas and an Adjunct Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, sent that tweet last week.

Read more when it’s published on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

associations social media press releases grassroots membership

Graphic by Mike Licht

Admit it, you like reading blogs, don’t you? You subscribe by email or RSS feed and you get valuable and interesting content delivered daily to your computer. How convenient! You receive tips and advice, read about hot issues and learn about resources that help you do your job or get ahead in your profession. Wouldn’t your members like that?

A blog provides news, information and thought-provoking ideas – a professional development trifecta. It’s the ultimate content marketing tool – engaging your readers with valuable information that holds their attention and strengthens their loyalty. A blog educates policy-makers, journalists and other influencers about your legislative and regulatory issues. A good blog establishes your association as a thought-leader in your industry.

Google loves blogs and their keyword-rich pages. Because of their dynamic fresh content, blogs rank high in Google indexing. Blog posts are sharable. They’re sent to colleagues via email, or shared on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Your association’s reach and influence expand via Google and social media platforms.

Blogs are social. Your members participate in the conversation you start by commenting back to you and each other. Blogs have more personality than websites. They have a real person’s voice, or many people’s voices. You can play it straight by providing serious information, and also be entertaining with lighter posts and videos.

blogging blog association small staff manage

flickr photo by Pete Gontier

Can you manage a blog?

Even a small staff association can manage a blog by publishing repurposed and curated content in addition to original content.

You can get content in several ways:

  • Create original content. Don’t worry, you have access to more content ideas than you’d expect. Trust me, the more you write, the easier it gets.
  • Repurpose existing magazine, newsletter, educational session, blast email and political alert content.
  • Ask members to contribute a monthly post. Look for bright members who want visibility. If they don’t write well, edit their work or outsource the editing. If their writing is hopeless, film them.
  • Ask industry bloggers to contribute monthly guest posts.
  • Outsource content creation to freelance writers.
  • Do a mix of all of the above.

Content can also be collected from other sources, reviewed and curated (filtered) to find the most valuable and interesting posts for your members.

How do you begin?

Start by regularly reading industry blogs to get a feel for the community and issues. Also read social media blogs to learn more about managing and marketing a blog.

Put together a staff team, or a team of members and/or industry thought-leaders overseen by staff, to develop an editorial strategy. Review your communication, marketing, professional development, membership, advocacy and public relations goals. How can your blog help achieve those goals? Don’t operate your blog in a silo. It must be an integral part of all those association programs.

Discuss how you will handle negative or critical comments. Censoring is only an option for extreme cases – spam, libel or vulgarity. Socialfish recently shared an excellent social media response triage flowchart.

Create an editorial calendar so your posts enhance other association efforts.

Always have a full pipeline of posts so you can at least publish weekly.

However, blogs need daily attention. Even if you don’t post daily, someone must review comments and reply back, share your posts and posts from other sources on social media platforms and, ideally, comment on other industry blogs. Like content creation, this can be done by staff or outsourced.

If staff sets the blog’s strategy and calendar, content can be created and collected using a combination of talents. The effort required to oversee this educational, community-building and marketing tool will be well worth it.

(A version of this post was originally published on Splash: Refreshment for Your Small Staff Organization)


Yesterday Chris Brogan sent out an email and published a blog post announcing a new membership group, 501 Mission Place. The “501” in the subject heading caught my eye. Sure enough, it’s an online community for those who run nonprofits. 501, a term that resonates with any nonprofit professional, is the section in the Internal Revenue Code covering tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.

The website says, “In a community of peers and colleagues the right connection, the right answer or the right idea is just a conversation away.” That sounds a lot like what we promise as a return on association membership dues:

  • Networking –> Connections
  • Information –> Answers
  • Education –> Ideas

The focus here is on benefits, not features, nicely done.

online communities association membership

graphic courtesy of Chris Brogan

We’re reminded about the benefits of conference attendance, a luxury that many nonprofit (and association) staff can’t fit into their tight budgets – developing relationships with your peers, stimulating conversations, problem-solving, inspiration, collaboration and community with those “who understand the very unique pressures and challenges of leading a non-profit.”

For $27 a month, members have access to online forums, seminars, articles, blogs, leadership interviews and resource libraries. That fee also buys a closed community – “a safe place for you to share what you’re doing, get peer-sourced help and feedback when you need it and to give it when you’re able.” It’s $324 a year for membership in 501 Mission Place. That’s within $100 of the dues charged by my national membership organizations, some are higher and some are lower.

Association bloggers and tweeps have been talking for years about online communities being either a threat or opportunity for associations. The issue was even the topic of conversation on the first Twitter #assnchat back in May 2009. If your association doesn’t offer ways for members to develop relationships and knowledge online, will they find it packaged in a more convenient, and perhaps more affordable, package elsewhere?

Is 501 Mission Place (#501mp) the future we’ve been talking about?