New Member Retention

New Member Retention Made Easy with 12+12 (835 Words)

Effective new member retention with Ed Rigsbee's 12+12 Method of spreading out the love

New Member Retention with Rigsbee’s 12+12 Method

New member retention is critical to the success of your organization and member retention is a contact sport. Both conventional wisdom and numerous member surveys tell us that (first-year) new members are most at-risk for non-renewal. Fair enough, I couldn’t agree more. The important question is what to do about it? I suggest to my clients that they create a 12-Month/12-Touch New Member “Showing the Love” Assimilation System. The idea is a combination of my Relationship Bank Deposit recommendations in my second book, Developing Strategic Alliances and an idea from John Gray, Ph.D. who is the author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

I’m sure you’ll agree that one must make Relationship Bank Deposits before one attempts to collect a withdrawal. For new member retention, this is huge. For anyone that disagrees…try getting money from a bank with which you have no prior relationship and you’ll quickly see it is a no-go. In relationships the ratio is generally 10 to 1, meaning 10 deposits for every withdrawal.

A number of years ago I sat in the audience when John Gray addressed the National Speakers Association and I’ll always remember this; it is about the points. He had a bouquet of roses on a pedestal close to his lectern. He made a statement alluding to the point that if one gives the bouquet to their special someone, it is one point. However he stated that if one gives only one rose, it is also one point. He lectured the men in the audience about giving the bouquet once a year and thinking one is done. Not good enough he stated. However, give one rose a month and one has earned 12 points.

New Member Retention

Putting the two ideas together we have the 12-Month/12-Touch for New Member Retention “Showing the Love” Assimilation System. The idea is simple, in addition to everything else you do for your members, have a special “onboarding” process that consists of one touch each month for the new member’s first year. Then in a year’s time when you request that they renew, sufficient Relationship Bank Deposits have been made to justify a Relationship Bank Withdrawal. This will be equally successful for individual membership organizations and those with company memberships.

The 12 Touches Delivery

Many associations and societies have automated new-member emails that go out at various intervals. This would be great if their open-rate was better than the common 20-40%. What it means though, is that 60-80% of the emails sent are never opened. Some organizations even mail a new member package with lots of stuff. However, for new member retention wouldn’t it be better if the stuff was dripped out over time?

Your plan should be to mix up the conduit for delivery: USPS, UPS, FedEx, email, phone calls, etc. Each month have a different kind of touch using a different delivery method. This will assure that most of your touches are being received. One of my clients came up with a novel idea; on the new member’s birthday, that first year, they received an email telling them to respond within 48 hours and the organization would send them a cool T-shirt with the organization’s logo. They have been getting excellent results from that single touch.

Various Touches to Consider

Remember, for successful new member retention, mix it up over the first 12 months and be careful of not relying too heavily on email because of open rates. The below are simple to do, you will need an organizing system that might be as simple as an Excel spread sheet or as complex as using your Association Management System (AMS).
• Telephone call from membership director
• Telephone call from chapter leader (urging them to get involved locally)
• Telephone call from executive director
• Telephone call from member of the board of directors
• Mail simplified new member package
• Mail membership pin
• Mail membership card
• Mail membership certificate or plaque
• Mail specialty advertising item (swag, trinket, tchotchke)
• Mail Association logo wear
• Email new member information bundle containing several documents of interest (generally as PDFs)
• Email containing new member video
• Email containing new member survey
• Email discount coupon for your products/services
• Email special new member discount for annual meeting
• Email video message from executive director or president
• Email directions video about how to navigate your organization’s member-only website section

For effective new member retention, do not limit yourself to the above. Meet with staff and/or volunteers to determine what kind of touches would be appropriate for your organization. Develop in implement your own 12-Month/12-Touch New Member “Showing the Love” Assimilation System and I can assure you that your new member retention will skyrocket.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Partnering Alliance Collaboration

Five Partnering Success Articles

Ed Rigsbee was an early author on the topic of partnering success. His first book, “The Art of Partnering” was published in 1994. His second, “Developing Strategic Alliances” was published in 1999, and his third, “PartnerShift” in 2000. He has continued to write on the topic, deliver keynotes and workshops, and consult with corporations and non-profits.

The Art of Partnering by Edwin Richard Rigsbee, published by Kendall/Hunt 1974

The Art of Partnering by Ed Rigsbee

Article #1 of 5

Total Organizational Partnering for Your Success

Are you tired of adversary business relationships draining your energy? If so, it’s time to consider a new way of conducting business. In this, and in future articles, my goal is to share with you the Power of Partnering. Partnering, as I define it, is the process of two or more entities coming together to create synergistic solutions to their mutual challenges. To adopt Total Organizational

Partnering as your management strategy, you’ll need to understand the Partnering Pentad (group of five). To give you a visual, see in your mind a five-leg star and each of the areas below represent a leg.

  1. The Synergistic Alliance is what many consider Partnering and simply stop here. This is the leg of your business where you develop external alliances with others. These could include: purchasing, R&D, manufacturing, employee sharing, distribution, marketing, advertising and the list continues.

By sharing your core strengths with others and theirs with you, both can create an environment of synergy.

  1. Partnering with your suppliers is essential for companies wanting just-in-time manufacturing (JIT) and electronic data interchange (EDI). I frequently here suppliers making this comment about their customers, “They’re talking marriage but acting one night stand.” Whether you’re a dealer, distributor, or manufacturer, you had better start developing long-term relationships.
Developing Strategic Alliances by Ed Rigsbee, published by Crisp Publications 1999

Developing Strategic Alliances by Ed Rigsbee

  1. Partnering with your customers is the leg of outward focus. You must be customer/market driven rather than product/service driven to understand what your customers want. Your customers will spend if they feel they’re receiving good value. This is crucial if you are interested in Integrated Supply.

  2. Partnering with your employees, to many businesses is a non-issue, meaning that they don’t. If you want your employees to have Emotional Ownership in the success of your business, you must create a climate of empowerment for them. Empowerment means giving authority and encouragement.

Then, employees will accept the responsibility.

  1. You, the Owner or Executive as the Optimal Partner. This is the final and arguably, the most important leg. Not from the perspective that all revolves around you, but rather that you determine your company’s culture. The coveted center of the star you are visualizing is reserved for the relationships that bind all the legs of the Partnering Pentad.

Article #2 of 5

The Ten Critical Qualities in Selecting an Alliance Partner

PartnerShift by Ed Rigsbee, published by Wiley & Sons 2000

PartnerShift by Ed Rigsbee

If you think partnering success might be for you, selecting the right alliance partner is generally the difference between alliance failure and success. Be certain your alliance partner exhibits most of the following qualities.

