Strategy Outside of a Plan

I recently attended a webinar led by Lowell Applebaum, Vista Cova, on the title of this blog post. Lowell is also a faculty member of Institute for Organization Management.

He started out by making the following statements.

  • Strategy – a plan of action or policy.
  • Strategy Benefits – shared vision, mission. 
  • Strategy Deficits – moment in time, these are times of change.
  • Strategic Plans – frequency should be a set of direction and goals – very different then the 5-year goals, retreats in the past.
 
Components of a Strategic Plan
 
  • History – where you came from.
  • Vision – your ideal future, ask your board what they would add, he used the term “additive listening” to create a group vision.
  • Organization Vision and Mission – why, leadership litmus test, resonance in affiliation, definition to the external world.  Always put this in front of your board at every meeting.  Use the back of your name tents to remind why your organization exists.  Vision – statement of the future, Mission – how you’re going to do it.
  • Identity – who we are and how we act.
  • Audiences – know your who.
  • Core Values – what makes you, you!
  • Core Pillars – your area of focus.
  • Unifying Vision – direction and strategy for your volunteers.
  • Operational Plan – action items to implement your strategy.
 
Strategy Outside the Plan
 
What are you doing on an ongoing basis to help the strategic plan through everyday results?  He went on to talk about implementing a “Plan Ahead Team” – a group to keep their eye on the future and trends.  Think Foresight!  I did a blog on that topic which can be found HERE.  It’s another way of saying scenario planning.
 
Listening as a Board Competency – he listed a number of ways you can touch base with your membership to get a pulse of what is happening in their industry, which included but not limited to, surveys, monthly calls, member visits, advisory groups, competition awareness, focus groups.
 
Strategic Refresh – what is your vision in the post pandemic disruption that we all have been dealing with over the past 12-18 months.  Get the right people in the room to have this discussion.  Have a plan for a quarterly update/milestones.  In 12 months, what do we want our members to say about us?
 
Core Audiences – who are your audiences?  Create a list.  Most will be your member’s, but you should also have a list of non-members who are your core audiences (i.e., educators, legislators, groups in your community that can’t be members, etc).
 
Program Impact Matrix – do you measure your programs for relevancy?  What a great way to get rid of those sacred cows.  For a blog post on that subject go HERE.  Others call this program-based budgeting, go HERE for that blog post.
 
Creating Space for Innovation – he talked about how we were forced to do this over the past 12 – 18 months.  But are you solidifying this for future growth?  Think risk/failure options on new programming.
 
Building Board Relationships – between the chief executive officer and the board is critical.  Communication is key.
 
Give yourself space and grace!

Marketing Basics: What You Need to Know to Set Your Marketing Plan

I recently attended a webinar by one of my favorite marketers, Melissa Harrison, Founder of Allee Creative, on the title of this blog.  She is great!

The following are my top line notes from her session.


Melissa started by asking people to think about their marketing plan in 12-month chunks.


Define your competition and value proposition.  Find out what your competition is doing and tracking it on a spreadsheet can be very helpful as you create your plan.


I’ve said it before chambers, look to your left, look to your right, the next town chamber is your competition.


Your value proposition is the answer to what makes you unique and why your members join you instead of your competition.  For a previous blog post on your value proposition go HERE.


She went on to discuss how business goals and marketing goals are two different things!  Your marketing goals help achieve your business goals.  Business goals are more revenue driven or number of new members secured.


She also talked about how you need to understand your members journey.  This is the sales funnel that everyone talks about - awareness, interest, decision, sales.


