What CEOs Should Know About Speaking Up on Political Issues

Thanks to MultiView Association Management for supplying this article.

by Leslie Gaines-Ross

balloon dogThe unpredictability of our current political environment, in the U.S. and around the globe, has drawn company leaders into a maelstrom. CEOs don’t know whether a presidential tweet will bring their company into the limelight, or whether a controversial policy will pressure them to speak out. For example, there was anxiety among CEOs about how to respond to President Trump’s recent executive order restricting immigration. There’s even an app that notifies users when the president tweets about a particular company.

Should executives respond when a tweet or unexpected event touches their business or rouses their employees and customers? There are risks and rewards to CEO activism. Weber Shandwick, where I serve as chief reputation officer, and KRC Research surveyed 1,050 senior executives and 2,100 consumers across 21 markets worldwide to find out what people expect from corporate brands.

Our research shows that the two biggest factors that influence respondents’ opinions about companies are what customers say about them (88%) and how they react in crisis (85%). In fact, how a company responds to a controversy, including how quickly, is more important in driving public perception about the company than what is said about that company in the media (76%), by employees (76%), on the company’s website (68%), by spokespeople (61%), or in the company’s advertising (61%).

Some of the insights we learned offer guidelines for how CEOs should act to preserve their companies’ reputations in today’s highly politicized environment.

Staying quiet about issues may no longer be an option. CEOs are being pressured by several stakeholder groups to speak up on controversial issues. We found that 46% of executives from large companies around the world prefer that companies speak out on issues such as climate change, gun control, immigration, and LGBT rights. This has gone up from 2014, when 36% of global executives we surveyed said that it was important for CEOs to publicly take positions on policy and political issues.

Among executives who reported working in companies with world-class reputations, it was even more pronounced: 63% of these leaders favored companies taking a public stance. While fewer consumers (41%) said companies should speak out on controversial issues, it’s clear that there is outside pressure for CEOs to use their voices.

So it is not surprising that more than 100 CEOs, mostly of leading technology companies, publicly opposed the executive order on immigration by filing an amicus brief, arguing that the order jeopardized their workforce diversity and their corporate values. Such speaking out isn’t specific to the new administration. Last spring several of these CEOs opposed state legislation that was perceived as undermining LGBT rights.

Of course, not every company needs to publicly weigh in on every social issue or political action. In our study, 20% of global consumers reported not being in favor of companies speaking out on controversial issues, while 34% said speaking out “depends,” presumably on the issue and how closely it aligns with the company’s business. The remaining 5% said they did not know.

It is critical for executives to be prepared to make a decision about taking a public stand. Although no one has quantified the risk of not speaking out, the pressures to take a stand from employees, industry peers, and customers seem to increasing. At Oracle, for example, hundreds of employees signed a petition for the company to join the aforementioned amicus brief.

Be ready to respond. CEOs should anticipate potential threats to their companies’ reputation and prepare responses. Weber Shandwick’s research has found that the average time it takes companies to activate a social media plan to respond to a crisis is 38 hours. But a lot can change in a day and a half.

Crisis simulation training is one way companies can prepare for any unexpected political publicity. Here’s one example of a scenario that Weber Shandwick uses with clients: Say your company needs to ship a small allotment of goods to Boston from outside the U.S. to meet sudden demand. A few hours later, a fake news site publishes an article about how your company is moving production outside the U.S. to take advantage of U.S. tax laws and is cheating American workers out of jobs. Before long, the fake news leaks into mainstream publications and social networks, hackers demand money before exposing customer data online, an angry employee rants about the company on social media, media calls start asking for an official comment, and a competitor or government official tweets something negative.

Simulations like this force leaders to think about not just what to say, but how to say it and to whom. CEOs and their teams should seek to understand what their stakeholders expect of them and build a playbook that lays out what they can and can’t do when facing a reputation crisis.

Personalize your narrative. Leaders know they have to tailor a message or narrative to their audience. Taking a stand on a public issue is no different. When speaking out, CEOs should establish a storyline that connects the issue to their employees’ and customers’ everyday lives.

In responding to the executive order on immigration, for example, some CEOs made their messages very personal. In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg talked about his family’s history with immigration and explained that “these issues are personal for [him] behind [his] family” and that “we are a nation of immigrants.” Apple CEO Tim Cook talked about how the executive order affected both Apple employees and society as a whole and explained that Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was a child of immigrants. Cook said, “Our company depends on diversity…of thought, and people generally have diverse views…. It’s the tapestry of getting people with all different backgrounds and all different point of views that are able to create the best products.” This kind of personalization resonates with his various audiences, including employees, customers, vendors, and even job candidates.

Remember: There is strength in numbers. CEOs who find themselves having to respond to a political or controversial issue should consider working closely with industry peers or trade organizations to establish and present a common front. It demonstrates a show of force and increases clout. Moreover, it’s harder for opponents to question or criticize the motives of a sizable group of leaders when they release a joint statement.

Last spring, for example, over 80 CEOs and business leaders signed a petition seeking the repeal of the North Carolina “bathroom bill,” legislation widely considered to infringe on LGBT rights. In November the National Association of Manufacturers released a letter from more than 1,100 manufacturing and business leaders pledging to help bring the country together after the divisive presidential election and asking the president to make manufacturing a top priority. Even more recent, on February 1, 2017, 100 trade groups and retailers joined together in a campaign, Americans for Affordable Products, to oppose the Trump administration’s border-adjusted tax plan that some critics say would contribute to higher consumer prices.

