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MASAE members are front line professionals in association and nonprofit management. They are chief staff officers, executive directors, senior staff and members of diverse teams including membership, marketing, financial, human resources, education and information technology (just to name a few).

Members are also consultants, vendors and suppliers from a host of backgrounds, all committed to helping nonprofit and membership organizations from throughout the region continue to realize their missions and more. The community has come together to create this blog and share their experiences with the larger association community. It’s part of MASAE’s commitment to create real value, right in your back yard. We hope you enjoy the stories our guest bloggers share and that you join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.

  • 1 Jan 2016 7:57 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Todd Van Deak, Thursday, Jan 1, 2016

    With apologies for our brief hiatus, we're back with the remainder of Bob Bauer's series of posts. Follow Bob through the end of the month. 

    By Bob Bauer

    “There’s an association for that?” I get that a lot! Yes, there’s an association for imported foods. Yes, within that association there are sub-associations, including one focused on honey and one on olive oil.

    “You went to India for a conference about cashews? You’ve been to Singapore, Australia and Turkey for an annual convention about nuts and dried fruits?” The list goes on.

    Most people seem to latch on to one item. There’s one guy who I’m certain after knowing me for many years thinks everything I do is about nuts. He can’t seem to figure out why there needs to be an association to deal with that. After reminding him the association covers all kinds of imported foods, I give him examples about nuts anyway just to drive home some of the reasons the association’s work is important. I’ll ask him, “do you like cashews?” When he says he does, I’ll say that our association has helped educate the producers (most in lesser-developed countries than ours) about ways to improve quality and yield, so he and others can get enough cashews of good quality at a good price.

    I’ve had a couple of people make it sound un-American of me to work for an association centered on imports. Of course, there’s a whole U.S. industry of companies employing thousands of people and supporting thousands of other jobs such as trucking and retail stores carrying the products. And do you think the industry imports products that are produced in great numbers or at all here in the U.S.? There wouldn’t be a lot of money in that.

    Olive oil has been another conversation starter. Some folks think they know more about olive oil than I do. Others want me to tell them what brands to buy. In case you’re wondering, I don’t tell them what to buy. There are hundreds of varieties of olive oil and they’re grown in many different climates and in various types of soil, so there’s a wide variety of tastes. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. Our friends certainly seem to enjoy when we bring or put out a few different oils when we get together. With olive oil, some ask me about things they’ve read online that say negative things about imported olive oil. When I explain the faulty conclusions in those “articles”, they get a first-hand example of why it’s important to have an association for the industry.

    When I tell people I belong to two associations (MASAE and ASAE) for people who run associations, there are often smirks. But when they think about it, they seem to get the picture.

    Yes, there’s an association for that. As we’ve all heard or said before, “there’s an association for everything!” And that’s a good thing.

  • 27 Aug 2015 7:50 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Todd Van Deak, Thursday, Aug 27, 2015

    By Callie Walker

    Websites. We all have them. We all use them. But that’s not to say that all websites are winners. In fact, some websites actually seem to do more harm than good. They drive people away and even cause bad feelings – which is the last thing we want to do as associations.

    So what exactly are the qualities that drive members and prospects away? Behold, the seven deadly sins of association web design:

    Cluttered pages
    Too many associations forget about the importance of white space. They often get so caught up in their own design aesthetic that they forget it isn’t about them. It’s about the user’s personal experience, and that means having a clean and simple web design. Cut back on the heavy text that’s likely to scare users away and focus on simplicity instead.

    Poor navigation
    Sure, website navigation can be tough, but this is one area you don’t want to skimp on. The majority of users will leave a site if they can’t find what they’re looking for in three clicks or less, so a seamless structure is imperative.

    Now there’s no formal rule for how navigation should be organized, but in general, it’s best to have vertical navigation down the left side of your site or horizontal navigation across the top. These are the most common design techniques and users will feel more comfortable if your organization follows suit. Additionally, it’s best to use textual descriptions for all of your links so that users know exactly where a page is about to take them.

    Missing contact information
    You’d be amazed at how many associations hide their contact information online. But members can’t reach you if they don’t know how! Be sure to include your phone number as well as email address in the Contact Us section. Yes, you may attract some spam, but it’s better than losing members because they can’t reach you.

    One extra note here: Some organizations prefer to use a Contact Us form rather than listing their contact information outright. But beware, this can often backfire as users don’t typically want to wait for a response.

