An Executive Director's point of view
July 22, 2016: Shy millennials
Some people - including many millennials - want to sit anonymously in a conference room, listen to speakers, and not participate. They don't want to ask questions and they don't want colleagues to attempt to draw them out.
They may prefer to interact online but may still value the in-person experience - as long as nobody calls attention to them.
So, don't force people to get involved. Enable them to participate in whatever way they choose.
July 20, 2016: Student loans
It could help you attract quality job applicants, especially young ones.
Don't expect it to tether people to your association for a long period of time, though. Employees, especially young ones, will be on the move no matter what you do. Turnover is just a fact of life.
But you may be able to lure higher performing workers, and may even induce them to remain a bit longer, if you help them alleviate a major burden in their lives.
Student loans are wrongly classified by colleges as financial assistance. Actually, they are the opposite - financial tools that drive many into severe, lifelong debt. Money is loaned to people who may have no way of ever repaying it. It's no wonder the default rate is so high.
So, offer to lift some of that burden from their shoulders. It may turn out to be a valuable investment for your organization.
P.S. Don't create conditions that require employees to remain with your organization longer than they would have. You should want people to work for you because they like the work, and not just hang around for the benefits.
July 18, 2016: Job titles (again)
It's a fund-raising position.
Why was it given a name that hides its purpose?
July 15, 2016: Just answer the question
Don't assume they asked the wrong question because they are stupid, uninformed, or too lazy to read what you've printed or posted.
Don't act like you don't understand what they asked, either. If you really don't, then ask them questions that will help you answer their question.
And don't tell them to go back and read the copy. If it had told them what they needed to know, they probably wouldn't have called you in the first place.
Write your materials - web site, e-blasts, handouts, brochures, voicemail messages, etc. - from the point of view of those who will read or listen to them. Make them easy to read or hear. Anticipate items you think they may find unclear and make them clearer.
For example, is "one year" a calendar year or a twelve-month period? Is a spousal event open to partners who are not spouses?
Above all, don't be arrogant or belittling when talking to callers.
Don't assume they "should have known" something or that they "should have been able to figure it out" or that you "already told them" somewhere in some venue you assume they would have seen. Give complete information and don't direct them to one place that just sends them to another.
Your goal should be to help them in the way they will feel will be helpful.
If you don't do that, they are very likely to not join, not renew their membership, not attend your conference, and not support you in any way at all.
July 12, 2016: Meeting problems
1. Attendance guarantees for meals are required several days before the event.
You'd think with all the weddings, bar mitzvahs, and family reunions that are scheduled, people would know this. Well, they don't. They often think a person should be able to register onsite and still get a meal.
Be sure they know when a guarantee has to be made and how to decide the number. And they should understand that it's usually wise to guarantee a higher attendance than the number of reservations in hand at that moment.
2. Non-paid walk-ins. Members cannot invite others to join them at a meal served to a committee, specialty group, or other entity unless that person followed the same reservation and payment process as everyone else. It doesn't matter who they are.
3. Food cannot be brought in from the outside, even for a small meeting (unless your meeting contract allows that, which it probably doesn't). And that may also be true for sites like hospitals. You must order meals through the host catering service.
4. Changing meeting schedules also changes catering schedules. So, hotels and restaurants must be told immediately of changes so they'll know when to begin serving food. And refreshment breaks are often limited to thirty minutes, so be sure they start when you want them to - otherwise you may have to pay an additional charge.
5. There will be audio-visual costs even if you use your own laptops and projectors. The property will still need to wire the microphone, provide a screen (unless you bring that, too), and connect your equipment.
6. Speaker instructions must be specific and adhered to. If speakers are required to submit handouts for copying by a certain date, be firm about that. They cannot show up on meeting day and expect you to make copies for them.
7. Signs, flyers, and directions cannot be affixed to walls. They must be on sign holders, which must be ordered from the property. (Those usually don't cost much).
