Essential Principles for Navigating Cultural Differences & Language Barriers for International Success

Association expert Peter Wright from The Planning Group has some practical advice for association professionals travelling abroad. In 2007 Peter’s international endeavours heated up and as a result, he now works with clients in over 20 countries around the world.

With experience comes knowledge and Peter has shared some of the principles that he has developed over the years. “I’ve made some mistakes but I’ve learned a lot about doing business outside of North America. My clients all struggle with the same fundamental planning and execution issues: How do we add value? Where do we want to be in the future? How do we get there?”




These are a few of the successful principles Peter has developed along the way:

Don’t assume that other cultures are homogenous.

From a North American perspective, it is natural to want to treat other countries as one big culture that differs from our own. China for example, has many cultures, languages, and practices that vary from one Province to another. So this assumption is not only culturally insensitive but will lead to faulty business decisions for your organization.

Don’t equate English fluency with intelligence.

This can be easy to forget when a meeting is being conducted in English where English is the second language. Remember that if someone’s English skills are not very strong, chances are they probably speak more languages than you!

Don’t gravitate to the best English speaker in the room.

In any country this will likely come off as disrespectful. There may be situations where the most junior people at a meeting or a dinner have the strongest English skills … and the association’s president does not. As a foreign guest be aware of how much time you spend with each person. Treat client interactions similarly to how you would in North America, and set language barriers aside.

Don’t be upset if people don’t always speak English around you.

“Admittedly, there were times I felt offended when a room (or car) full of people all spoke as if I wasn’t there! My advice is to think about the situation from their perspective. If we had a German visitor at a meeting here, would we all try to speak German?” Just remember that you are visiting them, and the world doesn’t always work in English.


How does your association prepare its staff for traveling over seas? What are some of the principles you have developed for interacting with clients from other countries?



How Non Profit Leadership Can Help Members Be More Successful

Associations should always be looking for ways to boost their members success. Our last post discussed how essential a Value Proposition is to success. We know from that article that understanding your association’s Value Proposition requires a deep understanding of your members.

A group of non profit leaders discussing how they can create a better membership experience.
With that in mind here are three simple steps non profit leadership can take to get to know members better.

1. Recognize who your members are and how you should segment them

Who are your members? This question is more complicated than it sounds and will shed light on just how many different people are part of your organization. Once you figure out who is in your organization you can begin segmenting them into different groups. In professional organizations newer members may be there to network and find mentors while older members may be there for group insurance or headhunting.  

By segmenting you can also identify trends in your membership that you may miss otherwise.

2. Understand member’s expectations

What do your member’s expect out of you? Even if you think you know the answer to this question it is useful to confirm by asking members. After you’ve segmented members as suggested above try to get someone from each segment’s opinion. Take your time thinking about their responses.

3. Check how you’re performing against your member’s expectations

Reflect honestly about how your association is doing compared with what members expect. First look at things you are doing well. You may need to make adjustments or small changes it is important to keep in mind all the things your members are appreciative of. After that examine which expectations you are not meeting. Are there key expectations your organization is not meeting? Prioritize them and get to work on repairing it.

There are likely a third category of things your organization does that were not covered. This third list is a great to look at because it will have inessential services on it. Some (but not all) of these services are not valued by your members so why are you spending money offering them?

What’s Next?

When you are ready to sit down with members to learn about their expectations check out our post on great meetings. Have you been surprised by what members find valuable versus what you thought was valuable? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

Non Profit Leadership: Offering Maximum Value To Members

We all know that members join associations for the benefits that they offer. The benefits vary from association to association and can include special discounts, networking opportunities, conferences and more. When you pitch potential members your organization you offer a value proposition.

What’s That?
A value proposition is what an organization does, that will cause their members to realize tangible benefits through the use of their product or service. It is more than just the product you provide; or even how you sell your service, or distribute it. It is how you string all these components together to best serve your members and deliver real value.

When we provide group insurance at a reduced rate only we can do that for our members. We are not an insurance company but we can give them it as something they cannot get on their own.

non profit leadership

Complex, Not Complicated

We want to make our value proposition as complex as possible. This means bringing together lots of little parts that members cannot get anywhere else. While some of your association’s competitors can offer some of what you offer your members should not be able to find everything that you have somewhere else.

We want to make our value proposition as clear and transparent as possible so members can understand what it is. If members cannot understand what you are offering them they will lose interest or become frustrated. If you are wondering about the clarity of your value proposition try explaining it to a long time member. This will help you build a value proposition that is simple to understand and reflective of your membership experience.

The Right Reasons

We need to understand value propositions for the right reasons. This means trying to give our members as much value as possible. It means wanting to know why our members come to us and why they leave. We do not want to set up a value proposition that exists only to tell members that we are good. We do not want set it up as a marketing piece because we will not have a clear and deep understanding of the value.

