7 Ways Your Association Can Improve Its Renewal Dues Collection Process

7 Ways Your Association Can Improve Its Renewal Dues Collection Process

Sweating through his pale-yellow shirt, Todd reluctantly shuffles his way into the meeting room. He lo-o-o-a-a-thes this time of year. Dreads it. Would like to be doing anything but reminding members to pay.

Caty is late with her dues … again. Not a peep from Mark since the renewal period began. Amy said she’d bring her payment to tonight’s meeting — but she also said that 3 meetings ago.

No doubt collecting dues is about as much fun as getting a tooth pulled. The good news? There are ways to make the renewal process much more effective and efficient — and way less painful.

Having worked with so many professional and trade associations for nearly 20 years, we’ve seen many renewal campaigns. Some highly-effective. Others not so much.

One thing is certain: those that do work share common elements — and those tactics can be easily replicated.

Tip #1: Review past renewal performance

Take a look at your last renewal period. Run a list of members that were up for renewal, then note when members renewed.

Did most members renew after your first email notice was sent? After an announcement was made during a group meeting? After the second email notice, or the last?

Make adjustments to your communication plan based on what you find. For example, if most members renew after the last notice goes out, and you would like more upfront renewals, make improvements. Consider adding incentives and highlighting benefits in your other notices and communication channels.

Tip #2: Clear up ALL roadblocks

Be sure to look at the data in its entirety. Think back to the last campaign.

Why was Caty late with her payment, as she is every renewal period? Maybe Caty doesn’t check her email regularly. Maybe sending reminders through another channel, like text messaging, would be better for her.

Why did Amy keep forgetting to bring her payment to the meetings? Perhaps offering different ways to pay online would be more convenient for her versus remembering to bring in cash or a check.

All circumstances and scenarios should be factored into how you design your renewal campaign going forward.

Tip #3: Review payment methods

While there are organizations that accept check and cash, utilizing online methods to take payment should be used, or at the very least, considered.

Not only is taking payments online quicker and less work for your association or organization’s treasurer, it’s much more convenient for members.

Many of the associations we work with utilize the 123Signup online membership applications for taking credit card payments for renewals. These webpages can be styled to match your organization’s brand and integrated with your website for a seamless member experience.

Once you have the renewal webpage set up, you can include the link in your email reminders. Having an online payment method for your renewals gives members an easy way to renew and pay online whenever is most convenient for them.

Tip #4: Consider an incentive for renewals

To expedite renewals, consider adding an incentive such as a discount.

Through 123Signup, you can create membership promotion codes with a fixed discount (a flat amount) or a percentage discount  to be applied to the total. You can also control the total number of times a code can be used, which member types are eligible to use the code, and you can limit the dates the code can be used.

Tip #5: Develop a communication plan and stick to it

Don’t let this overwhelm you. A communication plan is simply a plan in writing of what communications you’ll send and when. It’s proven that the more the information about a renewal dues period is communicated — whether in person or online — the smoother and quicker the process.

Tip #6: Include the option to renew membership while signing up for an event

123Signup’s integrated registration and renewals functionality allows you to include a membership renewal option on your event signup forms — making it simple for members to register for an event, and at the same time, pay their dues.

Tip #7: Set up automated email renewal reminders

While you never want to annoy your members, it’s a fact that many simply forget to renew, or need an extra nudge beyond the meeting announcement, making it worth sending a series of email reminders.

Most associations we work with send 3-4 renewal reminders.

If you don’t have a good association management software that automates this task for you, it’s a good reason to investigate low-cost technology options that will enable you to set up a series without further work or intervention.

Through 123Signup Association Management software, you can set up a series of emails with specific messages to be sent at specific time periods of your choosing.

You can create as many templates as you’d like and further customize your messaging by creating templates for each member type. For example, your message to your student members may differ from your message to regular members.

We’ve found that organizations that combine in-person announcements with automated email renewal reminders to expiring members run the most effective membership renewal campaigns.

123… Takeaway!

It’s coming. A great big bear hug from your treasurer. (Fill in your treasurer’s name here) is much happier these days since improving the renewal dues collection process.

Whether you use one or all 7 of these tips, you’re bound to improve your renewal dues collection process — and make your treasurer, and members’ lives, a bit brighter.


How to Create a Positive Survey Experience

How to Create a Positive Survey Experience

The response rate for web surveys is 8 to 12%. Why so low? One of the biggest reasons is poor design and execution.

So how do you increase participation?

  1. Pre-notify your members. Get in touch with them in advance to tell them why you’re conducting the research, and how you’re going to use it – whether it’s part of a strategic planning exercise, or you’re trying to improve the value you give them. Tell them who it’s going to be coming from, when it will launch, and how long they will have to complete it.
  1. Be honest about the survey length. Don’t say it’s going to be brief if it’s actually going to take 20-30 minutes to complete. Give them the ability to save and continue at a later date. It will help your participation rate in the long run.
  2. Be disciplined about the number of surveys you send out. It’s too easy to send surveys out on a whim. Think about who you’re sending to, and set up a limit on how many surveys your members receive on an annual or quarterly basis. Make your surveys targeted. If you’re interested in surveying millennials, don’t send it to your older members. Being more diligent about your prep will reduce the chances of your members experiencing survey fatigue.


11 Ways to Drive Member Engagement through Association Management Software

11 Ways to Drive Member Engagement through Association Management Software

Imagine going to a party. You walk into a large, cold, unfamiliar room. You see lots of people, but no one you know. No one greets you. No one cracks a smile. No one even looks your way. You feel lost. Alone.

Now imagine going to another party. As soon as you step through the door, you connect with Jon, the host. He welcomes you with a warm hug. Jon shows you where the food and drinks are. Not long after, you discover you both have a penchant for puns. You begin exchanging dad jokes. You feel happy inside. Connected.

That’s “engagement”. It isn’t just a concept — engagement is a feeling. A feeling of connection. A feeling of belonging, excitement.

Do your members get that feeling? Do they feel that they belong? Do they get excited to attend your meetings and trainings?

It’s important that they do. The greater your engagement level, the more likely your members will maintain their membership, and refer their friends, which ultimately means a healthy, growing membership base and higher renewal rates for your association.

So how do you raise member engagement? How do you get the guy that’s at every meeting, but won’t participate in any roles or utter a word, more engaged?

Start here. We’ve compiled a list of some simple ways to attract new members and get your existing members excited, inspired, and involved with the help of association management software.

1. Dig into Data to Grade Engagement

What’s your current membership count? Your renewal rate? You can probably rattle off those numbers quite easily. But what about your engagement score?

Many associations grade their engagement level to provide a current reading on their engagement level and pinpoint groups of members that need extra special attention.

In the article, To Increase Member Retention, Rate and Score Engagement, the Florida Association of Insurance Agents breaks down its membership into tiers. Tier 1 is the most engaged (8 points or better), tier 2 somewhat engaged (4 to 8 points), and tier 3 the least engaged (less than 4 points). The association then puts effort towards tiers 2 and 3 to increase engagement and involvement with those specific members.

Your first step? Run your active membership list using your association management software. Print the list, make copies, then get together with your team. Define what engagement means to your organization. Group members into specific engagement categories and develop an action plan for each member type.

2. Communicate Goals with Members

Your members believe in your organization and its mission. That’s what attracted them to join in first place. Knowing that, there’s an extremely good chance they’ll back your association’s growth plan without hesitation.

Be transparent.

Let your members know just how many members your organization is planning to enroll in each membership tier, the renewal rate it seeks, and other goals you’ve set to achieve.

Let members know why each goal is important, how it impacts them, what happens if the goals are met, and what happens if the membership goals aren’t met.

Make sure you refer to the goals often — not just in one meeting. Repeat your goals in each meeting, and give updates on numbers in emails and newsletters. Frequently communicating your goals ensures those numbers are always top of mind and strengthens members’ involvement and commitment in helping you achieve those goals.

3. Host Special Events Like a “Bring a Friend” Meeting

Give your members an opportunity to get involved, show their pride, and at the same time, increase your chance of enrolling new members.

A “Bring a Friend” meeting is an opportunity to review all the great benefits of belonging to your organization and pique guests’ interest in becoming members themselves.

If you use 123Signup association management software, the registration page for your “Bring a Friend” meeting can be created in seconds through the simple event tool.

After you’ve set up the event registration, get the word out by sending an email to all members with the registration link.

Point out the social sharing buttons on the registration page too, so that members know they can easily share the event on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

To ensure the event isn’t forgotten about, members can easily add the event to their calendar from the event page, as shown in the image below by selecting the “Add to my Calendar” button. If you use 123Signup association management software, links for members to add the event to their calendar also appear in the registration confirmation email.

4. Track Professional Development, Award CEU Certificates

Your members work hard to learn new skills and advance their career. You can provide extra value by giving them the tools to log courses and credits, and track event history.