    Dead links
    This one can’t be emphasized enough. How many times have you been to a website and clicked on a link that can’t be opened? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? That’s why website testing is so important. Even if you’ve tested a link before, check it again every so often to make sure it still works.

    Slow load times
    Nothing makes people leave a website faster than slow load times. Not to mention, search engines penalize slower loading websites, leading to less traffic and overall page views. To avoid this, make sure your images are optimized. That means resizing your images and reducing the quality. Don’t worry though – a lower quality won’t show any significant changes from the original version.

    Unresponsive templates
    Did you know that more than half of all web access comes from mobile devices? That means it’s imperative to have a mobile-friendly site. Now a lot of organizations tend to put this one off, but mobile isn’t going anywhere, so it’s crucial you adapt. We highly recommend using responsive web templates that adapt to all platforms and devices, including mobile phones and tablets. That way, you can appeal to all users to matter where they’re coming from.

    Pop-up ads
    This is by far the worst offender. Yes, you may get a few new email subscribers, but is it really worth all of the traffic you lose due to pure annoyance? Now we will say, associations are pretty good about not utilizing these, but there are enough fans that we felt it was worth mentioning.

    If you do want to use pop-up ads, we recommend using a time delay. Don’t show your ads unless someone has been on your site for say 30 seconds or longer. The longer they’ve been on your site, the more likely they are to click on the ad. That being said, we still recommend using strong calls-to-action, such as “call today” or “register here,” rather than interruptive pop-up ads.

    There you have it, folks. The seven deadly sins of association web design. Is your association guilty of any of these?

  • 25 Aug 2015 7:10 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Todd Van Deak, Tuesday, Aug 25, 2015

    By: Susan Young
    Get In Front Communications

    It's time for business bloggers to dust the cobwebs off of their old posts.

    Many bloggers believe the content that's collecting dust should be deleted.

    Not so fast!

    I say you should only dump material that is outdated or embarrassing.

    There’s a better way to use your ‘old stuff’. Give it flavor. Give it energy. First, go back and identify posts that you want to salvage. It’s important that the majority of the post is not dated and can easily be tweaked.

    Once you determine the content you’d like to modify, consider these seven tips:

    1. Turn your post into a Slideshare deck. Visuals are the hot trend this year so pull a few main points from your written post and transform it into a snappy deck.Suggestion: Don’t use stock photos. Start building your own personal library of pictures and images. That’s what cell phone cameras are for, right?
    2. Use your voice and record a podcast. Your post is now your script, which will need short, punchy, and easy-to-understand sentences. Suggestion: Focus on your vocal vitality!
    3. Create an e-book. If you’ve been blogging regularly for six months, you should have more than 50 posts. Old content, as well as current posts should be included.Suggestion: Hire a Virtual Assistant and/or graphic designer to pull everything together.
    4. Produce a free ‘Special Report’ in a PDF format. Using three of your most popular or favorite posts, reformat the text, and update as needed. This new PDF can be used as an opt-in on your site to build your database and list. Suggestion:Stick to one theme or topic.
    5. Record a video blog based on your written content. Suggestion: Keep it casual and less than three minutes in length.
    6. Offer to guest post. Pitch a fresh version of your post to a respected leader in your industry with a large following. Suggestion: Be sure to find out the preferences of the person you are pitching. Ask about word count, deadline, bio box, and images.
    7. Transform your post into a bylined article. Identify a publication that your ideal clients read. Find out if they accept bylined articles and pitch your topic to the editor.Suggestion: Before spending an enormous amount of time reworking your piece, first pitch the topic and a few bulleted details.

    One important note when repurposing content: Check all links to be sure they are not dead-ends.

    Your blog is a business development AND marketing tool. It’s time to get creative!

  • 20 Aug 2015 7:17 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Todd Van Deak, Thursday, Aug 20, 2015

    By Leza Raffel, The Communication Solutions Group, Inc

    No matter how successful your association is, there’s always room for improvement. The best way to attract new members and promote new services to current members is with a comprehensive marketing campaign. Before you jump right in, however, it’s important to remember some ground rules that will help ensure your campaign is successful.

    There are many effective association marketing methods, but beware: there are also countless ways to spend money without getting results. If you don’t have any marketing experience — or even if you do — remember that poor planning, poor execution and poor follow through lead to poor results.

    Below are the top ten marketing mistakes and advice on what to do about them. Following these rules could help you see your way through to a successful and profitable marketing campaign.

