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The ROI of attending industry events

Czosek at association meeting cropped

I recently had the privilege of attending an event, Disruption + Innovation: The Future Association Landscape, put on by .orgCommunity’s “Association 4.0 Think Tank.” The event gave me an opportunity to participate in excellent educational sessions, make wonderful new connections and catch up with long-time Chicago-area association friends.

Do you ever return to the office after attending an event like this, see all of the email that has piled up, and wonder if the time away from the office was worth it? I do. So I always take time to think about what I learned and how I can apply it. I evaluate whether attendance was a good use of my association’s resources, time and money and what I might have accomplished if I’d stayed in the office.

How do I know if an event was time well spent? Here are some quick questions I ask myself and how they played out for this particular event.

  • While at the event, do I feel inspired? Do I jot down notes? Do I collect tangible tools or information I can use to benefit the members of the associations I manage?
    I took way too many notes and had several ideas for potential articles and conference topics. I thought of a new product offering and how I could make it happen.
  • Do I make 3-5 new contacts who can help my clients?
    The answer on this one is a definite yes. I confirmed two presenters for an upcoming client event, approached a third individual for another and secured an author for a magazine article.
  • Are existing relationships strengthened?
    Another yes. I caught up with two people I’ve known over 25 years. As an added bonus, a number of members from the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (an AMPED client) were present.
  • Am I intrigued enough by a topic to do additional research when I return to the office?
    Let’s just say that I spent a little time one evening reading and ruminating on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list — a list of companies they say have the ability to upend multi-billion dollar industries. I thought about how those companies could impact the association industry, the hospitality industry and the industries represented by my client associations. Powerful stuff!
  • Do I share my experience with others?
    You bet! This one was an excellent experience and worth discussing.

By evaluating the answers to these questions, I determined that the “Association 4.0 Think Tank” event was definitely a wise use of my resources!

What was your return on investment of time and resources spent at your latest event? Do you have additional ways to evaluate whether your attendance was a good use of your time? If so, I’d love to hear about them!


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The Power of Associations: Help spread the Word

power of a logo jpeg

Every day when I go to work, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have stumbled (like most association management professionals) into a career that I love! Working with my clients gives me a front row seat to view how associations allow people to truly connect around a shared interest.

I’ve worked in the association industry for longer than I’m going to mention in this blog, and I’m constantly amazed at the “Power of A” – the term used by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) to show the reach and impact that associations have on people, the economy, legislation and more.

As an association professional, it’s important to know the impact that associations have and the importance of groups like the ones we serve.

A few of my favorite association statistics from ASAE include:

  • The IRS recognized 66,985 trade and professional associations in 2013.
  • During the 2013 fiscal year, there were 1,524 new applications for 501(c)(6) status.
  • Membership organizations of all types employed more than 1.3 million in 2013.
  • Membership organizations generated payroll of nearly $51 billion in 2013.
  • Associations represent a major piece of the meetings and conventions industry in the U.S., supporting nearly 1.8 million jobs and accounting for $280 billion in direct spending by attendees.

Those are some pretty impressive numbers!

What’s even more impressive is the power associations have to connect people who are engaged in a common business or career, share a mutual interest or are brought together for the good of a mission-driven organization. There’s incredible power in creating a community where we’re supportive of each other and share our knowledge so that everyone has a better chance for success.

I’m excited about the future of associations and encourage you to spread the word about “The Power of A." Your members should know the impact they have on our world! For more information on our collective impact and help spreading the word, some excellent resources are available at

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Growing your association and yourself through real connections

Network seedlings
I heard someone say in a presentation recently, “Don’t let technology rule you. Be a champion of personal relationships.” As an association manager, I do exactly that – pick up the phone and meet face-to-face as often as I can to grow relationships and, in turn, my association clients through personal contact and real connections. This face-to-face time with our clients and members is the foundation that our associations were built on and it benefits us all both professionally and personally.

I’ve seen the power of these connections first-hand with one of my clients. A year ago I invited a woman who was a long-time member, but not very involved, to be the subject of an executive profile in the association’s magazine. The profile led to a face-to-face meeting about a program that her organization offered and an additional article in the magazine. She then agreed to serve on a panel at our annual meeting and, there, met a contact from a large organization. That contact led to an opportunity to meet with them about one of her organization’s programs and now they’re working on a future collaboration. It’s the perfect example of how a small outreach can lead to bigger things and turn a checkbook member into an engaged and happy one!

Here are some quick ways to make personal connections.

Pick up the phone. With all of the ways to contact people these days, we often neglect to pick up the phone and actually make a call. Sure, you may get voice mail, but even that counts.

Handwrite a note. In the age of email and the multitude of other ways to contact people, the art of the personal handwritten note may seem outdated. However, people appreciate when you spend a few extra minutes to write a note. On more than one occasion, I’ve received a handwritten thank you in response to my note!

