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Ten Things Every Association Executive Should Stop Doing in the New Year

by | Dec 18, 2013 | Industry News & Trends

Every year at this time we are inundated with the limitless lists that fill our inboxes with the “Top 10” things we should be doing to ensure next year is a successful one for ourselves, and for our organizations.

We dutifully scan the barrage, for snacks and tidbits and load up our plates with suggestions that, if we are honest with ourselves, are most likely to go the way most of our New Year’s Resolutions do. They are just more activities we swore we would do and by February seem out of touch, unrealistic or worse – undermine our efforts to actually be more successful.

We’re hardly alone when it comes to making and breaking New Year’s Resolutions. Did you know that on average, 45 percent of Americans make New Year resolutions every year, and that 22 percent fail after just one week, 40 percent after one month, 50 percent after three months, 60 percent after six months, and 81 percent after 24 months? Not good odds!

Three primary reasons people (and organizations) fail to achieve their stated goals are: 1. Unclear, vague or unrealistic goals. 2. Failure to track progress toward the stated goals. 3. Weak self-control and self-regulation when facing challenges that distract from the ability to achieve the stated goals.

We thought, in the interests of actually hitting goals, maybe it was time to give you a break and take a few items off of your overfilled plate! We asked a few members of our Thought Leadership Team to share some useful ideas on what you can STOP doing, or UNLEARN, as you take on the New Year. Elizabeth Engle, CAE, Mary Byers, CAE, Peggy Hoffman, CAE and Shelly Alcorn, CAE, have provided 10 tips that will hopefully lighten your load heading into 2014. Disclaimer: while we are not adding to your 2014 To Do List, some of these will, in all honesty, take some work on your part to accomplish. But it will be worth it in the end!

Things to Stop Doing

1. Choose any one project that you’ve routinely done without question, and stop it in 2014. You know the poorly attended “networking hour” at the end of the long conference, or the volunteer leader conference call updates that few call-in to. Maybe you can kill the printed membership card or directory, or [substitute legacy program here] that you do because the past-past president says “everyone” still uses it.

2. Stop creating new committees every time you need to accomplish something. Look into task forces, micro volunteering, and “ad hocracy.” Remember, the idea is get things done. As the old saying goes, a camel is a racehorse that was designed by committee.

3. Stop placing every program you offer on “auto renewal.” Don’t add any new programs until you’ve finished a complete inventory of ALL existing programs and services, deciding which should continue and which should be quietly retired based on performance (or lack thereof!).

4. Don’t add a new program or service without completing a one-page overview identifying how much it will cost, how it meets your mission, what your expectations are, etc. (For a sample form, click here.)

5. Don’t continue to promote your association with the same benefits as 5 years ago. We live in a competitive, rapidly changing environment and your benefits statement should change with the times. Remember, what people thought was valuable a few years back may be irrelevant today.

Things to Unlearn

6. The Member is a Customer – It’s time for associations to finally come to terms with the fact that members are not customers. They are experience co-creators. Is it important to still use customer service skills when dealing with members? Of course. But spend less time trying to think up more ways to spoon feed your members and more time figuring out how to help them help themselves.

7. Frequent Member Surveys – Do we need good data on members? Yes. Do we need to data mine our members to death? No. Do you really need to survey your members every year to find out if professional development, networking and advocacy are important to them? If networking slips from a 4.3 to a 4.1 does that really matter? Spend less time collecting “more data” and more time on collecting the “right data.”

8. Generation Y Aren’t Joiners – This is a stellar nugget that keeps making the rounds in our association community. It’s also wrong. As long as there are careers, economic and political threats to livelihoods and a need for continuing education and networking, associations will continue to form. The barriers preventing Generation Y from joining haven’t been fully acknowledged or mitigated yet, but they will be. Spend less time searching for the magic marketing bullet to sell your current benefits to Generation Y and more time developing programs that actually appeal to them.

9. Membership Dues – Every association on the planet should be developing a base, Internet only, free membership and then upselling to premium memberships with additional benefits. Your audience needs to be as big as possible to ensure you maintain the lead position in your industry or profession. The winners won’t be the ones with the highest dues. The winners will be the ones with the deepest market penetration. Spend less time figuring out how to collect dues and more time figuring out how to maximize your market position.

10. Office Space – Maybe not every association actually needs an office. Maybe what you need is shared office equipment, a shared receptionist and a shared conference room. The rest of what you do can be done virtually or in a home office environment. Less office space means less of a carbon footprint, less overhead and more flexibility. Spend less time looking at carpet swatches and more time figuring out how to free yourself from legacy office spaces that drain resources without providing much real value in return.

Bonus Tip

11. Stop reflexively checking in. Does that issue really need to be addressed at 3 pm on a Saturday? Or 11 pm on a Tuesday? Sure, there are exceptions, but we’re mostly operating in a state of false urgency. And when you’re away for a longer period of time (aka “vacation”), trust your staff to be able to handle things and to know when it’s an emergency and when they actually need you.

Like with any set of resolutions, it is important to iterate. Positive change isn’t necessarily a sprint, and probably more like a marathon. Change always has unintended “side effects” (both good and bad) so it is important to not take on too much at once, possibly setting yourself up for failure.

And speaking of failure, it is important to give yourself permission to do so. The important thing about failure is to learn from it. If you’re not making mistakes you’re not trying, and more than likely, people aren’t noticing you or what you are doing in the marketplace.

Try picking one of these 10 suggestions and see if the pressure of a new year begins to lessen a little for you and your association.

About the Contributors

Shelly Alcorn, CAE, began her career in change management at the age of 5 when she was enrolled at what was to be the first of the eleven schools she would attend prior to graduating from high school. Shelly kept up the fast pace by working her way up from receptionist to executive director of two different non-profit associations, passionately pursuing developing her skills and is now a consultant. A revolutionary, self-proclaimed “edu-punk,” she got her CAE (Certified Association Executive) just to prove she knows what she’s doing. She can be contacted at

Mary Byers, CAE, is a member of the National Speakers Association and the author of Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations and Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations. She is the former director of communications and member services for the Illinois State Dental Society. She served in that capacity for nine years prior to starting her consulting business in 1998. She’s a frequent presenter and facilitator at association leadership conferences and a sought-after strategic planning facilitator. Mary specializes in working with organizations to help define their roles and clarify their vision through conference programming and facilitating strategic planning. She can be reached through her website

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, is CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting LLC. Elizabeth has over sixteen years of experience helping associations grow, in membership, marketing, communications, public presence, and especially revenue, which is what Spark is all about. She speaks and writes frequently on a variety of topics in association management. She can be contacted at

Peggy M. Hoffman, CAE, is president and Mariner’s resident expert on communication, marketing and building community. In addition to managing organizations, Peggy has provided training and consultation on leadership development, component relations and strategic planning to more than a dozen national associations and many local groups over the past 30 years. She has presented workshops or keynotes for more than 40 volunteer leadership conferences, retreats, and webinars ranging in size from 30 to 300 participants. Peggy has also been very involved in ASAE – The Center for Association Leadership, and is past chair for their Component Relations Section Council and currently serving as chair of the Executive Management Council. She can be reached through her website


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