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Tips for clear email communication

send


Our members and volunteer leaders are inundated with emails on a daily basis. How do you get through, get what you need, and not result in confusion? Here are some email etiquette tips to be sure to follow to make everyone’s lives (yours included!) a little easier:

Tip #1: Be Clear and Concise
Nobody likes to receive an email that they have to scroll through. Can what you are asking for or saying be shortened? Use bullet points to clearly separate ideas, questions, etc. If you’re asking for multiple things, they can get lost in paragraphs of information. Calling them out will make it easier for the reader to refer back to.

Tip #2: Set Deadlines
If you need a response to or action from your email by the recipient(s), make sure to clearly lay out a deadline. Trust me—they’ll appreciate it! I like to call it out in the closing of my email, such as “Response is appreciated/needed no later than 5pm CT on Friday, February 23.”

Tip #3: Use BCC
In my opinion, nothing is worse than being overloaded with emails on a chain that you no longer need to be a part of or getting everyone’s responses. Below are a couple examples of when to use BCC.

  • Example 1: You’re emailing one of your Boards to confirm that a specific set of dates works for an upcoming meeting. Save the Board members from getting everyone’s responses if someone hits “Reply All” by blind copying everyone instead. As a courtesy, make note in the email that the entire Board is blind copied.
  • Example 2: A colleague makes an email introduction between you and another person. Said colleague does not need to remain on the chain back and forth between you and the new person. A simple “Thanks for the introduction, Tim – I’ll move you to BCC now” at the start of your reply to all will cover it.

Tip #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Change the Subject Line!
Are you on an email chain where the topic has changed or gone on a different tangent? Don’t be afraid to change the subject line to match! A recent example: I emailed a potential sponsor to offer them the opportunity to host a cocktail party with a client in Las Vegas. My subject line was “Sponsor Opportunity – Event in Vegas.” Throughout the chain, a marketing person got looped in regarding another topic—we were out of their flyers we typically include with our membership renewal invoices. When I replied to that marketing person, I used tip #3 and moved two individuals to BCC who didn’t need to remain on the chain for this particular topic. I also changed the subject line to “[Client Name] – [Sponsor Name] Inserts.” This way, the people dealing with the sponsorship didn’t need to have their inboxes cluttered with irrelevant emails (but know the other item was taken care of), and it was obvious to me and the marketing person what the topic of the email was.

Tip #5: Reread Before Hitting Send
Stop. Before you hit send, read the email through one more time. Is what you are asking for clear? Are you missing any vital information? Did you set a deadline if you are in need of something? Take a few extra seconds now to cover these bases and save yourself from having to send any further clarifying emails.

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Why you should attend user conferences for your technology platforms

AUDC IIBack in April, my colleague and I traveled to Nashville, Tenn. to attend AUDC 2017 – Abila’s user conference. Several of our clients use Abila’s NetForum product as their association management system (AMS). It was an extremely busy time of the year to be out of the office for the full week, but I am so grateful that we went. We learned a ton, made valuable connections and met face-to-face with our Abila contacts to address some issues we had been experiencing.

Here’s why I’m happy we went and why you should consider going to user conferences for any technology platforms used in your association:

Meet face-to-face with your account managers: Honestly, I would say that this was the most valuable part of the conference for us. We were able to sit down face-to-face with our account manager, product leads and developers to discuss concerns we had over the way some modules in the system worked. It was so much more efficient for them to be able to ask questions and get a better understanding of why something was an issue.

You don’t know what you don’t know: Between the two of us, we have a combined 13 years' experience using NetForum. Does that mean we are pros? We’d like to think so, but we know that isn’t true. The fact is, we are so entrenched in the day-to-day procedures for our clients, we aren’t always immediately aware of updates to the system that create more efficient ways to do things. In fact, we were so excited about one particular item we learned that we spent the next 45 minutes playing around with the feature and immediately sent it back to our colleagues at the office.

Learn from other attendees: We learned so much just by listening to other attendees ask questions — questions that we may not have thought of, but that sparked new ideas for us and our clients.

Network: It was also helpful to attend for the networking aspect of things — finding other people like you or the clients you work with — and expanding your network of peers. On the flip side, it’s also extremely helpful to network with the vendors that attend the conference. The other technology vendors in attendance likely already “play well” with the system, so it’s a good way to narrow down your search for conference apps, abstract management systems, web platforms and more.

