Friday, August 26, 2011

Diversity in Association Management - the Association Subculture Weighs In

Yes, I still think Jeffrey Cufaude's recent post on diversity was brilliant and brave.  I have no problem supporting a colleague and friend who has taken a bold and impassioned stand on an issue they care about.  I am also impressed with some of the comments and discussion - (Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant in particular),  Elizabeth Engels related post and other comments I have read.  I'm sure there are more comments on the way.

I am not going to get into a huge discussion about race relations in America.  There are others far more savvy than I on these topics.  For example - here is a great post from Melissa Harris-Perry - American History Lessons.   I am also not going to pretend that I am particularly good at handling topics like this and I have my own lenses to look through.  I don't always get this one right.  K?  K. (Although I do tackle LBGTQ issues from time to time - see our need for more executive transvestites :D)

But here are some of the issues I've noticed over this series of posts that I feel most like weighing in on.

The word diversity.  I believe it was Joe Gerstandt who wrote a fantastic post taking issue with the word "diversity" in the past and has encouraged us to use "difference."  (I was looking for the post in particular that I was thinking of - Joe if you read this could you add in comments if I am remembering correctly?) Not all diversity is racial but we tend to default to that definition when using the term.  There are all kinds of different folks out there to get to.  This singular discussion happened to get framed in those terms, but we all know it's bigger than just that.

We tend to gravitate to "safe" discussions.  It's easy to admit we should be more diverse.  It's more difficult to actively seek solutions to the problem.  But the hardest part of all is finding the time to develop a sophisticated understanding of the historical, economic, political and cultural roots of the issues.

Associations aren't a particularly diverse workforce. I just interviewed 200 association executives in my most recent research project.  Off the top of my head, I believe one was African-American and one would be considered Pacific-Islander.   We recognize the need for more difference, but right now the pipeline isn't as full as it should/could be.  And that recognition alone isn't going to be enough to change that.

Part of it is the lack of an official career pathway.  We have not established a formal body of knowledge or developed the relationships we need to have in the K-12 and post-secondary community in order to raise awareness about our profession as a career.  In large part, we use an organic recruitment process that many times results in our pulling potential job candidates from our own social networks that may be more homogenous than we might wish.

We asked, but they still said no.  I hear this from boards of directors all the time.  The issue is more complex than that.  Can we really use our own lenses to "fix the problem" by assuming "asking" is all it takes?  Race relations in the United States have a long, complicated history.  "The ask" isn't always the answer and the fact that we heard "no" doesn't get us off the hook.

We have no other options.  This is an easy one to fall into.  We all routinely get caught in our own mental models of what the "parameters" of any particular problem are.  Remember, every variable you choose to set is up for grabs.  Need a more diverse membership?  It's going to take more than a brochure with the "big four" smiling on the front of it to convince a population you are a safe place to be in.

I respect everyone involved in this particular little controversy and nobody in their right mind would think that any one of them has done anything intentional or isn't somehow vested in changing the composition of our associations.  I am convinced we all have everyone's best interests at heart.

But let's keep having the discussion whenever and wherever it rears it's head.  We can't progress if we don't carefully confront.  We have to be free to raise issues in this association community which I believe truly values conversation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beloit College Mindset List 2015 vs Your Association

A big Association Subculture shout out to Colleen McMahon who posted a link to the Beloit College Mindset List of 2015 on Google+.  I really enjoy this list every year because of the pop culture/sociological spin it has and the fact that it really puts things into new perspective.

I challenge each of you to look at this list and then play a game with yourself.   Read the items and then try to fit that person into your governance structure.  Your board.  Your committees.  Are you feeling good about laying those venerable policies on them?  I'm sure they are dying to read your board manual in all of it's 2-inch-thick-view-binder glory.

How about trying to fit them into your functional areas.  How about membership?  How about communications?  What are they going to think about your website that you haven't even finished "getting into shape yet" when websites are almost already over?

If you are feeling a little nauseous, then I suggest you have some work to do.  And you have to do it FASTER!

If you aren't sweating these issues every day, you are not getting ready for the future.  And if Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson are old enough to be parents...well...really...what can you say to that little nugget of reality.  I need some VH1 Classic - STAT.

If you don't have the patience to click through to the list you can watch a brief video recap here. It should still scare you into a Hostess Fruit Pie coma.  When you come out of it - let's get past the constant wrangling over process and get to making a difference.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Association Subculture Reflects on ASAE 2011 in St. Louis

The chills that you spill
Up my back keep me filled
With satisfaction when we’re done
Satisfaction of what’s to come
I couldn’t ask for another (I-I-I-I)
No, I couldn’t ask for another (that’s right)
Your groove I do deeply dig
No walls only the bridge
My supper dish
My succotash wish (sing it baby)
I couldn’t ask for another (uh-huh, uh-huh)
(I-I-I-I) No, I couldn’t ask for another.....Groove is in The Heart - DEEElite

Job. Well. Done.

I have to say that I echo Jamie Notter's post - I believe ASAE has been listening. Many of the criticisms we have had in the past were addressed this year in positive ways. I came back feeling much more relaxed and much more positive about ASAE than I have in years. Here are some post-event thoughts that are roiling around in my head.

In general.  This year felt more laid back than past years and I can't exactly pinpoint why that was.  Maybe it was St. Louis.  Maybe it was the fact that I spent a few days on vacation before I got there.  I'm just not really sure.  But this annual meeting seemed less "steroided" than in past years.  I had a much easier time drifting from session to session and didn't get that "panicky lemming" feeling very often.  It seemed like there were fewer "private walls" around common areas.

Format.  ASAE did a great job changing up formats.  We had deep dives, shorter sessions, Ignite! and flash session rooms.  I remember being one of the rebels last year who declared that if we couldn't find a session that resonated with us we might just hold our own flash discussion sessions.  Instead of stomping on attendees with that impulse, ASAE created the space for them.  I would have taken advantage of the room if I had the time and might just do that next year.

