Review: When Millennials Take Over

“Every 20 years or so, a new generation enters the workforce, and the rest of us, quite frankly, freak out about it.” 

Cover Image - When Millennials Take OverI recently had the opportunity to read a review copy of When Millennials Take Over, a new book by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Culture That Works designed to help us get past the freak out and to a “ridiculously optimistic” view of the future of work.

Their basic thesis is that the environment in which our organizations operate has changed – we have to move faster, with less hierarchy and more sharing of information, and learn how to be digital native institutions.

Sounds hard, right?

Fortunately, the Millennials, the generation born between 1982 and 2004, can help us. Although GenX is currently the largest segment of the workforce, within the next three years, the Millennials will be taking over. And that’s a good thing. As Notter put it during a recent book release event sponsored by ASAE: “The goal is not to ‘deal with’ Millennials but to learn from them. It’s not that Millennials are extra special or have all the answers, but they’re a ‘secret decoder ring’ to help us understand and adapt to these changes.”

Notter and Grant have identified four key capacities that they believe will drive the future of business:

  • Digital
  • Clear
  • Fluid
  • Fast

Digital expects widespread customization and personalization, which includes staff as well as customers and members, and continuous improvement. Going digital is not just about how much you spend on technology (although most of us ARE underinvesting); it’s also about developing a digital mindset, in which you design around the needs and convenience of your audiences (both internal and external), even if that makes things harder for the organization.

tl;dr: In the era of Amazon and apps, your old excuses for 20 years outdated tech and processes won’t fly.

Clear demands information at everyone’s fingertips. Millennials have always had the “why” explained to them – that’s how they were raised. The great thing about this is, when our organizations share more information in a more transparent way, we dramatically increase both the speed and the quality of the decisions we make.

Fluid requires us to break out of our silos, not to the point that there’s no hierarchy at all (Google tried that and found it didn’t work), but to the point that teams are flexible and ad hoc, and different people get opportunities to lead based on their skills match with the project and task at hand. That means that EVERY person needs to know what your organization’s key performance indicators, that is, the keys to success, are.

Fast is the end result of all of these. As Notter and Grant point out, not everything needs to be ultra-fast all the time – there is still room for institutional knowledge and deliberation – but speed is important. As Grant observed at that same book release event, think about how quickly you dump a smartphone or tablet app that doesn’t work as expected. We need to move faster on idea generation, creating rudimentary prototypes, gathering information, and improving/scaling, pivoting, or killing those ideas as appropriate.

tl;dr: Don’t do another member survey! And don’t make decisions about what to do based on the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). Create a Minimum Viable Product, and decide what happens after that based on actual data about whether people buy and use it, and what they think about it.

The book makes an excellent companion to Notter and Grant’s earlier Humanize. But where Humanize was a bit heavier on theory, When Millennials Take Over focuses heavily on the practical, sharing detailed case studies of four organizations who exemplify the authors’ four key capacities:

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand, a small membership organization that still manages to invest well in technology, personalize and customize, learn from experiments, and incorporate results-only work environment principles.

Menlo Innovations, a software firm that is so transparent about information that they’ve invented their own resolutely low-tech project management system so that every person knows exactly what every other person’s top priorities are and where they stand on achieving those goals. This lets teams that are ahead of schedule know immediately who needs help and offer it without the intervention of boring project status meetings or project managers or complicated negotiations over email. Menlo even invites clients into the office on a weekly basis so they can see first-hand what’s going on with their projects and make more effective decisions about their own budgets and priorities.

Quality Living, a rehab center for people recovering from brain and spinal cord injuries, that understands the importance of shifting decision-making authority and action to the individuals and groups who are best equipped to be successful in a particular situation, no matter what their official place in the organization’s hierarchy. That might mean that someone very “low level,” who is closest to the patient and her needs, values, hopes, and dreams, directs care for that patient across the entire team of more “senior” people.

Happy State Bank, a community bank operating in Texas, that is able to make good decisions almost absurdly fast thanks to their laser focus on caring and relationships (not exactly traditional for financial institutions). As Notter is fond of pointing out, trust enables speed, and that’s exactly the environment Happy State has created, not just among staff but between staff and customers.

