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  • 11 Apr 2019 10:18 AM | Anonymous

    By Laura Taylor

    In the association management world, there are basically three types of associations. First, there are trade associations that bring together professionals in an industry who work together to advance legislative causes, support research within their trade, and promote sound and ethical business practices. There are also professional organizations that have individual memberships who come together to network and exchange information. The third type of association is philanthropic or charitable in its emphasis, working to advance a particular cause. There are of course a number of commonalities across the different types of associations, and there is often overlap in terms of their missions, values, and key initiatives.

    One feature that is nearly universal across effective associations is the leadership and operational support provided by volunteers. The success of almost every association is dependent upon the willingness of stakeholders to step up and get involved. Having more volunteers who understand and care about the organization obviously strengthens the organization’s capacity. Aside from feeling good about being of service and supporting a cause, there are also other benefits to volunteering. Understanding and effectively communicating those benefits is critically important when it comes to recruiting and retaining impactful volunteers.

    Volunteering connects a person to others. Building relationships through working together on a common cause can be a very beneficial personal experience. The networking opportunities that come with volunteering can lead to career advancement. Gaining support and learning from others are potential outcomes when giving time and energy to a mission-focused organization. And simply acquiring new friends along the way is always a positive outcome worth mentioning.

    There are also health benefits to volunteering. Giving to others is good for the spirit, mind, and body. According to HelpGuide.org, volunteering combats depression, assists in decreasing stress and anxiety, and increases self-confidence. A sense of accomplishment and a feeling of fulfillment are common side effects of volunteering.

    All of these internal motivators and rewards go a long toward explaining why individuals continue to serve as volunteers. Providing opportunities for external recognition for those who volunteer is also appreciated. The expertise and dedication that volunteers bring to their associations, foundations, and coalitions are extremely valuable but sometimes taken for granted. In many cases, these volunteers are employed full-time and have home and family commitments, but they still manage to give countless hours to a cause in which they believe. Take the opportunity to celebrate the impact of volunteer service during National Volunteer Week and recognize and honor those who give year round.


    • www.associationcareerhq.org
    • www.helpguide.org
    • www.independentsector.org
    • https://learn.acendia.com/volunteer-appreciation-ideas/
    • www.pointsoflight.org
    • www.volunteermatch.org
  • 1 Mar 2019 9:27 AM | Anonymous

    By Jeff Falcusan

    When you hear the expression “tooting your own horn,” does it carry a negative connotation? When individuals engage in over-the-top self-promotion, it can of course come off as tone-deaf or obnoxious. At the same time, if are worried about what others will think of us if we make a point of articulating our value, how can we ever expect to be recognized for our contributions?  The same goes for organizations. Effective nonprofit leaders are skilled at convincingly and unabashedly communicating the objectives and promoting the accomplishments of their organizations to decision makers.

    During my years as a policy analyst in Washington, DC, I had the good fortune of working closely with a congressional relations professional with decades of experience representing membership associations on Capitol Hill. My colleague was fond of reminding audiences that a simple mantra (apparently derived from ancient advice handed down by Aristotle) guided his efforts to describe our organization, its members’ contributions, and our legislative objectives: “Tell them, tell them again, and then tell hem what you told them.”

    This philosophy was not about mindless, empty repetition of boilerplate soundbites. Hammering the same audience with the same message using the same words over and over again is a recipe for being tuned out. Instead, my colleague understood that cultivating awareness of and buy-in for our organization and its policy agenda required a practiced persistence.

    Take advantage of every opportunity to get in front of decision makers who can provide support for your organization or its goals, always have something positive to say about your organization that is rooted in data and real-world accomplishments, and stay on the look-out for chances to repeat the process as many times as possible (including with the same audience) to refine and adapt your message and improve your effectiveness at delivering it. 

    Decision makers, whether they are legislators, funders, or even dues-paying members, have finite time and resources. By creating awareness, building up your organization’s reputation for effectiveness, and staying top of mind, you will contribute toward positioning your organization for success. 