We have multiple clients using Abila’s NetForum Pro, and since attending AUDC 2017, they have all implemented at least one specific thing we learned there. By attending, we strengthened our relationships with our Abila contacts, peers, and other technology providers. Definitely worth the trip!

Have you attended a user conference recently? What did you find most valuable?

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Planning a successful membership renewal campaign

renewal call

Each client association has its own specific goals for member retention, but we like to keep ours in the 85-90% range. Below are some of the processes I use to make sure we hit these goals annually and in an efficient manner.

Keep track, and don’t reinvent the wheel. 
For each of our clients, I make a yearly table to keep track of when a reminder was sent, how many open invoices there were when the reminder was sent, and how many members renewed after that reminder (our clients’ AMS – or association management systems – make pulling reports like this quick and easy). This allows me to have a good picture year after year of what types of reminders get the most attention, as well as what timing seems to be best for each organization. I use this information to plan for the current year. If a specific method or text prompted a higher response rate, I’ll make sure to include something similar this year.

Plan for multiple mediums
We really try to be green here and utilize digital communications for the first month or so of a renewal campaign. This allows the open renewals to dwindle down a bit before we actually need to send a paper invoice. That said, I cannot tell you how often I hear “I was surprised to get this invoice in the mail – I had no idea my membership expired!” Sometimes seven email reminders just go under the radar. My point is that our membership bases are diverse and not everyone receives information the same way. For this reason, I ensure that our campaigns include a mix of email, social media, print, and even phone calls.

This year, we are also utilizing the Higher Logic platform on which some of our client websites are based. Higher Logic integrates with the member database and instantly notifies members at log-in when their membership expires and gives them a simple way to click and pay. Once the renewal is paid, this notification disappears.

HL member renewal

 

Make a schedule, but be flexible
As I discussed, I keep track of renewal campaigns annually so I can see when reminders were sent. I use this data to plan for the current year, shifting dates around based on holidays or other important messages going out for each client. That said, these dates are not set in stone. If renewal payments just do not seem to be coming in based on email reminders, I might move up the date that I send out paper invoices. I continuously adjust the plan based on how each client is performing.

Involve the Board (or a membership committee)
This step is vital. As association staff, we can only remind a member of their benefits so much. Board members can share experiences of exactly how the membership or a connection they made through the organization has improved their businesses or their careers. Last year, the past chair of one of our associations had a lengthy email exchange with a member who was on the fence about renewing — they had not had the time to commit to really be “plugged in” with the organization and therefore had not seen the value. The past chair shared a story of how he had seen his business quintuple in size over the past ten years, attributing it to relationships he had developed through the organization.

I cannot stress enough how much of an impact this can have, so I try to make it as easy as possible for volunteers by never giving them more than ten names to call, providing both phone and email contact information, and giving them a summary of the communications I’ve had with the members so far.

Teamwork!
Make sure that everyone on the client team is aware that the renewals are ready. The “front line” office staff can help a member renew over the phone without being passed to a membership coordinator. The meeting planners can remind vendor members about their renewal while discussing their exhibit space for the coming year. Our marketing staff make sure to include reminders in newsletters and social media. I share the master “renewal calendar” so that the whole office is aware of the plan for each client.

Membership renewals are a big deal for associations – after all, members are the “lifeblood” of associations. They are why we do what we do! It’s important to keep track, have a plan, and involve multiple parties to reach members and remind them why their association is so great!

 

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A day in the life of an AMC staff member

wiseman w mug II

Each week you read on our blog how we all “wear many hats!” While this is the case for many association professionals, I feel that it is particularly true for AMCs like AMPED. Between the various needs of our different clients, some days we can be all over the place! I thought it might be fun to document one whole day at work to get an idea of the wide variety of tasks we tackle. It would have been hard to capture it all, but I did my best. Enjoy!

7:25 a.m. — Kiss dog and husband goodbye. Yes, in that order.

7:25:10 a.m. — One more kiss for the dog - she’s so cute. Off to the office!

7:43 a.m. — Pass by my usual drive-through Starbucks. Running a bit late. Decide I can make it without caffeine today.

7:56 a.m. — Arrive at office. Spend a few minutes reviewing each of my in-boxes (six total). Respond to messages that have quick answers and prioritize my day.

8:00 a.m. — Laugh at self for thinking I could survive without caffeine. Grab a coworker and head to Starbucks. We are both named Emily and we both get iced coffee. That really throws the baristas off.