Be consistent. Whatever position CEOs take should be consistent with their companies’ values. Many employees identify and internalize such values. When several CEOs took direct action after the immigration executive order, they were seen as acting consistently with their companies’ values systems. Some companies have demonstrated that they share employee values by matching employee donations to specific charities.

Sticking to these values matters for a company’s reputation. What a company stands for means just as much to job seekers as what the company makes and sells. The vast majority of respondents in our study, 77% of consumers and 95% of executives, reported that if they were looking for a new job today, the reputation of the employer would make a difference in their decision. Millennial consumers are particularly influenced by company reputation when looking for a new job (85%), which could mean they’re more likely to seek out an employer that shares their values.

In today’s environment, CEOs may find themselves under pressure to speak out on an issue. Should they decide to take a public stand, having a strong reputation will lend them extra credibility and influence. These guidelines can help them preserve their reputations in the face of extreme politicization.

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The empty seat at the board table

Thanks to MultiView Association Management for supplying this article.

by Robert C. Harris


This is not a story about a quorum — though one would hope there are no empty seats at the board table when a meeting is called. This is a tale about member interests being considered at board meetings.

Who represents the members?

One purpose of a board of directors is to represent its members. The IRS definition for Form 990 reads, “The governing body … is authorized under state law to make governance decisions on behalf of the organization and its shareholders or members …”
Some organizations mean to improve representation by designating seats. For instance, persons on the board are designated to represent a chapter, specialty, geography or a characteristic (such as students or ethnicity).

But as explained in the book “Race for Relevance,” do those designated members begin to believe they are solely representing that particular sector rather than the association as a whole?

Directors as agents

It has been said that a board is not always the best champion for the membership — especially if decisions are made with a lack of awareness of member needs or influenced by “group think.”

In focus groups with nonmembers it is sometimes heard, “The leadership seems like good ol’ boys.” Is perception is reality?

Some directors serve because they have reached a point where they have ample time and money. Some have ascended multiterm leadership ladders or have served for decades. (ASAE suggests the average term limit is six years, divided over two three-year spans, allowing for new directors to step into leadership roles.)

Longevity on the board may be a cause for losing touch with the needs of new and diverse members.

Directors may say they represent the members, but do they really?

Ask them when they last reached out to competitors or constituents and the answer is often, “I have not.” Did they host a town hall meeting or conference call to obtain member input prior to the board meeting? Do they survey their constituents? Do they maintain channels of communication?

I’ve visited many associations where a director supposedly represents a chapter that has been defunct for years.

Empty seat at the table

Associations know the value of having a seat at the table. Most position their own members on allied appointed and elected councils. It is sometimes said, “If you’re not at the table you’re probably on the menu.”

It stands to reason that there should be a mechanism to consider member interests. The question should be posed more often, “What would the members think?”

Why not leave an empty seat at the board table to represent “members”?

During strategic planning at the Pediatric Endocrine Society (PES), there was an empty seat with a name tent card reading “Members.” The tent card indicated it would be the voice of members if they were present. It is a reminder to directors they should consider more than their own perspective in formulating decisions.

“While physically having a representative of every demographic served is not practical, being mindful to make sure outcomes embody the membership at large by having a seat at the table to represent them is an aspect of inclusivity to which governance should aspire,” said Maureen Thompson, executive director of the PES.

Another mechanism for receiving input is to invite members to observe the board in action. By setting an extra seat or two, and strategically inviting prospective leaders, the membership gains a better understand of what the board does and respect for their work.

The Massachusetts Dental Society strives to include broader member input while developing future leaders through its “Guest Board Member Program.”

It offers an opportunity for dentists who have typically been underrepresented to participate in board discussions. Guest board members are able to offer opinions on all discussion topics and can participate in board functions.

Mechanisms that exclude members

Personal agendas distract from serving members’ needs. For example, a director or committee hoping to push through a favorable program for personal benefit. There are numerous reasons directors may forget they are agents of the membership:

  • Personal agendas — The agenda of the board, officers or directors trumps the interests of the members.
  • Celebrity — Persons may think they are on the board because of their status or achievements, rather than representing member concerns.
  • Surveys — Surveys are seldom conducted or response rates are minimal. Directors think they understand member needs, but there has been no effective data collection.
  • Designated seats — Board seats designated to represent a segment, specialty, chapter or members at large. These directors sometimes mistakenly believe they speak only for their section.
  • Competition — Though directors represent the members, they find it difficult to approach competitors to talk about their needs.
  • Communications — There are minimal channels for two-way communications between members and directors.
  • Filters — Directors act as filters, only providing the information they want members to know and blocking topics in which they have little interest or may be controversial.

It’s not possible to include every member at board meetings. Being mindful of the members by reserving a seat at the table may be useful. Periodically ask, “Do we know how the members would vote on this issue?”

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What Purpose Does This Committee Serve ?

