10 Themes from ASAE’s 2013 Annual Meeting

ASAE’s Annual Meeting is always by far one of my most favorite professional developments. It’s the perfect combination of professional development, industry conversations, and personal connections. It’s the one place where I don’t have to explain my professional (it’s been five years and my mother still has no idea what I do, but as long as I’m fed she is happy).

I went to this year’s Annual Meeting with a very specific focus of obtaining some 200- and 300-level practical tips on how to do my job better, mostly in the area of marketing and communications. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get much here. It took a fair amount of “introverting” (Yes, Mark and Brandon, I’m going to make that a thing now) to really reflect on this experience. I learned that the power of this conference isn’t in learning how-tos, it’s finding larger concepts and ideas to bring back to your organization and using them to create new discussions at the table. Below are 10 themes that I took away from this year’s meeting:

  1. Members as Citizens
  2. Focusing Your Online Community
  3. Discounting Membership and Products
  4. Repackaging Products and Services
  5. Personal Development
  6. Maximizing Your Staff Talent
  7. Technology as a Solution
  8. Technology Isn’t Sexy
  9. Responding to Your Member’s Needs
  10. Using More Data

Members as Citizens

Associations spend a lot of time and effort generating customers who purchase our products and members who pay us annual dues to be a part of the organization. These are transactional relationships that require constant development in hopes that they continue to spend money with our associations. Then on a yearly basis, we try convince them to continue their membership with our association. We are missing a great opportunity to turn members and customers into citizens of our community. Most associations already have some citizens, these are the volunteers, leaders, past-leaders, and veteran members who support the organization without a second thought; What about the members who aren’t there, or can’t get there because we have limited opportunities for this type of citizen. How can you create more opportunities to develop members and customers into citizens of your association?

Focusing Your Online Community

It’s without a doubt that social communities have taken the association world by storm. I saw more online community vendors in this year’s expo hall than I’ve ever seen. This is a great opportunity for associations to take the in-person experience and supplement it with an online experience that can last throughout the year. Too often I hear of associations who hope to “build it and they will come.” Having an online community doesn’t necessarily translate to all your members actively participating. I’ve presented a number of sessions with Ben Martin of Online Community Results on strategies and rules for online communities. Consider focusing the role and goal of your online community to a smaller segment of your membership, but more importantly ensure you have a solid and well thought-out strategy for your online community. For my association, our online community is a dedicated online infrastructure for all our volunteer efforts and professional interest section. What is the role of your online community? (If you say it’s a place where all members can come together to communicate and network, I suggest you re-think your purpose.) See what session attendees had to say during The 7 Sins of Community Management.

Discounting Membership and Products

When revenue numbers are down, our first reaction is to sell more to bring up the numbers. Then someone greats the great idea that if we lower the price for a short time we can sell more. While that sounds like a good idea, what message are you sending when you constantly lower the price of your membership and products? Are you saying that this is the “real” value that you associate with your product? For example, I love shopping at Banana Republic, but at $79 for a dress shirt, it’s a bit overpriced. If I just wait three days I know I’ll get another “special email offer” giving me a 30-40% discount code. Sure, this might convince me to buy the shirt now, but I’ll also never pay full price for one of their items if I know I can hold out and save 30%. What are you telling your customers and members when you constantly offer discounts on your membership, products, and services?

Repackaging Products and Services

Rather than discounting your membership, products, and services, consider re-packaging them to offer more value without cost to your organization. I sat in on Sheri Jacobs of Avenue M Group who presented The Art of Membership (view live twitter stream); in this session she talked about creating packages of products and services that provide more value for your members but with less cost to your organization. Forgive me, but I am going to butcher her example:

Best Practices of Bloggers [kindle edition]: $29

Best Practices of Bloggers [print edition]: $39

More people tend to pay $29 for the kindle edition because it’s cheaper and they figure they don’t need to spend the extra money for a print edition. Consider packaging the two for increased revenue:

Best Practices of Bloggers [Kindle + Print editions]: $39

While the price of the package is the same as the print edition, you can now provide easier justification for all those Kindle users to easily spend an extra $10 for the print edition. (Sheri, feel free to chime in with a comment below to better explain this.)

Personal Development

Every now and then you need to take a step back and take a look at where you are in life, both personally and professionally. Too often we get caught up in the mundane of our daily life tasks to reflect on ourselves. How effective can you be as an employee, coworker, family, friend, or person if you don’t truly understand yourself, your strengths, your areas for growth (I don’t like to call them weaknesses), and what you have to offer those in your life? One of the sessions I presented as an ignite called, Introvert Isn’t a Bad Word (future blog post to come), where I talked about recognizing my introvert strengths and harnessing those to do some good in my life.

