All posts by Deirdre Reid

Deirdre is a freelance writer, blogger and copywriter. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. Away from her laptop, you can find her hiking, doing yoga, cooking new recipes, volunteering at the history museum, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and glass of wine or craft beer.

Has Your Association Really Earned Your Members’ Trust?

Trust is a cherished commodity these days. Trust in government is at a historic low. Trust in businesses has remained steady over the years, but isn’t much to brag about. A Forrester Research survey found that:

  • Only 10 percent of consumers trust advertising.
  • Between 85 and 90 percent don’t trust posts by companies or brands on social networking sites.
  • Only 8 percent trust emails from companies and brands.

Thank goodness, you work for an association. But associations have to earn trust too. You would think that if a person or company pays hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of dollars to join an organization, their trust comes along with the check. Not necessarily so.

Think about your payments to cable, phone or insurance companies. How much trust do you have in, for example, Comcast or Time Warner? You need what they’re selling, but that doesn’t mean you trust them. You have a transactional, not a trusting, relationship.

Some members join because they must, not because they really want to. Perhaps they have to join at the national level if they want to be part of a local chapter. Or, they have to join to register for your conference. Or, they have to join because it’s the expected thing to do. Can you assume you’ve earned their trust?

Luckily, most members join more willingly. Their decision to join is based on your value or reputation, or on recommendations from others. They have high expectations for an experience, not a transaction. And you still have to earn their trust.

Seth Godin warns us not to be complacent about trust. He asks, “How have you regularly overinvested and prioritized being the most trustworthy organization/individual in your industry? Being just like the others and doing your job doesn’t get you to this level.” Don’t assume trust will develop between you and your members. You have to be intentional about it.

The 5Cs of trust for 501(c)s

The Values Institute identified five values at work in growing trust:

  • Competence
  • Consistency
  • Connection
  • Candor
  • Concern

Competence and Consistency are functional values – “essential for building a foundation of trust.” During the recession, we lowered our brand expectations to basic, functional requirements – competent products and services delivered consistently. Amazon is the most trusted and essential of all of the retail brands, according to Forrester Research, because it consistently delivers on its promises, provides good value for the money and has the highest-quality products and offerings.

How does a trustworthy association demonstrate these values?


  • Provide high-quality programs and resources that members want and need.
  • Operate efficiently with streamlined processes, well-trained staff and effective use of technology.
  • Be innovative, nimble and responsive.
  • Achieve goals and fulfill mission.


  • Encourage everyone — volunteer leaders, CEO and staff – to behave according to the values espoused by the association.
  • Be reliable, dependable and stable in good times and bad.
  • Honor the membership (value) promise. PayPal, another trusted company, promises (and delivers) a safe and secure payment service.

Connection – “the bridge to a deeper, more meaningful relationship.”

  • Provide frequent, targeted communication and engage regularly with members and the community.
  • Maintain an active media presence. Be a social CEO or staffer.
  • Provide a relevant, personalized experience, like Amazon’s.
  • Don’t take relationships for granted. All types of engagement are identified and acknowledged
  • Help members feel connected to the people behind the association brand – volunteer leaders, staff and CEO. Encourage staff and volunteers to be brand ambassadors.

As we move further away from the recession, we expect our emotional needs to be satisfied too. Candor and Concern are emotional values.


  • Exhibit transparency and honesty.
  • Open up governance. Help members understand how and why decisions are made.
  • Have a plan to address issues and crises head on.


  • Demonstrate how much the association respects, advocates for and cares about members, attendees and employees.
  • Listens to needs and feedback, both good and bad.
  • Be member-focused, not leadership-focused. Amazon “seeks to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
  • Repair and squash adversarial, “us vs. them” attitudes.
  • Become an inclusive culture.

The 5Cs of trust fit onto a sticky note. They’re a good reminder of what we need to do to truly earn the trust of our members, customers, attendees and community.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who is just now realizing how few brands she does trust. Blame it on Facebook.


The Secret Code to Membership and Community from GitHub

Every winter, kingmakers, rainmakers and newsmakers gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. “While organizations will spend an average of $40,000 to send their CEOs, heads of state and moguls to the ultimate schmooze-a-thon,” says Matt Asay in ReadWrite, “the reality is the world won’t be reshaped in Davos next week. It will happen on GitHub.”

GitHub is an open-source site where 5.2 million software developers are collaborating right now across 10.8 million code repositories. Why is GitHub so successful and influential?

