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Why be on Social Media?

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Why Be On Social Media?

Why should your association be using social media? Because everyone else is: your members, their clients and customers, and most importantly, your competition. At The Center for Association Resources, we have helped numerous client organizations navigate the constant emerging area of social media……could we help your organization?

With half the population of the United States using Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/), odds are high that some of them are interested in your cause, product or mission. Each of them, in turn, has their own network, further increasing your reach. Think of the silly videos that have gone viral: someone shared and asked others to do the same. They shared it with their friends and followers, and so on. Now imagine that’s your call to action or plea for emergency funds.

One of Twitter’s (http://twitter.com/) busiest days (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter) ever was the day Michael Jackson died, when 100,000 tweets per hour about it caused the site’s servers to crash. Word spread like wildfire. The same thing happened last spring during the revolutions in the Arab world. Never has there been a time when news can spread so fast. Imagine if it’s your good news or a request that people contact their legislators about a particular bill. People are literally helping to change the world from their laptops and smart phones.

People are connected and causes are connected. They’re already posting and tweeting about your issues. Shouldn’t you be there to drive the discussion, and, when necessary, correct misstatements, false facts and rumors.

Social media is immediate, thanks to the rapid growth of smart phones (BlackBerrys, Androids and iPhones) and the proliferation of free WiFi, or wireless broadband. More than half the users of both Twitter and Facebook access the sites from their mobile devices, according to their own statistics. That means your communication to your members, clients and customers reaches them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Long gone are the days of communicating with business colleagues during business hours. In some cases they are accessing social media primarily after hours – at home or on the go.

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Internet and American Life Project, “The Social Media Landscape, (http://pewinternet.org/Presentations/2011/Sept/Social-Media-Landscape.aspx?src=prc-twitter)” 51 percent of all Internet users take part in social networking. For 18- to 29-year olds, it’s 83 percent and 70 percent for those 30 to 49 years old. That’s a large part of your audience. And lest you think social media is just for the young, the same report finds that 51 percent of Internet users 51 to 64 years old use it and 33 percent of those over 65. The last two numbers will only grow as the younger users age and continue to stay connected.

Much of social media had a truly social beginning: younger, mobile users and early adopters saw Facebook and Twitter as a way to find each other, keep up with each other and broaden their circles. And then their parents discovered it. Then savvy businesses saw the benefits. An interesting example of this is Foursquare (https://foursquare.com/), a location-based social networking site. Users on Foursquare check in at their destinations in the hope that friends will find them there. The destinations – bars, restaurants, businesses – in turn have begun rewarding check-ins with specials and discounts. Your members also may establish incentives for checking into events or volunteer activities.

As we discussed in the previous post (link to it), social media should work with your existing marketing efforts. What better way to increase subscribers to your newsletter or blog than tweeting or posting on Facebook link to different articles. The same is true for news releases and news coverage that you have put in your website’s news feed. It is important to keep pointing your followers back to your website, and your original message. As hot as Facebook, Twitter and the other social media sites are right now, the next big thing may be just around the corner, but your message stays the same.

Contact The Center for Association Resources today to learn how many of these exciting strategies can help your organization achieve it’s goals!

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Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Chicago, Marketing, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , ,

What is Social Media? And Who’s Using It?

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

What is Social Media? And Who’s Using It?

It all starts with your message. Social media is a powerful marketing and communication tool which allows you to spread your message to your audiences. Social should work with – and enhance – your existing marketing efforts. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media) defines it as “media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media use web-based technologies to transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues.”

This is the first in a series of three blog posts by The Center for Association Resources that will explore the what, who, why and how of social media for associations.

Got news? Post a link to your news release, and resulting media coverage, on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/and Twitter (http://twitter.com/). Want to take the pulse of your members or customers? Ask a question in a LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/home?trk=hb_home) group. Did your CEO just give a great speech? Put it on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) and post the links everywhere.

Social media is instant and interactive. Use it to talk to your members, and to listen to what they say back. Use it to mobilize your members, your constituencies, your friends and your followers to advocate on your behalf to lawmakers and thought leaders.