Robert C. Harris
Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What purpose does this committee serve?
At the first meeting of the committee, one of the members asked the chair, “So what should we do this year?” The chair responded, “We don’t make up our own agenda. The board has assigned tasks that will help them advance the strategic plan.”
Committees are intended to supplement the work of the board of directors and staff. Through their efforts, ideas and resources, they bring fresh ideas and energy.
Committees should not take on a “life of their own” whereby they create their own bylaws and checking account. Seldom do they have authority to speak for or contract for the organization.
Deploying committees

Standing committees are identified in the bylaws and serve for the duration of the current term. Ad hoc committees, task forces and other forms are appointed for a specific assignment — disbanding upon completion.
Rarely do committees, their chairs and members serve in perpetuity. Their service should end with the successive election when the incoming chair-elect or board makes new assignments.
For each committee that will be deployed, brief purpose statements are adopted. These statements may be documented in the organization’s policy manual or a comprehensive “guide to committee responsibilities.” Their efforts should be framed by the purpose statement and further defined by current-year assignments made by the board.

The trend is to reduce the number of committees, especially standing workgroups. It can be difficult to find volunteers. Committees require stand and board oversight. Thus, standing committees are being replaced by short-term workgroups — described as quick-action teams, strike forces and microtasks.
There is no use for a group that meets without an agenda or designated purpose. Volunteers are quick to express dissatisfaction when attending meetings that have no purpose.

An organization’s board periodically reviews the committees to consider their need and how they align with the strategic plan. Committees may be merged, eliminated, reinvigorated or repurposed.
Most organizations seek alignment between their strategic goals and the committees. For instance, an organization with five goals in the strategic plan may need five to 10 committees to advance the goals. For example, a goal of “influencing public policy” is likely to have a government affairs committee and a political action committee.

There is also an expectation that committees will produce results — creating content for a new educational course, a model position paper, or a valued member benefit, etc.

Committee descriptions are similar to an organization’s mission statement. The work of the volunteers will be framed by the description or purpose.
These descriptions are examples for the most common committees:

Affiliates — A method for engaging associate members involved in the organization but not as “regular members.” Gives them a voice so their needs may be met and opportunities afforded for greater support and involvement.

Awards and scholarships — Makes recommendations for awards and recognition and handles the selection process with integrity.

Board development — Frequently, a nominating committee is responsible for identifying a slate of qualified board candidates and ensuring the election process is maintain with integrity. The charge of a nomination committee has expanded to include nominations, board evaluation and an orientation process.

Bylaws — Responsible for reviewing and maintaining the governing documents and for recommending amendments. Often chaired by the elected secretary. Precaution: Appoint the committee as needed to avoid a bylaws committee making changes for the sake of change. May be supplemented with an attorney consultant to ensure compliance with law.

Conference and expo — Frequently a large portion of an organization’s budget is related to an annual conference. The committee works through the year or longer to ensure a relevant, respected annual conference and trade show. The oversight of the committee might warrant appointment of subcommittees for assistance.

Education and training — Ensures the quality and promoted diverse delivery methods to increase member competencies and compliance. May be tied to official continuing education requirements or maintaining educational designations.

Ethics — Positioned to handle complaints that may arise from consumers or between members. Based upon having a code of ethics or conduct. As a result of hearing complaints and concerns, may confidentially transition the problems into educational classes to help members comply.

Executive committee — Authorized by the bylaws and responsible for making decisions in the interim between board meetings. Composition usually includes the elected officers plus one or two key leaders — for example, the immediate past president or the paid executive as an ex-officio position. The committee should be careful not to usurp the authority of the board or to appear to scheme; transparency is key.

Finances — Oversees processes and policies that guide and protect financial resources, including investments. It is often chaired by the elected treasurer. In some organizations, it doubles as the audit committee responsible for interfacing with the independent CPA reviewing the finances.

Fundraising — If the organization relies on grants and gifts, there may be a committee charged with fundraising to supplement regular streams of income.

Government relations — Often the most active committee, it has responsibility for identifying issues, developing positions, influence and engaging members through grassroots efforts.

Member benefits and services — Considers the portfolio of member benefits, return on investments compared to dues paid and monitors the “member experience.” It may review affinity-endorsed benefits and seek a meaningful benefit or service that acts as a “golden handcuff.”

Membership growth — Focuses on recruitment and retention. Often considering missing segments of membership and creating campaigns for growth (may be combined with member benefits and services).

Past presidents — An opportunity to engage past presidents with special projects assigned by the current board.

Public relations — Supplements the staff in branding, messaging and public relations efforts. Where members are not experienced in effective PR, this committee is often supplemented or replaced by a PR consultant.

Strategic planning — Responsible for the process of developing a strategic plan. The committee’s work may be expanded to monitoring and reporting on the plan’s progress and key performance metrics.

Technology — With the evolution of technology, it is difficult for staff to entirely monitor needs and opportunities. There is continuous need to invest in the technology that supports organizational functions and outreach. Millennials are often a driving force on the technology committee.
Young professionals — Composed of young and emerging professionals with an interest in having a voice and taking on special projects.
An organization wants to be confident in its use of committees. A good start is to ensure they understand their purpose and assignment.

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The Dysfunctions Of Many Boards

Special thanks to Connie and Bob for providing this article, regards Terry

Connie Hanner and Bob Harris

Volunteers are integral to an association or other not-for-profits. Members are asked to contribute time, energy and resources on boards and committees.

