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How cheese curds and trivia can shake up a board dinner and bring out the best


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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Strategic goals: One. Step. At. A. Time.

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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Just keeps getting better! More growth, enhanced programs on tap for 2015

President's message from WSAE VantagePoint magazine, Winter 2015 — As we jump into 2015 with exciting new initiatives and a “changing of the guard,” I want to briefly highlight the Best of 2014 from my point of view.

Membership growth – WSAE hit 500 members! Yes, that is a great accomplishment and not only represents well the association workforce in our state, but also interest in WSAE from members outside of Wisconsin, ultimately strengthening our position for all members to engage, innovate and network among their peers. WSAE is a unique society with a unique value proposition. Our continued growth reflects our excellence in leadership and innovation, coupled with year-round opportunities for face-to-face interaction at a reasonable price – often, free!

Innovation Summit – We made people uncomfortable. Check! That was our intention with the new, interactive format and casual setting, requesting all attendees to come in their jeans – and they did! The two-day event mixed education with innovation and opportunity thinking using hands-on, team building workshops. Next year we will take those experiences into the field. More to come!

Engagement – A buzz word for all associations now in a changing world. WSAE did away with traditional committees and hierarchical volunteer options several years ago. Today members can engage online, in person, individually, in groups, for a short time or up to a three-year term. WSAE offers a very dynamic association, welcoming to all!

Up next – 2015…..
New tiers in our organizational membership – As part of our overall plan for growth, we want to make WSAE accessible and relevant for all organization staff – not just “association professionals.” Our multi-tier organizational membership encourages experts from throughout your association (marketing, sales, fund raising, finance, IT, and so on) to get involved, acquire new skills and share some of their own. This is a great benefit for organizations of all sizes, whether you have a staff of 5 or 500.

An enhanced mentoring program – This peer-to-peer initiative is an opportunity for all members to learn from and share with each other, in a variety of subject areas important to associations and our industry partners (think marketing, social media, member engagement, international growth, whatever you’d like to discuss). Unlike a traditional mentoring program, this one goes in all directions and across all levels of experience.

Attracting talent – This is a challenge we’ll all face as the workforce tightens and generations exit and enter the workforce. The “War for Talent” white paper, developed in cooperation with Executive Director, Inc., and the subsequent webinar offered in January are a catalyst toward developing resources and ideas to help you prepare for this workforce shift. Watch for more on this in 2015.

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'Tis the season for strategic planning


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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Time to get uncomfortable: Innovation Summit inspires participants to step out of comfort zone

President's message from WSAE VantagePoint magazine, Fall 2014 — The 2014 Innovation Summit Task Force really outdid themselves this time. Charged with creating an event that would be truly innovative and different from the first three successful Summits, they understood that breaking away from the previous model was a must. The task force, board and staff had to be willing to take a risk and step out of their comfort zone.

Starting immediately at the top of the program, we opted to stray from the usual opening session/keynote presenter in favor of a room full of kick-off activities: a book signing, a community service project book drive, assistance in updating profiles and demographics, a professional photographer taking headshots, and a networking ice-breaker in which attendees could share the things they “rocked” at. Participation was a must in this environment and I saw some normally shy people connecting with others over commonalities on their oversized “I Rock At” buttons.

The Innovation Labs at Discovery World had everyone talking. These self-selected labs allowed attendees to explore areas of interest or push themselves out of their comfort zones. I heard some great stories about the molecular gastronomy workshop in which participants combined chemistry and food science to come up with something that looked like fried eggs and spaghetti, but tasted anything but. Talk about getting uncomfortable! Eww!

My personal favorite was the video production lab. Here, attendees wrote and starred in their own 30-second videos, promoting their associations, services, events – anything they wanted their audience to know about. Most of us are totally self-conscious in front of the camera, so this was an area where people really had to push themselves. The results were wonderful! Those who participated received copies of their videos and were even willing and able to share them with other registrants during the final session on Innovation Application.

Speaking of which, we were lucky enough to have Michelle Mason, president and CEO of Association Forum of Chicagoland, moderate our final Innovation Application session. After a brief introduction from Michelle, Dana Murn-Kohal of CUES gave us a quick overview of her takeaways from the Innovation Summit, in a format she’d never presented in before!