Visit members. Making an appointment for a quick visit with a member is a wonderful way to make that personal connection, get feedback on your association’s offerings and learn what else you can do to assist your members. If it’s not possible to visit your members due to geographic or financial constraints, see if they’d be willing to Skype.

Make a personal ask. The next time you’re looking for volunteers to serve on a committee, participate in a panel discussion or write a blog or article, reach out personally as opposed to sending a blanket call for volunteers. People will love that you recognize they have a talent you’re interested in utilizing and appreciate that you are taking the time to personally invite them to participate.

I challenge you to start connecting by making one phone call, writing one letter and asking one person to participate in your organization at a more engaged level this week. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

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A thousand miles away has never felt closer: How to make remote employees feel like part of the team

remote polar bear

As technology rapidly changes and makes working from anywhere easier, more people work remotely than ever before. Working remotely can be a challenge. Trust me, I know this from experience, having worked almost 13 years from home in a previous association management life.

When AMPED recently transitioned in a new client, the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA), we were fortunate to add NAFA's long-time staff person, Terry, to our team. Terry happens to live in another state, over 1,000 miles away. In addition to everything associated with bringing on NAFA, we wanted to be sure that Terry felt like a part of the AMPED team right from the start, regardless of the fact that we didn't share office space.

How can you make a new, remote employee feel welcome? Here are a few tips:

Terry was included on our staff instant messaging system, Convo, right away. This allows us to quickly and easily communicate. It’s faster than email and means we don’t have to pick up the phone every time we need to share a bit of information.

No one looks good on the web cam, which is why I was hesitant when it came to making the leap from phone to Skype. But once we started holding our weekly check-in meetings via camera, I quickly realized the value of seeing the person on the other end. That one once-a-week, “in person” catch-up helps us feel more connected and strengthens our relationship.

The Cloud
Our cloud-based server through Egnyte allows Terry to access all of the NAFA files the same way we do in the office. We’ve moved to the cloud and already see the benefits. There’s no need to email files back and forth.

Meet the Team
It was important for Terry to see the new NAFA headquarters and meet her co-workers, so we invited her to Madison for an onboarding visit. We took advantage of the few days she was here by holding our annual AMPED photo shoot and rescheduling our weekly staff meeting so Terry could hear about all of the things the staff was working on. We also spent meal time with her, included her in our "$2 Latte Tuesday" tradition and got to know each other on a personal level – a big part of the AMPED culture.

In the end, the benefits of having a remote worker who is passionate about the organization far outweigh the challenges. Technology allows us to communicate just as effectively as if we were in the same office. As long as we remember the importance of incorporating the relationship building and the human touch into our daily routine, we can make the most distant worker feel like a part of the team.

Do you allow employees to work remotely? I’d love to hear how you’ve made them feel like a part of the team.

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Want to attract Millennials to your events? Here’s what you need to know.


Google “Millennials” and you’ll find more than 11,000,000 results. A lot of them will claim to tell you what this group of young people is interested in, what motivates them and their attitude toward everything under the sun. Why should we care? Well, they’re the largest generation in the U.S., the first one to have had access to the Internet during their formative years, and their impact on the economy continues to grow. All of those things will also impact our associations and how we attract and engage them.

I’m definitely not a Millennial (I won’t reveal my generation here), but I work with them, live with one, and, in the role I play with our clients, I need to know what attracts them to associations and events. I want to hear directly from them and I had the opportunity to do just that when I attended a recent panel discussion.

The entire panel consisted of Millennials and they shared it all: how to get them to join an association, what they need from you in order to get engaged, how their career and workplace should make them feel and what motivates them to attend an event. I’ll focus on meeting attendance here because that’s where I found the most food-for-thought when planning for the future.

When it comes to meeting attendance, all panelists agreed that it wasn’t the price, location or keynote presenter that drew them. Here’s what does:

  • A majority of the education at an event should be relevant to their current position. Although they are willing to spend time on something out of the scope of their responsibilities, if it’s new to them – perhaps something they can see themselves doing in the future.
  • Networking with colleagues using the same tools, sporting the same titles and dealing with similar issues is important to them. And, if you also provide access to senior executives, they’ll be there.
  • Marketing collateral should be exciting and contain “like faces.” They want to know that they’ll identify with other attendees and have fun.
  • If they can get the information online or from another association, you’d better try harder with your overall program. They want a unique experience.
  • If your event ends with a final “thank you” from the moderator, then try adding opportunities to keep the discussion going after the program closes. They know they can easily stay connected and keep the learning going.
  • Considering a presenter that gives a three-hour presentation? Think again. These professionals grew up with the Internet. They like to learn in short snippets with pictures and 140 characters or less.
  • Once you get them there, you’ll need to make an effort to make them feel connected and valued. Do this and they’ll be back. Skip it and don’t count on a return appearance.

