Have you ever seen one of these?

association maker culture

UCF’s 3D printer at digitalNow

That’s a 3D printer from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training METIL Lab. David Metcalf and two of his students brought it to the digitalNow conference for The Maker Society, a session they presented with Jenny Levine, Strategy Guide at the American Library Association. 

Jenny made it clear up front: “Your association does not need a 3D printer.” Instead she focused on the maker culture and what it means for associations.

These articles will give you a better understanding of the maker culture:

Who’s a maker? Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE, defines a maker as:

“Someone who is a builder, a creator, a producer, a developer, someone who has an active sense of taking an idea and developing it into something that’s real and tangible and can be shared with other people.”

Sounds like the ideal association leader to me.

The Maker Generation

A generation of makers is coming of age — our future members. How do we become organizations they want (and need) in their lives?

Librarians, as usual, are ahead of the game. At work, they’re creating maker spaces for kids and adults. At their association, the American Library Association (ALA), they’re experimenting with new approaches to membership issues. Like many associations, ALA has seen a decline in volunteerism. Fewer members are willing to commit to time-intensive volunteer roles. So what can an association do? Jenny  appeals to the maker in her members.

  • Listen to member conversations. What are they talking about? What inspires their passion? Jenny monitors an unofficial group of 3000 members and non-members on Facebook – the ALA Think Tank. She looks for short-term project ideas that she can help facilitate.
  • Create new pathways to bring members into association involvement. In addition to the traditional, time-intensive style of volunteer service, offer project-based entry points that require less of a time commitment.
  • Nurture the maker ethos – “let’s just do it” – by providing support or, at least, encouragement to member-organized projects.

One of the UCF students mentioned how fun it is to get a maker community going. The community was already there, UCF only needed to give it resources and get out of the way. You have communities of members who are passionate about different issues or causes. Find them and listen to them. What types of projects would give them a sense of satisfaction while also staying aligned with the association’s mission?

Maker governance

When Jenny looks for projects, one of her criteria is purpose. David Metcalf looks for passion about a social mission. The motivation behind these projects is a yearning to create or accomplish something. That’s such a powerful desire – the drive to create – yet how often do associations satisfy it?

After the session, I wondered: What will happen to the traditional association governance model? Is the next generation of members willing to put in time serving on committee after committee in hopes of getting a board position and then, maybe one day, being nominated for an officer position? Is that a desirable path? Is that how they want to serve? Is that how they envision an association experience?

Will this generation of makers be willing to deal with the slow-moving engines of association governance? Does “let’s just do it” work in the association world? Can we find ways to let people get together and make “things” that help their fellow members, attendees, profession/industry or community? 

I’m excited about this emerging culture of makers and here’s why. Bob Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World, says the best leaders are makers:

“All humans have at least a touch of what I call the maker instinct, but most leaders have a serious dose since they must make and remake the organizations they lead. The best leaders have always been tinkerers who imagine alternative structures and love to play around with them to see what new things they can create.”

Why wait for the young ones to start hacking our associations. Let’s figure out how to just do it ourselves.

association maker motto

Photo by NoSoma (Flickr CC)

“I wish I could, but I don’t have the time.”

Are you hearing that more frequently? As life becomes more complex, members have more options for spending their time and, consequently, more demands on their time. Juggling their work, family, and social lives with association service isn’t as easy as it used to be. The traditional membership experience—volunteering for committee and board service—requires a commitment of time and energy that many are no longer able or willing to give.

“The younger generation will change the dynamic of the membership and volunteer experience,” predicts Jill Eckert McCall, director of the ABA Center for Continuing Legal Education and past chair of the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section. “We want to engage and serve in ways that are very different than generations before us. We don’t just give lip service to work-life balance; we actually go out and get it.”

Bar associations have the opportunity to provide an alternative volunteer path for those of all ages who want to get involved, give back, and have a meaningful membership experience, but on their own terms.

Read the rest of my article about microvolunteering at the American Bar Association’s Bar Leader magazine website.

association volunteering ad hoc microvolunteering episodic

Photo by Tim Pierce (Flickr)

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)

Last night I went to the Kids Summer Stock Social Media Mixer at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

That’s a mouthful! What does it all mean?

It means I was in the Food Bank’s HUGE Raleigh warehouse full of boxes of all kinds of food — fruit, vegetables, eggs, bread, Mt Olive pickles, peanut butter, water, you name it — on towering shelves that reach up to the ceiling. Imagine Costco without all the junk food. A passionate Food Bank volunteer (thanks David!) led a group of us on a tour of this humongous building into several giant refrigerator and freezer rooms – a pleasant relief to the 90+ degree heat.

It also means I hung out with a bunch of fun and kind folks I first met on Twitter a few years ago but who have become friends whom I don’t see often enough. That’s the social media part.