Wants to win. There is no reason to partner with a looser. A weak relationship will only bring you down. You and your partner must have a desire to win, to want to do better, to be useful in creating a synergistic relationship.
Know they are ultimately responsible for their own success. Look for partners who understand the value of synergistic partnering relationships. While accountability goes both ways in partnering, in the end, we are each individually accountable for our own success.
Is an active listener. To keep an alliance healthy, active listening is important. This helps each partner to know what the other needs. Alertness from both sides equals mutual success.
Understands and cares about what drives their partner’s businesses. Each partner must do things that consistently give value to the relationship and their partner. The only way you can effectively add value to your partner’s business is to know what your partner considers valuable.
Responds well to, and acts on feedback. To move forward, leaders must be willing to accept counsel. None of us know it all. Just think how special your partnering relationship would be if your partner never acted on your ideas.
Flexible, especially when events or circumstances are not what was expected. If you, or your partner, don’t have the ability to change direction when the road ahead is washed out, failure is certain.
Trust and integrity. Once the fabric of trust is ripped apart, although it may be repaired, the blemish will always show. You will always have it in your mind that it is not if, but when, they will do it to you again.
Seeks win-win arrangements and solutions. You and your partner must believe that you are working toward a bigger pie, not just a bigger piece of the pie.
Understands that partnering is a relationship of interdependence. It’s not about dependence or independence? Visualize your partner and yourself as partially overlapping circles.
Great chemistry. If you like each other, you’ll work hard to overcome conflict and make your alliance work long-term.
Now grade your potential partner in each area on a 1 to 10 scale, add it up and now you have a baseline potential partner grade. By the way, they should do the same on you. The greater the circles of interest overlap, the greater the value each sees in the relationship.

Article #3 of 5

Partnering Pitfalls, Land Mines & Roadblocks

Alliance mortality rates hover at about half. Be realistic with your expectations of others and your total partnering success. As with a spouse, partnering alliance members don’t change with time. If you suspect core problems at the onset, you probably are accurate in your assessment. Do not try to build relationships on a foundation of quick sand. Watch out and try to avoid the downside of partnering. Let’s look at some partnering killers you’ll want to avoid:

  • Underestimating the complexity of coordinating and integrating corporate resources, and overestimating your partner’s abilities to achieve the end result.
  • Situations where a customer is the driving force behind a partnering arrangement. Be sure to examine each proposal in the context of your company’s overall partnering strategy.
  • Not having access to the employees of your alliance partners. The closer the planned relationship between the two companies, the greater the importance of the linkages between them.
  • When a large company partners with a small, the interaction between companies becomes a challenge. Representatives of the small are usually top executives, but representatives from the giant must take a proposal up the chain of command. This policy can become frustrating for the small company.
  • One partner not completely embracing the principles of partnering at the top level or even in departments, divisions or regions while the other does.
  • Partners have different core values like trust and integrity or there are corporate culture clashes, employee turf protection, and resistance of some employees to new ideas, these issues can wreak havoc.
  • Partners internal reward structure. In partnering with customers or suppliers traditional reward for buyers comes with wringing out concessions from the seller and by showing that their efforts had achieved cost reductions. On the flip side, sellers usually reward for sales performance.
  • Having a third party that is not willing to playing ball. All the members of a partnering agreement will have to “give a little” for the agreement to work.
  • If a partner receives unfavorable media coverage you are pulled into the picture. Real or perceived, image and reputation are critical to a company’s success.

When sitting down at the partnering success table a partner might find the partnering seat uncomfortable. It could be that your partner has a different level of emotional and physical comfort, or sometimes it is simply a change in corporate strategy or a restructuring which leads away from a partner’s product and/or technology causing the partners distress.

After making a partnering success commitment, a partner may have a hidden agenda or decide they don’t like or want to follow through with that which they committed, or does not have the capability to do what is necessary.
Contracts with an overseas market, for instance, often take a long time to finalize. By the time you get going, in the technology industries, your competition may have already started.

There can be difficulty in communicating across various time zones. Solving problems quickly when your partnering factory is located halfway around the world is hard enough when you speak the same language. Add the increased difficulty of language barriers, and major challenges can emanate from the alliance.
The disloyalty that can occur when you try to partner with a potential or current customer and have them renege on the promise of purchasing from you after you have delivered complementary or introductory training.
When unequal dependence in a relationship occurs, the partner with the least dependence could be less likely to compromise and expend energy into the relationship.

Complacency is an insidious partnering success relationship-killer. Continuously ask questions in a way that encourages partners to relate problems and shortcomings. Ask, “What have we not done lately?”
Meanings assigned to words by different cultures can cause serious problems. Does quick delivery mean today, this week, this month or this year?

Unrealistic expectations of any partner’s capabilities these areas include: technology, research, production skills, marketing might, and financial backing.

Article #4 of 5

Shall We Start The Partnering Process?

For partnering success, both external and internal partnering are necessary in developing a complete management strategy. I call this Total Organizational Partnering. The Partnering Pentad (alliances, suppliers, customers, employees, and management) is the conduit, and will assist you to accomplish your partnering goals. Follow these steps to partnering success.

Step 1: Monitor.

Study your business, observe, and identify areas for improvement. Also, take inventory of core strengths that might be valuable to a potential alliance partner. Specifically, define what it is that you want and help others to define what they want and help them to achieve it as quickly as possible. For partnering success, study other industries that have embraced partnering along with the individual companies that have been successful with partnering. Study what worked and what did not.

Step 2: Educate.

Learn about companies you might consider for partnering success arrangements. Look for arrangements that create a win-win result for all who participate. Ask yourself and your management team these questions: What are their strengths and weaknesses? What effect would they have on our business and vice versa? Be sure that the company cultures are complementary and that the people who will be in charge of the relationship can get along.

Step 3: Select.

This is the critical step. All your future efforts will be built on your selection. Search for the strongest alliance members for your partnering success foundation. Customer-oriented culture is critical to the success of the partnering alliance. The greater the sophistication of a company and its officers, the more likely a company will enter into partnering. Keep this in mind when making your selection. Embrace long-term thinking. Partnering is rarely a quick fix, but a sound long-term business strategy. Target companies, large or small, that can aid you in rapidly and efficiently, reaching the goals of research, technology, production and marketing.

Step 4: Organize.

Now you’re to the point of identifying, understanding, and putting together the possibilities for your alliance. Work with internal and external personnel to develop not only your partnering structure, but also your road map. Success in blending of cultures is pivotal. Take great pains to insure this achievement. Access is crucial! Create a convenient communication system for all partners, especially decision makers. Plan procedures to keep relationships between key people of partnering companies open and constantly alive.

Look into the future, plan for the long-term relationship and encourage strategies that will sustain the relationship through to its conclusion. Phasing in the partnering relationship could be a preferred strategy, as this method will allow partners to have a “get acquainted” time. This can assist in the identification of reaching milestones, successfully or identify the need to reassess before moving on to a higher level in the relationship.