8:05 a.m. — “The other Emily” and I use the walk back from Starbucks to discuss a knowledge-sharing session my colleagues had yesterday that I missed due to a call with a potential member. I give her a heads-up that I need her help pulling a specific set of abstracts from a recent client meeting to add to the client website.

8:30 a.m. — Recurring calendar reminder: time to update a client’s member list in email marketing service site. This particular client has rolling membership renewals, so their member list is constantly changing. They use this service to send out weekly e-newsletters and upcoming webinar invitations, so it is vital that it is consistently up-to-date.

8:45 a.m. — Lynda will be in the office today. Write up a quick list of items to discuss with her, including an upcoming client Board meeting.

8:53 a.m. — Follow up with emails from members for a particular client regarding their membership directory listing. Make changes to the database if required.

9:30 a.m. — Come across a voicemail from last night for a client member who wants to renew their membership. The message is a bit hard to understand, so I spend a few minutes searching the database for partial phone numbers and names to see if I can figure out who this is.

9:35 a.m. — Find the company name and confirm the phone number. Review my notes from the renewal workbook. Oh, awesome! This was a company that previously told me they weren’t planning to renew their membership. My follow-ups had worked! *Pats self on the back*

9:36 a.m. — Pick up the phone to dial the member.

9:36:15 a.m. — Realize the company is in California, where it is only 7:36 a.m. Ugh. *Hang up phone and create myself a calendar reminder for 11a.m. to give them a call back.*

9:45 a.m. — Calendar reminder pops up to write AMPED blog. Already on that! *dismiss*

9:56 a.m. — Pop over to “the other Emily’s” office for her to show me how to find those abstracts. Turns out to be super simple. Spend the time originally dedicated to writing my blog to updating the client website. Web updates for this particular client aren’t typically in my job description, but I work closely with the volunteer leader who inquired about it and I know the person that would normally take care of this has a lot on her plate, so I don’t mind at all. (Reason #536 I love working at AMPED – we all do this sort of thing for each other.)

10:20 a.m. — Microsoft Word crashes. Luckily, both documents I had been working on saved.

10:25 a.m. — Website updates complete. It bothers me that previous entries on the page are inconsistent. Spend time cleaning up the format and notify volunteer leader that the page has been updated. Notice that one portion is completely missing. I assume the client will want it added in, so I send an email to a colleague to find missing info.

10:30 a.m. — Three email campaigns were scheduled to go out today to notify various groups for one of our clients about an upcoming webinar. Watch notification emails as they come in to make sure everything seems right. Notification emails end up in my clutter inbox. Give clutter a quick once-over to make sure there is nothing important.

10:33 a.m. — Review inboxes and respond where necessary. One question required a bit of research, so I spend a couple minutes searching through documentation for an answer. Not finding what I need. Send an email to the person who will have the answer.

10:41 a.m. — Office manager, Trisha, comes in to let me know that she ordered a Graze Box trial for the office. *Yay! We love snacks.* Speaking of snacks…

10:42 a.m. — Grab snack from fridge.

10:47 a.m. — Tony pops over to discuss a potential member for one of our clients and come up with a quick plan to keep them engaged.

10:54 a.m. — Jeanne asks me about award order for client Board member. Shoot. Should have filed original email in ”waiting for response” folder. Send reminder email to Executive Director to select the award.

10:56 a.m. — Process new member application and send email with invoice and payment instructions.

11:12 a.m. — Realize reminder had popped up to call member in CA from earlier. Dial number, but learn that contact is only in office on Monday and Friday. Get email address from secretary and send follow-up. Create reminder for me to follow up on Friday. Respond to other emails while in Outlook.

11:47 a.m. — Process continuing education reimbursement application for a client member. Members receive up to $50 reimbursement every two years, so I first check to make sure this particular member qualifies.

11:52 a.m. — *HR hat on.* Discuss staffing plans now that two of our interns are gone for the summer.

12:00 p.m. — Only halfway through the day? Hope people are still reading! Discuss onboarding/orientation plan for new volunteer leaders with outside Executive Director for one of our clients.

12:05 p.m. — Help Tony and Brittany prepare for meeting with a client partner member. Discuss 2017 sponsorship package, including membership, conference registration, marketing support, etc.

