Moving from Inside-Out to Outside-In

Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks) and I recently had the chance to sit down with Justin Burniske (fusionSpan) to talk about some of the issues raised in our recent whitepaper, Leading Engagement from the Outside In, for the Small Staff – Big Impact blog.

In part two of our video interview, we talk about:

  • The difference between the inside-out and outside-in approaches to member engagement
  • The role of technology in creating outside-in member engagement
  • How to get started creating outside-in member engagement

Did you miss part one? Check it out here. And don’t forget to download your free copy of the whitepaper at!


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Collaborate LARP at #ASAE15

ants helping each otherMany association executives are familiar with ASAE’s online member community, Collaborate.

In just under two weeks, at the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting in Detroit, I’ll be facilitating a session called “Request and Re-gift.” It’s based on 2014 annual meeting opening keynoter Adam Grant’s concept of giving and receiving via reciprocity circles.

In other words, it’s kind of a live-action, IRL Collaborate, designed to allow you to expand your network and tap into that network in some hopefully unexpected ways. The session will allow every single participant to both ask for and offer help.

What kind of help?

That’s really up to you. You can certainly ask for typical Collaborate-type help: I need a good consultant or vendor recommendation, I have an association business-related question, there’s a particular person I’d like to be introduced to, etc.

But it’s also OK to ask for something personal, or even just to share a challenge you’re personally experiencing to see if anyone can offer help.

Other good options include:

  • Ask for something on behalf of someone else
  • Ask for something that would increase your positive impact on the world
  • Ask for something meaningful
  • Ask for something you care about
  • Ask for something you really can’t get on your own (it’s not just something you could Google)

If you’ll be in Detroit for ASAE, I hope to see you in room 320 of the Cobo Center, Monday, August 10 at 9 am. Bring your most pressing personal or professional problem,  to share with your fellow execs to give – and receive – help solving it.


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You Engage By Being Engaging

Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks) and I recently had the chance to sit down with Justin Burniske (fusionSpan) to talk about some of the issues raised in our recent whitepaper, Leading Engagement from the Outside In, for the Small Staff – Big Impact blog.

In the video interview, we talk about the three main engagement mistakes associations make:

  • Equating engagement with sales
  • Limiting paths to engagement
  • Lack of curiosity about the members (we want them to engage with us, but we don’t engage with them)

We also address the role of the board of directors in engagement, talk about co-creation and co-development, and share some of what we learned from the associations and other organizations that generously contributed their stories and experiences for our case studies.

Don’t forget to download your free copy of the whitepaper at, and make sure to watch Small Staff – Big Impact (or this space) for part 2 of the interview.

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Recapping the Outside-In Engagement #Assnchat

Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks) and I had the opportunity to guest moderate #assnchat on Tuesday, July 14, with discussion focused around the issues we raise in our new whitepaper, Leading Engagement from the Outside-In (download your free copy at

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the high points of the conversation.

Q1 How do you currently learn about your audiences? How do you share that knowledge internally?

People up brought up a lot of the usual suspects: demographic data collection, emails, calls, surveys, focus groups, online profiles/subscriptions, and event evaluations.

Partners in Association Management had a great response:

Q2 How are you capturing and sharing learning from less formal interactions?

Brandon Robinson asked:

We all agreed that it did, and Lowell Apelbaum added:

Partners in Association Management also keeps something they call “back pocket lists”: good ideas that couldn’t be implemented at the time someone came up with them that they reserve for a more suitable time.

Q3 What do you know about the outcomes your audiences seek? How are you helping them achieve those outcomes?

This question launched some observations about different generations in the workforce and the association having different goals, with Karen Hansen also pointing out:

We also talked about the whole “what keeps you up at night?” question (which is one of Anna’s favorites), and Lowell Apelbaum observed:

Q4 How do you discover what your audiences really value? How do you use that information?

