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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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Association websites: Three things you must consider in 2017

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It’s hard enough keeping up with association best practices that apply to your day-to-day operations. Now you have to worry about the ever-changing best practices for your website as well. I’ve had a few association professionals ask me, “What should I be doing with my website that I’m not already doing?” Here are the three things I tell them they must be doing in 2017 to keep up to date and get the results they want out of their digital presence.

Social Proofing
Believe it or not, each and every one of us has experienced social proofing at some point in our life. Defined as "the psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation," social proofing is the art of using testimonials and opinions of others to drive consumer behavior.

An example of social proofing would be when you’re looking for somewhere to eat and you hop online to look up reviews. You see two restaurants you’re interested in but one has reviews and the other doesn't. You decide to go to the place with reviews because the restaurant without reviews can’t be any good if it hasn’t been reviewed, right? You’ve taken other peoples' word for it (mind you, complete strangers) and made your purchasing decision. You’ve been social proofed!

Talk with the influential people who are part of your association to participate in testimonials, blogs or even a photo shoot. You can then use this material on your website to show that well-known industry members find your association valuable enough to be members. Add individual or organizational member photos (with their permission of course) to your site to show other potential members which big names are already part of your association.

Responsive Design
We all know that people live and breathe on their mobile devices today. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to make sure the experience you provide to your website visitors is just as good on a phone or tablet, as it is on a desktop. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you look something up on the internet and you can’t find what you need because the website doesn’t work well with your phone. We’ve all experienced those websites on our phones where you’re constantly trying to zoom in and out on your phone to click those tiny, little links. It’s extremely frustrating!

Many web developers are now using what is called “mobile-first” design practices. This means the website is designed with the smallest screen sizes in mind, working the way up to large screens. This practice ensures that anyone trying to access your website on the go is provided with the best possible experience and, in turn, can see the value your association brings immediately.

Do yourself a favor and put your non-member cap on. Pick up your phone and go to your association’s website. Is it abundantly clear what the benefit of joining your association is? Can you search for resources easily? Are links big enough to click, or do you have to zoom in? Make sure they walk away talking about the content and value your association offers, and not how terrible the mobile version of your site is.

SSL
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is an important way to show visitors that your website is secure. SSL is technology that establishes an encrypted link between a web server (where your website lives) and a browser (the vehicle that gets people there). The encrypted link makes sure that any data passed from the visitor to your site is and will remain private.
SSL creates a pathway for your visitors to search your site, purchase things like memberships or publications and share information safely. You should especially consider it if your website requires login to a members-only portal. The internet is swamped with bots scouring websites for unprotected password pages so they can add unwanted content, or delete it all together.

Getting an SSL is a standard and straight-forward procedure for any IT team. Your association should work with your web developer or the IT person directly to get this set up as soon as possible. This is a great way to build trust with visitors and show them that you’re aware of the potential dangers of sharing data. It’s just one more way to show them you care about them and their valuable financial and personal data.

 

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Getting personal: Using hand-written notes to connect with members and increase retention

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I received the loveliest note from a dear friend yesterday. Handwritten on a humorous greeting card only she and I could truly appreciate, she thanked me for our friendship and for just being me. It was simple and unexpected and I’ll cherish it forever.

I have another friend who mails me postcards every few weeks — kitschy relics he picks up at antique stores and re-uses. My favorites are vintage photos of old supper clubs and motor inns. I save them all.

I have, in fact, a box full of special notes, letters and cards that go back to my childhood — precious messages written by hand from high school friends, my mother, my grandmother, my husband. They mean a lot to me and I wouldn't dream of throwing them away.

In a world of knocked out texts and emails, hand-written notes are an anomaly. Think about the last time you received a hand-written note by mail. I bet it got your attention and made you slow down so you could appreciate the message. Maybe it was nice enough that you tacked it to your office wall for everyone to see. It made you feel good didn’t it? Kind of special?

What if you extended that same feeling to your association members? Imagine the impact a sincere, hand-written note would have on member satisfaction and retention.

It starts with prospective members. What if you had a targeted list of pre-qualified prospects and your CEO hand-wrote a special note to each inviting them to join your association or attend one of your events as her guest. Wow! At the most, they’d join or attend. At the least, you’ve opened a door of communication that will likely be reciprocated, but most certainly remembered.

For new members, a hand-written welcome, along with your “new member kit,” is a great first step to building relationships and engagement.

Get yourself a set of branded notecards or stationary and start reaching out today. Consider these ideas:

Letters of congratulations for

  • Certifications
  • New jobs
  • Promotions
  • Births
  • Marriages
  • Retirements
  • Business growth
  • Industry awards

Letters of thanks to

  • Sponsors
  • Event volunteers
  • Authors or blog contributors
  • Speakers
  • Board and committee members

There are so many ways to connect personally with your members and make impressions that last. It requires extra time and thought, for sure, but that extra touch will be remembered and appreciated, and will likely translate to greater member satisfaction and increased retention.

Now, grab a pen and make someone feel special today!

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First impressions: How to welcome new members

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Members are the driving force behind any organization, and a new member’s first impression could be the deciding factor in their length of stay, participation and whether they, return should they ever decide to leave.

New members and prospects must be a high priority, focus should be on answering their questions, familiarizing them with the goals and mission of the organization and getting them involved with the various groups and committees as soon as possible.