12:20 p.m. — Quick walk around the Square. Stop at local cheese shop to put together Wisconsin-themed gift basket for aforementioned partner member meeting. *These are the really rough parts of association management.*

12:40 p.m. — Catch up on emails while eating lunch. I normally try to eat outside on nice days like this, but I’m taking the afternoon off on Friday and want to keep things moving.

12:55 p.m. — Calendar reminder for member database training with new Latin America staff person for one of our clients. Pull up documentation, database and screen sharing software. Quickly finish lunch.

1:00 p.m. — Give high level overview of membership database to new Latin America staff. Thankfully I have all of the most common database procedures documented. Our cloud server allows me to share the documentation via a web link to ensure that our Latin American staff always has the most current version of the document.

2:15 p.m. — Reach out to account manager for VoIP service to follow up on a new phone order and inquire about headsets for some staff that share offices.

2:21 p.m. — Update membership and staff reports for upcoming client Board meeting. I’ve already had various staff members update their areas, so I just need to finalize my sections.

2:30 p.m. — Does it bother you when you ask someone two questions in an email and they only respond to one?

2:46 p.m. — Provide updated membership numbers to finance manager so she can update budget forecast for client.

2:48 p.m. — Receive answer to question from 10:33 a.m. Pass along response to member and quickly respond to other emails while in Outlook.

2:52 p.m. — The new member application I processed this morning has made payment online. Complete processing membership and send welcome kit.

2:55 p.m. — There’s someone with a megaphone yelling outside my window. It’s always something . . .

2:58 p.m. — Review graphic and member listing for publication in a client’s magazine. Doing so reminds me of some web updates to make. Create reminder to do so once I receive answers to a couple questions.

3:13 p.m. — Follow up with a few new client members for their logos and text for their listing on the website.

3:18 p.m. — *IT Person hat on.* Boot up former employee’s laptop to look for document. Not able to find it. Deliver bad news to colleague.

3:28 p.m. — Yep! I was right – the client asked about that missing portion of the website from 10:25 a.m. Good thing I’m already on it.

3:31 p.m. — *All hats on.* Catch up with Lynda: potential clients, potential employees, upcoming client Board meetings, client financials, life.

4:32 p.m. — Review inboxes. Someone requested a list from a recent client meeting, so I repurpose one that I already have rather than starting from scratch.

4:40 p.m. — I won’t get to a larger project that I had planned to work on this afternoon, so I move it to tomorrow’s calendar. One of our clients is implementing a complete Association Management System to replace several independent systems (event management, email marketing, abstract management, etc). Moving a client to a new database is a big project and takes lots of prep work, so I block off an hour or so on my calendar every couple days to chip away at it.

4:42 p.m. — There’s a line out my door since I’ve been away from my desk. Assist colleagues with a few questions regarding financials and where to find specific documentation.

4:53 p.m. — Prepare projects for intern to work on tomorrow.

4:59 p.m. — Check survey sent to a client board regarding their availability for an in-person meeting. Send reminder to members who have not responded.

5:01 p.m. — Review calendar and to-do list for the day to ensure there was nothing missed.

5:03 p.m. — Shut down laptop, lock up. Head home to my cute dog (and husband)!

5:06 p.m. — *IT hat back on!* I notice an email on my phone from a colleague who accidentally deleted a file. Unfortunately she hadn’t saved it at all yet, so I am unable to recover. Deliver the bad news.

5:50 p.m. — Send background information files on a potential client to a new employee. I can do this from my phone. *Cloud computing for the win!*

5:59 p.m. — Okay now I’m done working for the day. Heading in to the gym.

9:04 p.m. — Peek at inboxes on my phone one last time. I like to have an idea of what will be on my plate when I get in to the office tomorrow. I swear I’m done now.

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Breathe! How to keep your staff positive, friendly (and sane) during crunch time

The first few months of the year always seem to be pretty busy at AMPED between membership renewals and client meetings in the spring. While we all tend to get caught up in emails, membership applications and the one-million-and one things on our to-do lists, it is important to remember that your colleagues are in the same boat. Here are a few things we do at AMPED to stay positive (and friendly... and sane) during the busiest times of the year.

Sheldon stress

Take screen breaks. Step away from your desk for a bit – even if it is simply getting up and making yourself a cup of coffee. A break from your screen will allow you a short mental pause, making it easier to re-focus on your to-do list. Swamped? Kill several birds with one stone: have a walking meeting with a coworker! You can chat face-to-face about what you normally would have sent several emails about, get some fresh air, and feel refreshed when you return.