GitHub is THE place to go

githubGitHub has something other tech communities don’t. “It will give you geek cred with your developer peers and a far better chance to change the world then you would have in Davos,” says Asay. GitHub provides its members the same experiences that your members want:

  • Collaborate and co-create with the potential to change the profession, industry or world – a chance to make a difference.
  • Make a name for themselves – your industry’s version of “geek cred.”
  • Learn about the latest news and trends. ReadWrite says, “If you watch which projects are trending on GitHub, you’ll have a reasonable approximation of where the world is heading.”

The “critical mass of interested GitHub users” and their “stream of helpful code contributions” are the golden handcuffs for its members. Imagine if your community was that valuable and unique in your market. Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, said recently in ASAE’s Collaborate community: “Put your efforts into the two things that drive your members: getting valuable information and a connection to their peers.”

Think about GitHub as a social product, says Vijith Assar at The New Yorker. “The big problem GitHub solves is about collaboration, not software.” GitHub doesn’t solve problems for its members, instead it provides what members need to solve problems. Reuter’s Felix Salmon calls it a “combinatorial platform” and imagines the “possibilities of a world powered by an unprecedented level of connectivity between people, ideas, and code.”

The organization behind the platform

Their success, says GitHub engineer Zach Holman, comes by focusing first on their people, processes and technology, not their product or service. Although this approach seems a bit counterintuitive, it makes sense. Before focusing on the products or services (value) you provide to members, you need the right people (staff and volunteer leaders), processes and technology in place to identify and deliver that value.

GitHub is a flat organization. Instead of being fixed within a rigid hierarchy and trapped behind departmental divisions, employees work without managerial interference on projects where they can make the biggest difference — “contributing expertise that might otherwise be locked up in a particular silo,” according to Wired. Collaboration is valued, not control.

GitHub’s culture is reflected in its community – one affirms the other. If you’d like to create a more collaborative, dynamic community culture, look first at your organization’s staff and leadership culture and model the behavior you would like to see.

Facing up to an uncomfortable reality

Until recently, a circular mat with the phrase, “United Meritocracy of GitHub,” was the first thing a visitor to GitHub’s headquarters would see. But the rug was removed because GitHub realized their motto was BS. They had unfinished business – becoming an inclusive community. “The false idea that the tech industry is a meritocracy hurts everyone,” says Lauren Orsini at ReadWrite. “Opportunities, connections and socioeconomic status still matter. So do race and gender.”

“We’re getting better about proactively going out and looking for people who are unlike us,” says GitHub President Tom Preston-Werner. “We can build better products and have better services for our customers if we have better representatives from a more holistic demographic.” Is your leadership and volunteer recruitment process proactive or passive? How comfortable is your senior staff and volunteer leadership with people who are unlike them?

GitHub is attracting the attention of women (and prospective hires) with its Passion Projects lecture series that features women in technology talking about their work. Their purpose is to “celebrate the work of incredible women in our industry, produce more female role models within the tech community” and build “a stronger and healthier community and support network with our peers.”

Think about how your association can attract the attention of niche groups and get them excited about your community, profession or industry. Focus on the key words in that quote – celebrate, role models, community and support network. Are you providing these benefits to everyone in your association and community? If not, take a cue from GitHub and start changing your world.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who is thankful that tech geeks have a lot to teach the rest of us.


Let’s Get Real: Association Marketing Photos

Every day, 55 million photos are shared on Instagram and 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook. Pinterest is the fastest-growing content sharing platform of them all.

We’re a visual culture. We create images with the cameras in our pockets. Our digital streams are full of images of real people in real situations shared by our friends, followers, fans and even brands. When we see an image that rings false, we take notice.

Who are you? Who who, who who?

photographerMeetings and hospitality consultant Joan Eisenstodt took notice of something disturbing: “Recently, while thumbing through industry and industry-related publications and viewing websites, I was struck by what I saw: men. And lots of them. In an industry purported to be made up of more women than men, the photos were of men!”

She started a discussion in ASAE’s Collaborate community about what images and illustrations say about an organization. In her blog post she asked, “Who is shown as representative of the profession or of the members or customers you want to attract?” Too many associations rely on stock photos that are stale representations of professionalism. Seriously, how many handshakes of men in suits do we need to see? Or, associations go overboard with images that represent their aspirations but not their reality photos of what one person called “the Rainbow People.”

