Generative AI, Associations, Ethics, and Regulation

Maddie Grant (PROPEL), Jennifer Yarrish (AARP), Paul Roetzer (Marketing AI Institute), and I recently had a great conversation about associations’ role in the ethics of generative AI and in regulation of the technology for UST Education.

Topics we addressed included:

  • What are the critical ethical concerns related to the creation and use of generative AI tools?
  • AI has been all around us for years. What’s different about the generative AI tools that are now available to us?
  • What’s happening with regulation of generative AI tools? What are the concerns about regulating? What are the concerns about NOT regulating?
  • What role should associations be taking with regards to ethical use of generative AI for our internal operations? For member-facing programs, products, and services? For the professions and industries we serve?
  • What role should associations be taking with regards to regulation of generative AI?
  • What are some of the positive possibilities that are facilitated by the rise of generative AI technologies?

Did you miss it? Never fear! The recording is now available at the UST Education website (our webinar host).

Image credit: Ness Labs

What Should We Do to Get Ready for Blockchain?

One of the key elements of blockchain networks is the network. This technology is a system-level technology. What that means is that its true power lies in the network effect, in the system. Any one application can have positive (or negative, or both) impacts, but disruptive change will come about as different applications begin to interact with each other.

In a practical sense, to quote Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise, that means:

…blockchain-related changes that come to your particular profession or industry are likely to happen not at all and then all at once…

If you do only ONE thing as a result of the white paper and this blog series, it should be to educate your senior paid and volunteer leadership. When the time comes that the network effect hits the profession or industry your association serves, you will need to be nimble enough to make rapid decisions. You can’t wait until then to start your educational process.

Where do you start?

Of course, I’m going to say: download the whitepaper, read it, assign your board to read it, make it an agenda item at your next board meeting, assign senior staff to read it, and make it an agenda item at your next senior staff meeting. Remember, it’s completely free, and you won’t be asked for any information or put on a mailing list.

The whitepaper itself includes advice for next steps after that, ranging from more detailed takes on everything I’ve covered in the past few posts to a substantial reference list to discussion questions to inform your conversations with your paid and volunteer leaders to information about where you can set up sandboxes.

I’ll close with one more quote:

Blockchain is likely to disrupt association operations, just as the arrival of the internet and social media did. Does that necessarily mean that blockchain will put associations out of business? Well, no.

However, it is going to change some fundamental things about the way we operate, and now is the time to start educating yourself as to how.


How Will Blockchain Affect My Members?

As you may recall from my previous post on my new whitepaper, Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise, my co-author Shelly Alcorn and I think that this is the REAL question association execs need to be asking ourselves right now.

The tricky part is that now we’re getting into particular professions and industries, which means that the questions, problems, and answers differ.

Realizing that we couldn’t take on EVERYTHING, Shelly and I identified the following professions/industries and related questions as key areas in which to demonstrate the potential of blockchain technology:

  • Education: How can we quickly and cheaply verify credentials with 100% certainty?
  • Engineering: How can we accelerate the construction process while also reducing risk?
  • Government: If someone loses her documents or her papers are destroyed, how can she prove who she is?
  • Law: How do we ensure that contracts are executed correctly, that all parties understand them, and that they remain safe and secure?
  • Supply Chain: How can we be certain of the provenance of goods while also reducing the time (and associated costs) of getting them from point A to point B?
  • Real Estate: How can we make it easier to buy and sell property while also ensuring ownership records are correct and current?

To learn the answers, check out the full whitepaper, Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise, downloadable for free at, no divulging of any information about yourself required.

Should Associations Care About Blockchain?

And if so, why?

Blockchain for Dummies offers some qualifying questions when you’re trying to figure out whether blockchain is an appropriate solution for your association and for which projects:

  • Do we need to track transactions that involve more than two parties?
  • Is the current system overly complex or costly, possibly due to the need for intermediaries or a central point of control?
  • Can the network benefit from increased trust, transparency, and accountability in recordkeeping?
  • Is the current system prone to errors due to manual processes or duplication of effort?
  • Is the current transaction system vulnerable to fraud, cyber-attack, and human error?

Now, that probably sounds like every single thing you do.

But wait! There’s one more question you should pose to yourself, suggested by CompTIA in their Harnessing the Blockchain Revolution report:

Are there non-blockchain solutions that are available and effective?

In the VAST majority of cases, the answer to that is: yes.

The one exception Shelly Alcorn and I identified in our new whitepaper, Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise, is credentialing.

Credentialing (degrees of all types, licenses, certifications, certificates, digital badges) is possibly, next to cryptocurrency, the most mature application of blockchain technology (and it’s certainly far more beneficial from a social good perspective). People earn credentials, but, with current technology, the issuing institutions own those credentials for verification purposes. That leads to all sorts of “friction”: slow, expensive processes to verify credentials, faked credentials, challenges dealing with non-traditional or micro-credentials.

Credentials that are on the blockchain cannot be faked, cannot be altered, and are owned by the person who earns them for verification purposes. Status updates are immediate and transparent, whether that’s about earning, maintaining, or even losing a credential.