Work collaboratively. Keep that “team player” attitude and remind yourself that you are all working toward the same goal: the success of your clients or organization. Be mindful of what is on everyone’s plate — priority A on your list is not likely priority A on someone else’s. Pitch in and see what you can do to help get it done. At AMPED, we have a staff meeting every Monday morning for exactly this reason — it’s important that we all understand what everyone’s priorities are for the week and what we can do as a team to ensure they happen.

One thing that I love about AMPED is the culture 
— we actually all enjoy working together!

Stay healthy. This one may seem odd in a workplace positivity list, but it’s so true. Not only does regular exercise reduce stress, it can also boost your productivity. Now you’re friendly and efficient. AMPED employees stay at the top of our game by practicing yoga, running, CrossFit, and karate. Fueling your body with the right foods is important, too, especially during those long days onsite at client meetings. We like to plan ahead and ensure our staff office is stocked with plenty of water and healthy snacks like nuts, fruit and granola.

See the future. Don’t let the things on your to-do list overwhelm you. Consider what all of those little items will add up to in the end. A high member retention rate? A successful client meeting? Think about how you will feel in those scenarios and let that motivation power you through.

Celebrate milestones. We’re really good at this one. Survived a busy meeting season? Staff lunch. Got membership renewals out the door? Happy hour! Made it to 10 am without accidentally deleting a file you’ve been working on? Go get yourself some Starbucks, girl!

One thing that I love about AMPED is the culture — we actually all enjoy working together! I think the fact that we all take time to do these things is a big contributor to that. What are your tips for “remaining human” during busy season?

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Why are Millennials so…

Wiseman - Millennials

Narcissistic. Entitled. Distracted. Lazy. Most people who know me wouldn’t use those words to describe me (but they would likely say I’m obsessed with food). However, they are words often used to describe my fellow generation of Millennials (surprise! I’m as young as I look). Nearly every time I visit LinkedIn, I come across an article declaring why you should fear Millennials in the workplace or an infographic displaying what horrible people we are compared to Baby Boomers.

Lucky for me, Lynda Patterson, president/owner of AMPED, has recognized all of the great things about Millennials. Really—go take a look at how fresh-faced we are (please don’t guess which one of us are really Millennials and which ones have just discovered the fountain of youth). Here is the gist of actual conversation between Lynda and me after she returned from a conference with other AMC owners:

Lynda: You are a Millennial, right?
Me: Yes.
Lynda: Shouldn’t I be scared of you?
Me: No.
Lynda: I didn’t think so. I just got back from hearing other executives gripe about how Millennials are so difficult to work with and I couldn’t understand what they were talking about!

Let’s go over a few reasons why you should take a page from the AMPED playbook and not be afraid of Millennials as employees and colleagues:

We are smart …
Do I sound narcissistic? Yes. But it’s true! According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Millennials are the “best educated group of young adults in US history”—1/3 of us have earned at least a four-year college degree. We also started school right as tuition rates exploded, which likely means we actually want to learn. Why else would we take on an average of $30,000 in debt?

… and want to continue to learn.
Some Millennials may be freshly out of college, but learning is still our top priority. A survey from the UNC Kenan-Flager Business School for Forbes revealed that 65% of Millennials rank personal development as the most influential factor in our current jobs and 22% see training and development as the most valued benefit. In an EdAssist study of Millennials, 60% would pick a job with the potential for continued professional development over one with promised pay raises. The same study revealed that Millennials will stay at a company longer for access to learning. At AMPED, we are encouraged to pursue higher education and are even reimbursed for courses related to our jobs.

We are efficient …
We may be “technology obsessed,” but it has made us pretty darn efficient. If we expect everything to be on-demand, we better be on-demand ourselves. Our tech-savviness allows us to focus on the big picture and not get hung up on the technical details of a task. But we don’t always need to rely on technology! Part of the reason we prefer face-to-face meetings over a phone call or email is because a) we are collaborative and b) face-to-face is so much more efficient! There’s no need to go back-and-forth fifty times over email; let’s just get together and get stuff done!

… and great at multitasking.
Okay, fine. Apparently multitasking isn’t really a thing. We are “serial taskers,” our brains can quickly switch from task-to-task (sounds pretty efficient to me). This especially comes in handy when working in an environment such as an AMC, doing various tasks for several different client associations and needing to “flip the switch” as soon as a phone call comes in for a different client.