Step 5: Charter.

This is the agreement, whether it is a handshake or actual contract. Even so, I strongly urge all partnering alliances to put their agreements on paper. Having each alliance member’s commitment to the other on paper will smooth a path through the potholes of partnering. Also, your charter should explain conflict resolution. Being ready for conflict will make resolution more timely and amiably.

Develop a clear agreement on what your goals are and make sure they are measurable for partnering success. Have a formal mechanism for alliance members to identify the goals, milestones, and turning points crucial to the success of the relationship. Devise some form of evaluation that will measure how well plans have been implemented. Additionally, consider having the partnering agreement include forms of dispute resolution for more formal arrangements, along with exit strategies as partnering safety valves.

Step 6: Post Agreement.

Regularly review your partnering efforts through value updates. Discuss the value you receive, the value you believe your partner receives and vice versa from the relationship. This will help in determining if relationships should be upgraded, maintained, or downgraded. Discuss opportunities for improvement and ways to enhance performance.

What you really want to build is Outrageously Successful Relationships (OSRs) in all five Partnering Pentad areas. Again, this is Total Organizational Partnering. The benefits generally outweigh the pitfalls if you’re careful. The ability to successfully adopt the partnering paradigm philosophy is the first challenge of partnering. And, Partnering is only for the mature.

Article #5 of 5

The Necessary Core Values To Build Outrageously Successful Relationships (OSRs)

Outrageously Successful Relationships (OSRs), for partnering success in business are based on the desire to create synergy between multiple entities. Five Partnering Core Values support the foundation of such relationships. To build OSRs, integrate the following five core values into your paradigm of operation and you will experience wizardry for yourself and others!

1. Trust

This is having confidence, reliance or resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of another person or thing. It’s also the glue that binds a relationship. For successful business relationships, trust is necessary to move from inertia to action. Trust is that wonderful, mystical and cherished virtue hoped for and shared among practitioners of what I call the Partnering Paradigm.

In trust, you’re continually putting yourself at risk. It’s the process of taking risks necessary in building relationships. At times you are certain to be disappointed, but hopefully these disappointments will be few, compared to the availability of beneficial experiences.

2. Tolerance & Understanding

It’s unfortunate, but the words tolerance and understanding, have become a cliché that too easily rolls off the tongue in business conversations. For business OSRs to work, this core value must be cherished and practiced by all. When you can accept the value of an idea rather than be concerned by whose inspiration it was conceived, you would truly exhibit tolerance and understanding.

3. Cooperation & Growth

In my relationship seminars, I lead an exercise where several people are standing in a circle, facing center, blindfolded, and holding a rope. Then I tell them to make a square. I use this exercise to show how much more is possible when participants work together rather than separately. This is only possible when they adopt an attitude of cooperation. During the rope exercise, it is always interesting who shows up as the leader to make the square. It’s not always the person who signs the paychecks. Growth is the natural outcropping of this exercise because participants see each other in a new light.

4. Caring & Commitment

Caring about a business relationship is essential in making a commitment to its success. This is what will usually smooth out the potholes on the road to OSRs. It’s this element that allows others to voice their opinion and remain safe from criticism. Additionally, there is also the commitment that is necessary to the function of leadership, and at times, the ability to follow when another is currently leading.

Another important aspect of caring is to welcome and accept responsibility. Rather than saying, “You really should . . .” in OSR building it would be better to say, “This is what I think we need to do.” Then say, “If it is ok with you, I’ll take care of it.” In many businesses, idea people are a-dime a-dozen, but those who can implement are immeasurably valuable.

5. Synergy & Mutuality

OSR building must be an institution of trust, tolerance, understanding, cooperation, growth, caring, and commitment. This results in synergy and mutuality, similar to that of a successful marriage. Business OSRs have much in common with the institution of marriage. Both require all of the above, and both offer benefits that outdistance the possibilities available singularly. Build your OSRs and enjoy the partnering success benefits.

Get even more ideas on partnering success by watching Ed’s interview at the Cisco.

Will the Real Leader Please Stand? (1016 words)

Real Leader

Real Leadership

Real leadership should be the beacon for today’s organizational leaders as they have much working against their success. Sometimes leaders can be their own worst enemy. However, this is not cause to crawl under a rock and hunker down for the duration of these difficult times. Sure, the press almost daily is exposing yet another dishonest corporate executive, especially in the financial industries, but that’s not you. Business enjoyed a good half-decade run, following the 911 recovery, and here we are again up to our, rear-ends in alligators. Today, more than ever, is the time for action—for demonstrating to your employees that you have a plan—even if you don’t. Get out of sluggishness and into action, today!

Real Leadership…Make Your Rain Making Visible

Similar to the Native American rain dances of old, they were never performed in isolation, but in view of the tribe; to give the members of the tribe hope—your people need to see you leading the charge in action, not just in words. To build confidence within the people of your organization, they have to visually see your efforts to turn things around, including your personal rain making efforts. This gives them the hope they need to persevere during the current cuts, challenges, and fears caused by today’s economic realities.

This lesson was learned at Mitsubishi Motor Sales of North America, in the early 1990s—the executives learned the hard way; wasting one entire year in their efforts to change the organizational culture. The lesson learned was simple: people believe what they see, not what they hear. The executives were telling everyone what they wanted to happen but were not living the vision themselves.

Similarly, a friend’s mistake has always stayed with me. He and his investors went bankrupt on a golf course project in the 1970s. Their 20/20 hindsight revealed that their mistake was that of spending their money building the golf course before they built the club house. Potential members could not see the progress from the earth moving in the distance so many decided not to act on the special pre-opening offer; money the group badly needed to finish the project. Most people have to see it to believe.

Real Leadership…What’s Old Might be New

Robert Rickenbach, owner of a fiber optics connector fabrication company discovered that the railroad in India could use his connectors in a different application than for which they were originally designed and opened an unexpected international market for his company. What about you? What unexpected, or explored, markets could benefit from your products, services, and other offerings?

In your effort to develop new markets, new applications, and/or new products and services, how much time have you spent? It has been said by persons wiser than I, that most people spend more time planning their vacation than they spend planning their life. What about the success of your organization? How much time have you spent in REAL product/market development strategic planning sessions? For most, not much is the honest answer.

Who can help? The quick answer is: your suppliers, your employees, and your customers. Sometimes innovation is a happy accident and sometimes it is the result of intense organizational processes, individual champions, and intellectual properties—and most times, a result of tireless hard work. What are you doing to innovate?

