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How do you foster creativity?

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The other day my three-year-old son ran up to me with his face and t-shirt covered in squiggly marker lines and exclaimed, “Momma, look what I made!” When I asked him why he had chosen his face and shirt as his canvas he shrugged and said, “I didn’t have any paper.”

I had to admit, this was a pretty imaginative solution to his lack of drawing paper and it got me thinking about creativity. In an increasingly busy life dictated by obligations, lists and tasks to complete, does creativity take a back seat? Would being more creative in my approach to a project lead to a more successful outcome? How could I incorporate more creativity into my daily routine without compromising too much on efficiency?

Creativity really can’t be planned but as I thought more about it I realized there were small things I could probably do to foster more creativity each day. This was emphasized a few mornings later. As I started out on my drive to work I found my commute brought to a halt by a big traffic back up. Rather than idle in that line of cars impatiently waiting for it to move, I took a deep breath, turned around and went a different way. To my surprise, I found myself at the office a few minutes earlier than usual! It was a small change to my usual routine and it actually gained me some time, teaching me that under the right circumstances, a creative approach can improve even the most minor of daily routines.

Encouraged by this first successful outcome, I am determined to continue my exploration of creativity’s impact on more of my projects and daily tasks and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

I’m lucky to work with a group of very talented, innovative colleagues here at AMPED so I’ll certainly be looking to them for new ideas and inspiration. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well! Do you feel like creativity often takes a back seat in our busy lives? Have you had the opportunity to take a more creative approach to a project lately? Anyone have a particularly creative way to get marker out of a t-shirt?

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Lessons in Juggling: AKA Renewal Season at AMPED!

Managing membership renewals for one association can be a juggling act: finding what members need to renew, generating the invoices, getting the invoices in front of the members, getting them to want to renew, and then sending reminders to members who still need to pay. Now, managing the renewals for three associations? You can go right ahead and call me crazy. Lucky for me, we have a great team here at AMPED and it’s “all hands on deck” around renewal season.

Renewal season at AMPED starts in early October. We get the whole team in a room and hash out our action plan. The three membership-based clients for whom we manage the renewals require a variety of renewal reminders (emails, mailings, phone calls, and social media), so we need a way to keep it all straight. Enter the good ol’ Excel spreadsheet.

I create an initial renewal calendar in Excel with a color assigned to each association that easily shows us when we’ll send each email/reminder/paper invoice, as well as when we will make phone calls or social media posts. The spreadsheet makes it easy to edit based on the team’s input. It’s also flexible for moving things around based on how the renewals are going. I also find it helpful to drop reminders in my Outlook calendar the day before a communication should go out so that I can get it set up in our AMS (or get lists ready for phone calls, invoices ready for mailings, etc).

Once the calendar is set, I draft a “master” renewal reminder for each client listing the benefits of renewal and how to make payments. This master reminder is reviewed by our writing staff, as well as the staff who work closely on each respective client, to ensure accuracy and that we are highlighting the best benefits. Each reminder thereafter will be a variation of this master reminder, so it is extremely helpful to be able to pull bits and pieces out of the master to create smaller reminders. We also devise a list of catchy email subject lines to use throughout renewal season.

From here on out, it is a matter of keeping very good documentation on what reports to pull for what associations to get the right output—I never want to confuse a member who has already renewed with an email reminding them to do so. I also like to give the team a heads up when an email is going out so they can be ready to grab the phones if members call in with questions or want to take care of things over the phone.

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A look back at 2013: Surviving my first year in the “real” world

2013 – The year known for the birth of Prince George, the premier of Breaking Bad’s series finale and that time Miley Cyrus may have lost her mind. While each of these moments may have left a lasting impression on us in their own way, what about the more important impressions made? What are the most memorable moments of 2013 in your own life? For me, starting my first full-time job out of college definitely ranks pretty high. Both success and struggles accompanied me on this journey into the professional world. With each success I learned something and with each struggle I learned even more. So what are the most important things that I learned my first year here at AMPED?

Step away from your computer and desk. Our society is completely captivated with technology. We find ourselves staring at some sort of device for hours at a time! That’s crazy, if you think about it. Yes, emailing and the vast variety of different platforms we work in are an important use of our time; however, it is just as important to take a step away and use “old school” communication – that is, talking to someone in-person. Popping into a colleague’s office to ask a question, share an idea or to simply say hello not only keeps your mind stimulated but also fosters a great dynamic in the office. Even as technology continues to grow and perform the previously unthinkable, it will never be able to provide the organic experience that face-to-face interactions provide. Plus, a little exercise hopping from office to office never hurt anyone either.