For some, networking and meeting new people can be uncomfortable. During this last session, attendees were challenged to introduce themselves to participants they’d never met before and exchange contact information. These would be their “accountability buddies” and help them stay on track to implementing at least one idea from the Innovation Summit before our 2015 event.

While you take time to step out of your comfort zone, whether it’s to explore a new opportunity, make a new acquaintance, or discover a hidden talent, we’ll start planning the next Innovation Summit. It’ll take a lot of stepping out to make it even more innovative next year, but we’re up to the challenge! We’d love to hear any ideas you have for making the event even better in 2015.

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So much more to come: WSAE Board has innovative plans for growing, engaging members

President's message from WSAE VantagePoint magazine, Summer 2014 — This issue of VantagePoint focuses largely on the Innovation Summit scheduled for Sept. 25-26 in Milwaukee. And I guarantee it is going to the best ever! Put away your suits and ties — come in your jeans to participate in labs that will help you expand your thinking outside of your comfort zone. Hear from experts and learn from your peers practical ways to consistently improve your organizations, create a culture of innovation and embrace opportunity. Plus, enjoy the city’s spectacular venues, including the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, Discovery World, and an optional sail on Lake Michigan.

Our facilitator and keynote speaker, Pam Henderson, focuses on opportunity thinking and we will all get a copy of her book, You Can Kill an Idea… But You Can’t Kill an Opportunity! How to Discover New Sources of Growth for Your Organization. I recently heard Pam speak at a business event and she says, “Opportunity thinking goes beyond innovation driven by the market, technologies, new business models or design thinking – to look at all of the sources of growth.” I was impressed by the examples she shared of the work she’s done with companies like North Face and Kellogg’s.

Coming up . . .
The WSAE Board embraces innovation and opportunity, listening to members and being very flexible and proactive, taking measured risks. Some of the new things you will be hearing about include:

  • focus groups to understand our future workforce needs, skills and training.
  • expanded CEO roundtables, as well as the development of peer groups built around other specialized areas. Reach out to us if you have an idea for one of these groups in your area of interest.
  • peer-directed learning in various formats
  • an advisor or mentor program to help connect you with members who can help you with immediate needs or membership questions
  • enhanced comunication with CEO members and staff leaders and deeper connections into all member organizations

Lots in store. And I have to say, I continue to feel challenged and am impressed with the level of engagement and strategic direction provided by the leadership of WSAE and all our members.

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Putting on a show: Pet peeves and expectations

CSIA Reception-small

For every one of our client meetings, staff pre-plan, re-plan, adjust, pack, ship and prepare for the unexpected —and the expected.

In preparing for the “big show,” however large or small, I reiterate to both our client and property staff the important aspects of the meeting, my expectations — and some of my pet peeves.

  • Remember why we’re here. It is a privilege to be working with our members. Treat them like royalty.
  • Best foot forward. For sure!
  • First impressions count. Hotel, meeting space room sets should be in tip-top shape. The meeting room is the living room for your attendees. Are you proud to have them over?
  • No garbage. No boxes, scraps of paper, used coffee cups or plates anywhere that attendees can see them.
  • No eating at registration. It’s important for staff to keep up their energy in order to be on the top of their game, but eating should be done in the staff office or with attendees. One of my pet peeves when attending meetings as a registrant is “interrupting” staff from their breakfasts at the registration counter. Drinks are OK.
  • Communication is essential. I schedule daily, or twice daily debriefs with client and venue staff. It’s just a few minutes to plan for the day’s events, make adjustments, set expectations, etc.

Case in point

We just finished another record-breaker, world-class event for AMPED client, Upon arrival at the CSIA conference and following the pre-con, my meeting planner and I were not pleased with the physical condition of the property and expected the hotel to be more proactive with us in communicating some deficiencies we discovered on our own. This is where communication comes in. We swiftly requested a meeting with the general manager and heads of key departments to express our concerns and expectations. I was extremely impressed with their ability to respond, make changes and quickly adjust – a true sign of professionalism and value.

The real-time, back-stage adjustments that take place at an annual meeting are a very tangible example of those that association managers make each day as we respond to members’ needs, requests from leaders and new opportunities – all while focusing on the proactive work of retaining members, growing the associations, advancing the strategic plan and improving governance. It is a pleasure to have industry partners who share the same values and can turn things around quickly!

