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Weekend Reading from Votenet: July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014 in Weekend Reading by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Here are our favorite posts this week about member engagement, voter mobilization, email frequency, deadly boardroom phrases, the only strategic question that matters, association benchmarking, and emotionally small people at work.

Do you have colleagues who are focused only on the needs of their own department and not on the strategic needs of the organization? Ed Rigsbee calls these folks the “Lords of Lesser Corners.” He says the standard method of operation for these “emotionally small people” is protectionism. He’s got some ideas on how to change their behavior. (Ed Rigsbee, LinkedIn)

Membership organizations aren’t the only ones trying to engage their constituencies – “it is the local government manager’s job to reach out and find ways to welcome their community members into the work of government.” The International City/County Management Association has five ideas for engaging the unengaged that are worth stealing. For example, “create ‘places’ for small-group conversations…These opportunities don’t just happen but require managers to design meetings and processes to encourage and support small-group conversations.” (International City/County Management Association)

One of our favorite webinar speakers, Dr. Melissa Michelson of Menlo College, has an article in the Post about mobilizing reluctant voters. Her findings are based on get-out-the-vote field experiments, not conjecture. “What really mobilizes these voters is repeated personal contacting.” The same tactic works for organizational elections too. If you don’t have the man/womanpower to make personal calls or send personal emails, make sure you send a few reminder emails during the election period. (Melissa Michelson, The Washington Post)

photo by Vige/Flickr CC license


Learn how an association used surveys and testing to determine the right frequency for their email newsletter. The results: more clicks and opens. (Alex Mastrianni, Informz)

Here’s something to include in your next board packet – seven deadly phrases boards should avoid. For those of you who have to attend dysfunctional board meetings, you might want to add these phrases to a board meeting bingo card. (Jerold Panas,

What’s the only strategy question that matters? It’s the one that no one at your organization, except for overworked staff, is asking. I’m not going to give it away, but if your board answers it, it will free up your association’s capacity to pursue what the board decides to do and will improve your chances of success. This is a must read for all membership organizations, and another good handout for your board. (Michael Hudson, Credit Union Insight)

A few association benchmark reports have been released recently, or will be soon, that you should know about.

Crowd Vote of the Week

This is more of a tease than our usual crowd vote of the week. In 2015, the International Astronomical Union, the organization in charge of naming heavenly bodies, will open its exoplanet naming process to a public vote. Yes, you can be a master of the universe.

This Week on Voting 2.0

After voter turnout, the next biggest election challenge, according to 62% of the associations that participated in our most recent benchmark survey, is recruiting leadership candidates. That’s why we’re focusing on candidates this summer in our Summer Candidate Webinar Series.

Our first webinar, Target & Recruit Leadership Candidates Like a Pro, will be on Tuesday, July 22 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EDT. Join me and University of Florida political scientist Charles Dahan to learn how to use and leverage data you already have to identify potential candidates, simplify your nomination process and recruit a diversified slate of candidates who represent different constituencies within your membership. Find out more on our registration page.

Do your board members have the skills needed to govern your association and lead it into the future? We’ve got some ideas on how to identify the skills that your board needs and what some of those skills might be.

One more thing.

This weekend a delivery service is giving away free pints of ice cream to those who download their app in NYC, San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, LA, Seattle and Boston. I’d thought you might want to know. Enjoy your weekend!


What Do You Look For in a Board Director?

July 17, 2014 in Associations by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Do your board members have the competencies or skills needed to govern your association and lead it into the future?

Many associations have nominations committees that vet potential leadership candidates on their skills and experience – the strengths they can bring to the boardroom. But too many association boardrooms are still full of directors who were nominated or appointed based not on what they know, but on whom they know, where they’re from, whom they represent, or whether they’ve “paid their dues.”

In the last few years, the idea of a competency-based board has been a topic of conversation in the association community because it’s one of the “radical changes” proposed in the book Race for Relevance by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE. The idea of a competency-based board isn’t so radical – many associations have them – the radicalness of Coerver’s and Byers’ idea stems from their recommendation for downsizing competency-based boards to five members. Leaving the “radical” number of board members aside, let’s look at the competencies that board members should have.

