Monthly Archives: August 2010

3 things I take home to Belgium from ASAE10

[This post was posted earlier on the ASAE-Acronym blog]

1. Associations (act) now!
I came to L.A. with practically no expectations other than the hope to learn and see how far ahead association management in the US is in contrast to Belgium. No matter how this would present itself, talking to people, listening to the speakers, the study-tour to two associations, etc. If I look back now at my trip, it surprises me to see that on the one hand there seems to be a greater awareness of the importance of associations (the Power of A) and all issues concerning thoughtful leadership, innovation, social media were omnipresent throughout the conference. But if you talk to attendees and look closer to what is really done in practice, I had the impression that what seems to be perceived as strategically important are foremost rather basic issues of association management (membership issues, dues, education programs, etc.). In that respect the meeting is not merely about how it is done, but to a certain extent about how it could or should be done more successfully.

In one of the sessions David Gammel said “The best technology for success online is what you have access to right now.” To me it seems this applies not only to technology but to all aspects of association management. Associations have to act with what knowledge and experience is at hand. As an example I refer to mobile – everybody seems to agree that mobile is becoming big, but many associations are still in the study or planning phase, looking at their first mobile version of the website, considering applications for smartphones in the future, and so on. It does somewhat cast a shadow on what I’ve been reading about association management in the US on the web, blogs, and Twitter. Nevertheless it strengthens my belief in the importance of associations and associations management.

2. Talk social media to me!
Social media is hot, or at least it is hot to say that you find it hot. Not taking into account of what my heroes like Jamie Notter, Maddie Grant, Jeff De Cagna, David Gammel are doing, I’m not convinced that associations are really into social media. Appointing a staff member social media strategist because he happens to know something about Facebook or Twitter doesn’t count. In Belgium, while talking to association executives, I avoid the term social media; I prefer to convince them of the fact that their organizations have to become more social in a sense of being connected, listening, collaborating, adding up value to create unique content–and preferably as soon as possible. Internet technology (including social network sites) has opened up so many opportunities to be in contact with the members and all sorts of stakeholders. Doing a Facebook page for an event may have direct results but is not sustainable. Future associations have to be “social” in everything they do, everywhere and all of the time.
In that respect I’m wondering what ASAE will do with the social media ‘capital’ (bloggers, posts, tweeps, tweets,…) it raised during the meeting. Who’s behind the ASAE-twitters ? Will they answer or follow up on small things like vegetarians prefer meat and veggies on separate plates or big things like how big was the budget for the Guilt by Association movies? Or shall we all just wait until the #asae11 hashtag is released and start all over ?

3. Everyone should write a book!
What I really liked about the conference was the bookstore. Not hidden away in a little corner with books piled up on tables, but a genuine island of knowledge. I love the internet, but frankly I like books even better. You can imagine how awesome it was for me to get free copies from keynote speakers or even being able to buy them and get them signed. Speakers who have written books generally are more interesting than others. They have been straightening things out in their heads for so long in order to get their story right. I don’t have to agree with that story or even feel any affection for the writer, the mere fact of the generosity of sharing is sufficient for me. I would advise everyone at one time or another to get in front of a pc and start writing a book. Let it be my ‘mojo’ from L.A.


3 things that struck me preparing for my trip to LA (ASAE Annual meeting)

[This post was posted earlier on the ASAE-Acronym blog]

Being not only a foreigner but a newbie as well, and eager to get the most out of my visit to LA, I have been doing some preliminary research. In addition to my endeavors in connecting to my association management heroes, using the powerful instrument of Twitter, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can expect of the educational program. I dug into to the ASAE Annual meeting website, and it was a long visit. For me, this is so much more than a visit to a conference.

I was astonished by the way the event presents itself. I can imagine that it takes quite some resources and organization skills when you expect more than 4000 professionals. But what surprised me most is how the meeting is presented as not to be missed. Show whoever is responsible for paying the bills that you really have to be there. I refer to the Justification kit. Never seen this before. Begging on bare knees, for sure, but being able to hand over an entire ‘dossier’ why you are going to have a professionally justified good time…

Another thing that caught my attention was the link to booth prizes. I would expect this to lead to an overview of exhibitors who have received a prize because of their innovative products or services, in short a showcase of excelling association management companies. But no, the “booth prize”-button brings me to attendee’s heaven – I tried to count up the values but had to stop as I fell of my chair at 30,000 dollars. What I really enjoyed up till now is the overall feeling of excitement that I encountered in blog posts and tweets. People from all over the country seem to be packing and preparing to fly in to LA for the annual meeting. It gives a tantalizing buzz and a eagerness to get to the Convention Center as quick as possible. This feeling is being fed by several unusual–for me that is–but exciting things, like finding the presentations up front, reading about the many side-events, such as the flashmob, Kiki L’Italien’s live show, the Yapstar party and so on.

I know this post should be a triad, but this one really stands out, and is by far unequalled in Belgium. I refer to the part on “Leaving a Social Legacy”. Apparently it has been a longtime tradition for ASAE to organize events to help the less fortunate in the cities where the meetings take place. Respect!