The board is intended to be visionary in setting the direction of the organization. Staff and committees are expected to implement decisions of the board, advancing the programs and initiatives to fulfill the vision.
The organization’s mission statement and strategic plan communicate the organization’s priorities and should frame nearly every discussion of the board.

Governance vs. management
While volunteers readily accept an offer to join the board, few have experience with governance. It is an amorphous concept, influenced by state and federal laws, governing documents, culture and established precedents by prior boards.
The most sought-after directors are members who are known to be successful in their field of work — owning a business or heading up an organization. Their success is usually based on management duties, which they bring to the board table. However, having management skills does not always translate to great governance skills.
Management includes hiring and firing, investing, purchasing and marketing, for instance.
Governance requires visionary perspective, maintaining relevance, ensuring sustainability and increasing organizational awareness. Governance is the development of strong leaders and the creation of a strategic plan.
At the board table, directors sometimes revert to short-term thinking and tactical advice (familiar to management). However, these are the responsibilities of professional staff and committees —not the board.

While all directors should be appreciated for their volunteer work, an organization wants to be cognizant of dysfunctions that may arise.

1.Overextended — Organizations often seek out people with board experience. That means the volunteers may be serving on other boards simultaneously. Be leery of a volunteer who is overextended, cannot say “no,” or may have a conflict of interest by serving on multiple boards with similar purposes.
2. Founders syndrome — The founders of an organization rightly have great pride, but sometimes they don’t want to allow future leaders to take over. It might require some grievance, but founders must release their powers and trust that future leaders will respect their values and purpose.
3. Engagement — Once on the board, directors must do more than just attend meetings. They are trustees of a corporation; stakeholders or members expect them to come to meetings prepared. Between meetings, directors may have assignments, reports to read or prepare, visits with members or need to help committees.
4. Valued contribution — Directors are expected to contribute to the mission and/or money to the organization. They should continuously evaluate resources, recognizing they are positioned to help raise funds, enroll new members or personally give their time or resources. In-kind contributions are valued.
5. Pretty face — Some organizations seek to increase their stature by adding people to the board because they are respected and recognizable. The problem is while the directors may have been added to increase organizational posture, they are trustees who are expected to fulfill fiduciary duties and advance a plan of work.
6. Dominant board —The board or some of the directors don’t trust the staff. Directors meddle with programs best managed by staff. Staff should be respected as professionals in their field of work.
7. Dominant staff — The staff babysits the board, not trusting them to develop a strategic plan or to head up committees. It takes a partnership of board and staff trusting each to advance interests together.
8. Recruitment failure — The number one lie of a nominating committee is, “You won’t have to do anything when you get on the board.” Equally as bad is to advise a member who briefly leaves the room, “Guess what, we’ve assigned new duties.” The nominating process should be taken seriously. Consider it an interview process rather than simply a list of names on a slate.
9. Personal agendas — A volunteer with a personal agenda to promote his/her interests is a distraction. The IRS expects organizations to identify conflicts of interest, suggesting everyone on the board is working toward the same mission without personal agendas.
10. Board size — The average size board in the U.S. is 15 persons. The IRS suggests the board be of a size to allow for meaningful discussions. A large board is more costly to manage and staff, although there is more diversity and input. A smaller board is easy to convene and make nimble decisions.
11. Term limits — The majority of organizations have term limits, suggesting a director must take a year off after serving two three-year terms or three two-year terms. This allows for new people to bring fresh perspectives. No board wants to be characterized as the “good old boys.” If term limits exist in the bylaws, be sure they are respected.
12. Group think — Some boards are characterized as moving through the agenda with minimal discussion. “Group think” is characterized by decisions made simply to support the ideas of peers. The board table is not the place to rubber stamp business.
13. Self-evaluation — Directors are expected to evaluate programs and financial performance. Only a few boards are willing to keep a scorecard of whether directors are fulfilling expectations. Volunteers should implement a continuous improvement process through a board evaluation and discussion of director engagement.

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Struggling to get members engaged? Perhaps the problem’s not in your methods but in the engagement opportunities themselves.

More online collaboration tools. Better messaging. Finer demographic data. Nicer incentives.

When associations struggle to get members engaged, they often search for practical solutions like these, special tricks for getting members’ attention. The list goes on and on.

Nothing’s wrong with trying these enhanced engagement tactics. But what if the problem is deeper or more structural?

You could ask that question about any line of business, association or elsewhere. When do improved methods offer deep potential, and when do they promise marginal gains at best?

A stronger focus on engagement, activity, involvement, and mission at the recruitment stage will position membership as a call to action.
For associations thinking about member engagement, consider these three perspectives that come from the world of fitness centers and cultural institutions (e.g., gyms and museums), which might push you to deepen your search for engagement answers.


In “The Economic Case for Joining an Expensive Gym,” Quartz writer and economist Allison Schrager argued in August that, if you really want to commit (or, perhaps, guilt) yourself into going to the gym consistently, you should join the most expensive one you can find.

In line with research that suggests “putting more money on the line can help us follow through on our goals,” Schrager writes that, in her experience as well, “a bigger penalty gives me some added discipline.”

