Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016 Lessons Learned from 7 Associations

People often ask me, “What does SCD Group do?”

As I look back on 2016, a recap might help while offering lessons for other associations and nonprofits.


Using the strategic intent planning model, I guided five (5) national nonprofits in envisioning their futures and/or reviewing their existing strategic plans. In each assignment, I began with a survey of planning participants, association leaders and/or a random sample of members. The survey data helps me plan the planning as well as provide association leaders insight into their organization. The associations I worked with included:

As part of their strategic intent, three of the associations decided they needed to pursue changing the organization’s name as their changing profession made the current name somewhat “obsolete.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Change Created Chaos Impacts Associations

Change is all around. Some respond better than others. Association boards and association executives have the Duty of Foresight. That means a duty to the organization to monitor trends and adjust association strategies to fit the changes.

A recent trip through the Kansas City airport highlights three changes that illustrate how – without modification – change creates chaos.

Airport Security

Arriving/departing the KC airport (MCI) is a stark reminder how change creates chaos.

MCI was perfectly designed with three “semi-circle shaped” hubs that provided easy access from parking and gates. No long terminal hallways.

Then massive changes resulted from hijackers and terrorists that resulted in new security processes and TSA screeners.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

6 Things that Go Boo in the Night for Association Execs

Okay, it’s Halloween and time to think about scary topics.

Here are six things that can spook association executives.
  1. A key employs embezzles association funds.  Always my biggest fear ... both as an association exec and as an AMC owner. And, despite warnings, we’re seeing far too much embezzlement in associations and nonprofits. We saw another case “pop up” here in Southwest Florida. What are boards thinking? Too many boards don’t seem to care about policies or procedures. Trust but verify! When I owned an AMC, I contracted with a certified fraud examiner to establish financial systems (yes, checks and balances) to reassure myself and our clients that their funds were safe and well managed?
  2. A volunteer president dies in office.   It happens. At one association I managed, one of our executive committee members died unexpectedly. Another’s president died soon after being elected. Do you think ahead and build contingency plans? Do you include this in a crisis communications plan? How do you inform your boards? Your staff? Plan ahead now and hope you never need it!
  3. A competing association starts in your space.   It has happened in several professions/industries. It could be organized as a for-profit company! It often begins when a company starts a conference or trade show that leads to an organization. It could start from a website or blog. An example is the Veterinary Information Network which calls itself “the oldest and largest online medical information service devoted to veterinary medicine.” Well, what happened to the American Veterinary Medicine Association and its role? It could happen to you so be prepared, scan your environment so you are not surprised.
  4. You get hacked or a natural disaster hits.    In the “good old days,” we only needed to worry about a power surge knocking out the phone system and computer network. Now, hacking data is prevalent. Are you prepared with backup systems if you get hacked? What if the hacker gets personal data of your members? Or, instead of hacking, perhaps a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or zika virus (or other epidemic) hits an area where you are scheduled to hold your big annual conference? Are you prepared? Do you have proper insurance conference? Does your crisis communications plan include contacting your attendees and/or members?
  5. A key employ leaves with minimal notice or death.  My chief financial officer gave us two weeks notice. Shock waves. Losing a key position. An AMC owner once shared that a key executive died in an accident on the way to an association meeting. Tragic. Do you have contingency plans? I used to keep a resume file for staff prospects. I networked a lot to develop a talent pool to draw on. In the case of the CFO, I reached out to our outside CPAs and attorneys to seek candidates and to help “vet” prospects. What are you doing?
  6. Your biggest member resigns.   This applies mostly to trade associations where companies – not individuals – belong to the association. Almost all trade associations are composed of a diverse membership. I’ve seen somewhere the “big guys” say the association is run by the “little guys” and vice versa! Sometimes, one of the larger members doesn’t like the policy direction the organization has taken and threatens to cancel its membership (which might be 20% to 25% of the total revenue). My AMC managed a trade association where two of its members convinced the board to dissolve the association and become a “council” of a much larger (and more expensive association. Since that move, several of the members have resigned from the new council and are talking about re-forming the former association. Association execs need to be prepared. You need to recognize that “all members are equal but some are likely to be more equal than others!”
Hopefully, you will never face any of these spooky situations. But, hope doesn’t always work. Prior thought does. Contingency planning does. Being prepared does. If you’ve done all that, you should sleep better and not have to worry about things that go boo in the night!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Retiring Soon? When do you tell your association board?

