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July 2014, from Kim Ratz, Speaker-Trainer-Troubadour

Nothing fancy -- just a free, fast & fun read to inspire hope, improve skills to cope,
and induce some fun along the way. (To see previous issues: Click Here)

A Thought to Help You Live&WorkWise:
"Our Association isn't as _?_ as it used to be."

How would you finish that sentence? As "active," "big," or "strong"? I hear all of these and more as I work with associations that have been around for a long time, yet for various reasons many leaders feel like their groups are weakening or on the decline ... So this article shares observations about some of the "lessons learned" by looking at mistakes made by groups that are loosing members, strength or momentum, and best practices of groups that are still healthy and even growing, hoping that something in this article might be helpful to you and your association ...

  • Mistake: Not recruiting new people just entering the profession and promoting benefits of membership.

    Best practices: As soon as someone starts a job in an organization where one of your members works, they should get referred to your association by that member, or that member or someone should contact the association with the new person's name and how to contact them so someone can introduce your association to them. Especially those new to your field of work. Don't assume they will know about your association and all if has to offer. Make it an expectation of members that whenever they know of someone new entering the profession that they will be the one to invite them to consider joining, or at least refer the new person to the appropriate person in the association. Be the place entry-level and experienced professionals turn to for being able to grow in their profession and build their network of peers for support and referral.

  • Mistake: Not identifying emerging leaders and providing leadership development opportunities.

    Best practices: You can tell who they are when they're in the room or in a meeting -- the "new" people who are young and motivated, people and goal oriented, not afraid to share an idea or offer to help. So offer them programs and tools to help them grow their professional and leadership skills, and opportunities to practice them by helping lead the association as a board or committee member ... Otherwise, there is often a group of "old-timers" who keep taking turns at being president just to keep things going, and eventually they tire of doing it all themselves and not seeing anyone new stepping in to help, and when they stop taking those turns, everything stops ...

  • Mistake: "Settling" for whoever offers to be a leader.

    Best practices: See above. Don't just settle for whoever offers, because some people may not follow through as needed or hoped or thought ... Seek out people who see the big picture, are vision and mission-driven, set goals, are organized and follow-through, are seen as a leader, who can communicate, and who can make the commitment. They are out there, and they may just need a nudge, or to know they are viewed by others as someone who could help, or lead ...

  • Mistake: Not staying relevant to the maturing needs of veteran practitioners.

    Best practices: They still have needs too, so don't forget to ask what you can do to help. Further, your veteran practitioners would be great teachers and mentors for your new members who are entering your profession, and also in your leadership development programs. Tap into their expertise while they are still around; an added plus is there are real rewards for these mentors as they share their experience and expertise -- they gain insights as they prepare and share what they know, and which they otherwise might not even think about or analyze, and not gain those insights ...

  • Mistake: Not practicing sound financial procedures and strategies.

    Best practices: Realize that many associations are totally volunteer-driven, and board members may lack the financial & fiduciary skills needed to maintain the fiscal integrity of the association and it's budget. So either involve someone who does possess these skills on your board or committee and who can review and monitor the fiscal records and health of the association, or hire someone who can provide this important role and service!

  • Mistake: Not adapting to emerging trends, issues and opportunities.

    Best practices: This could be why the new, young professionals aren't joining your association -- you're not relevant. But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, because you still need to be relevant to the baby boomers and Gen X & Y-ers who are currently in your group. Find ways to add to your menu of services so that the newest professionals in your field see ways to help them with their professionasl development and networking goals such as webinars, social media connections, and other services they might request if you found a way to ask them ...

    You also need to be monitoring how the needs of your communities and/or customers are changing and evolving, and be ready to promote analysis and discussion about how your association and profession might need to respond, and continue to be a leader in your field ...

    Best practices: A particularly important activity for thriving associations continues to be systematic and on-going planning and public relations by the board members and other key stakeholders, so that the right people know what to do and who is doing what, what's working, and what needs more attention. It's about listening to what your members are thinking and giving people ways to talk to you, as well as sharing important news, information and updates that have value to members, and tell your story about what you do, and the difference you make when you do your jobs well.

  • Mistake: Not asking members what they want or need from your association.

    Best practices: If you never ask, the answer is always "no." You probably have your hunches about what's on your members' minds, and while you're probably well aware of many of them, there may be new situations, issues and opportunities that have your members worried or excited and which you may not know about ... To have value to people to the point they will invest their money in a membership and be actively involved, you need to provide services that are timely and relevant. Give people ways to talk to you, and ask. Remind them to think about their continuous improvement needs, and to ask the association for resources, support, and opportunities to grow!

  • Mistake: Not asking your members what they are willing to do to help.

    Best practices: If you never ask, the answer is always "no." Some people would love to help, yet they might now know if their help is needed, or if it's appropriate to volunteer or should they wait to be asked, or who to contact? The do-ers are out there - you need to find them, and many will be very happy you asked!

  • Mistake: Not keeping past leaders and members involved.

    Best practices: Just because they retired doesn't mean they don't still like the people who are still in the field; some of them are dear friends. So create an "Alumni Group" and have them help at your conference and special events, and you'll get the work done by people who probably know how to do it already, plus they will enjoy seeing their colleagues again! Some of these alumni will also contribute in other valuable ways, but they need a way to stay connected with your association when they are no longer working in the profession ...

  • Mistake: Complacency, sitting on your past accomplishments, or thinking you are the only show in town.

    Best practices: Celebrate the great things you do, for sure. And then focus on what's next. And like many groups, the problems and challenges you are facing are not easy ones to address, or you probably would have addressed them by now. So continue to think big, and be ready to collaborate or partner with others who share your vision, goals, etc. Many associations have merged with other related groups, and some hold joint conferences to share expenses and increase attendance when it's appropriate or would add value ... Don't think members don't vote with their feet? Don't make that mistake either! I've watched some associations, seemingly strong, suddenly dissolve and be replaced by a new organization with a very different mission or approach ...And if you ask people if anything else needs to be done, what do you think they are going to say? Of course there's always "SOME-thing" that needs to be done, or a young professional just getting started in your field to recruit, or something is changing or about to change, so there's no time for sitting and getting too comfortable or complacent ...

I hope this review of mistakes and best practices is a helpful checklist for you to share and use to review your association so you can stay active, healthy, sustainable and have value for years to come!

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