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Heavy lifting: Helping associations "move in"

moving-office

This past weekend, I helped my cousin and his wife pack up and move to a new house. It reminded me of how much work goes in to moving!

First, you have to pack up your old place and keep track of what items are going in to what boxes. Then, you have to haul it to the new place, unpack, make sure everything survived the move, and find new places for it all. On top of that, you need to change your address, forward your old mail and set up for internet, TV and phone service.
It was a lot of work—I was drained, both physically and mentally. That’s when I realized I would be coming to work Monday morning and starting a similar process: I’m currently taking the lead on transitioning on a new client! Thankfully, we’ve developed some tools, tips and tricks at AMPED to ensure that all transitions are a smooth one.

Transition Checklist
We’ve developed a really thorough Excel-based transition checklist that is constantly updated to ensure we are getting the needed information, files and materials from the incoming organization to keep them running. It also keeps us on track with getting them set up with phone and fax numbers, email addresses, new print materials, changes of address, etc. There are four main columns that identify the task, who is responsible for it (The new client? AMPED? If AMPED, which employee?), a due date, a place for notes and a completion check box. To make things even easier, we’ve filed each item under a larger category like Administration, Database/Membership, Meetings, and so on. As soon as we know we are bringing on a new client organization, we take the generic template and spend time customizing it to meet the needs of the incoming client, going through item by item to determine if it is relevant or if anything is missing. We make sure to share this with the client right away so that they have a chance to go through and identify missing items as well. 

Scope of Services
While this should be finalized in the negotiation process, it is important to go through usual services offered and those the organization is requesting to ensure they align. I like to paste the scope into Excel and add columns for staff assignments and questions/ notes.

Face Time
We find it extremely beneficial to sit down and have face to face meetings with either the current association staff or the transitioning AMC. If this is not possible, an e-conference like GoToMeeting works great. I set an agenda using the Scope of Services Excel document I mentioned before, adding a column for how much time should be dedicated to each item and highlighting the specific questions and processes I want to review. This ensures that every process and task that we will be doing for the organization is covered. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about how the organization is run and identify ways we can help make it more efficient.

Creating thorough documents like the ones I’ve discussed along with setting aside some face-to-face meeting time helps ensure all of our client transitions are painless and that nothing slips through the cracks. Now, if only I could be this organized for my next house move!

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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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Angelou quotes inspire in life and work

MayaAngelouQUOTEInspirational quotes: We’ve heard our teachers recite them, we’ve shared them in presentations and we even read them in signature lines of emails. To be honest, I actually considered using a quote to begin this blog. Remember when we all learned in middle school English to use a famous quote or thought to begin our papers? I sure do and, admittedly, I carry that with me to this day.

But beyond these typical (and often forced) encounters, inspirational quotes have never really been my thing. I’m not the type to print out a quote and tape it to my mirror or anything. However, with the passing of Maya Angelou, I was reminded of the beautiful and motivational thoughts that she shared with us during her lifetime. A few of her famous quotes left a lasting impression on me and because of this, I felt I should share them with others. In some way, each quote is applicable to one’s personal life, but also has implications in our professional life. Here are three of my favorite quotes shared by Maya that have inspired me to be better, particularly at my job:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude”
Don’t we all wish it could be this simple? It’s certainly one of those “easier said than done” phrases to live by. Too often we encounter projects, clients, or even coworkers who we don’t like, and I hate to say it, but the chances that you’ll continue to run into these things are pretty high. Unfortunately, because it’s your job on the line, you can’t really “change it.” So change your attitude. You’re only wasting energy by focusing on the “I hate this” and “I wish it were some other way” thoughts. Instead try finding the positives. Maybe you’re learning a lot or perhaps you’ve found that you’re really good at something. Focus on that instead. I promise you can find something to enjoy in every situation!

“Nothing will work unless you do”
This quote rings particularly loud in my ears. We Millennials are often characterized as having a sense of entitlement, carrying around the idea that we deserve better, if not the best. While I have my own opinions on the truth of that accusation, I think there’s no denying that we could all use a good reminder that to get what you want you have to work hard. I like this one because it’s easy to understand. No interpretations or clarifications necessary – just work hard!

“We encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated”
Now this one is pretty difficult (or nearly impossible if you’re anything like me) to follow. Many of us strive to be the best at what we do and leave no room for failure. Unfortunately, failure, at some point, is inevitable. I know you may think your superman or superwoman, but trust me it will happen. Whether it is a small mess-up or big mistake, chances are you’ll encounter some sort of defeat (probably more than once) in your career. What’s important to remember is that you can’t let these defeats get the best of you. Yes, it’s important to reflect upon them so that you can lessen the chances they’ll occur again, but as soon as you’ve done that – move on! Don’t hang on to any sour feelings and don’t think that you can’t get past it. Focus your energy on how you can improve the next time around and on what you learned from the experience. By doing this, you’ll only get stronger.

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How to survive your year-end audit

auditor

Years ago at the start of my career, I was an internal auditor for a large company. We always planned “surprise” audits to our branches so we definitely were not a welcome site. Even then, however, I realized that we were just doing our job and trying to ensure that processes were in place that provided protection to our assets.