  • 21 Feb 2019 12:14 PM | Anonymous

    By Jeff Falcusan

    A few days ago, I ran out to grab a quick take-out lunch in advance of a conference call. Because it was an unseasonably cold day, I ordered a bowl of soup. When the cashier handed me my order (previously bagged up by a different employee), I made a beeline to the napkin and utensil station. Before I could get there, the cashier shouted, “Don’t worry, I threw some utensils into the bag!” “Thank you so much!” I replied, and headed straight to my car, grateful to have saved even a few seconds on what had turned into a very busy day.

    When I returned to my desk, I opened the bag, took out my soup, and retrieved the two utensils the cashier had provided. Unfortunately, they were both forks.

    As association management professionals, we work hard to advance our clients’ goals and objectives. If we are not in tune with our clients’ needs, however, maximum effort might produce minimal results. By keeping the lines of communication open and checking in with clients on a consistent basis, we can stay up to date and maintain a shared understanding of the short- and long-term priorities that require our time and attention. By first understanding our clients’ needs and then working as hard as we can to meet those needs, we set our clients up for meaningful accomplishments.

    In the association management world, there are other mechanisms we can use to ensure that boards and staff remain on the same page when it comes to organizational goals and how to achieve them. A strategic plan, for example, can help an association think through and ultimately prioritize activities and initiatives with the highest potential to generate revenue or meet other organizational goals. When those priorities are in place, current, and understood by all relevant stakeholders, decision makers can allocate resources appropriately and staff will have a clear understanding of the objectives they are charged with advancing. 

    If your organization has not engaged in a strategic planning exercise in the last few years, SOS can help. Feel free to contact us for more information.

  • 11 Jan 2019 2:36 PM | Anonymous

    By Suzanne Lanctot

    The bylaws of a nonprofit are generally viewed as the second most important document only after the Articles of Incorporation. Bylaws provide an outline of the governance structure of the organization. Sadly, and for many reasons, this document is far too often outdated (maybe antiquated) and not reflecting the current practices of the organization. Organizations evolve and gradually, under the radar, the bylaws are no longer serving its needs. One important method for dealing with this inevitable evolution is to use/amend more flexibility into the language and structure of the document so that the organization can more readily adapt to impending future changes.

    It is a good idea to review the document every few years and keep record of any revisions as they occur. A reputable Administrative or Association Management Company with a recognized expert, such as a Certified Association Executive (CAE), can provide the experience working in this area.

    Although it is not a requirement for bylaws to be made public, consider doing so for greater transparency and board accountability.

    About the State

    Regulations are done by the state so the best place to start a review is with a solid understanding of the Nonprofit Corporation Statute. Keep in mind, where your bylaws are silent there are default rules within these statutes. Therefore it is best to identify where they may exist in the document…and address them with more specific provisions.

    Look at the “purpose clause” in your Articles of Incorporation. This clause describes the reasons for operation and has a direct bearing on the tax exempt status that was granted. Is it the same language in your bylaws? And does it still reflect your current organizations purpose?

    Look at the “dissolution clause.” This directs what the nonprofit will do with its assets if it dissolves or merges. Is it in line with current values?

    The following are some of the most important provisions and questions that need to be answered for a thorough review: don’t wait for a particular circumstance. Have these answers outlined, readily accessible, and updated every 2 years as needed.