Who decides what skills your board members need?

Your nomination committee should identify the skills your leaders need in order to achieve the goals in your organization’s strategic plan. The skills they need today and in the future may not be the same set of skills that served your leadership well in the past. After all, the times they are a changing, and changing mighty quickly.

You need to know what skills your returning board members have so you can identify any gaps in needed competencies. Ask the board to do a self-assessment of the board’s performance – something your board should do at least annually — and the skills they bring to the table. Ask the appropriate staff to evaluate board members as well.

On your nomination forms, ask leadership candidates to provide a description of relevant skills. You may want to provide a list of desirable skills in case they are unaware of the association’s needs.

Once the skills gap is revealed, the nominating committee can focus on identifying and recruiting members who possess and demonstrate the desired skills. If you are struggling to find members with the skills you desire, then you know where your leadership development training should focus.

What are some of the competencies you should look for?

Association consultant Glenn Tecker says decision-makers must:

  • Think strategically and analytically.
  • Effectively communicate thoughts and the rationale for those thoughts.
  • Have the earned respect of other key stakeholder group members.
  • Work well with others as a member of a collaborative group with group decision authority.
  • Have an earned reputation for emotional maturity, personal integrity and honesty.
  • Be familiar with the body of knowledge related to both the process for which the group is responsible as well as the substantive content of the subject area within which decisions and choices will have to be made.

Beyond these leadership skills, you also need skills related to your organization’s goals and vision. For example, you might need candidates with some of the following skills or attributes:

  • Relationships with industry partners and/or competitors
  • Joint venture, partnership or merger experience
  • Financial acumen
  • Political savvy
  • Technology knowledge
  • Product development experience
  • Marketing expertise

Earlier this year, Associations Now shared the findings of an ASAE Foundation study on the attributes of “high-performing boards.” Those boards demonstrated a healthy attention to board member recruitment and development, a strategic focus, and a commitment to assessment and skills development. Encourage your board and nominations committee to make a plan for developing the skills of your future leaders.

association board directors skills competencies

photo by David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott/Flickr CC license

Target and Recruit Leadership Candidates Like a Pro

July 15, 2014 in Webinar by Jenn Barton, Marketing Director

After voter turnout, the next biggest election challenge, according to 62% of the associations that participated in our most recent benchmark survey, is recruiting leadership candidates. That’s why we’re focusing on candidates this summer in our Summer Candidate Webinar Series.

We want to help you save time (and your sanity) and be as effective as possible in your interactions and communications with leadership candidates – from pre-nomination to post-election. Join Votenet’s get-out-the-vote expert and University of Florida political scientist Charles Dahan and our CEO Mike Tuteur for a candidate crash-course this summer!

How do you identify members who would make good leaders? What tactics are best to simplify the nomination process, and increase the likelihood that potential candidates will submit or accept their nominations? How do you spread awareness of the nomination process?

Next Tuesday, in Part 1 of our webinar series, Target & Recruit Like a Pro, we will teach you how to:

  • Use and leverage data you already have to identify potential candidates.
  • Simplify your nomination process.
  • Recruit a diversified slate of candidates who represent different constituencies within your membership.

Here are the details for your calendar:

What: Votenet webinar Target & Recruit Leadership Candidates Like a Pro, part 1 of our Summer Candidate Webinar Series

When: Next Tuesday, July 22 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EDT

Who: Votenet’s get-out-the-vote expert and University of Florida political scientist Charles Dahan and Votenet CEO Mike Tuteur

Where: GoToWebinar

How: Register here, please.

I hope you’ll join us!

target and recruit leadership candidates like a seasoned pro

Nominations don’t have to be this complicated.
(photo by PBS News Hour/Flickr CC license)

Weekend Reading from Votenet: July 11, 2014

July 11, 2014 in Weekend Reading by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Here are our favorite posts this week about mobilizing members to volunteer or vote, collecting member feedback, increasing voter turnout, and recruiting and supporting your board of directors.

