Leadership

New, Now, Next: A Successful Strategy for Membership Growth

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

On a recent trip to Hawaii, my husband and I ventured up a mountain, following the signs which told us a scenic overlook was just up ahead. The road was curvy and bumpy, and we anxiously anticipated the view awaiting us at the top. Imagine our surprise, just as we reached the summit, when the sunshine suddenly gave way to grayness, and we found ourselves standing right smack in the middle of a cloud! There was nothing ‘scenic’ to see. In fact, we could barely see more than a few feet in front of us!  This is the perfect metaphor for vision – or a lack thereof.  In recent years, there have been many bumps and curves in the road, which have forced organizations to focus on the road in front of them. Some leaders have become incredibly fixated on the day-to-day. But vision is imperative for success!  Now more than ever, members look to their associations for answers, guidance, and inspiration. People want to be a part of communities and have access to resources — both of which deliver a sense of security and belonging. Moreover, they want to know the organization has a destination in mind and isn’t merely buckled up to withstand the curves in the road. When the outlook is fuzzy, and the association’s vision isn’t immediately apparent, people feel uncertain about what they are joining and why it matters.  In this episode of the Membership IQ, I explain the need for vision to keep members engaged and the organization moving forward — even in times of disruption. Send us a message if you need help clarifying your organization’s vision.

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Acing Your Association’s Succession Plan

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

For as long as I can remember, tennis has been one of my favorite sports. I played from an early age and eventually taught lessons during my summers off in high school. For some, the long hot days, sore muscles, and constant running back and forth may have been exhausting. For me, it was an invigorating activity that required strategy, skill, and patience. Today, I still get just as energized when a tennis match is on TV, and on weekends, I still love to pick up my racquet and head to the courts. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that a comparison can be drawn between tennis theory and membership theory. When I first started researching membership engagement trends in the early 2000s, I observed that older generations (mainly Baby Boomers) valued membership strongly, having been raised to believe that belonging to an association was a key stepping stone in the journey to adulthood. Many Boomers I studied shared a similar experience: start your career, join an industry organization, and earn your seat at the table by continuously investing in your membership. It seems like a recipe for success, right? …Maybe not. At the same time, our research suggested that younger generations were less inclined to join membership organizations. Interest in membership was waning, but why? The turn of the 21st century ushered in major social, economic, and political shifts in our society. Coupled with significant technological advancements, a rapidly changing world swayed young people’s interests, including what they wanted out our their membership experience. The broader data we gathered presented a shocking trend: across the board, 20% of members (younger members) were pushing their associations to rethink and modernize their membership models. They were posing the following questions to their associations: When was the last time you reviewed your membership demographics?How current is your value proposition?What am I going to get out of my membership if I join your association? These questions prompted…

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Strategies for Shifts: How Your Association Can Tackle Change

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

June is in full swing which means school is out for the summer! I have two daughters in college, both of whom recently returned home from their respective schools after a long and successful year. While it’s wonderful having them back under our roof, our house seems to have expanded to accommodate all of their stuff. Our space has been hijacked by bins of clothes, piles of textbooks, stacks of boxes, and heaps of dorm room décor. At times, it can be overwhelming, but I know I will look back and miss these days in the not-so-distant future. Today, as I looked around at the excess of  “stuff” that surrounded me, I realized that membership associations are dealing with a similar situation. No, they’re not dealing with towers of physical belongings, but there is a lot of stuff that seems to be piling up – and it can be difficult to determine where to begin when it comes to tackling it all.  Since the outset of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve seen profound and unprecedented shifts take place in our society – specifically within the workforce, education, and membership associations. Remote work, hybrid gatherings, mask mandates, and contact tracing became buzzwords in our COVID lexicon – and we continue to see the lasting effects of these shifts today. Of course, many of these changes were unpredictable, but organizations were forced to pivot and adapt accordingly. As a leader, your approach to change (before, during, and after it occurs) is indicative of how successful your organization will be.  In my research as a consultant, I’ve discovered that organizations will take one of three approaches when it comes to change. Perhaps you remember reading about these approaches in a previous post. The Ostriches: Nearly 80% of associations fall within this category. Ostrich organizations tend to avoid change. They think that by ignoring it, it will simply go away. The Explosives: This group of changemakers isn’t effective because their…

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Strengthen Your Membership Momentum