In order for non profit leadership to get the core of their value proposition we will need to understand our members. Check next week’s post for suggestions on how to accomplish that. 

Did this post change the way you think about delivering the best value to your members? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

Should Association Managers offer Multiyear Membership?

Most associations have their members renew annually but according to a recent article on Associations Now some are now offering a multiyear option. There are some things Association Managers should consider before choosing to offer multiyear membership.

The IACCM offers multiyear memberships.

The IACCM offers multiyear memberships.

How is your membership renewal done?

If your association handles all renewal online then offering a multiyear membership will only require a few additional forms. It will not be a challenging or time consuming to set up. This option may be welcomed by long time members who are comfortable committing for multiple years.

However if your association’s membership renewal is done manually multiyear memberships may end up saving your association time and money. Associations Now does note that there is a lack of data surrounding multiyear membership initiatives so it is difficult to know whether the time saved registering members for multiple years will be more than the time it takes to explain and pitch members on them.

Is it something members have requested?
The International Association of Contract and Commercial Management mentioned in their interview with Associations Now that their members requested a multiyear. If your members have never mentioned it to you or anyone at your association there is likely no demand for it. Your time is better spent delivering benefits your members have actually asked for.

What does your strategic plan say about membership?
Before adding another project like setting up multiyear memberships remember that it will take time energy away from another project. Consult your strategic plan and think about how membership fits into it. Does offering a multiyear membership fit well with strategies your associations already has? If it does check with person responsible for managing membership to see if they have the ability to add another project.

With all of that in mind your association should be able to make an informed decision about offering multiyear memberships. If your association or an association you’ve been a part of has offered multiyear memberships let us know about your experience in the comments or on social media.

Association Executives Should Consider Sponsored Memberships

A recent article on Associations Now sheds light on the trend of sponsored memberships for associations. According to the article the Society of Plastics Engineers started offering free student memberships in 2014 through a sponsor funded subsidy. In the 15 months since launching over 1,000 students joined SPE more than doubling the total number of student members.

A similar program “ScaleUp” launched nine years ago by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. It has increased membership from below 3,000 to over 22,500 students.

The main difference between the two programs is where the sponsorship money comes from. SPE is sponsored by another trade organization while AIChE is sponsored by corporations. Each funder has their own benefits and drawbacks but is clear they both can boost membership.

AICHE teaches students how to make liquid nitrogen ice cream.

AIChE teaches students how to make liquid nitrogen ice cream.

What should your association do with this information?

Look at your membership demographics and identify any areas where you are under-performing. Millennials and students are two groups associations often struggle with. It is possible that they have never heard of your association or do not know the benefits of joining. By sponsoring memberships association executives can demonstrate the value and purpose of associations.

Seek out sponsors by looking to other professional organizations or corporations your members frequently interact with for funding. Be sure to explain the value of their sponsorship by giving them a concrete example of a time when a member from your association provided something they needed.

Would sponsored memberships work at your association? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

Why Association Managers Should Abolish Meeting Minutes


At the end of Peter Wright’s webinar on getting more tasks achieved in a hectic work environment participants asked some compelling questions.

The question we’re discussing today is: “Will minutes of meetings always remain an effective way to prioritize?”

Peter said most meeting minutes are actually a waste of time. Instead he’s a strong proponent of only recording critical items.

The critical items

Action items: Write down what your team is working on next. This keeps team members accountable to each other and stops potential miscommunication.

Outcomes: Track the outcomes of actions your team has taken from meeting to meeting. This will prompt high level discussion among team members and has the potential to improve your association’s best practices. This record also allows your team to celebrate their successes or make improvements if they struggled.

Responsibilities: A record of each team member’s responsibilities keeps their workloads manageable. A team member with too much or too little to do will under perform.

Timelines: Assign due dates for projects. It will help meeting attendees manage their time and workload more efficiently. Timelines and due dates also foster a culture of accountability in your association.

Decisions: Record each major decision to keep team members accountable and in sync. This will also prevent potential conflict or confusion at future meetings.

Use a flip chart

Recording notes on a flip chart keeps them public and limits the amount of space they can take up. If you have more than 15 or 20 bullet points on your chart you’ve got too much. Should that happen your team can cross out excess or unimportant items together. By providing your team with a visual reference you ensure everyone is literally staying on the same page.

What about X, Y and Z?

As association managers or members there is no reason to record things that fall outside of the above categories. The discussion that is not recorded has value in the meeting itself. In fact the collaborative discussion making process is what creates the items that are written down. So the process is important but tracking it step by step is not.