If retirement is on your horizon, when do you inform your association’s board of directors.

Since Boomers represent a vast number of association CEOs, this is a major issue facing associations and nonprofits.

I've been on all sides of this issue:  as a volunteer when a CEO left; as a CEO who left; as a retiring Association Management Company (AMC) owner and most recently as a search consultant who helped a small, national association find a new executive team.

Recently, an association CEO raised the timing and transition question on ASAE’s Collaborate.  She began by telling us that she notified her board that she would be retiring in June 2019.  Thus a three-year notice.

What do you think?  Are you nearing retirement?  When do you plan to inform your board and staff?

Here are 5 suggestions for anyone looking at "giving notice" to retire:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Recognition Drives Stronger Member Relationships

At one association where I worked, we “hung” photos of all the past presidents on a hallway wall.

No big deal, right?

Well, perhaps this recognition of service was more meaningful than I realized.

While at Ohio State, I had the opportunity to be part of the initial varsity ice hockey team. While I was a marginal player, I played every game for three years. Then, upon leaving Columbus, I disappeared and only occasionally had contact with the hockey program and former players; mainly at the 25th and 50th reunions.

Then, a Facebook post last week gave me a thrill that few get.

Ohio State created a “tradition wall” in the hockey locker room. They put a “brick” for every person that ever played hockey at Ohio State. And, there, on the bottom row, was my brick – with my name on it. There among all the other OSU players. Wow! (You can see it in the photo above ... just about the “N” in Tradition.

This tradition created a latent, awesome feeling that I didn’t know was in me.

And, now, I realize how important it is for associations to recognize their members (and donors). A plaque. A brick in the sidewalk. A photo on the wall. Perhaps a “symbolic brick” on your association’s website?
It doesn’t cost you much but the rewards to you are priceless!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Are hidden fees costing your members?

A Wall Street Journal story (7/23/16) about hidden fees inflating home prices got me to thinking about the hidden fees in the cost members pay to participate in your event.

In many cases, cities and other government entities create these “add-on” fees/taxes to pay for “desired extras” (such as a new stadium) with the governmental body telling its citizens that “this won’t cost you anything; we’ll just charge our visitors.”

Here’s what your members are paying when they come to your convention:


  • If you have flown recently, you know the hidden fees (fuel surcharges, TSA fees, etc) and “extra” fees (baggage fees, food, etc.) that scale up your costs. 
Rental cars
  • Four “add-on fees” showing on a May 2016 rental car receipt totaled $58.71 which was 24.8% of the total bill. They included a “concession charge,” a “garage recoupment fee,” a “rental car facility charge” and a “vehicle license fee.” 
  • My St. Louis hotel bill this weekend included a 3.5% “hotel/motel” tax and a 3.75% “convention tax” ... making the fees a little over 7% of the room charge.
Perhaps associations should “steal the idea” from governmental agencies. Just think of it, you could add a “processing fee” to your member dues; or a “concession charge” to the conference registration fee.

Well, maybe not as our members may see that you are just trying to grab more money without raising your dues or registration fees!

PS.  If you don’t read the WSJ article, here are some of the added home fees they cited:
  • $3,500 for customized architectural plans for each lot
  • $8,000 for new type of storm water capture devise
  • Impact fees average $21,000 per home
  • $1,500 to $2,000 per unit in park fees


  • I forgot to mention one of the "worst" hidden fees at many convention properties:  the daily"resort fee."  
  • In just received my bill from the O'Hare Hilton's stay last night.  It had three "fees:" a state occupancy tax (11.9%); a city occupancy tax (4.5%); and a county occupancy tax (1%).  Total fees equaled 17.4%.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ted Cruz, Republicans & Association Law

NOTE: This is NOT a political statement nor political endorsement. Rather it is commentary on how political actions can showcase association issues.

Last night and again today, Republican Senator Ted Cruz – in speech and followup meetings – illustrated association board members who fail to abide by the Duty of Loyalty.

  • Meeting in Cleveland, the Republic Party nominated Donald J. Trump as its nominee to be President of the United States. Senator Cruz – a runner-up in the nomination process – spoke at the Republican Convention Wednesday night. He outlined his principles for presidential policies but “refused” to endorse Trump. In comments to the Texas delegate Thursday morning, he repeated his principles and added “it’s not my job to support the leadership team; it’s my job to support our principles.”
Has your association experienced such a rogue director?

I have and it is not easy. And, I find many association directors have no clue about their obligations under association law.