If you use 123Signup association management software, members can view their professional development status at a glance very easily in their member profile. Through 123Signup, you also have the option to develop custom CEU certificates for members to print themselves on demand. Certificates are a great way to acknowledge member achievement and make your members feel valued.

5. Gamify Your Next Conference or Meeting

Gamification is an effective way to educate your attendees and increase engagement at the same time. You could award points to attendees for attending sessions, for taking and posting a selfie on your social networks during the conference — anything you can think of that will get your attendees involved.

Create a leaderboard that you showcase at the conference. The attendee with the highest score wins.

Remember it’s best to fill your members in ahead of time to create buzz and excitement. Send an email out to registrants prior to your next meeting or conference to let them know about the game elements being added to your program.

Most association management software includes a built-in email communication tool. Through 123Signup, you simply choose your event list directly from the existing database and can get your message out the door with minimal effort.

6. Hold a Membership-Building Contest

It’s extremely likely that each of your members has a friend or co-worker with mutual interests. Which means it’s almost guaranteed that each of your members has someone — possibly even a handful of people — they would refer to your organization.

Why not hold a contest to jumpstart referrals? Many 123Signup clients host referral contests and provide a variety of incentives. Some associations reduce the member’s renewal fee for each referral that successfully becomes a member.

Other associations enter the referrer into a raffle for a chance to win a quarterly prize like an iPad, a gift card, or a free membership that they can use for renewal or gift to a friend.

Some organizations provide a reward for every successful referral and enter the referrer into a raffle. The rules of your membership-building contest are entirely up to you!

Whatever you choose, be sure to put a time limit to your contest to create urgency (Example: run the contest from February 1 – March 31.)

It’s best to get the word out initially about your contest by sending an email to all your members. You can easily do that through your association management software and then increase your email frequency as the deadline approaches to build momentum.

Make sure that you also continue to drum up excitement throughout the contest period by mentioning the challenge and the results in meetings and ongoing communications, like newsletters.

7. Host an Online Meeting Series

You probably hold several in-person conferences and meetings throughout the year, but what about webinars? Online educational seminars — webinars — are convenient for both you and your participants because no one has to travel to get to the meeting.

Another benefit is that the webinar can be recorded, so that those that miss the meeting can watch it on their own time. Plus, you can host the recording on your website and share on social media if you choose.

Here’s an example of the ADAP Advocacy Association utilizing 123Signup association management software’s event registration page to promote a webinar series they held May 31, 2017 to Sept. 27, 2017. This event registration page was integrated with their website to provide a seamless online experience to all website visitors.

8. Publish a Member Directory

The more connected your members are to one another, the greater their sense of belonging and overall enjoyment as a member.

Give your members added exposure and an easy way to connect with one another by providing a member directory.

With 123Signup, you can easily provide a searchable member directory that pulls records from the software database.

9. Promote Member Renewals Early

The fewer members you lose, the easier it will be to achieve your annual growth goal. That’s why we always advocate starting your renewal process as early as possible. Many of our clients start as early as three months before expiration.

With 123Signup’s automated renewal feature, you can set up as many email templates as you need and schedule them to be sent to expiring members at specific times.

10. List Your Membership Levels Online

It’s a good practice to offer membership levels to appeal to a wider audience. It’s an even better idea to have those membership levels listed on your website and tied to an easy signup or renewal process.

In this example, the San Francisco Neurological Society shows their Active Member, Associate Member, Nurse, Retired Member, and Industry membership types on a 123Signup hosted enrollment page that’s part of their website. If someone is interested in joining, they simply click the enroll button and go through an easy online signup and payment process.

It’s worth mentioning here that the 123Signup system is completely configurable to specific business rules. Many of our clients require approval with memberships. The 123Signup system can be configured to accept applications upon approval.

11. Increase Self-Service to Increase Satisfaction and Convenience

Self-check-out at Target. Fueling your car. Placing an online order for pizza delivery. Self-service technology isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s a given in today’s world. People expect it.

Enabling self-service tools where your members can enroll online, pay renewal dues online, keep personal contact information up to date online, and signup and pay for an event online provides major convenience for your members — not to mention lowers your association’s overhead admin costs.

Through association management software, like 123Signup, you can easily integrate membership and event pages with your organization’s website to take membership enrollments, renewals, donations, membership add-ons like journal subscriptions, event registrations, and payments securely online. Plus, the pages can be formatted to match your brand for a seamless online user experience.

Here the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, New Jersey Chapter uses a 123Signup event listing page to make signing up for its Holiday Meeting easy.

Turning Up Member Engagement for Your Association

The ability to retain existing members and gain new members is essential to your success. But just like you can’t bake a cake without flour, you can’t maintain and grow your organization without the vital ingredient of member engagement. And you can’t create a meaningful, measurable difference in engagement without a recipe to provide direction.

Look at your membership. Grade your member engagement level. Then put these tips and others into action to move the member engagement needle forward.

Kristen Campbell is the Brand Manager at 123Signup. She is responsible for developing, implementing, and managing all marketing initiatives and programs for 123Signup.

Crank Up Engagement with 123Signup Association Management Software
From online event registration and payment, CEU tracking and certificates, to self-service enrollment and renewal,
123Signup association management software gives you a host of tools to turn up member engagement. Signup for a free personalized tour today!


Are These Mistakes Costing Your Association Memberships, Renewals, and Event Registrations?

Are These Mistakes Costing Your Association Memberships, Renewals, and Event Registrations?

Today’s Thursday. The day John picks up his kids from school. He pulls into the parking lot and realizes he’s early — a whole 5 minutes early. He thinks back through his day.

Oh yeah, I need to sign up for the holiday party the chamber of commerce is throwing.”

John takes out his phone, gets to the local chamber of commerce’s events page, but the page is only set up for desktop.

After scrolling and scrolling, 5 minutes passes in a flash. John’s kids, Aaron and Jacob, are now in the backseat exchanging jokes they heard during lunch period. “Signing up for the holiday party is going to have to wait”. John groans. Maybe later tonight he’ll register. Maybe Monday. Maybe …

Your members — like all of society — like John — are constantly seeking information from their smartphones. And they’re quick to click away from your site if it isn’t easy to navigate and doesn’t load within seconds.

The Greater the User Experience, the Greater the Results

A poor online user experience equates to poor results, while a seamless, intuitive user experience leads to greater results.

When members or prospective members come to your site, they do so to get information. They may also visit your site to become a member, renew their membership, or sign up for an event. You want them to be able to take action quickly and easily. The last thing you want is for them to scroll endlessly through pages, get frustrated, and abandon their transaction — like John.

Get on the Brand-wagon

Branding on your web pages is equally important as is ease of navigation and a mobile-friendly design. Your members already recognize and trust your brand, believe in your association, and stand behind its mission.

That means it’s critical to include your branding through and through on your website where members are taking actions like signing up for a new membership, paying their annual dues, or signing up for that holiday party.

Optimizing the Experience for 123Signup End Users

To improve the user experience, 123Signup’s enrollment, renewal, and registration application pages went through extensive user testing. Then based on data and feedback, the pages were redesigned to optimize navigation and make transactions, like renewing a membership, intuitive and simple. The result is a better user experience which translates into more memberships, renewals, and event signups for our clients.

And because branding is so important, we’ve expanded our page customization options. The application pages can be tailored to reflect the software users’ brands so that their end users — their members and prospective members — get a seamless online experience no matter what action they’re taking on your website.

Speaking of Brand …

You may have noticed that we refreshed our own brand. We’ve always been committed to delivering the most feature-rich and flexible AMS software on the market. We needed a logo — and fresh, clean, modern site — to reflect our evolution over time. Be sure to check out our site and let us know what you think by sending an email to [email protected].

123 … Takeaway!

1. Have a friend or family member — someone far removed from your organization — review your website. Is it easy for them to find where to go to renew? Can they find where your events are? Take their feedback into consideration to improve the user experience and improve your results.

2. Review your application pages. Do they adequately reflect your brand? This simple exercise could make all the difference from someone enrolling in your association or stopping dead in their tracks because the page doesn’t look like it’s part of your association or that it’s trustworthy.

Time to Take Another Look

Over the past several months, we’ve been hard at work redesigning our Enrollment, Renewal, Registration and Edit Profile application pages — with expanded options to reflect your brand. See how we can improve your members’ user experience — and improve your association’s results. Signup for a free personalized tour today!


Organizational Assessments For Associations: A Step-By-Step Guide

Organizational Assessments For Associations: A Step-By-Step Guide
Assessing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses along with the barriers to achieving your goals is an essential – yet often overlooked – step on the path to growing your membership. Be warned: you won’t like everything you see. That’s a good thing because it will help you identify where you need to improve.

First, start off by asking yourself questions like:

Resist the urge to jump to conclusions based on what you think you know about your association. Making assumptions can create disconnect between what you believe is valuable to members, and what actually is valuable.