The parallel to associations isn’t perfect; association engagement isn’t a “pain for gain” activity. But often our goal in getting members to engage is to inspire a “get off the couch” ethos—or, more accurately, “get out from behind your desk.”

Perhaps, though, you just have too many desk potatoes in your membership. If your recruitment efforts focus on a litany of products and services packaged together for one low, low price, should you be surprised when most of your members want to get a lot of things but not get involved?

Simply charging more for membership might not solve your engagement problems, but it’s possible that a stronger focus on engagement, activity, involvement, and commitment to your mission at the recruitment stage will position membership itself as a call to action and perhaps weed out the prospects who have little propensity to answer it.


Of course, once members do get involved, they’re more likely to stay with you. But, in relation to retention, the particular manner in which they’re engaged may matter less than the human connections they make in the process.

A September feature in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Understanding the ‘Cult’ of Group Fitness,” sums up research on the importance of the “group” element of group fitness. One study, for instance, found that CrossFit gym members reported elevated levels of “social capital,” such as networking and deeper friendships.

It’s not CrossFit, specifically, that’s responsible, though, as one veteran group-fitness trainer told the Herald: “‘I’ve been through all the different eras and genres,’ she says. But while fitness fads will come and go, [she] says the thing that ultimately keeps people attending is simple: ‘It’s the group activity.’”

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization knows this. Every member who joins is placed in a Forum, a peer group of seven to 10 fellow business owners in their area that meets monthly to share knowledge and experiences. Forums are EO’s highest-rated benefit, no doubt a result of both the insights shared and social capital built among those groups.

The Herald article also notes that “other research has suggested that a lack of social support in standard gyms is linked to their dropout rates.” As we’ve noted here at Associations Now before, building social networks via associations is especially crucial for young members, who must build new networks when they leave school and enter the professional world.

So, again, the question is one of the structural design of your member experience: What does your association do to connect members, early and often, in person? Is face-to-face interaction built in to membership, or is it merely an add-on?


Associations, meanwhile, compete for the time and attention of their members with everything else in their lives—work, family, sleep, leisure, and other forms of learning and professional development. It’s hard to stand out in the fray.

Being new or unique can help. Colleen Dilenschneider explains on her blog, Know Your Own Bone, that first-time attendees to a particular type of museum or other cultural institution rate their customer satisfaction and value for cost of admission higher than visitors who have visited an attraction of the same type before.

Dilenschneider and her colleagues at predictive intelligence firm IMPACTS call this “point of reference sensitivity,” but you could also simply understand it as novelty. Regardless who, where, or with whom, the novelty of a new experience gives a person’s feelings about it a positive boost. But, as Dilenschneider writes, “essentially, as a person gains familiarity with an experience, it becomes increasingly harder to impress them.”

That’s great news if you can get young members to engage in person. If your association is the first professional community they’ve joined, or if they’ve never been to a chapter event or annual conference before, just getting them in the door and introducing them to those experiences can earn you points.

But what about everyone else, all those prospects and members for whom you’re not the first membership experience? Dilenschneider’s advice to organizations is to be unique, to identify and emphasize that which makes you different from all the other organizations in your category.

And so, once more, when your association asks members to get engaged, are you asking them to muster up the energy to do more of the same (whatever it might be), or are you opening a door for them to try something new, something they can’t do anywhere else?

How do your association’s engagement opportunities stack up? Could the organization stand to benefit from a more deeply ingrained culture of involvement? What has worked (or not worked) for you in getting members more engaged? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted in association management, engagement | Comments Off on WHY ENGAGEMENT MUST BE BUILT INTO THE MEMBER EXPERIENCE

Potential Tactics For Attracting Older Millennials to Your Association

I was reading an article in the MultiView Association Adviser and thought it was very good and worth repeating ……

While there are varying opinions on the age group of a young millennials vs older millennials however this makes the most sense to me…. ‘Most definitions of the millennial generation include people born between 1981 and 2000’. This means we’re talking about people who are 16- to 35-years-old
Maintain active job boards. In-person relationship building at your events and programs will remain important to millennials, but they conduct a lot of their lives online and enjoy the anonymity of the Internet. Your industry-specific job board is where older millennials are going to find their next job.
Offer the opportunity for a young professional to shadow someone in your industry for a day. They could be considering a career change, or they may want to see in-person what their career’s next level could look like. Most millennials consider this type of short-term mentoring invaluable.

Offer free resources for job seekers that can turn them into members:

Resume critique
Job boards
Certification programs

Appeal to their sense of social responsibility; the desire to “give back” is a strong millennial trait, and most want to interact with brands that not only share their values, but also are a force for good in the community. Whether through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives or showcasing members’ individual contribution to others and the industry, associations with a clear purpose that stand for something larger than themselves will easily attract the millennial crowd.
Offer graduated leadership opportunities. Are there ways older millennials can become involved in your association past basic membership once they join? Millennials join associations for the same reasons as other generations: to build relationships, to enhance their professional skill set and to have an opportunity to shine as a leader. Some will be ready to take on high-profile, high-involvement positions such as a board position or an event chair. However, others are balancing their existing familial or social obligations, and while eager to serve, can only take on a smaller role for the time being. Offer multiple leadership roles of varying commitment levels. This way, your association can meet the needs of all older millennials wanting to be professionally active while respecting the multiple demands on their time and energy.