Back in the mid-1990s I served as a trainer for the Dunn & Bradstreet Foundation, delivering full-day public seminars throughout the USA. One of the exercises I conducted when doing a seminar within a company required an unorthodox approach to problem solving. Interestingly, it was never the organization’s leader that came up with the solution but rather others generally in administrative or support positions. Proof for me that leaders need to encompass all in their organization for solutions to today’s pressing challenges.

Real Leadership…Your Responsibility and Accountability

Let’s face it; nobody really enjoys the mirror being brought up close. However, in times like we are now facing, that is exactly what is needed. No matter how good a leader you might be, you know that you can do better. And, if you are a lousy leader, you are unlikely to be reading this article. Listed below are some of the pitfalls, conscious or unconscious, to leading in a recession:

  • Not being aware of the depth of your organization’s situation.
  • Not having a “rainy day” contingency plan.
  • Not being open to innovation in market, product, and process.
  • Not honestly looking in the mirror.
  • Living off past glory.
  • Expecting others to act as rain makers.
  • Hunkering down expecting the current economic situation to quickly blow over like a tropical storm.

Your “to do” list should include the following:

  • Honest evaluation of your organizations current situation through the traditional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis process with your company’s stakeholders; first your employees, then with your suppliers, and last with your customers. Oh yes, and LISTEN! Generally the SWOT analysis is done only in the bubble of the executive suite, thereby missing needed additional perspectives.
  • Step it up and lead the charge, even if it is only activity for activity’s sake. Activity begets enthusiasm, if positioned correctly and your employees see that you are putting in the time.
  • Look to other industries for answers in as much as you can adapt ideas. It is foolish to think you can adopt, however adaptation is an important form of innovation that will serve you well.

If your organization is zipping along, perhaps you have already conducted the steps necessary to thrive? Perhaps this article is merely an affirmation that you are on the right track? However, if your company is struggling—it might mean that your leaders, or you, have been asleep at the wheel. The good news is that there might be enough time to turn things around and put your company back on the productive path. Plant this thought in your subconscious mind: your employees have been there for you, helping you to make your organization what it had been. Don’t you think you owe it to them to show up and rebuild? It’s their livelihood also!

Videoconferencing—Friend or Foe? (933 Words)

On the Cover of the November 19, 2001 issue of Meeting News, the article stated, “Prior to Sept. 11, meeting by electronic means had already gained momentum among U.S. organizations. But now, with the terrorist attacks having exacerbated an already-weak economy, look for electronic conferencing, also known as virtual meetings, to advance substantially in 2002.”

Is a videoconferencing session in your future? If you are a professional speaker and plan to continue in the speaking and training business, you can be assured the likelihood is strong. I believe videoconferencing is both attendee and speaker friendly.

Some of the advantages videoconferencing offers you, the professional speaker; include timesavings and the ability to be in two places at the same time. Additionally, you can do multiple client dates in a single day and travel less. Some of the advantages video conferencing offers meeting planners are reduced speaker cost (travel & fees), availability of multiple location venues (saving attendees travel) and real time global interaction

To make videoconferencing part of your success plan, master the six main areas to that are to follow. The six areas are: Meeting Industry usage, Profitability, Local Accessibility, Technology Applications, Technology Providers and Presentation Skills. Let’s take the areas individually.

Meeting Industry Usage:

Often, videoconferencing is replacing small meetings. Owens Corning has installed desktop videoconferencing in about one-fourth of the firm’s 80 locations worldwide. This allows team members worldwide to meet and make decisions within hours rather than days or weeks before the technology. Ford Motor Company created their FORDSTAR dealer communications network employing satellite transponders. This allows broadcast quality on several channels. The main purpose has been training. Additionally, executives can inform all manufacturing locations on developments without having to travel. National associations and corporations are including real-time videoconferencing in their annual meetings. Also, multi location meetings save travel and hotel expense. The explosion is close at hand. About one-fifth of the Fortune 1000 companies have corporate networks. I believe we professional speakers must design our future. It is better than flowing with the uncertain wind, wherever it goes.


There is gold in those Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines if we know how to dig. Besides the time savings and multiple client days, back-of-the-room products (video) can be the byproduct of a videoconference, just record it, the camera is already there. Clients, who before could not afford you, now might.  Your clients will experience the hard-dollar benefits with multiple locations and reduced travel expenses. Additionally, companies with videoconferencing capability are receiving soft-dollar benefits through improved information sharing and productivity gains.

Local Accessibility:

How much time you save will depend on how close you are to an organization that has a videoconferencing studio for rent. Kinko’s, one of my partners in the bringing the technology to the National Speakers Association (NSA) convention a few years ago in Orlando, has 800 locations worldwide. They might be the first place to check, call 1-800-2-KINKOS for the nearest videoconferencing location. Additionally, universities are a good place to look, as are large corporations with public rooms and other providers. Another possibility is to purchase your own camera, like PictureTel’s Live 50 desktop unit.

Technology Applications:

How can you profit? When you want to interview an important person, have them go to their local Kinko’s. They will get a kick out of it and you saved travel expense and time. The few dollars it cost to set up the videoconferencing network is usually less than the cost of a flight. You can close deals with important clients who have the technology. You can do your consulting using the technology as will as simply making presentations. Not to make it sound like a kinko’s advertisement, but it is half-price on the weekends.

Technology Providers:

My partners at the NSA convention were PictureTel, Kinko’s and Sprint; they paid for everything but the ISDN lines in the hotel. For videoconferencing to work needed are cameras and monitors for all locations (to be interactive) and the network (telephone or private) to carry the sound and picture signal. The telephone line capability is currently the bottleneck. For clean broadcast-qualityvideoconferencing, three ISDN lines are required.  ISDN lines carry up to 128 kilobits per second. Think of your dial-up modem at a maximum 56 kilobits per second and you will understand. Lucent Technologies is currently laying fiber optics cable across the USA (they recently tore up the streets in my neighborhood). Also higher speed cable and DSL are becoming available for your home or office.

It is now time for a warning. The technology usually works if connected properly. If you are going to use the technology in a real-time situation at a conference, have a technician on site. PictureTel hired VideoLinx Communications in Annandale, Virginia to do the connection in Orlando and they were great. Without a qualified technician, you could end up eating crow.

Presentation Skills:

The camera is much different from live. Things you need to consider include: Move slower, make smaller gestures and romance the camera. The camera lens is the portal to your audience. Avoid plaids and prints that may be emphasized on the screen. White clothing creates glare and red bleeds. Videoconferencing etiquette reminds us of the broadcast delay. Remember to give the person on the far side time to answer before you start again. Avoid coughing into microphones, shuffling papers or possible side conversations.

Videoconferencing technology could be your foe (speaker and meeting planner) if you are not willing to learn. But, like getting your first computer, master it and the technology will be your friend in new speaking and meeting possibilities and profits.