People had lots of good suggestions here, ranging from pilot programs to trial and error, asking them, tracking behavior, observing what they spread/share/talk about/promote, and Ewald Consulting went kind of Zen Master on us:

That’s deep, man.


Q5 How do you facilitate building authentic relationships w your audiences? Between members?


Lots of great chatter here, too, but Karen Hansen had a simple, powerful response:

Treat members like human beings?!?! Radical concept!

Q6 How do you develop new products/programs/services? How do you collaborate with members on this?

Lowell (who was really on a roll today) had another great response for this one:

When we got to question 7, we kind of heard crickets:


Q7 How do you encourage collaboration between audiences and association? Among members?


Opinion was pretty much universal that this is a big struggle for associations. Kait Solomon pointed out:

Q8 How do you currently define engagement? Is your definition adequate/satisfactory?

Where Kait also observed that “engagement” has become a buzzword, and I quoted Ed Bennett, who recently pointed out that if there’s no ring involved, we probably need to stop talking about engagement and focus on what we really mean: conversation, talking, listening, relationship.

Q9 What do you do with members once you engage them? What’s the next step/goal?

I’m going back to Lowell again:

Our final question, which is the challenge I’m going to leave you with, too was:

Q10 What is one action you could take today to start your association on the path to outside-in engagement?

Not sure how to answer that? Check out the whitepaper at to get some ideas!

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Come Chat about Member Engagement

Are associations taking a backwards approach to member engagement?

Associations have always been “about” engagement of course, and in the past several years, we’ve had a renewed focus on engaging our audiences. The thing is, most of us aren’t really doing it well. Could that be because we’ve been thinking about engagement all wrong, focusing on what we want members to do and how we define value?

Join Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks) and me Tuesday, July 14 at 2 pm on Twitter for the weekly #assnchat tweet chat. We’ll be guest moderating, discussing the outside-in perspective on member engagement we advocate in our new whitepaper, Leading Engagement from the Outside-In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success.

In the whitepaper, Anna and I propose a radical shift in our understanding of engagement, one based on an approach that encourages associations to view the world from our audiences’ perspective, focus on the outcomes they want to achieve, build authentic relationships, and harness the power of collaboration to co-create the value our organizations provide.

To participate, just follow and tweet to the hashtag #assnchat from 2-3 pm EDT on Tuesday, July 14. You might want to download and read the whitepaper in advance, although it is certainly NOT required. But it is free! Get it at


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Can We Talk Member Engagement?

As part of the release of the new Spark/The Demand Networks whitepaper, Leading Engagement from the Outside-In, co-author Anna Caraveli and I had the opportunity to present a webinar for’s Thought Leader series.

The free recording is now available:

In the webinar, Anna and I introduce the concept of outside-in engagement, share details of three of the eight keys we identified in our research, and touch on the stories of several associations who are doing this work successfully.

We also had the opportunity to have a follow up conversation with’s Rick Rutherford in which we address questions from the webinar we didn’t have time to address on May 20. That recording is ALSO now available:

Of course, Anna and I would also invite you to download the whitepaper itself – it’s free, too!

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Leading Engagement from the Outside-In

I’m excited to share the launch of the sixth whitepaper in the ongoing Spark whitepaper series, Leading Engagement from the Outside-In: Become an Indispensable Partner in Your Members’ Success.

Co-authored with Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks), the whitepaper tackles the question: if engagement is so critical to associations (and we would argue that it is), why aren’t we doing a better job of it?

Of course, associations have always been “about” engagement, and in the past several years, we’ve had a renewed focus on engaging our members and other audiences. The thing is, most of us aren’t really doing it well. Could that be because we’ve been thinking about engagement all wrong, focusing on what we want members to do and how we define value? Leading Engagement from the Outside-In describes a radical shift in our understanding of engagement, one based on an approach that encourages us to view the world from our audiences’ perspective, focus on the outcomes they want to achieve, build authentic relationships, and harness the power of collaboration to co-create the value our organizations provide.