If you’re already using social media in your marketing, make sure your message is consistent and your content is up to date. Yes, it’s free, but you need to invest staff time and resources to do it right. If you’re not yet using social media in your association, here’s what you need to know about what’s out there and how to integrate it into your current plan.

Facebook is the best known and most widely used social media site. More than 741 million people worldwide use it, more than 155 million of them in the United States. That makes the American population of Facebook larger than the population of Russia or Japan. And every time one of them logs on to Facebook, he or she is a potential target of your message. And you thought it was just for catching up with old friends from high school or posting vacation photos.

Setting up a Facebook page is easy. Click on “Create a Page” on the bottom right side of your personal page. Follow the step-by-step instructions and start posting. But don’t do it in a vacuum. Put a link to it on your website and in your newsletter. Ask your Facebook friends to “like” your page. Within your organization, designate a staff member to maintain, monitor and moderate the page. Have more than one administrator, to ensure continuity should that person leave.

Try to post on your Facebook page at least once a week. Use a mix of association announcements – it’s a great way to plug events, association updates and relevant news from your industry sector. Your Facebook page is a great way to drive people back to the heart of your brand: your website. When you update a section, post a link and tell your followers to check it out. No big announcements this week? Highlight an interesting or helpful section of the website with a “Did you know … “ post with a link to it.

Use Twitter to send people to your Facebook page and your website. Twitter has more than 100 million users worldwide, more than half of whom log in daily to follow their interests. Unlike Facebook, you do not have to “friend” followers, so you can follow anyone and anyone can follow you. More and more people are getting their news first from their Twitter feeds. News of the recent east coast earthquake spread on Twitter almost as fast as the quake itself. With just 140 characters per “tweet” (Twitter post) it is an ideal environment for links back to your website, newsletter or Facebook page. Like you did for Facebook, have a designated tweeter to maintain a consistent message and style. And make sure you respond quickly to any questions, comments or negative tweets. Future Public Relations classes will be devoted to companies and organizations that failed to respond quickly to public complaints.

LinkedIn is the third social media site you should consider for your association. It is the most business-oriented of the three and has more than 120 million members in more than countries and territories. More than half its users are outside the United States. Organization leaders should have their own accounts, and regularly post relevant news, comments and questions. It also is becoming a great place to find new hires. Join or create a group and participate in the discussions there. Companies or associations can set up profiles and have followers just as individuals do. Have you set up yours?

And then, there’s Google Plus (https://plus.google.com/up/start/?continue=https://plus.google.com/&type=st&gpcaz=23db4111), the new kid on the social media block that’s attracted more than 43 million users in a very short period of time. The platform has been open to the public (previously, user were invited to join) about a week or so. Business profiles are planned, but not yet available, but association leaders should be active on Google+. One of the best reasons why? It’s Google.

Besides being the place where most people begin their Internet searches, Google’s umbrella includes YouTube and Blogger, so Google+ offers a great way to leverage all of those platforms. One of its most attractive features is “Hangouts (http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/),” which lets you chat with up to nine people through your computer or mobile device for free. For associations with staff in various cities, Hangouts can be an alternative to teleconferences.

Do you need to be on every one of these sites? Only you can answer that based on your message and your audience. A comprehensive social media strategy can enhance your current marketing plan. But before you jump in, figure out what you want to say – and to whom. And commit to it. An out-of-date, irrelevant social media presence is worse than none it all. Then, have fun engaging your audience. You’ll wonder why it took you so long.

We would be pleased to discuss this in more detail with you! Contact The Center for Association Resources today.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Chicago, Marketing, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, ,

How to Use Social MediaHow to Use Social Media by Robert O. Patterson and The Center for Association Resources

How to Use Social Media

You’ve opened a Twitter (http://twitter.com/) account, you’ve created a Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/) business page, and you and your association are on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/home?trk=hb_home). Now what?

This third in a series of posts on the subject will answer that.