Ultimately, this is about all of us – Boomers, Xers, and Millennials – working together for the good of ourselves, our organizations, and our customers/members. We take turns leading the change:

For every Luke Skywalker (Millennial), there is always a need for an Obi-Wan Kenobi (Baby Boomer), and even an occasional cynical and independent Han Solo (Generation Xer). We know it is cliché, but we’re all in this together.

When Millennials Take Over is available in Kindle and print editions at For a limited time, the Kindle edition is only $0.99 (that is not a typo), or you can download a chapter as a preview for FREE.


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Coming Soon from Spark

coming soon signAll kinds of exciting goodies on the horizon, which is part of the reason the blog’s been fairly quiet of late.


Winter is for writing, and that’s what I’ve been up to! I’m excited to share that I’ll be coming out with two new whitepapers this spring/summer.

The first, co-authored with Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks) is on member engagement. This is, of course, a hot topic for associations and has been for some time, with recent ASAE Foundation research, conference presentations, books, and other reports all published within the past year.

Anna and I aim to turn the concept of member engagement as we in the association community have been viewing it on its head, encouraging associations to take an outside-in perspective on their relationships with their members and other audiences to promote vital community, sustainable growth, and authentic value.

The second, co-authored with Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards), is on lean startup methodology. Not to be confused with lean manufacturing or lean six sigma, lean startup encourages organizations to move quickly, release minimum viable products, work intimately with stakeholders, and test, measure, learn, and pivot, all with the goal of reducing waste and getting to the right product at the right price to the right audience as efficiently and effectively as possible. Guillermo and I think this approach could be a game-changer for perpetually resource-strapped associations.


In addition to upcoming chapter leader training for the California Dental Association, the Consortium for School Networking, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, I’ve also been working on some session for my association peeps:

The Mission Driven Volunteer, ASAE Marquee Management Series, March 2015

If you’ve missed the previous sessions Peggy Hoffman and I have given on our eponymous August 2013 whitepaper, you can catch us at ASAE later this month.

Evidence-Based Decision Making in Action: Converting Data into Real Member Value, ASAE Great Ideas Conference, March 2015

Speaking of whitepapers, Peter Houstle and I released one on evidence-based decision making last spring. This session is the 201 course, involving two of our case studies from the whitepaper, looking at *how* they did what they did and where they are a year later.

Peggy and I are also going to be presenting one of the morning fitness sessions at Great Ideas, too, focusing on how dance can help you fill your creative well. Yes, participants WILL be dancing.

Supercharge Member Loyalty & Power Community Engagement, Higher Logic Learning Series, April 2015

In April, Peggy and I are going to be presenting a 201 take on mission driven volunteering for the Higher Logic webinar learning series, focusing on the critical role of effective volunteer management and orientation and sharing practical ideas for how you can get started introducing mission driven volunteering in your organization.

California Society of Association Executives ELEVATE, April 2015

Also in April, I’ll be traveling to Tahoe to talk about evidence-based decision making (with Peter) for our colleagues on the West Coast, and reprising the highly participatory marketing materials review session that was one of the top-ranked sessions at 2014′s ASAE Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference.

Evidence-Based Decision Making in Action: Converting Data into Real Member Value, digitalNOW, May 2015

For those who can’t make it to Great Ideas, this will be another opportunity to catch Peter, Guillermo (Ortiz de Zarate), Frank (Fortin), and me in action, applying the lessons of evidence-based decision making to real association situations.

Member Engagement: It’s Not About You, ASAE Marketing, Membership and Communications Conference, June 2015

Anna and I are targeting release of our member engagement whitepaper for May. This will be our first in-person presentation on it. Joining us will be one of our featured associations from the whitepaper and an organization that’s featured in a book Anna is also soon to release, with ASAE (she’s been a busy lady lately).

(I’ll also be reprising the marketing materials review session from last year’s event.)

