For association leadership, regular reviews are vital

Are you new to project management? As a new member of association leadership this is certainly possible, but it is a problem that must be remedied quickly. Project management skills are crucial for initiating and planning executive association activities, especially on a tight budget.

One important aspect of project management is maintaining a qualified and effective team of individuals. As a team manager, it is up to you to ensure that everyone is performing tasks the way they are supposed to and working well with one another. Many organizations use performance reviews as a way to ensure that this is the case for everyone. However, as pointed out by a recent article on Associations Now, it may be helpful to take this strategy to the next step.

The news source recommends conducting these reviews more frequently than the annual intervals that many organizations use. A lot can happen in a year's time. A team member who is meshing well with others for a few months may end up having problems later in the year. It is the job of a team leader to identify these potential problems before they can threaten the project.

As the news source notes, it is the job of a project manager to be aware of team members and compassionate to the issues they face at work. By holding consistent performance reviews, you can ensure that your entire team is on the same page and ready to get to work on major projects. 

Targeted outreach programs can attract millennials

If associations want to maintain their growth in the future, they are going to need to reach out to millennials. There are about 80 million millennials in the U.S. today, and many of them are reaching that stage of young adulthood where they are considering participating in organizations that represent their interests. No association membership recruitment and retention strategy is complete without focusing on this important demographic.

But how exactly should association executives go about attracting millennials? As this blog has already written in the past, having an active social media presence helps, as this is where much of your target audience is located in the first place. Another article on Associations Now suggests doing things a bit more indirectly—by marketing to parents.

According to Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Millennial Branding, a study conducted a few years ago "found that millennials view their parents as mentors, and influencers, over professors, friends, and coworkers." This is especially true for those who are still in college or who have just graduated but are still living at home. Therefore, the idea is to get the parents involved, and give them a reason to invite their children.

Sometimes, associations start early and aim at younger children. For example, the National Speakers Association has a youth program that operates alongside its annual convention. While adults participate in the main event, children ages 10-16 have their own activities that are still related to the activities of the NSA.

No association can succeed in the long term without investing in the future, and targeted outreach programs are a great way to do that.

Are association executives thinking creatively enough?

As an association executive, are you thinking creatively enough?

That may sound like an odd question, but it is a real problem for many organizations. Though they often start out with creative, forward-thinking ideas, it is easy to succumb to the pressures of daily administrative tasks.

A recent article on Associations Now argues that boards are actually harming their organization's business models, thanks to conventional thinking. Consider budgeting, for example. The article argues that boards have gotten too used to using basic budgetary meetings to decide financial questions. The problem with this is that it encourages boards to be conservative, and to underinvest in experimental efforts.

Indeed, when boards do choose to take risks, they prefer "investment risks" over "innovation risks." While it is not necessarily a bad thing to build a reserve fund and a diversified investment portfolio to keep your association financially stable, you don't want to do so at the expense of innovative projects. As the news source points out, the point of having these financial reserves is so that organizations have the ability to fund new projects without unduly harming their financial standing.

Not all associations suffer from these problems. There are plenty that are quite good at carrying out their goals while remaining financially stable. But if you are an association executive and you have begun to question the direction that your organization is taking, it may be time to reconsider the mission of the board. Association training could help you refocus on what you have been trying to accomplish from the start.

When it comes to member management, is more always the answer?

It is important for an association executive to focus on member management, but they must do so cautiously. It can be easy for an organization to misunderstand the importance of membership numbers.

Consider this: Is it really that important to have a membership base that is constantly growing? To many associations, the obvious answer is yes. But this might not be the case for all. In a recent learning lab titled "Membership Model Makeover," Tony Rossell, Senior Vice President of Marketing General, Inc. argued that too many associations are spending too much time worrying about using membership as a business model and focusing on the raw numbers.

He added that association executives should instead think of membership as "a tool, not an end in and of itself."

A recent article on Associations New cited Apple as an example. Apple sells its computers and mobile devices as premium products that generally cost several hundred dollars and sometimes more than $1000. It does this to maintain profit margins. As the news source pointed out, Apple could slash all prices to $99 dollars and significantly increase its customer base overnight. However, it would lose money.

For associations, the sheer number of members does not matter if the organization is not achieving its concrete goals. In many cases, it would be better for a group to have fewer members, all of whom are committed to furthering the association's mission. This level of engagement is something that all association executives should strive to achieve.

Publicity is crucial to association management recruitment and retention

In order to succeed at association management recruitment and retention, organizations need to demonstrate that they are capable of acting on the issues that mean the most to them. Sometimes, there just isn't any better way to market an association.

Consider an event that the World Waterpark Association (WWA) recently held this month. The organization sought to beat its own Guinness World Record for the world's largest swimming lesson. According to an article on Associations Now, the WWA gathered participants at more than 900 water parks and swimming pools across the country for the event—all at the same time.

The association first created this massive event in 2010 as a way to promote swimming safety among children, billing it as an offshoot of National Water Safety Month in May. Though many people may not realize it, 10 people in the U.S. drown every day, and the WWA believes that the vast majority of these deaths are preventable, with proper education.

WWA director of park member development Aleatha Ezra told the news source that the association "was looking for a vehicle, a way to galvanize and bring together the many different aquatic organizations and water-park and swim-school facilities to focus on the ever important message of water safety and the importance of learning to swim."

The final tally of the number of people who participated will not be known for a few months, but the WWA believes that it will be higher than the 32,450 people who were there last year. If true, this will have served as an excellent opportunity to not only spread an important message, but also to advertise the association's brand. Association executives should always be looking out for opportunities to market themselves through major events.