    Mistake Number One: Launching a marketing campaign when you don’t have a clear set of goals

    Don’t jump into a marketing campaign without deciding what you want to say and who you want your message to reach. Doing so could be a waste of time, effort and most of all — money.

    Instead, take the time to plan. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your campaign. Are you trying to bring in more members? Are you looking to retain existing ones? Is your association offering new services? Do you want to grow attendance at your next conference?

    Having a clear set of goals will help you decide on what kind of a marketing campaign you want to launch, and the rewards of a successful campaign will more than make up for the time you spend researching and planning.

    Mistake Number Two: Not taking the time to determine your unique selling point

    Don’t start a marketing campaign if you don’t know what differentiates you from competing associations. If you don’t know, potential members won’t either.

    Determine what makes your association unique, and use that to drive your message.

    Mistake Number Three: Not identifying your target market

    Not everyone can be your target market, or target member for that matter. Before you spend money on a marketing campaign directed toward the masses, identify who’s ultimately going to make the decision to join your association and why.

    Knowing who holds the purse strings and who determines where their organization’s money is spent will help you decide how best to get your message across.

    Mistake Number Four: Not having a budget in place

    Without a budget, chances are you’ll spend too much money on marketing. Know how much you want to spend before beginning a marketing campaign, and stick to your budget.

    The general rule of thumb says a marketing campaign should be 1.5 percent to 3 percent of your operating budget. That amount should be sufficient and will help you determine what kind of marketing campaign you can afford.

    Mistake Number Five: Putting all your eggs in one basket

    Don’t spend all of your marketing money on one type of promotion. Creating an overpriced website or buying a single membership recruitment ad in an industry publication is a surefire way to you’re your budget very quickly.

    Instead try spreading the wealth around. In addition to making your money go further, your message is more likely to reach existing members and potential members when you use more than one type of marketing method.

    You could easily miss valuable prospective members if your marketing method overlooks them, and by putting all your eggs in one basket, you’re certainly going to overlook someone.

    Mistake Number Six: Trying to do it all yourself

    Trying to accomplish everything on your own often leads to problems. Do-it-yourself marketing campaigns are often disjointed and unpolished.

    Use professionals who can create a comprehensive package that enhances your association’s image and gets your message across clearly and completely. It may be a bit more costly than doing it yourself, but it should pay off.

    A cohesive marketing campaign developed by the right professionals and aimed at the right target audiences won’t eat into your time and will more than pay for itself.

    Mistake Number Seven: Not doing your homework

    Don’t pay top dollar when you don’t have to. Advertising prices vary and so do printing prices.

    Negotiate with publications for a lower advertising rate and shop around to get the best printing prices for quality work. Just because a company charges top dollar doesn’t mean it provides top quality products.

    Failing to be cost conscious in all of the marketing decisions you make is a mistake. Remember, the further you stretch your marketing dollars, the greater the opportunity you’ll have to spread your message.

    Mistake Number Eight: Not pursuing PR opportunities

    You’re not marketing your association well if people in your industry don’t know who your association is. Get involved in industry activities and issues, launch a scholarship fund, and organize conferences which educate others on industry trends. Then, be sure to get the word out about your activities on your social media sites and in industry and mainstream print and electronic media outlets.

    PR is free and it provides organizations with more credibility than advertising. In fact, data suggestions that people are 7 times more likely to respond to a story about your organization than an ad!

    Mistake Number Nine: Not tracking where responses are coming from

    Don’t forget to find out what’s working and use that to your advantage. If you don’t track responses to your marketing campaign, you won’t know which parts of it are successful.

    No matter whether you use social media, direct mail, conduct recruitment webinars, advertise in special industry publications or any one of a number of other promotional sources, it pays to know what’s working. Failing to question your members about how they heard about you or not having a system to identify where inquiries come from is a costly mistake.

    The more you know about what’s working, the more you can use that to your advantage, and the next time you embark on a marketing campaign, you won’t waste your money on what didn’t work.

    Mistake Number Ten: Not Attending MASAE events

    MASAE is committed to providing educational and networking opportunities for members, thus enabling you to gain more knowledge and grow your contacts within the association field.  Paying money to be a member, but not partaking in member benefits that does not make sense. Mark your calendar for upcoming MASAE programs and join us!

    Follow the Rules for a Successful Marketing Campaign

    Remember, a great marketing campaign can be an invaluable tool for promoting your business, but a bad one can be nothing more than a waste or your time, energy and financial resources.