Have you ever thought about having a Think Week at your organization? Bill Gates made a point of listening to others and, twice a year, he spent “time in isolation to absorb his employees’ and customers’ ideas.” Emma Abbot shares four suggestions for collecting your members’ constructive ideas and three online tools that might help. (Deeson Member Communications)

We’ve written several posts about the power of making a commitment. Science shows that when people commit or pledge to do something, they usually follow through. But you have to know how to ask. “People commit for their reasons, not yours,” says Dan Rockwell. To motivate someone to commit to volunteering or to voting, you have to answer the questions they will ask themselves. You have to understand them and “find alignment between what they want and what you want.” (Leadership Freak)

Crowd Vote of the Week

Brazil’s still in this one…

mobilizing members, collecting member feedback, increasing voter turnout, and recruiting and supporting your board of directors

Click the photo to vote.

Back to news…

The Census Bureau surveyed Americans who were registered but didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election to found out why they didn’t vote. Your organization’s voters may have the same reasons for not voting in your elections. How will you remove the psychological and physical obstacles to voting? (Nonprofit Vote)

We’re huge advocates of using behavioral science principles to get out the vote. Now, the government is using behavioral science to get people to make better decisions. Pilot projects include increasing child support payments, “getting more eligible people to apply for tax credits (and) encouraging parents to renew their financial assistance vouchers for child care.” Initial results are encouraging: “we had a big impact at a small cost.” (J.B. Wogan, Governing)

Your board of directors is not your target audience. Board members are typically older and more established than the average member or prospect. They may not understand or relate to the needs, interests and habits of your existing and future members. Jeff Kjoller provides advice on how to avoid this disconnect and find ways to engage with your actual target audience – your members. (Credit Union Insight)

“Non-profit boards increasingly need a diversity of interests, strategic insight, and closer contact with the member’s universe to deliver meaningful value.” Kerry Stackpole provides advice on recruiting and supporting a top-notch board. He raises a good point that “sometimes without realizing it, boards come to reflect only the most successful or senior members of the membership because they are the ones with the time, flexibility, and resources to commit to board service.” (Wired 4 Leadership)

If, like us, you missed ASAE’s Membership, Marketing & Communication Conference, you’ll appreciate their executive summaries of the two keynotes and six of the sessions.

This Week on Voting 2.0

Who should chair your organization’s nominating committee? In many associations, the immediate past president has that responsibility, but is that the best approach?

Enjoy your weekend!

mobilizing members, collecting member feedback, increasing voter turnout, and recruiting and supporting your board of directors

Original photo by Wolf Gang/Flickr CC license

Should the Immediate Past President chair the Nominating Committee?

July 8, 2014 in Associations by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Last month, a discussion on ASAE’s Collaborate community got us thinking about the pros and cons of having the immediate past president chair the nominating committee. But, before diving into that debate, let’s take a closer look at the typical nominating committee.

I’ve written in the past about the benefits of transforming the nominating committee into a leadership development committee. Instead of only meeting once or twice a year to select a slate of candidates, a leadership development committee works throughout the year to identify and build a bench of leadership candidates.

How is the nominating committee selected?

Your bylaws will determine whether you have a nominations committee, leadership development committee or both. Those bylaws will also spell out the composition, responsibilities and appointment process of the members of your nominating committee. It does seem to be common practice to have the members of the nominating committee appointed by the president, chair or whatever the highest ranking volunteer leader is called. In some associations, members of the nominating committee are nominated and elected by members.

Staggered terms are common. And often the staff executive (CEO or executive director) serves as an ex-officio member to make sure bylaws and policies are followed, and to provide any needed insight.

What type of members should be on the nominating committee?

The members of the nominating committee should represent (or be able to represent) the diversity of your organization. Selection factors might include specialty or industry sector, company size, location, gender and other demographic factors, and membership type, if your bylaws permit.

Your bylaws specify who is qualified to serve on the nominating committee. Some organizations believe board members are better qualified to select leadership candidates and, therefore, limit nominating committee appointments to board members or specify that a certain number of seats go to board members. Other organizations want to represent the views of those outside leadership and, therefore, limit appointments to members who are not on the board or reserve seats for those members.

