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decisions

We are evaluating marketing automation software and have listed our desired specifications in a spreadsheet with attributes like “must have” and “nice to have.” This sheet helps us easily compare features and see which platforms are lacking our requirements. Plus, after doing 4-6 demos, it helps organize what could be an overwhelming process.

However, choosing a new software platform or AMS or deciding whether to implement a proposed program initiative on behalf of our clients goes beyond a specified list of features.

Using only a spreadsheet to compare features seems sterile and robotic until we ask ourselves nine questions from our project decision matrix document. The questions demonstrate that we actually think about our clients’ missions and goals when making impactful decisions.

When your leadership is considering a new “toy,” be certain it fits in with your goals, objectives and mission. Ensure that you will be able to sustain the initiative beyond the initial excitement and implementation.

When considering a new initiative, ask your team the following nine questions:
1. What are we trying to accomplish?
2. Does this help reach our goals and further our mission?
3. What does success mean for this initiative?
4. What is the desired timeline for this project?
5. What does our resource pool look like?
6. How will feedback be provided by the client?
7. What is the long-term effect of this project?
8. Is this plan sustainable?
9. What are the major risks of the initiative?

These questions deliberate the process to give your organization and board the time to think about the initiative.

Questions like “What does success look like?” are painfully obvious. Yet, how many projects have you implemented where you have not planned to measure when you have achieved success?

Creating a presence on a trendy social media network where your members may or may not visit might be easy to do. Asking yourself, “Does this help our goals and further our mission?” may at least help you decide if it is worth the resources to maintain.

You might be surprised at how these questions could either green light or sideline a project depending on how well vetted, or thought-through it is.

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 strategic planning

Many organizations create their five-year strategic plan and set it in stone, no matter the changes happening that may not fit within that plan. This could limit growth and create stagnancy. To make sure that doesn’t happen, check in on your plan routinely to make sure it is still moving you forward, not keeping you where you are.

A twist on the strategic planning meeting
We recently held a strategic planning meeting for a client who was asking “what’s next?" They have had great growth and developed a very successful stand-alone annual meeting. They had checked all of the boxes of their plan and are now free to explore other priorities that can create more exposure and growth for the organization.

This group does not have members, but the process we followed could certainly be adapted to a membership-based association. To ensure a wide range of opinions and input, all board and committee members were invited to attend the meeting along with representatives from partner organizations. A survey was sent to all invitees to get a sense of priorities for the annual meeting, communication with committee members (or members in general), and working with affiliated organizations. A copy of the survey results was sent to all the attendees prior to the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the Treasurer worked with the organization's investment firm to come up with scenarios for the group to consider. Scenarios included spending additional dollars above current operating costs and made assumptions at aggressive investing versus more conservative investing. A copy of the strategy report was sent to all attendees to consider prior to the meeting and while discussing the priorities of the organization.

Topic areas to discuss during the planning session were developed and facilitators for each topic were selected. Facilitators were provided materials about their specific topic and some questions to consider as they facilitated their specific “workshop." These questions, along with the high-level survey results, financials, and a previous strategic planning report were sent to all attendees prior to the meeting.

Breakout sessions helped form priorities
The meeting started with a history of the organization. Since this association doesn’t have members, it was nice for those who hadn’t been as involved as others to hear about how they had grown and changed since inception.

Attendees were assigned to participate in one of the workshops during each of the four breakout sessions Participants were divided so that they all participated in each workshop and the same people wouldn’t always be in the same group. The first group in each workshop started at a fairly high level – essentially laying the ground work for the groups that followed. During each breakout group, the facilitators gave a brief recap of what happened in the group(s) prior and started to drill down into talking about creating new programs, policies, etc. At the end of day 1, the facilitators reported on the themes that came from their discussions. From those reports, staff identified 15 items that could be prioritized by the group.