Maximizing Your Staff Talent

Too often I hear supervisors don’t have the funds to support the professional development of their staff. I understand times are difficult and budgets are limited, but I also hear many of the supervisors wishing their staffs were more productive, or would come up with new ideas and solutions. If you aren’t exposing your staff to different ways of thinking, and other industry professionals, how can you expect them to come up with new ways to help your organization succeed?

Technology as a Solution

I was lucky enough to sit on a live stream panel with Renato Sogueco from the Society of American Florists and Rene Shonerd from PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) for Personify. At one point during the discussion Renato said that too many associations view technology as a cost-center rather than a solution center. How often do we hear “we can’t afford that technology” or “It’s too expensive to upgrade” without looking at the opportunity and cost-saving that the initial investment would save the organization or create additional opportunities for revenue generation?

Technology Isn’t Sexy

This section originally started from a conference tweet that said “Email Isn’t Sexy” to which I responded “But it can be.” I know there is a lot of focus on creating email that spam filters will let pass and is easily readable (translate: boring text-emails with your logo at the top). Sure, more people might be receiving our emails but what good does that do if the email is so unappealing that they have no interest in your call to action?

This made me realize that a lot of association technology isn’t sexy, but for some reason a lot of private industry technology is (though a lot of it still isn’t). What is it about technology that makes it so unappealing and difficult to use. I think part of the problem is the people talking about technology rather than the actual technology (and the people designing the interfaces). So how can we make technology sexy? Here are few ways to make technology sexy (FastCompany Article):

  1. Define the technology as a solution to a need. Technology is meant to be a solution to our problems, not create more problems for its users
  2. Make it simple to use but powerful enough to be complex and adaptable. Technology should do exactly what you want it to do for you. Some people want it to be powerful and some want just a few actions. Look at the iPhone and its ability to service millions of users by downloading apps they want and need.
  3. Don’t forget emotion. Technology is more than mouse-clicks, zeros, and ones.
  4. Connect. Not the actual users of the technology, but make all of your technology integrate and talk to each other. How many times do we make our members login to different parts of the website, or different websites all together, and then wonder why they are frustrated?

Responding to Your Member’s Needs

We’ve all heard the same stats, mobile is growing, tablet usage is increasing, internet users are spending time consuming their data on multiple devices and less sitting at their desk. (See Mary Meeker’s 88 slide presentation on Internet Trends).

With everyone and their mother using the Internet on their phone and tablets, what does your website look like? Chances are your answer to this is a smaller version of your website. If you are making your website visitors pinch, zoom, pan, and school to use your website on their non-desktop computer than you’re doing it wrong. Why are you making it difficult for people to access your website? Now begins the reign of responsive design, it’s a buzzword you are going to start hearing more often.

Responsive design simply means your website and determines the size of the screen and adjusts the design to accommodate smaller or larger screen sizes. I don’t mean the website gets bigger or smaller, but fundamentally changes the design of your website. If you want to see this in action, check out one of the 50 websites here using responsive design (Hint: try viewing some of these sites on different devices). View the twitter live-stream that occured during the session Mobile Playground: Responsive Web Design.

Using More Data

Associations have the potential to capture a mountain load of data on their members and its activities. Most associations capture lots of data, but few use it to its maximum potential. My guess is that your organization does surveys after conferences and events, membership satisfaction reports, dashboards that are reported to the Board, and other similar types of activities, but what are you doing with your member data? How clean do you really think your membership database is? Where are other opportunities for you to capture and create data from? Allow your association’s data to tell you a story and then work together to connect the dots to tell you what the data means. We all think our data is clean, but how many times have you received duplicate magazines, brochures, postcards, or catalogs?

Most associations are good about capturing different data sets, few are able to put it together in one place for it to do any real good for the organization. Start using data to help you make informed decisions for the association. I encourage you to stop “going with your gut” or going off a few stories you hear from members, volunteers, or your board. Start making some decisions based on what your data is telling you. View the twitter live-stream that occurred during the session Flip That Association: Going from Data Zero to Data Hero.


Obviously you have to apply all of these themes to your organization in ways that will best serve your organization and it’s citizens. Are you having any of these conversations in your office? Thanks to this year’s Annual Meeting I have plenty of discussion topics that will keep me busy until Nashville. I’d love to hear your thoughts around these ideas. What themes did you pick up during this year’s Annual Meeting? Share your comments below!

5 Replies to “10 Themes from ASAE’s 2013 Annual Meeting”

  1. John, along the lines of “Maximizing Your Staff Talent”, I heard someone at the conference say (and I can’t remember who so I don’t know who to attribute this to) something to this effect: “You’re afraid that you’ll train your staff and they’ll leave?! What if you don’t train them and they STAY?!” Something to ponder…

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