Millenials – is what I’ve shared true of you? Other generations – chime in and let me know what you’ve found when trying to engage them.

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When your publisher's contract is up for renewal: Tips for the RFP process

publisher rfp

If you’ve worked successfully with a publisher over a period of time and you’re happy, is it necessary to go through the proposal process when your contract is up for renewal? My answer is “Yes, definitely.” Why? Because the board and staff have a duty to their association to ensure the best deal possible. Technology changes, new players come into the market. Without exploring and revisiting the agreement, you may miss out on additional savings.

Having just gone through the publishing RFP process with one of our clients, I have a few quick tips to share.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Associations send out RFPs for publishing all the time. Do a little digging and find an RFP to use as a template. Trouble finding a sample? Pose a question to your peers on ASAE Collaborate or your state society of association executives’ online community – someone is sure to step up and share their RFP. An online search will yield samples as well.

Know what you have. My client has a lot of “extras” with their current publisher that are offered to members and would be hard to replace. Value-added items might include a digital version of your publication, a mobile app, complimentary member access to related journals and magazines in your publisher’s catalog or member discounts on any related books they publish. Although these items don’t have a particular dollar value attached to them, they provide solid member benefits.

Respect confidentiality. Whether it’s a confidentiality clause in your contract that prohibits the sharing of specific information or a “confidential” statement on provided information, respect the agreement with your current publisher. If you have a question about whether or not the release of certain information is in violation of your agreement, err on the side of caution or consult your attorney. In the case of my client, we couldn’t provide revenue figures, but one publisher was resourceful and found the information on our IRS 990. Another publisher declined to submit a proposal because they didn’t have the information or know where to get it.

Be available and responsive. Potential publishers are sure to have questions. Respond to their questions in a timely manner, just as you expect them to respond to you quickly. Don’t be surprised if the publisher wants to have a conference call instead of emailing back and forth. Ask a committee member to participate on the call with you; you may not be a subject matter expert, especially if you publish a scientific or medical journal. Including someone knowledgeable in the subject on the call will help ensure that all the publisher’s questions are answered.

How is our process ending? It looks like we’ll be staying with our current publisher, but everyone agrees we spent our time wisely. We can say with certainty that we have the best publishing fit for our organization.

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Before you go live: Five steps for successfully redesigning your website

white board for web
After twenty plus years in the association management industry working on countless projects that I loved, I now have a personal favorite. The recent redesign of a client website that seemed daunting at the outset brought together all of my favorite elements: the opportunity to work closely with staff, volunteers and an industry partner, and the chance to be creative and produce a website that provides value to our members and visitors every day. After a successful launch, I reflected on why this project meant so much to me and more importantly, what tips I could share to help my peers. Here are a few of the things that led to a stress-free “go live” date.

Map out a plan. Before you embark on the project, make sure you have a well thought out plan. The first step for us was to come up with a site map that laid out the overall vision for the new site. The site map resided on a large whiteboard in my office. Every category of information that was going on the site was included on the map. Even though you have your plan in place, be sure to stay flexible because I guarantee that not every detail will go exactly as planned.

Don’t be afraid to de-clutter. As we developed the site map, there were some hard decisions that needed to be made about what would be transferred over from the old site and what was no longer needed. When you deal with an organization of volunteers, sometimes it’s difficult to eliminate things that have a lot of emotion and hard work attached to them. That’s why I recommend making sure you don’t skip the next item.

Get buy-in from stakeholders along the way. Throughout the process, I reached out to the volunteer “owners” of the website’s different pieces to get their input. As staff, we made recommendations that would help site visitors get all of the information they needed without getting lost in a world of unnecessary clutter. We respected the hard work that was put into the old site and worked with stakeholders to streamline the new site.

The more eyes the better. This piece was key to a successful site. On the whiteboard were a list of categories and a place for staff initials to show, at a glance, the status of each piece. Was the copy written? Had the copy been reviewed by our staff point person? If there was volunteer involvement had that person seen the final product? Were there graphics included on the page? Was final copy sent to the designer? Had the related pages gone through final review? Was that piece ready to “go live?”

Hire a web designer who will act as a true partner. At AMPED, we’re very lucky to work with a designer who truly wants to be creative with us. He understands that we welcome his suggestions and we know we can depend on him to be on top of what’s up and coming in web design and function.

Launch day has come and gone and the new site is a success, but the work doesn’t stop there. We will continually look for ways to enhance the site and provide value to all of our visitors. I’d love to hear how you engage visitors on your organization’s site so that they keep returning!

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A little hand-holding goes a long way toward member engagement

According to the Corporate Leadership Council, employees with lower engagement levels are four times more likely to leave their jobs than those who are highly engaged. Do you think the same can be said of our members? Those who we can get engaged will stay with us over the long haul while those who never feel a connection will move on fairly quickly?