IRS to clarify rules governing association political activity

Associations exist for a wide variety of purposes, and many consider political action on specific goals to be part of their mission statement. However, an association executive should know that when it comes to politics, it is crucial to play by the rules.

According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says that it will propose new rules that will clarify the amount of political activity that tax-exempt organizations are allowed to participate in. This is a follow-up to the set of rules that the agency released last fall, which were meant to clarify the amount of political activity that 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations were allowed to engage in. Following the release, the IRS received more than 150,000 comments on the proposal.

The treatment of 501(c)(4) organizations is a controversial issue, since it became apparent last year that the IRS had targeted several of these organizations, applying extra scrutiny to their activities. The most recent proposal seeks to explain which rules apply not only to 501(c)(4) organizations, but also 501(c)(5) labor unions and 501(c)(6) trade associations.

"There are three issues: What should be the definition, to whom should it apply, and how much can you do before you jeopardize your exemption?" IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. "The next resolution will differ from the first draft because it will deal with all three questions."

As this process continues, it will be important for association executives to play close attention to the proceedings so they understand which rules may affect their organization.

Can benefit programs keep association members?

If you want to attract new members to your association, or retain members that already exist, sometimes you need to make them an offer. For those that are able to do so, perks are a great way for organizations to improve member management.

Consider, for example, what the American Motorcyclist Association offers its members. Those who enroll in the organization's automatic renewal program get free roadside assistance—which is quite useful for motorcycle enthusiasts who spend a lot of time on the road. At the same time, it helps the AMA guarantee a steady number of loyal members. 

"The opt-in auto-renewal program saves members time and saves the AMA money," the organization explained, according to a recent article on Associations Now. "These savings can then be passed back to the members in the form of improved benefits and services, which includes the free AMA Roadside Assistance."

Auto-renew features are another important benefit for associations. Sometimes, even when an organization offers good benefits, members are not always sure if they are willing or able to spend money on renewal fees. Auto-renew removes that decision making process and gives association executives the peace of mind that most members who choose it will stay with the organization.

Of course, smaller associations do not necessarily have the resources to offer something as widespread as a roadside assistance program. Still, there are many ways that association leadership can devise smaller benefits that will still appeal to their core audience, by making them feel like they are getting a good deal for their money.

Before marketing, association executives need to come up with a plan

If your association is heavily into online marketing, and it still isn't working, perhaps it is time to reconsider your strategy.

After all, for many organizations, creating large amounts of web content is certainly a step up from previous marketing efforts, which may very well have been limited to periodic newsletters. But, as CMI founder and author of Epic Content Marketing Joe Pulizzi recently pointed out, all of the Facebook posts, blogs and tweets in the world may not bring an acceptable level of attention to an association if they are not created strategically.

"Before you start any initiative or look at your current initiatives, you've got to ask yourself why you're doing it, and develop a strategy for how you're going to accomplish that goal," he added.

So why are association executives pursuing online marketing? Is it because of the cost savings? The potential for wider reach? The need to keep up with an increasingly online world? It's important to know the answer because every social network is different, and not all of them are suited to every goal.

For example, Facebook is a great way to build long-term connections among a limited group of followers. Twitter has a wider reach, but tweets can easily get drowned out by the crowd unless posted frequently enough. Blog posts carry the most depth and can deliver long-form messages, but can only be written so often.

At the end of the day, association executives must develop a plan that best utilizes the resources they have and allows them to leverage the greatest online impact.

Adapting an association’s culture

Is your association's culture where it needs to be to attract the members you want? If not, you may find success to be difficult.

That's the conclusion of a presentation delivered by Anthony Shop, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Social Driver, who spoke about this issue at ASAE's 2014 Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference.

Shop argued that while new technology gets the most attention, the success of associations is still by and large driven by the people in them.

"Progress is social not technological," he said.

So how can associations ensure that they get the best people? By aligning their culture with the 21st century, Shop argues. It is not enough to run your association like a top-down organization. Members must be invited to participate in many aspects of operation.

For example, Shop encourages association executives to embrace the communication techniques of those around them. Instead of sending out quarterly newsletters, associations should try posting information on Facebook, or tweeting it. In many ways, social media marketing has supplanted the old way of spreading a message through advertisements and other channels.

He also focuses on the importance of paying attention to what members do in their free time and using that information to continuously promote the organization. Shop cited members of a medical association who regularly watched YouTube videos of surgeries as preparation for operations. Association executives need to look at this and ask how they can use this technology for their own benefit.

The world changes fast, and association executives need to be prepared to adapt to what their members want.

Associations should look to Nintendo for inspiration

For small associations, the everyday acts required to keep the organization functioning can, at times, become overwhelming. As they take up more and more administrative time, it can be difficult for association executives to pursue the long term-goals they originally sought. 

It can be tempting to let certain plans go on "autopilot," but that isn't necessarily a good idea. The circumstances surrounding an association change all the time, and without an association executive at the helm and ready to make decisions, problems can arise.

Instead, organizations should take the advice of a recent article on Associations Now, and act like Nintendo.

As one of the leading companies in the videogame industry, Nintendo is known for its creative approach to making games and the systems through which consumers play them. In an industry where so much pressure is put on producers to create polished products with better graphical capabilities, Nintendo has created systems like the Wii, which was one of the first consumer electronics to use motion control, or the Nintendo 3DS, which allows players to view games in 3D without glasses.

Why does this company always seek out new and unique strategies? The news source argues that the most important question for industry players is, "What have you done for me lately?" And as consumers continuously seek out new and better experiences, Nintendo believes in bucking trends.

The same can be said about associations. Members are very interested in what their organizations are doing for them, and they want to see unique approaches to longstanding problems. This is why it is so important for association executives to make time for their goals. Innovation will not happen by itself.