In either case, those who serve on the nominating committee must understand the roles and responsibilities of the different leadership positions and the experience and expertise required. They must above all have a deep understanding of their organization’s strategic direction, goals, challenges and opportunities. Their criteria for selecting candidates must be competency-based. They shouldn’t just anoint the members who are favored by those in charge, just as they shouldn’t be influenced by their own personal preferences.

Should the immediate past president serve as chair of the nominating committee?

It seems to be common practice for the immediate past president to serve as the chair of the nominating committee. If that’s not the case, a past president or the president-elect is the one who chairs the nominating committee.

Why should the past president chair the committee?

  • She understands the strategic direction and goals of the organization better than most.
  • She knows what it takes to serve and the type of skills and experience the organization needs.
  • She is familiar with the attributes of those who are already serving in a leadership capacity.

What are the arguments against having the past president chair the committee?

  • She may nominate members whom she believes will continue her legacy or agenda. What if this diverges from the strategic direction the organization is taking?
  • She may be trapped in a leadership bubble and perhaps out of touch with the needs of the membership at large.
  • She’s too close and perhaps too clubby with members who are politically popular but not the best qualified.

What do you think?

Should the immediate past president chair the nominating committee

Coronation of Charles VII of France by Jules Eugene Lenepveu

Weekend Reading from Votenet: July 3, 2014

July 3, 2014 in Weekend Reading by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

You’ve got a long weekend ahead of you – plenty of time to read our favorite posts this week about small data, nonprofit inspiration, pitching technology, election prep, unions and Millennials, mobilizing messages and strategic boards.

Take some time to get inspired this weekend. Watch one of these top ten TED talks recommended for nonprofit leaders. I’m not surprised that Dave Meslin, one of our webinar speakers, is on the list. He believes we can prevent apathy by giving voters (or members) information “that empowers their activism instead of discouraging it.” (StayClassy)

Electioneers, take note. Digital marketing consultant Jonathan Lay traces his firm’s success back to the “valuable insights we have gained through our ongoing analysis of all our data.” His advice to amateur data scientists: assume nothing, start small and have an unbiased perspective. He recommends identifying one digital component, for example, a recent email campaign, and looking at and documenting the metrics. Now you have the baseline for future comparisons and can learn what works and what doesn’t. Forget about big data, get to know your small data. (CU Grow)

Nonprofits are planning to invest more in their digital footprint this year. In fact, almost 30% expect their interactive technology investments to grow by 11% or more. This post (and an accompanying white paper) will show you how to get leadership buy-in for the technology purchases on your wish list. (Danielle Johnson Vermenton, NPEngage)

Our favorite tweet this week…

election management, voter mobilization, data, technology purchases, boards, unions and Millennials

Moving from paper ballots to online ballots is usually a welcome change for members, but you still need a communication plan to prepare them for the switch. A volunteer leader for Optimist International reflects on what her organization could have done to improve election turnout, such as more strategic communication about the new voting method and more information about the candidates. (Linda Jackson, Experience Optimism)

How do you mobilize members to vote, volunteer, register or take action? “Since everyone makes snap decisions, we each have a better chance of influencing others if we have clear, strong messages that can be easily understood.” Jay Sullivan provides three tips for developing messages you can use in your election marketing emails. (Smart Blog on Leadership)

There’s nothing better than a before and after story. Paul Smith, executive director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers, knew his association had to standardize and streamline processes: “The processes to make decisions were excessively long…We had too many committees and were not being strategic at the board level at all.” He describes how his association transformed a “working board” into a “strategic board” and how a strong communications plan helped get member buy-in. (Meagan Rockett, MultiBriefs Exclusive)

Do unions (and other membership organizations) have to change some of their ways to attract Millennials? Polls show that Millennials are more likely hold favorable opinions about unions than older adults. One reason is that Millennials and unions both value community and solidarity. However, unions will “have to make internal changes, shedding old habits, such as a lack of transparency, that are especially off-putting to Millennials.” Greenblatt mentions several other challenges that membership organizations must overcome to successfully recruit young members. (Alan Greenblatt, Governing)

Crowd Vote of the Week

While you’re celebrating our nation’s independence this weekend, take a few minutes to vote for your favorite national park. USA Today travel writers selected 20 nominees. Is your favorite on the list?