Free vs. Fee Speakers (927 words)

As an association executive, you are continually seeking great speakers. And frequently, your board of directors expects you to do this without a budget–or one so small that the task seems impossible. I assure you, it is possible.

When is it cheaper to hire a professional than it is to hire free speakers?

The answer that many meeting planners would instantly offer is, never. The other day, I had an eye-opening conversation with the executive director of an association based in the eastern part of North America. If you answered the opening question the same way, hopefully, this will open your eyes.

The executive director said to me, “Ed, I discovered it was cheaper to hire you to speak for two days at my meeting than pay the travel and lodging expenses of the four free speakers that I was thinking of using.” For a couple years now I have been conducting multi-day for single-fee programs, and still, his comment was truly an eye-opener for me.

In an effort to be accurate, I should share some additional details with you. First, the meeting venue is Maui, Hawaii and some of the free speakers would fly from eastern North America. Second, I offer multi-day programs eliminating the need for additional speakers.

Deliver Value vs. Fill the Void

Do the people responsible for particular meetings want to offer usable take-home value for the meeting attendees or do they simply want to fill a void? In my article titled, The Conference Conundrum (, I detailed several of the issues that sometimes create a fearful situation for volunteer association leaders in which they just want to both be “safe” and organize a meeting “on the cheap” rather than to address the attendee and member value issue.

Last spring, a meeting planner hired me to present at her national fall meeting. Since I live in the Greater Los Angeles area, she suggested that I might want to attend her coming Western Regional meeting that was to be held in Los Angeles.

I took her up on the offer and arrived early enough to hear the keynote speaker, a local college professor of marketing. Following the keynote, I said to the meeting planner, “I thought your members were in industrial…” She responded, “They are.” And then went into long discussion about how disappointed she was that the professor was so off-target for her group.

The Real Cost of Cheap

What percentage of the attendees from the above mentioned Western Regional meeting will rush to attend that same meeting the next year? What percentage will wonder if they again want to listen to an off-target college professor, who thinks he is addressing retailers but in reality is addressing industrial fabricators? How many potential following-year attendees did the professor lose for that meeting planner? Would this situation make your meeting appear to be shoddy or inferior?

Supplier companies love to send their representatives/salespeople to speak at conventions, as it is free publicity—even if they have to pay their own way. Sometimes the meeting attendees are lucky in that the supplier’s speaker will be motivating while offering usable content. Sometimes they are not so lucky, especially when the supplier’s speaker does not take the time (like the college professor mentioned above) to either understand the needs of the audience or plan an honest presentation. Too often attendees only get a sixty-minute commercial. After a sixty-minute commercial, what percentage of attendees will break down the doors to attend the following year?

What percentage of your other suppliers would also be outraged? How excited will they be the following year to belly up to the table and again pay more than their fair share for the meeting? Fair Share? Yes, suppliers always pay more than regular members. Associations justify the higher charge since they “get business” there.

Could the above combination of situations cost you 10 percent of your attendees the following year? And again cost you another 10% of the reduced number the year after that? And what about the following year? Could this be the reason for the downward spiral many associations are currently facing?

Saving with Professionals

Professional speakers live and die on their reputation. Please do not confuse celebrity speakers with professional speakers. Celebrity speakers get paid gobs of money to speak at a meeting, not because of their eloquence, but because of the average person’s desire to be in the same room with them—to experience them live. Their job is exclusively to attract people to the meeting. When I talk about professional speakers, I’m talking about the people that earn the lion’s share of their income from speaking at meetings or conducting trainings and their related books, tapes, etc. These are the people who generally interview and research the issues and needs of their audiences and tailor or customize their proven material for each unique audience. These people are experts in their field or experienced sorry tellers or humorists.

These are also the people your attendees expect at their meeting. These are the speakers that deliver solid take-home content while also creating a motivating environment. They have to be exciting, motivating and funny—or they don’t eat!

Keeping in mind all that has been mentioned above, why in the world would you settle for a free speaker? Especially, when that choice could be the most expensive. Don’t your meeting attendees deserve the value they expect?

To Get the Best Deal, Understand What Speakers Want (1430 words)

Sure, you want the best possible speaker for whatever your budget might be. A dynamic or informative speaker generally is a stellar investment in the success of your meeting. But, sometimes your budget is not enough for the speaker you want. What’s the solution? Hire a less expensive speaker—squeeze the speaker you want for a better price—think beyond conventional wisdom?

Thinking beyond conventional wisdom might look like, limiting the number of speakers at your meeting. It is always less expensive to have a single speaker do several sessions than to have several speakers present a single session each. Not that every speaker is capable of presenting multiple sessions, however because of the multiple travel and hotel rooms cost, sometimes it is even cheaper to hire a speaker to deliver multiple programs than to have several non-paid speakers participate in your meeting. Even if these unpaid speakers drive in, thereby eliminating their airline travel expense, they will still want a free hotel room for the conference and free registration. Perhaps they were going to come anyway? You would have then received their conference registration dollars. Sometimes the true cost of non-paid speakers is staggeringly hidden.

Let’s explore the difference between a professional speaker presenting the same program multiple times vs. presenting multiple programs. The big difference for the speaker is preparation time—including: research, handout development and PowerPoint preparation. Unfortunately, few meeting planners take this key time issue into consideration. Speakers are selling both their knowledge and their time. The latter is finite, so the more you consume, the more you should expect to pay. In paying for a speaker’s time, you have to consider presentation time, travel time and preparation time. Unless of course you want a canned speech, then the preparation time is not an issue. Before you jump on the cost savings of a canned speech, remember that today, few attendees will tolerate a canned speech.

This idea of a single speaker presenting multiple presentations for a single fee is growing in the world of professional speakers but is counter to standard operating procedures for most speaker bureaus. If you like this idea, you might have to abandon the ease in speaker selection that you have enjoyed when working with bureaus.

The Bureau Conundrum

Speaker Bureaus provide a valuable outsource service for meeting planners that are time squeezed. A planner can contact a bureau, give their budget and the bureau will take it from there. For planners that have to fill a large number of conference session slots and do not have sufficient staff—bureaus can be their solution. Yet, there are many more speakers that are under or non-represented by speakers’ bureaus, than there are speakers that they recommend. Most bureaus only have a small corral of speakers that they can easily sell and therefore will generally recommend them first. Many of the underrepresented speakers are quite good and are a tremendous value.