Speaking of, I’ll be blogging more about the whitepaper in the coming days, but in the meantime, pick up your free copy at, no divulging of information about yourself required.

Don’t forget to check out the other FREE Spark whitepapers, too:


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Are You Ready to Lead REAL Engagement?

The Spark blog has been a little quiet lately because I’ve been working on an exciting project with Anna Caraveli (The Demand Networks). Yes, the next Spark whitepaper is about to launch!

Associations have been talking a lot about engagement in the past several years, and that’s good, but we’re mostly still not doing a great job of actually nurturing real member engagement.

Anna and I think that’s because we’ve been going about engagement all wrong, putting ourselves and the association’s needs at the center of what engagement means, rather than viewing the members (and other audiences) and what they’re trying to accomplish as the heart of engagement.

So we wrote a whitepaper about it that features stories from ELEVEN different organizations who’ve cracked the code of generating engagement by being engaging and shares EIGHT keys to becoming engaging that we discovered through our research.

Intrigued? Join us for the official release webinar, next Wednesday, May 20, as part of the Thought Leaders series. You can find out more and register (it’s free! and it includes CAE credit!) at the website.

Oh – and check back here next week to download the actual whitepaper (also free).



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Supercharge Member Loyalty & Power Community Engagement

“Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.”

During our April 16 Higher Logic Learning Series webinar on volunteerism in honor of National Volunteer Week (#NVW2015), Peggy Hoffman and I were unable to get to all the questions in our allotted hour. So we’re hitting the rest now:

How do you find out what rewards the volunteers like/want?

EWE: Ask them! And it’s OK to be forward about it: “What would be a meaningful way for us to show our appreciation for your contributions?” But hopefully you – or someone else on your staff – are getting to know them at least a little during the course of their volunteer service, so you’ll have some insight into their personalities, hobbies, and key issues. Run with the fact that you know that she’s a dedicated cyclist or he’s a Washington Nationals super-fan. Also remember to scale level of thank you to level of contribution – in other words, someone who acts as a greeter at one of your chapter events probably shouldn’t receive the same type of reward as the person who served as chair of your Board of Directors for two years.

PMH: And ask others who know the individual. And build out your database to include age as a demographic category (which is a clue to understanding what generations people fall into), interest tracking, and robust tracking of volunteer roles.

One of our biggest concerns with creating all these additional volunteering options and levels of engagement is that they put the burden on the staff to organize and direct. Any suggestions?

PMH: Realize that there is a difference between start-up mode (more effort) and ongoing management (less effort). While you’re in transition, test procedures, technology, communications channels, etc., to find the ones that will best balance staff/volunteer time and effort.

EWE: It’s true – excellent volunteer management takes time, effort, and attention. That’s why many leading nonprofit organizations have one or more formal volunteer coordinators as full time staff positions. The thing is, if you add it up, your volunteers are saving your organization a tremendous amount of time and money by their unpaid labor. You owe it to them to provide appropriately professional support.

Can you share some ideas for micro-volunteering?

EWE: Opportunities for micro-volunteering are almost limitless. You can ask people to suggest topics for your newsletter, magazine, blog, webinars, or conference, or vote on topics others have suggested, a la sxsw. You can ask people to rate an article or comment on a blog post. You can ask people to vote in your elections. You can ask people to post a question or an answer to your LinkedIn group, private community, or listserv. You can ask people to make a personal call to a new member, welcoming her to your association. You can ask people to serve as welcome ambassadors at your chapter events, or as meeting buddies for first-timers at your annual conference. You can ask attendees to share their thoughts at a Town Hall meeting at your next event. You can ask people to take a poll or short survey. You can ask people to share your content through Facebook or Twitter. You can ask them how they’d like to contribute to your association. Truly, you’re only limited by your imagination.

PMH: Great question! I’d also like to share two blog posts I’ve written on this topic: Walking the Walk of Deep Volunteer Engagement and Micro-Adhocracy, Macro-Engagement, both of which offer additional suggestions.