This Week on Voting 2.0

Guest blogger Deirdre Reid, CAE believes it’s time for associations to nurture a participatory culture and more truly reflect “We the members.” We agree! Read more about her take on the digitalNow conference keynote by Marina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future.

Happy Independence Day! Enjoy your long weekend — party like it’s 1819!

election management, voter mobilization, data, technology purchases, boards, unions and Millennials

Independence Day Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia, 1819
John Lewis Krimmel (Wikimedia Commons)

Socialstructing a Future for “We the Members”

July 2, 2014 in Associations by deirdrereid

Do you remember what it was like before we had social media, email and cell phones? Maybe some of you don’t, but if you were around back then, think about how much easier it is now to connect and collaborate with friends, acquaintances and strangers across the country.

In the olden days we had to rely on expensive long-distance phone calls, faxes, letters and sometimes even travel to keep in touch with others and to work on projects together. We relied on membership organizations, like associations, to provide professional development and networking opportunities and to organize our joint efforts to make positive change in our professions and industries.

Thanks to social technologies, we can now achieve on our own what once seemed impossible to do without the resources of traditional institutions. Marina Gorbis, the closing keynote speaker at the digitalNow conference and executive director of The Institute for the Future, calls this “socialstructing.” It’s a new way of creating value by synchronizing the small contributions of large networks of people using social technology.

One example of socialstructing is BioCurious, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides low-cost community lab space and classes to members. BioCurious got its start during the recession when bio and pharma companies were selling lab equipment at a low price. Eri Gentry and her network bought some of that equipment so people could use it in her garage. They wanted to help people who couldn’t get into science through the traditional gateways. They raised money on Kickstarter to fund their new open model of research and education — non-institutional or garage biology.

Socialstructing is possible because of the power of amplified individuals. Networks of people empowered with technologies and social connections can do the kinds of things that previously only large organizations, if any, could. Another example is Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir – he talks about it in his TED Talk. More than 2000 people from 58 countries sang different parts of his composition, Sleep. He wove them together in this beautiful, moving piece – let it play while you read the rest of this. Sigh. I get a bit verklempt every time I watch it.

socialstructing a future for members

Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 2.0, ‘Sleep’


Why is socialstructing so powerful and effective? Because it reignites our excitement and emotions of awe and wonder. Together, we are inspired to do the seemingly impossible.

Socialstructing presents an opportunity for associations to ignite excitement and wonder in their members, and what Gorbis calls “urgent optimism” – emotions that also help to nurture creativity and collaboration. Is that too weird? Not professional enough? It would be a shame to think that way and miss your chance to become THE incubator of possibilities for your industry or profession.

Gorbis said 80% of people are bored and unengaged in their work. How can you help the members of your community reignite their passion and have an urgent optimism about the future? You probably won’t be able to do it using the same governance, volunteer and decision-making culture you have now.

You need a participatory culture – something that has been written about on these pages before. First, make the work of your leadership incredibly transparent so people understand how things work. Then, make it incredibly obvious how people can contribute to your organization’s mission and work.

Take a cue from ants, said Gorbis. Ants leave signals and traces for other ants so they know where to go and what to do. Leave signals and traces for your members. Remove roadblocks that hinder deeper understanding and participation. Provide micro-volunteering opportunities to make it more convenient for members to get involved.

socialstructing a future for members

(photo by L Church/Flickr CC license)


And then, go deeper. Make yours a truly participatory culture. Provide online platforms for community discussion and decision-making. Ask for your members’ opinions and feedback on critical issues. Give them the opportunity to participate in strategic discussions and decisions about your shared future. Gorbis said it’s not so much about the final document, but giving people a stake in the organization and their profession or industry’s future.

“We the people” want to be heard and make a real difference. You see that in the rise of cooperatives, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, participatory budgeting and social revolutions. It’s time for association governance to more truly reflect “We the members.”

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and former association exec who has an urgent optimism about the future possibilities for associations.