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.


Stop Trying to be Google

If an association wants to move beyond mere aggregation and serve your members by providing real curation, what should you do?

To quote my co-author HilaryMarsh: “Stop trying to be Google.”

Quoting from our new whitepaper, Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload,

Your association’s community is experiencing information overload in a time when it’s become increasingly difficult to assess the quality of that information due to the proliferation of sources and to the declining trust people have in traditional gatekeepers of information.

Piling on links to a bunch of stuff absent context isn’t going to help solve that problem. If your association really wants to get to the root of this for the people you serve, you are going to have to move beyond mere aggregation and use multiple methods to achieve distillation, or museum-style curation.

There are a number of things you’re going to have to do differently to achieve that, from letting go of your “we’re the best – the only relevant – source of information for our profession or industry” arrogance to interacting differently with your own content to hiring and training for different skills to changing your association’s orientation towards and relationship with your members and volunteers.

To find out more about how you achieve “curation greatness,” download the full whitepaper at https://bit.ly/34P5THr, no divulging of information about yourself required.

What IS Content Curation?

Associations use the term “content curation” frequently, but to quote the great Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Many times, when we’re using the term “content curation,” what we actually mean is “aggregation.” That is, pulling together a list of related links.

That is helpful for your members, in that you’ve at least reduced the number of pieces of information they should be paying attention to. But it’s shallow, and you can do so much more to help them.

When Hilary Marsh and I talk about “content curation” in our new whitepaper, Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload, what we’re referring to is something more akin to what museum curators do, a process called distillation, in which the curator selects from the available items, brings those items together, puts them in context, and provides the perspective that helps the people viewing those items to find meaning and make sense of the topic by telling a coherent story.

Museums curate artifacts. Associations curate information.

You can help your members achieve their most important goals and solve their most pressing problems by curating information effectively.

To find out more about how you do that, download the full whitepaper at https://bit.ly/34P5THr, no divulging of information about yourself required.

Help Your Members Find the Signal in the Noise

This is probably not news to you, but we’re at an information crisis point.

Your members and other audiences are dealing with a flood of information during a time when the role of traditional information gatekeepers has become severely devalued. People are overwhelmed with information, much of it false or untrustworthy, and are increasingly unable to discern what is reliable and what is not.

Associations can help.

In the latest, just-released, hot off the presses (or at least Adobe InDesign) Spark collaborative whitepaper, Hilary Marsh (Content Company) and I propose content curation as associations’ secret weapon for helping our members surface relevant information and place it in the context they need to help them make sense of their increasingly complex personal and professional worlds.

Cut Through the Clutter: Content Curation, Associations’ Secret Weapon Against Information Overload opens by detailing the scope of the information crisis we’re currently facing, describes the key elements of effective content curation, and provides detailed, actionable steps that association executives can take to curate information effectively for your audiences.

The whitepaper includes:

  • An association content curation maturity model.
  • A case study with the Institute of Food Technologists.
  • An interview with Carrie Hane and Dina Lewis, CAE, who co-authored the recent ASAE Foundation content strategy report, Association Content Strategies for a Changing World, with Hilary.
  • An interview with Bryan Kelly, one of the founders of rasa.io and the publisher-in-chief of Smart Letter, discussing the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in content curation.
  • A summary of the ASAE Foundation report, Association Content Strategies for a Changing World.
  • A list of “how-to” guides and curation tools.
  • 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 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/34P5THr – 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.

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

Associations Are Communities

Graffiti - let's love our community

It’s time to act like it.

Several weeks ago, when it was first becoming apparent to association executives (and everyone else) that the coronavirus pandemic was, in fact, going to be quite serious, most of the industry discussion seemed to revolve around “Do we REALLY have to cancel our conference? What about our revenue!”


Yes, it was appalling.

I do get it – many associations derive 30-50% of their annual revenue from their conference or trade show, and – at least at that time – hotels and convention centers were being utterly intransigent about negotiating. (I’m guessing they’re going to have to change their tunes. I’m also guessing a lot of lawyers are going to be quite busy litigating this for some time.)

Fortunately, we’ve all regained our senses, and conversation has shifted to various incarnations of: How can we do right by our members and broader community right now?

There’s no one answer that’s going to work for every association.

Basically everyone is cancelling or postponing any big events for at least the next several months. Some are refunding reg fees across the board, while others, looking to move events to the summer or fall, are holding onto those fees for the moment, while reassuring registrants that cancellation and refund rules will be significantly relaxed.

Many associations are standing up COVID-19 discussion groups in their online communities and making them available to the entire profession or industry, regardless of their usual practices for non-member access.

Association execs are also considering options for dues renewals, granting extensions by request, pausing renewal campaigns, or even extending everyone automatically across the board.

Staff teams are vetting ways they can support local chapters that are heavily dependent on in-person events and run by small – or no paid – staff.

One thing that seems really important to me is: Think through how the pandemic is affecting your particular profession or industry, and respond accordingly.