You already should have determined who in your organization will be doing the posting and tweeting (posting on Twitter). For consistency of message and style, it is best to keep those duties to just one or two people. If you are not the one doing the posting, make sure you are an administrator on the accounts and that you monitor your Facebook page, Twitter feed and other social media sites on a regular basis to know what is being said. We noted in the first (link to first blog post) blog post that while social media sites are free, you and your association need to invest staff time and resources into doing it right.

Be sure to have a clear idea of what you want to communicate: news updates about your organization and your business sector; tie-ins to current events; links to your website, blog and newsletter. Make sure to have a good mix of posts. Constant self-promotion turns off followers. Ask questions and respond the answers. At The Center for Association Resources, we have continue to see results for a variety of organizations that follow this guidance.

Writing that first post or tweet may feel a little like walking into a freshman mixer. You fear nobody knows you and nobody will be interested in what you have to say. That’s not true. With more than 51 percent of Internet users in the United States engaged in social media, so there are many people out there interested in your cause, your association or your product. Be authentic in your posts and don’t always be in sales mode.

Know your audience. Unless you are certain they are overtly partisan or strongly identified with a particular faith or cause, keep your posts non-partisan and inclusive. If you wish your followers Merry Christmas, be sure to include holidays from other religions, as well. If someone posts an offensive response to something, delete it and apologize. Bad publicity is NOT better than no publicity at all.

Post photos and videos from your association’s events, and invite participants to share theirs. But stay away from wild or embarrassing shots. No need to be too authentic.

Finding followers is easy. They’re already reading your newsletter or blog. Invite them to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus (https://plus.google.com/up/start/?continue=https://plus.google.com/&type=st&gpcaz=23db4111), and suggest they ask others to do so as well. Ask your own personal Facebook friends and encourage co-workers to do the same. Suggest to other members of a LinkedIn group that you “like” each others’ Facebook business pages – and don’t forget to include the link to your own.

Leverage “old media,” and other venues to drive traffic to your website, Facebook business page or newsletter through the use of QR codes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code). “QR” stands for quick response, and they’re those little black and white boxes that are starting to show up in ads, magazines and displays. Smart phone users scan them and go directly to wherever on the Internet that particular QR code send them. Real estate professionals are starting to put them on signs, for a link to a detailed description of the property. Food product displays might include links to recipes. Clever organizations wanting to promote an event are putting them on posters and in ads to take people right to where they can buy tickets or sign up to volunteer. Creating a QR code is easy through numerous websites, like this one: http://myqr.co//. Be sure to test it before you publish it!

In our experience, the social media world is constantly changing, as the rapid growth of Google Plus has proven. We continue to work with your organization to get the most out of your social media plan. Let us know how The Center for Association Resources can help your organization today!

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Chicago, Marketing, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , ,

How to Use Social Media by Robert O. Patterson and The Center for Association Resources

How to Use Social Media

You’ve opened a Twitter (http://twitter.com/) account, you’ve created a Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/) business page, and you and your association are on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/home?trk=hb_home). Now what?

This third in a series of posts on the subject will answer that.

You already should have determined who in your organization will be doing the posting and tweeting (posting on Twitter). For consistency of message and style, it is best to keep those duties to just one or two people. If you are not the one doing the posting, make sure you are an administrator on the accounts and that you monitor your Facebook page, Twitter feed and other social media sites on a regular basis to know what is being said. We noted in the first (link to first blog post) blog post that while social media sites are free, you and your association need to invest staff time and resources into doing it right.

Have a clear idea of what you want to communicate: news updates about your association and your business sector; tie-ins to current events; links to your website, blog and newsletter. Make sure to have a good mix of posts. Constant self-promotion turns off followers. Ask questions and respond the answers.

Writing that first post or tweet may feel a little like walking into a freshman mixer. You fear nobody knows you and nobody will be interested in what you have to say. That’s not true. With more than 51 percent of Internet users in the United States engaged in social media, so there are many people out there interested in your cause, your association or your product. Be authentic in your posts and don’t always be in sales mode.

