3 Lessons Associations Can Learn from Netflix

3 Lessons Associations Can Learn from Netflix

Associations have more in common with for-profit businesses than you think. Thinking outside the nonprofit box can help you glean new insights that you can translate for your organization.

Take Netflix as an example. It’s had its ups and downs and made mistakes along the way. But it’s a company that’s not afraid to change direction when things aren’t going as planned – and it’s known for its innovative work culture.

Here are 3 lessons that Netflix has learned that are transferable to the association world.

1. Stick with Your Mission.

There was a point in Netflix history when the company built its own black box for streaming movies, but after investing a lot of time and money, they ended up deciding to ditch the box.

Why the sudden change in direction? It didn’t align with their mission of “having Netflix on every device on the planet that is connected to the internet.” So instead of competing with existing hardware providers, they convinced those providers to include Netflix on their devices.

The takeaway for Associations: If it feels like your products and services aren’t aligning with your true mission, take a step back and ask yourself, “Are our current products really what our members want?” If the answer is no, don’t be afraid to change directions. It might mean some wasted resources in the short term, but it will pay off in the long run.

2. Give Membership Options – and Make “Free” Part of Your Membership Strategy.

When you join Netflix, you get your first month free and the choice of Premium, Standard, or Basic memberships – and they allow you to change levels at any time. This is a pretty standard model for a lot of online membership-based companies.

Why does it work for Associations? Offering membership levels – including a free membership option – means that you can cast a wide net and capture nearly everyone in your target industry. It removes the cost barrier and allows people to choose the level that will give them the most value.

With technology, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to offer a free membership that grants access to online forums and content. And once you have members through the door, it’s much easier to sell them on paid memberships.

Association management software products have also made it quick and easy to manage multiple membership levels – another reason to introduce some variety into your membership model.

3. Invest in Your Leaders – they Define Your Culture.

It’s no secret that your leaders are your most valuable resources. But don’t look at them only as resources – look at them as the people who create the culture that attracts and retains the kind of employees and members you want.

Netflix has become known for its unconventional HR policies, and one of the keys to their success is giving their leaders ownership of creating the company culture. Netflix leaders know the company’s values. They are trusted to model and hire employees who align with those values, and Netflix gives them all the tools they need to build a great pool of talent.

For the most part, great leaders aren’t born that way. They’re coached, supported, and empowered – and they understand and fully embrace the organization’s mission and values. Earmark resources for leadership initiatives. Help your managers grow and empower them to build the culture of your organization.


How to Write a Mission Statement That’s Meaningful

How to Write a Mission Statement That's Meaningful

How much time do you spend thinking about your mission statement? Mission statements are intended to communicate the vision and purpose of organizations. That’s an important function, so it deserves some time and thought. Even if your organization already has a mission statement, it’s important to re-visit it periodically to make sure it still reflects your purpose and direction.

Creating your mission statement (or updating it) is as simple as answering some questions about your organization, then conveying these answers in language that is compelling and succinct.

To formulate your mission statement, start by answering these questions:

Think about whether you want your mission statement to reflect your short- or long-term goals. When focusing short term, you can be more specific. Long-term goals require a more general statement. Think bigger than your day-to-day operations, products, or service offerings. What are the underlying values that drive your decisions and actions?

One of the best things you can do is involve your board, and staff if appropriate, in the process. Have a brainstorming session around the questions above, and distill your discussion down to common themes and key words.

Once you have your top key words and phrases, work on putting them together in a sentence or two. You should be able to convey why your association exists in an inspiring, believable, and relevant way.  And you should be able to convey HOW you’ll deliver on your mission. The most effective mission statements aren’t too vague or too specific, and they use simple language. You’ll want to avoid using complex language or industry jargon.

Come up with three or four options, and test them on your staff. Ultimately, the mission statement you choose should be customer-focused, but should also inspire your staff to get behind the cause. You want the words to be powerful enough to evoke emotion …

Who could resist Starbucks’ mission statement: ” To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”


Make Your Passwords Secure

Make Your Passwords Secure

Having your membership data in the cloud is convenient, cost-effective, and efficient. But with the many advantages comes the risk of data security breaches. If your membership database is hosted online, it’s your responsibility to do everything in your control to safeguard your members’ personal information.

If you’re using an online software provider to host your membership database and store credit card information, it’s up to them to make sure the system meets PCI Security Standards. But your users will need to do their part to keep client data safe.

Here are some common-sense rules for data security that you and your staff should be following!

Keep Your Administrators Up to Date

It’s pretty obvious that when someone leaves your organization, they should no longer have access to your membership data. But this one tops the list because it is so often overlooked. There is nothing complicated about it– just remember to update your administrators when positions change.

Don’t Share Passwords if You Can Help It

If possible, everyone who accesses your membership database should have a different username and password for several reasons. First, every transaction and change that is processed through your system should have an administrator attached to it. If an issue ever arises, you’ll know exactly who you need to approach to fix it. It also prevents people from leaving your organization with your log-in information (if you forget to change it).

Make your passwords at least eight characters, and include both letters and numbers. Use both upper and lower cases and if you can help it, don’t use words you can find in the dictionary. It’s best to have a unique username and password for every website you log on to so that if one website gets compromised, you don’t risk compromising the others.

Your email password should be extra secure because when you forget a password online, that’s where a replacement password will be sent.

