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How to develop strategic priorities using a breakout session model

 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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When a hurricane hits your convention city: How our meetings team prepared for the worst

Collaboration

As we enter into the month of October, the color pink is everywhere. Television, radio, newspapers, billboards, magazines, walks, fundraisers, retail merchandise… the list goes on in efforts to promote National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Talk about collaboration! This health care campaign was formed to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis and treatment and has become a global sensation with a phenomenal collaborative effort.

Collaboration inspires a sense of community and the opportunity for people to learn from each other. While the collaborative activity of promoting National Breast Cancer Awareness is huge on a global scale, collaborative activity at the workplace, on a much smaller scale, mobilizes teams in various capacities to come together and reach common goals.

The AMPED team recently put collaborative efforts to the test when Hurricane Irma was slated for a direct hit in the Ft. Lauderdale area. One of our newest clients was having a large annual conference in this area, just two weeks after the hurricane was to hit. Decisions had to be made about keeping the conference in Ft. Lauderdale as planned, not knowing what damage may ensue, or moving the entire event to a new location in a different area of the country. Through this process, we learned the value of collaboration, both internally and externally with various teams. Below are a few thoughts on effective collaboration that resonated with me as we worked together to produce a successful outcome for our client:

1. Collaboration will expand your community and your opportunities to connect with people for new ideas. When we were considering moving to a new location, our CEO happened to be at a conference with hospitality industry leaders including CEO’s from convention and visitor bureaus across the United States. After discussing our situation with industry peers, many CEO’s offered their advice, assistance and resources to help us through the process of potentially moving the conference to a new location. Ideas were presented that we never knew existed.

2. Collaboration allows you to expand your experiences and knowledge. Our team had not been through a situation like this before. Through many forms of collaboration, each one of us was able to establish new areas of “expertise” that can now be applied to future circumstances.

3. Collaborations provide a built-in sounding board and a system of checks and balances. This experience provided many opportunities for our team to bounce ideas off of one another, blend complementary strengths and recognize areas where we could improve. It made us a stronger team.

In the end, our collaborative partners made the decision to stay at the Florida destination, as originally planned. And the conference experienced a record number of attendees! Collaborative efforts made this possible.

 

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Best of downtown Madison, according to AMPED

best of Madison

There are plenty of perks to an office located at the tip of one of Madison’s most vibrant streets: lively entertainment (some professional, some, well…not), fantastic scenery, and more food and drink options that you could ever imagine. Mathematically speaking, Madison no longer holds the title for most restaurants per capita in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that we are lacking in that department by any means. And we’re incredibly fortunate that many of the most spectacular spots in town are conveniently located just steps away from our office doors.

While we love to entertain our AMPED clients and boards at various places, I thought I’d take a moment to find out what we, the people of AMPED, like best in the heart of this sweet city we call home.

FOOD CART – Good Food
Specializing in freshly made, low-carb, (mostly) gluten and grain-free salads, wraps, and soups, Good Food was the landslide winner in this category. You can expect to wait in line upwards of 15 minutes to simply place your lunch order, even on the coldest of Wisconsin winter days. But it seems like everyone can agree that it’s well worth the wait, as Good Food has been repeatedly voted best food cart, not only by AMPED, but by the entire city.

COFFEE – Starbucks at MLK & Main
Coffee plays a pretty significant role in our day-to-day lives at AMPED and some of us can be rather particular when it comes to our daily cup(s) of joe. Some of us exclusively drink it iced, all year long, while others opt for steaming hot or change it up based on the weather. Some like to patronize the local shops, while others go for the consistency (and rewards) offered by the chains. That said, even with another nearby Starbucks in the category, this location reigned supreme. Special shout out to barista Greg, who can even distinguish our Emilys.

QUICK LUNCH – Ian’s Pizza
Maybe it’s the delightful smell of pizza dough tantalizing your nostrils as you walk by each morning, or maybe it’s the laid-back attitude of each Ian’s employee making you feel at home as you walk in the door, but Ian’s has a way of reeling you in, no matter how many times you tell yourself you won’t eat at Ian’s again this week. The really cool thing about Ian’s, is that if you have any willpower at all, you totally don’t have to eat pizza. You can instead opt for one of their salads, or even build your own. Some might even say it’s better than the pizza. That some would not include me.

HAPPY HOUR – The Old Fashioned
It shall remain a mystery whether this was voted the favorite due to the iconic namesake drink, or the divine fried cheese curds (with Tiger sauce, please!), but if you visit the Old Fashioned and leave without sampling both, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.

AFTER WORK OUTING – Concerts On the Square
Affectionately nicknamed COTS, this event is the one that most AMPED employees can always seem to fit into their schedules – even those who work remotely! What’s not to love about a balmy, mid-summer Wednesday night on the Capitol lawn, wining and dining with colleagues (and their families!) you’re happy to call friends?


And because my AMPED colleagues unanimously felt that a category was missing, I had to add one more:

BEST DONUTS – IT’S A TIE!
A Madison staple since 1996, Greenbush Bakery still has what it takes to go neck-and-neck with new kid on the donut block, Dough Baby. It’s always a good day when someone brings Greenbush donuts to share but who can resist a walk to the girl-powered, coconut oil-fried, monthly rotating menu fierceness of Dough Baby?!