For instance, I’m a CAE. But how can you know? I can claim it, but without the issuing institution (ASAE, in this case) confirming, you can’t know whether or not I ever earned it and, even if I did, whether or not I’m maintaining it. (I did, in January 2004, and most recently renewed this past fall, but again, how can YOU know?)

Now for something like a CAE, you might look at that and say, “So what if Elizabeth never got around to submitting her renewal paperwork last fall, lapsed, and hasn’t updated her LinkedIn profile yet? Nobody’s dying on the operating table here.” But what about a medical license? Or an industrial refrigeration technician certification (they’re the nice folks who keep our food supply chain operating, and they work with ammonia-based refrigeration systems that, if things go wrong, can kill people)?

However, the crux of the blockchain matter for associations, as Shelly and I see it, is less “how is blockchain going to affect associations?” and more “how is blockchain going to affect association members, in their professions and industries?” Which will be the topic of my next post in this series.

To learn more about this technology and how it’s going to impact our industry in the coming months and years, check out the full whitepaper, Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise, downloadable for free at, no divulging of any information about yourself required.


What IS Blockchain?

At it’s most basic level, blockchain is a ledger-style database.

“Wait a second!” you might say. “There are PLENTY of database options out there. Why do we need ANOTHER one?”

Blockchain allows two people who don’t know or trust each other to exchange value over the internet without the involvement of a third party. It keeps a historical, time-stamped record of transactions involving things that are valuable. Those valuable things can be physical objects (like a diamond or a head of lettuce) or intangible items (like an ebook or electronic music file).

It addresses two key problems in any value exchange:

  1. It prevents double-spending.
  2. It provide immutable verification of the transaction.

And again, it does this without involving a third party intermediary, which means the transactions can happen faster and at a lower cost.

To learn more about how the technology actually works, via a clever (if I do say so myself) analogy about two people going to a ballgame together, check out the full whitepaper, Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise, downloadable for free at, no divulging of any information about yourself required.

Blockchain for Associations

In the spring of 2018, I had the opportunity to attend one of my favorite conferences in the association year: digitalNOW. At that event, among all the cutting-edge content, I heard one word over and over: blockchain. Two things quickly became apparent to me: one, it was an emerging trend associations should pay attention to and two, nobody seemed to really understand it all that well.Image of cover page of whitepaper

  • What is blockchain?
  • How does it work?
  • How does it relate to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?
  • Are there other applications of the technology?
  • What does it all mean for associations?

Those are some of the questions Shelly Alcorn (Alcorn Associates Management Consulting and Ubiquity University) and I seek to answer in our new collaborative whitepaper, Blockchain for Associations: Separating the Hype from the Promise

The whitepaper includes an interview with Tim Haynes, founder of Signal and Story, who you may have heard speaking on blockchain at ASAE’s 2018 Tech Conference last December, and a case study from Central New Mexico Community College, which, under the direction of CIO Feng Hou, has been at the forefront of student-owned and -administered credentials maintained on the blockchain. It also includes an extensive bibliography for those who wish to REALLY geek out.

I’ll be blogging about the whitepaper 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.

The complete whitepaper team – Shelly Alcorn, Tim Haynes, Feng Hou, and myself – will also be participating in SURGE Co-Creation, a free interactive virtual conference on May 1-3 hosted by You can find out more about the event as a whole and our session at (You can also register, which is required, but is, as mentioned above, free.)

And don’t forget to check out the other FREE Spark whitepapers, too:

AMS, CRM, and “So Now What?”

This is the final post of launch week for the new Spark whitepaper, Member Relations: An Association-Centric Approach to Customer Relationship Management:

We’ve looked at CRM as an approach, CRM as software, how AMS and CRM are alike and different, and now we’re on to: “What does it all mean?”

CRM is not a one-to-one replacement for AMS. But it can still be highly valuable to associations that don’t do many of the traditional things associations do, or that outsource some of those traditional association functions. Its greatest application may, in fact, be as a supplement to AMS, supporting associations with robust sales functions. And in an era of flat or declining memberships, associations must become more comfortable with an active sales culture.

Want more? Download your free copy at

The full PDF includes case studies of three associations that are each taking a unique approach to this interplay.


From the new Spark whitepaper, Member Relations: An Association-Centric Approach to Customer Relationship Management:

The once distinct line between AMS and CRM is blurring. CRM systems are increasingly able to integrate with third party solutions to provide additional functions, social networking platforms in particular, and AMS systems are adding many “classic” CRM capabilities. The key difference is specialization.

Want more? Download your free copy at


CRM: The Software

From the new Spark whitepaper, Member Relations: An Association-Centric Approach to Customer Relationship Management:

Now that we’re on board with CRM the concept, what about CRM the software?

One of the major differences between CRM software and other types of databases is Sales Force Automation (SFA). SFA focuses on contact management with the goal of supporting a formal process for moving leads through the purchase loop until they become customers.

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CRM: The Philosophy

From the new Spark whitepaper, Member Relations: An Association-Centric Approach to Customer Relationship Management:

CRM, properly understood, supported, and implemented, helps us manage customer (member and non-member) relationships in a coordinated way across our associations so that every staff member can access the information we maintain on our audiences and use that information effectively to build stronger relationships with those audiences.

Want more? Download your free copy at