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decision matrix

Volunteer leaders are ambitious. They own businesses; they have full (or more than full) time jobs; they conduct research; they join their professional or trade association to learn more, to be involved, to make a difference in their field – whatever that may be.

As association professionals, it is our job to allow our leaders to lead and help keep them out of the weeds. Volunteer leaders should be doing the big, strategic thinking and planning that moves the organization forward. They shouldn’t be deciding how much coffee to order during a meeting break. There are a few great ways to empower your leaders to really lead and staff to manage operations.

1. Create a decision matrix
A decision matrix is just what it sounds like, it lists decisions that need to be made by the association and clearly lays out who should be making the related decision. A decision matrix can be used for the board of directors and for committees. Staff and volunteer leaders create the matrix together ensuring that everyone is on the same page in terms of who the decision maker is, who should be consulted for advice when making the decision and who simply just needs to be informed.

2. Leadership Manuals
If your organization doesn’t have one, it would behoove you to create a manual that contains the following:

  • Your organization’s mission, vision and values
  • A brief history/overview of the organization
  • Responsibilities as a volunteer leader
  • Policies and standard operating procedures
  • Roles and responsibilities for board members, committees, staff
  • Important resources

Creating a manual or handbook allows volunteer leaders to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.

3. New Board Member Orientation
To go along with your Leadership Manual, new board members should receive an orientation — a personal welcome from the executive director and current president or designee that provides a general overview of what it means to be a board member and what specifically that means to the organization they are going to serve.

These tools provides leaders with transparency and clarity in decision making and are essential in keeping them looking at the big picture instead of all the small brush strokes.

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Board at dinner 10-26-15

How many Board dinners do we have annually? Sometimes it feels like a weekly event in the world of association management. Annually, we bring client boards to Madison, Wisconsin – their “HQ.” This week was no exception – except we tried something a little different and had a blast!

Maximizing time as we always do, we kicked off the first night with a formal dinner in a private dining room with white linens and an LCD projector so we could set the stage for the strategy meeting that would ensue. Appetizers, good wine, salad, tenderloin or fresh fish, and fancy desserts = $1,000 for a party of 10. Then back to the hotel before 10 p.m. Check. Check.

A great meeting of strategy and lots of business were on the agenda for the following day. Then came the “risky” idea to go to a local tavern for bar food and trivia — one that does not take reservations (thus the risky part for a party of 12). The chalkboard filled with two dozen local brews was a hit. The Wisconsin deep fried cheese curds were a must. The casual atmosphere and seating provided a much lighter feel and even the local fare and "best burger in town" were a great hit. Total for a party of 12: $400.

We topped off thte evening with trivia night. Three teams of four out of 20 total competing. One lasted through the end and a number of us switched over to their table as the winning team grew! (I think we've all heard, people want to be on the winning team!)

"There are tons of books out there on the topic of diversity and, without trying,
we proved it through a two-hour trivia night with beers and burgers!"

As we laughed and reflected the final morning, we realized that not only did we have a great time, we learned a lot, too. The most diverse team performed the best. Ours had more ethnic, gender and age diversity than any of the other competing teams, which contributed to our success. Go figure. There are tons of books out there on the topic of diversity and, without trying, we proved it through a two-hour trivia night with beers and burgers!

Lastly, we talked about different personalities and styles. Some with confidence may not always be correct. Others we wish had pushed their ideas and opinions harder than they had. As we work together in this association we can see that play out in different ways.

Try something new and you may get something unexpected. Fancy dinners and fine wine are great, but cheese curds and trivia night can be even better!


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I have always had a passion for planning – thinking longer term, envisioning the future, dreaming big. AMPED client associations are in the midst of their planning seasons as well. Each association approaches this planning in a unique way and, as staff, we share ideas and ultimately help the leadership define a process that will work for them. In each case, there are some common themes or contributions that help simplify the planning process and make it very doable for associations of any size.

Member input. However you decide to acquire this input, be sure you have a good sense of what members value -- not just from the association, but from outside the association as well – in their profession, business or industry.

Know your potential members and customers. Their perspective is important as well, and this group may represent an important market segment for non-dues revenue or engagement on another level.

Trends. What is happening in the marketplace of your members or in the broader economy? What about global trends? Factor these into your thinking and process.

History. While planning is about the future, looking at the recent past will help you determine potential areas of growth, contraction or expansion for your association.