The next time you come across the typical “Millennials are scary!” article, keep in mind that we aren’t that bad. We also brought you Snapchat, Facebook, Airbnb, and Groupon.

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Moving on up… to the cloud

The cloud

When our onsite Microsoft Small Business server began nearing the end of its lifespan, we were faced with the question, Do we upgrade to a new server or move to the cloud? At first, I was completely against moving to the cloud—it was so expensive (I’m talking $20,000+ per year for some options!) and the idea of it seemed so abstract (Where is “the cloud,” anyway!?).

After working closely with our IT consultant, Nate Sperloen at Remachines, and many (many!) months of research and testing, we found that the Office Plan from Egnyte with a few customized upgrades (advanced security and synchronization) was perfect for AMPED and began our transition earlier this year. While the long-term costs are a bit more than upgrading to another onsite server, the costs are spread out over time instead of up-front and maintenance costs are basically eliminated.

Although there are definitely perks to having a local server, we’ve found that the benefits of moving to the cloud at this time were greater. We’ll always have the latest technology instead of a local server that is out-of-date pretty much as soon as we install it. We also now have more independence in our ability to manage the cloud server ourselves. In the past, we’ve relied on Nate to make changes to our server, add new employees, etc. With the cloud, the management is much more straight forward. The accessibility of our documents has also become more reliable — no more worrying about VPN connections or having to have someone reboot the server if things aren’t working properly. I love that it allows our employees to access data in a way that is most efficient for their work styles, whether that be a map drive, web access, or other applications.

Finding the right provider was a long process. Not only did we need to keep the needs of AMPED in mind, but also those of all our clients. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Find a good partner to help you through the process. Many smaller companies like AMPED don’t have an IT person on staff, but we are lucky enough to have great consultants. Make sure you have someone “in your corner” as you look through options and don’t just rely on the word of the sales person from each individual provider. This person will know your needs, be looking out for your best interests, and will understand the technical language and specs of each provider.

Know the right questions to ask. Many providers have different pricing options based on the features, so it’s vital that you take the time to figure out your “needs” vs your “wants” and what is important to you. Below are a few of the questions we found extremely important to ask.

  • How much storage is included? Is there a limit on file sizes?
  • What sort of security features are included? How is the data protected?
  • How do you access the data?
  • How easy is it to upgrade/switch to different plans? Is there a limit on the number of users? What different types of users are there?
  • How is the data backed up? How many versions of a document does it store? Can it also be backed up using a third party?
  • What sort of support is included? Will there be a single account manager assigned to us?

Test, test, test. All the providers we looked at offered free trials. Sign up for them! Test them both internally and externally. It’s impossible to know if something is going to work for your company without using it first. There were many providers we thought would work for us after listening to the sales pitch, but we found out otherwise once we began testing.

Make sure everyone is on board and plan for turbulence. Moving to the cloud is a huge change for many companies so there are likely to be “bumps” along the way and things that will work differently than they did before. Make sure everyone knows what changes are coming, the transition plan, and where to go for help.

In the end, I’ve learned that “the cloud” isn’t as scary as it sounds and have actually enjoyed all the research and getting to know the new system. Have you moved to the cloud yet? If so, do you have any additional advice for those thinking of moving to the cloud?

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If I get hit by a bus . . .

Like many of my colleagues, I wear a variety of different “hats” for several of our clients at AMPED. Keeping track of these hats can be a bit hectic at times. Luckily, the person who I took over for when I started at AMPED kept very detailed notes of the tasks she performed and the instructions for performing them. Over time, I’ve added to these notes as my position has evolved, documenting each task by client. I call it my “If I get hit by a bus” binder. No—really—I do! 

regina-gets-hit-by-a-bus-o

At one point, it was a physical binder that I kept in my desk. I still have this binder to pull out and refer to quickly, but now my “binder” is various electronic documents that live on our server so it is easily accessible by any of my colleagues for reference. They are broken out by function and then by client. For example, my membership-related tasks are in one document, separated by client. My finance-related tasks are in another document.

While documenting everything does take a bit of time, it’s worth it in the end—here’s why:

For one, it makes my job a lot easier. There are various tasks that I only perform once a month or a couple times a year—remembering exactly how to do that task can be a time suck, so by having it documented step-by-step, I can quickly refer to it as needed. Bonus: once I have it documented in my “binder,” I copy and paste the instructions in to a recurring calendar item in my Outlook so it pops up when it is time to complete the task. So easy!