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Canva: Graphic design for dummies


When it comes to Photoshop skills, I like to describe myself as a “seasoned beginner.” With so many ways to accomplish the same effect, I’ve always viewed the software as a conundrum. It’s an easy excuse to say that I never have enough time to learn more. But when it’s crunch time and I need a last-minute graphic, I’m at a loss, with no easy way forward.

Canva is the easy solution. This free, online software describes itself as making “design simple for everyone.” It provides ready-to-use templates for everything from blog banners to business cards. I value their social media templates most; the exact dimensions and layouts for each platform makes it easy to transform marketing campaign graphics from one social media account to another.


canva 1


Canva offers preset layouts, as well. If you’d rather create your graphic from scratch, there’s a simple toolbar on the side that contains a variety of font options, images and illustrations. The drag-and-drop editor enables anyone and everyone to use it — even those who aren’t seasoned Photoshop beginners.


Canva 2

Canva prides itself in making design simple, but is it too simple? By simplifying the functions, it limits design possibilities. I’ll admit that there have been times when I was unable to create an effect in Canva that I know is possible in Photoshop. When it comes down to it, online tools like Canva are great for discovering new ideas for graphics and creating quick and simple designs, but if you have a specific design in mind, programs like Photoshop and InDesign will always deliver.

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Is Squarespace right for your association's website?

squarespace stories

If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, chances are you’ve heard of Casper Mattress, Blue Apron or Squarespace, the website design company that built their platform so that anyone can build a beautiful website. Their marketing was effective because I threw them into the mix of solutions to consider when two of my clients needed a quick and simple solution for a few websites. We looked into it and ultimately decided to try it out.

This was my first time working with this platform, so it was an exciting opportunity to learn a new way of building a website. Over the span of one month, I built three websites on Squarespace for two clients: one main association website, and two event websites, here and here.

Here is why Squarespace worked for these specific sites:

1. No integrations – None of the websites I recently built needed to integrate with an association management Sastem (AMS) or a learning management system (LMS). To be honest, I wouldn’t have even considered Squarespace if this wasn’t the case.

2. Limited content – The websites had really limited content, making Squarespace a great solution. At the minimum subscription level, you get 20 pages included in the template you choose. This did not restrict me from making the website I wanted; in fact, we were hoping to specifically make one of the websites more effective by removing excess content and adjusting the layout, so the page limit forced me to strategically layout the website.

3. Simple design – The sites I built needed fairly basic features. They did not need pull in multiple social feeds, include custom coded features or tools, have a blog, differentiate between member/non-member content or include sub-sites for association chapters or events. Again, if these had been requirements, I would not have even considered Squarespace.

4. Cost effective – The lowest subscription comes out at $144 a year (if you pay upfront). This includes 20 pages, mobile optimization, a free custom domain, integrated e-commerce and hosting fees. They do offer another level that allows unlimited pages, promotional pop-ups, and other features for a little more. Depending on your website needs and the designers you work with, sometimes a website redesign can cost upwards of $8,000!

A few notes on why it is not a solution for everyone:
1. Integrations and custom coding – If you have an AMS or require a single sign on for your association to offer member benefits, this is probably not the solution for you. If you have a lot of custom coded tools or features on your website that you would like migrated to a Squarespace site, you might want to do some research and/or contact support to see if that is possible before making the jump.

2. No access to html – I didn’t realize how much I depend on html to make quick changes if things are not formatting properly, until I was unable to. Squarespace does not really function like this, and that was definitely something I had to get used to. Luckily, you can still add blocks of code onto the pages. For example, I like to use tables when laying out our event schedules or listing the board of directors and Squarespace does not have a table block. I ended up entering a code block onto the page and just designing the entire page with html.

3. Limited templates - There aren’t a ton of templates to choose from, so if you have a specific vision for the design of your website, this isn’t the platform for you. You have to take what they give you and build your vision around that.

Here are some cool features about Squarespace:
Permissions – You can assign different administrative roles to users. The site makes it extremely easy to grant and restrict access to anyone. For example, if you just want to give the chair of your website subcommittee access to review the reporting in Squarespace, this is a permission you can easily setup.

Forms – You can easily create customized forms in Squarespace which are built with blocks, just like the pages. We used the form feature so that our attendees could request meeting space during our event.

Block layout – You create your website by simply adding blocks of content. Squarespace makes it easy to add blocks between other blocks and reformat them on the page with drag-and-drop functionality.

Mobile responsive – One of our websites really needed to be upgraded; some of the features were breaking each time we added a new plugin or update, and the site was not mobile responsive. All of the Squarespace sites are mobile responsive and you can edit how the site appears on mobile devices. This ended up being a HUGE upgrade for that client at a reasonable cost.

Support – Squarespace has a great support team available to email or chat any time. I’ve been able to resolve questions through their chat support and felt that they were responsive and attentive.

I really enjoyed learning about Squarespace through this process, but it is not the answer for all website needs. For many, it can a quick and easy solution toward a beautiful website. And if it isn’t a good fit for your association, perhaps it could be a solution for a personal website.

 

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