Another component to consider is that some bureaus serve two masters. What I mean can be illustrated by a recent conversation I had with a planner from a very large biotechnology manufacturer at a meeting industry trends summit. We were chatting at the event’s evening cocktail party and the planner was bemoaning about a request for a speaker that she submitted to a very large East Coast speaker bureau. The planner went on to tell me that the information sheets for the speakers that this particular bureau sent her, had no relationship to her submitted speaker request. The planner was upset that the bureau didn’t pay heed to what she requested. I explained to the planner about that particular bureau specialized in speaker exclusives—meaning that the bureau was the only place through which a particular speaker could be booked. As such, the bureau would recommend their exclusive speakers first, and if none were selected, would then recommend other speakers—even when a non-exclusive speaker would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, this trend is spreading through the speaker bureau industry.

For most speakers, speaker bureaus are but one of the many channels by which they go to market. Speaker bureaus need to be viewed as one would view any distributor or sales agency. If two-step distribution serves your needs, and there are a number of reasons that it might, then by all means select that method.

The conventional marketing message espoused my most bureaus is that for speaker X, you’ll pay the same price through us as you would booking speaker X direct. That is a nice ideal that frequently may be true. Yet, in a supply chain where a distributor or manufacturer’s representative sales agency receives 25 to 30 percent, the reality is generally not quite the ideal. There was a reason behind Sam Walton championing the idea of Wal-Mart working directly with manufacturers, thereby eliminating the distributors. This was a necessary strategy in order for him to continually deliver low prices to his Wal-Mart customers.

Go Direct?

If you should select to work directly with a speaker, the price you will assuredly pay is time. Time both in your search and selection process as will as time working with the speaker on meeting logistics. If this route is best for you, there are a number of advantages that could make your time investment a profitable one. Some of the benefits to you could be, no lost communication through an intermediary, better negotiation possibilities (the Sam Walton dynamic) and the speaker offering programming ideas and insight that most likely would have never been transmitted through a third party.

Searching for a speaker directly has never been easier. To start, there are a number if Internet search engines that will do a magnificent job in searching for a speaker by topic or keyword. Remember to look past the first search page because that is most likely where you are going to find the speaker bargains. A great source to aid your search is the Web Site of the National Speakers Association (NSA).

National Speakers Association

NSA is an alternative method for finding speakers. NSA has an open online search capability that anyone can access It is true that only members of NSA are listed, which does limit your possibilities just a bit, but nonetheless you will find that the NSA Web Site a valuable source in your search for the right speaker. NSA offers its members a certification calledCertified Speaking Professional (CSP). While the CSP designation does not guarantee a speaker’s success at your meeting, the process through which a speaker goes to receive a CSP designation is not an easy one. The CSP is a good indicator that the speaker is truly a professional.

Approaching the Speaker

Never approach a speaker, out of the gate, by asking if they negotiate their fees! What the speaker hears is, “I’m calling to ask you for a discount and offer nothing in return.” That’s a turn-off in anybody’s book. Besides, everything in life is a negotiation—just assume that they will. A better approach is to first talk with the speaker about what you want—engage them in conversation. After they have affirmed that they can deliver what you want, then move into the “we have a budget issue” phase. Do this by first suggesting some of the things your organization can do for the speaker to create extra value for them. Also ask the speaker what creates value in their life. Perhaps you have value to offer a speaker that you had never realized? What do you have that costs you very little but delivers high value to professional speakers?

Keynote Vs. Breakout

Believe it or not, more speakers will be willing to talk to you about your budget challenges when you are talking general session (meaning that there is no other session competing at the same time) vs. breakout or concurrent sessions. The reason for this is exposure and product selling capability. If a speaker is going to fly across the country to speak at a meeting, which do you think is more valuable to the speaker—speaking to 40 people, or 400? Naturally, it is the 400. More people that could potentially recommend the speaker for future events and more product will surely be sold to 400 people than to 40—but, rarely do planners think about this.

In making your decision about how to acquire your next speaker, I hope the above has stimulated your thinking beyond conventional wisdom. Additionally, for more ideas on how to save money at your next meeting, please visit

The Conference Conundrum (879 words)

In uncertain economic times, the question of how to deliver value, true ROI, to your conference attendees while still keeping the cost under control is truly…a conundrum. Determining what activities conference attendees want is like shooting in the dark. And, to add to the difficulty, the generational issues are now just that, an issue. Younger people want “Extreme” or interactive meetings while the baby boomers, who are the senior executives want golf and a slower paced meeting. All of this can be quite elusive in your effort to attract them.

What do today’s conference attendees want? First, explore the basic types that attend conferences, especially when travel is required. The old paradigm conference attendee is a bit like the good ol’ boy—attending his industry meeting regardless of the time of year, location or quality of the meeting. He just wants to meet with his buddies, network a bit, golf and drink. The conference is his well earned get-away.

Then there is the new paradigm attendee, both men and women. They are younger, have families and have the attitude that they will participate if they see the capability for synergy. Golf and partying is not their motivation, but rather the desire to obtain new strategies, tactics and the skills necessary to improve their business. They only want to rendezvous with value.

Of which group is your association’s membership tilting? Has the ratio been changing over the last few years? I bet it has been changing, but perhaps nobody noticed? Then there is the paid verses volunteer leadership element with which you must be attentive. This becomes crucial when a volunteer leader from a small company follows one from a large company.

My observation in over a decade of interviewing volunteer association leaders and speaking at association meetings is that generally (but not always) a leader from a large company tends to be more strategic in their thinking and those from smaller companies tend to be more tactical. While both are necessary, tactics without strategy is like traveling to a far-away land without a map—who knows where you’ll end up?

One tactic for reducing costs that a number of associations have recently engaged is that of inviting suppliers to present educational sessions rather than hiring experts, authors and /or professional speakers. Industry presenters usually manage to wrap their presentation around a sales pitch for their product. An important point that is rarely broached in the above mentioned tactic is what effect does inviting one company to present have on other supplier companies?

Since suppliers, or allied members as they are sometimes called, generally pay a disproportionately larger amount to attend a conference than other members, they want value too. Forcing a number of suppliers to endure a competitor’s veiled sales presentation can be considered cruel and unusual punishment. And they never forget. By the way, while I have your attention, just what are you doing to show your suppliers that they are appreciated? Hopefully not having sessions during their expo time? Hopefully doing more than just saying, “Thank you.”

What does create value for today’s conference attendees? Many attendees, especially those at national meetings, are looking to be recharged. They need and want both the motivation and tools for doing battle in the trenches for another year. What percentage of motivation verses skills? Regardless of what I have been told by meeting planners, over the years I have learned that in both general sessions and concurrent sessions alike, the scales tilt more toward motivation. This is something that a non-professional speaker can rarely deliver.

For a meeting organizer, the rendezvous with value challenge can be enormous. You say, “How in the world can I deliver all the value my diverse group of attendees demands and needs in a time of diminished registrations?” Your answer is in numbers. Just how many of your attendees demand that costly golf outing? Is it a large number or just a few that are quite vocal in their personal demands? Must you have an open bar reception? If so, cut the hours in half.

