Of Crowdsourcing and Cassandras

different people's hands on a tree trunk representing working together to accomplish a shared goal

Reupping this post I wrote back in 2009 about crowdsourcing, because my larger point is, I think, even more relevant in 2024.

Jeff Howe, who is credited with coining the term “Crowdsourcing,” was the opening keynoter at the 2009 ASAE Technology Conference, where he mad the point that no matter how smart the people around you are, most of the smartest people work somewhere else.

Crowdsourcing, he went on to explain is a result of:

the perfect storm of the amateur renaissance, the open source revolution, democratization of production, and the rise of online community.

As I wrote at the time:

AND THAT’S ALL LOVELY, really it is. And it’s happening whether we want it to or not, in our new world where the locus of community is less about geography or biological relationship than it is about affinity. And most people have a desire to create something. But I have to wonder: What about the people who lose not only their jobs, but their careers? 

Eventually you’re the last guy making buggy whips and then the industry folds because no one needs buggy whips anymore.

At the time, I was worried that Howe had no answer, which then – and now – seems to me to be the crux of the matter: There are some highly technical skills that probably can’t be crowdsourced. But if there’s always someone willing to do what I do for free, then what?

In an era of gig work and generative AI, this only seems more pressing.

On the gig work front, there are multiple problems. Most significantly, the workers themselves are often exploited, with no OSHA protections or wage guarantees. But also, have you noticed that your rideshares are a LOT more expensive lately? Because the model may always have been to push the cab companies out of business by offering the service WAY below actual cost and then, once cab companies were disempowered and consumers were accustomed to summoning rides via an app rather than a raised arm or whistle, to jack up the price. Which revenue, may I remind you, is NOT necessarily going to the workers. “Disruption” at work, and it may be coming for the profession or industry your association serves, particularly with the rise of generative AI.

Speaking of, those services are ALSO being offered below cost – even, in many cases, for free. And we’re starting to see professions being disrupted – copy writers, technical writers, bookkeepers, data analysts, paralegals (Pew has done a VERY detailed analysis of professions, and the demographics of the people in them, most at risk). What happens when you’ve fired all your marketing coordinators because you can get ChatGPT to do that work for you for free? One, something tells me ChatGPT will no longer BE free. Also, what’s then the on-ramp for becoming tomorrow’s Chief Marketing Officer?

I don’t have any answers either, but I think it’s a conversation that needs to be engaged.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Associations and Climate Change: The Podcast

Many of the options for responding to climate change we’re offered are at the super-macro (UN COP meetings) or super-micro (get an electric car!) levels.

What about all the stuff in the middle? You know, like ASSOCIATIONS?

Shelly Alcorn and I recently had the opportunity to join Cecilia Sepp for the Radio Free 501c podcast to discuss our new whitepaper, The Time Is Now: Association Resilience and Adaptation and the Anthropocene Climate Disruption.

The conversation focused on associations’ role as vehicles for social change, the business imperative to act, and specific steps we can take within our sphere of influence to address this global “wicked problem.”

Are you interested in partnering with your fellow association executives to share good practices and take on projects related to how you can address climate change in your internal operations, member-facing work, and/or as a leader and representative of the profession or industry you serve?

  1. Download the whitepaper.
  2. While you’re there, take our three-question pulse-check survey.
  3. Also while you’re there, share your contact information so we can keep you in the loop about next steps (it’s entirely voluntary).



Associations Creating Community to Address Climate Change

Shelly Alcorn and I recently sat down (virtually) to talk with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston’s Jefferson Glassie about The Time Is Now: Association Resilience and Adaptation and the Anthropocene Climate Disruption, our recently-released whitepaper that lays out the case that associations both can and should take the lead on addressing climate change for our own industry, for our members, and for the professions and industries our associations exist to serve, not only for moral reasons but as a critical business imperative.

The whitepaper details the scope and extent of the impact of climate disruption on associations large and small and emphasizes the wide range of options available to associations to support their respective and concentric communities.