    • Have the bylaws changed, and if so, was this reported to the IRS? A 501c3 should report such changes to the IRS with the next (990) report. Additionally, does the state in which the nonprofit is incorporated require to report changes?
    • Are there requirements to be a board member, such as residency? What are the disqualifications?
    • What are the titles of the offices? Roles?
    • How are they elected or appointed?
    • What are the terms and term limits?
    • Are officers/ directors indemnified form personal liability?
    • What is the size of the board and what are the minimum and maximum numbers of board members? Is this number is too small or too large?
    • Is there a required number of board meetings per year? And are there attendance requirements?
    • What are the rules/procedures for conducting meetings? What is the number for a quorum for official decisions?
    • Is the conflict of interest policy clearly defined? And what are the compensation and reimbursement rules?
    • What is the procedure for removing a board member or officer?
    • How are committees formed? Who can serve? Appointed? How terminated?
    • Conference calls/electronic meetings? How is voting regulated?
    • How do you call an executive session and what can be discussed? – rules vary by state.
    • What is the process and provisions to amend the bylaws? Is there a bylaws committee to review and amend? Should it be ongoing? Is the process too easy or too hard? Who can propose changes and how are they proposed?
    • How will monies be distributed?
    • Is there a membership provision/requirements? Can membership be revoked and what is the procedure for doing so?
    • Are there diversity requirements? If not, consider invoking them.

    Remember, your bylaws must serve your organization, so review and examine them, ask these questions, and make the necessary changes to help facilitate its growth and evolution.

  • 13 Nov 2018 2:27 PM | Anonymous

    By Laura Taylor

    Every organization wants to have impact in all that they do. Often, that desired impact is seen as some lofty goal that is a nice intention but not really achievable. When attempting to gain support and establish attainable objectives, effective evaluation should occur. There should be a connection between the activities performed and the results causing the anticipated impact. To ensure that is happening, proper evaluation should be conducted. One evaluation tool that helps visually generate clarity between the resources and activities and the outcomes is a logic model.

    A logic model can assist in planning, implementing, and demonstrating to stakeholders the goals and activities and the ultimate impact produced. The basic elements of a logic model include the following:

    Elements of a Logic Model

    • Resources: Assets and Investments - like volunteers, time, money, technology, partners.
    • Activities: What is performed - like training, services delivered, building partnerships, working with the media.
    • Outputs: The results of the Activities - like number of people served, participation numbers, number of hours or product.
    • Outcomes: The change that occurs between the initial Resources and the Outputs - like changes in awareness, knowledge, skills, behavior.
    • Impact: Long-term, systemic changes - like social conditions, economic, civic, and/or environmental changes.

    There are many ways to illustrate a logic model. The image below shows one way to exemplify this.

    Logic Model Example

    Underlying a logic model is a series of "if-then" relationships that express the organization’s theory of change. In reading a logic model left to right, it begins with the resources.

    • There are resources needed to operate.
    • If you have access to the resources, then you can use them to accomplish your activities.
    • If you accomplish your planned activities, then you hopefully are able to deliver the desired product or service.
    • If you accomplish the activities as intended, then your participants will benefit.
    • If these benefits are achieved, then changes occur (impact).

    Reading a Logic Model

    If you are not already using a logic model, give it a try at your next planning session when the focus is the impact your organization can have within your industry and community.

    For more information and a complete Logic Model Evaluation Toolkit, check out Using a Logic Model.

  • 1 Nov 2018 12:57 PM | Anonymous

    By Tiarra Earls Haas

    We live in an increasingly digital landscape – from the social media streams, to online news with browser notifications, to stalker-like digital marketing promotions that seem to follow you all over the Internet –there’s virtually no getting away from our digital society. Unless you live in a cave or take on the lifestyle of a Himalayan monk, digital media is now firmly embedded in our culture.

    As such, it makes sense that associations utilize digital media in their promotional strategies. This includes both paid and unpaid promotions, especially in a landscape where you now must compete with other marketers just to get your content in front of your target audience. This is especially so when considering event promotions, but you must know your target audience very well to be effective with promoting events digitally. In this post, I’m going to share several digital promotion strategies that I’ve seen work very well for associations looking to promote events and achieve their attendee target.

    Email Marketing – This is the method that I’ve used most heavily when promoting events, and it has worked very well for organizations within niche industries. This method works best with a strong contact list (at least 500+) and a very wide audience age demographic. It can be used as the sole strategy, but works most effectively when supplemented with other promotions like social media.