I hope to see you at one or more of these events – and keep your eyes open for the whitepapers, which, as always, will be free to the association community.


Posted in innovation, membership, presentations, volunteering, webinars, whitepaper | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Volunteers Have Changed – Have You?

You have TWO upcoming opportunities to join me and Peggy Hoffman to explore a new model that allows associations and our volunteers to focus our limited resources, measuring everything we do by how well it supports and contributes to the mission of our organizations.

Option one: In-person at ASAE

Peggy and I are presenting for ASAE’s new Marquee Management Series, Monday, March 30.

The Mission Driven Volunteer will be highly interactive (no sitting back and just letting the knowledge wash over you). We’ll be hitting the high points of our eponymous whitepaper and talking about some new/additional research that’s come out in volunteer management since we published in August of 2013, and facilitating conversations around issues like:

  • What is – and isn’t – working in your volunteer programs?
  • What is your association doing to respond to demographic trends that are impacting the ways people want to and can volunteer, and what they’re trying to accomplish in their volunteer activities?
  • How is your association using new models like micro-volunteering, ad hocracy, and virtual volunteering? What results have you seen?

Register now (small fee applies)

Option two: Coffee Chat Webinar

This event took place Wednesday, February 18. Get the recording.

These sessions will inspire you to take a new look at how you approach volunteerism in your association to one that results in greater member engagement and satisfaction, lower costs, faster turn-around, and laser focus on work that advances the mission of the association.

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Recruit the Whole Person

Last week, I was teaching the volunteer management course for ASAE’s Association Management Week with the smart and talented Andrea Rutledge (Executive Director of the National Architectural Accrediting Board), and she and I got chatting about membership recruitment.

Andrea’s been a volunteer with ASAE’s research committee, which supports the work of the ASAE Foundation, and we specifically got talking about the Future of Membership project. She said that one of the things that had most struck her and has been on her mind since the reports came out last year was the concept, raised in the University of North Texas study, of “recruiting the whole person.”

The UNT study was a bit different than the other research projects: rather than doing surveys or case studies, the UNT team did in-depth ethnographic-style dives into the lives of a handful of international graduate students. What they discovered in all cases was that the Decision to Join was not an individual one.

It’s easy to dismiss this finding: small sample size, people with different (possibly less individualistic) cultural backgrounds, in the limbo land of being a grad student, where you’re no longer an adolescent, but you’re maybe not quite fully an adult yet either.

In short, “that’s nice, but doesn’t reflect the reality of my association.”


Do your members pay their own dues, or do their employers pay?

Even if they pay their own dues, do they make financial decisions in a vacuum, or do they have spouses/SOs/dependents who are involved in those decisions as well?

Are they entirely and solely in control of how they invest their time, or do bosses or elderly parents or kids or other commitments influence whether it’s acceptable for them to be gone for conferences or committee meetings?

We think that the join decision is a simple one: Mary, we want to offer you X benefits that will help you in Y ways for Z dollars – yes or no?

In reality, the decision to invest the money and time in our associations, rather than the myriad other ways those resources could be invested, is likely not being made by individuals acting completely alone, uninfluenced by anything other than our shiny marketing materials. You may also need to convince a supervisor that the money your member is requesting for membership will return something that will make him better at his job. You may also need to convince a spouse that the time you’re asking your member to invest will provide enough career benefit to merit his absence from family and community activities.

Is this even on your radar? What are you doing to “recruit the whole person”?


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Farewell, Associations 101

For the past two years, Spark, in partnership with Scott Oser Associates and Peach New Media, has sponsored the free Associations 101 monthly webinar series: “10 tips in 20 minutes” on a variety of topics, designed to provide a quick tactical overview of key issues in association management aimed at new – or new to the profession – association staff.

Over the course of the past two years, we’ve covered:

  • Volunteer Management
  • Branding
  • Advocacy
  • Working with your Board
  • Publishing
  • Membership Sales
  • Association Websites
  • Exhibits, Sponsorship, and Advertising
  • Developing Brand Advocates
  • eLearning
  • Online Communities
  • Culture
  • Fundraising
  • Creating Marketing Collateral
  • Segmentation
  • Using Data Effectively
  • Content Creation
  • Corporate Partnerships
  • Recruitment and Retention
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Leadership and Succession Planning

After two highly successful years, we have elected to end the series.

