The Growth Trap

I’ve written and spoken much about how associations and non-profits in general tend to have a hard time ending programs and services. You can read more about this here: Slaying Sacred Zombie Cows.

I’m going to take this same idea in a bit of a different direction today. Many organizations innovate through growth. As membership increases or non-dues revenue goes up, they now have more resources with which to start new initiatives. Innovating new value is much easier for leaders when you have a healthy growing organization. You can just put that new money to work and let the rest of things carry on, avoiding tough conversations and decisions.

The challenge comes when that growth stops or reverses, something many have become familiar with over the past year or so. If the only way your organization can innovate is through growth, then you now face a serious problem: just when you need to be the most nimble you are actually at your least flexible.

This is what I call the Growth Trap: relying only on growth for change traps you in the status quo when that growth goes away. Thus, being able to stop doing things not only makes for a more responsive organization, it is an existential necessity in tough times.

If your organization has come through the depths of the recession, you have probably learned how to stop doing things that are no longer of value, allowing you to reallocate those resources. Don’t forget this precious skill once your revenues are back on the upswing. It will continue to serve you well in good times and will make it much easier for you to weather the inevitable downturns when they come.

That skill will help you to escape the growth trap.

The Real Threat that For Profits Challengers Have for Associations

Tony Rossell, a very smart marketer, posted recently about for-profit companies competing with association. He raises some good points.

The root of the threat from for-profits is not so much that they will eat the associations’ lunch but that they will offer full meals that the association can’t serve to their own members.

Many organization are not very nimble for a whole variety of reasons: inertia, history, policy, politics, poor leadership, sclerotic decision making, and others. For-profits, especially start-ups, are less likely to have that same baggage. For-profits also need to show a profit in short order, which tends to motivate them to try new things until they find the right mix with which to generate their desired returns.

Given that, if I were going to start a for-profit targeted at an association’s existing market I would focus purely on the innovation space, providing valuable goods and services that market can’t get from their membership organization. New, high-value, services can demand higher fees and you avoid a direct challenge to the association’s core space.

My challenge to associations: seize that innovation space before someone takes it from you.

Two Events and a Survey for Association Executives

Here are two events and a survey that will be of interest to some association executives.

Association Election Trends

Votenet is conducting a survey on association elections with the intent to “identify association election trends such as average voter turnout, election processes, types of elections, promotion methods for elections and challenges to running a voting event.” Everyone who completes the survey will receive a copy of the results and analysis.

Avectra Demo Day

Avectra is holding a free demo day this Friday. The event includes several panel presentations and demos from technology companies. Free to attend but you have to register via the web site.

Buzz 2009

A social media conference for association executives, featuring Guy Kawasaki, Andy Sernovitz and others. Scheduled for July 9 in DC.

Hear Me: Podcast and Webinar

A couple free resources for you on a lovely Thursday afternoon.

First up, my second podcast interview with Sue Pelletier is up on the Face2Face blog. We tackle lots of issues around social media and events, including back channels, blogging, and if a blog will put your event out of business (answer: no).

Next Tuesday I’m leading a webinar on using data to drive membership marketing for associations.

The presentation is part of the Avectra Academy series and is free to attend. I’ve been told there has been a huge response to this one, which makes all sorts of sense. I’ll share why NOW is the best time to be a marketer ever (really!) and how associations can benefit from using data to focus their marketing rather than spamming the hell out of everyone in your database. Hope to see you there!

Web Strategy for Meetings and Events

Sue Pelletier of MeetingsNet and the Face2Face blog interviewed me last week about web strategy for event web sites. This previews some of the ideas I will be covering at ASAE’s Annual Meeting in Toronto this August.

I was fortunate today to have the chance to speak with Web guru C. David Gammel about what organizations can do to make their event Web sites really get the results they want. He has lots of ideas that you can use to increase the likelihood that potential attendees will register, exhibitors sign up for booths, and overall increase the buzz around your meeting.

You can listen to the podcast here. Thanks Sue!

The Opt-in Panopticon

A story is making the rounds about a Swiss woman who was fired by her employer after they saw her active on Facebook while she had told them she was too ill to work with a computer and stayed home.

Regardless of the facts of the story above, it does illustrate a new dynamic that we are all wrestling with as a society: how to balance our personal, private, and professional identities online.

Welcome to the opt-in panopticon, where you chose to make your online activity easily observed by others.

A panopticon is a type of prison design proposed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. The design allowed every prisoner to be viewed from a single point, which creates the perception among prisoners that they are always being observed, even when they are not. The design is still influencing prison design today.

In the context of social media, we are moving to an online environment where we are all prisoners and guards in the panopticon. The more you use social media to reflect your current status and actions (think Twitter or Facebook status updates) the more you are placing yourself into a self-imposed panopticon. You never know who might be following your actions so you must behave as if everyone is following them. This includes: friends, family, spouses, children, employers, employees, clients, members, IRS agents, you name it!

This is certainly a rather negative analogy and ignores the benefits of social networking and other participatory media. However, it is a genuine factor to be aware of and prepared for.

Some things to consider for yourself and your staff or volunteers:

  • Educate staff and volunteers to this new dynamic and how the separation of personal and professional online is increasingly hard to maintain;
  • Set expectations for representing the organization online;
  • Be forgiving. The next variation of Warhol’s famous aphorism may be that we will all be stupid online for 15 minutes. If you fire everyone who makes a mistake online you’ll have very few people left!

What do you think? How might this impact your organization and how you work with your staff and volunteer leaders?

What if Cuba Opens Up?

I’ve been a bit stunned by the recent events between the U.S. and Cuba. President Obama lightened up some restrictions and Raul Castro made statements that they are willing to talk and everything is on the table.

It still may not come to pass but it’s a bit more feasible today that trade and travel may open up significantly between the two countries. Fidel Castro walked back Raul’s statement today but it’s still a very interesting possibility if not inevitable.

As a thought experiment, let’s say this does come to pass in the next couple of years. What will be the impact of open trade between the U.S. and Cuba? What opportunities will it create?

A few things I can think of include:

  • Knowledge transfer on almost any business or professional topic you can think of;
  • Cuba expertise;
  • Start-ups;
  • Acquisitions;
  • Privatization of government operations;
  • Huge flow of people both ways on business assignments;
  • Tourism and travel;
  • Infrastructure (from roads to water to telecom).

I would anticipate South Florida becoming a staging point for all things Cuba, creating a huge local boom in the economy. A colleague pointed out to me that Tampa was historically a major port for Cuba trade and could become so again, bringing investment to that area.

For my association colleagues, what might an open Cuba mean for your members, profession or industry?

Changing From Face-to-Face to Virtual

I’ve heard a few stories lately about organizations changing an upcoming event from a face-to-face meeting to a virtual meeting online. Here’s the thing to keep in mind when contemplating this kind of change:

Changing a face-to-face event to an online-only event is like an athlete changing from running shoes to diving flippers.

You can still go fast but you better be jumping into water right after you put those flippers on. If not, you will do a face plant within seconds.

Virtual events have many strengths but they are fundamentally different kinds of activities than in person meetings. The hallway goes away. The random connections go away. The sense of place is very different. Commitment to being present during the proceedings is much lower.

Sure, social media can help some but it is not the same. Why do you think so many social media people just went to the SXSW conference?

The question to ask is if you can still achieve the same goals of your face-to-face event with an online event? In many cases, you cannot. You’d be better off trying to achieve something completely different online if your in person meeting has to be canceled.