Here are a few extra actions you can take to ensure an affirmative lasting impression:

  • From initial contact as a prospect, to the actual approval of membership, the organization’s staff is in a unique position to impress the new member with a positive (or negative) experience. It is a simple task; always be responsive and attentive to any new member or prospect.
  • A new member welcome packet, whether by direct mail or email is essential. You can include a welcome letter, membership certificate, informational brochures, by-laws of the organization, information on the next conference, your business card and anything else that may be useful.
  • Board members or elected officials should be assigned to contact the new member personally, either by phone or email. They can explain why they are members and what benefits they receive as members. They can also act as additional contacts for questions. The new member is hearing from someone who is in the same industry and can relate to issues unique to the industry they share.
  • Invite the new member to the next conference, webinar or tradeshow, at a discounted rate, if possible. The main reason most join an association or trade group is to network with peers in their industry. Don’t let the new attendee become adrift at sea. You need to take the reigns and guide their first experience at a major function, to make it as profitable and worthwhile as possible.

For your next conference:

  • Create an ambassador program designed to let those who care deeply about the mission of your organization guide new members through the first years of membership. The ambassador can also introduce them to peers within the organization to encourage networking.
  • When promoting an event, in social media posts and newsletters, include the names of new members who will be attending. Add their picture and a brief biographical sketch, so everyone can get to know them before meeting face-to-face. If you have an online directory, consider posting member photos next to their listing.
  • Host a new member reception to introduce them to the governing members of the organization.
  • Create new member ribbons, or provide a way for the new member to be identified at an event.
  • Don’t forget to follow up with all attendees of events, especially new members. Ask them to complete follow up event evaluations so you can improve upon the experience, find out what they want to see next and if they need any assistance in networking with members they met. Get them to invest their ideas into improving the association.

All these suggestions will ensure new members feel they are welcome and important components of the organization. The goal is to encourage new members to renew their memberships, increasing retention.

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The Hitchhikers Guide to the CAE: Part 1

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Get in your time machine and go back two years. Imagine you’re at a dinner with ten peers and an accomplished C-Suite Exec. The food is delicious and the conversation is stimulating. Then someone mentions that they are pursuing their CAE. There is a grand pause. EVERYONE around the table nods their heads in agreement and admiration. For the first-time this evening you feel like an outsider. You have no idea what “CAE” is, but you nod your head too, not wanting appear misinformed, praying no one calls you out. Before long you learn that several others have obtained their CAE, including the C-Suite Exec. Words like “domains,” “LERP,” and “SPIE” spill out in conversation . . . Geez, more acronyms! Curious, you go home that night and look it up: The Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential through the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Hmmm, sounds intimating.

This is how I first learned about the CAE, maybe you have a similar story? What I did next was most important. Three things stand out as I look back and map out my journey.

1. Ask around
The CAE was foreign to me. I asked a lot of my peers and mentors what it was all about, and why it was worth pursuing. What were their journeys like? At what stage in their career did they take the exam? Did they study? I got mixed responses, but one thing resounded clear: everyone’s journey was unique and personal. Mine was too.

2. Meeting the requirements
I spent a lot of time on ASAE’s CAE webpage. I had already met some CAE eligibility requirements, but did I have enough qualifying professional development activities to meet the 100 hours? To find out, I began meticulously cataloguing my hours in a spreadsheet. I found eligible hours in a variety of places: I looked through my ASAE profile (Login>My Account>Education History). I scanned through my work calendar from the past three years. I searched through my email for “CAE.” And I contacted both ASAE and the organizations that hosted programs to confirm those that were applicable. Sounds like a lot of work, and I’ll admit it was.

I was surprised to find out I had already accumulated 80 hours. Getting the final 20 was fairly easy: I signed up for free webinars.* It’s amazing how many free webinars are out there once you start looking. It doesn’t have to explicitly offer CAE credits to be applicable, programs that touch on any of the nine knowledge domains could count too. You can even count up to 10 CAE hours through mentoring and coaching, like I did.

3. Committing to take the exam
Next biggest decision: to take the exam in December or May? It’s only offered twice a year, and through my chats with peers, everyone encouraged me to take it when the content was fresh in my mind. Since my plan was to include three months of rigorous studying pre-exam, the decision on which month to take it was crucial. What three months were best for me to invest studying time? Were there any conflicts with the exam dates (maybe a work conference or board meeting already scheduled?).

Fast forward and it’s now six months out from the time I would take the exam. Now it’s November, and I was pregnant with my second and due New Year’s Eve. For me I was either committing to taking the exam the following May (studying during maternity leave and a potential job transition) or choosing to wait until the following December (several months down the road, when I’d have two young kids running around). Yeah, I chose May. The nail in the coffin was when a wise woman told me that she studied while going through a massive renovation on her home. Literally, no running water. If she was successful at that time, then I could be too.

If you take anything from this article, know that the CAE is only as daunting as you allow it to be. Smart time invested in learning about the process and other’s experiences can be time well spent. Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, in which I share my study plan and exam prep process.

Congrats to those who have decided to pursue their CAE, and good luck as you begin the adventure!

*Free webinars can be found at ASAE’s upcoming events page, the Wild Apricot blog with a listing of monthly free webinars, Collaborate events page, and the CAE Candidate community.

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