Simple, achievable goals. Consider 3-5. I have seen many associations with strategic plans that have “VII, A, 5, iii” as a tactic for a certain committee to take on. They end up being charged with a very tedious to-do list. Empower staff to help implement broad goals as directed by the Board, with input from volunteer groups.

Thinking long term. Three years tends to be as far out as most associations think in the ever-changing high-tech world we live in. However, it is important to have a plan that transcends the leadership of the Board so that current initiatives keep their momentum.

Finances. Be sure your plan translates into the budget. An ill-funded plan will not be strong and is more likely to fail.

KPIs. Define your specific key performance indicators. How will you know you have been successful? What indicators will be apparent if you need to retool?

Lastly, be flexible and keep the plan alive. If is it simple, that will be easy to do.

Good luck and best wishes into 2015 and beyond!


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face to face meetings

Great tips on increasing engagement during meetings — like, bring food!

I once heard a generational expert say that people my age prefer face-to-face meetings over phone calls or email. That seems like a broad generalization to make about 76 million Americans, but I will say that a meeting doesn’t have to be a waste of time – if all those involved in a project or decision are participating.

I learned a lot about leading meetings during the two terms I served on the council of a church with more than 4,000 members and an annual operating budget of more than $1 million. The church was growing rapidly, which meant the council needed to reach consensus on a series of issues related to property, staffing and resources.

Every year, when new council members started their terms, the senior pastor laid down the ground rules: “If you have something to say, say it here, not in a meeting after the meeting in the church parking lot.” He also said, “Debate all you want during the meeting, but when we leave this room, we stand united.” Those are good rules when you have volunteers making decisions in matters that members care deeply about. Truth be told, those are good rules for any group.

The pastor started every council meeting by asking each person to offer a brief joy and concern. I’ve noticed that people who speak early on in meetings tend to participate more throughout the meeting, so I started using the joys-and-concerns tactic at work. I started meetings by asking each participant to briefly share something on their minds: It could be anything – news about a client, a rapidly approaching deadline, a sick dog – you name it. Take five minutes to let people say what’s on their mind and you clear the way for productive participation, plus you become aware of other issues that may need your attention.

When major decisions were about to be put to a vote, the pastor asked each person to comment. When people know they will be asked to articulate a response – more than a yea or nay – they tend to consider it more carefully. More than once, after going around the table and hearing others’ responses, someone would say, “Wait. I’ve changed my mind.” Yes, the meetings could run late, but the decisions were solid.

Other suggestions, based on countless hours spent in meetings:

Prepare people to participate. Send a brief agenda with the topics you want to discuss and specific goals for the meeting. Tell participants how they can contribute. For example, if “leadership retreat” is an agenda item, consider writing “make a decision about the retreat destination – bring one or two location suggestions.”

Offer food. There is something almost magical about breaking bread together that helps people open up. I think it’s hardwired into our makeup to feel more at ease with people we share nourishment with, so bring doughnuts.

Encourage everyone to be fully present. If people are looking at their laptops, whispering in a side conversation, texting or passing notes (it happens!), you’re going to find people have less and less to say because they perceive that others aren’t listening.

Give people the freedom to fail. If the environment doesn’t allow for human error, humans will stop participating. “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one,” said Elbert Hubbard. People engage with the group when they feel safe.

Practice the Golden Rule. Encourage participants to treat others as they wish to be treated. Just as parents are encouraged to separate the behavior from the child, people sometimes need to be reminded to challenge the idea, not the person. Taunting or putting someone down in front of others is not acceptable.

End on a high note. I won’t suggest you end every meeting with a prayer, as the church council did, although you might want to say a silent one. Instead, wrap up by explaining what the next steps are, acknowledging the group’s accomplishment and recognizing the value of everyone’s contribution. Everyone will leave the room feeling like their time was well spent.

Comment, call or email me (hey, we could even meet!) with your tips for making meetings time well spent.

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While day-to-day financial management, membership growth, conference planning, marketing and keeping our websites and social media up to date takes much of our time, I can't stress enough the importance of clear, transparent governance and decision-making.

Governance and decision-making should be done collaboratively among the board and staff, and the process reviewed annually and incorporated into board training. Whether a "stand-alone" association, or part of an association management company (AMC), it is better to have clear expectations before a problem or misunderstanding occurs. Especially with volunteer leaders changing annually, it is imperative that the culture remain constant and volunteers adhere to the association platform of governance, not their own or that of their own company.

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