If you work for an association or association management company, chances are that you will soon be asked to consider ways to evolve your association's membership model -- that is assuming that you aren't already knee-deep in that exploration. And chances are this will be your first time handling this type of project. That's why I am thrilled to be co-facilitating a three-hour session with Julie Koch, CAE of the Produce Marketing Association on setting a course to reinvent your association's membership model at this year's ASAE Annual Meeting.

During the session, you'll get to hear from top experts in association membership including:
Sue Bowman of The Haefer Group;
Don Dea
of Fusion Productions
Sheri Jacobs, CAE of Avenue M Group
Sarah Sladek, of XYZ University and author of The End of Membership As We Know It

I am really excited about the session design: it is built so that you'll walk away with a core outline of the steps that YOU should take to re-assess YOUR Association's membership model. Plus, you'll have the chance to spend small group time with these leading consultants to get advice specific to your individual needs.

If you're already planning to be at #ASAE11, I hope you'll join us for "Chart the Course for Your Association’s Future Membership Model" on Monday, August 8 at 1:30 in Room 223. If this sounds interesting but you hadn't yet decided to attend, register today -- I don't think you'll be able to find another opportunity to be led through this type of program with this number of association membership experts.
Over at the excellent Midcourse Corrections blog, Jeff Hurt asks, "Nonprofit associations: institutionalized organizations or living, dynamic organisms?" Framed as a dichotomy between viewing organizations as mechanical or organic in nature, I am torn. In many ways, associations ARE based on a model that is more mechanical - for example, the regular replacement of volunteer leaders through term rotations (hopefully your association accomplishes this more like an oil change than an organ replacement!) To me, this type of view is neither good nor bad - it simply is a reflection of reality. But the mechanical model fails in many others - not the least of which is the lack of recognition that member engagement will have a major impact on the functioning of the association (less like the mechanical view that ingredients make soup regardless of the quality of ingredients, and more like a view that the nutrition of the ingredients will have an impact on the long-term viability of the soup making organization.) In many other ways, associations ARE better conceived as living organisms. Living organisms are impacted by their external environment in a way that mechanical systems are not - for example, while a rainstorm is unlikely to have an impact on the production level of an assembly line, public opinion can very much influence how an association approaches an issue. But the organic view also has its shortcomings - for example, an organism can rarely change some of its most essential life elements (such as respiration for human beings) whereas an association may radically shift its business model from membership dues to a different sustaining model. In the end, I’d support the view that neither view is the BEST way to view associations. So what instead? I’m actually rather partial to Systems Theory.

First introduced by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Systems Theory outlines a broader set of principles that theorize how both mechanical and organic systems operate. In Systems Theory, mechanical systems are generally “closed systems”, which are more predefined, less complex and less subject to outside influence. Organic systems are “open systems”, constantly evolving, highly complex and always viewed in the context of their operating environment. But Systems Theory also adds additional thinking lenses to the conversation that I think are important: for example, open systems theory suggests that the boundaries of an organization – what is (or is not) a part of an organization is constantly open to change. Unlike an organism which typically is defined by a “body”, “colony” or similar defined unit, this allows a much more fluid and inclusive way of thinking that I believe better fits an association which may extend its reach at various time through creating conversations beyond its formal boundaries, establishing temporary strategic alliances, or suspending activity in a particular element of its plan of work while maintaining the capacity to reactivate that element at a later time.

For more about Systems Theory, check out the nice quick overview on enotes.com. A few more links of interest include 1) a discussion of closed system approaches to organization theory, 2) discussions around iPad and Android as open and closed systems and 3) one opinion that iPad's closed system approach may at least one great advantage.

What are your thoughts?

Attended an excellent session today at ASAE's Great Ideas conference. The session, led by @joegerstandt, was titled "Diversity + Inclusion = Innovation." A few key takeaways:

1) Diversity is not within people -it is the relationship between people. (think about that the next time you are told that a diverse candidate is coming in for an interview.)

2) Think about who you regularly talk with, work with, and socialize with. Is the group diverse? Are you sure to listen to all perspectives? How might these folks be considered your personal board of directors?

3) More diverse teams build better solutions, often outperforming "smart" teams.

4) Seek input from all parts of your organization, not just your immediate team.

Great session. I wonder how the restaurant at the Denver Airport that posted this cool diagram of their employees homelands leverage the power inherent in the diversity of their team?

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I had a great visit today with the Iowa Society of Association Executives. Many great conversations during the day, but partcularly enjoyed a conversation at lunch with the CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association. Among other topics, we discussed the great relationship between the National Restaurant Association
and the state restaurant associations. Two key take-aways from the conversation:

1) NRA involved state associations in its strategic planning process as key players at the table.

2) Staff leaders of the NRA and the independent council of state restaurant execs have quarterly conference calls to keep lines of communications open.

Together, these form a relationship that allows the organizations to work in concert when needed - while also allowing each the freedom to act with independence and autonomy at other times. Makes me think of a middle eastern saying I read during graduate studies:

Me against my brothers.
My brothers and I against my cousins.
My cousins and I against the world.

Change sometimes is best achieved through coalitions. Since you never know whom might be the best ally to overcome a future challenge, it's a smart idea to build the capacity to form alliances with even the most unlikely of partners.

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