Understanding how well your association is meeting the needs of its members and fulfilling its mission requires time, research, objectivity, and long-term commitment.

Assessing Your Organization: How to Perform a Thorough Evaluation of Your Business


1. Write out your mission statement.

This will remind you of your organization’s core purpose. Later, you will compare how your mission statement aligns with the benefits and programs you offer, and your members’ needs.

2. Make a list of all of your current services, programs, and benefits.

Rank the most valuable benefit as “#1” and continue from there. What is the unique selling point for each of them? What sets your organization apart from your competitors? Note the answers to these questions next to each benefit.

3. Audit your information management processes.

All the things that happen behind the scenes can have a huge impact on your customer service and overall performance.

For a week or two, every time you feel yourself getting frustrated by a time-consuming task or you’re having a hard time accessing needed information, write it down. Get all of your staff members to do the same. When you put all of the information together, you should be able to see some obvious aspects of your processes that need improvement.  Issues with finding information about your members quickly, or needing to update the same information in several different places could mean you may need to improve your membership management process.

4. Crunch your numbers.

Good data should be the foundation of your decision-making process. If you have decent member management software, you should be able to get the information you need fairly quickly. If not, you may need to estimate for the time being.

5. Analyze your Membership Stats.

Compare your membership statistics from the past two years. You could go back even further if you have access to significant historical information. Looking at trends over time can be very useful. For starters, record the following data segmented by membership type:

6. Research your competitors.

Go through this process as a prospective member would. Search online for other competing organizations as well as employers or companies that offer similar products or services for free or at a lower cost. Compare benefits individually and also consider how your packages stack up to your competitors.

TIP: Track and compare benefits and costs on a spreadsheet. Determine your 3 to 5 most valuable and unique products. If you discover that some of your products don’t seem as valuable as those offered by your competitors, make a note of how you can improve or enhance those products.

7. Define your business objectives.

Once you have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and how you stack up to your competitors, you can define your goals and objectives. Are you looking to expand your market share? Expand into new markets? Increase your revenue? Increase participation and engagement?

Your objectives will ultimately guide the way you shape your membership structure, pricing, and marketing efforts. For this reason, carefully assessing your organization with your business objectives in mind is undoubtedly worth taking the time to do.


The Power of Offering and Tracking CEUs

The Power of Offering and Tracking CEUs

For associations, continuing education has become increasingly important as a membership benefit. In a recent study from Pew Research Center, 73% of respondents identified themselves as lifelong learners.

That means that there’s a huge and growing opportunity for your association to engage with both members and non-members.

Most people are constantly looking to learn, but with the plethora of learning opportunities that exist out there, how do they choose what training they’ll undertake? Earning continuing education units (CEUs) is a big incentive. Tracking CEUs for your members is an important function of your association – and has come to be an expected benefit for members. (123Signup Association Management Software makes tracking CEUs a piece of cake).

If your membership growth is stunted and you’re having difficulty retaining the members you already have, revamping your continuing education programs and offering more courses that count for CEUs can do wonders to revitalize your organization.

Evaluating your existing programs and determining what needs to be changed, and what additional courses would add value for your members, requires research and thought. The best place to start is by asking your existing members what they think about your existing courses, where they feel they need to up-skill, and what knowledge and capabilities they feel they need to do their jobs better.

If you’re not already, you should be surveying every participant in every one of your courses. Start by looking back on the responses you’ve received regarding these courses in recent years.

You should also have a record of people who have attended any of your training programs in the past. Since they’ve already shown interest in continuing to learn, surveying just that segment of your membership is a great place to start.

Once you’ve gained some insights on what your members are looking for, you might even host a small focus group to brainstorm on potential future training topics and structures.

The next step? Create an action plan on how you will bring your ideas to fruition, and the people and resources that will be required.


Assessing a Governance System

Assessing a Governance System
Before you begin to redesign your governance system, invest adequate time in analyzing your current system. After all, this is what Einstein would do!

Einstein has been quoted as having said “if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. In other words, he would spend significant time figuring out what the problem is.

If your current governance system isn’t performing up to par, it’s important to understand why not. Depending on what the “real” problems are, the solutions may lie in making actual structural changes (reformulating the committee structure or size of board, for example) or they may lie in changing the practices the board engages in (agenda design or meeting design, for example). Investing the time to adequately define and redefine the problem will:

Although a problem might be complex, the processes used to solve a problem are not complex. The first step is properly defining the problem and this begins with challenging assumptions and breaking the problem down to ensure you are focused on the root problem.


Determining the root cause(s) of an underperforming or ill performing governance system is one of the first steps in governance system redesign. Often what is first identified is a symptom of the problem, not the root cause. As such, it is important to challenge one’s assumptions and not get “locked” into the first “problem” that is identified.

When analyzing a governance system, two methodologies are useful: Ishikawa Diagram and Toyoda’s 5 Whys.

Ishikawa Diagram

An Ishikawa Diagram takes a systems approach to problem identification. The diagram is used to identify all possible root cause categories, under which actual root causes are listed. This approach forces one to consider all of the different parts of the governance system as one analyzes the problem.

An Ishikawa Diagram looks like a fish skeleton, with the initial problem being the head and possible root cause categories represented by the rib bones, under which root causes are listed. The illustration below uses lack an underperforming board as the initial problem, and then identifies six possible root cause categories, which become the rib bones of the diagram. Actual potential root causes are then listed along each rib bone. A more comprehensive list of root categories for governance system analysis is provided further below.

Five Step Process

Governance Ishidawa Diagram


As mentioned above, the Ishikawa process starts with brainstorming all of the potential root cause categories. These are comprised of all of the parts of the “system.” Following is a list of root cause categories for governance issues. All or some of these may apply to your organization. You can use this list as a starting place to identify additional root cause categories that are applicable in your situation as you build out your Ishikawa Diagram.

Toyoda’s 5 Whys

Toyoda’s 5 Whys is a very simple method to identify root causes. It can be used alone or in conjunction with the fishbone technique illustrated above. When a problem arises, ask why and for each response to the question ask why again until the why question has been asked at least five times.

Applying the 5 whys methodology to our problem of having a board that is a non-strategic thinking entity, the questions might look like this:

Q: Why doesn’t the Board think Strategically?

A: Because the are always digging into short-term tactics

Q: Why are they always discussing short-term tactics?

A: Because these issues are perceived to be important by the Board

Q: Why are these issues important to the Board?

A: Because they believe it is the role and responsibility of the Board to discuss and act on these issues

Q: Why does the Board believe this is their role and responsibility?

A: Because they don’t know another way

Q: Why doesn’t the Board know another way?

A: Because we don’t have a governance / Board development program

Using this example, we see the real problem is not that the Board isn’t thinking strategically, it is that we don’t have a formalized training / development program for our Board members. Of course, each group (or reader) will answer these questions differently; the point is to engage in the process to dig deeper into the actual root problem.


Spending time to make sure that you have defined the problem(s) correctly is imperative to governance system redesign. On a very basic level, it ensures that you are focusing on the right problem and creates a high level of probability that the right solution(s) will be developed. Further, working on the problem identification process with a Governance Task Force builds consensus around the actual (root) problem(s). Finally, engaging in robust problem identification reveals information and knowledge that will inform the development of solutions and governance redesign.

Of course, it is also critical that you and your board have a thorough understanding of what good governance looks like as well as the appropriate roles and responsibilities of a high performing board. Likewise, it is helpful to create a vision of what a high performing board would look like for your organization so you can redesign toward that vision.

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


Keep The Spark Going! Using Auto Renewals to Enhance Member Retention

Keep The Spark Going! Using Auto Renewals to Enhance Member Retention
Contributed by Mary Byers, CAE

What do health clubs, iTunes, Dropbox, Xbox and Netflix have in common? All require members to participate in monthly billing or auto renewal programs. And all are benefiting as a result.

Author and association consultant Seth Kahan recently hosted a summit on “Private Sector Membership Models,” a growing trend in the corporate world. He notes that for-profit companies embrace the membership model for renewable relationships and income potential, also of interest to associations. Says Kahan, “It’s hard for me to imagine there would be any resistance to auto renewal because its sounds like it makes things easier for everybody.” Indeed it does.

Here’s why your association should offer auto renewals:

Member Convenience. Auto renewals allow members to enjoy uninterrupted service and avoid the hassle of manually cutting a check or entering credit card information online. Members receive a notice in advance of renewal so account information can be updated if necessary, and they can opt-out if they choose to not renew. Otherwise, no action is needed.

Automation. Think of the flurry of activity in the membership department around dues renewal time. Then think about how this same energy could be put to better use enhancing products, services and the overall member experience instead of processing renewals. Programmed renewals allow for automation of much (if not all) of the process.

Predictable Revenue Stream. Many associations enjoy an influx of dues around the beginning of the calendar year—only to be staring at nearly-empty coffers toward the end of it. Automatic billing for dues on the member join date, rather than on a calendar year, creates a smooth revenue stream throughout the year (and is a practice worth considering even if you don’t use automatic renewal). Or, consider monthly or quarterly billing to further even out revenue.