Are there best practices around how much recognition to give at a given level of service? For example, should a micro volunteer get more than an email thank you?

PMH: Suffice to say there is no “best practice.” It is true you want to scale your recognition efforts, so think of it this way: appreciate equally and acknowledge in the context of the contribution, so follow the rule of saying thank you early and often to all volunteers. If the task was micro (say reviewing an article), can you include a note acknowledging their contribution? If the volunteer was part of the host committee at your annual conference, a special badge is appropriate. As the task requires more time or effort, keep the thanks early and often, but scale up the recognition.

Studies on volunteer satisfaction suggest that for micro or episodic volunteers, recognition is most meaningful and beneficial when it coincides with the service, so an immediate thank you (on-site and post-event or activity) is a best practice. Doing this trumps any “gift.” As you plot out your recognition plan, focus on early, heart-felt thanks that specifically references how the volunteer made a difference.

The 2013 Volunteer Canada Volunteer Recognition Study showed that for 80% of volunteers, the most effective recognition was hearing about how their work has made a difference. 70% of volunteers said they would like to be recognized by being thanked in person on an ongoing, informal basis.

(By the way, least preferred ways of thanking volunteers in this study included: banquets, formal gatherings, and public acknowledgment in newspapers, radio, or television.)

Do you have any “HR program” that manages a lot of these processes that you have talked about today, and best practices?

EWE: If by “program” you mean software, just as there are loads of AMS, CRM, CMS, and LMS systems, so there is a plethora of volunteer management packages. Capterra runs a continuously updated rating system, as does Software Advice.

Now from the perspective of staffing for volunteerism, many associations opt for the “Joe staffs committee X and Mary staffs committee Y” model, which works OK for a traditional committee structure. But if you want to move more in the direction of ad hoc/micro/virtual volunteering, you need a volunteer coordinator. That’s a model that’s much more common in service organizations, like your local Food Bank, where they likely have a whole team of people whose entire job is to recruit and work with volunteers.

So how do you make the transition? Find someone on staff who’s interested in this and has at least a little capacity, and start with one task or project. Assuming that staff person does well and likes it, and the experiment goes well for the volunteers, too, you can start building more of these kinds of projects under the staff person’s direction, and gradually move her into a volunteer coordinator role, as the volume of work merits it. And then you might want to encourage her to become a Certified Volunteer Administrator, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax, so to speak.

PMH: Elizabeth is right; there are many volunteer management packages (my favorite is and you’ll want to ask Higher Logic about their new Volunteer Manager. But for best practices, the challenge is that most of the formal materials are geared to service organizations. To create or evaluate your own, start by looking at the service organizations for a checklist. Then conduct a satisfaction survey to find out where you’re doing well and uncover weaknesses. Two go-to sources are: Tobi Johnson’s resource portal and the 501 Commons Volunteer Management Guide.

Building an online audience is so critical for us. How do we recognize our influencers for their contributions to audience building?

EWE: Again, I would urge you to talk to them and ask what they would value. “Top contributor” or “most valuable contributor” badges or ribbons, leaderboards, and feature contributor profiles are popular choices in many online communities, and they’re relatively easy to implement. But if you have someone who contributes actively because she wants to help people or build community, she’s probably not interested in “star status” – in fact, it may be in direct opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish.

Fill in the blank: Volunteers are….

EWE: Volunteers are AWESOME! No, seriously – they tend to be our most dedicated members who renew year after year, and they also tend to care deeply about the association, otherwise they wouldn’t be working for it for free. Which is really important to remember when yet another volunteer comes to you with yet another great idea you lack the budget or staff resources to implement.

Volunteers are also often UNDERAPPRECIATED. Staff can get into this, “What do you want from me now? Why are you creating more work for me? For the love of God, would you just leave me alone for 10 minutes?” mindset. Take a deep breath, take a walk, take a Xanax if you have to, but realize that the association doesn’t belong to the staff alone – it belongs to the staff, the volunteers, the members, the customers, and the other stakeholder audiences all together, and try to find your inner Zen.

