An Executive Director's point of view


December 01, 2016: Field decisions

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
A woman approached the registration desk at a running event, said she wasn't able to run that day, and requested a refund.

Refunds are NEVER offered at running events. Sign-up forms clearly state, "No Refunds," and it is routine for large numbers of paid participants to not even show up.

I politely apologized and told her we could not refund her entry fee.

She began to cry. She had miscarried a few days earlier and wasn't able to run.

I did not ask her to submit a doctor's letter or any other proof of her condition. I did not direct her to complete a form. I did not refer her request to a committee for resolution.

I immediately handed her a cash refund.

More than 11,000 people had registered for the race and I felt I could issue one refund. I was the CEO and I made the decision.

Don't impose a bureaucratic process on every association activity. Instead, designate one person to resolve issues onsite and grant that person authority to handle matters in whatever manner is thought best.

October 26, 2016: Pre-payment should be the norm

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Purchase orders for registration and product should be the exception in associations, not the rule. Structure your payment process, as best you can, to make it more likely customers will pre-pay.

If a customer wants to be invoiced, you can email a bill and ask for immediate payment. This practice is far more common than it may have been in the past.

If you accept purchase orders for membership, you may want to let the payer know that the membership will not be activated until payment is received.

Whatever you do, try to not be forced into triggering a collection process to recover payment from delinquent customers or members.

August 12, 2016: Parents

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Many American employers (businesses and associations) claim to possess "family values," but don't seem to realize that family responsibilities accompany those values.

Here's how one company profits by realizing that.

August 08, 2016: Doing business differently

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Associations continually change the way they operate, often challenging long-standing customs and traditions.

They may be prompted by the evolution of their industries or professions, the changing work habits of volunteers and staff, advances in technology, or shifting member expectations.

But whatever the reason, it is generally considered wise to always consider alternative ways of doing business.

Leaders in other endeavors, however, may not share that belief.

Here's a take on the need for a new business model for the Olympics.

August 03, 2016: Not-for-profit trickery

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Many not-for-profit organizations utilize trickery to gain members,subscribers, attendees, or donors.

When for-profit businesses employ these same tactics, they are often demonized as deliberately misleading (and they should be).

But not-for-profits often think it's OK when done for a good cause.

Here's one instance of an alleged misleading message and how the organization responded to it.

August 01, 2016: No vendor shakedowns

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
When targeting businesses for ad sales, exhibit booths, sponsorship, or anything else (including contributions), identify potential buyers because they will benefit from the purchase, not because you think they should feel obligated to support you.

Vendors, in particular, should rarely be on your list. You've paid them for a product or service and they've delivered it. They should not be expected to pay you extra for that opportunity.

That's called a payoff, kickback, shakedown, or pay-to-play. It is always unethical and often illegal.

Think from the customers' point of view, not yours, and determine whether your organization should even be included in their marketing plans. If you think it should, then offer it something that will help implement that plan.

Every company will be different. Try to sell each what it wants, not what you think it should want, and especially not what you simply want it to want.

Don't expect each of them to want the same thing and don't try to sell each of them the exact same thing.

If a company says it doesn't get customers from print ads, for example, don't try to sell it print ads.

And, if you think that buying a booth, ad, or sponsorship will yield results, provide data that supports your assertion.

Remember - this is a business decision, not an emotional one or a political one. Companies should buy to help themselves, not to help your organization.
Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
They don't help callers.

They make it difficult (sometimes, impossible) for callers to obtain the information they called about.

They make callers not want to call again (which is what many associations and businesses want).

They often direct callers to web sites that post information that is incorrect, incomplete, or does not answer the question.

Automated receptionists may save associations and businesses money by not requiring them to pay real people to answer calls.

But they don't help callers.

Destroy them!

July 15, 2016: Just answer the question

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
When members or others ask you a question, answer what they asked, not what you think they should have asked.

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.

June 27, 2016: Intern or volunteer?

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Student interns are frequently treated as free labor, even though an internship - whether paid or not - is supposed to be an instructional experience.

The organization should be helping the student, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, interns are all too often assigned grunt work that won't teach them anything at all - stuffing envelopes, answering telephones, cleaning pantries, running errands.

Or, they may be assigned tasks that should be performed by paid staff, but no such staff exists. So, inexperienced students fill professional positions and work for free.

An internship should benefit the student, not the association. And it should not relieve the organization of the responsibility to pay for services - even if it can't afford to and even if the group pursues a "worthy" mission.

What is really happening in these situations is that students are receiving academic credit for volunteering (not for learning), and the organizations are lying by calling these arrangements internships.

June 16, 2016: Don't lie

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Don't tell people your association has 21,000 members when it only has 4,000.

Don't say your expo attracted 12,000 attendees when the truth is around 4,500.

Don't brag that your annual special event drew 2,000 participants when the real number was 700.

Don't report a magazine circulation of 50,000 when it is really a lot less - and can't be verified.

People often inflate figures - slightly.

But blatant lies will be uncovered quickly, and people will soon learn not to believe anything you say.

Don't lie.
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