No Decision Points. Sending a dues statement once a year provides an annual decision point for members and invites scrutiny: “Did I get my money’s worth this year?” “What am I getting for my dues dollar?”

Robbie Baxter, author of the forthcoming book, The Membership Economy, notes, “Because payment and benefits are ongoing, there is no obvious moment when the member must re-evaluate options, and potentially choose to end the relationship.”

Companies such as health clubs, iTunes, Dropbox, Xbox and Netflix don’t provide annual decision points. You want to be a member? Provide your debit or credit card number and you’re a member until you cancel. It’s a simple concept that could result in higher retention rates and millions of dollars for your organization.

About Mary Byers

Author. Speaker. Facilitator. Consultant. Provocateur. All describe Mary Byers, CAE.

Through highly interactive programs, Mary uses compelling questions and thought-provoking techniques to encourage participation. Mary helps associations and other organizations remain competitive in an increasingly competitive environment. The author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations and Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations, she’s worked with a wide variety of associations (both individual membership and trade groups) and presents a compelling and insightful message designed to help volunteer leaders and staff alike create a viable and sustainable future. Visit to learn more.


Best Association Management Practice #1: Dream

Best Association Management Practice #1: Dream

There are a lot of association management practices and general management theories focused on advancing organizations, but, when it comes down to it, if you want to propel your organization to the next level: dare to dream. This thought was crystalized for me when, going around the room at the end of a board leadership development session I conducted, a board member said the most important thing he heard all day was “dare to dream.” Dream not about what is, but about what’s possible.

In order to dream effectively, one must be willing to challenge their own assumptions, be open to letting go of long held beliefs and practices, and have the courage to challenge the status quo. Of course, to ultimately lead change, one must also be willing to challenge the assumptions of others, in an appropriate manner, and embrace calculated risk taking.

Give yourself permission to dream about the possible. Let go of your fear and imagine what could be. Once you have formulated your vision, develop a strategy to get there and articulate the vision and strategy with clarity. In the end, it is not just about daring to dream, it is about daring to do things differently.

For even bigger dreams, create a board culture wherein the board as a whole dares to dream. Engaging your board in generative dialogue will add value to the organization and the board member’s experience, as well as build trust and free members to collectively create a dream that no one member may have envisioned alone.


Dreams do come true. This is especially true if you believe in them. It’s time to dream of what could be if your organization is at a transformational moment. It is also time to dream if everything is running smoothly and you’re experiencing a high level of comfort with what is. Remember, comfort with what is can be the enemy and often holds us back from achieving what could be.

So, if you want to add member value, create relevancy, transform your governance system, create growth, or strengthen the CEO – Board partnership, dream about what could be and then dare to do things differently.

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


Association Management Software: 3 Questions to Ask Before Buying


If you’re looking for association management software, you likely have specific features on your wish list that you can’t do without – and some “nice-to-haves”.  Of course, it’s important that the product you choose offers the feature set you need, but there are some intangibles that are often overlooked in the process of shopping for an AMS.

If you’re looking for an AMS that’s going to be with you for the long haul, be sure to ask these three questions when researching association management software solutions …

Can we customize it?

There’s no other organization exactly like yours and no one-size-fits-all solution. So it’s important to find a software product that can be customized to work with your membership structure.

You also want to think long term. While a product may seem like the right fit initially, it may not be so perfect once you integrate it with your business processes. You may also find that your needs shift and change over time. Software that isn’t flexible and customizable can force you to create inefficient workarounds – leading to wasted time and a frustrated staff. Going for customizable association management software reduces the risk of encountering unexpected issues down the track.

Does it offer flexible payment processing?

There’s that word again … flexible. You never know when things will change for your organization, so it’s useful to have options when it comes to processing payments. Look for association management software that gives you the choice of using your own payment processing provider (if you have one), opening a merchant account, or using a gateway like Paypal or

Does it include human technical support?

Online help centers aren’t really helpful if you can’t find the topic you’re looking for. When a question arises, you want to be able to pick up the phone, talk to a human being, and get a response quickly.

Getting up and running with a new AMS can take time, so don’t underestimate the value of having access to a good support team that can guide you through the process and help you get the software working exactly the way you want it to.


Fighting Email Fatigue in Association Marketing

Fighting Email Fatigue in Association Marketing
This week’s blog post on association marketing is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec,  founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website:

While I was out of the office recently tending to some personal affairs, my husband commented on the number of “dings” from my iPhone. He was shocked when I explained that said “dings” indicated yet another email.

When I returned, I had 400 emails. Really. After only three days.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but I can’t keep my inbox clean. I operate three accounts regularly and they’re all suffering from inbox overload.

So. Much. Email.

And…so much deleting.

But I have to admit even when I’m overwhelmed, I open the emails with the catchy subject lines.

Lesson here: People are suffering from email fatigue, so as an association marketer, your job is tough. How do you get people to open your emails, let alone read them?

It’s a delicate balance of testing, creativity and, most importantly, research, finds a new Informz report.

The “2015 Association Email Benchmarking Report” summarizes email marketing metrics from more than 1 billion emails associations sent in 2014. The four metrics measured in the report: delivery rate, open rate, click rate and unsubscribe rate.

Informz found email testing is on the rise. In 2014, there was increase of more than 26 percent in email subject line testing. But also, associations are testing layouts, timing and call-to-actions.

At the same time, the survey found 72 percent of email subscribers received five or fewer emails per month. But subscribers who received six to 10 emails per month had slightly higher open and click rates. And while all this is important, the single most important engagement factor is relevancy, Informz said.

Key findings from the report:

“The data shared will help you understand what metrics to analyze, what goals to set and how your email marketing program is performing in comparison to your peers,” Informz said. “Always keep in mind that these are averages from your peers.”


Member Retention: The First Step Toward Growing Your Association

Member Retention: The First Step Toward Growing Your Association

The best way to grow memberships is often debated, and many believe that driving new sales is the way to go. However, keep in mind that “an association that adds 5,000 new members a year and maintains a 75% renewal rate will grow to 20,000 members. While an association that adds the same 5,000 new members but maintains an 85% renewal rate will grow to 33,000 members.” (T. Rossell, 2012)

Here are some member retention ideas for keeping your members, and keeping them happy:

Spread the News of Your Improvements.

Communication is one of the key pillars of retention. When you make improvements, achieve big milestones, or have new information that will be helpful to members, be sure to share it with the right people. Wherever possible, segment and personalize your communications so that your members get the information that really matters to them.

Turn Up Your Reminder Frequency.

You don’t want to annoy your members, but it’s a fact that a lot of people simply forget to renew their memberships. Experts are now suggesting that seven is the most effective number of renewal reminders. If you don’t have good membership management software this task can be difficult – a good reason to look into low-cost technology options that will enable you to automate your renewal reminders.

Offer Online Membership Payment Options.

If you haven’t started accepting online member payments, you should make this a priority. It is becoming the preferred method of payment for many people, and user-friendly processes are great for member retention. As a bonus, it will cut the time you spend manually processing payments down significantly.


Offering a discount for early membership renewals can give your members a good reason to submit payments right away, instead of pushing the task to the bottom of their to-do list.

Use Multiple Marketing Channels.

Don’t rely on email or your website alone. Send your members news and information through your website, social media, postcards, newsletters, and even contact key members by phone to remind them of deadlines. To keep your members engaged, your marketing strategy should include multiple tactics.

Highlight Non-Member Prices.

On all of your products, events, and services, make it a point to remind your members of the value of their benefits by publishing non-member prices.

Partner Up.

Keep your eyes open for potential partnership opportunities with other organizations that will be mutually beneficial. Often, you can tee up arrangements that will bring added benefits to your members, and make them more likely to value their memberships.

Review Your Member Welcome/Orientation Program.

Inviting new members to free orientation events where they can meet their colleagues is a great way of building the sense of community that is necessary for member retention. If you don’t have the time or budget for that, send them a welcome pack or give them a personal welcome phone call at the very least.


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.


5 Things Every Association Should Have Check-listed

5 Things Every Association Should Have Check-listed
Beyond the usual financial audits, the end of the year is a great time to review your operations and processes – and shed the inefficiencies that could hold you back from achieving your goals in 2015.

Here are five things (besides the obvious review of your business plan) you should consider doing before January rolls around.

#1 – Review Your Service Contracts

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” isn’t the motto to operate by when it comes to your service contracts. Your needs have likely changed since you first signed some of your contracts, and you could be wasting unnecessary time and money by sticking with a provider that you’ve outgrown.

Make a list of all your service providers – including utility and equipment rental companies, printers, professional service and software providers, and any others you use regularly. Consider how they’re priced, the value you get for the money, and their level of customer service.

