How Thriving Associations are Embracing Innovation and Blazing a New Trail to Relevance

The following is based on a webinar I attended, moderated by Michael Hoffman, with Gather Voices, on the subject of the title of this post.

For a copy of Mary Byers and Harrison Carver's book on Race for Relevance go HERE.
They started out by talking about communication styles during the pandemic.  Do you know the preferred ways of communication for your members?  If not, ask your members how they want to be communicated with.
Generations play a role in how each want to be spoken to and how they will engage with your organization.
They discussed the idea of going back vs moving forward with how we communicate with our members based on in-person or virtual meetings.  You need a separate virtual strategy, not just streaming a live event.
Younger members are not engaging like the older members.  Are your membership business models changing?  Do you have a non-member revenue strategy?  It’s about building influence in your industry or community.  Mary asked the question, “do these folks need to be members?”
They pivoted to having a discussion on organization boards.  Does your board represent the different generations in your membership and community?
Think about how you are selecting new board members.  The old model of the volunteer journey may be over.  The thought of it taking 10-15 years to get that board invite after you’ve participated in other activities within the organization are over, or they should be!
Do you have a designated board slot for the Gen Z group?
They went on to talk about how innovation plays a role in our organizations – things they’ve seen: creating a strategy, set aside money to experiment, list possibilities and then prioritize and finally test.  Corporate America has been doing this for years.
It’s important to focus on what’s working (think delivering value to your members) and getting rid of sacred cows.  For a blog post on killing sacred cows go HERE.
“Keys to innovation is abandonment” – what a great quote.  How are you evaluating your program of work to decide what you should be focused on doing?  Is your program of work mission specific, do members participate, do you make money on these programs?  You must look at your resources and capacity to deliver a great product.

I did a previous post on the Hedgehog Theory which goes into more depth on the idea of the previous paragraph, for that post go HERE.
Use data to make these decisions and be consistent in whatever questions or metrics you want to use to decide what programs you will maintain and those that you will shutter.
Create a matrix and use it to evaluate each of your programs. That way you’re comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges.
Remember, nonprofit doesn’t mean don’t make a profit.  Run your chamber like a business.  You are a business organization, right?
Fail forward and fail fast.  That too is a part of innovation. Launch your new program and see if your members react.  Did they engage, attend, buy?  If not, tweak and try again, or drop it and move on to the next idea!
For a copy of an updated version of the Race for Relevance book go HERE.

Top Digital Marketing Trends and Opportunities

I recently attended a webinar on the title of this post moderated by Kevin Taylor, Communicate by Design.

Speaker Bill Shaheen, Vice President, MultiView, highlighted eight trends based on an association leadership study they recently conducted.  For a copy of their 2021 Digital Marketing Trends & Opportunities report go HERE.

He made the general statement that the biggest pain points for organizations to do better in their digital marketing are lack of time, resources and knowledge.


Here are my notes based on his presentation:


Digital Content Consumption – prior to Covid, people would spend on average 3 hours and 17 minutes consuming digital content, post Covid that jumped to 6 hours and 59 minutes per day.


E-Learning Has Skyrocketed – Google searches increased by 100% for online courses.


Connected TV (CTV) – using the Internet for TV programming, not your cable company.  Think Netflix, HULU, Apple, etc.


Video is the Most Popular – YouTube is right behind Google (parent company).  93% of brands acquire new customers because of video on social media.


Digital Ads – remains strong.  The younger generations consume through social media while the older generations consume through TV.


Contextual Ads Perform Best – these are ads that are related to the content you’re looking at on the Internet in real-time.  It’s not a static ad on a landing page.


Marketing Personalization is Mandatory Not Optional – give your members what they want when they want it.  Today’s databases easily allow this to happen.


Virtual Events Are Here to Stay – at least for 2022 and part of 2023.  Once people feel comfortable with in-person events, they will come back strong.  We’re already seeing this now.


Bill then pivoted to talk about digital marketing opportunities and suggested the following three things you should be doing: 1) increase your digital investment; 2) spend more on digital vs print; and 3) spend 5-6% of annual revenue on marketing each year.


He went on to talk about the top three places to invest your digital dollars: 1) website; 2) social media; and 3) email marketing.

Other areas he mentioned were search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing.  When it comes to social media, find out where your members are consuming their digital content.


Final suggestions:


  • Target your communications to your different audiences within your membership.
  • Video marketing through testimonials and e-learning promotion.
  • And don’t forget to make it personal.  You want to speak to them as you really know them, based on their past participation with your organization.

Adapt to Meet New Challenges

This is the final post, in a four-part series, based on the book, Stop The Non-Profit Board Blame Game, by Hardy Smith.