If your association serves any segment of the hospitality industry, this is a MASSIVE crisis. You are going to have to take drastic steps to try to help keep your industry and association afloat. That may mean suspending dues entirely for some significant period of time, drastically changing – or curtailing – the services you offer as a result, and almost definitely dipping into your reserves.

If your association serves a profession or industry that’s not being as significantly impacted, you may want to look to what you did to weather the September 11 terrorist attacks or the 2007-2008 Great Recession for clues as to what you should do now.

Some industries that are being heavily impacted are not being heavily financially impacted. Grocery stores, for instance, are doing great financially, but they are in crisis related to supply chain and staffing. Medical personnel are absolutely still hard at work and getting paid, but they are dealing with significant personal and professional stress related to fears of being overwhelmed with patients, of the need to quarantine from their families at home, and of falling ill themselves. University faculty are already facing the fact that their students are not returning this term, and K-12 teachers may be facing that in the near future. They have to adapt – quickly – to remote instruction and assessment.

Everyone is dealing with significantly disrupted day-to-day life, and uncertainty about how long it’s going to last.

Many states and localities are moving quickly to pass emergency relief legislation. The federal government will get there eventually. Your members may need guidance about what’s available to them and how to get it.

How can you repurpose staff – membership, meetings, GR, IT, professional development – to help your community with their REAL challenges right now?

If you have some members who are willing and able to get on the phone with you and have frank conversations about the pressures and worries they’re facing at the moment, CALL THEM. Right now. And then bring your team together to do their best thinking about how your association can pivot to respond to those needs, which may be VERY different from what you all normally do and provide. Your association is their community. You can help them.

Now is the time when we in the association world MUST look at the world from our members’ perspective, think carefully and empathetically about what they need from us, and respond accordingly.

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

Tips for Working from Home

computer, cup of coffee, glasses, on a desk

I have to caveat this by saying I can’t help you with what do to with your kids (I don’t have any myself) or with your team telework tech (it’s just me here at Spark).


I have been working for myself from my home office for nearly eight years. Here are some things that work for me, to keep me productive without letting work consume my entire life (well, at least until the times that things get REALLY busy with client work).

  • No working in your PJs. Put on pants, even if they’re yoga pants or basketball shorts. Take a shower, comb your hair, brush your teeth, make your bed. Don’t go feral 🙂
  • Dedicate a space to work. I have an actual office, as in a separate room with a door where I can close out my spouse (who also works at home full time) that’s set up with a desk and chair, my computer and printer, my file cabinets, etc. You may not be able to do that in your temporary situation, but pick a spot where you do work, which means that everywhere else in your house, you DON’T do work.
  • No snacking. You don’t have to confine yourself to “three squares,” but when you’re going to eat, close your computer, go to the kitchen, put the food on a plate, sit down and eat it, clean up, and then go back to work.
  • Leave your house once a day. I know we’re social distancing, but you can still go out in your yard for a few minutes or take a walk around the block without interacting with other people. You need sunshine to make vitamin D, so go get some.
  • Beware social media. It can be a real time suck. Do you actually need to have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. open on your computer? No? Close it down. Same thing for email. Turn off auto-notifications, set a few times throughout the day to check all that stuff, check it, then shut it down.
  • Get some exercise. That walk counts, but make sure you’re getting up and moving around periodically throughout the day, too. We tend to feel guilt or like we have to prove ourselves when working from home. “I can’t leave my computer for 10 seconds, because the way I’ll prove my dedication and that I’m not slacking off is to respond to every type of message that comes in the second it arrives.” Do you do that when you’re in the office? No, you do not. And your colleagues understand that you might be getting a cup of coffee or running a quick errand or chatting with a colleague, and it’s fine. It’s fine when you’re working from home, too. Take a 10 minute yoga (or dance, or jump rope, or squats) break.
  • Stick to your work hours, whatever they are. And with your kids at home, they might need to be something other than 9 am to 5 pm. When quittin’ time hits, QUIT. Close up/turn off your computer, put away your documents, stop checking email and Slack, leave your workspace. Maybe do something as a ritual to end your day. I often make myself a cup of tea, look at what’s coming up tomorrow, and then write in my journal.
  • DO NOT check in before bed. Also, DO NOT read the news or social media right before bed (that’s generally good advice but particularly so right now). Relatedly, take at least one day each week completely off work.
  • This one is for bosses: your staff is dealing with a lot right now. Everything is not going to be exactly like it always is (other than the fact that people aren’t in the office). Yes, productivity is likely to suffer. People are having to take care of their kids. We’re all under a lot of stress. Focus on what REALLY NEEDS to get done, and maybe let what doesn’t slide for the moment.

Regular teleworkers: What other tips do you have for people?

New teleworkers: What questions do you have for those of us with more experience? 

Leave your advice and queries in the comments! 

Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash

On Resolutions

Writing goals planning worksheet

It’s that time of year, when we all think about what happened last year and what we’d like to do differently in the next.

Two observations:

First, 17 years ago, I realized that “lose 10 pounds and become a better person” was a terrible resolution to make, which is why I never kept it.

So I resolved to resolve differently, choosing resolutions that are fun and about something I want to learn or try. I even wrote and performed an IGNITE session about it.

Since then, I’ve always kept my resolution, and I’ve added a bunch of fun things to my life and repertoire. I’ve seen and done a bunch of cool things. I have my motorcycle license. I know how to mix a damn fine cocktail and bake a damn fine loaf of bread. I can play poker, and I know how to box (and am starting to train to spar).

This year, I’ll be learning Spanish. Not necessarily “reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original” Spanish, but I’m hoping to get to “conversing at a second-grade level” Spanish. Classes start in a month.

Second, taking time out to assess is critical for your career and your association, too.

Every January, even though it’s just me running Spark, I leave town for a formal business review and planning retreat. I look back at the previous year and how the business performed against the goals I set for it and for myself, thinking about and measuring what went well, what didn’t, and what I need to do differently in the coming year. I then set the goals against which I will measure myself the following year.

Organizationally, associations are perpetually short-staffed and under-resourced. Because of that, we’re bad about setting aside time to debrief, to review our efforts after a project or campaign concludes, to see where we succeeded and where we failed, think about why that happened, and document what we want to do differently next time.

(This is why, even when clients don’t opt to keep me on retainer for campaign implementation, I always include a post-campaign debrief meeting in client projects. Just call me your accountability buddy. Even if you opt to run it yourself, we are going to sit down at the end of the campaign and talk about – and document – what you learned, so you can improve the next time around.)

This “short-staffed and under-resourced” situation affects our careers, too.

Busy association execs can get so caught up in running from one fire to the next that we never stop to think about our own career goals and path. It’s important to have goals for yourself, for your own career, whether they are short term (“I’m going to attend at least one conference just for my own professional development this year – no speaking, no presenting, no committee work, just learning”), medium-term (“This year, I’m FINALLY going to earn my CAE/PMP/CMP/etc.”), or long-term (“I want to be an association CEO, so I’m going to find a current association CEO who is willing to be a sponsor for me to help me move closer to achieving that goal”).

January might not be the right time for you to do this, either personally or organizationally. But you need to find the time that works and make this a regular practice. You won’t regret it.

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Are You Ready to SURGE?

I’m excited to share that I’ll be speaking at Association Success’s inaugural SURGE virtual event, November 7-9.

SURGE 2017 session graphic lean startup Ann Mei Chang Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate Elizabeth Engel

Around the world, thousands of association professionals confront the same challenges. We all have insights to offer on how to grow, adjust, adapt and innovate.

SURGE 2017 is designed to bring all these challenges and voices together under one virtual roof to have a productive and meaningful conversation around innovation. SURGE 2017 participants will have exclusive access to sessions centered on transformative, forward-thinking solutions to the challenges we all encounter.

The sessions will be pre-recorded and played at set times in the Association Success platform. Meanwhile attendees will be able to communicate simultaneously with both each other and the speakers. We want to see what happens when we foster participation and knowledge-sharing amongst thousands of people, with each individual thinking and talking collaboratively.

My session, scheduled to run Thursday, November 9 from noon – 1 pm ET, will be on using lean startup methodology in the association industry and will feature my Innovate the Lean Way co-author Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, CIO at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) and Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director of Lean Impact.

But the adventure into collaborative innovation begins long before the event.  Immediately upon registration, you can connect with likeminded individuals in the forum, contribute to the idea box, participate by answering a session-related question, and absorb expert insights on the blog.

The aim of SURGE 2017 is to spark collaborative innovation. Click here for more information or to reserve your free spot at the summit now!

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.

How to Be a Better Boss

A good friend of mine recently returned to the 9-to-5 office world after several years of World's Best Boss mugfreelancing while her kids were small, and she asked me if I had any advice about being a better boss, since she’s managing a team for the first time in several years.

And with Labor Day fast approaching, and having recently had the pleasure of a delightful lunch with the woman who taught me much of this, now seemed a good time to share what I learned from my first, best boss in my association career.

  • Treat people equitably (which is not the same thing as equally).
  • Praise in public, correct in private.
  • Adapt your style to your team’s personalities to the greatest degree possible.
  • Take an appropriate level of interest in them as people – you’re not their best friend, but they’re also not robots.
  • Be wildly generous in sharing credit.
  • Protect your team. Shit ALWAYS stops with you – it NEVER rolls downhill onto your people.
  • Set clear expectations and manage at the minimum your people need to achieve them. Don’t micromanage.
  • Don’t ask your people to do something you wouldn’t do.
  • Make sure they have authority commensurate with their responsibilities.
  • Find out what they’re interested in learning and seek opportunities for them to learn it.

And if you can’t remember all that, just remember this one thing:

Don’t be a jerk.

Happy last weekend of summer, y’all!

Image found here (and you should click the link, because it contains some good advice, too).