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

During the pandemic, virtual exercise programs became immensely popular, and from time to time, I’ll throw on my sneakers and press play. The other day, I decided to do an at-home workout and opted to try something new, looking up a cardio program on YouTube. As I got started, I felt energized (and proud of myself!) to be practicing some fitness self-care, getting my day started on a positive note. However, I noticed that the instructor was starting to pause, taking frequent breaks to catch their breath halfway through the class. Suddenly, they weren’t exercising anymore and instead were just directing me on what to do from the other side of the screen. I began to think to myself, aren’t you supposed to be motivating ME? Aren’t you the expert? Suddenly, I started second-guessing myself and whether I’d be able to complete the workout. If it was so hard for the instructor, it must be really challenging for me! Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this type of “give-up” mentality in many of the associations I consult with. Whether from a missed engagement opportunity or volunteer overload, these pull-back, pessimistic attitudes can be contagious and rapidly infiltrate your membership culture like a virus. If you have board members or other stakeholders who talk negatively about your association, it’s likely to ward off any prospects from approaching your organization. They’ll become hesitant about volunteering for your Board of Directors and committees and, eventually, even joining your community. Negative energy within your association can lead to skepticism and membership decline. Conversely, I’ve also seen that positivity can be just as contagious as negative attitudes. As an association executive, it is your job to conduct regular “temperature checks” –  gauging how your members feel about your organization, its mission, and their role within the overall system. You are the ambassador of your community, and part of that job description entails exuding positivity. As a leader, the attitudes and beliefs you demonstrate are…

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Is Your Board in a Downtrend? Bend!

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

Before you read any further, I’d like you to picture a rubber band and a ruler – an odd request, I know, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this. Maybe you have both of these items on hand in a desk drawer, a junk drawer, or in your garage, but for now, envision them. In terms of their functions, one binds things together while the other serves as a measurement tool. Believe it or not, rulers and rubber bands have quite a bit in common with your organization – specifically when it comes to your board of directors.  To understand why we need to go back in history. During the Industrial Era, business leaders made two key realizations that would shape industries for centuries to come. First, if they could get workers to produce more goods faster, they’d yield a more substantial profit – simple enough. Second, they realized that employing workers with more experience within a respective industry could boost profitability and productivity. Back then, that mentality was effective, but today, given the constant innovation and disruption that continues to define the 21st century, is that the best model for your organization? What once worked in a previous era is no longer relevant. It’s time to consider whether your board of directors is repeating history and perpetuating this dated model. I’ve worked with several organizations where I’ve likened the board of directors to a ruler. Similar to a ruler, they are inflexible and are measured – measured in their risk-taking and their approach to change. Their every move is calculated, and they slowly, methodically take their time to make things happen within your association. Their thinking is too linear; they believe that members need to start at the bottom, working their way up the ladder to earn leadership positions. They tend to hold their board seats for extended periods and are rigid about tradition. This type of long-arch thinking no longer applies to modern…

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When It’s Time To Grow, Change What You Know

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

At one point or another in our lives, we have experienced fear in some capacity – fear of heights, the dark, (or in my case, fear of spiders!). The list goes on. Fear, however, is a normal, natural response to a perceived physical or emotional danger or threat. Did you know that there exists a universal fear that impacts all human beings?   Research shows that to some degree, change instills fear in all of us. It is a natural part of life, but an equally scary concept because change can oftentimes have unpredictable results, leading us down paths where the destination is unclear.   Let’s face it – change can also be hard. It forces us to adapt, adjust, and pivot in ways that are uncomfortable, but fear not! It also allows us to evolve and grow. I am here to tell you that although change can induce fear, it is integral to the survival of your organization.    Money dictates how we handle change. In the Post-WWII era, an economic boom took place where companies began producing goods at an unprecedented rate. A practice began to emerge, where executives who produced the most were also rewarded the most in the form of compensation, bonuses, and perks. By 1975, executive pay was a substantial 24 times more than what their employees were paid. Today, it is a staggering 300 times more, causing many leaders to fall back on the systems and practices that feel most comfortable because they are the most financially rewarding.    I have witnessed how this “quantity over quality” approach has become engrained in membership organizations, where more emphasis is placed on acquiring members rather than the services being provided or fulfilling their mission. We have a responsibility to overcome this in order to remain relevant, meaningful, and engaging to the communities we serve.    I want you to consider for a moment what types of changes your organization has faced in recent months or…

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Why I started a campaign to save the associations – and why you should care

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

It was a cold day. Snow flurries were swirling in the air. Our hands and faces were red and raw from the cold, and we wondered for a moment whether we should just call the whole thing off. It was 2017 and membership decline was experiencing a downward trend — especially among younger generations. Associations everywhere were questioning their value propositions, relevance, and futures, and some were taking considerable hits in revenue or forced to close their doors. Our firm had long researched membership engagement behaviors and trends and I’d spent the past decade consulting with association leaders on the values of younger generations and what they expected from a membership experience. Our clients were able to turn the tide and achieve growth, but many associations were still struggling. Emboldened to help the associations struggling to engage the next generation of members and ‘save’ them from continued decline, we decided to ramp up our efforts. Outdoors on a very cold day in 2017, our team filmed a video titled Save the Associations, encouraging associations to be intentional about their outreach to young generations. In the years that followed, the effort gained momentum. We released an ebook under the same title featuring case studies and best practices, and launched a Save the Associations web show featuring interviews with association executives. All the while, the challenges associations were facing were becoming increasingly difficult. Political conflict, social change, workforce shifts, and advancements in technology were challenging associations and their members in unprecedented ways. Here and now — exactly three years after our team filmed that video — a global pandemic has forced the world to shelter-in-place and work-from-home and associations have been catapulted into a crisis response situation. Whether they are representing front-line workers, organizing efforts to help their communities, recovering from revenues lost to event cancellations, or trying to adapt to a remote and technology-reliant workplace — every association in every country has been disrupted. Our team quickly…

