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,, 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 – 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 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

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.


What Lies on the Other Side?

What do we want a post-pandemic world to look like?

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic stay at home edicts began coming down, a colleague posted a question to LinkedIn: What’s your vision for when we come out of this?

I suspect she was looking for stuff like: “associations will embrace smaller, regional, hybrid events” or “employers who were convinced there was no way their staff could work remotely would realize they were wrong.”

I responded:

  1. We as a society will realize that healthcare must be affordable and accessible to all (which likely means it can no longer be tied to or predicated on employment).
  2. We as a society will realize that all workers merit paid time off.
  3. We as a society will realize that all full time jobs merit a living wage.
  4. We’ll have sufficient majorities at all levels of government who agree to make these things happen.

Well, it turns out, I’m not the only one thinking that maybe we don’t want to return to the old normal that was a bad normal for far too many people.

What if we could not only envision but create a new normal, a better normal?

That’s what Humanity Rising aims to do.

Convened by Ubiquity University, Humanity Rising is a global solutions summit that launches THIS Friday, May 22. The summit will feature daily live content via TED-style talks, as well as interactive sessions, group dialogues, and working groups aligned around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The plan is continue to convene as long as the pandemic lasts. (Right now, they have content planned through September.)

The goal is to come out of this not just having thought about or talked about a better vision for humanity, but to actually make a more sustainable and equitable future happen.

Find out more and register here.

Ubiquity is asking for a one-time voluntary contribution of $20 (or more, if you can afford it!), but no one will be denied participation for financial reasons.

Spark Consulting is proud to be one of more than 100 partner organizations on this convening.


Is It Time for a Digital Detox?

Over-work and too much stress are pretty much the norm for most association executives. Every day, image of a smart phone with a no symbol carved into a treewe’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.

Image found here(and you should follow the link, because there’s some good advice there, too).

Associations Respond to Hurricane Harvey

In case you missed it, ASAE’s Collaborate forum (member login required) has recently one hand reaching out to help anotherbeen 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.

Image found here.

This Is Not a Good Look for Us

It’s an open secret that associations are deeply concerned about – and struggling with – our ability to recruit and retain Millennial young professionals, both as members and as association executives and talent in our industry. We’re trying all kinds of things – changing our membership tiers, dues structures, and value propositions; changing our volunteer offerings and opportunities; changing our work and office cultures – to try to attract young people and keep them involved.

Fortunately, there’s a ton of research on this generation – Pew, Project New America, the US government’s Corporation for National and Community Service’s Volunteering in America reports, etc. – and we’re using that research to figure out how to revitalize our organizations to draw them in.

Millennials share many attitudes that differ from their elders. One of the largest differences is around the role the government should play in protecting the environment and preventing climate change. According to a recent Project New America study, 76% of Millennials believe the government should play a larger role in environmental protection, and 69% call for greater involvement preventing climate change.

graph Millennial attitudes on social and economic issues Which makes this recent piece in the New York Times deeply concerning.

The piece addresses regulatory rollbacks under the Trump administration, with a particular focus on environmental rollbacks. I quote:

In many cases, records show that the changes came after appeals by corporate lobbyists and trade association executives…”

I know – and you know – that the majority of associations are not out there lobbying to allow their members to trash the environment for short-term economic gains. But we all also know that there are some bad actors, too.

ASAE has put an enormous amount of resources – time, money, energy – into the Power of A campaign and Associations Advance America, highlighting the good work we do in the world, like responding to the Ebola crisis or providing support for military caregivers.

And then the US Chamber’s Tom Donohue comes out and says, “After a relentless, eight-year regulatory onslaught that loaded unprecedented burdens on businesses and the economy, relief is finally on the way,” to the Times.

I worry that this is going to give our industry a huge black eye generally – “we don’t care who we screw, as long as it’s good for our industry” – is going to undo the good work ASAE has been doing highlight the good associations do in the world, and will make our already challenging task of recruiting and retaining young members and staff even more difficult.

Image found here.


Letter to ASAE – ASAE’s Response

ASAE has officially responded to those of us who expressed concern about the association industry response to the 2016 Presidential election.