Know your audience. Unless you are certain they are overtly partisan or strongly identified with a particular faith or cause, keep your posts non-partisan and inclusive. If you wish your followers Merry Christmas, be sure to include holidays from other religions, as well. If someone posts an offensive response to something, delete it and apologize. Bad publicity is NOT better than no publicity at all.

Post photos and videos from your association’s events, and invite participants to share theirs. But stay away from wild or embarrassing shots. No need to be too authentic.

Finding followers is easy. They’re already reading your newsletter or blog. Invite them to follow you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus (https://plus.google.com/up/start/?continue=https://plus.google.com/&type=st&gpcaz=23db4111), and suggest they ask others to do so as well. Ask your own personal Facebook friends and encourage co-workers to do the same. Suggest to other members of a LinkedIn group that you “like” each others’ Facebook business pages – and don’t forget to include the link to your own.

Leverage “old media,” and other venues to drive traffic to your website, Facebook business page or newsletter through the use of QR codes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code). “QR” stands for quick response, and they’re those little black and white boxes that are starting to show up in ads, magazines and displays. Smart phone users scan them and go directly to wherever on the Internet that particular QR code send them. Real estate professionals are starting to put them on signs, for a link to a detailed description of the property. Food product displays might include links to recipes. Clever associations wanting to promote an event are putting them on posters and in ads to take people right to where they can buy tickets or sign up to volunteer. Creating a QR code is easy through numerous websites, like this one: http://myqr.co//. Be sure to test it before you publish it!

The social media world is constantly changing, as the rapid growth of Google Plus has proven. We continue to work with your organization to get the most out of your social media plan. Let us know how The Center for Association Resources can help.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Marketing, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , ,

Board training…..getting qualified people on the board

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Board Training — Getting qualified people on the board – The Center for Association Resources

What constitutes an effective and productive board member at a non-profit? As part of the governing body of the organization, a good board member is one who first understands fully the group’s mission and goals, as well as its legal obligations and significant responsibilities. This is true whether a non-profit is in its infancy, is in transition to becoming a more mature organization, or is already an established institution. The non-profit board’s membership should consist of people who are either experienced in non-profit board functions or who are willing to proactively learn about the roles and acquire the tools and knowledge to be competent contributors.

Most of the time, individuals serve on a non-profit board because they are passionate about the cause. However, passion alone is not enough to fulfill the many duties asked of each board member. Time commitment is a necessary requirement – for attending board meetings, preparing for the meetings, reviewing proposals, budgets and other documents, and fundraising.

Speaking of fundraising, many people who are new to non-profits don’t realize that one of the main functions of the board is to raise money. These board members need to be comfortable with a common policy among non-profits to either donate funds themselves or actively fundraise (or both). Board members may also be asked to organize and host fundraising events or to meet with foundations or government agencies that award grants to non-profits. Time commitment aside, each board member should have sufficient business and leadership skills to approve budgets, establish a process to create a strategic plan, hire and evaluate the executive director, and ensure the legal and ethical integrity of the organization. In order to perform the roles and responsibilities dutifully, the board should evaluate its effectiveness and identify areas where a new board member may bring on skills that would be complementary.

During growth periods, a board may need to grow too. Sometimes the need to find new board members arises from resignation or when board members reach their term limit. Recruiting for board members may start with referrals from the current board, volunteers from the organization, or from the staff. There are services that match prospective board candidates with non-profit organizations such as boardnetUSA and VolunteerMatch. The tasks of screening and determining a board candidate’s qualifications rest with the board. There should be a process to evaluate the candidate as well as a process to bring the new person on board.

As leaders wanting to make a difference, the board must be made up of individuals who have sound business skills, experience with board duties and functions and commitment to developing a strong board by ensuring each member is qualified to meet the needs of the non-profit organization.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Chicago, Fund Raising, Leadership, Marketing, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , ,

Working with difficult people

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Working with difficult people

Difficult people are everywhere – our homes, our neighborhoods, our families and our offices. Eventually, a challenging employee, volunteer or co-worker will find their way into your non-profit organization. Learning how to handle them and to redirect them in a positive way can save a great deal of time, trouble, wasted resources and stress.