Ask your board:
What have we done to attract older millennials as employees or as members?
How can we show off the benefits of belonging to our association?
What are some successful channels we’ve used to market membership to millennials?
What opportunities for leadership or further involvement do we offer? How much time and effort do those opportunities require, and can we vary them?
What obstacles outside our association or industry’s realm might be preventing older millennials from becoming members, and what can we do to help remove them?
Younger millennials aren’t ready to join, but they’re open to suggestions
Your typical younger millennial is in high school or college or is new to the workforce. They might have a general sense of what type of work they want to be when they’re an adult, but most are still looking at career options. Many don’t realize their chosen profession or trade has an association to which they could belong, find others like them and learn new things. If they do realize association membership is an option, they may not have joined yet because their employer doesn’t cover association dues and they don’t have the extra funds themselves — or they don’t realize the benefit of investing in an association membership and don’t want to pay dues

Posted in association management, board development, board governance, Board Responsibility, engagement, Mentoring, recruitment | Comments Off on Potential Tactics For Attracting Older Millennials to Your Association

How To Strengthen Your Staff’s Soft Skills


Soft skills—though critical for the association workforce—are on a decline, according to some sources. But never fear: We’ve pulled together a few tips to boost soft skills around the office.

Soft skills are those seemingly je ne sais quoi talents and traits that separate top job candidates from the rest of the pack. They can be qualitative in nature, and they might even be difficult to articulate.

Juxtaposed against hard skills—specific teachable and measurable abilities—soft skills are those that enable effective and agreeable interaction with others, according to a definition that Google churned out. Examples might include good communication skills, a positive attitude, flexibility, problem-solving abilities, and a team-player mentality—or even the discretion to wear workplace-appropriate attire, to come to work on time, and to actually work while at the office.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, soft skills such as these are in high demand and short supply. “I can teach somebody how to slice and dice onions. I can teach somebody how to cook a soup,” said Washington-area restaurateur Cindy Herold to the Wall Street Journal. “But it’s hard to teach someone normal manners, or what you consider work ethic.”

To underscore this heightened desire for soft-skilled employers, 77 percent of respondents to a 2014 CareerBuilder survey said they were seeking job candidates with soft skills. And 16 percent said they valued soft skills more than hard skills in hiring.


Associations should want to hire employees with soft skills too. Just as the team is only as good as the players, the association is only as good as the staff. The staff is the face of the association to its members, so their attitude, commitment, and communication, for instance—whether positive or negative—reflects back on the association.

It’s also a matter of productivity. If staff is getting to work late, dressing unprofessionally, or lazing about the cubicle all day, then the association probably isn’t living out its mission statement or accomplishing its goals.


Besides hiring the right people who already possess these soft skills—and can offer concrete examples of how they’ve used them previously during the interview process—associations can also help their staff to acquire soft skills. For example, Bruce Tulgan, the founder of RainmakerThinking Inc. and a speaker at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition, said that organizations should take staff onboarding very seriously.

Tulgan recommends four ways to build up their soft skills, right at the start of employment:

Name certain soft skills, and describe why they are important to the organization.
Explain how the cultivation of these soft skills can benefit careers.
Lay out step-by-step directions for what staff needs to do to achieve these soft skills.
Acknowledge when staff is attaining certain soft skills.
Perhaps one of the best ways to boost soft skills at associations is to lead by example. “The company culture and work environment you establish as a manager play a huge role in encouraging (or discouraging) the development of these skills,” wrote Nicole Fallon on Business News Daily. “If you want employees to work hard and collaborate with each other, you need to show them how first.”

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A Welcome Role for the Membership Committee

One association puts its volunteer membership committee to work in calling all new members to welcome them to the association—a rewarding effort for members, volunteers, and the association alike.

A common refrain among association governance experts is that a board of directors should focus on strategy and leave the execution to staff. Crossing those lines, they say, results in mixed messages and mixed results.

At the committee level, though, there seems to be no hard and fast rule. Some association volunteer committees fill an advisory capacity, while others are charged with hands-on work. Always crucial, then, is clarity for those volunteers about what is expected of them.

This is no different, of course, in the case of associations with volunteer membership committees. An association’s membership strategy is bigger and more specialized than what a committee of volunteers—typically people with day jobs and without expertise in membership business models—is capable of producing, and yet member input is vital. Meanwhile, executing a full-fledged membership operation is beyond the scope of a volunteer role, but member-to-member connection can be invaluable to recruitment, retention, and engagement.

So, what’s the right mix? What role can a volunteer membership committee sustainably provide to an association?

The member-to-member communication is so key. They know what they do more every day than any staff person is going to.
The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy offers a good example. Its 15-person membership committee takes on a mix of advisory and hands-on work, and those duties are designed to involve the committee “in a way they can feel the impact they’re making,” says Betty Whitaker, MBA, CAE, senior director of membership engagement and publications at AMCP.


The committee’s most active work is calling all new non-student members to welcome them to AMCP. Each committee member is asked to reach out to between five and 20 members each month (depending seasonal recruitment activity) via phone and via an email follow-up if they can’t connect by phone. The job isn’t glamorous, but the welcome from a colleague is worthwhile, Whitaker says.