She identified 10 elements to establish your marketing plan:


  1. Overview – what are your goals and objectives for the year.
  2. Key messaging – this is your elevator speech, the short answer to who you are and what you do.
  3. Goals – revenue, new members, completing something in your strategic plan.  The goals should be clear and have metrics tied to it (numbers, timing).
  4. Target audiences and persons – understanding a potential members path to join.  They are not all the same.  Also, everyone is not a potential member.  Someone could find you through your website or through some form of social media (this is their discovery, awareness, decision process of joining).  And be mindful that these can change over time.
  5. Competitive analysis – what makes you different.  I’ve talked about the Hedgehog Theory in the past (what do you do best, what do you have passion for and where do you make money).  Where they intersect is the business you should be in.  Go HERE for that blog post.
  6. Distribution channels – think direct mail, email, social media, advertising, video, events, etc.  She suggests your website should be your “home” of your brand as well as it’s a valuable touchpoint!
  7. Budget – you need to be proactive and set an actual budget.  She shared a chart that showed most small businesses budget 7% - 8% of their overall revenue on marketing.  In addition, you need to decide how you will spend that money in the different marketing channels (i.e. advertising, video, website, print and design) you choose to reach your targeted audience.
  8. KPIs/ROI – you must track your success.  What metrics are you going to use to track that measurement?  Stay focused on the numbers.  If you don’t measure your actions, you’ll have no idea if your efforts are successful. Create a dashboard!
  9. Timeline – don’t just plan.  Do.  Give assignments and keep your team focused on the results.
  10. Supporting documents – have a list of resources you can refer to when working through your plan throughout the year.


Melissa ended with a list of tools, templates and resources you can use to execute your plan.


  • Tracking timelines – Asana, Trello, Basecamp
  • Online listening tools – Hootsuite, SproutSocial
  • Content calendars – (templates from Melissa)
  • Email marketing, CRMs, inbound software – Constant Contact, Pipedrive, HubSpot, ConvertKit
  • Graphics and copywriting – Canva, Fiverr
  • Website and analytics – WordPress, SquareSpace, Google Analytics/AdWords
  • Video Platforms – Vimeo, YouTube, Flipgrid 


She finished with a tip for success – “listen harder, focus on digital.”


Good luck in creating your marketing plan of the future.  For a copy of her slide deck go HERE.

Developing Your Board

In chapter six, of his new book Horseshoes vs Chess, Dave starts out by talking about the size of boards, and in his experience, there is no difference in a board of 25 or 75.

Some suggest the smaller the board the more efficient it can be.  Larger boards may take advantage of using an executive committee to do most of the work.

He did talk about how boards should be a representative sample of your community.

 

In the past, I’ve always written about getting board members with three key attributes.

 

  • Intellect
  • Passion
  • Money

 

That’s also another way of saying you want board members who can make decisions for themselves (i.e., C suite or CEO’s).

 

Onboarding is another critical step in having a successful and productive board.  I’m a firm believer that you should have a new board member orientation, led by the chairman, and attended by key staff members of the organization to go over the priorities of the organization and the role they play as board members.

 

This would also be a good time to remind them of their fiduciary responsibilities as board members as it relates to Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience.


Duty of Care - as a board member it is imperative that you do your homework on the board materials prior to the meeting so you can fully participate in the discussion and make informed decisions.

Duty of Loyalty - as a board member you must take your business hat off and put the hat of the organization on and do what’s best for the organization, not your business.

Duty of Obedience - as a board member you must stay true to the mission of the organization and not get involved in things that are not part of your articles of incorporation  or bylaws.


At the end of the day, set the expectations upfront, that way they will know how to respond.  For a previous post on board orientations go HERE and HERE.

 

Good luck!

Working with a Board of Directors

In chapter five of his recent book, Horseshoes vs Chess, Dave Adkisson, makes the statement that reporting to a board is so different than reporting to a boss.  So true!

He talked about getting your board members involved in something they want to do to support the chamber and the community.


He talked about finding a unique way to get each board member involved, which could be:

 

  • Financial support;
  • A go between with the mayor on a sensitive topic;
  • Use a personal connection to secure a key speaker at one of your programs; or
  • They might lend their marketing department to run a special membership campaign.

 

He went on to talk about the complexities of having a new boss each year (i.e., a new chairman).  I’ve talked about the important role you as the CEO should play in the nominating process so you can have input on who will be going up the chain of command.