A great question to ask oneself is that of memory—what will your attendees remember? Will they remember their fourth free whiskey at the reception? Or, will they remember that the speaker from XYZ Company spent the entire hour talking about their own company’s capabilities? What will stick in your attendees’ minds that will urge them to return to the conference the next year? If they are old paradigm; they’ll just come again no matter what. But, for the new paradigm attendees, you must help them to rendezvous with value.

Currently, suppliers to the meetings industry are offering generous discounts; including hotels, resorts, airlines and also professional speakers. This is simply because of supply and demand. If you truly want to deliver value to your attendees, take advantage of the times and give them more than a free whiskey by which to remember their conference. This may take an additional effort in helping your volunteer leaders to understand the value, and, they themselves may be the ones that need the inspiration and motivation the most.

The Lost Art of Social Contact (828 Words)

Technology enhanced meetings can be a wonderful thing when the technology drives attendee engagement and learning enablement. Doing more with less and increasing the attendees’ return on registration, travel, and lodging investment (ROI) serves everyone. However, when technology becomes the controller and the audience becomes the controlled, the value of technology quickly diminishes.

Why We Meet

My research has exposed the fact that networking first and education second, are the primary reasons for live meeting attendance. Additionally this research, conducted across a wide assortment of trade associations and professional societies, has revealed the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of networking to be worth just over $4,000 in reference to annual membership. Yet, the conventional wisdom among meetings industry publications is that the networking-capable number of attendees is decreasing. This could offer possible proof that the art of social contact is disappearing.

Technology Down-Side

The drawbacks of technology can be many. Of the simplest meeting technology is PowerPoint. Unfortunately, this helpful software also enables monotone and boring presentations. It is easy for a presenter to get caught up in unsocial behavior; reading their bullet points and forgetting to engage the audience through voice modulation, story telling, and audience participation. This mechanical kind of presentation loses social contact

Risk Avoidance

From the perspective of audience members, technology driven meetings and presentations can easily facilitate risk avoidance by eliminating the need for live social contact. The use of Twitter and Twitter based application software during a live meeting can be a useful novelty however this also allows audience members to avoid expressing and defending a particular position or perspective on an issue. Much of the technology for meetings allows for anonymous participation, which is not always a good thing because it also minimizes social contact.

Technology Advantage

Meeting organizers that incorporate social networking prior to meetings can help their attendees to make live connections at meetings. Twitter postings, Facebook pages and groups, and Linkedin groups offer planners free cyber social contact enablement conduits. Meeting software, such as Certain Software, offers planners amazing integration—elements from RFPs to attendee registration to creative flexibility in developing pre-meeting special interest groups are available.

Strategies for Re-Socialization

For meeting planners that truly desire to help their meeting attendees receive the maximum ROI from their attendance, consider facilitating quality social contact pre-meeting, throughout the meeting, and post-meeting.

  • Set up a Twitter account for your meeting. Send an email invitation to constituents asking them to become followers. Then tweet weekly with new information about the meeting.
  • Set up a meeting group at either Facebook or Linkedin. Email invitations asking constituents to join the group. About six months before the meeting, start posting discussion questions weekly designed to elicit discussion among members. Closer in, start posting individual notices about each specific activity. Just before the meeting invite all the “cyber” buddies to an “organization hosted” pre-meeting live networking gathering.
  • Add to attendee badges some sort of (attendee approved) interesting information about that attendee that will cause others to ask questions.
  • Ask EVERY presenter, including the keynoter, to add an element of networking driven audience participation to their program. While this is generally much easier for professional speakers to achieve, it is perfectly acceptable to expect “invited” industry speakers to comply. Inexperienced presenters can always employ the “round table” question discussion, regardless of the room setup.
  • At the first night cocktail welcoming event, employ a networking game. The best are the games where everyone gets a sheet with a list of questions that they have to get the answers from other attendees. One answer per attendee please. If you have GREAT door prizes, most everyone will participate.
  • Be reasonable about the meeting schedule. This is the area most susceptible to planner sabotage of networking possibilities. Breaks between sessions, depending on the distance attendees must walk, need to be closer to 30 minutes than the typical 5-15 minutes.
  • Buffet meals will cause much more networking possibilities than will “served or platted” meals.
  • For served-meal events, try assigned seating. There are a number of “seating formulas” that will work, yet the important element is a diversity of meal mates at each table. Sure it is a bit of work, but this causes quite a bit of interaction among attendees from trying to find their seat to meal discussions.
  • Many organizations use the buddy/mentor system very successfully. This is where every first time attendee is assigned a buddy/mentor. The buddy/mentor is responsible to take this new person around to all his or her social networks and effectively guide the person through the meeting maze. Also the buddy/mentor does some post-meeting follow up to see that the first-timer actually implements new skills learned at the meeting.
  • Post meeting interaction can be easily facilitated through the social networking activities mentioned above. The most effective will be centered on discussions and activities encouraging implementation of the new skills learned and follow up with new persons met.

Associations Must Either Partner or Perish (1059 Words)

Societies Must Partner or Perish

Associations Must Partner or Perish

The reason for any professional or trade association to exist is for the purpose of synergistic and mutual improvement of the persons and organizations involved is a particular industry or profession. I believe an association to be a gathering of people with similar interests and goals. This gathering must be a multi-faceted partnering alliance between members (including associate or supplier members), officers and paid staff.

In every association with which I currently hold membership or have held membership, I’ve have experienced a class structure. While I believe this class structure is generally unintentional, it is none-the-less destructive and at cross-purposes to the associations’ stated mission. The officers usually make policy and the rules for all to follow. The staff works hard to serve the officers, more so than the membership. This is because they believe, or have the perception, that they hold their jobs at the pleasure of the board of directors. While operational staff generally works under, and is hired by, an executive director or executive vice president, the staff people see their jobs as being at risk when they inform board members on things the board members do not want to hear.

Elected officers try to do their best to run the association so it will best serve the membership, but they must also run their own business. Some of the challenges that frequently occur are:

o    Individuals seeing the world through his or her own filter or paradigm. This can cause people to only see what they want or to only see the world through their situation. If one selects to participate as an association leader, this is a luxury one cannot afford.

o    The ability officers have to pork barrel can drive a wedge through any industry, especially between the buyers and sellers in the industry. The association must create value for all dues paying members, regardless of their status.

o    Elitism, planned or inadvertently occurring. This is the most insidious of value dismantlers. While it is human nature for offers that select to donate an unusually huge number of hours to socialize with one another at meetings and events, there still is a responsibility for officers to individually reach out to the general membership. Additionally, those same people that donate the hours sometimes feel entitled. Entitled to what you may ask? The list is limitless; from questionable association resource spending to policy making that only serves the selected few.

o    Participation burnout of officers is common. People that care about the success of their association and industry as a whole, can acquire the Savior Complex, thinking that the entire industry will stop if they don’t do it all. Then they get bitter about the time they feel obligated to donate.

o    Personal ownership disassembling synergistic results. When certain “entitled” people believe they own the association more than others, based on their personal standards of participation and history with the association, they can unknowingly push others away.

