An Executive Director's point of view
March 07, 2013: Flexibility
February 22, 2013: Weather emergencies
Only four inches of snow fell in the Chicago area today, so there was no reason to even think about closing the office.
Streets were quickly plowed and salted. In some suburban communities, sidewalks were cleared, too. It was business as usual for everybody.
But it's still a good idea to be prepared.
September 06, 2012: Maternity leave
Don't rush mothers (or fathers) back to work. Be prepared to give additional time to moms who had difficult pregnancies, gave birth to special needs children, or experienced other circumstances that may delay their transition back to work.
Don't force moms or dads to use up vacation days or sick days - they'll need those more now than they ever did before.
Don't put parents in the position of having to choose between getting paid and caring for children. Keep them on the payroll at full pay for as long as possible.
And don't hide behind "The Rules." Change the rules, ignore the rules, or break the rules to do what is best for your employees.
Remember: If the association takes good care of its employees, the employees will take good care of the association.
August 03, 2012: No doorbells
It gives the impression you are suspicious of visitors and really don't want any.
So, unless there are genuine threats to your association, leave the door unlocked. Let people walk right in and talk to you.
They'll appreciate your accessibility.
July 06, 2011: Should you or shouldn't you?
But hiding behind the law is not always the most practical decision for associations. It is often preferable to provide members with as much information and access as possible, not with as little as is required.
Consider the benefits of sharing and the results of not sharing before you stonewall inquisitive members.
July 01, 2011: Weather policy
Even if workers can't get to the office, it was thought, they can still work from home.
Not always. If weather impacts the office, it may also impact the home.
Some employees have young children whose school day was canceled. Or they may have flooded basements, tree limbs falling through roofs, or downed telephone lines. Many don't have home computers.
So, what should be the association policy?
There doesn't need to be a written policy for everything. And every situation can't be anticipated.
While serving as CEO of a small, local association, my policy was, "we're open if you can get here." That can be expanded to, "work, if you can." Those who do, can be rewarded with comp time.
Even for a national association, members can be (and should be) understanding if a weather calamity strikes HQ.
During my 15-year tenure, we only had to shut down once. Our members could live without us for a day. Besides, many of them had to deal with flooded basements, tree limbs falling through roofs, and downed telephone lines.
April 16, 2011: No security
What information can be found on a picture ID that assures it is safe to allow a person entry to a building? If someone was up to no-good, wouldn't that person possess a valid picture ID?
Does an ID indicate whether a person is carrying weapons or drugs? Does it indicate if the person has violated parole? Or is mentally unbalanced?
What if a person had to surrender a driver's license when issued a traffic ticket and is not currently carrying a picture ID? Would that person be banished to the lobby?
What if an organization invited the public to its office to obtain information, enter a sweepstakes, sign up for a program, attend a press conference, pick up a registration packet, or simply drop by and say hello? Would demanding a picture ID squelch the group's outreach efforts?
What if a person who does pass muster at the security desk wants to bring a colleague with to a meeting and that person does not have a picture ID? Would the colleague be denied entry?
These so-called security provisions don't achieve anything. If there is a need to bar access to some people, then security should screen for whatever it thinks it needs to keep out.
October 04, 2010: Show me the money
Unfortunately, management often hides financial info from employees and only tells them what it wants to tell them. It may fear employee slow-downs or departures. Or it may simply feel that employees are not entitled to "private" information.
But employees should not be kept in the dark. They should know when the association is in trouble and when their jobs are at risk. Nobody should be surprised by being fired or "downsized."
In my first stint as Executive Director, in an association supported primarily by philanthropic funds, I warned the Board that our money would run out in four months, and I offered seven contingencies to stretch our resources. It rejected them all, preferring to "go for broke," on the gamble that some of our funding proposals would be approved before our resources had been depleted.
I shared that information with the staff and advised them to start looking for new jobs. After discussing the problem among ourselves, though, we decided to "go for broke," too, because we liked our jobs and didn't want to look for new ones. We all worked energetically for the next four months.
The association did run out of money, but very soon landed a huge foundation grant that allowed us to resume operations and launch a new program.
Here's a private company that opens its books to employees. Associations should do the same.
August 18, 2010: Refund policy
Execs might rightfully complain that expenses are incurred when people register for programs, so the association is losing money - and getting stuck with materials - when refunds are issued. But rigidly enforced rules may damage the association's reputation with members and registrants.
Here are some issues to consider when faced with refund requests:
1. What will be the effect of issuing or not issuing a refund?
People expect to be able to receive refunds, regardless of established policies. Issuing a refund may win a loyal supporter who will be appreciative of the association honoring the refund request, and who may be more likely to join, renew, and sign up for programs in the future. That person may also speak positively about the association to other members and potential members.
However, that person may also pass the word that refunds will always be made, creating a growing pool of people who disregard published instructions because they expect to be able to get their money back, no matter what.
By not issuing a refund, your association will avoid financial losses and will teach people the consequences of not following the rules.
However, that action may also deter people from joining, renewing, or registering, and could result in a loss of future income. Those folks may also tell others about their experience and create negative word-of-mouth for the association.
2. Should there be a deadline for receiving a refund?
Establishing deadlines for refunds lets people know that you are willing to return their payments, but that they will have to adhere to reasonable guidelines. Deadlines also enable you to more gracefully reject requests if they are late. Just don't set a deadline that is too early.
People may still complain or think ill of you if you reject their requests, but at least you will have provided a refund mechanism, so you'll appear to others as having tried to accommodate requests.
3. What criteria should be employed for making exceptions?
Exceptions should only be made for significant reasons, such as miscarriage, serious injury, sudden hospitalization, or death in the family. You may also accept unusual circumstances, such as earthquakes, planes grounded by tornadoes or hurricanes, or even loss of a job (maybe).
Ideally, the CEO or another senior management official should have the authority to make exceptions. Don't refer the issue to a committee. It will spend too much time on what is really a minor issue, and too many people will be privy to someone else's private concern.
Don't create an intricate process for determination, either. People should not have to battle an entrenched bureaucracy to get their money back. Decisions should be made swiftly.
4. What about exceptions that don't meet those criteria?
The person responsible for issuing refunds should be able to make decisions that are deemed necessary at the time. However, exceptions should not be made for people just because they are Board members. More than anybody else, Board members should understand the problems involved with the issuance of refunds, and they should not use their positions to gain preferential treatment.
5. How can my association absorb the income loss from refunds?
Budget for it. Even with audiences that don't ask for or expect refunds, some will be issued. Be financially prepared.
NOTE: Refund policy was thoroughly debated recently on both ASAE and Association Forum of Chicagoland listservs, with all perspectives represented.
July 09, 2010: Keep out!
I was again told I was not in the member database (building management and association databases apparently did not interface properly). I had to wait for someone from the association to verify I was a member.
I was also told that non-members were not granted access to the building. They could not pass through security gates unless they were expected.
That is so stupid!
Non-members may be inquiring about membership, signing up for programs, or just finding out more about the association. They may be accompanying members to a meeting.
They should not have to make an appointment to visit the office. And neither should members.
Association offices should be as open and accessible as possible.
Using security to bar access is like hanging a "Keep Out" sign on the association's front door.