Secondly, it makes transitioning work or tasks to a new employee a breeze. By documenting a process, I can walk them through it once and then pass them the instructions to refer to as needed.

Lastly, there are two bus stops outside our office, so I really might get hit by a bus! If something does ever happen to me, I’ve taken the necessary steps to know that our clients will be in good hands.

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Dos and Don’ts for Outlook Efficiency

Our team recently participated in a webinar detailing how to save yourself an hour every day using various tools in Outlook. It inspired me to review my very first blog post and see what else I’m doing to save myself time every day. I came up with these Dos and Don’ts to make sure you are saving time and not wasting it in Outlook.

DON’T duplicate efforts. There are so many great tools in Outlook—Inbox, Task List, Calendar—just make sure you aren’t over-using them. An example of overuse: keeping an item in your inbox, flagging it for follow up in your task list, and adding a calendar reminder to attend to the item. One of these methods will suffice on its own. Do you need to respond to the email? Keep it in your inbox. Is it something that needs action from you but not a response to that email? Copy it on to your calendar and delete it out of your inbox.

DO sort by date/conversation. This one is an absolute must. It keeps your inbox tidy by collapsing all messages from a single conversation in to a single item, keeping the most recent item on top, regardless of the sender. Bonus: it spares you from the embarrassment of not responding to the most recent email in a conversation. To set your inbox up to sort this way, select View > Date (Conversations) > check “Show as Conversations.”

Wiseman - Sorty by Date-Conversation

DON’T be afraid to delete emails. Guess what? When you delete an email, it does not go in to some deep, dark black hole of forgotten emails. Keep your inbox tidy so it can be your to-do list! Delete emails that you’ve attended to—you can always search through your “Deleted” folder later on if you need it.

DO use the “recurring” feature on your Calendar. There are so many tasks that I only need to do once a month or even once a year that I would completely forget about if they were not on my calendar. To speed things up, I use the “recurring” feature (Appointment > Recurrence). You can set it to recur daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. Within the weekly option, you can specify certain days of the week (MWF? Tues-Thurs?). For monthly, you can select a specific date (10th of the month) or week (second Friday of the month). Yearly has the same options.

Wiseman - Calendar Recurrence

DO use “Drafts” to save time. I find myself sending the same emails over and over: responding to questions about a specific event, detailing steps on how to access a certain portion of a website, etc. When I notice this happening, I save a draft of the email: open a new message, type or paste the message, close out, hit “Yes” to save changes —this saves it as a draft. The email is now in my draft folder for quick copy-and-paste access when I’m responding to an email.

Wiseman - Save changes

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Heavy lifting: Helping associations "move in"

moving-office

This past weekend, I helped my cousin and his wife pack up and move to a new house. It reminded me of how much work goes in to moving!

First, you have to pack up your old place and keep track of what items are going in to what boxes. Then, you have to haul it to the new place, unpack, make sure everything survived the move, and find new places for it all. On top of that, you need to change your address, forward your old mail and set up for internet, TV and phone service.
It was a lot of work—I was drained, both physically and mentally. That’s when I realized I would be coming to work Monday morning and starting a similar process: I’m currently taking the lead on transitioning on a new client! Thankfully, we’ve developed some tools, tips and tricks at AMPED to ensure that all transitions are a smooth one.

Transition Checklist
We’ve developed a really thorough Excel-based transition checklist that is constantly updated to ensure we are getting the needed information, files and materials from the incoming organization to keep them running. It also keeps us on track with getting them set up with phone and fax numbers, email addresses, new print materials, changes of address, etc. There are four main columns that identify the task, who is responsible for it (The new client? AMPED? If AMPED, which employee?), a due date, a place for notes and a completion check box. To make things even easier, we’ve filed each item under a larger category like Administration, Database/Membership, Meetings, and so on. As soon as we know we are bringing on a new client organization, we take the generic template and spend time customizing it to meet the needs of the incoming client, going through item by item to determine if it is relevant or if anything is missing. We make sure to share this with the client right away so that they have a chance to go through and identify missing items as well. 

Scope of Services
While this should be finalized in the negotiation process, it is important to go through usual services offered and those the organization is requesting to ensure they align. I like to paste the scope into Excel and add columns for staff assignments and questions/ notes.