Shelly and I are working on creating an association community of practice to assist in these efforts. We believe that providing a space for association executives to share their insights into conduct, actions, and practices they are undertaking is critical to our success as a community in addressing this “wicked problem.” If you’d like more information, please visit https://associationclimateactioncoalition.com/ and give us your name and email address (scroll to the bottom for the comment form).

As Jefferson pointed out in the podcast, this discussion relates to perhaps the most important community to which we all belong, the human community, and illustrates how we must take concerted action to protect our human and non-human relations.


Navigating These Wicked Waters

Shelly Alcorn and I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by KiKi L’Italien for Association Chat on association leadership strategies for climate chaos.

We talked about our new whitepaper, The Time Is Now: Association Resilience and Adaptation and the Anthropocene Climate Disruption; shared some stories of associations that are doing good work in this area; discussed how we ourselves stay motivated to work for change even in the face of bad news and seemingly daunting odds; highlighted the fact that (to quote Global Optimism) “stubborn optimism is a deliberate mindset;” and revealed the bigger project Shelly and I are in the process of launching related to this work, the Association Climate Action Coalition.


The Time Is Now

Climate change and sustainability are increasingly in the news and showing up as a key topic for the association industry. Association execs are realizing that climate change is not just a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative.

To quote ASAE from their well-attended webinar on this topic back in May: “Either as part of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives or looking at impact and legacy, associations are increasingly grappling with the role sustainability plays in supporting their work and advancing their missions.”

In The Time is Now: Association Resilience and Adaptation and the Anthropocene Climate Disruption, Shelly Alcorn and I provide a brief overview of data on climate change, address the psychological barriers to action humans face, and bring to bear the concepts of resilience (preparing to bounce back from challenges) and adaptation (learning how to live and work differently) on the specific effects the climate crisis will have on associations’ internal operations, member-facing programs, products and services, and on the professions and industries we exist to serve.

Our goal is to help associations better understand how this “wicked problem” is going to affect our industry and begin preparing to better respond to the challenges that will face us all in the coming years.

The whitepaper also includes:

  • Case studies with the American Association of Geographers, Stand.earth, and the Strata Community Association (our first international case study!).
  • A sidebar on climate change and US national security.
  • Stories of positive change to inspire you.
  • A series of thought questions for you to use to spark discussion with your team.
  • An extensive list of resources in case you want to dig deeper on any of the topics addressed.

I’ll be blogging about the whitepaper more in the coming days, highlighting some of our major findings, but in the meantime I invite you to download your free copy at https://bit.ly/48jfB4X – we don’t collect any data on you to get it, and you won’t end up on some mailing list you didn’t ask for. We just use the bit.ly as an easy mechanism to count the number of times it’s been downloaded.

However, Shelly and I realized that there’s potentially something much bigger here. We’re hoping to put together a true Community of Practice of associations who are ready to lead change. When you download your copy, you’ll have the option of taking a three question survey and sharing contact information if you’d like to be kept in the loop about that.

Get your copy at https://bit.ly/48jfB4X.

And don’t forget to check out some of the other FREE Spark collaborative whitepapers, too, on topics ranging from content curation to digital transformation, blockchain, DEI, lean startup, member-centric engagement, and more!

Can Associations Be Part of the Climate Solution?

The Role of Associations in Tackling the Climate Crisis Association Transformation podcast header graphic


People associate in order to solve problems that are, individually, intractable. I can’t think of a more important problem that’s not amenable to individual solutions than climate change.

Shelly Alcorn and I were honored to discuss the association role in combatting climate change with Elisa Brewer Pratt on a recent episode of the Association Transformation podcast.

The climate crisis is (and is going to) impact our internal operations, our member-facing programs and services, and the industries and professions we exist to serve. Don’t miss this important conversation about how associations can, and are ethically called to, respond.

(Spoiler alert: this may also be related to the next Spark whitepaper, currently in process and due to be released later this year.)

Association Meetings in a Post-Roe World

On Tuesday, October 11, Shelly Alcorn hosted Joan Eisenstodt and me on The Phoenix Cast for an important conversation about association meetings in a post-Roe world.

Just as meetings are starting to recover from pandemic shutdowns, new (and old) laws are putting pregnant attendees at significant risk.