    Paid Social Media – Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to pay to get your messaging in front of your target audience. You can target your audience based on a demographic, location, interest area or job industry. If you’re holding a regional event, consider boosting the event and target your audience within a specific radius of the event (i.e. 20 miles, 30 miles, etc.) I’ve seen this strategy work well with events catering to a younger demographic (ages 25-40). Paid social media strategies can be used in conjunction with non-paid/organic postings as well.

    Organic Social Media – Don’t have the budget for paid social media? No worries, just promote the event on your social media pages as you normally would, but consider partnering with your membership base to help get the word out. I’ve used this method for both events and education campaigns. The easiest thing to do is to craft pre-drafted messaging, taking into consideration the word count depending on the social media channel, and provide the pre-drafted posts for others to share on their respective pages. Including images is an additional great option, as postings with images tend to obtain greater engagement. Using this strategy makes it easy for members to copy/paste the postings on their account pages, and gives the event additional exposure!

    Paid Search Ads – If you’re feeling really bold, you can craft a paid Google search ad targeted to your audience depending on a specified set of keywords. There are other search engines that offer paid ads, like Bing and Yahoo, but Google has the largest audience share by far. I always suggest crafting a campaign to run for at least 30 days (to gather data for future optimization), and at least 3 ads, but you can craft just one ad and keep it to “text only” to make it really simple. If you’re feeling too intimated to use Google Ads, you can try using the simpler Google Ads Express version. This method works for a wider audience demographic, of all ages.

    Using any combination of these strategies should help get your event much wider exposure over the traditional media methods, but make sure you know your audience! If your audience base is older, or doesn’t traditionally use social media, stick to search ads and emails. If your audience is younger and digitally active, consider a wide mix of the strategies above. Using digital media is an iterative process – so experiment, learn and improve your methods for each event.

  • 15 Oct 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Melody King & Odette Vargas

    “Don't just create an event, create an experience,” says the SOS Event team.

    Here are some ways to make your event fun and memorable.

    Creating an Experience

    Inviting leading experts to speak about pressing topics in your industry and networking events are a good start. According to Bizzabo, (36%) of event marketers claim their biggest challenge comes from increasing event registration. Planners are starting to explore alternative, fun, and informal activities so prospective members feel energized and excited about becoming a member, such as; movie nights, simple team building, emphasize hands-on activities and collaborative learning.

    All about the Attendees

    Creating personas can help in the creation of proper content and communication methods that will appeal to your attendees. Personas are fictional, generalized characters representing various needs, goals and challenges of your members. Create fictional characters to represent each type of member you would like to attract to your association. Have a persona in mind (just as you would think about a friend if you were to write a letter to them) as you develop event content and communications for the group each specific persona represents.

    Strong Ties

    To increase attendee interaction consider pairing up each prospective member with a long-time member who can welcome them and introduce them to other members. The IRS broadly defines associations as “a group of persons banded together for a specific purpose”, attendees are more likely to become a member of an association if they feel a strong sense of community, coordinated activity, and opportunity to build several lasting connections. According to EventMB 2018 report, attendees’ priorities are networking (82%), learning (71%) and entertainment (38%) and self-improvement is important to (37%) and time out of the office is appealing to (16%).

    Smart Pricing

    According to ASAE’s 2012 Benchmark report, event registration counts for about (50%) of non-dues association revenue. Consider making joining even more compelling by offering an event discount or benefits for new members. Highlighting a member registration price versus a non-member price for every event, along with additional member benefits your association may also offer, can serve as a reminder for people who are looking to become members.

    Location. Location. Location.

    It seems that getting members to keep registering is a challenge for many associations. Changing the location to somewhere unique is a way to get members engaged, excited, and builds word-of-mouth marketing around your association’s events. According to EventMB 2018 research publishing, (53%) of events are taking place in unusual venues, demand for non-traditional meetings facilities is expected to increase by (3.8%) in 2018.

  • 19 Sep 2018 1:01 PM | Anonymous

    By Laurie Williams

    I am an Arizonan. I was born and raised here. I have owned horses and barrel raced, and I read westerns; Louis L’Amour was one of my favorites, so my blog is going to start with the western theme of riding for the brand.