Over the past decade I have been helping organizations to see the world through the window of others. The system I offer is that of Total Organizational Partnering System (TOPS). Many associations in which I have come in contact have or could benefit from TOPS. The decision to adopt the multi-faceted partnering model is not always easy. It is unfortunate that many associations are encumbered with persons flexing their personal and sometimes hidden agendas.

Is it possible in association life to have cooperation? Absolutely, I see it frequently. Working with others for a mutually beneficial solution is what should be at the foundation of any association. Partnering is the redeemer necessary to successfully carry an association to new heights of success in serving its industry.

Today, many associations are faced with the fallout of consolidations within their industry; both regular members and associate or allied supplier members. In some situations, in order to survive and serve their membership, even associations have found it necessary to merge. There will always be the members that support their association, regardless of the value they believe they receive. And, there will always be the people in an industry that do not believe it is worth their time or money to belong to their industry association.

What every association (staff, boards and members) must explore is the middle mass. These are the industry players that will only belong to, and participate in, their industry association if they believe they can get more out than they put in. This is possible through collaborative synergies developed through TOPS. Association leaders must partner with this critical mass in order to have the number and financial support to do the work necessary to keep their industry alive, healthy and growing.

Never allow the situation to develop in which members or potential members say, “I want to be part of the system. I want a piece of the pie, but I don’t believe it’s possible.” Be cautious not to treat less participative members as second-class citizens. I know there is some truth to this because I, myself, have felt like a second-class association member in times past. Was I really a second-class member or was it just in my mind? Since my perception is my only reality, what do you think? Does it matter what others think? No, because my perception is my reality, and it is for your members too.

Members, retained and new alike, are the lifeblood of any association. If you are an officer and keep that in mind daily, your association will not only survive but it will prosper. Listed below, are ten of my partnering principles that I believe association officers, staff and members need to adopt.

Ten Partnering Principles

  1. Partnering means learning the needs, wants and desires of others.
  2. Partnering builds confidence and trust.
  3. Do not take too long to act, as there are others that may beat you to creating valuable partnerships.
  4. Partnering strengthens your image and defines your culture.
  5. You must deposit into the Relationship Bank before you may take a withdrawal.
  6. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising available, and you must earn it.
  7. People have short positive but long negative memories.
  8. Partnering allows for immediate feedback. Ask, “How are we doing?”
  9. Partnering creates an environment of possibilities.
  10. Partnering is a subtle and successful form of marketing.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.

Can You? Will You? An Association’s Journey (908 words)

Value for Success

Association Success through Member ROI

It’s hard to watch something die a slow agonizing death, including an association. Over the last decade I have presented at the meetings of scores of associations. Because I highly customize my presentations, I have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of association board members as well as rank-and-file members. My observations—as in any industry, some do well some plow along and some disappear.

One association, for which I presented three years in a row, I also found myself working with four different executive directors in that same time period. Consistent leadership is one of the critical success factors in any business, and an association—while perhaps a non-profit—an association is still a business.

This same association found its conference attendance dropping to the point that there were almost two associate (vendor) members for every (buying) member in attendance. The suppliers had been threatening for several years to discontinue their support if the trend did not turn around. The regular members didn’t listen. They just continued to see their conference as a subsidized vacation and social gathering. The vendors finally pulled the plug—early last year, this association planned not to hold a meeting this year.

What’s the lesson we can take from this example? I believe there are several.

Lesson Number 1: Free lunch…where?

Lunch is not free forever. Sure, your industry vendors will support and subsidize meetings for their customers, but only if there is something in it for them. Exposure does not put meat on the table. When the associate members of an association no longer believe they are receiving a reasonable return for their investment of time and money, they will discontinue their support.

Lesson Number 2: Do you know what’s really going on?

If you make like an ostrich and always keep your head in the sand, you will surely lose your rear end. Both the governing board and regular members are equally responsible for the success of an association. If you are a regular member, you cannot maintain the attitude of, the board will handle it. The governing board cannot perform magic; make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. They can only offer leadership and direction. If the membership at large is too lazy, comfortable or complacent, the board can only do so much.

Lesson Number 3: Fish or cut bait.

Associate, or supplier, members must either fish or cut bait. If a supplier member company is not receiving value from participation, they must first ask about their own responsibility. Ask, “How can we better work the show?” How can we better capitalize on the opportunities?” and “How can we help this association to improve?” After this has been done and the results are still unacceptable, shut up or cut bait. Too often suppliers will complain year after year about the quality of a conference but do nothing. It is like crying wolf, after enough complaining, nobody listens. Actions speak more loudly than words.

Lesson Number 4: Create value for members.

An organization must create enough value for those involved in it for the organization to sustain itself, let alone thrive. Everyone’s afraid to ask, “Does this association still serve?” If not, fix it or kill it. Penetrating deeper into the idea, the realization that an association is nothing more than its members must be brought to the surface. As such, how often does the governing board query its individual members as to the value they are currently receiving from their membership?

Lesson Number 5: Old Farts R Us is not the formula for success.

Every association must accept that there is a turnstile of membership. Some become disenchanted and leave, some go out of business and some die. This is the reality of any association. Additionally, industry players that have reached their golden years generally have already made it, become successful, want to spend time with their grandchildren or perhaps sipping a margarita in Cancun rather than building an industry. What are you doing each year, month, week and day to persuade non-member industry players to come and play in your sandbox?

Lesson Number 6: It’s all about the people.

Association members can do wonderful things in building their association if given the proper tools. Build outrageously successful relationships wherever you can. For governing board members: First, find the best executive director and staff possible, pay them well and develop incentives that will motivate them to stay put. Then develop tools to help your members at large to share with their industry colleagues the value in belonging to your association and keep asking questions in the form of member surveys. (See my association value article @ for help in this area.)  For the members at large, if you catch yourself whining—quit it! You have the power and opportunity to ask, “What can I do to help grow my association, and industry?” You also have the power and opportunity to ask yourself, “What will I do to help my association and industry grow?”

Trade and professional associations in America, when run well, deliver to its membership huge synergies. This is done through economies of scale and other mechanisms. At an association conference roundtable session that I recently facilitated, we discovered that the association asked approximately $1,600 in cash and two semi-annual trips in time of its members. In return, that association delivered just under $5,000 in documented value for the member’s investment. What’s your association’s value proposition?

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.