Prioritize the services that are most critical to running your organization, and invite proposals and quotes from competing companies. Even if you ultimately stick with your current provider, doing the research may give you the leverage to negotiate lower prices or more favorable terms.

#2 – Evaluate Your Internal Processes

While you’re refining your business plan for next year, make it a point to review your day-to-day processes to determine how well they support your strategies. You can do this internally, or consider hiring a consultant to perform the assessment for you.

Ask staff and committee members to document the processes they use to fulfill their responsibilities. Brainstorm with your team to identify inefficiencies and come up with ways to improve. As you go through the process, don’t forget to research new technologies that can help you save on time and resources.

#3 – Update Your Policy Manual

If you don’t already have a policy manual, create one. If you have one, review it. Your policy manual is your blueprint for your internal operations – yet it’s an often-neglected document, particularly in smaller associations.  It covers everything from human resources … to attendance and dress codes … to facilities management issues.

It’s important to review your policies every year to make sure they continue to meet changing employment and business laws. You’ll also want to check that they still align with your current practices and procedures.

#4 – Do a Marketing Audit

Using outdated marketing materials can reflect poorly on your organization – whether it’s letterhead with your old phone number or address on it, membership welcome packs that still mention old services, or a website that lists Board members who retired last year. Sometimes these details slip through the cracks, so gather all the collateral you currently use and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

Ditch any materials that have information, messages, graphics, or branding that no longer reflect your organization’s direction, and put a plan in place setting out how and when you will update each piece with specific dates for completion.

#5 – Say Thank You

Recognize and thank staff , volunteers, members, committees, sponsors, and anyone else who had a part in your organization during the year. Convey your appreciation through cards, events, gifts, or just a special note in your newsletter if your budget is slim. “Feel-good” gestures will have everyone heading into the new year feeling appreciated and engaged with your organization.


10 Tips for Board Meeting Breakouts

10 Tips for Board Meeting Breakouts
Breakout sessions can be highly beneficial at board meetings as a technique to increase board member engagement and reduce the likelihood of groupthink. They also introduce a different dynamic into the typical board meeting, which can increase the value perception held by board members, enhance relationship building and develop a team spirit. Depending on the issue at hand, all groups can be asked to work on the identical problem or each group can be asked to focus on a different aspect of the issue.

As you consider the use of breakouts, keep in mind that you want to vary meeting formats from time to time. If you use breakouts at every meeting, your board my experience “breakout fatigue.”

In order to enhance breakout effectiveness, keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Seek optimal diversity: Don’t allow the members to self-select their groups. Groups should either be designed before the meeting or determined by random selection techniques at the meeting. Also, make sure the groups are different from meeting to meeting. If you predetermine the groups, in order to ensure optimal diversity, take into consideration factors such as: industry sector, size of company, gender, experience levels, time served on board, expertise, level and style of typical engagement and personality. Also keep in mind that, ideally, you will want a good facilitator in each group. There are a number of techniques that can be used to “randomly” select groups at the meeting. A common approach is to have the board members go around the room and “count off” up to the desired number of groups. For example, count 1, 2, 3 – 1,2,3, etc., until everyone around the room has a number. Another spin on this is to have the board members form a line standing in alphabetical order based on the city they were born in. This protects against having the same groups every meeting if members often sit in the same order.
  1. Identify predetermined space: Anticipate how much space you will need. If possible, a separate room should be set aside for each breakout group. Of course, one group can use the main boardroom. Although it can be done, putting more than one group in a room is not advisable. When choosing rooms, try to find rooms with plenty of wall or window space where flip chart pages can be posted. Wifi access is also helpful if you expect the group to bring in outside information.
  1. Identify a facilitator for each group: The quality of output is often dependent of having a great facilitator. Facilitators should be chosen and identified before the day of the meeting. A good facilitator will keep the discussion on target with the end goal in mind, engage all of the group members in the dialogue and ensure that the contributions of all are considered. Most likely, you will find that you have a few outstanding facilitators on the board, some that are ok and some that just don’t work to well. If this is the case, try not to always rely on the great facilitator(s) from meeting to meeting. Rotation is important; just stay away from the not so good ones.
  1. Provide the facilitator instructions: Prior to the day of the meeting, facilitators should receive a written document that contains a list of their responsibilities and instructions. Instructions might include information such as: at the beginning of the breakout, identify a time keeper and a presenter to report back the groups findings to the larger group; begin the dialogue with a discussion about the problem statement to gain buy in for the problem or to restate the problem statement; lead the session standing in from the front of the room and capture major items on the flipchart; use a separate flipchart page to capture ideas that are brought up, but not relevant to the discussion at hand; and, encourage everyone to participate, directly calling on those that are not engaging in the dialogue.
  1. Clearly review the assignment: Before breaking into small groups, provided each group is addressing the same question, clearly define for the large group the assignment and what outcome you expect from each group. Also, provide the larger group with an explanation of what you expect to take place in the individual groups. Encourage questions to ensure clarity.
  1. Provide a written problem statement: Each group should be given a written copy of any instructions regarding format, the objective(s) for the session and, most importantly, a written problem statement / question. Depending on the problem / issue to be discussed, a one-half to one page backgrounder may be helpful to frame the issue. Of course, if you intend to use the small groups to frame issues, you will want to refrain from using the background paper to frame the issue; instead you may want to provide some data or information.
  1. Room set up: For small groups a conference table set up works fine and a “U” set up is generally not needed. Make sure each room has an ample supply of a variety of colored flipchart markers and masking tape to hang the sheets as they are filled. Of course, you will need flip charts in each room; if possible provide two so one can be used as a “parking lot” to capture ideas that are surfaced but not relevant to the conversation. So much the better if you can get “post it note” flip chart pads which have self-adhesive on each page.
  1. Reporting back: Each group will report back their results to the whole board. In order to be efficient with time, you might ask the presenters to only report back “new information” that was not mentioned by previously reporting groups. The board members should be encouraged to ask questions and challenge the presentations. In fact, you may want to assign people to play devil’s advocates.
  1. Transcribe the results: After the meeting, don’t just roll up the flip charts and put them in a corner. First, prior to leaving the board meeting location, make sure you have pictures of them all. Then, when back at the office, transcribe the sheets / document the findings. Often, the information and knowledge surfaced during the breakout sessions will be very useful as input into your strategy development process.

Breakout sessions have been around for a long time. But, to capture real advantage from sessions, thought must go into the design and execution of breakouts. Of course, notwithstanding pre planning and design, there will be times that breakout groups will engage in a dialogue or process that is entirely different than planned; when this happens, just accept it and reflect on their work.

How have you improved the effectiveness of breakouts at your board meetings? What has and has not worked?

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


7 Rules for Successful Membership Strategies

7 Rules for Successful Membership Strategies
So you’ve brainstormed some exciting membership moves, but are you ready to play them? Here’s a list of things to remember when implementing your membership strategies to ensure they pan out just as you intend …

#1 – Do your research.

Don’t rely on a hunch – test your ideas on your members. Select a sample of current members – or prospects that represent your ideal member types – and conduct informal interviews with them. Once you have their feedback, there will undoubtedly be things you need to change or refine before you launch your new strategies. …

#2 – Plan and document your processes.

How will you administer your new membership structure? If you’re really serious about growing and have limited staff to help you do it, you will need to make your processes as efficient as possible. You may need to look for an affordable online membership management software to help you organize your member data and automate many of your day-to-day tasks.

You’ll also need to think about how you will communicate changes to your members and promote to non-members, what actions members need to take to sign up for new benefits or transition to other membership levels, how you will keep track of the different types of members, who will be responsible for each step of the process, how you will set up reporting to help you track the effectiveness of your strategies, and what systems and technologies you will need to manage your members.

#3 – Include your staff, volunteers, and Board.

Enlisting the help of the people “on the ground” can increase buy in. Go through the processes for each new service or initiative you’re introducing with your team, and assign someone responsibility for it. Do some mock run-throughs with your staff on the new procedures. Once you’ve confirmed your processes, document them so that everyone involved is consistently following them.

#4 – Pilot your programs.

If you’re introducing new programs, identify a sample of members or prospects to test the waters before you jump in – even if it’s just running the high-level idea past them. For example, if you’re introducing a new member portal online, have a diverse group of stakeholders test it out before you make it available to your entire organization.

#5 – Communication is key.

For any new event, initiative, program, or service offering, it is a good idea to create a communications plan that outlines the key stakeholders, messaging for each, time frame for communications, how you will deliver the communications, and overall goals. If you are making changes that impact your members in any way, always let them know well in advance, and continue to remind them as the scheduled changes approach.

#6 – Set specific, measurable goals.

Setting goals helps to create a sense of accountability for you and your staff. The basic metrics to measure will include participation in programs and events, sales and revenue from products, renewal and acquisition percentages, data from member satisfaction surveys, and your return on marketing investment. You may also have more specific metrics depending on your objectives.

#7 – Re-assess.