Take advantage of the seasoned veterans around you. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but you don’t know everything. In fact, not knowing much of anything in your first few years with a company is much more likely. This is not to say you’re not a capable, intelligent employee, it just means that there is always something more to learn. There may be different communication styles, platforms, formats, templates, roles – the list can go on and on – than what you are used to.Take the time to learn from those around you. Your colleagues provide real-life perspective and experience, something a textbook or online resource can’t truly provide. They are knowledgeable not only of the specifics within the company you work for, but also bring a lot to the table when it comes to general professional experience. Don’t let an opportunity to learn from these coworkers pass you by. And hey, this one fits in nicely with stepping away from your computer desk doesn’t it? Get over to your coworker’s office and get some advice! 

Get to know yourself and find out where your talents lie. Here at AMPED we “wear many hats,” so to say. Luckily for me, this means that I’m given the amazing opportunity to explore different aspects of association management each and every day. From meeting coordination, budget planning, marketing and strategic planning – I get to experience it all. It’s so important to give yourself an opportunity to discover what it is that you do best and more importantly, what you enjoy doing the most. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to dabble in multiple departments, you can still learn more about yourself and realize all that you have to offer. You may be in a graphic design role, but also rock at speaking in front others and leading discussions. Take initiative and lead the next marketing meeting!

It may seem as though these lessons strictly apply to a “beginner,” but this is far from true. Each lesson is important for all levels of professionals. Are you the seasoned veteran in the office? See what you can learn from new employees – they may have ideas that you’ve never considered before! Already have a good feel for where your talents lie? Keep challenging yourself! Find out how you can perfect those talents even more and perhaps discover new ones.

 

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Want to see more women Lean In? Start with your company's culture.

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Baby Shower last year for Laura Hodge and Kim Siebecker: Celebrating two baby boys to come!

 

By now, most of us have read or are familiar with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. It’s a groundbreaking essay that asks why so few highly talented women have gained positions as highly ranked business leaders. It dares to look beyond the ingrained corporate double-standard by embracing ambition and promoting fearlessness in women.

Much of the book puts the onus on women to seize opportunities and assert themselves on their way to securing their seat “at the table.”

I’m all for “girl power” (just ask my feminist-in-training, 12-year-old daughter), but I believe, if we truly want to support women and see equality in the workplace, we need to be honest and admit that women still manage the bulk of work as it relates to child and parental care. The challenge of life/work balance for women is very real. It’s a challenging maneuver, to be a successful professional while balancing an infant in one arm and tending to an elderly parent with the other. And those responsibilities at home can be a very real barrier to promotions and income growth as women move in and out of the workforce in an effort to balance both.

It’s no wonder that, as Sandberg states, although women now earn more college degrees than men, “continue to outpace men in educational achievement,” and are entering more fields previously dominated by men, they hold only “14 percent of executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials.”

"I'm proud to work for a woman-owned company that gets it."

In order for the Lean In movement and women to succeed, employers must adapt their policies toward supporting valuable staff in balancing life, both in and outside the office.

I’m proud and blessed to work for a woman-owned company that gets that. AMPED has developed a culture where hard work and results are the expectation, but not to the detriment of family and self. It’s essential that our staff know they have the autonomy to do what they need to do for their families so they can concentrate on delivering exceptional results for our clients.

For instance, when school is unexpectedly closed due to dangerous weather conditions (we live in Wisconsin, after all), we have the flexibility to work from home. When an elderly parent is ill, we can take off at a moment’s notice and know that we have the support of the entire staff behind us. When there are doctors’ appointments, broken furnaces or sick kids, we all understand that life comes first.

There is an expectation that the work gets done — and then some — but there is no clock to punch and no judgment. It’s kind of a no-brainer, isn’t it? Respect and trust your employees and they’ll deliver their best in return.

I truly believe that finding and nailing life/work balance is the key to empowering women. Support from family is essential. But employers can play an even larger role toward that dream of equality.

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Building a successful government relations event through partnerships

NAIFA DOTH 2014

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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