3 reasons why a Belgian association professional goes to L.A.

 [This post has been published on the ASAE-blog Acronym ]

I’m really not that keen on flying, especially when it takes more than half a day to reach my destination. And everybody keeps wishing me a nice holiday in L.A. Hello, I’m going on a business trip – no way you get me in an airplane to go visit places and museums and churches in my scarce spare time. Let me sit down just for a moment and try to find out three good reasons why I’m going to an annual meeting of ASAE on the other side of the world.

First of all, I’ve never been to a conference with more than 4000 attendees, a complete program of key-notes, educational sessions, an exposition and all those other events. I even read there is going to be a special act by Cirque du Soleil (that’s Belgian quality by the way). I cannot imagine we have proper infrastructure for that over here in Belgium, unless you rent a football stadium or concerthall maybe. I’m really curious to see how this works.

Secondly, I’ve really been bitten by the association management bug. I’ve been getting into it rather deep for more than a year now, and it is exciting to see and learn how associations, and association professionals in particular, can really help transform society through the power of collaborative action. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? I guess I just have to see for myself that all of this is real. Association management is hardly known to my Belgian colleagues. Recently I received a thankyou e-mail from a new BSAE (Belgian Society of A.E.) member because after 7 years working as an association professional, he now felt he had a job description and title, i.e. association manager. In other words, I hope to be able to take a lot home.

Finally, what I really am excited about, is to find out why so many people undertake so much effort to attend a meeting ‘in the flesh’. One of the major trends I detect in association management is getting things organized using internet technology: virtual meetings, webinars, on line member and knowledge management. Using our time more efficiently, reducing our carbon footprint, this all seems to make so much sense for association professionals. But let me be honest, I already have had the pleasure of experiencing what that is all about.

People are made to meet people. As a little experiment, and challenged by some colleagues (who can stay alone at home), I’ve been trying to connect to some American association professionals using Twitter (@2Mpact), and I’m really surprised how warm and friendly everybody is, willing to share their knowledge and experiences on association management with a perfect stranger. I even got Maddie Grant to talk French to me – now, where’s that airplane?

Every association embracing the long term social future needs an awesome captain

Looking back at 80 posts on TFOA, and the mission I gave myself, this is what it boils down to for me at this moment. Associations really depend on people. I’m sure this is not a universal truth, but looking at the more than 450 Belgian professional and trade associations, one of the most striking things for me is how their presidents and directors are crucial in many ways their organization is doing things, or dare I say not doing things.

Clay Shirky already warned us that professionals like to see the world through a lens created by other members of their profession. This has as consequence that a lot of associations are closed and like to stay that way. Why change a winning horse ?

Here’s what I think. Because we live in a brand new world, perhaps not that brave, but nevertheless characterized by an increasing complexity and ongoing change, demanding a lot from all players involved and leading to protectionism, fear and above all immobility. Competition is rough, stakeholders of all sort are trying to stay in the picture. Especially since the most frightening evolution is the impact of the internet on how associations are operating. Internet does not only change the tools but also the rules! It has become very easy to get organized, even more easy to get things done and above all, if it doesn’t work, you can change your strategy and try all over. Why need structure, meetings, committees, overhead? Send out some e-mails or invites for a social network group and look: here comes everybody!

If associations don’t want to become superfluous they will have to open up and start embracing the long term social future. Professionalism is no longer enough, they have to step up to a next level, one they are not used to be dealing with. Associations are no longer islands of well-stowed away information, acting only when an attack is at hand. Future associations are part of a hyperconnected world, driven by the permanent and impatient input of their members, confronted with the necessity of working together with, let’s say, everybody, all of the time. No time to sit back and enjoy the ride ! What’s more, staying upfront isn’t enough, associations need to seek that awesomeness-sauce to make a difference. Doing things the other way around, doing new things, creating ‘thick content’, diving into social media, thinking of what probably will come, but keeping in mind that it probably will be so different, perhaps so much worse.

What that kind of new organizations need are remarkable association executives, well-educated, flexible, charismatic, creative, hyperconnected supermen and women. If my TFOA-journey has not yet given me the answer to the question if associations will be able to survive in an internet-enabled world, it has at least convinced me that we have to rely on people to do the job. And not just anyone, but fierce captains of associations. That’s why I invested time in founding the Belgian Society of Association Executives. Surely, that’s not rocket-science, since there are good examples like ASAE, ESAE, IofAM, the Dutch VPN or the French CEDAP, but nevertheless it feels like going somewhere where no one has gone before.

To make sure I’m right about all of this, I’m embarking on a trip to the Annual Meeting of ASAE (21-24 of August), travelling along with a delegation of Dutch association professionals whom I’m looking forward to meet.  But my final mission lays in discovering why so many association professionals (4000 ?) want to come together ‘in the flesh’ to learn, meet, connect. If you want to look over my shoulder follow me on this blog, or on the ASAE-Acronym blog where I will be doing some guestbloggers posts, or on twitter

P.S. If you are not convinced why I want to promote association management in Belgium, check out my PROMO-presentation on Slideshare.