Susan Avery, CEO of the International Association of Plastics Distribution, had the right answer, as usual: “How about actually using pictures of our members?” Her association hires a professional photographer to take photos at their annual convention. Staff supplements them with photos they take at smaller meetings. As a result, their marketing collateral reflects their membership and industry.

Stock photos are a crutch, not a solution.

This discussion reminded me of an excellent post written by Vanguard Technology’s Ray van Hilst: Say NO to Stock Photography for Association Websites. To show the deleterious effects of relying on bad stock photography, he illustrated (with photos!) how often we see the same “silver haired business man” on association websites. That guy is everywhere!

Ray pointed to a study showing that photos of real people outperform stock photos by 95 percent. Wow! And here’s another stat: content containing compelling images attracts 94 percent more total views on average than content without images.

Compelling photos showing real people, not studio models, are better for your association’s calls to action and image. Instead of using fake, generic photos, opt for authentic, unique images. Avectra does this well with AUDC photos. Every time I see them, I think, “Hey, I know her!” (Hi Rebecca!)

You can do it!

In another post, Ray explained how two associations get their members’ help in collecting real photos. Besides the annual meeting, he lists several other events that are also good photo-taking opportunities.

To avoid liability, get the permission of your members and attendees to use their photos. ASAE publishes this “Consent to Use Photographic Images” on their brochures:

“Registration and attendance at or participation in ASAE meetings and other activities constitutes an agreement by the registrant to ASAE’s use and distribution (both now and in the future) of the registrant or attendee’s image.”

You have a few options for gathering a collection of photos:

  • Hire a professional photographer. Be picky. Your image is on the line.
  • Send willing staff to photography classes. If their photos aren’t quite ready for public consumption, use them for member platforms and publications.
  • Get the help of members, as in Ray’s examples.
  • Or, use Creative Commons licensed photos from the Web. Assume that all photos you see on the Web are under copyright protection. But if they have a Creative Commons license, you can use them as long as you give attribution and link back. 

When I’m searching for a Creative Commons licensed photo, I start with Flickr or Google. Google recently made it easier to search for CC licensed photos. Go to Google Images, Search Tools, Usage Rights and then select “labeled for reuse.” The Atlantic and Modern Art Notes have lists of the museums and governments that offer CC licensed photos.

Your photos should represent and resonate with your target audience. And as much as I hate to say this as a writer, they’re (almost) as important as your marketing copy.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who takes mediocre photos of her culinary creations but good photos of her cat.

Association Member Benefit: Curated Subscription Services

Amazon the Omniscient recently patented “anticipatory shipping.” One day it hopes to send you products you want before you even order them. They’ll use data about purchases, wish lists, browsing and searches in your area to take pesky buying decisions out of your hands. You can already get regular, automatic delivery of products with Amazon’s “subscribe and save” service.

Once upon a time, subscriptions were limited to magazines and “of the month clubs.” Now you can subscribe to services that deliver pretty much anything you need to your door or computer — razors, pantyhose, condoms, films, ebooks and more.

Tien Tzuo, CEO of a subscription billing platform, says the “subscription economy” benefits organizations too. “Most of the things that a company needs to survive – phones, storage space, even offices – can now be handled via subscriptions at a fraction of the immediate capital outlay.” Associations find it more cost-effective to subscribe to Software as a Service (SaaS) or Network as a Service (NaaS) – management systems, email marketing platforms and network infrastructure hosted in the cloud – instead of investing in systems, software and servers.

The subscription economy appeals to a society that is overwhelmed with choices and willing to pay someone else to figure it out for them. Smart companies are taking on a curator’s role to add value to subscriptions. For example, Birchbox is a monthly subscription service that delivers boxes of curated cosmetic samples along with how-to videos and a magazine.

Association (fill in the blank) of the Month Club

Can you guess what I’m thinking? Why can’t associations offer subscriptions of curated products too? Members are inundated with information and choices. Make life a little easier for them. Provide a members-only curation service. Associations Now does a simple version of this with their daily Lunchtime Links and Social Media Roundup.

curationYou could identify the best articles, blog posts, videos or podcasts for your members in a weekly newsletter or section of your website. Or, you could take it to the next level: offer subscriptions to a monthly or bimonthly service. For example, send subscribers a newly released book every other month, one that would appeal to professionals in your industry.