Face Time
We find it extremely beneficial to sit down and have face to face meetings with either the current association staff or the transitioning AMC. If this is not possible, an e-conference like GoToMeeting works great. I set an agenda using the Scope of Services Excel document I mentioned before, adding a column for how much time should be dedicated to each item and highlighting the specific questions and processes I want to review. This ensures that every process and task that we will be doing for the organization is covered. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about how the organization is run and identify ways we can help make it more efficient.

Creating thorough documents like the ones I’ve discussed along with setting aside some face-to-face meeting time helps ensure all of our client transitions are painless and that nothing slips through the cracks. Now, if only I could be this organized for my next house move!

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Lessons in Juggling: AKA Renewal Season at AMPED!

Managing membership renewals for one association can be a juggling act: finding what members need to renew, generating the invoices, getting the invoices in front of the members, getting them to want to renew, and then sending reminders to members who still need to pay. Now, managing the renewals for three associations? You can go right ahead and call me crazy. Lucky for me, we have a great team here at AMPED and it’s “all hands on deck” around renewal season.

Renewal season at AMPED starts in early October. We get the whole team in a room and hash out our action plan. The three membership-based clients for whom we manage the renewals require a variety of renewal reminders (emails, mailings, phone calls, and social media), so we need a way to keep it all straight. Enter the good ol’ Excel spreadsheet.

I create an initial renewal calendar in Excel with a color assigned to each association that easily shows us when we’ll send each email/reminder/paper invoice, as well as when we will make phone calls or social media posts. The spreadsheet makes it easy to edit based on the team’s input. It’s also flexible for moving things around based on how the renewals are going. I also find it helpful to drop reminders in my Outlook calendar the day before a communication should go out so that I can get it set up in our AMS (or get lists ready for phone calls, invoices ready for mailings, etc).

Once the calendar is set, I draft a “master” renewal reminder for each client listing the benefits of renewal and how to make payments. This master reminder is reviewed by our writing staff, as well as the staff who work closely on each respective client, to ensure accuracy and that we are highlighting the best benefits. Each reminder thereafter will be a variation of this master reminder, so it is extremely helpful to be able to pull bits and pieces out of the master to create smaller reminders. We also devise a list of catchy email subject lines to use throughout renewal season.

From here on out, it is a matter of keeping very good documentation on what reports to pull for what associations to get the right output—I never want to confuse a member who has already renewed with an email reminding them to do so. I also like to give the team a heads up when an email is going out so they can be ready to grab the phones if members call in with questions or want to take care of things over the phone.

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Inboxes and emails and tasks…Oh my!!

Working with several different clients means working with several different inboxes. More inboxes means more emails. More emails means more tasks to keep track of! Over time, I’ve learned how to make my inbox work for me and not against me.

My number one rule: I use my inbox as a to-do list and don’t let items pile up. I’ve heard several time management gurus talk about closing your inbox and only checking emails at specific times. I don’t believe in this. Members want answers and they want answers now. This doesn’t mean I constantly have my inbox open reading and responding to emails, it means that I monitor the subject lines as they pop up at the bottom of my screen. If it looks like something that A) I can easily respond to in under two minutes or B) needs immediate attention, I take care of it and then delete it. The remaining emails are on my “to-do” list, whether they are items that I need more time to take care of or those that just didn’t need an immediate response.

Secondly, “Waiting for Response” folders are lifesavers. If I’m sending an email that requires the person to respond as part of an important task, I blind copy myself. When it comes back to me, I drop it into my “Waiting for Response” folder for the appropriate client (to save a step, I could even set up a rule that says, “If I’m blind copied on an email that I send, go to this folder”). This way, I have one folder with everything that I am waiting on people for—much easier than searching through my sent/deleted items or trying to remember it all. It also keeps things out of my inbox/to-do list. When I’ve received a sufficient answer, I delete it from the folder. If something is hanging around in the folder for more than a few days, I know exactly who I need to follow up with.

To ensure that I don’t forget about items in my “Waiting for Response” folders, I change the settings so that it shows how many total messages are in the folder and not just how many are unread.

Lastly, Outlook inboxes have standard columns such as “From,” “Subject,” Received,” and “Categories.” For the items that are left in my actual inbox/to-do list, I add a column for “Notes” to keep track of the status of the task or important things I need to remember. For example, a board member might send me a lengthy email, but there is really only one task I need to complete. I call that task out in my “Notes” column rather than having to re-read the entire email to remember what it was.

These are just some of the tips I use to keep my inbox squeaky clean and manageable. What tricks do you use?

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