Communication is typically the key. And starts at the top!

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When You’re the Attendee: Making the most of your membership, meetings and connections

President's message from WSAE VantagePoint magazine, Spring 2014 — We all run associations and know the importance of engaging members at every level. It is so helpful to take time to not only continuously learn, but think from our members’ perspective.

At most WSAE meetings, I am greeting members and speakers and working with onsite staff. I take in the content as a member when I can. Recently, Michelle Czosek and I attended the Association Forum of Chicagoland Women’s Executive Leadership Program. We shared ideas, learned from experts and made many new connections. It was so nice to be an attendee and not have to worry about the details of the meeting. We have stayed connected with other association execs from Chicago and look forward to engaging in their online community and attending next year.

Last month I also attended the Association Management Company Institute (AMCI) annual meeting. And while I served on the program committee and participated in much of the planning from a volunteer perspective, I was able to fully engage in the meeting, take walks instead of checking room sets, and enjoy the receptions and many networking opportunities.

This brings me to WSAE. WSAE offers so many ways for you to advance your career, network with your peers and try new things to take back to your organization. The variety of offerings continually changes and I encourage all of you to create an experience and engage in the way that will give you the greatest value. Register for the newly revived CEO roundtable in Milwaukee; volunteer to help with the Innovation Summit; come to Lake Geneva to golf, play tennis or enjoy the spa during our Spring Outing. Or tell us what works best for you — we will make it happen.

New innovations, ideas and leadership always welcome!

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Building a successful government relations event through partnerships


The missions of most AMPED clients focus on education, networking and advancing their industries or professions. For some associations, the mission is carried out, in part, through a strong government relations program. Carefully managed and planned, legislative days are an important and tangible way to provide members the chance to meet in person with their representatives face-to-face and share real life examples of how policy decisions affect them and, often, the public.

Recently, AMPED staff co-coordinated a “Day on the Hill” for one of our state association clients, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors of Wisconsin. For the first time, we planned the event in partnership with another state-wide insurance association. After a morning of presentations by the governor of Wisconsin, the commissioner of insurance and several senators and representatives, members were briefed on industry issues and mobilized to meet at the Capitol where appointments were scheduled with their state representatives. It was an incredibly successful and insightful event for all involved and was further enhanced by the relationships built by the two partnering associations. The results were increased attendance and a bigger “voice” at the Capitol.

In March, association professionals from all over the U.S. will be meeting in Washington, DC for their own legislative event. My colleagues and I will connect with Congressional offices and share our stories on important association issues like tax reform and nonprofit governance. Continued Federal Government employee attendance at meetings is also still in danger – this issue affects many associations, including our own clients.

Not all associations have missions that require legislative monitoring or action. But for those that do, the ability to come together as a group or partner with related organizations can deliver greater impact and desired outcomes.

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WSAE Reaches Milestone: Lots to look forward to in 2014

President's message from WSAE VantagePoint magazine, Winter 2014 — Five hundred members strong! That is how we start out 2014.

Thank you to our many volunteers, members and partners who helped achieve that goal and all of our success in 2013.

WSAE is truly a model of innovation and creativity in the association space. And we intend to build on that strength and energy by meeting you where you are. From an education, networking or career aspiration perspective, WSAE is committed to developing opportunities for flexible programming directed by you and your peers in WSAE. This year we will ask for more information about you and the organization where you work in order to help make richer connections and provide governance, leadership and education to match our demographics and other characteristics and preferences. This is the start of the diversity and inclusion plan as our association grows.

Just as you work on planning and visioning with your organization, WSAE is adjusting its plan to focus on the areas that will have the greatest impact – on our members, organizations in our state and the profession in general. Some things you will be hearing more about include: crowd sourcing and how best to utilize it effectively for WSAE, online communications and presence, diversity and inclusion, leadership and governance, career paths for young association executives, and the best way to address legislative issues relevant to associations. The process for planning is very fluid and includes a number of stakeholder and Board members. If you have ideas – big or small – please share them with the WSAE volunteer leaders, staff, or me!

I wish you all the best in 2014 and look forward to seeing you at WSAE events and in our online community

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The importance of clear governance and decision-making

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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