Archive for June, 2011

Jun 24 2011

Raising Questions about PAC Fundraising

Advocacy is an important initiative for many associations today, and many 501 (c) 6 organizations have whirlwind romances with their Political Action Committees (PAC)–finding love in funding advocacy initiatives for issues that advance their profession or cause. However, given the complex and confusing legal requirements for operating a PAC, it is definitely worth the investment of time and money to regularly meet with your accountant and your attorney to ensure that you are in compliance with all of the many laws and regulations that can impact the way that PAC fundraising is conducted.

Many organizations fail to recognize that, if they operate an “affiliated” federal PAC, (the PAC is not independent of the organization), they may only be allowed to solicit and receive contributions from their members (not non-members). Further, PACs like these may only be allowed to solicit and receive contributions from individuals, not corporations. And, with this type of PAC, an organization may not be able to use ANY portion of its members’ dues to fund the PAC.

There are also many PAC solicitation disclosures required by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). For example, donors (and potential donors) must be informed that contributions will be used for political purposes—and that they have the right to refuse to donate without any fear of penalty or reprisal. Tax laws also dictate that potential donors be notified that their contribution is not tax deductible for charitable purposes.

Currently, according to the FEC, an affiliated federal PAC may only receive up to $5,000 per individual per year, separate bookkeeping records must be established for a PAC and it must be housed in a separate bank account.

If you are uncertain about the implications of a particular PAC fundraising endeavor, do yourself and your organization a favor and raise your hand, and raise the question—before your fundraiser!

Please note: The content above is disseminated for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Contact your attorney for more information about operating a PAC.

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Jun 17 2011

Disrupt Your Association’s Service Model

It is time to retool antiquated association service models that kill the entrepreneurial spirit and prohibit the agility required to bring innovative and useful products to fast-changing, high-demand markets. In this regard, there is much we can learn from the for-profit start-up about customer-focused product development.

As marketing guru Theodore Leavitt pointed out in his famous 1960 article “Marketing Myopia,” companies and even entire industries are destined to fail when they focus on the needs of the seller rather than the needs of the buyer. Unfortunately many associations also become stuck in this myopic rut.

In their Business 2.0 article, “The Next Disruptors,” Erick Shonfeld and Chris Morrison highlight 10 companies whose innovation may either completely transform existing industries or create new industries altogether. The key things that these firms (which are all very different) have in common is that they have refused to be bound by current industry models and norms, they have considered market gaps as they developed their products, and they all have a customer-focus that allows them to see lucrative business opportunities more clearly.

Many of our associations will be kicking off a new program year very soon—and I suggest that before we do, we scope out the needs of our members, and revamp our products and services using a customer focus, instead of wasting valuable time and energy trying to sell the status quo.

Let’s make a commitment to disrupt our current service models so that we can truly satisfy member needs and far exceed their expectations. Let’s promise to stop developing conference themes and session topics using the same old formulas, repackaging the same tired sponsor benefits, redeploying the same worn-out committee structures, and regurgitating the same redundant newsletter topics.

That is unless of course we can verify that our members truly want old, tired, worn-out and redundant.

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Jun 10 2011

Stop the Value Vacuum from Sucking the Life Out of Your Organization

They torpedo great ideas, foil the best laid plans and, if left unchecked, can undermine entire organizations. We’ve all had to deal with them at one time or another. An employee, board member, or constituent that just doesn’t get it, doesn’t want to get it, and worst of all doesn’t want anyone else to get it.

As association leaders, we are responsible for the culture of our organizations—and it is our duty to protect them from value vacuums. The root of many a morale problem, these menaces go 80 in reverse, blow past “zero value added,” and leave a negative value balance in their wake.

Lazy Lois, Nay Say Nester, Whiney Will, the list goes on and on. The point is that while they may inhabit our environment, there are steps that can (and must) be taken to ensure that value vacuums don’t kill our creativity and prevent the innovation-breeding that will allow our associations to thrive.

Step 1: Starve them. Cut off whatever it is that is feeding their value-sucking behavior from within the organization (could be anything from a gossip mill, to a lack of oversight, to a bad role model). It is much easier to change the environment than to change the personality. Eliminate the opportunity for the behavior to occur and do it quickly.

Step 2: Exercise them. Assign the value vacuum more work–and more meaningful work. This will stop negative behaviors that stem from idle hands or a lack of engagement. Getting value vacuums more involved, encourages them to take more ownership—and can actually turn them into great long-term contributors.

Step 3: Turn up the heat. Demand excellence, positive contributions, and honest effort– and do it through clear expectations, regular follow-up and measured outcomes.

Step 4: Live, recognize and reward value-driven behavior and positive contributions. Easier said than done, but your efforts are doomed if this doesn’t happen and happen consistently.

Step 5: Hold everyone accountable for adding value to the organization. Allowing negative behavior to continue unchallenged is the single most detrimental thing that you can do to your organization’s culture. Every employee, member and leader must take responsibility for contributing to the success of the association. Hold everyone accountable and encourage them to hold each other accountable as well.

It is important to recognize the substantial negative impact that a single value vacuum can have on your organization. If you are unable to stop the value vacuum from sucking, it may be best to unplug it altogether—sever the relationship for the good of the association.

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Jun 03 2011

Build to Suit:Redesign Membership Benefits, Structures to Fortify Your Association’s Future

Associations that continue to rely on membership structures and benefits of days gone by will be unable to attract and retain members in the marketplace of the future.

Although people still join professional societies for the same fundamental reasons as they always have– to network with peers, to receive education and to elevate their professions–they now have very different and far-flung expectations about what networking, education and professional elevation entails. Members are crying out for change–and associations that expect to succeed in the future are going to have to bring it.

Today’s association consumers demand more customized services and less restrictive membership benefits than ever before–and they are increasingly evaluating membership opportunities with a shop-around mentality. We, as association leaders, need to blow up existing benefit boxes, trade in our “way-we’ve-always-done-it” mindset, and take a hard look at the way we do business with our members.

Gone are the days where an annual conference and a quarterly newsletter are enough. Make no mistake, members still want those things–but they also want tele/video-conferencing programs, webinars, listserves, blogs, podcasts, e-forums, regional face to face meetings, issue briefs, or some combination thereof! Members now desire flexible membership structures (and fees) with customized benefit packages that allow them to pick and choose who, what, where, when and how they relate to and within the organization.

Members are no longer satisfied with information exchanges–it’s all about knowledge transfer. Welcome to the 21st century value proposition where membership growth will be reserved for associations that can adapt to changing member needs, deliver meaningful opportunities for member engagement and provide access to critical knowledge.

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