[sad face]


The archives of EVERY SINGLE WEBINAR are available online FOR FREE at the Peach site.

Each session is by a different presenter, mostly association execs rather than consultants/vendors, who is an expert in the particular topic. She (or he) presents 10 key tips about the topic in 20 minutes, followed by a brief (no more than 10 minutes) Q&A period.

In other words, you can watch one over lunch and still have time to take a walk around the block to get some fresh air.

Thanks to Scott and Dave for being great partners in this outreach and to the hundreds of you who attended the live webinars and/or viewed the archives in the past two years.

I quote one of our attendees:

Thank you for the outstanding webinars. I’ve sent your link to dozens of my fellow association managers and directors.

Remember that the archives are freely available, so go ahead and watch (and share) at will.

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Retention is a Relationship

And you can’t claim to have a relationship with people you don’t know.World revolves around me

This topic has come up frequently with clients in the past six months, both within full engagements, where we’ve been looking at how to increase membership, and in speaking engagements, where I’m trying to help chapter leaders learn how to be more effective.

Retention is key to long-term membership growth and to maintaining vital, lively chapters. While recruitment is like dating, retention is like getting – and staying – married. It’s about being in it for the long haul, about making an increasing commitment of time, energy, attention, focus, and money on BOTH sides.

The problem is, too many of us don’t know our members. That’s a data issue. We don’t think about what data we should be collecting on our members and other audiences. We don’t think about how to store that data in a way that it’s accessible and useable. We don’t think about how to integrate disparate data sources. We don’t think about how to use that data wisely, analyzing it to look for meaningful answers to important questions, and then acting accordingly. ACTING is key.

Being honest with ourselves, we’re lazy, and we throw up our hands: “It’s too hard!”

And we become takers in the relationship. We want the members to give us their money and their time and their attention, but we don’t give anything meaningful back (a subscription to your magazine is not a meaningful relationship). We don’t make any attempt to get to know them: their professional (and personal, where appropriate) wants, needs, problems, dreams, fears, goals. We don’t work to find out how we might be able to help them meet and fulfill those.

That’s unacceptable.

It’s OK to start small.

This week, call five members. Not because you’re trying to get them to renew or register for your new professional development series or donate to your foundation. Call to wish them a happy new year, and ask what their number one biggest professional challenge is for 2015. Record that somewhere that your colleagues can access. Share that information with your team at your next meeting. Start the conversation about ways you can, as an organization, get to know your members better. Brainstorm about how that knowledge could impact how the association intends to invest your resources (staff time, staff attention, volunteer effort, public focus, money, etc.) in 2015.

But start. Now. Today.

No more excuses.

Image credit: The Saucy Sanguine


Posted in Feature Story, membership | 1 Comment

Four Keys to Writing Good Marketing Copy

How do you write good marketing copy?cartoon person holding a pen

In a nutshell:

  •  Think about your audience. Who are they? What do you know about them? Use that information to craft a personalized message.
  • Talk like a real person, and write like you speak. Shorter and simpler is better than longer and more complex. Don’t be excessively formal, don’t use jargon, and don’t use undefined acronyms.
  • Focus on benefits not features. Present your offer from your audience’s perspective, not the association’s.
  • What’s your call to action? If the answer is, “I don’t have one,” don’t send the message.

Image credit: Open Vine


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Seven Keys to Great Testimonials

One of the best ways to promote your association and its programs, products, and services positive testimonial comments in word balloonsis to let your members, customers, audiences, and other stakeholders do it for you.

In other words, to use testimonials.

ASAE’s June 2010 Communications Section newsletter (login required) listed 7 key questions to ask to generate compelling testimonials:

  1. Why did you choose to participate with <your program>?
  2. What are your 3 favorite things about your participation and why?
  3. What’s the most valuable aspect of your participation and why?
  4. Please tell us about any specific success you’ve experienced because of your participation.
  5. How has your participation benefited your organization?
  6. Is there anything we could do to improve your experience?
  7. May we use your comments, with attribution? [VERY IMPORTANT]

So where do you find people who might be willing to answer these questions?