The Cruz case – like those of rogue directors – highlights a violation of the Duty of Loyalty.

Here’s the definition I have used in board orientation sessions ... it comes from several attorneys who specialize in association law:

Duty of Loyalty. 
  • The second fiduciary duty imposed on directors is one of loyalty to the association. Directors are required to make decisions based on what is best for the association, not what may be advantageous to their company or even to their constituency within the association--in other words, retailers as opposed to manufacturers or distributors.
  • Once the board of directors makes a decision, each director, even those who may have opposed the course of action chosen by the board, must act consistently with that decision. Disagreement is permitted, but director actions inconsistent with the board decision are not.
As I’ve led board orientation sessions for association boards, many directors “challenge” the duty of loyalty. They struggle when I say “if you remain violently (and verbally) opposed to the board’s decision, your only choice is to resign from the board.”

It is a hard choice but, for associations and corporations, it is the correct (and legal) choice.

In the case of the Republicans, the Duty of Loyalty means Senator Cruz should resign from the Republican Party. The same goes for a rogue association director who speaks out against association policy and direction.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Changes in Technology Change Associations

This photo shows what I saw when I checked in at my doctor’s office last week.

Obviously, they have not yet switched to electronic medical records.

But, they will soon join other medical professionals in switching.

Think of the changes this means for health care professionals and their suppliers.

As you look at the profession/industry of your members, are they facing similar changes because of technology?

What does that mean for members? For their suppliers? For your association?

Are you ready?

Monday, May 9, 2016

What are your association’s tribes?

The other day I heard an interview with Mark Cuban (entrepreneur & owner of the Dallas Mavericks). He was being asked about the 2016 Presidential campaign and specifically about the phenomenon of the Trump and Sanders’ campaigns.

Cuban’s main point: Trump and Sanders are not running traditional political campaigns but rather exemplify the theory of tribes and the building of tribes.

Well, this made me think back to reading Seth Godin’s work and books on tribes. And, that if you could have 1,000 true fans, you could accomplish nearly anything.

I googled Godin and tribes and found this 2009 TED talk about tribes. Well worth watching.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What does a design (association) leader do?

Guest Post by Laura Ward, Director, User Experience Design, PayPal

[Editor's Note: Laura Ward is the daughter of my late friend/boyhood neighbor Dan Reuwee.  When I read her leadership post on Facebook, it seemed to offer valuable advice for association and nonprofit leaders.  She gave me permission to post her notes here.]

I recently met a terrific young designer at a networking dinner. She had a straightforward question for me, "How did you become a design director?" I hadn't given it much thought since my route seemed roundabout. Upon consideration, I understood that she would simply like to know how to prepare to become a design leader, on a path to directing a team of her own.

After a short story about my journey, I realized that there was much more practical information to give. What does a design leader do? So, here is a list of the things I think about. I try to keep these questions in mind as I go to meetings, do design critiques, meet with team leads and designers, and plan the future.

What does a design leader think about?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

How will Gig Economy Impact Your Association?

Gig economy (some call it sharing economy) is growing rapidly.

According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, the number of workers in “alternative arrangements” has climbed to 16% of the U.S. workforce (from less than 10% in 2005).
  • WSJ’s reports that the Department of Labor has four categories of “alternative work” ... independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary workers and workers employed via contract firms. 
  • A study by Alan Krueger of Princeton and Lawrence Katz of Harvard shows “gig economy” workers are in manufacturing (11%); health and education (16%); public administration (10%).

A couple of examples from “our world” ...

  • I’ve been consulting with a small, national association. In reviewing its current management structure, I noticed that an outside contract employee consumed 21% of its total staff hours. 
  • Just before selling my AMC, a larger international corporation contracted with me to provide two staff for its business. We were able to (a) increase the salaries of the two staffers and (b) reduce the cost to the company. 

What does the gig economy mean to associations and other nonprofit organizations?

Friday, March 25, 2016

AAEA Search Announced

The American Agricultural Editors’ Association (AAEA) announces the opening of an executive search seeking a new management team to assume management of the association effective August 1, 2016.

AAEA has retained me conduct the search to replace Den Gardner of Gardner & Gardner Communications, who is retiring and has resigned the account on behalf of his firm.

I will assist an AAEA Search Committee in the search and selection process of an individual or company to perform AAEA staffing functions.