On day 2, the treasurer gave a financial overview, helping attendees understand how adding programs or technology, etc. would impact the overall health of the organization’s finances. The 15 priorities were shown to the attendees and they voted on whether they were high, medium, or low priority (we asked that they choose 5 high, 5 medium and 5 low so that all were not high) and were weighted. Once the votes were all in, we reorganized the list and decided to dive in to the top five priorities.
After the planning session, the Executive Committee looked at the priorities and defined the scope of each. Three workgroups were developed to define infrastructure, administration and funding needed. As the workgroups move through their processes, they will be able to refer to the work that was done during the planning session and the financial overview to help guide their decisions and bring recommendations to the board.

This process has created stronger engagement in the organization and has started to define the “what’s next." Checking in on the progress of the workgroups and implementation of any new programs will be important in making sure that the “what’s next” is truly addressing the priorities of the organization and moving it forward.

 

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Patterson girls run

I’ve written about the importance of strategic planning and setting goals. In my training this summer for a half marathon with my daughter, I have gotten to “work our plan” and develop goals in ways that parallel planning with our association clients. One. Step. At. A. Time.

When we set our annual goals, whether they're for 90% member retention, 10% growth in our conference, or 13.1 miles, it is so important to not get overwhelmed and to set mini-goals. We should also be prepared to adjust our goals as disruptions occur in our environment, industry and life. 

In our long run last weekend, I encouraged my daughter (who hates hills) to just set her eyes on the top of that hill and then at the bottom on the next, the green mailbox, pine tree – whatever we can see in front of us. We also ran a couple of 5Ks and a 10K to get us ready for the half marathon.

The same is true with our strategic plan goals: in order to reach that retention or member growth rate, focus on the member interaction you have today. Get your members to love your association so that they will be in the 90% — and they will tell their friends. Don’t wait until member renewal (or drop) time to think about those goals. 

If a wrench is thrown into the mix, as it was for our training (one of my daughters developed shin splints/stress fractures) be prepared to adjust your plan. In our case, she has become our coach and decided to volunteer at the first aid station so she can still be at the finish line for us. In our association life, membership may be down due to the economy, but that may present a new opportunity in the online engagement arena, for example.

Each day at our jobs, on the pavement, or at home, we can focus on those little things to reach the big goal. We can reevaluate and adjust as we make our way to the big goals.

(As I write this my son is on page 11 of his 16-page summer math packet. One page at a time!)

Good luck and keep going!

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transition fish
There comes a time in the life of just about every stand-alone association when its leadership questions the efficiency and expectations of its structure and staff. Does it have the funds to deliver on its mission and vision? Are the volunteer leaders getting buried in day-to-day operations? Does the current staff have the talent and experience to take the association to the next level?

Inevitably, as options are considered, the idea of partnering with an association management company (AMC) is introduced. For many associations, especially those that have been run by volunteers or with minimal staff from the get-go, the idea of hiring an AMC and sharing the reigns can sound pretty radical, and even frightening.

However, the promise of working with highly experienced association management professionals makes the decision to partner with an AMC a prudent one, especially for associations looking for efficiency and growth.

What is an AMC?

  • An AMC is a business owned and operated by experienced association executives.
  • AMC staff are professionals who know how to work with volunteers and are very familiar with the challenges of association management.
  • Because AMCs work for more than one association, they are in a position to offer more talent than the association could afford on its own.
  • AMCs provide organizations economies of scale through shared office space, equipment and staffing.
  • Staff are experts in niche areas (meeting planning, governance, membership marketing, etc.)
  • AMCs partner with organizations of any size, but most typically with not-for-profit associations or foundations.
  • The AMC serves as your organization’s headquarters.
  • Associations are the clients. They pay a fee to the AMC for the specific skills they need and the work required.
  • The AMC deals with all staff and administrative “overhead,” including office space, equipment, human resources and technology.
  • Finally, partnering with an AMC enables association leaders to stop managing the association and instead focus entirely on leading the association and the membership.

At AMPED, we make the transition easy for association staff and leaders. We believe in the AMC model and are fully committed to developing successful partnerships through trust, open communication and mutual respect. Our success is your success!

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