  • Your feedback forms, like post-conference and post-webinar evaluation forms. Make sure you have at least one open-ended question with a comment box (rather than all Likert scales), as people will often leave comments you can use almost verbatim once you have permission.
  • Your unsolicited praise. Did somebody say something nice about your programs, services, or customer service, either verbally or in writing? Ask them if you can use it.
  • Your loyal fans – and you probably already know who they are. When you’re looking to generate fresh testimonials, they should be the first people you ask.

Image credit: Turf Diagnostics

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The Mission Driven Volunteer Rides Again!

Earlier this month, Mission Driven Volunteer co-author Peggy Hoffman and I had the opportunity to present about our research on this topic for Wild Apricot. As is often the case with webinars, we weren’t able to get to all the questions during the Q&A. So we’re answering them now.

What do I do about volunteers who are invested in the old way of doing things (standing committees, hierarchy, “paying your dues” before you can get involved, etc.) and don’t want to change?

PH: Start outside the system. That is look for places where you haven’t used volunteers to try new ways. Create a writers’ pool to invite members who are willing to comment on and contribute to your publications by responding to questions and inquiries on a monthly email distribution list. Or if you don’t already have a young professionals (or other targeted audience) group or committee, use the opportunity to set up a task force to assemble recommendations.

EE: See if you can get them to agree to an experiment. Pick one small task of the committee and involve ad hoc/micro volunteers in getting it done. Even better? Actively reach out to younger members for those ad hoc/micro tasks. Most associations are eager to bring more young members into the volunteer fold. Assuming it works well – which it likely will – pick another small task, same process. Nothing convinces like demonstrated success!

How do I get volunteers to follow through on their commitments?

EE: That is maybe the most intractable problem in volunteer management. We’re all familiar with the 80-20 rule (or perhaps it should be the 20-80 rule): 20% of the people end up doing 80% of the work. That’s exacerbated when, as with volunteers, there’s no real “stick” you can wield if people don’t follow through.

But Peggy and I feel that’s one of the biggest strengths of the mission-driven model. By increasing the number of small commitment volunteer opportunities and decreasing the number of large commitment jobs, you naturally work your volunteers through a ladder of engagement, with different volunteers electing to stop on different rungs. Because there are so many small-scale opportunities, people who want to contribute don’t end up accidentally taking on a role that’s too consuming for them, and the association has ample low-risk opportunities to see who does and doesn’t follow through, which helps you do more efficient and effective succession planning for those large commitment roles.

PH: And stop recognizing individuals who don’t follow through. One of the biggest mistakes we make in volunteer management is often overlooked but has huge unintentional consequences. By routinely thanking and acknowledging everyone on the committee equally we send the message that “sitting” on the committee is all they have to do.

How do I balance mission/big vision and the practical things we need to do to keep the doors open (like make sure we have a positive revenue flow)?

PH: Assuming you are talking about getting volunteers to do the operational work, tie even these “licking the stamp” jobs to the larger picture. For example, we have a tough time getting a treasurer for our small board because it’s a heavy lift in many ways. We had much more success when we talk about helping the organization use member and donor money effectively to meet member needs and drive the organization to success.

EE: Also, the two shouldn’t be incompatible. But it’s important to remember what’s the means and what’s the goal. Your mission is your association’s goal. A positive revenue flow is a means to that end, but it is not the end in itself, which is one of the things that ostensibly distinguishes us from the for-profit sector. If you feel like or experience that what you need to do to bring in revenue is incompatible with your mission, it’s probably time for your Board and senior leadership to do some serious soul-searching about why your organization exists and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Our association has more than one mission. How do we orient our volunteer opportunities appropriately?

