Best Practices for Effective Vision Statement Sessions – Part 2

Last week we discussed the importance of a strong practical vision statement and 5 ways to go about facilitating sessions for it. Here is some continued insight into association planning and executing effective vision statement sessions for your team.




Work in a group:

From experience I can tell you that articulating a practical vision statement is nearly impossible with only 1-3 people. There really is incredible synergy in the wisdom of a group. These leaders will need to define and execute the strategy to achieve the vision, and if they had a role in the creation of the vision, the chances of successful execution are much higher.

Include the right people:

The vision is owned by the senior team of any organization, in particular the CEO or ED. If the entire senior team can’t make it to the session, reschedule.

Take it off-site:

Take your team somewhere you won’t be distracted by everything that goes on in the office. Just getting away really helps give everyone a fresh perspective. In many of the organizations I work with, taking the team off-site sends a signal to the teams, and the other employees, that the work is important.

Work from the bottom up:

Although the overall process is more or less top down, describing the practical vision of the organization is the wrong time for a top down exercise. Using all of the techniques listed here, brainstorm as many components of the future state of the organization as possible, and then group all the things that fit together to come up with the main components of your practical vision statement. This not only makes a better statement, it ensures that everyone is heard, and that the vision of a few people isn’t forced on everyone.

Forget about spin:

This is a confidential session of the organization’s most senior people, which means everything should be on the table, and nothing should be sacred. Very specifically tell your participants that it is their job to articulate the true, raw, vision of the future. Repackaging and communicating the practical vision statement is a job for another day. When you see spin happening during your session, do your best to stop it, your participants will thank you later.

Stay away from strategy:

Although the practical vision statement is part of strategic planning, this is not a strategy. I can’t express how important this is: The practical vision is a statement of what the organization looks like at a specific point in time in the future. How we will get there will come later in our process. The entire business plan will depend on the foundation of a practical vision statement, so make sure it is solid.


Best Practices for Effective Vision Statement Sessions

In the past we’ve discussed how the start of a new year is a great opportunity for association leaders to revisit an organization’s strategic plan. More specifically, it’s the perfect time to refresh and strengthen your organization’s vision statement.

A good vision statement is an essential element of every good business plan, and should take priority when it comes to proper association planning. A successful vision statement articulates what your organization aims to be and what the organization will look like in the future. Take caution though, they can easily become overused, abused, and the most poorly written part of your business. We’ve laid out what a good vision statement looks like here.

In order to help you create a strong and practical vision statement, we recommend facilitating a group session. Be sure to ask specific questions, as it is easy to be vague when discussing the future. These 5 practices will help your team articulate an exceptional vision statement:



Be specific about the date:

Depending on the length of your planning horizon, ask them to think about an exact date (ex: 3 years from today). Be specific of what day of the week it is and where they are. Don’t just ask them to think about the future.

Be specific about success:

Most vision statements paint a positive view of the future. Ideally, your vision statement will too, but you must ensure that participants are specific about what a successful future state looks like. If they make a statement that fits our view of a practical vision, but is too vague to be useful, then prompt them to be more specific. Your participants should be able to specifically articulate what success will look like in the future, otherwise the vision won’t be practical.

Use a third party view:

Whenever possible, encourage your participants to talk about what others would see if they looked at the organization in (3) years’ time, for example. One of the most effective scenarios I’ve used is to help them imagine that a newspaper article has been written about the association in the future. You can then ask them in specific terms to describe what is written in the article. I find this small trick allows for more honest, practical, and reasonable responses.

Take a future view:

Again, asking your participants to think about the future is vague. Instead, ask them to imagine that the future is already here. Statements about the future are more reasonable when participants really try to imagine they have already arrived at that future state – especially when combined with the practices described above

Get personal:

Have the participants imagine themselves within the future state they have described. By picturing themselves as part of the vision, your participants will be more specific, realistic, and optimistic about the future.

Is a Team Mandate Really Necessary?

Associations love teams and committees. It seems like every day, I see association clients forming a new working group, team or committee for some special purpose. In a world where collaboration and shared wisdom are critical, it is often imperative to bring together a diverse group of brains that share a common goal.