    Keep this list of ten mistakes handy, and refer to it each time you begin developing a marketing campaign.

    Make it your goal to ensure that your future marketing efforts are mistake-free.

    Leza Raffel is the president of the Communication Solutions Group, Inc. MASAE members are entitled to a complimentary, one-hour consultation. For details, call 215-884-6499 or visit

  • 18 Aug 2015 7:02 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Todd Van Deak, Tuesday, Aug 18, 2015

    By Leza Raffel, The Communication Solutions Group, Inc

    Association directors often devote considerable time and resources to planning for success, but most don’t even want to think about dealing with a crisis. Yet how you handle a crisis situation can mean the difference between survival and ruin for your association. Careful planning before a crisis is upon you is the key to making sure you have what it takes to weather the situation, so you come back to make your association even stronger.

    Disaster can strike any association, and often it occurs when it’s least expected: Things could be going along great – your membership is growing, conference attendance is up, your corporate sponsors are happy – then out of nowhere, you’re facing a situation that spells trouble for your organization. A crisis can take many forms, large or small, including those for which an association is directly responsible, those caused by a volunteer leader, and those caused strictly by accident. For association, those might include:

    • Accounting irregularities are found
    • A natural phenomena – such as a tornado- destroys your upcoming annual meeting location
    • Criminal activity by an employee.
    • Product recall directly related to the industry your association represents

    Be Prepared
    It’s not only a good motto for a boy scout, being prepared is your best defense in the event of a crisis. Before a problem ever occurs, sit down and brainstorm your worst fears, then start considering the best ways to handle them. This information can be formulated into a basic crisis plan that can be implemented in case the situation arises.

    Your plan should include a specific crisis team consisting of trusted association leaders, legal counsel and perhaps even a public relations professional, who can all come together quickly to deal with the situation. One of the team members should be named the spokesperson that will interact with the media. It would also be wise to develop a standard press release format and a list of media contacts so you can get your message out quickly and effectively.

    Be Thorough
    Before you respond publicly to the situation, make certain you have all the facts. Learn all you can about what has happened, and then consult with your team, including your legal counsel. While a timely response is important, accuracy is even more important. Don’t be afraid to say that you are unsure of all the facts but that you are looking into it if an immediate response is required.

    Remember, your most important job is to protect the reputation of your association. Saying one thing and then having to change your story after getting all the facts is not going to help that cause.

    Be Honest
    It simply cannot be said enough: NEVER try to lie, hide or deny involvement. It will invariably come back to haunt you. You can be sure that the facts will come to the surface one way or another and you will have to face the fallout from not only the situation itself, but from your dishonesty.

    Ignoring the situation is similarly unwise. Answering a question with “no comment” tends to make you appear guilty and uncaring – a double whammy against you.

    Be Caring
    Always act with care and concern. This starts with immediately handling any threat to human life that may arise from the crisis situation. Your members and the general public will be unlikely to forgive any negligence on this front.

    In your first public communication after the crisis, make sure you express concern for all those affected by the situation, whether they are your members, your staff, or the general public. Put yourself in their shoes, and try to see the crisis from their point of view. Then take steps necessary to alleviate their concerns.

    Be Communicative
    Consider all of your audiences and pinpoint the most effective means of communicating with each of them. For general media release, make sure you have a standard fact sheet about your association, along with information on the environmental factors that may have been involved in the crisis. The more information you provide, the more chances you have to influence what is said in the media about the situation.

    While interaction with the general media is imperative, it is also vital for you to stay in close communication with your members, board and other stakeholder groups during and after the crisis. Phone calls, emails, meetings, mailings and other means of dissemination of information can not only help you through the crisis, but can help generate loyalty by giving these stakeholder groups “insider” status.

    Be Proactive
    The cloud of a crisis situation might contain a silver lining if you look hard enough. Once the immediate situation is resolved, consider ways to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

    The new policy will go a long way in deflecting future criticism of your past wrongdoing, and give you a more positive public image, as well.

    Be Smart
    Start now to prepare for potential crisis situations. Begin by putting together a simple plan and team. Then it’s time for a gut check. If you feel you’re already over your head, you might consider bringing on a public relations professional who can help you through the preparation process and be at the ready should a crisis occur.

    You can’t know when disaster might strike, but you can be ready for it.