Imagine if ASAE had a members-only book club subscription. We might receive books by conference keynotes, like Quiet by Susan Cain or Decisive by Chip and Don Heath, along with books by association management experts. The subscription could also include online book club discussions with guest appearances by the authors. What a way to stoke conversation about industry issues!

What types of products or services do your members need regularly at work? A monthly delivery of professional supplies or tools? A quarterly delivery of goodies for their staff? Once you identify their regular product needs and interests, figure out how you can meet those needs plus add an element of delight.

A recent Inc. magazine article discussed the growth of subscription services for niche and local interests. An industry analyst said, “It’s the only way to buy a gift for yourself without knowing what the gift is going to be.” How can you help your members treat themselves?

Rethink the membership menu.

The association market has the technology and AMS functionality to manage all kinds of subscriptions.

  • Make subscriptions a members-only benefit. If members subscribe, they’re automatically charged a fixed amount every month or quarter. 
  • A quarterly subscription service is included in basic membership. If members want to increase frequency, they pay extra. 
  • You could offer a monthly subscription as part of a premier membership level along with other exclusive benefits.

One caveat: don’t mix up membership with subscriptions – that’s been a hot topic lately in a discussion about monthly memberships in ASAE’s online community, Collaborate. Subscriptions are transactions: an exchange of money for a commodity. Membership is a relationship, experience and community. Membership should be transformational, not transactional.

Ask members to help you identify needs and interests and design subscriptions. As long as curated subscriptions are aligned with your association’s goals and mission, they will add value and delight to the membership experience.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and one-time member of the Columbia House Record Club. 12 albums for a penny, who could resist!

Fill in Your Marketing Knowledge Gaps

When you work in associations, you sometimes have to take on responsibilities that stretch your skill set. That’s a good thing! But, when you’re learning and practicing new skills, you don’t always know what you don’t know.

Take marketing. I used to be the resource person for local association staff who marketed membership as well as programs, events, volunteerism, engagement, political action and more. I thought I knew marketing. I had a lot of experience motivating and selling to people, but I was missing some key marketing concepts.

marketingAfter a few months of reading marketing blogs my eyes were finally opened. Benefits vs. featureswhat a concept! I soon realized, there was a lot I didn’t know. Here are some basic marketing topics that every association marketer should have in their skill set.

Marketing plan

A marketing plan or strategy helps you use your limited time and budget to work toward goals that align with your association’s strategic plan and integrate with other organizational strategies. ASAE has samples of marketing plans on their website. 


Listening can be formalsurveys, polls and focus groupsor informal, for example, spending a day with a member, randomly calling members or talking to members at events. By listening, you learn more about your audience and their problems, worries, interests and aspirations.

Data vs. Assumptions

We’re not our members. We’re in a bubble with our board and other leaders. We know too much about some things and too little about others. That’s why you must collect actionable data about your members. You need to understand their behavior and use that knowledge as a basis for marketing decisions.


In ASAE’s 2013 Marketing Trends Watch, one of the most important trends was “micro targeting and/or personalization.” Your members have different specialties, positions, career levels, ages, interests, lifestyles and participation records. Don’t treat them all the same. Segment your distribution lists and target your messaging so you’re only sending relevant information to each segment. 

Features vs. Benefits

I cringe when remembering the brochures I wrote back in my early days of association management. I thought I was highlighting benefits, but I probably described features. Copyblogger explains how to write about benefits, instead of features, and, more importantly, true benefits rather than fake benefits.


Testing elements of marketing campaigns doesn’t have to be as complicated. Many email marketing platforms make testing headlines, copy and design easier than it used to be. You should at least know what you’re missing if you don’t give it a try. Read about the basics of A/B testing at the Kissmetrics blog.


“Capturing the attention of members/prospects” was also identified by ASAE as an important trend impacting association marketers. Capturing that attention begins with the headline. On average, eight out of ten people read headlines, but only two out of ten read the rest of the copy. Copyblogger has advice on writing attention-holding headlines.

Calls to Action

The call to action is what you want your readers to do next, for example, read more, register, make a purchase or click a link. Informz’s 2013 Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report said, “One call to action per email is ideal; demanding too much of readers will distract or confuse them, and your links won’t be clicked on.” To learn how to write a compelling call to action, check out HubSpot’s ebook, An Introduction to Effective Calls to Action.