When it comes to a challenging person, there are plenty of things not to do. For example, don’t ignore threatening or abusive behavior. Also, don’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. It won’t, and chances are, if you are having difficulties, so are others in your organization. Anonymous or veiled methods of dealing with the problem, such as notes or shunning, might be tempting courses of action, but they are rarely effective.  They only serve to alienate the person and make the situation worse. Dealing with the situation, head on, in a positive way, can not only solve the problem, but build an environment of trust and respect among colleagues.

The first aspect to look at, when determining how to work with a difficult person, is to determine what is making them difficult. Are they constantly talking over others? Are they reluctant to really get involved in their work? Do they have problems working with certain types of people? Do they need to be in charge, or the center of attention?

Understanding that these behaviors have underlying drivers can assist in finding ways to not only neutralize the difficult behavior, but often turn that energy into a positive force. Those people who need to be in charge can be given a small leadership position, whether it’s managing an outreach project or being in charge of organizing the supply closet. Giving them a task that they can be in charge of and be recognized for takes away the challenge and turns it into a positive.

If the difficulties lie in behavior, pulling the person aside and calmly stating your issues can go a long way toward fostering an understanding about what is and is not appropriate. For a serial interrupter, explaining that being interrupted makes you feel as if your contributions aren’t important and asking to be heard will let your colleague know how the specific behavior is impacting you.

When confronting your colleague, peer or subordinate, it’s very important to use “I” statements and to avoid accusing the other person of wrongdoing. “When I’m interrupted during a meeting, I feel as if my ideas aren’t valued. I would really appreciate being able to finish sharing my ideas before others discuss them” will go much further toward fostering an environment of understanding than: “You’re always interrupting me and you don’t value my ideas!” Discussing potentially sensitive topics with understanding and respect can turn an argument into an enriching experience.

Even the most irritating people are with your non-profit for a reason. They most likely share the same concerns, passions and ideals as you. Finding common ground and finding ways to use everyone’s talents to the fullest will benefit everyone: the organization, coworkers and the difficult person.

The Center for Association Resources can be found at http://Association-Resources.com/ – Contact Robert Patterson for your Non-Profit association needs.


Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Fund Raising, Leadership, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training

Finding (and Keeping) Great Volunteers for Non-Profits

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Tips on how to recruit and retain volunteers in non-profit organizations.

Finding (and Keeping) Great Volunteers for Non-Profits

Good managers in non-profit organizations have always known that people are their greatest resource. In today’s challenging economy, non-profit groups are becoming increasingly reliant upon their volunteers to continue operations. Many tasks and roles previously filled by paid staffers are now filled by volunteers, and the new challenge facing non-profit managers and boards is how to attract and retain high-quality volunteers.

When looking for volunteers, non-profits need to be very clear about what type of person or group they are looking for, what specific task or role they would like accomplished and how unpaid workers will fit into their organizational team and objectives. It’s important to develop a clear job description for volunteers so that all parties involved understand expectations up front. It’s not uncommon for potential volunteers, especially highly skilled ones, to have a number of opportunities to choose from. Make sure your organization looks appealing and professional when soliciting help.

Think about what is going to inspire a bright, motivated individual to spend unpaid time helping your organization. Think about why someone would choose your non-profit to work with, and what benefits and experiences you can offer to a volunteer. Also, make plans for how to retain a great volunteer. Set up an ongoing volunteer recognition system to encourage people to continue with your organization. Things like thank-you cards and homemade gifts are usually appreciated, however it’s also important to take the time to get to know what’s really important to your volunteers. For example, if a person is trying to gain admission to a college, offer to write a recommendation letter for them. This type of ‘thank-you’ doesn’t cost your organization anything, but it can go a long way towards generating positive thoughts among volunteers.