Make it a point to touch base with a few of your members through informal phone calls every month to get their feedback on what’s working and not working for them. Conduct another survey a year from now. It can be effective to use the same survey from the previous year so that you can make direct comparisons in the various areas. Analyze the data to see if your strategies helped you reach your overall goals, and continue to make adjustments on an ongoing basis.


Choosing Membership Management Software: The Mistakes Associations Make

Choosing Membership Management Software: The Mistakes Associations Make
Membership management software requires not only a financial commitment but also significant time and resources. Your staff members will be taking time out to learn the ins and outs of your new system, and it also takes time to go through the data migration and integration process. There are a lot of things to consider when software shopping, and a lot of ways you can get it wrong.

Here are some of the most common mistakes we see people make when selecting a membership management platform …

They Don’t Plan for Growth.

Don’t plan for where you are now, plan for where you want to be. If you’re a new-ish association or chapter, you likely have a pretty simple membership structure. Assuming that your goal is to expand, and not to shrink, you need a system that will grow with you.

Picture your organization three to five years down the road. By that time, you’ve diversified your membership levels to attract more members. You’ve put in place some new benefits and programs to generate additional revenue streams. Your membership is growing by the day. When you get to that point, I guarantee you’ll regret settling for an inflexible piece of membership management software that lacks the features you need.

There are several online membership management packages out there that will work within your budget and also support your growth.

They Don’t Consider the Possibilities.

Your membership management software doesn’t have to stand alone – and it shouldn’t. The purpose of investing in software is to cut down on your administrative workload, so you’ll want to make sure that whatever system you choose can integrate with your existing software – either directly or by downloading and uploading csv files.

Make a list of your existing programs, ask your software rep about the possibility of linking them with the membership management system, and see if you can’t get things a little more streamlined.

They Don’t Audit Their Current Processes.

Do you really know what you need? Have you talked to your staff members and had a brainstorming session around the processes that they feel could be made easier. Have you talked to current members about what they need? Get these questions answered first, shop for your software later.

When you demo different types of software, you should have a list of the features you’re looking for – with the most important prioritized on top.

They Don’t Include Users When Selecting Their Association Management Software.

Years back, an association I worked with was looking at putting a system in place and their finance manager decided to skip consultation with staff members and make all of the decisions herself. The staff didn’t know anything about the new system until it was actually implemented. The finance manager ticked all the boxes that were important from her perspective, but after spending thousands of dollars, discovered it made tasks and processes harder for the staff. In the end, all the spiffy new system actually achieved was to make tasks more time-consuming.

The lesson is obvious. The most important testers of your software are the people who are actually going to be using it. Invite them to your demos, ask them what most frustrates them about their processes, and observe how they currently execute their tasks so that you understand their needs.

They Choose a Membership Management Software with the Wrong Price Structure for Them.

Every software company structures their prices differently. Some charge monthly subscriptions, others charge by usage, and some add charges for upgrading features or processing credit cards.

After auditing your processes and talking to your staff, you should have a list of requirements. Being clear on what you’re looking for and asking a lot of questions up front can help you avoid paying hidden costs.

Many companies offer subscriptions that increase in price when you reach a certain number of members. For example, you may start out paying $100 monthly because you have under 500 members, but as soon as you increase to 501 members your subscription jumps to $200. This means you’re essentially paying an extra $100 per month for just one extra member. If you’re growing at lightning speed, this price structure could work. But in the real world, it makes sense to choose a package that lets you pay for only the members you have.

Here’s an idea: compare the total of all costs for each software provider based on the number of members you have now. Then do the same thing based on the number of members you hope to have in three years. Divide the total costs by the number of members, and that should give you a good feel for which solution is most beneficial for your organization.


Association Strategy Pitfall: Looking for the “Right” Answer

Association Strategy Pitfall: Looking for the "Right" Answer
As a society, we are so accustomed to being asked to find the right answer that we often don’t look beyond that answer. This can problematic when we develop an association strategy. In fact, it can be problematic anytime we are trying to solve a problem.

When developing strategy, it is imperative to think strategically. And, a key component of strategic thinking is creative thinking. Creative thinking is also vital when solving problems outside of the strategy development realm.

Find out how 123Signup Association Management Software can help solve your membership problems.

Creative thinking demands that we come up with a variety of solutions. Maybe our first “right” answer is the best solution, but maybe the best right answer is the second, fourth or tenth right answer. The point is, we won’t know if our first “right” answer is the best until we have developed other solutions to compare and contrast it to.

The first step to identifying the best right answer is asking the right question. That starts with by charging your team with finding the right solutions or answers, not the right solution or answer. It also requires that your team challenges or ignores its assumptions. How you word the question can make a difference as well.

If we ask an employee or group of people to solve a problem, they will typically rely on their assumptions and come up with the solution. They will find a sense of satisfaction when they first encounter the solution and be happy to demonstrate that they have the solution. What they often don’t do is continue to search for other answers. As a facilitator, leader or manager it is your job to encourage them to develop multiple answers or solutions.


In Roger von Oech’s book “A whack on the Side of the Head, ” he has some excellent examples that demonstrate the importance of not stopping with the right answer and the importance of asking the right question. But first, I need you to select the shape below that is different from all of the others.


If you picked B, great job, you are right. B is the only shape that is made from all straight lines. Of course, if you picked C, you are right as well, as it is the only shape that is asymmetrical. But, then, A is also a right choice as it is the only shape with no points. As you give it more thought, you see that D is also the right answer; it is the only shape that has both straight curved lines.

The point is, often there are many right answers. However, the right answer in not always the best answer.


Von Oech goes on to tell the story about a plague striking a village many centuries ago. Those stricken with the plague almost immediately fell into a death like coma. Most died within a day, although a few miraculously survived. One problem the village faced was that in the 1700s medical technology wasn’t very advanced and it was extremely difficult to tell the dead from those still alive.

The village was horrified one day when they discovered that someone was accidentally buried alive. So a group of villagers got together and solved the problem by agreeing to put a little food and water in each casket along with an air tube going to the surface. It was an expensive solution, but they knew it could save lives. A second group also got together and developed a cheaper solution; they would affix a knife blade to the inside top of each coffin that would pierce the heart of the victim as the coffin was closed, thereby assuring that no one would be buried alive.

The solutions were different because each group used a different question to find the solution. The first group asked, “what if we bury someone alive” and the second group asked, “how can we make sure everyone we bury is dead”?


When confronted with a problem that is similar to a previous problem we have dealt with, it is human nature to assume that the solutions and results will be similar. However, when developing strategy and solving problems it is important to either forget or challenge assumptions. The fatal nature of not challenging assumptions is illustrated in the story of Croeus, the last ruler of the great Lydian Empire.

As Croeus contemplated attacking the Persians in 546 BC, he turned to two oracles for advice. They both answered that if he attacked the Persians, a great empire would be lost. This made him feel secure and gave him the confidence to move forward; so he formed an alliance and attacked the Persians. In the end, Croeus was defeated and true to the oracles statement, a great empire was lost. Croeus’ fatal assumption was two fold: he relied on the first right answer, which was the one he assumed he would find, and he assumed since he had went into battle before and won that he would get a similar result this time.


Good strategy and effective problem-solving demand that we ask the right questions, challenge our assumptions and develop a number of right solutions before moving forward with the best solution. The next time you ask a group or an employee to solve a problem, ask them to identify solutions not a singular solution. Then make sure you and they are challenging the assumption upon which the answer rests. Of course, before you even ask them to solve the problem, it is imperative that you’ve identified the right problem and ask the right question; after all a great strategy for the wrong problem is no strategy at all.


Overcoming Misperceptions About Your Association

Overcoming Misperceptions About Your Association
Whether negative perceptions about your organization are accurate or not, they can get in the way of executing on your mission. In other words, misperceptions can be as damaging to your organization as are accurate, but negative, perceptions. As the old adage goes, perception is reality. As such, misperceptions must be taken seriously and often dealt with in the same way as accurate, negative perceptions.

Overcoming negative perceptions starts with identifying stakeholder perceptions, determining whether or not you are committed to overcoming the perception and then, if committed, taking real, substantive and often visible action to change the perception. If you are not serious about changing a negative perception or committed to real change, then it may be better to ignore the perception, knowing what the consequences might be. In other words, if you are only going to engage “window dressing” your efforts may likely backfire.

If you are intentional about it, your organization can overcome negative perceptions, whether or not they are accurate. Here are 10 steps to alter perceptions.