 

His approach is more nuanced than that since he never wanted to be in a position to pick one person over another.  He would give background information that might be helpful in steering the conversation and ultimately picking the person he thought would be best, but not always.

 

I have written in the past that a Memorandum of Understanding might be worth sharing with your incoming chairman.  It lays out who is responsible for what throughout the year.  This can be shared at an orientation meeting you conduct with your incoming chairman just before they take the reigns of the organization.

 

The last thing I wanted to comment on in chapter five (there’s so much more) is the “No Surprises Rule.”  This is true for everybody no matter your status in an organization.  Always inform your boss if there is something they should know so they don’t get blindsided (manager to director, director to vice president and yes CEO to Chairman).  I think you get the idea!

 

For more resources on board governance go HERE.  For a copy of Dave’s book go HERE.

COVID Culture Change: Are You Ready?

I attended a webinar led by Jamie Notter, with Propel, on the subject of culture in our organizations.  He’s been doing this a long time and it is not the first I’ve heard him speak.

The following post are my notes from his presentation and some direct quotes from his PPT.

The culture at our organizations has changed over the past year.  He started by making two statements or observations:

 

  • WHADITW – in 2019, we have always done it that way; and
  • WHNDITW – in 2020, we have never done it this way.

 

In 2021, he discussed culture, culture patterns and culture plays.

 

Culture – “the collection of words, actions, thoughts, and stuff that clarifies and reinforces what is truly valued in an organization.”

 

Culture patterns – he discussed the things that are happening underneath in an organization not just on top and put some statistics to his comments.

 

He focused on three of eight of these patterns he’s identified, Innovation, Agility, and Collaboration.

 

Innovation – people embrace innovation but it’s unrealized.  He talked about concepts vs practices.  We make effort but don’t follow through.  His final comment on this was just do it!

 

Agility – he used the terms forward action vs effective action and stated we’re not good at stop doing things.  Think sacred cows and go HERE for a blog post I did on that subject.

 

Collaboration – we value it but we’re not building the processes and systems to bring them to fruition.  In this case, it’s individual vs groups.  This is where silos come in to play and have a negative effect on moving forward.

 

He went on to discuss the advantage of having a culture playbook.  What does he mean by that?  He mentioned six but focused on three: process; structure/design; and technology.  If you don’t have these three in place you won’t make much progress.

 

He identified three areas that have changed since COVID.

 

Increase Passive Transparency - when you’re in the office you get a sense of who does what, who’s meeting and who’s doing what.  In this remote work life, you need to find ways to show that by what we’re missing by not being in the office.

 

Share more from the top – we moved to bi-weekly all staff meetings to hear from the senior leadership team.  We did not have that when we were in-person.

 

Handle your difficult conversations – it’s important to not let these “prickly” issue fester when working remotely.

 

He ended with a suggestion - “if you want to change your culture you need to measure your successes.”  Be intentional about your culture and measure it.

 

Measure results!

Member Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission

The following blog post are my notes from a webinar sponsored by Marketing General and presented by their SVP Tony Rossell, on his new book and title of this blog Member Recruitment: How to Grow Recurring Revenue, Reach New Markets, and Advance Your Mission. Get your copy HERE.

He started out by talking about the power of membership and the difference you can make in your industry.  He went on to ask the question – “What’s Your Strategy?”

 

The discussion pivoted to what marketing channels are you using to recruit members?  He mentioned, in my opinion, the new buzz word in the space, “Omnichannel.”  What does that mean?  In a nutshell, it means meeting your prospective members where they are, at a time they want to engage, and on a platform they choose.

 

You already are doing this with your website, mail, email, digital advertising, conferences, texting and possibly video.  In my opinion, the key is messaging and I subscribe to the COPE process (create once publish everywhere) keep the message the same.

 

Speaking of messaging, it’s one of his five pillars of a membership plan.  The five are:

 

Define your target market – he mentioned the data pyramid, some may call it the sales funnel, it’s makes you focus on who to target as a priority (i.e., lapsed members, prospects who attended an event of yours, a referral and then your list).