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A group of office workers at a conference table with laptops

Getting Leaders On Board With Change

December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

How to approach leaders that are stuck in tradition and often struggle with changing or trying something new. I’ve been a futurist for 20 years, and at just about every conference I’ve presented, someone has come up to me afterwards and said something similar to this: “I agree with what you say about the need to change, engage younger generations, and plan for the future — but I can’t apply it. I’m not the leader. And the people I work for have no desire to change. The people I work for are stuck in the past.” This is a space where many people exist, working in an organization underneath a leader or board of directors who either can’t or won’t be open to the concept of change. As a result, these team members feel powerless to innovate. They have ideas, but they believe they have no voice. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 20th century, leadership was the equivalent of power, fueled by a top down, ‘do-it-because-I-said-so’ approach. It was a role that had to be earned over time, restricted to people with significant experience and a specific job title. In its era, this approach to leadership was effective. Here and now, this approach is highly ineffective. Here and now, organizations need leaders who are willing to disrupt the status quo and be open to new ideas and solutions. Here and now, the best leaders are visionary and add value to an organization—not slow it down or kill initiative. Regrettably, too many people think about and define leadership as though we’re still working in the 20th century. They think leadership remains limited to positions and titles and say things like “my leader won’t change”. If you haven’t heard it before, I will say it now: A leader who refuses to change isn’t permission to be complacent. It’s an outdated, irrelevant notion that people in ivory towers, sitting at mahogany board tables should grant…

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Losing Our Empathy: How to Team-Build When People Could Care Less

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December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

Blame it on a 24-hour news cycle, social media, corruption, the increased use of profanity, or savage political campaigns, but one thing has become very apparent, we have lost what connects us to each other — our empathy. Whether we’re arguing about politics or vaccinations, guns, or abortion, or which lives matter most, our society has been unable to successfully cooperate or community-build for quite some time now. In my line of work, this means more clients calling with concerns about teambuilding and inclusion. Employers are observing increased conflict and lower tolerance. Young employees are less likely to stick around in a setting like this, so the lack of empathy is also contributing to turnover. Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel and how they see things from their point of view. Empathy leads to compassion and the desire to care for or help someone else. And our empathy is currently missing. New scientific research revealed adults today are caring less for others and more about themselves — and this has negatively influenced youth and young professional development. According to the research from Indiana University, declines in empathy among young people started happening in the early 2000s alongside a rise in mental health problems. Both outcomes are believed to be directly associated with burn-out. With the mainstreaming of technology, shifts in parenting and education, and a greater social emphasis on competitiveness, testing, and success, children were facing challenges earlier generations didn’t face. Researchers believe this generation’s self-care and care for others was backburnered to focus on personal success and survival. Here and now, children are observing communities in conflict, even during a global pandemic. Time will tell how this experience will influence their development, but the research indicates the conflict and lack of compassion is already more prevalent among adults than at any other time in history. The questions at the top of mind right now for many leaders and teams is:…

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How to Deal with an Organization in Denial

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December 4 @ 3:14 pm CST

A year ago, President Trump was under fire by experts and pundits for being in denial about the seriousness of the pandemic. In the early weeks, the President referred to the virus as a hoax, refused to issue a federal stay at home order, and hesitated to fully utilize the Defense Production Act. Unfortunately, leadership denial isn’t exclusive to presidents or pandemics. Henry Ford’s denial ended up costing the company a whopping $250 million. Model T sales were declining, yet Ford dismissed the figures because he suspected rivals of manipulating them. One of his top executives warned him of the dire situation and Ford fired him. When he finally decided to make a new car, Ford shut down production for months and the company lost its lead in the market. Denial is a prominent problem among leaders, and it can lead to serious consequences. I was thinking about the power of denial recently while facilitating a meeting with a company’s leadership team. Even after presenting data to indicate irreversible decline unless the company changed course, the team struggled to see the problem. Their conversation immediately turned to a quick fix, which was the equivalent of throwing a rock into a raging ocean. Solution aversion is a powerful barrier to organizational change. Research indicates the majority of leaders rely on the ‘ostrich’ response to change, denying or ignoring the need to change until something forces a response. A popular meme, which features a cartoon dog surrounded by flames, captures this sentiment perfectly. The caption says: This is fine. There’s brain science and social science involved in our responses to change, but the bottom line is this: When the path to a solution seems too overwhelming or difficult, we prefer to avoid it. From backburnering a diet to avoiding a tough conversation, the struggle is one we can all relate to in our personal lives. Likewise, in the workplace leaders will downplay the importance of investing in a…

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