“The member-to-member communication is so key. They know what they do more every day than any staff person is going to or anybody I hire in a full-time role. So, they really know how to make somebody feel welcome,” she says. “And a member saying why they want to be a member of the association is always much more impactful than a staff member saying why they should be a member of the association.”

Volunteer members calling new members is alternative to models like the one at the California Dental Association, whose member concierge, Terry Fong, was profiled in 2013 in Associations Now for her full-time staff role in calling every new member of CDA. Even in that case, though, Fong was a 25-year veteran of CDA with a background in family in dentistry, giving her about as close an understanding of members as an association staffer could have.

At AMCP, Whitaker says the member-calling campaign “pays for itself,” especially the twice-a-year outreach to lapsed members. That effort, in which volunteers call members who still have not renewed after the full series of mail and email renewal notices, earns back between 3 and 8 percent of lapsed members called.


Cold-calling new and lapsed members can be intimidating even for volunteers who sign up, but they are not sent out into the wild unprepared. AMCP staff provide the volunteers with talking points for the calls and message templates for the email follow-ups. And those materials are all developed to complement and carry through the same messaging used throughout AMCP’s membership efforts. From there, volunteers are encouraged to be creative or, more important, to be themselves.

“We want it to sound like it’s from the member. They want the talking points and the template because some of them are not totally sure where to start, so this helps them on that end,” Whitaker says.

The committee’s role is not all hands-on work, however. It also serves as a sounding board for AMCP staff’s membership operations. “What any membership committee gives an association is the ability to hear firsthand from members when you want to talk about membership,” Whitaker says.

To make it all work, Whitaker says AMCP provides a clear job description for committee members at the start of the volunteer recruitment process. The AMCP volunteer application asks those interested to provide a short written statement about why they’d like to contribute.

“We do look for an enthusiasm about the membership process,” Whitaker says. “Most of what our members do, they interact with people all the time, so that’s not necessarily something to worry about, somebody not being comfortable with that. Really, we just look for an excitement for membership and a willingness to help it grow and see it succeed.”


The membership committee volunteers typically find the member outreach rewarding, Whitaker says. For instance, many maintain connections with the new members they call and arrange to meet up at AMCP events. “Once the committee members get into it, they really enjoy it, because networking is such an important part of why our members belong to the association,” she says. “This is a way for them to connect with their peers outside their normal work experience.”

AMCP has deployed its membership committee in this way for many years, Whitaker says, as a key part of its overall onboarding and retention process. And it doesn’t suffer the same “what do we do with our membership committee?” woes that seem to beset many other associations.

The staff support for the calling effort consists mainly of generating and dividing up lists of new members each month, updating talking points periodically, and sending reminders to the volunteers. For other associations looking to get their membership committees involved in the same way, Whitaker suggests starting small, with a certain member segment, for instance. And the volunteers can bring their advisory and hands-on roles together to help staff develop the talking points for their new-member calls.

“They’re the ones who have to talk from it, so you want to get buy-in on that end,” Whitaker says.

How does your association involve members in membership operations? If you have a membership committee, is its role advisory, hands-on, or both? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Finding Prospective Members Using LinkedIn

Could you build a brand-new association using only LinkedIn for finding prospective members? Learn how one association professional has done just that.

Whatever you’re doing on LinkedIn these days, you’re probably not doing it as well as you could be.

To put it another way: Have you started an international scientific association from scratch, using LinkedIn exclusively to get it off the ground?

Enter The Graphene Council, an organization founded by Terrance Barkan, CAE, nearly three years ago to serve researchers and entrepreneurs in the emerging nanotechnology field of graphene. But what, exactly, is graphene? It’s a “a single layer of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons” and, as Gigaom put it in 2013, “could be the next silicon.” But don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that already. Barkan didn’t either when he first read about it in 2013.

LinkedIn is one of the most incredibly powerful tools for associations, and it’s just grossly underutilized.
“Being a career association professional, one of the questions I asked myself was, ‘OK, so where’s the association for graphene?’ Because we know there’s an association for everything,” he says.

It turned out there was no prominent association for the rising field, so Barkan, chief strategist at Globalstrat, decided to fill the void by founding The Graphene Council. And here is where the fledgling group’s path diverges from the typical association origin story in some ways but follows it closely in others.

Barkan formed The Graphene Council as a for-profit that he owns, but he is otherwise “running it like an association,” he says. He continues his primary work specializing in international strategy development for associations, but he calls the The Graphene Council “a real-life proof of concept” for that experience and his strategic approaches.

Long an active LinkedIn user, Barkan has often aided associations in maximizing their use of the platform. So, to grow The Graphene Council, he pursued a LinkedIn-only strategy. Armed with a LinkedIn Premium account and some know-how, he built a LinkedIn group of more than 6,000 members in less than three years, and now he’s in the early stages of converting community members to paid association members.

“Very few people actually know how to use this tool to its full potential,” Barkan says of LinkedIn. “To me it’s one of the most incredibly powerful tools for associations, and it’s just grossly underutilized.”