However, the real reason we gathered was not to ogle giant boxes of sweet potatoes, but to support the Food Bank’s Kids Summer Stock program. I must admit when I first heard “summer stock” I thought of summertime theater – is that just a New England thing? But, no, this is a serious issue.

When school ends, breakfast and lunch programs end too for 270,000 kids in the Food Bank’s service area of 34 counties. Kids go hungry. Imagine being hungry all the time and the effects that would have on your mood, attitude, energy level, brain power and self-image. What a crappy way for a kid to live.

Kids Summer Stock provides the food needed to support these kids and their families during the summer. In the past three summers it’s provided more than 4 million meals.

freelance writer blogger copywriter raleigh

Last night’s mixer was not only fun but a way to get the word out to the local social media community about the Kids Summer Stock program. I’ve written before on the Socialfish blog about the Food Bank and their social media outreach. I like to call their database and website manager, Jen Newmeyer, their social media Champion because she uses social media, especially Twitter, to develop personal relationships within the community.

And what happens when it becomes personal? You care. Of course I’ve always cared about hunger in my community, even before I met Jen. When I lived in Sacramento CA and Arlington VA I supported food banks with time and money. There are so many other causes I’d like to give to, but with a limited charity budget, how do I decide where to give? How do you?

When it becomes personal, we care and we give. When someone I know and like is an advocate for a cause, I get interested. Think about where you’ve spent your charity time and money this past year. Some of your decisions may have been based on a deeply personal interest, for example, fighting cancer. But I bet you supported friends or family who walked or ran in charity events or you bought cookies from a Girl Scout. What was your motivation for giving? A personal relationship?

The Movember campaign inspired me to write last fall about the reasons some causes resonate with us more than others. My top reason: friends are involved.

The Food Bank understands the power of friends. They also understand the power of friends with influence and a platform. Chatty friends. Friends who write, tweet, share and socialize. Their new Social Media Ambassadors program gives a lot of their social media “friends” a way to spread the word about the Food Bank and its programs to their friends and network. This type of program appeals to today’s volunteer who prefers ad-hoc involvement: helping when they have the time in a way that fits their lifestyle and appeals to their interests.

Now, I’m going to appeal to you. Do you have $10 bucks to spare? Come on now, that’s not so much for many of us, that’s two beers at your local pub or a craft brew six-pack.

If you’re from central or eastern North Carolina, visit the Food Bank’s Kids Summer Stock page and contribute some money or time to the hungry kids. If you’re from elsewhere, you can find your local food bank on the Feeding America site. I bet you grew up with a full belly and refrigerator, let’s help the kids who have empty tummies and cupboards so their future can be full of happiness and success.

Next week I plan to go offline for an at-home retreat. I envision lots of reading, thinking, planning and creativity exercises. That means I’m finally digging into Patti Digh’s Creative is a Verb and some writing books that have been wooing me. I’m starting the week with a massage on Monday. Isn’t that how all retreats start? Life and work may get in the way, and if so, I’ll roll with it. But if I’m extra quiet, now you know why.

Betting can begin on whether I can abstain from Twitter. I’m dubious myself. For those who can’t get enough of me, that means you, mum, here are some of my recent posts for other blogs.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Despite all the mentions on TV by hosts and anchors trying to sound hip, only 8% of online Americans use Twitter, according to The Pew Research Center. Only 53% of that group check Twitter once a week or more for updates. How do your members compare? Have you asked them lately where they go online to find news, information and conversation?  Read more at Avectra…

It’s Time to Award Innovation in Associations

Most association awards programs are pretty ho-hum, unless, of course, you’re a nominee. ASAE and state SAE award criteria are predictable. The recipients are usually active long-time members who have ‘paid their dues.’ Don’t get me wrong, the ASAE and SAE award recipients do deserve the recognition. But are awards like these sufficient? Why not use awards programs to inspire new ideas and practices in addition to recognizing the good work of others?  Read more at Avectra…

A New Association Position: Director of Member Engagement

Did you know last week was National Volunteer Week? It didn’t get much play in the association world. The lack of celebration might be the symptom of a larger issue: many associations don’t practice good volunteer management.  Read more at Avectra…

writer blogger copywriter raleigh association associations blogging

Image by Mike Licht, Notions Capital

How to Make Time for a “Small Bite” of Community

Social media pioneer Chris Brogan wrote earlier this year about online communities and “platform fatigue.” “We want to connect on maybe two or three networks tops. One or two of these will remain the “commons” services like Facebook or Twitter. The rest of people’s interactions are going to fall into smaller communities, often private or self-selected in some way.” Our time, attention span and dedication are limited. How much can we spare for a new online community if we’re already spending time on Facebook, Twitter and other sites? What about your members?  Read more at SmartBlog Insights…

Association Exercise: What If We Have a Shutdown?