The key thing I think associations need to take from our conversation is that choices about where we host our meetings could be putting pregnant attendees at SIGNIFICANT risk if they have a medical emergency related to pregnancy during the event.

In the immediate term, association execs and boards need to talk that through and make a plan for your next event.

In the longer term, we need to talk, as a community, about what this means in terms of equity of access (or lack thereof) for attendees.

We also need a plan as an industry to respond to this. As we saw back in 2016-17 when we came together to respond to the rash of transphobic “bathroom bills,” there is strength in numbers!

Most of all, DO NOT ignore this situation.

Edited to add: ASAE has recently released a decision guide to help association executives think through implications of our choices in conference location decisions. Learn more about it and download the guide here

Open Letter to ASAE

Monday, January 11, 2021

Susan Robertson, CAE, President and CEO, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership

Stephen J. Caldeira, Chair of the Board, ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership


Finally, a line has been crossed and associations are standing up to say “enough.”

Many of us in the association community have watched in dismay in the past four years as the Trump administration violated civil rights, our democratic norms, and human decency, and our community, too often, was silent. Among the Trump administration’s many violations: 

  • Implementing draconian measures to block travel by Muslims, including US green card holders, to the United States.
  • Forcibly separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents, 545 of whom still have yet to be reunited with their families.
  • Ordering members of the National Guard and other law enforcement personnel to attack peaceful protestors in front of The White House who were speaking out against racially-driven police brutality and affirming that Black Lives Matter in order to stage a photo op.
  • Denying science and willfully mismanaging the response to a global pandemic that has resulted in the death of more than 365,000 Americans, a number that increases daily.

Finally, when Donald Trump incited his radical right wing supporters to attempt to overthrow the results of the November election and encouraged them to commit acts of domestic terrorism against our own government by attacking the United States Capitol, associations spoke out strongly.

The National Association of Manufacturers called immediately for Donald Trump’s removal from office via the 25th Amendment to our Constitution.

They were quickly followed by others, as reported by Politico

  • The Business Roundtable noted that the attempted insurrection “makes clear that elected officials’ perpetuation of the fiction of a fraudulent 2020 presidential election is not only reprehensible, but also a danger to our democracy, our society and our economy.” 
  • North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey demanded Trump either resign or be removed via the 25th Amendment, along with Republican lawmakers who objected to certification, singling out Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley by name. 
  • Jim Nussle, leader of the Credit Union National Association and a former Republican Member of Congress, announced that he is leaving the GOP, “outraged and devastated by the actions of too many elected Republicans (some I know and served with) and supporters.” 

Mike Sommers, President of American Petroleum Institute, when asked by the Washington Post about Trump’s role, said: “I blame him completely. He has proven himself unworthy of the office of being president.” 

NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Education Network, immediately sent a letter to members that modeled a proactive problem/solution/support approach, which read in part: 

“President Trump incited an angry mob as part of his ongoing attempt to undo President-elect Biden’s election. NTEN supports the calls for the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump. We also support calls for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office immediately.

Meanwhile, our immediate challenges continue to need our combined efforts. Even during a coup, nonprofits across the U.S. are providing community members with food, shelter, and health care. It’s alright to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. But you’re not alone in the struggle. We see you. We support you. And we’re here with you.”

In contrast, on Thursday, January 7, 2021, ASAE released, via tweet and an unsigned email to members, a weak and equivocal statement that condemned the “breach by rioters” but refused to name them, call out who was responsible, or take any position on a solution

To quote Washington, DC Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen: “This was not a protest; this was a violent act against our country. It was terrorism, period… [we] will not be safer unless we tell the truth of this moment and name those who foment or perpetuate racial and anti-Semitic terror and white supremacy. This requires collective and individual accountability.” 

It appears that ASAE is trying to skip directly to reconciliation without first doing the hard work of acknowledging who is responsible – Donald Trump, his many enablers in the Republican party and right-wing media, and his supporters – and taking active steps to create restorative justice. 

What would requiring accountability look like? 

To quote ASAE’s Diversity and Inclusion statement

“Building on our 30-year D+I commitment, we are especially concerned with creating space for the difficult conversations, hearing the voices least heard, and providing leadership where it is needed in governance and operations.”