Barkan used LinkedIn Premium’s advanced search capabilities and InMail messaging tool to identify and reach out to researchers, students, and professionals interested in graphene, inviting them to both join the group and connect with him individually (more on that in a moment). The primary draw at first was for members to network and connect for both research and career purposes. And, as the group grew in size, Barkan touted its increasing numbers in his templated recruiting messages. Within a year, he says, he could call the group the largest LinkedIn group for the graphene community.

One of the first ways that critical mass began to pay off was through LinkedIn’s automated recommendation engine. If you build a large but well-focused group, Barkan says, LinkedIn begins to identify users with matching interests and recommending the group to them. “All of the continued growth is self-perpetuating now,” he says.

With growth came the ability to develop content, and thus member benefits. Barkan hired an editor to produce a quarterly newsletter; the council partnered with Springer Nature to launch a journal, Graphene Technology, in January; and it surveyed 440 graphene experts and stakeholders for its first Global Graphene Industry Survey and Report this year, as well. The newsletter is free to anyone, while the journal and research study come free with a paid membership.

Converting free LinkedIn-group members to paid association members is the next hurdle, Barkan says, but, again, LinkedIn has proven crucial as a tool. Because he has connected directly with the group members—i.e., by adding them as “connections” in his individual LinkedIn network—he can export their data, including names, titles, companies, and email addresses. Using a lightweight membership software platform, Barkan says the council now has 7,200 qualified graphene contacts in its database. He hopes to eventually reach 1,000 paid individual members, and 20 to 30 corporate members (the first just recently joined).

Of course, many associations (and likely most of our readers here at Associations Now) aren’t starting from scratch. So, do these LinkedIn methods work for more established organizations? Barkan suggests that they do, particularly in regard to market outreach and lead generation.

“Specifically for international associations, it’s a very powerful tool because it’s so much harder to find potential members outside the U.S. as compared to inside the U.S.,” he says.

He also offered an example of a trade association he worked with that used LinkedIn to break through in reaching the right people within prospective member companies, after it had failed to get a response from the limited contacts it had within the companies. “So, these same two people get the email every year and they throw it away. We said let’s go into LinkedIn and see how many people we can find who actually work for that company. And so we go into LinkedIn, and guess what we find? We get 15 different people in that company that we can now write to.”

Barkan also suggests sharing (but not selling) your association’s content in other industry groups. He posts articles from The Graphene Council in larger nanotechnology groups, for instance.

Membership recruiting in LinkedIn poses two tricky challenges for associations, Barkan says. One is that, to be able to export email addresses, an individual must connect with prospective members, meaning the association must choose a particular staff member to serve that role and have a plan for what to do if and when that person leaves the association. The second is that there is no easy way to cross-check a list of leads generated from LinkedIn with an association’s existing database of members and prospects, other than a manual comparison. That was less of a problem for Barkan as he built The Graphene Council with no pre-existing list, but it’s a significant hurdle an established association must deal with.

Despite the newfangled approach Barkan took to build The Graphene Council, the underlying fundamentals of association formation weren’t much different from how many membership organizations get their start. “It’s a classic chicken and the egg, right?” Barkan says. “How do you get people to pay for something if you don’t have content? How do you create content if you don’t have people?”

He says it boiled down to a recognizable three-step process: Build a community with a critical mass, leverage that community to begin developing content, then create a formal membership offer built on that community and content. “I think what’s different [now] is the tools, and the ability to scale quickly,” he says.

How does your association use LinkedIn for member recruitment? Could it sustain itself on an entirely LinkedIn-focused approach like The Graphene Council? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

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Creating Better Solutions Through Conflicting Ideas

Boards are episodic decision-making groups, as opposed to groups that need to construct effective decisions together daily, so their tasks are usually cognitive—setting processes, considering facts, and predicting outcomes. It’s important to remember during the decision-making process that cognitive conflict, or the discomfort one feels when confronted with new ideas, usually enhances performance.

The most effective boards focus on a task or issue and debate it until they arrive at a creative solution. Conflict management coach and author Mary Rafferty says, “The parties might argue and exchange views vigorously, yet there is two-way communication and openness to hearing each other. The goal is to find the best possible solution rather than to win the argument. Alternative perspectives are seen as valuable rather than threatening.”


Differences in personality, gender, age, and tenure can all affect a board’s level of cognitive conflict. In their article “Diversity and Conflict in Boards of Directors,” Alan Walker, Silke Machold, and Pervaiz K. Ahmed write about the similarity-attraction effect, in which people with similar values, attitudes, and beliefs tend to be attracted to interactions with each other because they think and feel in similar ways. This creates positive feedback between both individuals during their interactions.

The similarity-attraction effect may be one reason we even join associations: We naturally seek people with similar values, attitudes, and beliefs, including those regarding our professional growth.


If board members have similar personality traits, their interactions in the boardroom are likely to be more engaged and positively charged, following the logic of the similarity-attraction effect. However, differences in personalities are more likely to cause misunderstandings of one another’s motivations and questions. These types of interactions are more likely to deteriorate.

Differentiating characteristics in boards that are directly observable seem to be those that promote the most reaction, assumption, and delineation. To maintain an effective board, especially during times of change, boards have to pay close attention to the type of conflicts they experience. Knowing the type of conflict will help boards work through those challenges.

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