  1. Listen for the kernel of truth. Don’t be defensive. Be careful not to reject misperceptions. Rather than outright reject misperceptions, seek the kernel of truth in what stakeholders are saying. Give the stakeholders the benefit of the doubt.
  1. Be willing to admit and accept there is an issue. There is no need to place blame. If your survey confirms that there are negative perceptions, accept the results as simply being a truth. For that matter, even if you don’t conduct a survey but are receiving feedback from multiple parties that has a common thread of negative perception running through it, accept that there is an issue.
  1. Evaluate the perceptions. Some negative perceptions may bring more harm to you than others. Consider to what degree the various negative perceptions impede your mission or the execution of your strategy. In doing so, recognize that a group of different negative perceptions may all have the same root cause. On the other hand, take note of and celebrate the positive perceptions that you identify. Ask yourself if there is some way to exploit the positive perceptions in overcoming some of the negatives. Evaluating and prioritizing negative perceptions will inform your next steps.
  1. Determine if you and your organization are willing to do what it takes to change the negatives. You only get one chance to start the journey of changing perceptions; a halfhearted attempt or a strategy that deploys “window dressing” could backfire. It comes down to whether you are committed to or just interested in changing perceptions. If you are committed, the perceived value of changing the perceptions is greater than the perceived difficulty of doing so; if you are interested, the perceived difficulty is greater than the perceived value. If you are committed, you act no matter what; if you are interested, you act if the circumstances permit. If you are committed, you will have results; if you are interested, you will have a bunch of reasons why you should act.
  1. Determine the root cause. Put simply, this means figure out why those with negative perceptions think the way they do. Start by identifying some people that hold the negative perception and engage in a dialogue with them to find out why they hold the perception. Remember, don’t challenge them or be defensive, just listen and accept what they are saying. In fact, consider usingToyoda’s Five Whys root problem identification methodology. This step is probably the most important one; it is absolutely critical that you identify the right and real problem before you embark on developing a problem solving strategy.
  1. Develop a strategy to change the perception. You may need different strategies for different stakeholder groups. Don’t develop your strategy in a vacuum; key to a sound strategy is diverse perspective. In this case, you will want to include those with negative perceptions in the strategy development process. There are many strategy development and problem solving models out there. One you might consider for this task is a force field problem-solving model. Make sure that your strategy contains sound metrics for evaluating / measuring success.
  1. Take visible action. As you execute your strategy, seek some tactics that are visible and then promote the action being taken. But remember, changing perceptions requires more than those with negative perceptions seeing what is different. It is equally or more important that they feel the change as well. As you are considering tactics, always keep the root problem in mind and ask yourself if the tactic will truly attack the root problem. If the tactic doesn’t meet this test, it may very well be “window dressing.”
  1. Be patient. Perceptions don’t change overnight. You need to have an ongoing strategy and a set of tactics that are rolled out and repeated over time. As you begin the journey of change, the goal is progress not perfection. Part of your job is building trust in those that held the negative perceptions; this takes time.
  1. Measure progress. In addition to fielding follow up attitudinal surveys, it is important that you regularly check in with some of the initial critics. By engaging some of the critics in the strategy development process and then seeking their input as the changes progress you may very well end up with some of your organization’s best promoters.

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


Delegation: Six Steps

Delegation: Six Steps
Effective delegation is often thought of as one of the most challenging management skills to master. Yet, delegation is one of the most powerful management skills. In fact, if you are not an effective delegator, you are shortchanging yourself, your employees and your organization. Successful delegation entails delegating the right things to the right people at the right time, along with the authority and resources needed to carry out the assignment. Delegating, of course, conveys a number of benefits beyond getting the job done. It is an important part of employee development, employee motivation, self-development and succession planning.

Before exploring how to delegate more effectively, let’s take a look at why people don’t delegate. Often, those who are considered by their employees to be micromanagers simply have not perfected the art of delegating. Some people don’t delegate because they are perfectionists and others don’t want to take the time to delegate. Yes, it does take time to delegate properly, but the time invested pays dividends.

Some people think that they need to protect themselves; in part, this may be because when you delegate, although you delegate authority and responsibility, you don’t delegate liability. Some people just enjoy doing the tasks that they could be delegating. Often, it is a matter of trust; managers don’t trust the people working for them. Finally, some people are new to management and are not comfortable assigning tasks to others, especially those that were former peers.

Irrespective of the reason for not delegating effectively, we can all learn to delegate more effectively and reap the benefits that accrue to everyone involved. The first step is to identify work that can be delegated. Although there are some exceptions, I lean more toward the belief that you should delegate everything that either someone else can do or be trained / developed to do; to do otherwise is a disservice to your employees and your organization.

When identifying what you are going to delegate, try to delegate the complete job, rather than just some small tasks. By giving an employee a complete job, you can take better advantage of their creativity. Further, there is an exponential increase in employee pride and satisfaction when they can see that they took something from beginning to end.

Next, it is important that you plan ahead and provide enough time for the entire delegation process. That begins with setting clear objectives and boundaries, and ends with follow-up, completion of the task / job and feedback. The process may also require some employee development and / or training. Keep in mind, it may take an employee longer to complete a work assignment than it would you. Even considering that it may take longer for delegated work to be completed, for the reasons mentioned above, in the long run, delegation is worth it. The fact is, if you don’t delegate overall productivity declines due to your focus being taken away from critical issues that require your attention and a workforce that lacks motivation and is disengaged.


  1. Provide clear instruction: Articulate clear, observable and measurable objectives. The employee must understand exactly what outcome(s) you expect. The goal is to communicate the outcome, not how you expect them to do the job. This is a balancing act. You don’t want to micromanage; on the other hand, you want to provide them with enough input that sets them up for success. In determining how much information to give the employee beyond the objective(s), consider the employee’s experience with the specific task / job, the employee’s past performance related to taking initiative to figure things out, and their overall performance on previously delegated work. Also, communicate boundaries or constraints, if any, that the employee should abide by in carrying out the assignment.
  1. Determine resource and development requirements: Engage in a conversation with the employee to determine what additional training / development they feel they will need to complete the job. Also, find out from the employee what resources they believe they will need. As a manager, it is your responsibility to make sure the employee has the resources and training necessary to succeed. I find it best to start by asking the employee what their needs are and let the conversation flow from there; again, you don’t want to micromanage. You may also want to ask the employee how they plan to proceed with the work; this often informs what resources or development may be needed.
  1. Agree on a timeline: Once the objectives are agreed on and training /  development needs are determined, agreement should be reached on when the assignment is due. Again, I find it best to begin this conversation by asking the employee when, considering their current workload and other responsibilities, do they think it would be reasonable to have the work at hand completed in a manner that meets objectives and rises to the quality expectations? In my experience, it is helpful if you raise the issue of the employee’s other responsibilities, because it often results in the employee suggesting a more realistic deadline. In fact, I find employees are often over ambitious when estimating the timeframe needed to complete a work assignment. Often, when an employee suggests a timeframe, I respond with a suggestion that they take a minimum of 50 percent more time to complete the work. For example, if the employee states they could complete the job in two weeks, I ask them if they think 3 weeks might be more reasonable. Keep in mind, as a manager you want to create a situation that results in the employee’s success. Always factor in enough time to re-do or improve on the submitted work; let the complexity of the job and employee background / experience be your guide.
  1. Agree on follow-up plan: At the outset, you and the employee should agree on follow-up plan. Determine how often you and the employee will check-in to monitor the progress of the work. Depending on the work, you may agree to check in when the assignment it complete or you may set weekly or milestone check-ins. Regardless of whether or not “check-ins” are agreed to, it is important to let the employee know that irrespective of scheduled follow ups, you are available should the employee run into a roadblock. A word of caution, however, on check-ins: if the employee comes to you with a problem or question, make sure that you don’t end up being on the receiving end of someone delegating up. Only in a very rare situation should you permit work to be delegate back to you. Just as you delegated the responsibility to the employee to get the work done, the employee must take the responsibility and complete the task.
  1. Provide Feedback: Once the task is complete, provide the employee with feedback on the results. You may want to discuss the actual results and the process the employee engaged in in completing the work. The goal in these discussions is two fold: look for opportunities to give positive feedback and look for opportunities for you to learn something from the employee.

Finally, give credit where credit is due. Look for every opportunity to give credit to the employee for the work well done. On the other hand, if your board or members criticize the work or the job doesn’t come out like expected, it is important that you take full responsibility. Regardless of the circumstances, I firmly believe that as leaders we should always give credit to others, and take full responsibility when things go south.

Are there tasks / responsibilities that you think should never be delegated?

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


Getting Your Board to Think Strategically

Getting Your Board to Think Strategically
Many associations don’t have the luxury of having their board members professionally trained. On volunteer boards, directors are often selected because they are good at their trade or well-known in their industry – not because of their background in governance. This often leaves CEOs and executive directors in a challenging position. How do you get your board to elevate their focus from details to the bigger picture?

Robert Nelson of Nelson Strategic Consulting gives some great insights in his article, How to Create Strategic-Thinking Boards – and he’s sharing it with our readers …

Transitioning a board to a strategic thinking entity requires intentionality. It is not a matter of teaching the board members to think strategically, but, rather, it is a matter of facilitating their learning by creating strategic thinking experiences. In other words, teaching strategic thinking through lectures or presentations on strategic thinking theory is trumped by engaging the board in the experience of strategic thinking. Since boards meet periodically, it is imperative that you intentionally design strategic thinking experiences into each board meeting.