Acronym.  Loved following guest blog posts on Acronym.  Real time stuff with long time value.  Great job you guys!

Closing session.  WHEN do I get on my feet during a closing session?!?!  I mean - it's almost unheard of.  But this year was different.  Peter Sheahan was a great choice with a high energy presentation.  The ASAE Board didn't spend a year and a half on the stage (no offense, we appreciate you but in the past the "board parade" during the closing sessions was more akin to enduring a marathon or maybe water torture).  We managed to avoid any Candy Spelling-esque debacles and Dallas incorporating volunteers into their 2012 video was really good.  (And can I just give a special Association Subculture what-what to whoever the genius was in Dallas who gave us little laptop speakers?  Yeah, jammin'.)

Peers.  I love my fellow colleagues who make being onsite so fun.  Even before the event cool things were happening like Sandra Giarde, CAE making the crowdsourced ASAE11 playlist and other stuff.  But I have to figure out how to network better when I am onsite.  I think I come across as more social in social media than I have the physical capacity to be at on-site events.  Underneath a confident exterior, and outside of working in my professional day-job capacity,  I am surprisingly shy and awkward one-on-one.  I also have to carefully budget and manage my physical energy at events especially if I am presenting.  I'm like a reverse vampire - instead of bursting into flame in the sun, I poof like so much fairy dust in the moonlight.  So, as much as I want to party down with the YAPStars and charge right up to everyone I recognize and say hello (like Kiki L'Italien and Elizabeth Weaver Engle, etc.) I usually end up kind of "fading out" and not wanting to "bother anyone" or I just flat out literally don't physically "see" people when I'm in my little, thoughts racing/distracted brain-space-bubble.  It's not that I don't love you guys and want to hang out - I really, really do.  There must be a way to figure out how to connect with everyone I want to before Cinder-Michelle-a's interior clock tower bell rings and I race to my hotel room hoping not to lose a shoe along the way.

Next year.  I am already planning on attending next year and I hope to see this positive energy continue to gain momentum.  ASAE staff - if I have any words of advice I would recommend that you keep laying your hands "lightly on the wheel."  You are learning how to strike a nice balance between "organized" and "organic."  We appreciated the experience this year.  Thanks for all of your hard work.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I believe WIFM (short for "what's in it for me?") is the bane of association leadership.

I am aware there is a lot to be said for the WIFM concept. The WIFM idea is very well established and will continue to have a place in discussions regarding the value proposition we offer to member-citizens in associations. There are certainly levels of WIFM considerations in memberships, conference attendance and other consumable products that we offer. But for me, WIFM belongs squarely in the member benefits and marketing department, not in our volunteer leadership structures or the board room.

The Boardroom belongs to WIFU instead (short for "what's in it for us?")

Here's why.

WIFM is a mindset. We know people often ask WIFM before they consider WIFU, but how much of that is human behavior and how much of that is a mental model they have built because we keep telling them THAT is the question they should ask? I refuse to sell Millennials short and insist that they can’t be attracted to a profession, issue or cause through any other method than WIFM. WIFM wasn't on John F. Kennedy's mind when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." He was all about the WIFU.

WIFM is a one-way transaction, WIFU is a two-way conversation. WIFM is valid and individuals use WIFM when evaluating such things as purchases or attendance at events but WIFM is consumerist by its very nature. WIFM doesn’t apply to the totality of the association’s vision and mission or the member experience. If you can make a credible, authentic case for WIFU (What's in it for Us) instead of constantly throwing darts at a moving WIFM target, you have a much better chance of getting and keeping someone’s attention. Individuals have to meet you half way by buying into the WIFU, not simply wait for you to serve up the WIFM.

WIFM is a mirage. We are kidding ourselves. We continue to tell ourselves it is possible to develop such an intimate relationship with our members that we can routinely second-guess and satisfy their every whim and need. Survey fatigue is a growing phenomenon and is a direct result of this mindset. We keep going back to the well time and time again in an effort to decipher where the WIFM is in the minds of a diverse and ever-shifting population. Should we make every attempt to get to know members and develop deeper, more authentic relationships? Absolutely. But absent installing chips in their heads we are not EVER going to be able to guess exactly what they want on any given day.

WIFM is undermining civil discourse. Association discussions and decisions must reflect the WIFU first. If your volunteers are obsessed with WIFM issues, either on behalf of your member-citizens or in pursuit of their own individual goals, you are going to be playing politics - not leading. Do you want chapters to compromise on certain policy positions? Focus on WIFU first and keep WIFM in your back pocket in case you need it. Do you want volunteers to go above and beyond the call of duty? Then infuse volunteer leadership with WIFU first and discuss the WIFM as a secondary, bonus outcome.

WIFM isn't the exclusive motivator. If you ask me to boil my decision about paying dues or belonging to your organization to a coldly practical WIFM calculation as to whether I "get my money's worth" then, sorry, the answer is probably no. The more you tout WIFM reasons for me to fork over the cash, the more put off I get. Especially because social media gives me a way to establish professional relationships and gain access to information on my own. Membership, like friendship, is no longer an experience that you can commoditize the way you do programs, services and other benefits. Genuine affiliation has to be based on something bigger than a WIFM outcome. If you can combine the WIFU with the WIFM, you might get me to say yes.

So, I am not actually sure if anyone else is using the term WIFU. I am probably not the first person to come up with it, but I AM the first person to put it in the urban dictionary. Yes, I am associationgrrrl. :D

And the next time I am in a room with my association peeps and someone says, "we have to concentrate on WIFM" expect me to challenge with, "Only if you can answer WIFU first!"