55 Percent of adult cellphone owners access the Web using their phones. 50 Percent of 18-29 year olds use only their phones to access the Web. These statistics are from the latest Pew report, yet they are nearly two years old. You can bet that a larger percentage of people have developed mobile habits since then, meaning, your marketing must be mobile-friendly.


If people can’t find you on Google, you don’t exist. Although search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex topic, especially since Google frequently changes its algorithms, you should learn the basic principles. Google’s and Search Engineland’s starter guides will help demystify SEO for you.

Content Marketing

Content plays a huge role in marketing your association and its benefits. Your for-profit competitors in the content marketplace dedicate substantial resources to content marketingdon’t lose the battle for eyeballs to them. The Content Marketing Institute will help you strengthen your efforts.

If you’re a self-taught marketer, like I was, subscribe to marketing blogs like Copyblogger, HubSpot and Duct Tape Marketing. A little knowledge will make a huge difference in your marketing efforts.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who believes you can never learn enough about marketing.


Re-energize Your Board and Community by Connecting and Listening

meetingAssociation boards make decisions about programs, content and benefits based on members’ needs and interests. They rely on data collected by surveys, polls, focus groups and other tools to learn about those needs and interests. But, board members (and staff) also bring their own experiences and anecdotal evidence with them to the board room, including stories they hear from other members.

This anecdotal data can be helpful since it may uncover needs, problems and interests that surveys weren’t able to elicit. However, the data can also be deceptive if it only represents the views of a certain type of member, for example, someone who has the opportunity to talk to a board member because they’re also active in the association or in the same age group or pay level as the board member.

Make 2014 the year your board becomes more intentional about how they collect data and stories. Cast a wider net so your data reflects a bigger portion of your membership and market. Do what the Triangle Interactive Marketing Association (TIMA) did: tell your members you’re “trying to listen more this year” and prove it.

Members like being asked for their opinions. It’s flattering, and it shows them that the association is focused on their needs and interests.

Tell your members you’re trying to listen more, even if you think you have been listening well. Ask the board, not staff, to deliver this message. Usually staff are the ones sending surveys and asking for feedback. Members are more likely to pay attention to a personal request from a peer or fellow member.

TIMA, a volunteer-run association, has no staff. Members run the show. In the announcement for their 2014 kick-off event, the board chair, Melissa Kennedy, said, “It’s your turn to make change happen. It’s your TIMA, so help us create an organization that helps you and the local innovative marketing community.” The TIMA board is all ears.

An interactive board, Triangle-style

I attended the kick-off event held last week in a private room at a local brewpub. Upon entering, two friendly board members chatted with me and gave me a name tag and tickets for the raffles and a free beer.

After about 15 minutes of networking time, the board took turns addressing the crowd. They each introduced themselves, talked about a few of their ideas for the coming year and told us what kind of help they needed to make their vision come true. The presentations were light and quick with a two-minute time limit, although Melissa said next time they’ll limit them to one-minute to keep the audience captivated.

The presentations reminded me of the beginning of an unconference when speakers sell their session ideas to the audience. Finally, I put faces to names and got a sense of each board member’s personality.

Later the directors stationed themselves around the room, each next to a big piece of poster paper with their name and contact info on it. Attendees were given sticky notes and markers and asked to post ideas, comments and ways they could help. Conversation was bubbling around each poster. Another idea is to ask directors to write three ideas on their poster and ask people to use star stickers to vote on their favorites.

Melissa said:

“The event was a great way to re-engage our community and kick off the New Year. We got lots of ideas about programming, community outreach and service, and great leads on partners and sponsors. I think the most positive result was that the event helped rally the board to create the best possible association for our members.”

She’s right about re-engaging. In the past year I haven’t been that active in TIMA, but I now feel re-connected and have already agreed to help one of the directors with her charge – recruiting and retaining volunteers.

If you host an in-person event like this, allow time for networking and fun. Raffles are always a big hit, especially when one of the prizes is a Kindle Fire HD.

Invite non-members like TIMA did. A deep discount was given to anyone who joined (or renewed) that night and for the next 48 hours.

To keep the momentum going after the event, give each attendee something on the way out that lists the board members’ contact information and a few micro-volunteering opportunities.

Virtual town halls

Melissa said next year they might add live video, tweeting and polls for those who can’t make it to the physical event. NTEN does something similar with its quarterly town hall meetings:

“We want to hear from you, and these quarterly Town Halls are a way to create a dedicated, open line for NTEN staff to provide updates and insights about our work, and hear from you (yes, you) about what you’re working on, how we can better serve you and your team, and discuss hot topics in the community.”