    Leza Raffel is the president of the Communication Solutions Group, Inc. MASAE members are entitled to a complimentary, one-hour consultation. For details, call 215-884-6499 or visit

  • 14 Aug 2015 6:49 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Administration, Friday, Aug 14, 2015

    Editors Note: This post was originally scheduled to run in late June. We've made small changes to enable its posting today.

    By Rick Rutherford
    Industry Resource Director, YourMembership

    Last month we celebrated the 239th birthday of our nation. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the role associations play in this ongoing experiment of democracy we call America, as they are very much intertwined within the fabric of our society and our collective history.

    To interpret the future of associations, it is important to understand their past. The root of associations can be traced back to organizations and institutions like the church, medieval craft guilds, merchant trade groups and Greek symposiums.

    The closest cousins of what we know as the modern association can be found in the guilds of 16th century England. These guilds were formed to provide protection to merchant interests and individual artisans. In addition, these organizations provided training in specific skills and established rules for fair wages and working conditions, which continues today in the form of professional development and advocacy.

    As our country was founded, American citizens began to expand and formalize the guilds into what we identify as an association today. Citizens of the United States began exercising their first amendment freedoms of speech, assembly and the press. New laws were developed to support and define these new groups and the role they would come to play in our educational and political system.

    The earliest association on record in the U.S. was the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, which was formed in 1768 by 20 merchants. Nearly 246 years later, it survives today as the Partnership for New York City. That’s older than our country’s declaration of independence!

    While there is much discussion around the changes associations face today with a highly competitive and global economy, associations have faced similar challenges throughout our nation’s history. When factories and mass production were introduced during the Industrial Revolution, associations were dramatically changed. The focus on work quality and wages soon gave way to new priorities around quantities and production, causing associations to lose power and forcing them to adapt to survive that change.

    Prior to the Civil War most associations were essentially local; but as the Civil War broke out, regional and national organizations were formed to capitalize on our divided country’s industrial capabilities. The railroads fueled expansion and new markets for manufacturers resulted in the birth of more trade associations to ensure fair competition. By the beginning of 1900, more than 100 associations were organized to influence federal and state government, especially around issues affecting business.

    As with the Civil War, both World War I and World War II helped drive growth in the number of associations forming. Trade associations played key roles in the war effort by supplying the government with information on available equipment, available labor and productivity. They were a valuable link between the companies and industries they represented and the U.S. government. They also helped influence the war effort at home by encouraging conservation and providing technical specialists to public service.

    Professional societies have also made significant contributions throughout our history as consultants to governments and academia, helping to broaden the scope of the existing body of scientific knowledge. They have facilitated an ongoing exchange of ideas and technical information while providing a forum for dissenting viewpoints on professional research. As a result, higher standards of professionalism are constantly being established and met.

    The number of associations has swelled to over 100,000 organizations today. As a result of that long history, we can have confidence they will continue to form and exist in today’s society. Almost every facet of life is represented in some form or fashion by an association or cause-oriented membership organization. The challenges they face have never been greater and the new opportunities they have are just as great.

    Today we talk about social networking and online communities, big data, information overload, jobs, generational issues, member retention, and non-dues revenue. While associations are looking for ways to remain relevant, their members and future members need help managing the turbulent environment they work and live in. The roles haven’t changed, just the tools needed to survive.

    That’s why we are here and why we love what we do. Associations are being asked to do more with less in ways unimaginable just 15 years ago. exists to provide associations with technology-based solutions that will allow them to compete and prosper in today’s world. It is a big responsibility and privilege we don’t take lightly.

    And so to our association customers, and the millions of members they serve, we pause this July 4th to say thank you for all that you have contributed and continue to do for our great nation.

    Special thanks to Shelly Alcorn, CAE for her assistance with this post.

    About Rick
    As YourMembership’s Industry Resource Director, Rick guides YM’s thought leadership initiatives, directing the company’s Resource Center, weekly blog and monthly webinar series, as well as coordinates YM’s Industry Alliance Program.

    Rick has worked in the association industry for more than 29 years, serving as a vendor partner, staff member, and co-founder of a technology company focused on associations. Rick previously served as the Communications Director for the Texas Society of Association Executives, where he received a Gold Circle Award from ASAE.

  • 3 Jun 2015 6:39 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Bob Bauer, Wednesday, June 3, 2015

    Members of the non-profit world who don’t belong to their local or national professional association, I’m about to let you have it. To be quite frank, it’s hypocritical. How can you defend making your living in large part due to members that join/support your organization and not join/support the association(s) that exist(s) to help you do your job better?