 

Special offers – this is your call to action.  Many do a 15 month for 12 membership campaign.  He talked about how membership is a push product.  We need to go to them.  They don’t show up at your chamber door to buy like the retail sector.

 

Messaging – what is your value proposition?  For a past blog post on that subject go HERE.  Find out what your members want from you.  This can be done with your annual member survey.

 

Channels – what platforms are you using to get your message out?  Website, mail, email, digital advertising or texts.

 

Resilience – you need to track and analyze your results and adjust accordingly.  

 

He went on to talk about the two biggest reasons why membership growth is a challenge:

 

  • Paralysis of analysis; and
  • No budget or staff resources are put in place for the plan.

 

Just get started!  Get a test out there.  Go to your lapsed members first.  Some may have dropped because they had to watch their budgets last year.

 

Membership builds loyalty, trust and repeat customers, that’s why corporate America are calling their customers members and charging them to do it (think COSTCO).

 

I did a blog post in the past “Membership is Everybody’s Business.”  For that post go HERE.

 

At the end of the day, we are membership organizations, and as he said, you can’t renew your way to growth.  You need new members to grow your chambers and have a healthy organization.  And as far as budgets to fund your recruitment campaign, make sure you know the LTV or lifetime value of your members.

 

Another key aspect to your marketing is to test your message and frequency of responses to maximize your recruitment dollars.

 

For more resources from Marketing General, Inc., including their annual benchmarking survey go HERE.

Onboarding to Activation: Hook New Members Early, Reel Them in for a Lifetime

What a great discussion from the speakers, as well as the participants, who all deal in membership activities for their organizations.  The following comments are my notes from the session. 

Onboarding – while I’m sure you’re already doing many of these, I thought I’d put a list of what they suggested from a trade or professional association perspective.

Do’s

  • Send them your new member kit via mail or email.
  • Welcome call from the CEO, staff member of volunteer (one of your membership ambassadors).
  • Ask why they’re joining in your application process or you could do a quick survey after they’ve joined to get to their motivation.
  • When onboarding, focus on everything you have to offer that responds to the what, where and how they want to engage with you.
  • Do a new member orientation every month for the new members.
  • At the end of the day, make messages/communications personal (make a connection).
  • Personal introductions to key staff members, outside your CEO, within your organization (i.e., policy experts, etc.). 

Don’ts

  • Feel as if you have to do everything in-person when onboarding your new members.
  • Communicate with all new members as if they’re all the same (i.e., segment them) and focus on their individual needs.

Activation – finding the right hook

  • What is the number one member benefit they are interested in?
  • Survey them at their six-month anniversary to deepen your ties.  It’s important to do this before the renewal cycle.
  • They talked about serving the different staff levels of your members, many may want different things and you need to find out what that is (i.e., advocacy for CEO and education/networking for others)?

Onboarding to Activation

  • During the Pandemic they talked about moving everything to digital communications, quarterly webinars, etc.
  • It’s important to keep your members engaged during these times and sending mail was not the best option, at least at this time.
  • Try some more informal meetings throughout the year for different segments of your membership (i.e., networking for those individuals).
  • Moving forward they feel as if events will be a combination of hybrid options of in-person and online programs.

A main theme that came out for me is don’t give them too much all at once (think drinking water from a firehose).  You should have a three-month, six-month or nine-month campaign where you are communicating with them on their membership benefits (drinking water through a garden hose).  Obviously, they’ll be getting all your regular communications throughout the year on other membership activities and programs.

It’s important to be consistent in your onboarding process communications.  A first Monday of the month communication for your three, six or nine-month strategy should be tight, focused and based on features of membership.

Another thought was don’t ask for them to volunteer in these communications or don’t do a direct marketing campaign to sell them something else.  Give them time to engage with the free features of membership.  BTW, money is tight right now!

Some even have a rule of don’t sell them anything for the first six-months of their membership (i.e. a solicitation for a PAC contribution or Foundation donation if you have either).

Having a CMS or marketing tool that automates this process is key. For a resource on auto marketing from Hubspot go HERE.