If your association is looking for a way to re-engage members, consider hosting an in-person and/or virtual kick-off event at the beginning of your next board year. You’ll energize both your board members and your community.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who thinks all associations should be interactive (like TIMA) and provide raffles and free beer.

Deirdre’s Predictions for Associations in 2014, Part 2

What’s in and what’s out for associations in 2014? Associations Now has weighed in and I bet you have some ideas of your own. You know I do!

Before the holidays, in part 1 of my Predictions for Associations in 2014, I speculated about small data, opening your ears and your organization, getting personal, new membership menus, claiming the content crown, new IT departments and vendors as partners. Here are the rest of my predictions.

SoLoMo – Social

In 2014, associations will become more social, local and mobile. If you want to know what a “social” organization looks like, make a resolution to read Humanize by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter this year. You would think “social” would be a natural fit for associations considering the work they do, but, unfortunately, it’s not always a cultural fit. Humanize can help your association fix that.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Membership is everyone’s job.” In 2014, more of us will also say, “Social is everyone’s job,” not just the job of the overworked person in charge of your association’s social media and online community. Almost everyone on staff should be listening to, participating in, sharing with and strengthening your community, starting with the CEO.

Here’s another mistake to fix in 2014: social does not mean promotional. Too many associations still use their social channels only to sell, brag, promote and talk about me, me, me. Social means a two-way conversation. Social means sharing resources no matter the source, even sending members to other websites – gasp! Use social media to become an information filter for your members.

SoLoMo – Local

Members can now find resources, education and networking opportunities online from you and others. But they still want to meet people and develop relationships face-to-face in real life. Unless your association provides unique value that can’t be found elsewhere, local and state associations will have an advantage since only a sliver of national association members have the budget and schedule to attend national events.

In 2014, national associations will reexamine their relationship with chapters and affiliated local and state associations. What once felt like an arranged and lop-sided marriage will develop into a committed and mutually beneficial partnership. As a result, membership in national associations will take on new meaning for members who may never attend a national event or even visit the national website. Chapters may turn out to be saviors for national associations.

SoLoMo – Mobile

If your website still isn’t mobile-friendly, I give up. I mean, seriously, what are you waiting for? An old 2012 report from Pew Research says 50% of 18-29 year old Americans use only their mobile phone to access the web. That percentage is bound to be higher now. If they can’t find you on their phone, you don’t exist.

Integrate Everything

My word for 2014 is integration.

  • Technology integration: Shop for technology that has a really good API and plays well with others.
  • Strategy integration: Departmental strategies, for example, communication, marketing, digital, political and technology strategies, must be aligned with each other and with your association’s strategic goals.
  • Governance integration: Having a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, experience and skills on your board and in other leadership positions isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do if you want to have a healthy, thriving association. That means including those who don’t talk, look, act and think like your current leadership. Shorten your leadership ladder and clear any real and perceived barriers to involvement.
  • Staff integration: One department can’t create content alone. One department can’t mobilize grassroots political action alone. One department can’t recruit leaders alone. You get the idea. Brains in collaboration work better than brains in a departmental box. Let your people go!

Put the Kibosh on the Culture of Control

Collaboration won’t happen unless leadership and department heads release control. Their need for control hinders your organization’s success. For example, no matter what worked in the past:

  • You can’t control the devices and platforms staff uses at work.
  • You can’t control what people say about your association either in real life or online.
  • You can’t control staff’s understandable urge to call BS on stale bylaws, policies, procedures and cultural habits.
  • You can’t control members’ desires to create the membership experience they want instead of the one you’re used to providing.

The more you try to control, the more you dampen spirits and creativity. In time, the best staff will move on and the best industry conversations and events will happen elsewhere. I predict micro-managers and control freaks are going to have a tougher time working in this profession because the association community is too smart for their nonsense.

Associations are rewarding places to work, and our association community is a fascinating space to work in. However, in many associations, culture is what holds you back. It’s time to lose the mindsets, processes, policies and traditions that stand in the way of truly fulfilling your mission. 2014 is the year to experiment with new ways of building community and relationships, sharing knowledge, making voices heard, solving problems, advancing careers, and helping businesses and people grow and thrive.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who still believes in the Power of A.