If, even in the wake of the shameful white terrorist insurrection that took place in its own backyard, ASAE is not willing to publicly engage those difficult conversations and provide leadership by taking  substantial and significant action to support racial justice, claiming a commitment to diversity and inclusion is meaningless. 

The path to restorative justice is neither easy nor fast and must engage many more members of the association community than the authors and co-signers of this letter.

One concrete action ASAE could take immediately would be to pledge that APAC will not now or in the future contribute to any candidate or incumbent who supported Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election, whether through signing on to the Supreme Court amicus brief, speaking against election certification on the floor of the House or Senate, or voting against certifying any state’s electoral college votes. 

We call on ASAE and our friends and colleagues in the association community to do the hard work of bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.


Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE, Chief Strategist, Spark Consulting

Barbara J. Armentrout, CAE

Joan L. Eisenstodt, Chief Strategist, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, and Past Chair, ASAE Ethics Committee

Dina Lewis, CAE, President, Distilled Logic, LLC, and Member, ASAE Communication Professionals Advisory Council

Sherry A. Marts, Ph.D., President and CEO, S*Marts Consulting LLC

Maggie McGary,CEO & Chief Strategist at McGary Associates

45 additional ASAE member association executives signed onto the letter between January 11-31, 2021. The letter was formally sent to Ms. Robertson and Mr. Calderia on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. If and when ASAE responds, I will update this post.

ASAE responded on Monday, February 8, 2021. You can read a PDF of their letter here: ASAE Response to Feb. 2 Open Letter.


Is It Time for a Digital Detox?

Over-work and too much stress are pretty much the norm for most association executives. Every day, we’re trying to do a lot for our members, and most associations are perpetually understaffed and tight on budget.

This makes a digital detox sound like a really great idea.

“Yeah! I’m going to slip that electronic leash, at least for a little while!” you might be thinking.

And EVERYONE seems to have advice about how to do it.

But what actually works?

I’m so glad you asked!

Here’s what I’ve found works for me in trying to tame the technology beast and keep some level of balance in my life.

Delete social apps from your phone.This is probably the hardest one to do, but may be the most important. One of the reasons we feel so stressed by technology is that it’s a constant presence and distraction. Spaces in our lives that used to be filled with space (waiting for the bus, standing in line, waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice or to pick up your spouse from the train) are now filled with scrolling Twitter, Facebook feeds, and Instagram posts. There’s a boatload of studies that demonstrate that the more time you spend on social media, the worse you feel about yourself and your life. Next time you’re waiting for the bus, resist the urge to pull out your phone. Observe the world around you. Think. Maybe chat to the person next to you. Breathe. Leave a little room in your life.

Turn off notifications for just about everything.This one’s tough, too, but the only notifications I get on my phone are calls and texts. The only notifications I get on my computer are 10 minute reminders for appointments – I’ve even turned off new email alerts (and since I work for myself, I don’t have to worry about things like Slack, so your mileage on that may vary). This is very much the Pavlov’s dog thing. When you’re being alerted to every little change in every app and program, your entire life becomes a constant stream of interruptions. No wonder you feel stressed out!

Charge your phone outside your bedroom, and relatedly, get a real alarm clock(so you aren’t dependent on your phone to wake you up). Ending your day in front of a screen is bad for your circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, and starting the day with your unread emails makes you feel behind before you’ve even gotten out of bed.  Keep screens out of your bedroom – it should be a restful sanctuary for you, not another extension of your office.

Subscribe to a print newspaper, and read it over breakfast. Don’t start your day with a screen. I know this marks me as a Luddite, a curmudgeon, or both, but I still get my news in print. I believe in supporting the work of a free press, of course, but I also find that, even if it’s the newspaper’s own website, when I read it on my computer or a tablet, I’m much more likely to only skim the first paragraph and move on. There are a lot of important things going on in the world. Take a few minutes every day to learn about them.