EE: Despite our often-extensive lists of benefits, members generally join for one or at the most two reasons. This presents an opportunity for you to learn what your members really value, based on what they actually sign up to help with, and then to target mission-based opportunities to the specific members who, by their behavior, demonstrate that they’re particularly concerned about that specific aspect of your mission. And if you discover, based on observing behavior, that one aspect of your mission just isn’t resonating, that’s probably a clue that it’s time to re-examine that item.

Having a “volunteer coordinator” seems like a great idea. Is this a position that has to be filled by a staff member, or could it be filled by a volunteer? How would that work?

PH: Yes, the volunteer coordinator can certainly be a volunteer. It’s not an ad-hoc position obviously, so you do need a volunteer who’s willing to take on a big job. There are a couple of ways to handle this which I shared in a recent blog post. If you have a solo position, the person essentially operates as the match maker. They work with each program area (aka committee or project team) to identify volunteer positions. They interview members on interest areas and then forward names of possible volunteers to committees and teams for follow-up. Another strategy is to tie the volunteer coordinator to the member welcome or engagement team. So as your welcome team meets and greets members they essentially do the intake activity which is feed into the system.

Should we propose ad hoc/micro volunteering projects ourselves, solicit them from member volunteers, both, something else…?

EE: YES! That’s one of the key points of the National Fluid Power Association case study in the whitepaper: good ideas can come from – and should be solicited from – anywhere. To quote the charming children’s movie Ratatouille: “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” One of the best things about involving large numbers of your members actively in the work of the association is that it creates a culture in which it’s permissible for anyone to have a good idea.

PH: And Yes! It is a little like the chicken and egg question as you get started in opening up volunteering. You have to show members the possibilities and encourage members to offer ideas. So steal ideas to get started (here’s a list). Consider asking a group of members to get together and draw up a list of neat ideas.

We like the Mission Driven Volunteer concepts, but do you have any specific tips for implementing them in a really small staff association? An all-volunteer association? An association that has a really small pool of members to draw from?

PH: Think small. And focus on catching members on their way – that is ask them to help on something they are already participating in. For our monthly events, we started simply by sending an email accompanied by a list of small on-site jobs to all who registered for the event with the message that we needed a few helping hands at the event and since they were already coming could they help. To put together our social media pool, we pinged a few active members on social media and asked them to be part of a pool for six months. Tapping a volunteer coordinator to manage the effort is a great way to relieve staff of the primary duty. Finally, the main concept is to focus volunteer activity on mission – so you might want to simply start by having your volunteers rate their experience and tell you what will make it better.

If you are starting with a small pool of members, you might want to really focus on adhoc or task volunteering so you don’t tie up members on long-term commitments. And look for ways to involve people outside your membership. If you are a cultural group for example, there may be educators or students who aren’t members but could help the association.

We’re a mostly traditional association when it comes to volunteer structure, but we’re intrigued. How do we start moving down this road?

EE: I’m going to go back to my first response and urge you to start small, with a single experiment. Learn, succeed (hopefully), grow, gather supporters, continue to iterate. Change doesn’t come overnight, but it does come, if you are persistent.

PH: And read the Maryland CPA case study … they started with asking questions and then made changes slowly.

Listen to the full webinar:

Get the slides:

Posted in Feature Story, volunteering, webinars, whitepaper | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Five Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Sales

One of the toughest things in marketing is crossing over into sales. While our end goal is to Used car salesmanget people to buy what we’re selling, no one wants to be this guy –>

So how do you get one (sales) without the other (obnoxious dude everyone avoids at parties)?

  1. Understand that selling is really about matching problems to solutions. (Which also means that if your solutions don’t match their problems, you need to be willing to walk away.)
  2. Realize that selling = making connections.
  3. Ask questions and listen to the answers. (Exhibit booth pet peeve #1: the exhibitor is doing all the talking. NOOOOOOO!)
  4. Invite people to participate in offerings that will help them succeed. (Again, you’re not trying to push product – you’re looking for fit. You only want want customers who are going to be happy, which means you’re willing to let the marginal ones go.)
  5. Be yourself. (Unless you’re that guy. Don’t be that guy.)

Image credit: Consumerist

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