    In the West riding for the brand meant staying loyal to what matters. In the solitary world of cowboys, that means the ranch (brand) for whom they worked and their personal moral compass.

    After I got past my cowgirl phase, I went to work. One of the jobs I had in the early eighties was as a waitress for Coco’s Restaurant. At that time, Coco’s had very distinctive uniforms and you could get fired if you were caught wearing your uniform outside of work. Coco’s philosophy was that, because the uniform was so recognizable, wherever you wore it, you represented the brand - so no after work drinks in uniform.

    Just another way of riding for the brand.

    So, by now you are asking yourself what does this have to do with associations?

    I believe once you say you are part of an association you become a representative of the association, especially if you are a board member or association staff.

    Association leadership needs to be focused and visibly committed. They need to exemplify a guiding culture that nets a positive impact for the association. Association leadership needs to nurture meaningful relationships with everyone.

    A board or staff member grumbling about the association can have far reaching repercussions on the association.

    Association leadership needs to put forth an association culture that makes prospective members want to be a part of it.

    Associations sell the invisible. The ROI on association membership is usually presented as a list of member benefits. Members do appreciate the tangible benefits they receive, but that alone does not drive membership; relationships, culture, and passion for the cause drive membership.

    Association leadership needs to live, demonstrate, and communicate that culture and passion.

    In other words, association leadership should always ride for the brand.

  • 5 Sep 2018 12:07 PM | Anonymous

    By Conni Ingallina

    If you are like me, the day to day tasks can get in the way of the overall big picture for an organization. Thinking strategically is very important for every association – but how to make it top of mind?

    Strategy itself is really a way of thinking about, and planning, the steps you will take to accomplish a purpose. If you are like most organizations, you spend at least one board meeting a year on strategic planning. Usually this session involves an overview of your Vision, Mission and Values, as well as accomplishments from the past year.

    I recently took a two-day refresher course on strategic planning, which not only gave me some new tools, but helped to solidify why Strategic Planning is so important. Like that famous saying “Those to fail to plan, plan to fail.” Certainly we want our associations to succeed, so strategic thinking and planning become of paramount importance.

    There are four main steps in the strategic planning process:

    1) Analysis/Assessment – looking at the current state of the organization and doing an internal and external environmental scan. Familiar tools for these environmental scans is the SWOT and PESTEL Analysis.

    2) Strategy Formulation – looking at the current mission, vision, values and strategic goals and objectives help us know if we are on the right track.

    3) Execution – coming up with and operational plan, which includes your tactics and action plan, is a key component to success.

    4) Evaluation – how do we measure, monitor and adjust in order to be successful?

    For the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on step #1 – Analysis/Assessment.

    I have often used the SWOT analysis in my strategic planning, however, I confess to not always knowing what to do with it in order for it to be the most valuable for the organization. In the refresher course I took, we looked at how to map the different categories – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunity and Threats – in order to come up with goals and objectives. For instance – if a strength is accreditation and an opportunity is membership growth, a SO Strategy (Strength/Opportunity) might be “to strengthen messaging around accreditation and create a marketing plan to get the word out to potential members.” This little tip was worth the price of admission.

    The other tool that was introduced to us was the PESTEL Analysis. This analysis looks at the Political, Economic, Socio-Demographic, Technological, Environmental and Legal issues that surrounds your association. I had not used this tool before and loved the way they laid out questions to help you consider ramifications you may not have looked at before. For example, a political question could be “what are the trends and key players at the Federal, state and local levels, that could affect us during the next 3 years?” Or under Socio-Demographic, the question of “what are the demographic and social trends that affect our members” would be a good question to ask.

    Another great thing to do during strategic planning is doing some Scenario Planning. Outline a couple of scenarios for each area we identify as top initiatives. Brainstorming these scenarios can lead to surprising goals and objectives, including sometimes realizing the initiative is not important and should be scrapped.