Pick a nightly stop time for email.It doesn’t have to be the minute you leave the office, but it shouldn’t be your bedtime, either. You’re not an obstetrician, and you don’t hold the nuclear codes. If your boss – or your board chair – has to wait until tomorrow morning for a response to her email, the world will not end. And if you ARE the boss – or the board chair – you can create a more positive culture for your entire organization by resisting the urge to fire off an email at midnight or 5 am just to get whatever it was that just occurred to you onto someone else’s to do list.

Read books.Blog posts, online articles, and print magazines are all great. But books make you think about big ideas over longer periods of time, or immerse you in other worlds (in other words, don’t just read the latest business best seller). I will confess to having an e-reader, but it is JUST an e-reader. It doesn’t do anything else – no social media, no games, no Internet browser. Just a WHOLE LOT Of books in a relatively tiny package.

Plenty of people do a tech-free day weekly, and that doesn’t quite work for me (I do, after all, run my own business, and it is just me), but when I’m around the house on weekends, I don’t keep my phone on me. It (and my laptop) stay in my office unless I specifically need them for something.

It all comes down to this: Your technology should serve you, not the other way around. Some of these ideas might work for you, and some might not. You might have other really good practices that work better (and if you do, please share them in the comments). But if you are feeling bossed around by your smartphone, I strong encourage you to experiment with a few of these, even if it feels a little scary, and see how it changes your life and your relationship with your gadgets, hopefully for the better.


Associations Respond to Hurricane Harvey

In case you missed it, ASAE’s Collaborate forum (member login required) has recently been hosting a robust discussion of how associations are helping their members and the local community in Houston and southwest Louisiana respond to Hurricane Harvey. With Houston and Louisiana still drying – and digging – out and Hurricane Irma about to strike Florida, I wanted to summarize some good practices that have emerged.

Dues Relief. How this would work will vary based on your association’s dues structure and also how generous you can afford to be (driven by how many members are affected and how large a percentage of your overall revenue is comprised of membership dues), but many associations are extending expiration dates for members in the affected region. Some are doing it automatically, while some are doing it only upon request. Personally, I think automatic is preferable – while people are trying to salvage what they can from their flooded homes and businesses, they don’t need to worry about having to call their membership association to ask for a favor.

Suppressing Marketing Campaigns. Likewise, whether it’s recruitment, renewal, conference, new publication, professional development series, or whatever, many associations are suppressing addresses from the affected regions so they are not targeted by marketing campaigns for the time being. Again, your members don’t need to be worrying about your shiny new webinar series right now.

Have a Space/Need a Space. Some associations are hosting a forum where local members who have spare office space – or even spare bedrooms – can offer them to other local members. This might not work for every association – your members would need to be comfortable with this level of intimacy with each other – but for those who are, this would be a highly valuable service. For manufacturing associations, this could even include donating production capacity to affected members.

Industry/Profession-Specific Fundraising. This can come in many forms. Some associations are planning offer scholarships to events that will be taking place within the next few months to members in the affected areas. Some have launched GoFundMe campaigns to help members cope with uninsured losses. Some are organizing and matching member donations to nonprofit relief agencies (a good practice there is to focus on groups that are both local and already on the ground, like the local food bank or animal rescue organization). Some are focusing on helping members replace destroyed equipment or supplies, such as for teachers who pay out of pocket for many of their classroom supplies and may not be able to replace them on their own right now or firefighters whose handheld radios may have been destroyed.

One organization has tasked volunteers with calling every single member in the affected area (admittedly, it’s fewer than 100) and asking each of them if they need help. Anyone who answers “yes” is getting a check for $1000 immediately and automatically, no (additional) questions asked. While this is not something every organization can afford to do, I would encourage you to think big. It will generate positive feeling and member loyalty within your community and will provide a halo effect for your organization and potentially your entire profession or industry.

Public Service. For organizations whose members serve the public (like doctors, teachers, psychologists), many are providing materials to help their members help the community cope with the aftermath of and losses created by the hurricane. Some have also created materials for the affected communities themselves, like materials for parents to help their children cope.

So how do you know who’s affected? The USPS of course! You have two options: the USPS Service Alerts website and the PostalPro website.

What is your association doing? Join the discussions on Collaborate, or leave your ideas in the comments.