    That’s a rhetorical question. As a long-time member of the MASAE membership committee and the NJSAE before that, I’ve heard all the excuses. They’re the same ones your potential members give you when they don’t join – not enough time, no money in the budget, etc. No money in the budget, really? We all have to spend our resources wisely but how can people, whether staff or volunteer leaders, running a non-profit say it’s not worth the money to participate in a non-profit designed to improve the efficiency of its members?

    I belong to MASAE and ASAE. I rely on MASAE for my local needs – seminars, etc. When I attend MASAE sessions, I learn a great deal from the speakers; I also learn a great deal from my counterparts in the room, through questions asked/comments made by them during and after the sessions. I’ve made a great number of contacts over the years and I’ve reached out to several with questions. Their help has been of great value, further enhancing the return on investment of my membership dues. There are quite a number of people I look forward to seeing when I attend MASAE events.

    I rely on ASAE for more global needs. It offers a great deal of resources for all of us. I’ve accessed things online and through the ASAE staff. Since its meetings are rarely held locally, I don’t normally attend them but I’m fortunate to have MASAE as an option for that aspect of things. MASAE puts on quality educational programs. Getting back to ASAE, at our association’s annual conference seven or eight years ago one of my board members asked me if there was a nationwide annual convention in my industry and whether I attended it. I said there was but I had only been once – when it was in Philadelphia. He encouraged me to attend it more regularly and now I attend every year. The expenses have never been questioned by any board member because they see what I get out of it.

    (Spoiler Alert – There’s a Tip Coming Up)

    One thing they don’t see is how energized I am when I come back from an MASAE or ASAE event. There’s something to be said for being in a room with people who do what you do every day. It gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of being a part of an important industry. It motivates me to try to improve my performance when I get back to my office. I try to structure events at my association’s meetings to ensure our attendees get this feeling as well.
    The MASAE Annual Conference and the ASAE Convention include “fun” activities as well – and what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with celebrating what we do as an industry? The evening reception at the MASAE Conference is something attendees look forward to. It’s a fun event with great food, drinks and those people, again. Yes, the people who do what I do every day. We renew acquaintances, meet new people and even learn from one another – all in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s the same at ASAE. The events at the convention are great and though it’s harder to develop the level of friendships you can with fellow MASAE members, you can’t help but meet (and hopefully learn) from a whole slew of people.

    Here comes that tip I mentioned: Even within my office, I know there were people who questioned the benefit of me attending and participating in association events. So I created a document that gets updated after I or anyone else on the staff attends an education session. Upon returning, we go through our notes and add to the document the points we think could be helpful to us and others on staff going forward. We review the document every six months or so to see if we can incorporate more of what’s listed into our operations.

    Of course, there’s another reason we all should support our industry organizations and it’s a reason we all mention to our prospects. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Every man owes some of his time to the upbuilding of the profession to which he belongs.” We all know there’s strength in numbers. Many probably think there aren’t issues impacting non-profits. Not true. For example, after the widely seen reports on the extravagant events hosted by some government agencies, policies were changed to limit federal government employees from attending industry meetings. Legislation was even introduced that called for a limit of one representative from a government agency per year to be allowed to attend functions held by an organization. We had a meeting last year attended by several representatives from the Food and Drug Administration. One was a high-ranking official who was our invited speaker. He brought along someone working closely with him on the proposed regulations that were the topic of the meeting and he had several representatives from a local FDA office attend so they could be brought up to speed on the new regulations and, along with their two bosses, interact with our members to answer questions, hear concerns and get a better picture of how our industry works. I was happy to attend ASAE’s American Associations Day to make visits on Capitol Hill to speak about the two-way value of participation by government personnel at industry events.

    I’ve also been happy to volunteer with MASAE (and before that, NJSAE). Like all of our members, there have been times I could participate more than at other times. My job requires a lot of travel, so I can’t always make the meetings/calls. But I do what I can.

    At last year’s MASAE Conference when my term as a member of the MASAE board expired, I said part of the reason I volunteer is somewhat selfish – I do it in part to learn from the people around me and from the tasks we are performing. The return on investment has been great.

    I know some people won’t be able to spend what I can spend on association involvement (though don’t lose sight of that return on investment), while others can spend a lot more. Start out small by simply joining MASAE or, if from another area, another local association. The investment is less than $200 per year. Quite frankly, if your association can’t afford that, you should be concerned. Read the information you receive. You’ll no doubt find something you can implement. Then tell your board about it and get more money put aside toward professional development. You are one of your association’s most crucial assets and your board has to be willing to invest in you!