8. Stay on schedule. Don't let speakers - no matter who they are - run beyond their allotted time. Other speakers should not be asked to shorten their presentations because the meeting is running late.
9. You may have to abide by sponsorship restrictions. For example, medical associations cannot provide continuing education credits if meeting sponsors are provided with tables or booths within the meeting room, when banners are displayed in the room, or when logos are printed on meeting brochures.
10. Many properties do not allow exhibitors to wheel their own materials into expo halls. They have to be shipped or be carried in by specific personnel. And exhibitors (including the association that owns the expo) may not be allowed to plug an electrical cord into a socket. That must be done by a union electrician.
11. Exhibitors cannot move their materials into another booth, even one that is vacant or not being used by the purchaser.
12. Exhibitors cannot drag tables and stools from the eating area into their booths. Everything in the booth must be pre-ordered and paid for.
And there is so much more.
Just remember that people who don't plan meetings, especially in hotels and convention centers, often don't know what is and is not allowed, and may think many rules are illogical (they may be, but they have to be followed, anyway).
July 08, 2016: No censorship
If you feel that particular discussions - political or otherwise - are causing harmful effects in your office, rather than banning those subjects, promote a respect for diversity of opinion.
That may be very helpful, as many association employees are obsessively polite and inclined to avoid discussing anything that generates conflict.
While limiting what employees can say to members or outsiders may be appropriate, restricting what they say to each other is not.
July 06, 2016: Appearances
When in my mid-30s, I attended a meeting of executive directors of small associations.
A colleague who appeared to be the oldest person in the room sat in a rumpled suit, tie askew, with one collar mindlessly folded upward.
His mustache was uneven, his hair windblown, and he didn't seem to know or care how he looked.
I immediately thought, "loser."
That was a big mistake.
As the meeting began, and people shared problems they were experiencing in their organizations, he offered solutions that others hadn't thought of. People actually took notes to record his suggestions.
The careless impression he made did not indicate the extent of his knowledge. I learned then that, just as you should not judge a book by its cover, you should not judge a professional by his appearance.
July 04, 2016: Attorney for attorneys
The association attorney should be a detached person who can provide objective legal advice and representation and not be influenced by the possibility of being a party to a legal action.
But what if the entire association is comprised of attorneys and most available legal counsel are members of the organization? They would all hold conflicts of interest.
One solution to this problem would be to secure the services of a member who does not hold a leadership position in the association, is not employed by the same firm as any of the Board members, and for whom the potential conflict would be minimal.
That person may even be willing to work for free, which is what associations often want in the first place.
July 01, 2016: Who's the CEO?
Association CEOs usually carry the title of Executive Director, President, or Executive Vice-President.
But in hospitals, universities, and many businesses, an Executive Director is merely a department head or a project director, several rungs down the ladder of authority. There may be an Executive Director of Marketing, an Executive Director of Finance, and so on. And that custom is growing.
One business that manages senior citizen housing calls its property managers Executive Director, perhaps conveying a more professional-sounding image.
There are Executive Directors who handle only administrative matters, and report to a CEO, who is actually the person in charge.
In organizations employing an Executive Director, the President is usually a volunteer Board member, not an employee and not the CEO, allowing confusion to persist about who is running the organization. (In some volunteer-driven groups, though, the volunteer President is the CEO, and the staff is merely the "help").
Some trade associations invest CEO duties in an Executive Vice-President, who often holds a dual role as a Board member and an employee, following a corporate model that incorporates both management and governance duties in its Board of Directors.
Whatever title you choose for the top dog, it would be best to add "CEO" to it, so people inside and outside of the organization know who is managing the place and whom to approach about specific issues. Doing so would also clarify the lines of authority within the group and prevent Board members and staff from inadvertently stepping on each other's toes.
June 29, 2016: Just the (real) facts
Unfortunately, those types of mistakes are not uncommon.
Sometimes, they are the result of an absence of fact checkers.
But those errors may be allowed to exist because some authors or publishers just don't think it matters.
The adage, "You can't believe everything you read," is becoming truer every day.