I hear people talking about member engagement all the time. It’s definitely a hot topic for associations right now and it’s an important one. As our members have more and more things competing for their attention and dollars, it’s critical that we get them to feel a connection to our organization — to engage with us and their peers. The theory, of course, is that the more engaged a member is, the better our chances of having them stay with the association when renewal time comes along.

There are so many ways to involve and engage our members in our association. We can ask them to serve on committees, offer them the opportunity to attend programs where they learn and network with their peers, invite them to present at conferences and educational events and build online communities for their use.

One of the things our association partner, the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) will be focusing on this year is member engagement. We’re targeting their online community as one of the places we’ll start. Some believe that if you build an online community, people will flock to it and it will flourish with little to no intervention. I’ve worked with several organizations that have started online communities and I have yet to see this work without some gentle pushes from leadership and staff.

Some of the many things we’ll be doing in 2014 to increase participation on include assisting leadership in becoming visible in the community, encouraging people to blog, utilizing it to communicate with committees and the board, making announcements and carrying on education program discussions long after the event has ended.

We often overlook the need to start with the basics when getting an online community up and running or trying to pump some energy into an existing community. First, we need to make sure all members know the community is available and encourage them to create their online profiles. WSAE is running ads in its magazine and newsletter that spell out exactly how to login and set up a profile. We’ll also encourage them to set up a daily or weekly digest, so they have new postings delivered to their inbox automatically. We’ll also be running questions that have been posted to the community in the association’s newsletter. We’ll share the topic question, but direct them to the website for the answer.

How will we know if our efforts are successful? The system we use tracks engagement and offers reports. We’ll be selecting some key metrics to measure our progress and see if we achieve our goals. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re looking for a place to see what your peers are doing or pose a question, join me on the Member Engagement – For Online Community and Membership Professionals group on LinkedIn. There are over 2,100 members discussing all kinds of engagement issues. It’s always interesting to join a group and then see how many people you know that are already participating. I guarantee you’ll find peers dealing with some of the same issues you do.

What about your member engagement? Have you done something that’s worked particularly well or maybe something you’d never try again? I’d love to hear what you do or are thinking of doing to engage your members, and I know others would too.

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Make a difference: How your association can have an impact on your community, your world

WSAE 2013 Donation

You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give. — Winston Churchill

Last week, I saw a Facebook post by a peer letting everyone know that he and his co-workers had raised over $20,000 in one week for the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee County. His post reminded me again of how thankful I am for the life I lead. Everyone’s healthy and I’ve never had to worry about how I’ll pay the next bill or where the next meal will come from.

I realize that’s not the case for everyone. That’s why I’m proud of our client, the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) – an organization that knows the impact associations can have on the community and the lives of people around us. Through WSAE’s Community Outreach Task Force, we’ve helped build bikes for children that might never have one, collected “wish list” items for a children’s hospital, and supported an organization that provides care packages to overseas troops. In fact, as I was writing this, I received a report that we collected eight boxes and 27 bags of items (see photo) for Support The Troops at our December 2013 meeting. Wow!

WSAE values community outreach so much, that this year they awarded their Visionary Award to a woman whose nominator cited her leadership and involvement in her association’s community service program as the reason she was especially deserving of this award. In 2013, the Wisconsin Dental Association’s Mission of Mercy brought together 1,224 volunteer dental and other professionals to provide 2,072 free patient visits that included 1,450 fillings, 1,846 extractions and 32 root canals. Total services provided represented more than $1.1 million in donated care. Now that was certainly worthy of being recognized!

If you’re inspired to see what your association and its members can do to impact the lives of others, it’s easy. A large budget or staff isn’t necessary. You can start small, for every small act of kindness makes a difference. Here are some ideas to get you on your way:

  • Form a committee to select a worthy organization and ask everyone to bring an item from that org’s “wish list’” to donate at your annual conference.
  • Invite members to share the stories of what their companies do in your newsletter or on your web site. You’ll probably be surprised at how many of your members are already doing something, whether it’s through corporate and individual donations or employee service hours. Give them some applause for their service and let their stories inspire others.
  • Create an award to recognize member organizations that serve. Everyone likes a little friendly competition; and in that competition, everyone’s a winner!
  • Bring your staff together to volunteer as a group. The AMPED staff recently helped manage craft tables at a city-wide holiday party for 350 children from the Boys and Girls Club. It was such fun seeing the kids decorate holiday cookies and get their pictures taken with Santa. We all enjoyed the chance to serve and it helped make the AMPED team even stronger by sharing the experience together.

I always tend to think of volunteer opportunities as my chance to impact someone else’s life. However, what usually happens is that those people I’m serving impact mine much more. Let me know if you do something, I’d love to hear about it!

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