Thanks to John Graham and Scott Wiley for allowing me to publicly share their response to the letter that was published on this blog on November 21.

Click through to view the PDF of that communication.

My thoughts:

  • I appreciate the fact that ASAE took the time to respond officially.
  • I also appreciate the fact that ASAE’s response includes a re-statement of the association’s commitment to diversity and inclusion,
  • I commend ASAE for their ongoing work lobbying against the “bathroom bill” in Texas.
  • I am disappointed that ASAE did not address any of the specific requests the author group had made, such as calling on Donald Trump to renounce his divisive rhetoric and the attacks on various groups that have been made – and are continuing to be made – by his supporters, appointing an ombudsman to address questions about issues that might arise from Mr. Trump’s divisive policies, and instituting a more transparent process for forming advocacy and public policy positions.

Should ASAE wish to pursue any of these requested actions, I believe I speak for the entire original author group when I say that we stand ready to assist in any way that we can.


Associations and Trump’s Travel Ban

Refugees are welcome here sign

Airports and cities large and small erupted into chaos this weekend as Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning Muslims from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from entering the US took effect.

People with valid entry visas and legal permanent resident status (“green card” holders) were detained at airports across the country. Immigration attorneys flocked to terminals to provide pro bono legal assistance to those detained, and citizens took to the airport terminals and the streets to speak out against this.

This is a crisis for the association industry, as clearly illustrated by the many immediate responses, particularly from STEM associations, who are likely to be some of the first associations profoundly impacted by this order.

The @AssocVoices Twitter account has been doing an excellent job of collecting and disseminating responses from diverse associations like:

Of course, the American Immigration Lawyers Association has been on the forefront of this issue.

Associations need to think about and plan responses for questions that affect us like:

  • Will international attendees be able to come to our US-based conferences?
  • If an international attendee is detained trying to come to your event, what will your association’s response be?
  • Will US-based members who are “green card” holders or here on visas be able to attend conferences we hold outside the US (remember, if they leave they may not be allowed to return)?
  • Will US-based staff who are “green card” holders or here on visas be able to travel internationally for work (remember, if they leave they may not be allowed to return)?
  • Will US-based staff who are “green card” holders or here on visas be able to travel to their home countries to visit family or friends (remember, if they leave they may not be allowed to return)?
  • If members or staff are prevented from re-entering the US after leaving for association-related business, what will your association’s response be?

Edited to add: Ann Feeney, CAE added the following excellent questions during a discussion of this topic on ASAE’s Collaborate community (login required):

Situational awareness

  • What sources are you using for ongoing information? Are there any outside the mainstream news (e.g. law professors, specialty organizations) that you’d strongly recommend?
  • If you’re planning to get professional counsel on the topic, from whom?

Expansion of the list of countries

  • Are you also creating contingency plans for the inclusion of other countries on the list? If so, which? (Some of the countries that I’ve seen mentioned in the context of expansion are Egypt, Indonesia, the Chechen-majority parts of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, eastern Turkey, and the UAE. Alphabetical order, not frequency of mention.)


  • Are you adjusting conference attendance projections? If so, is this solely for the countries on the list or are you assuming that other international attendees may be deterred from traveling?
  • Are you talking to conference venues or service providers about options for remote attendance? If so, how would you handle pricing and subsequent revenue forecasts and modeling?


  • The ethics of diversity and inclusion, as well as the law, call for hiring regardless of national origin, but is the ability to travel freely to any country a key job requirement for any positions? If so, what are the legal and ethical ramifications of taking nation of origin into consideration for hiring?

Recruitment and retention

  • What are the ramifications for board recruitment and retention? For other volunteers?


  • How are you communicating to stakeholders, given the rate of change about these executive orders, their interpretation, and the legal challenges? Interjecting a personal note,  I’ve personally often found that a tremendous challenge during any times of very rapid change–how do you balance keeping people informed and not over-informing, and providing information in a timely fashion and having to retract earlier information that’s no longer applicable.

What is your association planning by way of response? What is your crisis plan for this?

Edited to add: ASAE has signed onto a letter, prepared jointly by a variety of science organizations, directly opposing the ban.

As of February 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Trump administration (PDF), leaving the stay against the executive order in place.