The request for proposals (RFP) is available on the ASAE Executive Search tab above Or, interested parties may request the RFP from me at

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Is Wounded Warrior Project an Example of Too Much Money?

The CEO and COO of the Wounded Warrior Project were fired a few weeks ago over spending practices at one of the nation’s largest charitable organizations for veterans.

It appeared to stem negative stories circulated after reports by the New York Times and CBS-TV.  Stories such as these:
The story highlights two issues facing associations and nonprofits:
1) the “too much money” syndrome and
2) the challenge of news media reporting (or mis-reporting) on nonprofit finances

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cheap Marketing Ideas – Let’s Not Go There!

I’m one who looks to other professions/industries for ideas for our association clients.

When, sometimes, those ideas fall into the “let’s not do that” category.

I recently received this “junk mail check” – marked personal & confidential – from an outfit called “Cheap Tickets.”

Any association pulling this stunt will surely drive your association members dizzy.

Here are some ways this trick mailer goes wrong:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

5 Great Reads About Association Marketing & Engagement

Some associations are struggling with maintaining and/or increasing membership. Others continue growing. Most are dealing with the transition from Boomers to Millennials.

Here are five awesome stories that offer ideas and tips for any association focused on membership expansion and engagement.

Snapchat Has Grown Up: What You Need To Know As A Marketer 
By Keith Quesenberry via Social Media Today

Snapchat marketers have reached engagement rates of 80% compared to Facebook where a 1% engagement rate is now considered good. Cosmopolitan has reported that they get up to 3 million views a day via their Snapchat Stories. Are you still new to Snapchat and just don’t get it? Here are some Snapchat basics. Some of these are courtesy of technology reviewer Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal – yes, that's how grown up this social channel has become. 

Seven Ways to Increase Your Webinar Registrations
By Lauren Barber,

Webinars are a great tactic for generating leads, branding, and positioning your company as an industry expert. With the right strategy in place, webinars can generate high-quality leads and drastically increase revenue. In fact, 67% of buyers attend webinars when researching B2B purchases; moreover, webinars rank in the top three content formats, and they are among the most popular type of content for engaging prospects.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Strategic Intent. Board Foresight. Association Rebranding.

In the last five months, three nonprofit associations have engaged me to facilitate strategic intent workshops with their boards.

Ironically, one common outcome from all three organizations: a decision to rename and rebrand.

After the third association surfaced a desire to rename their organization, I reflected back to see if there was anything I was doing that “pushed” them toward rebranding.

I don’t think so.

The commonality of the work process:

  • online survey research of members and stakeholders
  • the Strategic Intent process whereby the organization confirms where it is and then looks forward to where it wants to be/what it wants to become.
Each organization came to the rebranding decision for its own reasons:
  • One forecasted continued consolidation which meant fewer traditional members. They looked at a new name as an opportunity to cast a wider net for non-traditional members.
  • One recognized their existing name no longer fit what it was doing.
  • The third decided its acronym did not fully describe what it did.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Don’t Let Polls Mislead Your Association's Actions

While facilitating an association board workshop Friday, I shared that 9.2% of their members answered in a specific way ... then, I let them know that for this question, 9.2% was only one member!

Associations reading surveys need to be careful what they discover and the decisions they make.

The headlines from Saturday’s South Carolina primary and Nevada caucuses show that the news media suffers from misperceptions arising from polling.

For example, they reported that Hillary Clinton had a “big 5% win” in the Nevada caucus and that Marco Rubio had “narrowly” finished second to Ted Cruz.

Interestingly, Clinton’s big 5.5% win was actually only 647 votes over Bernie Sanders while Rubio’s narrow finish was really 1,091 votes over Cruz. (By the way, using the media’s version of covering polls, that means Rubio’s win was 25.5% more than Clinton’s win.)

I’ve found it more accurate and reflective when you share both percentage and raw numbers.

Associations seeking understanding about member attitudes should do likewise.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

6 Tactics Association Marketers Can Learn from the “Silly Season”

The ongoing U.S. Presidential campaign (sometimes called the “Silly Season”) provides multiple examples that associations can consider for their content marketing and membership marketing efforts.
Disclaimer: nothing here should be taken as support for any candidate or either party.

Just as associations seek to recruit or renew members and/or recruit or retain donors, political candidates (and parties) seek to renew past supporters and to recruit voters and/or donors.