  • 27 May 2015 6:34 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Todd Von Deak, Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Editors Note: This is the final installment from Jeff De Cagna (Principled Innovation, LLC) as our initial guest blogger. Many thanks to Jeff for leading us off with such thought provoking content.

    In Part II, I explored the relevance fallacy from the stakeholder perspective. In this final post in the series, I will extend this discussion to consider why relevance thinking is a losing argument for persuading stakeholders to develop relationships with associations.

    Why should your current and future stakeholders want a relationship with your association over the next decade and beyond?

    As a result of 25 years of technological transformation, stakeholders are not only experiencing new challenges and opportunities in their lives and jobs. Today’s stakeholders also have abundant access to many of the tangible and intangible resources they need through their network relationships. Knowledge and expertise, trusted connections and even financial resources can be secured with relative ease through crowdsourcing sites, social networks and peer-to-peer sharing platforms.

    This unprecedented shift in influence toward individuals and networks, and away from legacy organizations such as associations, cannot be addressed with a traditional strategic plan developed using a relevance mindset. Instead, associations need to think and act beyond the orthodoxy of their membership-centric business models to co-create value with stakeholders in the three overlapping timeframes mentioned in the previous post:

    Solving short-term problems - Stakeholders have problems that must be solved in near real time, an opportunity ideally suited for applying mobile, social and cloud technologies. Associations, however, tend to be more comfortable operating on “association time,” which means value creation and delivery occurs on schedules organized around internal processes and requirements. This is a business challenge that will not be resolved by making association or its membership offer “more relevant.”

    Meeting intermediate-term needs - Stakeholders have a full range of needs they must meet to prepare for the future and advance and grow in their careers. They will consider products, services and experiences from a number of sources to meet them. The most significant differentiator among the many available offers will not be relevance, however, but the richness of the meaning and impact those forms of value can bring to stakeholders, as well as to their peers across personal and professional networks with similar needs.

    Achieving long-term outcomes - Throughout their lives, stakeholders will pursue ambitions and aspirations that they will need help to reach. Diverse and intimate network relationships will be a critical wellspring of both practical and emotional support, and associations also may be able to play a unique role in this context because of the sense of purpose (not relevance) that animates their work. To act on this opportunity, however, associations must be willing to listen to and learn from stakeholders and their networks in order to collaborate with them to create distinctive value.

    After many decades of trying to figure out what’s next, associations have arrived at a crucial moment, and the choice for senior decision-makers is clear: embrace the transformation that is happening all around them and begin building organizations capable of thriving in the 21st century or continue to operate within the fallacy of relevance. In my view, it is not a difficult decision.

    Jeff De Cagna FASAE is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, located in Reston, Virginia. He can be reached at or on Twitter @pinnovation.

  • 21 May 2015 6:26 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Jeff De Cagna, Thursday, May 21, 2015

    Editors Note: Many thanks to Jeff De Cagna from Principled Innovation, LLC for being our first guest blogger. We hope you enjoy his three part series that will run over the next two weeks.

    In Part I of this series, I began deconstructing the relevance fallacy from the point of view of association thrivability. In this post, I will continue this process by examining relevance from the stakeholder perspective.

    What will your current and future stakeholders need to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

    In a world being buffeted by the forces of transformation, association stakeholders will continue to encounter both complex challenges and compelling opportunities. The profound impact of these forces, especially the application of powerful technologies in every industry, profession and field, is reinventing the very nature of work (and not always for the better), while also enabling more convenient ways to connect, cooperate and collaborate, i.e., to associate, with peers anywhere in the world, in any language and at any time.

    On the surface, relevance thinking appears to be the exact approach associations should pursue to help their stakeholders thrive over the next decade and beyond. To further reveal the relevance fallacy, however, it is worth asking which players really benefit (or don’t) from this mindset and why.

    The relevance mindset benefits boards - As I have argued before, association boards frequently adhere to a membership ideology, which is understandable given that most board members make some connection between association membership and their own professional success. Since it is tied to membership, then, the relevance mindset reinforces boards’ existing orthodox beliefs and nurtures a misplaced clarity for the overarching purpose of their work as senior decision-makers.