Reducing notes from meetings down to critical items will increase your team’s comprehension. Recent studies have shown university students who take copious notes don’t understand the intent of what they are being taught. Similarly meeting attendees who try to remember each detail miss the bigger picture.  

A sharp-eyed association executive must be constantly on the lookout for ways to promote their organization’s brand.


Association Managers Image

Association Managers Meeting

Mobile-Friendly Websites a Must for Associations

A mobile-optimized website is no longer a nice-to-have. Handheld devices allow you to engage your association members no matter where they are; but only if your site is designed for screens of all types and sizes.

As of April 21, Google factors mobile-friendliness into its search engine rankings. Dubbed Mobilegeddon, Google’s latest algorithm update has so far proven less apocalyptic to the SERPs* than feared. Associations should still take heed.

Not sure if your website is friend or foe? Take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

Now take a moment to view your site on a mobile phone:

  • Do you have to scroll sideways to read lines of text?
  • Is your text legible without having to zoom in?
  • Are images, video and other graphics readily viewable? (Note: Many mobile platforms don’t support Flash video.)
  • Does your site load quickly?

People search and consume Web content on many different platforms. Screen sizes vary among desktops, tablets, phones, and even TVs and wearables. Plus device screen sizes keep changing, so it’s important that your site be able to adapt.

Responsive web design is Google’s recommended design format. It responds to the users’ needs and the devices they use. For example, website content may appear as a single column on a phone, while the same content might appear as two columns on a tablet and three columns on a desktop. To stay top of mind on Google, your site needs to be responsive.

More tips for a mobile-friendly website:

  • Make your site touch-friendly, allowing enough space around actionable items such as buttons, navigation tabs and links to be triggered with a touch of a finger.
  • Avoid mouse-overs. There are no mice with mobile.
  • Use a simple, easy-to-read font between 12 to 16 pixels.
  • Avoid pop-ups, which can be even more obtrusive on a small screen.
  • Maximize speed. Shoot for page load times of 4 seconds or less. Mobile users are on the go, multitasking at a feverish pace and they want their info to keep up.

*For more on SERPs and their importance, see Association Website Strategy Calls for Commitment, Competition and Accountability.

Successful Association Websites

Your website is one of your association’s most important assets. It’s essential to member recruitment, retention and engagement.

Our recent series on retooling your association website covered the most important elements in website strategy and development. Let’s see if you’ve been paying attention. Here’s a brief quiz.

  1. A user-friendly website is more important than your rank on the SERPs. True or False?
  2. What is the single, most important step in your site development? Hint: They’re words.
  3. Should you be targeting only members or everyone on the Web?
  4. One person needs to be held responsible and accountable for your website. True or False?
  5. Content should be reserved for your membership and password-protected. True or False?
  6. Once you reach the top spot on Google, you’re SEO job is done. True or False?
  7. There are some great quick-and-easy resources on the Web to help raise your SEO rank. It just takes a few bucks. True or False?
  8. A site optimized for mobile devices is a nice-to-have, but not essential. True or False?

Now, let’s see how you did.

  1. False. You have to be found first, so you want to dominate the SERPs (search engine results pages). Then reward your visitors with a site that’s easy to navigate.
  2. Identify your primary and secondary keywords. This is how the search engines will find you.
  3. Neither. Most associations have a broad audience, but it’s still targeted. To be recognized as the voice of your industry, target all of your stakeholders, e.g., current and prospective members, the media, and government.
  4. True. One association staff member should be held accountable for website development and ongoing improvement. But it takes a team – SEO expert, writer and a developer – to build and maintain your website.
  5. False. Un-gated content results in better SEO, versus gated content, and helps establish your association as a leader among your broader target audience.
  6. False. Maintaining your rank on the SERPs is an ongoing effort fueled by the right SEO keywords, fresh content, and ongoing improvements. Measure results and adjust.
  7. Absolutely False. There are no shortcuts in SEO. You can’t buy your way to the top. It takes a clear strategy and hard work to get to the top of Google and stay there.
  8. Trick question, we haven’t covered this subject. But it’s a must. Google’s new algorithm may downgrade your site’s ranking if it’s not mobile-ready. (More about this in our next post.)

If you struggled with any of these critical SEO tactics, you might want to revisit this subject. Start with How to Retool Your Association Website for Thought Leadership.

Take Your Website to the Next Level with Off-Page Optimization

In our last three posts we’ve been previewing the 10 Steps to Retooling Your Association Website. Before we reveal the last two, let’s recap.

1. Audit your site

2. Choose your primary and secondary keywords

3. Choose your preliminary site pages

4. Choose a look and feel

5. Start measuring stats on your current site

6. Create detailed page tables

7. Gather content

8. Make detailed layout (conversion-focused) decisions

Step 9 Make early off-page decisions

Off-page optimization has dozens of components, but almost all are related to the number, quality, relevance, and importance of inbound links to your website. Off-page should be an essential part of your website strategy, but only after you execute a solid on-page strategy in Step 6 (see Boost Your Association’s SEO with On-Page Optimization).