Don’t write your passwords on a post-it and stick it to your computer, and if you have a document that contains all of your usernames and passwords, use an encryption tool to keep the information secure.

Be Careful of How You Collect and Store Information

Never ask your members to send you credit card details or other sensitive information by email, and don’t be casual about taking credit card information by phone. If you write it down on a piece of paper, process it immediately and dispose of it securely or store it in a locked drawer. If you are taking payments online through your software provider, check to make sure they meet current security standards.

Create a Data Security Policy

Data security is not top-of-mind for most people, so it can be helpful to create a security policy and ask each member of your staff to read and sign it. This is an effective way of raising awareness of the risks and ensuring that your staff acts mindfully when it comes to member data.

You probably know people who avoid using technology because of fears around security – maybe you’re one of them. The truth is, these fears are justified and having your data compromised is possible. However, it’s often not the technology that’s insecure, but the practices of people using which may lead to a security issue. Even with the best software in the world, you can still inadvertently have your data hacked if you’re not mindful about your day-to-day processes.


The Six Stages of Brainstorming

The power of brainstorming as a creative thinking technique is enhanced by engaging the six stages of brainstorming during a brainstorming session. Although brainstorming has been used since the 1930’s and many, if not most, people have engaged in informal brainstorming, few have led formal brainstorming sessions. To get maximum benefit from a brainstorming session, it is important that brainstorming session leaders understand the six stages. The stages were originally identified by J. Geoffrey Rawlinson in the book he published for the British Institute of Management in 1971.

State the Problem and Discuss

Either the leader or the person who requested the session states the problem. If optimal diversity is present in the room, there will be varying degrees of familiarity with the problem. Therefore, time (usually not more than five minutes) is given to discussing the problem. It is important that the discussion not get into too much detail about the problem, as you don’t want to get into a discussion of solutions at this point and it is helpful that some in the diverse group are not overly familiar with the problem.

Restate the Problem

After the problem has been stated and captured on a flip chart, the group is asked to restate the problem in as many ways as possible. Often, the problem can be restated in 20 to 100 different ways. In asking the group to restate the problem, ask them to step back and look at the problem as a huge elephant. Ask them to look at it from different angles and sides, to climb over it and identify as many different facets as possible. All of the restatements should be phrases that begin with “How to…” Each restatement is phrased in terms of “how to” do something. The “how to” statements must make sense in a literal way; otherwise, it is likely that a solution, rather than the problem, is being identified. If a restatement doesn’t make sense, the leader should ask the participant to restate the thought in a way that makes sense in the “how to” statement form.

Select a Basic Restatement

Selecting the problem restatement that will be used for brainstorming can be done in one of two ways: autocratic or democratic. Either the leader can pick the restatement that will be used or the group can pick it. It the group is asked to pick, the leader can ask can capture a few group suggestions (4 or 5) on a flip chart and then have the group narrow the list down to the top one (or two) by voting or another method. Once the top restatement is identified, it should be re-written in the following format: “in how many ways can we…” Reformatting the restatement transitions the group from the restatements to the identification of solutions.

Warm-up Session

A warm-up session is used to get the group to focus on the session and to get them used to “free-wheeling.” The leader’s objective during the warm-up session is to create some laughter and excitement in the room. Warm-up sessions are short but can last up to 5 minutes. They are based on the audience throwing out ideas to complete a key phrase that begins with “other ideas for…” For example, other ideas for rubber boots or other ideas for a dining room table or other ideas for a fan, etc.


Brainstorming begins with the leader reading the chosen restatement and calling for ideas. All of the ideas should be captured on flip chart pages, with each idea (ideally) numbered. It is important that the flip chart pages, as they are filled, are posted on the wall for all participants to see throughout the session. It is also important to keep the session moving, so the leader should be prepared to offer solutions/ideas. The leader should also encourage laughter and noise. Ultimately, noise is good during brainstorming; either the leader or participants should be saying something at all times. Unplanned silence can kill a brainstorming session. If the session slows down, the leader can ask for a moment of “silent incubation,” by asking participants to read a list near them to stimulate more ideas. Then, after about a minute, the leader repeats the current restatement and the flow of ideas begins again. Other methods to re-invigorate a session include taking an idea that was previously stated and asking the participants to state variants of the original idea, using a second or third restatement, or taking a break to do an additional, funny warm-up session.

Wildest Idea

The final stage of brainstorming is the wildest idea. After all ideas have dried up, the leader closes the session by asking the group to find the wildest and most foolish idea. The wildest ideas are captured on a fresh spreadsheet. Once they are captured, ask the group to come up with additional ideas based the wildest and foolish ideas. This will generate a few more ideas (often 10 to 15) and end the session on a high and fun note.

Ultimately, conducting brainstorming sessions effectively takes practice. Through practice, you will be able to move through the stages in a seamless manner. Of course, there are some other tricks to the trade, but these basic stages will get you started on running powerful brainstorming sessions.

How do you structure your brainstorming sessions?

About the Author

Robert Nelson, a Certified Association Executive (CAE), brings over a quarter-century of successful executive leadership experience, working with Boards and high-powered CEOs in a not-for-profit setting. He is the founder of Nelson Strategic Consulting and brings hands-on experience guiding and facilitating the design of strategy development processes and think tanks. His focus on organizational strategies and strategic solutions to complex organizational and global grand challenges for national as well as international organizations.

Contact Robert through his website, or learn more about Nelson Strategic Consulting at