Reads of the Week: September 7, 2012

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!

Will Associations Earn the Girl Scout Badge for Relevancy?

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

You’ve Got to Read This: December 6, 2011

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)

Phones and Laptops at Conferences: Friends or Enemies?

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.

Even a Small Staff Can Blog

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)

The CAE Journey

CAE. Certified Association Executive. Many of my friends outside the association industry ask, “What does that mean exactly?” According to ASAE, it means I’ve demonstrated “the knowledge essential to the practice of association management.” After reading this post, you may decide in my case it should be renamed Certified Association Geek.

The CAE journey gave me a deeper knowledge and understanding of association management, particularly in areas I never had the opportunity to delve into before. Reading the texts while reflecting upon my ten years of association experience gave me a much better grasp of the challenges of leading and managing an association. My mind grappled with a wide range of topics from the minutia of reporting requirements for lobbying to the more interesting concepts of shared leadership and strategic thinking.

Every week, a new domain entered my life: strategic management; planning and research; leadership; administration; knowledge management; governance and structure; public policy and governmental and external relations; membership; programs, products and services; and public relations and external communications. With each domain came lots of reading, quizzes and a conference call with my study group. I looked forward to my reading time, taking notes as I went, reflecting on what I was reading, what I had seen and how things are changing. I was amazed at how long I would study on weekends. It was a good experience. I knew my knowledge was deepening.

On test day, there was a strange moment about an hour into it when I said to myself, “This is kind of fun.” It might have been the coffee talking, or more likely, I was on a roll with some easy questions. By the end of the four hours, by brain was mush. I was drained. I remember thinking, if I had to bet money, I would bet I passed, but who knows. It was over, all those months of study, over. It was strange putting those books away. The books I had lived with for so long. Then I realized, I have my weekends back and I had a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

Fast forward six weeks and a few days later to this past Tuesday. While running around town that afternoon I got an email from my CAE study buddy, Sandra Giarde, saying the results were out. Our buddy Aaron tweeted he passed. I checked the mailbox on my way home. Empty. The mail was late, really late. Then I had a conference call and couldn’t check the mail for over an hour. Meanwhile three of us who took the exam were emailing back and forth – messages of dread and silliness.

After the call I walked back to the mailbox and there they were — two postal workers distributing the mail among the boxes. “Have you done the other side yet?” My side of the boxes. “No ma’am.” I walked home. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing.

I waited about 20 minutes and walked back, the mail truck was gone. The mailboxes never looked so ominous. I opened my box. It was full of mail. I quickly flipped through the envelopes and magazines, searching for that one envelope. Oh boy. There it is – a business envelope from ASAE marked “confidential.” Moment of truth. I tore it open with my key. “Dear Ms. Reid:” was all I could read on the first fold. Quickly I turned it over and saw the word “Congratulations!” “YES!” I shouted out, and then thought, oh wait, I better make sure, and quickly scanned and saw enough to know that yes, indeed, I had passed the exam and could proudly put the letters CAE after my name. If anyone had been at the boxes with me, I might have hugged them. I let out another whoop and skipped home with a huge grin on my face. I wonder what the neighbors thought because I really did do several skips.

I wasn’t expecting to be so over the top happy, my reaction surprised me. But I knew that if I hadn’t passed, I would have been so disappointed and devastated, never mind the blow to my pride and ego. All the work, the sacrificed weekends and the new love for my profession – it all paid off in the end.

The letters CAE are validation of what I know and what I’ve been through. But the best thing about this whole process was the journey — the learning and thinking. Everyone’s CAE experience is probably a bit different. We come to it with varying levels of management and leadership experience, areas of expertise, and views on association challenges and opportunities. We approach the study process in different ways. But no matter the final results, going through the process is a huge accomplishment and stands on its own. Passing makes it sweeter.

If you find our industry at all fascinating and would like a rewarding learning experience, I strongly encourage you to study for the CAE exam. I call it a “journey” because it’s like one of those memorable trips to somewhere new and different. I knew where I was heading — the exam. I had my maps — the study guide and texts. I met some people along the way — my study group. But the best part was the studying and learning — being in the experience — the journey.

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