    Bottom-line: strategic thinking and planning is a must. If your organization hasn’t done a strategic planning session in more than a year (or ever) SCHEDULE IT NOW! An annual board retreat is a great place to start. Hiring an outside consultant always works well, but if you have the expertise on your board or staff, use them. Putting on your strategic hat and working to come up with goals and objectives that will propel the organization into a stronger, more resilient future is worth the time and effort to get it done.

  • 13 Aug 2018 3:07 PM | Anonymous

    By Jeff Falcusan

    In the summer following my sophomore year of high school, I started my first “real job.” Like many teenagers, I went to work for a famous fast food establishment. And, like many teenagers, I had little use for the miscellaneous pearls of wisdom and motivational platitudes frequently dispensed by those in positions of authority, including the store managers. After a few weeks on the job, I developed a special disdain for a placard the franchise owner had affixed high upon a wall in the back of the restaurant, near the dishwashing station. In glaring, oversized font, the sign read, “Rule #1: The Customer is always right. Rule #2: If the Customer is wrong, refer to Rule #1.”

    Whoever came up with that sign, I would think to myself during those first few weeks, certainly never worked here. It seemed impossible to do anything quickly enough to make customers happy. They complained that the line moved too slowly. They complained that it took too long to enter orders into the register. Even the customers who took minute after minute to count out and then pay with hundreds of pocket lint-studded pennies (and there were many of them) complained when their orders weren’t ready in a matter of seconds.

    In those summer months I often worked as a closer, waiting on customers or cooking food for six hours, followed by two hours spent mopping, scraping, and scrubbing. I have vivid memories of long summer days spent taking orders from chronically impatient patrons, followed by evening hours spent plunging my hands into scalding water to scrub grease-encrusted cooking implements. Whenever I’d catch a glimpse of that sign, I would grumble under my breath, “Yeah, right!” After every shift that summer, I was convinced anew that the sign was mocking me.

    After one especially frustrating lunch shift that involved an exploding milkshake machine, I’d had enough and decided the sign needed to go. I retrieved a ladder from the storage room and proceeded to ascend toward the offending sign. At the very moment I reached the ladder’s apex, I heard a vaguely familiar voice call out from below, “What are you doing up there?” I looked down to discover the face of the franchise owner staring up at me. With comically perfect timing, he had arrived to perform a surprise inspection.

    In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be spending my summer shuffling between a cash register and a fry station when so many of my peers were enjoying more leisurely pursuits. That summer, I too often let youthful disgruntlement color my perceptions when it came to customer interactions. In reality, there were usually only a handful of impolite customers each day. Most of the people I dealt with were perfectly pleasant, even if they occasionally expected their orders to be ready almost instantaneously (it was, after all, a “fast food” establishment). Instead of viewing the job as an opportunity to hone my communication and customer relationship skills, I allowed myself to view each interaction as a nuisance.

    When I came down from the ladder, I mumbled something about having to straighten the sign. The franchise owner laughed knowingly and said, “You know, I don’t actually believe the customer is always right. And you don’t have to believe it either. But if your actions convince each customer that you believe it, you’ll do well in business.”

    I appreciated his candor, and from that day forward I made an effort to put his words into practice. I adjusted my attitude. I tried harder to see things from the customer’s perspective. And, every once in a while, when customers did get on my nerves, I used those moments as opportunities to work on skills that might come in handy later in life. I stayed at the job for two more summers and even received a small college scholarship from the franchise owner at the conclusion of my senior year.

    Providing excellent customer service is obviously essential within the association management industry. Succeeding in this line of work requires being responsive to and respectful of our clients’ – and their members’ – questions, requests, suggestions, and even their occasional complaints. In the association world, our customers might not always be “right” in the sense that we may not always agree on the best course of action to meet a particular goal, or the time required to do so. But when they push back, when they challenge us to do better or work faster, they are “right” in a more important way: they are right to care about the outcomes we are charged with achieving on their behalf. Maybe there was something to that sign after all.

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