Because we have started so many working groups, the natural reaction is to get to work and skip the boring process of hammering out our mandate and terms of reference. It’s really just process and adds no value, right? Wrong, establishing a clear mandate, scope, boundaries and powers before your team dives into content is the most worthwhile investment you can make in your group’s success. Getting the ground rules in place does not need to be fancy…it just needs to be formal. If you just want to cover the basics before you get started, answer these simple questions:

  1. What can this group do, that no other group or individual can do alone? (Hint: if you can’t answer this question, disband your group immediately)
  2. What powers and authority does this group actually have?
  3. What are the range of specific topics and issues that are in the scope of what we will discuss?
  4. What are the topics and issues that are out of our scope?
  5. How will we get work done between meetings?
  6. How will communication flow into and out of this group specifically? Who is accountable?
  7. What do we need to do specifically to ensure no of us are wasting our time attending meetings?
  8. How will we measure success of the work of this group specifically? What are the indications that the group is not working?

If these questions make you remotely nervous, don’t form the group.

Non profit management meetings

Non Profit Management: The Great Meetings Guide

Meetings are a regular and often dreaded part of the workweek for all of us in association and non profit management. In an ideal world meetings are actually a highlight of your workday. They are productive and highlight how well your team can work together. Seeing your team help each other is inspiring. However this ideal likely does not match up with your meeting reality. So how do you move closer to this ideal?

Non profit management meetings

If you are in charge of the meeting there are many things that you can do. First show up early to test your powerpoint, sound, video and the room’s wifi. Your coworkers will understand if technical problems out of your control occur happen and they will appreciate you taking care of it beforehand.

By showing up early and addressing possible technical difficulties your meeting will start on time. There should be a designated attendee who records key items throughout your meeting.

Now you may be tempted to wait for a late coworker, or delay the meeting to allow everyone to settle in. Do not give into that temptation. It punishes those who show up on time ready to work. Another thing to avoid doing is catching up late attendees. It interrupts the flow of the meeting and again punishes those who showed up on time.

During the meeting tactfully end any off topic or dead-end discussions. One way to do this is to say “That is an interesting point you are raising but it we are not able to do it justice right now. Let’s make it a priority at another meeting.” If your attendee insists respond with “We have a lot on the agenda today and we don’t have the bandwidth to add more items.” That should shut down all off topic discussion without antagonizing any attendees.

Often meeting leaders allow redundant dead-end discussions because they do not want discourage participation. Do not be afraid to explicitly state something like “Let’s avoid redundancies. You all have valuable things to contribute so let’s keep moving forward.”

Aim to get everyone’s point of view and ideas. To do this solicit input for those who have contributed yet. Take a the direct approach with passive participants by asking them questions like “What do you think about this plan?”

No matter how productive and excellent the discussion happening in your meeting is you need to end it 5-10 mins before the scheduled end time. This allows  your attendees to make it to their next meeting on time. It is a small thing but it will reduce your attendees stress for the rest of the day.

Once the meeting concludes look over the key items and compose a brief summary email for all attendees within 24 hours. This email compounds the importance of the meeting and stops attendees from forgetting about their responsibilities. The final thing you need to do is touch base with the attendees to ensure that they are following through on action items.

Do you have any meeting tips that we missed? Share them with us in the comments.

Do you want to implement an effective meeting policy in your association? Download this free great meetings template on us. It has even more information than this blogpost and can be implemented in your non profit right away.

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

Organizing Innovative Association Events

Associations rely on events to draw new members and spread information about their activities. It’s a fairly simple concept—but the actual practice of planning and executing a successful event is far from easy.

Writing for Association News, Cynthia Cortis makes an important point that all association organizers must remember: while you may be planning what you think is going to be a unique conference, chances are that other organizations are working on similar events.
“These days, associations must offer something different to set their events apart and prove to members that it will maximize their return on investment,” Cortis wrote. “Thinking outside of the box, incorporating new technology tools and re-imagining traditional features or agendas can create a meaningful and engaging event or meeting that attendees will want to experience year after year.”

How can you do this? Cortis advises planners to innovate everywhere possible.
This includes using technology to facilitate registration. Cortis points out that QR codes are an increasingly popular way for people to check into an event and receive information via their smartphones. In addition, technology is necessary to set up and run innovative demonstrations that will keep attendees’ attention. Digital signage is one solution, but there are many low-cost ways to deliver hands-on, interactive presentations.
Finally, be sure to use technology to follow up with attendees who may want to get involved further. Social media is an excellent tool for this, and since so many people have smartphones these days, it is less of a challenge to encourage them to become loyal fo

Associations rely on events to draw new members and spread information about their activities. It's a fairly simple concept—but the actual practice of planning and executing a successful event is far from easy.

Associations rely on events to draw new members and spread information about their activities. It’s a fairly simple concept—but the actual practice of planning and executing a successful event is far from easy.

All of this may sound intimidating, but there are plenty of opportunities for associations to invest in proper training that is relevant to event planning.