Do you have any suggestions for how to convert millennials into volunteer leaders?

PMH: Two thoughts: (1) Implement an effective orientation and training program and they will convert; and (2) tap your chapters and components as farm teams. In my chapter, we just booted out all but two Boomers and brought in Xers and Millennials in an overhaul. There were limited opportunities for training, but the stakes aren’t as high in one of your component groups – it’s a safer environment.

EWE: Pair them with Boomers in a cross-mentoring relationship. The two generations are relatively inclined to like each other and get along (think about how many Millennials list their parents among their closest friends), and if you can help create an environment of mutual respect and information sharing, the Boomer mentors can help prepare the Millennial padawans with what they need to know and do in order to be successful, while the Millennials can share their unique perspectives and experiences to help keep the association leadership structure current and relevant.

And don’t be afraid to give your Millennial volunteers a chance. You might not want to run out and elect a 22 year old chair of your Board of Directors, but give her a shot to run a small project or a task force. The only way to get experience is to, you know, get experience. As she gains more skill and confidence, start scaling up the size or profile of the projects you ask her to run. And don’t equate lack of experience with lack of aptitude or interest. It’s like developing staff, only without paychecks.

I’m looking to build engagement around volunteer positions. Any advice?

EWE: As in, “why did these people volunteer if they didn’t intend to fulfill their commitments?” In the moment, intervene as soon as you notice a problem. And remember from CAE training: volunteer to volunteer. You need to talk to the volunteer in charge of your slacker, alert that next up the chain person to the problem, and ask the supervisor to talk to the person who’s not living up to her commitment. The conversation shouldn’t be accusatory: start by asking what’s going on. She might have a valid reason she hasn’t delivered yet. Maybe she wasn’t clear on what she was supposed to do, or on when it was due, or she’s waiting for something she needs from someone else (paid staff or volunteer) to move forward, or something has changed in her personal or professional situation. Discover the problem first, then focus on fixing that problem. If it’s unresolvable, remember that it’s OK for a volunteer to quit, and it’s also OK to fire a volunteer.

To prevent this from happening the future, think about the whole issue of the volunteer continuum Peggy talked about in the webinar, where you can test people’s level of commitment in small scale jobs before you assign them large scale jobs. Also consider auditing your orientation and training program to make sure you’re giving people accurate and sufficient information so they know what they’re committing to do, and they have the skills and information they need to complete those tasks on time.

PMH: Or if what you’re asking is: “how do I recruit people the first place?”, try breaking the jobs that are going unfilled down into smaller roles. Also, you should create action statements for the job, which directly tie the job to an outcome. Often, “no thanks” really means “I don’t understand the job and don’t have time to ask for clarification.”

In order to get and keep volunteers, create a strategy around getting connected or getting involved. This is essentially expanding your online “Volunteer page” to a “How to get Involved” portal. ASAE’s Get Involved portal is a good example in that is shows how to position volunteering options. It also draws you in, and lets you sign-up and opt-in for alerts easily. That, combined with a membership onboarding process that matches members to opportunities, will grow the culture of volunteering in your association. Once you have them plugging in, create a regular communication with them. Use updates, badging, and volunteer highlights to stay top-of-mind for them. And train your leaders to be talent scouts and talent mentors.

“Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.”

Interested to learn more? Get the free recording of the session.



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Turning Good Ideas Into Action

Looking to increase your association’s revenue?

Growth can come about either through acquiring new customers/members or increasing sales to existing customers/members. And you can sell either existing programs, products, and services or new programs, products, and services.

In short, Ansoff’s matrix.

Ansoff matrix

The thing is, associations often struggle with this. Why?

I would argue it’s because of a lack of clarity, a lack of commitment, and/or a lack of execution.

Find out more about these barriers and how your association can overcome them on your way to growth in Association News.

Image credit: Edraw

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