Fast forward a few years and I came to the other side of the audit fence. I am pretty sure that the beginning of my career is one of the reasons I am comfortable with audits. Don’t despair if this is not how you began. The more times you go through an audit, the easier it gets. Just remember, the auditors are doing their job to ensure processes are in place to protect the assets of the organization. The most important thing to remember is that auditors are not the enemy, they are there to help the organization and to provide important recommendations.

Usually your auditors will provide you with two lists. One list will include items they need a couple of weeks before the fieldwork begins. They will also provide a list of what they would like upon arrival. Reviewing these lists as soon as they arrive will allow you time to think about how easiest to accomplish what they need in the timeframes provided. The best advice I can give is to not wait until the last minute to try to get everything together. Begin as soon as you can, even if it is only an item here and there.

Make sure that all of your balance sheet accounts are reconciled. They will review each of these. They will also look at year-to-year comparisons of both balance sheet and income statement accounts. Likely, they will ask about variances beyond what they consider normal. One very important thing to remember is that if you don’t know offhand, tell them you don’t know and go back and research it. Many times, they may ask something of you that would be better answered by a colleague within the organization. Enlist others to help! You are the main contact for the audit but you don’t have to be the one with all the answers. If you have a responsible auditor, they would prefer that you allow them access to the expertise that surrounds you. I am a numbers person, I have no clue how meetings are run, how many attended, etc. Let those with the knowledge assist.

The hardest thing for me to produce is the breakdown of expenses by functional allocation. This is required for the 990. It helps if your staff tracks their time by admin, member development, meetings, programs and marketing. Your auditor is there to help you distinguish and provide insight that will make your future audits much easier.

One thing to keep in mind with a not-for-profit organization is that there could be certain types of revenue that are considered unrelated business income. That portion of your business may be subject to income tax. For example, if you have a newsletter or directory in which you sell advertising space, you will likely be subject to unrelated business income tax (UBIT). Again, your auditors will assist you in coming up with an income statement that will support the UBIT.

The auditors are usually onsite for two days and then will likely have a few follow up questions. The process from audit to tax returns and financial statements can take a month or month and a half so be patient. Your auditor will have you sign an extension for filing if you are getting near the due date of four and half months past your fiscal year end.

Find an audit firm and audit staff that you work well with. This is very important since audits could be an annual event. Make use of their expertise, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. I enlist their help with questions throughout the year. They really are there to make processes more smooth and to ensure that all assets are protected. They are not the enemy.

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Take control of workplace productivity

productivity

With summer finally hitting the Midwest, the weather keeps getting nicer and nicer. After surviving a brutal Wisconsin winter with polar vortexes, blizzards and ice storms, there is no doubt that we deserve a pleasant summer season. For me, the summer has a lot of positives: sand volleyball, hiking, kayaking and just the ability to enjoy being outside. Unfortunately, it can also be distracting and destructive for my productivity.

As the days get nicer, I start seeing my focus drift more and more from what I should be doing. This is a trend that seems to be popping up constantly in society today. Distractions from things like smart phones, social media sites and, obviously, the lure of nice weather seem to affect workplace productivity. In my short time in the working world, I’ve learned some things that help me stay focused and get my work done efficiently.

Take a break. I know that we are all busy and have tons of work to finish, but if you’re drifting off task then take 10 to 15 minutes to reenergize. If it’s nice out, take a short walk outside. Stop by Starbucks or a local food cart to grab an afternoon energizer. This could make a huge difference in terms of your productivity. Taking that extra time for a break could help you save time in the long run.

Exercise. Ok, there’s no need to exercise at the office, but make sure to take the time outside of work to workout. In the past year, I feel like I’ve read countless studies about how sitting in a desk or staring at a computer screen is going to kill me. While I have friends who have taken some measures in the office—such as purchasing a standing desk or sitting on a medicine ball—to overcome these trending theories, I prefer to use my time outside the office to my advantage. I try to get to the gym regularly or workout with some You Tube videos when I can. While this may not offset the pending doom that is “Death-by-Office,” I notice a difference when I expel some extra energy. When I work out, either before or after work, I notice that I’m not as restless as I am otherwise. This allows me to do my work tasks without feeling fidgety or unfocused.

Get enough sleep. Sleep makes a huge difference in my productivity. When I get to bed late, I can definitely feel it. I feel sick and I can barely get anything done. This obviously presents challenges in the office. Make sure to get an adequate amount of sleep so that you don’t end up falling behind on important tasks.

Find your “zone.” In general, we tend to perform best when we are “in the zone.” This means that we are not overly bored or overly stressed, but seem to have the right amount of focus and time to ensure the best possible performance. If you can figure out how to get in your zone and stay there, your productivity will increase drastically. I tend to get in the zone when I set deadlines for myself. Even if I am doing a remedial task, I set a deadline. The deadline could be one hour later or one month later. Either way, this makes me complete my tasks efficiently while producing high quality work. Calendaring out your day or week so that every hour is accounted for helps with this as well. While some things simply cannot be planned ahead of time, the more prepared you are the more likely you will enter your zone. While this may seem like an abstract concept, approaching the workplace this way could help you get in the best mindset to do work in the most effective way.

Unfortunately, distractions are part of life—and part of the workplace—but just because they exist does not mean they need to control your day. If you learn how to keep your distractions under control, your productivity will undoubtedly increase. These tips are just things I’ve learned from experience. Find what work for you and use it your advantage!

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