A big sigh of relief was heard in Washington DC and beyond Friday night when Congress finally took action to avoid a government shutdown. But the whole debacle got me thinking, “what if?” What if your association shut down at the end of the week? What if it shut down not only inessential services, but everything? And taking this scenario one step further, what if it shut down not just temporarily, but forever?  Read more at Avectra…

“Ubercoolz” Member Testimonials

Member testimonials can be awfully predictable — a flattering repetition of membership brochure features. Yawn. Imagine instead that your association is the main event and your members are reviewers giving one-word testimonials as in this New Museum exhibition advertisementRead more at Avectra…

One of the many things I love about the Christmas season is how it brings out the generous side of people. In a timely post Bob Bessette shares some ways we can blog for good. He definitely got me thinking about how I might use my writing skills to help out a local charity. Another way to help out good causes is to sign up to be a micro-volunteer with the Sparked network where you can “turn your spare time into social good.” Once you sign up, select causes and identify your skills, Sparked will send you email alerts when an organization needs your help.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the ideal time to reflect and reset. I’ve written at SmartBlog Insights about setting time aside at work to reboot. Carol-Anne Moutinho shares several ways to help your nonprofit staff unleash their creative energy. Her ideas can work for any organization at any time, so don’t skip this one.

volunteering blogging Dan Flavin staff creativity

untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection) by Dan Flavin at the National Gallery of Art, photo by EB Morse

Here’s a fascinating case about the perennial question — what is art. A British art gallery importing disassembled artwork by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola for an exhibit was taxed by customs at the standard 20% rate, instead of the 5% artwork rate. Customs classified Flavin’s work as “lighting fittings” rather than art, and the European Commission later agreed. As the post notes, this shows how “modern” art can still bewilder some people, just like in 1926 when Brancusi’s Bird in Space was classified as “Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies.”

I haven’t suggested a Twitter follow in this series yet. I get a lot of good reading suggestions from Justin Levy’s @jlevymedia account. This isn’t his personal account, but a feed of posts he finds worth sharing, a mix of social media content and posts that appeal to freelancers and other creative types.

Jeff Cobb at Mission to Learn saves the day with his list of ten last minute gifts for lifelong learners. As a self-identified lifelong learner myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of this list. I’m reading a book by Natalie Angier, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, and she recommends buying a dissecting, or stereo, microscope (that would fall under #4, Experiment, on Jeff’s list). They’re not cheap, but maybe you can find one at a yard sale, that’s where I’m looking. She says it’s “a modest price to pay for revelation, revolution, and — let’s push this envelope out of the box while we’re at it — personal salvation.” Wow. Check out Jeff’s list for your own personal salvation.

I thought it was rather generous of Santa’s agency to publish his brand guidelines for all to see. Lots to learn here about that jolly old fellow. Yet I must warn you that Santa spelled backward, atnas, is not Lithuanian for chimney, as far as I can tell. Yes, I’m just gullible enough to check things like that. However, I’m sure the rest is all true. Merry Christmas!

staff creativity blogging volunteering santa branding dan flavin

flickr photo by LadyDragonflyCC

In the spirit of practicing what I preach, I’m publishing a post today. I normally don’t publish on Saturdays. Saturdays are usually devoted to fun and, if I make time, reading. Reading during the week is purposeful; my goal is to keep up and ahead. But during the weekend, it’s more relaxed, for pleasure and intellectual stimulation.

This week I wrote about my wish for more fresh content on weekends. The post was inspired by the realization I had last weekend that my Facebook newsfeed was devoid of updates from organizations I follow. And my Google Reader, once I emptied it, wasn’t being populated by new posts to read. On the weekends I’m reading but not too many are publishing.

I learned through comments and tweets that most people aren’t reading or visiting blogs on the weekends. There are some of us, but we seem to be the exception. My blog traffic is quieter on the weekends so that proves that point.

But for those oddballs like me out there, here’s a quick peek at some of my recent guest posts on other blogs.

Tips to Reboot Your .Org Workforce’s Mindset at SmartBlog Insights – Inspired by astronauts and the Overview Effect, I share ways to “reset” at work.

BYO Meeting Evaluation Forms, Parts 1 and 2, at SmartBlog Insights – Too many times we want to give feedback about a meeting or conference, but the evaluation form doesn’t address our frustrations.

Even Small Staffs Can Blog at Splash – Yes, there are ways to manage a blog and publish content, even at a small staff organization.

MIA: Young Association Leaders at SmartBlog Insights – Where are the 30 year olds? Are associations attracting and preparing the next generation of leaders?