Other considerations…

If you manage in a unionized organization, make sure to explore any possible concerns with using unpaid staff relative to the current union contract. Few things will drive away volunteers faster than becoming involved in labor disputes. Also, make sure that all your paid staff are clear about the need for, and roles of volunteers. Talking openly with the staff members of your non-profit will help alleviate any concerns they have about being replaced by unpaid workers. It’s important that all members of your organization, paid and unpaid, clearly understand their role within the staff team.

Volunteer, Non-Profit, Unpaid Workers, Organizations, Skilled volunteers,The Center for Association Resources

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Fund Raising, Leadership, Marketing, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , , ,

Working with difficult people in non-profit associations

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Working with difficult people is more or less an unavoidable part of life in general. And this problem can present unique challenges in the business world. When it comes to the management of a business, there are bound to be difficult people at all steps during the process – Whether it is an angry, frustrated customer, or a ruthless, uncompromising board member. Difficult people are everywhere, and a successful leader should know how to work with them. The management of a nonprofit organization is certainly not exempt from the rule. Successfully running a nonprofit firm will include the unpleasant task of working with difficult people.

Perhaps you have a board member who makes a habit of being difficult. The first step to take in order to remedy the problem is to try to get to the source of the conflict. Why is the person being difficult; or, more accurately, why do you (and others) perceive them as being difficult? It is important as a manager or co-worker to put yourself in the person’s shoes. Are they being stubborn or strong-headed? Perhaps they simply feel that the job at hand is not being done properly, and are trying to get everyone else back on track. Are they being whiny or non-responsive? Perhaps they feel outnumbered, and are too reluctant to offer their own dissenting opinion when they feel that everyone else is against them. Understanding the difficult person’s viewpoint will help you to approach them without making them feel threatened or disliked.

If a difficult board member is posing too serious of a problem to the organization’s health, it may be time to develop a strategy to limit their impact or even remove them from the board. Check your firm’s bylaws for procedures regarding the removal of a board member; many bylaws will require a unanimous vote from the other board members. Whatever you do, do not violate your own organization’s bylaws, or you can be sure the offended person will pursue legal action. It is also an option to try to get the person to hand in their resignation.

Managers of nonprofit firms will likely not only have to work with difficult board members; they may also encounter difficult donors and volunteers. When dealing with a difficult donor, it is still important to try to approach the situation from their viewpoint, all while remembering your organization cannot function without the generosity of outside donors. The importance of trying not to trample on people’s egos should not be underestimated. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to certain aspects of a donor’s request for the use of the money if you feel they would compromise the vision of the organization. Try to make the difficult donor understand why you have a disagreement with them, while always remembering to speak in the positive. For instance: don’t negatively criticize the donor’s request, but instead talk positively about your organization’s goals, and explain why you think the donor’s goals might not be aligned properly with the organization’s.

Dealing with difficult volunteers is another problem that may arise. Again, it is always important to try to make sure the volunteer understands the company’s vision, and why their behavior may be compromising that vision. They would not be volunteering at your organization if they did not care about the work you do. If the situation cannot be resolved, it is always an option to politely tell the volunteer that they won’t be able to work with your organization in the future.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , ,

Being on guard for fraud in non-profits

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Non-profit organizations have a special need to prevent and detect fraud. While for profit organizations also must watch for fraud, the non-profit sector has some unique considerations.  To keep donations flowing, the need to maintain the public’s trust and protect the organization’s reputation is paramount.

Fraudulent acts which impact an organization can occur either outside or inside the organization. Some estimates put the total percentage of fraud for the non-profit sector as high as 13% of annual donations. While fraud is more often committed by lower level employees, the higher the employees’ position in the organization, the larger the total fraud losses tend to be.  CEOs commit the lowest percentage of fraudulent acts, but their fraud tends to involve larger monetary amounts.

Common types of internal fraud involve cash theft and erroneous expense reports. Physical assets can also be stolen from the organization. Frequent periodic audit of asset inventories can prevent and detect this type of fraud. Outright theft of cash donations needs to be prevented.  Controls such as having two people observe and count cash donations, segregation of duties for the receiving and accounting for donations and other routine cash controls can be beneficial in reducing the risk of cash theft.