1. Target & micro target
  • Rather than mass marketing, many candidates are targeting messages to specific groups. 
  • For example, Senator Ted Cruz hired Cambridge Analyticia to manage a highly micro targeted campaign that delivers specific messages to specific audiences.
  • Associations can learn micro targeting tactics when they see the multi differences among their membership and potential members and then use that knowledge for their member development strategies.
2. Hone/simplify/repeat your message
  • Candidates develop a few core messages that define who they are and attempt to distinguish themselves from other candidates.
  • For example, Bernie Sanders message is: tax the rich; free college; free medical care.
  • In my experience, many associations have great difficulty articulating the benefits of membership in their organization. Most can list the services and programs they offer but few do a great job in describing the benefits of those services.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Bowl Ads Not So Super

I don’t know about you but I didn’t find any “great” commercials in Super Bowl 50.

And, from a marketing/ROI standpoint, that concerns me. Companies were paying upwards of $50 million to woo viewers and sell their products.

Unaided, I can’t remember many other than the NFL’s “Super Bowl Babies.”

But, perhaps I was not the target?

According to today’s XYZ University blog post, “out of 63 product ads we viewed during Super Bowl 50, only two were tailored towards Baby Boomers, six were focused on Generation X, and all the remaining were focused on Gen Y/Millennials.”

While most ads were aimed at Millennials, the XYZ blog notes that “this is especially interesting considering that while Super Bowl ratings have soared in the past decade, Nielsen reports the number of viewers within the 18-49 year old audience has remained relatively flat since 2011.

In other words, companies are desperate to reach the Millennial audience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Millennials are tuning in.”

As you think about marketing your association (which means recruiting members, generating conference attendance, etc.), are you considering which audience you are after? Are you targeting your messages to reach those distinct audiences?

If not, why not?

What to read more?  Here is IMG's take on the best and worst of 2016 Super Bowl ads.  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oversight: What’s a Nonprofit Board to Do

Last week, our local newspaper ran a front page story “exposing” a local foundation’s questionable spending practices.

Here are some of the details I pulled from the foundation’s 2013 990 report:
  • Total assets of $8.99 million.
  • Total grants (to other groups) of $235,352 (that’s 2.6% of assets).
  • Total compensation (to board, CEO and staff) of $296,402. Even though the Foundation has no direct programs, that’s $61,050 MORE than it grants.
After the foundation’s president died, board members “discovered” the foundation had bought the president a $45,000 Lincoln Town Car and that back in 2000, the foundation paid $69,000 for a Cadillac for its president.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Will the Ziosk experience impact your association and association members?

The other day I stopped at a convenience store to get gas and buy some water. I used the self serve gas pump and walked inside ... only to discover a huge line at the cash registers.

“Forget it,” I thought. “I don’t want to wait that long. So, I walked out without buying the water.”

I wondered why “convenience stores” don’t have “self checkout lanes” like groceries and other retailers. Why do they think customers are willing to wait in lines when more convenient processes are available?

Later that day, our local newspaper ran a feature headlined “Tabletop tech helps diners pass, save time” that discussed a new convenience service called Ziosk. It allows customers to order from an iPad stationed at the table. But, there’s more! Didn’t get ketchup? Just press the button. Want to pay now? Just pay via your Ziosk. Kids getting antsy? They can play online games on the Ziosk.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

NFL. Rams. Association Governance.

All association professionals need to remember this mantra: “It’s their organization not yours!”

Last week, the National Football League’s Board of Governors voted to authorize the (Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis) Rams to move (again) to Los Angeles. The decision upset fans in St. Louis ... along with San Diego and Oakland (other franchises seeking to move.)

An association colleague (St. Louis native and former Rams ticket holder)sent me the following note saying, “for your next blog.”

Sunday, January 10, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court to Review Mandatory Member Dues

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week over mandatory union dues (also know as “fair-share fees”) for members and non-members.

The case will impact any association – such as State/Local Bar Associations – having mandatory dues for all professionals within the profession or industry.

[Disclosure: my first job out of college was as a news reporter for The Associated Press. I joined the guild (union) because I knew I would not cross the picket lines if/when we went on strike ... which we did about two months after I joined.]

When I read the USA Today article outlining the various positions about the case of mandatory dues, I looked at it from the perspective of an association professional.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

First Impressions. Word of Mouth. Associations.

“You only get one chance to make a great first impression!”

Ok, I hate to start 2016 with a cliche. But, it works.

Living in a golf community has given me a personal perspective of the power of word of mouth within membership communities.

All of this is important to association professionals.