If you are intentional about transitioning your board to a strategic thinking entity, the first step is to recognize that, ultimately, a revolutionary change in culture may be required. In such a scenario, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the transition, along with a well-articulated vision of the future state. Equally important are a solid change strategy and an execution plan.

Although the chief executive will most likely be the catalyst for the change, it is important that “champions” are identified early on in the process. Hopefully, you will be able to recruit 5 to 10 percent of your Board as champions for change, with the chairperson playing the role of chief change agent. These champions will be key influencers as you work to develop board consensus and support for the need to transition to a strategic thinking board. Likewise, the champions will be key supporters for the behavioral changes that will be needed to complete the transition.

I firmly believe if you want to change an organization, simply change the agenda. This is especially true for transitioning a board to a strategic thinking entity. Strategic issues and dialogue should be the first items on the agenda, immediately after adoption of the agenda. The strategic issues / dialogue are followed by actions the board must take and oversight issues geared to monitoring performance. The last item on the agenda should be the consent agenda that contains all of the written reports. The main objectives are to engage the board in strategic dialogue about big issues at the beginning of the meeting and minimize the time the board spends talking about the past by placing committee and other reports in a consent agenda, which is adopted at the end of the meeting.

Ample time and considerable thought should be given to determining what strategic issues are going to be placed on the agenda. It is important that the issues are truly “big” issues with strategic implications for the organization. Strategic issues can be identified through environmental scanning and by engaging in off-line discussions with members of the board and other stakeholders. A board meeting itself can also be used to identify strategic issues of import to the organization.

Although boards are often accustomed to discussing issues for the purpose of making a decision or taking action, it is important to realize that decisions don’t have to be made in conjunction with strategic dialogue. In fact, strategic agendas often contain “reflection” items. Most, if not all, of your board meeting agendas should contain strategic “reflection” items, in addition to any “action” items. These agenda items are intentionally used to carve out time for dialogue and reflection. The board agrees up front, before the dialogue begins, that no decisions are going to be made at the conclusion of the dialogue. The sole purpose of the strategic reflection items is to dialogue about the issues and reflect on them. This practice is consistent with the adage “don’t just do something, sit there.”

These decision-free strategic dialogues are excellent opportunities for the board to engage in generative thinking. And, the chairperson should guide the dialogue in a manner that engages the board in a process of inquiry. Ideally, the board members will enter and engage in the dialogue with learning mind.

Following are 19 examples of questions that can be used as tools of inquiry. They are the types of questions that drive strategic thinking.

Strategic thinking can also be practiced during action item discussions. For this to occur, it is imperative that options, not recommendations, be brought to the board. Too often, traditional boards are presented with a recommendation from staff or a committee. Strategic thinking boards are presented with multiple options to consider, rather than a recommendation. Such an approach increases the engagement of the board members and fosters strategic thinking as the options are discussed.

Pre-designating a board member to argue in opposition to an option and a board member to argue in favor of a particular option further increases board engagement and creates a richer strategic dialogue. However, prior to the arguments being presented inquiring dialogue should take place. In other words: dialogue before deliberation.

If you are going to be intentional about engaging your board in strategic thinking, you must be intentional about the type of information you provide your board. As such, considerable thought must be given to the background material that is placed in the board book. When identifying materials for your board book, ask yourself what data, information, and knowledge would be helpful to stimulate strategic discussion? What data, information, and knowledge are needed to formulate an informed decision? Do the data, information, and knowledge being provided deliver a 360-degree view of the issue at hand?

Another key opportunity to provide a strategic thinking experience is the strategy development process itself. All organizations should have a well thought out process for developing a strategy. A well-designed strategy development process in and of itself facilitates strategic thinking, presents a tremendous learning opportunity for the board and builds the strategic capacity of the board.

If you are interested in 10 additional tips for a strategic thinking board, click here.

What have you found to be helpful in transitioning a board to a strategic thinking entity

This article is re-blogged from the NSC Strategies Blog.


The Public is Listening, and Associations Are Spending

The Public is Listening, and Associations Are Spending
This week’s blog is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA. Aaron is the founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website:

As a public relations professional, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a new report that found associations are spending an unprecedented amount of money to sway public opinion.

No, I’m not excited that associations are shelling out big bucks, but it’s validation.

It’s true that we’re spin doctors, but we’re there when you need us. It’s our job to help you sort through the clutter of public confusion, misinformation and media madness.

Last month, the Center for Public Integrity released a report on the PR spending of Washington, D.C.-based trade associations.

“It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but little is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public,” the center says. “In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.”

The report found that from 2008 to 2012, 144 trade groups spent $1.2 billion – 37 percent of the total amount spent on contracts – on PR and marketing. By industry sector, energy and natural resources associations were the big spenders. Business associations came in second, spending more than $200 million on public relations, marketing and ad services. And, perhaps of special interest to our readers: The food and beverage association ranked No. 4 in PR spending.

At one time, associations earmarked thousands of dollars for lobbyists. But that’s slowly shrinking, thanks to the advent of social media, blogs and citizen journalism. Whereas lobbying engages policy makers, public relations engages a public platform devoid of class, gender, race and socioeconomic divisions.

So why the shift to public relations?

“They certainly want to influence the general public because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry,” said Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week.

And it seems Edelman is thriving. The nation’s largest public relations firm, which employs 5,000 people, netted the most revenue. According to the report, associations paid Edelman nearly $350 million, with the American Petroleum Institute carrying most of the load.

It’s important to note that the report measured only the most politically active associations in Washington, D.C., so some key players could have been left out of the analysis.

However, “the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind,” the Center for Public Integrity says. “Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.”

A word of caution: Transparency is important. If you budget for public relations efforts, make sure your members know where your association stands.

So, all this said….what do we do?

Essentially, PR pros are message makers. In a sticky situation, it’s our job to help clients maintain their integrity. But we’re also storytellers. Earned media (or non-paid media coverage) is key to reputation building, especially in a market in which PR pros outnumber journalists.

Is your association setting a trend? Does your association have an awesome success story to share, i.e. outreach or community service? Do you have a member organization that’s doing something incredible? That’s where PR can help. For starters, check outPublic Relations Society of America, which includes a directory of PR firms and service providers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


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.


How Will the New Overtime Rules Affect Your Association?

How Will the New Overtime Rules Affect Your Association
In May, the United States Department of Labor released new overtime rules that will take effect on Dec. 1.

Since December will be here before we know it, nonprofits are already making adjustments, as the new rules will have significant implications for the nonprofit sector.

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, it all comes down to salary requirements.

With limited resources, many nonprofits can’t afford to pay their staff big bucks. Under the new regulations, most employees earning less than $47,500 will be entitled to overtime compensation. So think about your events and meetings. What will that mean?

If you’ve got limited staff resources, 123Signup can help you do more with less. 

That said, it’s a complex formula for understanding compliance, but the U.S. Department of Labor has published resources.

According to DOL, employers have a few options:

The council offers some tips, as well.

“Employers have various options to comply with these change in overtime rules, ranging from increasing exempt employees’ salaries to the new level, converting them to hourly employees and paying overtime or making other changes to benefits or operations,” the National Council of Nonprofits said. “Nonprofits with budget years ending on June 30 will need to develop new budgets for the fiscal year beginning in six weeks that take these new changes into account. Nonprofits with budget years ending on Dec. 31 have more time to adjust and plan for 2017.”

In addition, the rules allow for the use of volunteers under certain circumstances, but DOL warns nonprofits shouldn’t use volunteers to skirt the regulations.

The department contends its new regulations will ensure companies – including nonprofits – adhere to the Fair Labor and Standards Act. It also says the new regulations will lead to a better work-life balance while increasing productivity and reducing turnover.

“Job titles never determine exempt status under the FLSA,” DOL said. “Additionally, receiving a particular salary, alone, does not indicate that an employee is exempt from overtime and minimum wage protections.”

Regardless of the exemptions the new rule provide, associations are concerned about the ramifications. According to ASAE, more than 250,000 associations submitted comments on the proposed rule to the department last year.

“Because the rule would dramatically expand the number of employees now eligible for overtime pay, associations and other employers could be forced to lay off staff or limit employees’ work outside of core business hours, stinting employees’ career growth and harming productivity,” wrote Chris Vest on June 1 in “Associations Now.”

Additionally, Alex Beall wrote about the new regulations, offering advice from Julia Judish, special counsel with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

“Once the employer has identified which of its currently exempt employees would convert to nonexempt, the employer should start now requiring those employees to do the equivalent of clocking in and clocking out and track their average hours,” Judish said.

As December approaches, we’ll track the new DOL overtime rules and report changes and their implications for nonprofits.

This week’s blog post on online community management is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec,  founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: