Meme Time: Changing the World in 2012

Maddie Grant has thrown down the gauntlet of the first meme challenge (that I’m aware of) of 2012: How am I going to change the world in 2012?

The responses are already starting. I particularly like Jeffrey Cufaude‘s reframing of the problem: start by changing your own world and maybe you’ll be able to change THE world.

What’s my answer?

I’ve long believed that when the same thing keeps popping up for you over and over, you should probably start paying attention, since clearly the universe is tapping you on the shoulder.

What’s been tapping me on the shoulder lately?

Diversity and inclusion.

First there was Joe Gerstandt‘s amazing Fly Your Freak Flag session at ASAE11.

Then Jeffrey Cufaude wrote a fantastic blog post that drew a ton of comments and that, rumor has it, is about to appear as a full lengthe article in an upcoming issue of Associations Now.

Those two inspired this post.

Then I had the chance to meet the amazing Constance Thompson from ASCE at the October idea swap, which also provided food for thought and, with a little luck, a session at an upcoming ASAE conference.

Then, of course, the calendar year ended with this.

How *are* we doing on D&I in associations? Short answer? Not well.

And I can’t change that by myself. And neither can you.

But I can light one candle. And so can you. So that’s what I’m going to do: do what’s in my power to shine a spotlight on diversity and inclusion and where we fail and how we can pick ourselves back up and try again.


“PR by Ostrich”

Two major scandals have been ALL OVER the news media recently: the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations and the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia accusations.

What do the two have to do with each other?

Cover up.

This is not a screed against Herman Cain, even though I do happen to think he’s an idiot – why do people persist in thinking that President of the United States is a good entry-level job in politics? – or against JoePa, even though I think he’s morally culpable for knowing what was going on and not doing more to stop it.

What it IS a screed against is the idea that paying people hush money and/or doing the minimum that is “legally required” is EVER a good idea.

The other thing that both of these scandals have in common is that they occurred when the Internet was still relatively in its infancy and social media wasn’t even a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.

So maybe the parties in question – the leadership at the National Restaurant Association and at Penn State – could at least be understood for thinking, “Well, these are, in fact, CRIMES we’re talking about here, but we should be able to sweep it far enough under the rug that it will NEVER come to light.”

OK, probably not, but you get my point.

How about, instead of lying and denying and spinning and trying to shut people up, both organizations chose to be open, honest, and transparent, and let the chips fall where they may?

Sure, Jerry Sandusky would likely be in jail, and the Nittany Lions would’ve lost a great linebackers coach. Which is probably a good thing, because the way it’s falling out now, it looks like the leadership of the school decided that winning football games was more important than children’s safety. Think on that for a minute. Result? The entire leadership of Penn State has completely lost everyone’s respect and their own credibility and integrity. And, shortly, their jobs. And JoePa’s previously sterling reputation has been irredeemably tarnished.

The National Restaurant Association might have gone through an ugly court case – although realistically, it would’ve been settled out of court, since that’s what almost always happens in sexual harassment cases – and they would’ve fired Cain and moved on to their next CEO. AFTER THE FIRST GO-ROUND. And then, when all this came out as part of his presidential bid, as it inevitably would, they wouldn’t be giving a black eye to the entire association community. They could’ve pointed back and said: “One woman made allegations. We went before a judge. The case was settled. We fired Cain. End of story.” And Cain could’ve gone on to harass women someplace else, most likely, but the NRA would’ve been O-U-T.

Look, if burying your head in the sand was EVER a good idea, it’s not anymore. Now this kind of behavior, besides being wrong, is just dumb.

Thanks to Shelly Alcorn for the title of this post, derived from an exchange we had on Twitter.


Innovate Now! But How?

We’re constantly being urged to innovate, but frankly, in a world of venture capital, nanotechnology, medical advances, and big R&D budgets – none of which nonprofits have access to on a regular basis – that constant drumbeat of “innovate…innovate…innovate” can feel more than a little intimidating – it can even seem impossible.

The thing is, your association is never going to be Apple (hell, Apple might not be Apple after visionary founder Steve Jobs is no longer on the scene).  And that’s OK.  You don’t have to change the world for everyone to have an impact on someone.

So as a community, if we’re not going to discover an abundant, non-carbon-based, renewable energy source or find the cure for AIDS or bring peace to the Middle East or create the next iGottaHaveIt device, what can we do?  Where is our ground for innovation?

It’s right under our noses: membership and volunteerism – the two things we, as a community, can lay claim to owning.

And the thing is, we NEED to innovate in both of these areas, because they’re key to our operations and they’re in the midst of being subjected to some pretty powerful generational forces.

I posted about this earlier this spring, but I think the current association model, particularly as relates to membership and volunteering, is an artifact of its creation by the Boomers.  Membership is often a one-size-fits-all prospect, with lots of “community good” stuff, well, stuffed in there, whether or not the individual member wants it or wants to support it.  That lets us get away with pricing at least some of our offerings below what they actually cost us to produce, artificially inflating demand, which in turn, makes it hard to kill things that should die.

John Graham gave a speech at the Association Foundation Group’s national conference a few weeks ago where he indicated that the association model is predicated on only about 25% of our members taking advantage of any given service that’s offered to them. His point was that if they all took 100% advantage of their memberships, we’d go out of business.  My response was different – that means that, for any given “benefit” you offer to members, 75% of them don’t want it.  And yet they’re paying for it.  And we wonder why we have a hard time articulating our value proposition!

To paraphrase the always-provocative Scott Briscoe (and I linked to this post recently in my regular Wednesday What I’m Reading feature):  we’re inundating our members with too much irrelevant crap.  No wonder they “don’t pay attention!” (how often have you said that?)  They aren’t interested in 75% of what we keep insisting on telling them about – no wonder we can’t get their attention about the 25% that actually matters to them.

Xers and Millennials – aka, your members of tomorrow – have much higher expectations of paying for what – and only what – we actually want (the article linked relates to Boomers versus Xers as parents of school-age kids, but it’s both interesting and relevant for our discussion here).  I quote:

Gen Xers are acutely sensitive to the prices they pay and the value they receive in return.

Prepare for the modular “opt-out” consumer. 

(Oh, and did I mention that the article was written by Neil Howe?)

We need to be thinking seriously, innovating seriously, about how that affects the membership model NOW.  Hell, we needed to start thinking about this yesterday.

Those same dynamics – localism, pragmatism, focus on the bottom line, personal accountability, distrust of authority and institutions – affect volunteering just as strongly (if not more so) than membership. We’re not interested in neverending committee meetings that don’t actually accomplish anything.  We don’t want to have to “pay dues” to get a leadership position – we want responsibility based on what we’ve accomplished, not on our ability to outlast the other guy.  But don’t listen to me – check our Deirdre Reid’s New Volunteer Manifesto.  She says it all way better than I could.

Associations, and nonprofits more generally, REQUIRE volunteers to operate.  But if we can’t innovate around what we offer and our expectations and put together a model that fits with what GenX and the Millennials are looking for, there will be no one to fill those seats.

So what do you think? What are you doing to address generational change and how it will affect the building blocks of your organization?  Where else can associations innovate?