    The relevance mindset benefits senior staff teams - For association CEOs and their direct reports, adopting and acting on the relevance mindset is an attractive alternative to the more challenging work of creating truly 21st century associations. This observation is not offered as a criticism, but as a clear-eyed recognition of reality. Building an association to thrive in a time of societal transformation is a highly complicated and unpredictable endeavor, while relevance thinking is an intuitive, if incremental, approach to making improvements.

    The relevance mindset does not benefit stakeholders - Contrary to popular belief, current and future stakeholders do not benefit from associations’ focus on relevance. The combination of problems, needs and outcomes these stakeholders face demands a stronger response from associations, a genuine commitment to create distinctive and meaningful value that effectively harnesses the forces of transformation for innovation.

    In the final part of this series, I will consider the relevance fallacy in the context of why current and future stakeholders should want to have relationships with associations over the next decade and beyond.

    Jeff De Cagna FASAE is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, located in Reston, Virginia. He can be reached at or on Twitter @pinnovation.

  • 19 May 2015 6:14 PM | Deleted user

    Posted By Jeff De Cagna, Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Editors Note: Many thanks to Jeff De Cagna, founder of Principled Innovation LLC for being our first guest blogger.

    As I travel around the country for both client work and public presentations, I hear a growing number of association decision-makers staff and voluntary alike - repeating a very familiar refrain: we need to make our associations relevant. Whenever someone expresses this point of view, I have a decidedly mixed reaction. On the one hand, I feel genuine empathy because relevance thinking usually is shared as a sincere, well-intentioned response to the complicated challenges created by a volatile and uncertain marketplace.

    On the other hand, I almost always feel a strong wave of frustration wash over me whenever I hear the word “relevance” used in this context. As a long-time association contributor who is committed, as a matter of both purpose and passion, to building 21st century organizations, it is difficult for me to view the relevance mindset as anything other than a serious threat to the real work of building associations to thrive in the years ahead.

    To better understand why relevance is a dangerous fallacy that associations must immediately abandon, I will use my guest posts on this blog to examine and deconstruct the fallacy by applying the three core questions that underpin long-term association thrivability:

    1. What will it take for your association to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

    2. What will your current and future stakeholders need to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

    3. Why should your current and future stakeholders want a relationship with your association over the next decade and beyond?

    Legacy organizations of all kinds are asking themselves the same questions, even if their versions use different words. For association decision-makers, these three questions provide a helpful structure for encouraging both greater discipline and greater creativity in their thinking about the future.

    What will it take for your association to thrive over the next decade and beyond?

    Over the last 25 years, the comparatively stable experience of linear change to which we have all grown accustomed has been supplanted by a profound, intensifying and accelerating experience of societal transformation, driven primarily by the relentless impact of technology on every field of human endeavor. In 2015, we are still closer to the beginning of this transformation than the end, and associations must act now to prepare for even more significant developments yet to come.

    Thrivability is about creating an association that can flourish in a world experiencing transformation. To be thrivable, associations need to be both adaptable to rapidly shifting conditions and resilient in the work of co-creating distinctive new value. While thrivability is about nurturing the development of new organizational capabilities for the future, the relevance mindset leads associations to limit their thinking about the future in (at least) three important ways:

    The relevance mindset is tied to membership. For the most part, when association decision-makers speak of making their organizations more relevant, what they are really talking about is making membership in the association more relevant. The focus on thrivability, however, challenges decision-makers to think beyond the sacrosanct orthodoxy of membership and act to develop meaningful relationships with distributed networks of stakeholders, including those who will never join, to collaborate on the creation of value.

    The relevance mindset ignores resistance and risk. Many decision-makers honestly believe that diminished relevance explains their organizations’ inability to realize their full potential. The work of thrivability acknowledges the true problems - the unchecked influence of internal resistance to transformation and the misplaced fear of the external risk of innovation - and focuses organizational attention on addressing those problems directly to build adaptability and resilience.

    The relevance mindset is not generative. In my experience, association decision-makers see relevance as something that can be addressed with a combination of fairly incremental programmatic and promotional initiatives. Thrivability, in contrast, demands a truly holistic and generative approach and, as I have previously written, “[w]hen we focus on being generative, we can create new dimensions of success both organizationally and for our stakeholders, but only if we’re willing to think differently about how we do our work.”

    In Part II of this series, I will look at the relevance fallacy through the lens of what association stakeholders will need to thrive over the next decade and beyond.

    Jeff De Cagna FASAE is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, located in Reston, Virginia. He can be reached at or on Twitter @pinnovation.

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