The book is segmented into four parts and this post addresses the title of part IV of the book.

The final section of the book started out about addressing the culture of a board and changing it to one of performance.  He goes into detail on a pathway to create this transformation to a performance-based culture.
I did a blog post on board scorecards and I’m a fan of using it as a tool, amongst many, that you can track the performance of your board.  For a copy of that scorecard go HERE.

The segment ends by addressing board leadership, strategic thinking and board member behavior that affects governance.
Board Leadership – it’s about being part of the nominating committee and truly selecting leaders with the skill-set your chamber needs.  For previous blog posts on that go HERE and HERE.

Strategic Thinking – recently there’s been a trend toward Foresight thinking and how it puts a different twist on the process.  That blog post can be found HERE.
Board Behavior – remind them of their fiduciary responsibilities, Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty and Duty of Obedience.  A blog post addressing that subject can be found HERE.

I want to thank Hardy for sending me a signed copy of his book and allowing me to create these past four posts, based on his great work!  For more information on Hardy Smith, you can go to his website HERE.

Create a Positive Board Experience

This is the third in a four-part series, based on the book, Stop The Non-Profit Board Blame Game, by Hardy Smith.

The book is segmented into four parts and this post addresses the title of this post and is part III of the book.
This section of the book rightly so addresses the importance of relationships between the CEO and the board and board members with their board member peers.
And what’s the best way to build these relationships?  Open, honest and transparent communications with board members.  For me, I personally don’t feel there is such a thing as over communicating.
Hardy goes on to discuss the role of recognition and appreciation of your board members, as well as, making sure your volunteers have a positive experience.
He finishes this section of the book by highlighting the importance of knowing your board members, board engagement and ways to achieve board diversity.  And he’s not just talking about gender and race.

For a previous post on Board Relations and Leadership go HERE.
For more information on Hardy Smith, you can go to his website HERE.

Get the Right People

This is the second in a four-part series, based on the book, Stop The Non-Profit Board Blame Game, by Hardy Smith.

The book is segmented into four parts and this post addresses the title of the blog and is part II of the book.
There’s been a lot written on this subject matter, including previously on this blog HERE, over the years.

Hardy discusses practical ways of getting the right people on your board by recruiting with purpose and process.  I would suggest this is the most important part of having a successful and functioning board.
I’ll also suggest, as the CEO, you should have a role in the nominating process.  And remember, these decisions, good or bad, typically come with a six-year consequence.  For a previous blog post on nominating committees go HERE.

He goes on to give great practical advice for your board recruiting process.  He addresses why board prospects say yes or say no.  He finishes this part of the book with a chapter titled, Have the Money Talk.
My take on the recruiting process for potential board members, and I’ve said it before for years, you want their passion, their intellect, and their money!
For more information on Hardy Smith, you can go to his website HERE.

Break the Cycle of Dysfunctional Board Relationships

This is the first in a four-part series, based on the book, Stop the Nonprofit Board Blame Game by Hardy Smith.

The book is segmented into four parts and this post addresses the title above.

Hardy talks about setting expectations for board members.  Do they know what their role is as a board member?  Do you have a job description for your potential new board members?
In my opinion, and noted in previous posts, it’s a must!  Go HERE and HERE for two posts, on the subject of job descriptions, for your board.

He also discusses that the frustration can be from both sides, the staff and the volunteers.
Based on his research with volunteers, he’s identified seven categories of the biggest criticisms of board members; communication, expecting too much, conflict with staff, conflict within the board, wasted time, lack of organization and the wrong people.
While that’s a lot to unpack, his book gives practical advice on how to address each.

He finishes this section with a discussion on finding out why members say yes or no to serving on a nonprofit board.

For more information on Hardy Smith, you can go to his website HERE.

Developing a Strategic Plan

This blog post is based on the title of Chapter 14, of Dave Adkisson’s book, Horseshoes vs Chess.

He starts out by discussing the difference between an internal plan vs an external plan.

Internal – is about getting the chamber back in shape and build the capacity to do more.

External – is about taking it to the next level.  Once your internal mechanisms are in good shape, now it’s time to focus on what you can do for the community (think long-term).

He goes on to talk about how your strategic plan needs to also have a yearly business plan.

For a resource on creating a strategic plan go HERE.

He then went on to discuss reporting on the progress of your strategic plan.

It’s important that these updates be informative and accurate.  It’s about accountability.  The consent calendar is a great place to put the strategic plan update.  Should a specific topic need to be addressed, feel free to make it a topic for discussion as a formal agenda item.

At the end of the day, the strategic plan (3-5 years) and your business plan (every year) progress reports need to be shared, internally and externally.

Remember, your program of work should always be tied to your strategic plan.  Stay focused, your members will appreciate it and support you!