Google’s algorithms track which sites link to your website to determine your rank on the SERPs. Links from other sites with higher status, traffic, or relevance are gold.

Off-page is a bit of a popularity contest. One way you can win admirers is by creating quality, evergreen content that other sites want to share with their audiences (Step 7 – The Blogging Advantage). Hint: Reciprocal linking benefits both parties.

Links can come from referrals and mentions in other sites’ articles, blogs and wikis. Does your association have a Wikipedia page? Links can also come from photos and other graphics on your site cataloged by Google images. Hint: Tag your images so the search bots can find them.

Association Hub Experts Peter Wright and Jim Beretta will cover all the ins and outs of off-page optimization during their April 23 workshop. If you missed it, just respond to this post and we will email you a simple template.

Beware the perils of black hat SEO tactics.  On the Web, if it seems too good to be true, it is. If somebody says you can buy a thousand links for 50 bucks, walk away.

“You shouldn’t try to fool Mother Nature or Google,” says Wright. “You could be severely penalized to the point where your site is D-listed and you’ll never be found. Google considers it a real mark of excellence to have links from high-quality websites.”

Wright also cautions against keyword stuffing and multiple websites for the same content.

Step 10 Develop (code) your website

Finally, it’s time to actually code your site. If you love one of the design templates you collected in Step 4, buy it and ask your website developer to use it as a starting point. Provide the detailed page tables and all the content you created in earlier steps.

Follow the 10 Steps to ensure your association’s website development is done correctly and efficiently. It should also be cheaper, because the bulk of the hard work is already done.

Once your retooled site is live, review your stats on a regular basis. Make changes, updates, and add new pages as often as possible. To stay top of mind, you have to earn it and stick with it.

There’s only one way to the top of the SERPs. Start climbing!

Association Websites Thrive on Fresh Content, Strong Calls to Action

Website strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. You need a disciplined approach, a relentless plan, and a committed support team. But there’s no finish line. You have to keep earning points.

We’re building up to the 10 Steps to Retooling Your Website. Here are two more.

Step 7 Gather content

Refer to the tables introduced with Step 6 in Boost Your Association’s SEO with On-Page Optimization. Think about the basics you want on each page of your site and make a plan to gather or produce the required content. Content can include graphic elements, member testimonials, articles, videos, contact information, maps and directions, and calendar of events.

The Blogging Advantage

Relevant content is the best way to ensure a loyal following and secure the top spot, not only among your target audience, but also the search engines. A blog keeps your content fresh and dynamic. Google will reward you with more traffic.

“Blogging gives you an unfair advantage in Google’s search results, or SERPs,” says Association Hub Expert Jim Beretta. “Even if you have a mediocre blog, you will still outpace your competition, especially if they have no blog.”

Gated vs. Un-gated Content

Beretta says most associations struggle with whether or not to gate their content. Gated content requires contact information or a member ID and password to access it. Un-gated content is open to all site visitors and readily available for human consumption. More importantly, un-gated content is accessible to the search bots.

If you buy custom essay online you will not be able to choose a specific custom essay topic. This is no good if you need a term paper on a specific topic. Often these sites do not measure up. Online essays also may already been used by thousands of students. The last point is that many students have reported buying a online essays and getting failing grades!

You want to remain top of mind with your target audience. You want to be recognized as the thought leader in your industry. To be the go-to association, you have to earn it. So why hide your valuable resources under lock and key?

“That’s old fashioned thinking and short-sighted,” says Association Hub Expert Peter Wright. “Would you want content locked up for your members only, because that’s how you think you add value? Or would you rather have an unbelievable site that everyone in your practice area sees as an amazing resource?”

Don’t hold your content hostage. You’re retooling your website to be found. Membership recruitment, retention and engagement depend on it.

“Your content is a great asset, but monetize your association or website through another method,” says Beretta. “Whether it’s to attract membership or brand credibility, your content should be available to everyone. But be sure to include strong calls to action on each page.”

Step 8 Make detailed layout (conversion-focused) decisions

Calls to action drive conversions. This is when you convert engagement to measurable results. Decide what action you want your site visitors to take on every page and adjust your content and layout accordingly. Do you want them to look at your product list? Do you want them to call you? Do you want them to place an order or register for an event?

Create a call to action on every page.

“You have to earn your audience,” says Wright. “Then you have to be clear on what you want them to do.”

Wright and Beretta will bring clarity to website strategy and SEO. Learn more at their April 23 workshop. Don’t miss the last two steps in our next post.