Expense reports are also often a conduit for fraud. A system for verifying expense reports should be implemented and expense reports and receipts should be examined prior to payment. Externally, fraud by vendors, either with collusion from an employee, or committed totally by the vendor is also a concern. Some scenarios include a manager authorizing payment for goods never received or authorizing payment to a nonexistent company where the funds are ultimately received by the authorizing employee.  Segregation of duties for payment and purchasing, effective computerized payment system controls, and dual signature requirements for checks can reduce risk of this type of fraud. Periodic checks of vendor records to ensure that vendors actually exist are also a deterrent.

Top management at non-profits can set the tone for fraud prevention by establishing effective internal control policies. One of these controls that may seem surprising is mandating employees take vacation time accrued. Fraud is more difficult to cover up when the employee committing it is absent. The average amount of time a fraudulent activity occurs prior to catching it is 18 months. Occasionally these schemes have gone on for years without being identified. Sometimes fraud is identified by audits or internal controls. Sadly, fraud is often not caught until an organization fails due to the impact from fraud. Even if an organization is financially able to weather an episode of fraud, the loss of good reputation can often hamper the organization’s future fundraising efforts.

The potential negative effects of fraud on the non-profit organization compel everyone in a non-profit to be aware of the need for fraud prevention. The success and reputation of the organization depends on it.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Marketing, Non-Profit, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , , ,

Non-profit Organizations–Negotiating Hotel Contracts

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Managing a non-profit organization can be a unique challenge for even a well-seasoned corporate executive from the private sector. While non-profits seem quite similar to their for-profit counterparts from the vantage point of the organization’s membership, those in managerial positions soon recognize that many key aspects of non-profit governance vary greatly from that to which they are accustomed.

For example, non-profit organizations provide immense value to the communities they serve in the form of meaningful work and improvement in the quality of life. Yet despite the magnitude of the services they provide, operating budgets for most small non-profits are often under $500,000–minuscule in comparison to the services they provide. This paucity of funding leads to the need for enormous amounts of creativity and flexibility on the part of the management team.

At the same time, the management of non-profits often falls into the hands of inexperienced non-management personnel, in large part due to the lack of available funds for recruitment and remuneration of experienced leaders. This is not always a negative; with the proper training and support, those new to management roles can bring a much needed fresh perspectives and insight into the board rooms of small and large non-profits.

Despite the unique challenges they pose, non-profits nevertheless offer the opportunity to bring together people who share common values, an enthusiasm for community action, and the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for the successful maintenance of any organization–something that quite a few experienced managers find exciting.  Ironically, however, one of the greatest obstacles the non-profit manager faces is finding the ways and means to accomplish the kind of joint collaboration that is essential to keeping these critical stakeholders energized and motivated. Regular meetings involving both management personnel and the organization as a whole are absolutely necessary to keep any non-profit functioning with maximum efficiency.

In most instances, full membership meetings of small non-profit organizations occur only once or perhaps twice each year. Usually in a hotel or, depending on the proximity of the organization’s “home base” and the number of projected attendees, a large motor lodge. The reasons for this are fairly obvious; hotels are already equipped with nearly all of the pre-requisites for a successful annual or semi-annual membership meeting: meeting rooms, restaurants and catering capabilities, sleeping quarters, and adequate parking and/or airport shuttle service.  Unfortunately, these are also the reasons why negotiating a contract with a hotel or even a smaller motor lodge for these types of meetings can be so challenging.

According to Whitney Archibald of Exhibitor Magazine, the negotiation process for securing an affordable deal with a desirable location should begin before the non-profit manager even speaks to the hotel event coordinator, when the management team designates the person who will be responsible for negotiating with the venue.

Once the person doing the negotiating has been chosen, both Archibald and Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist of Eisenstodt Associates, suggest that the management team write its own contract (in collaboration with the firm’s attorney.) Even if the hotel rejects the contract out of hand, the experience will help your team to hone in on exactly what you want from the hotel as well as what you do not want. This approach also allows you to be proactive in including any areas that were problematic for you in other settings.

Of course, it stands to reason that you should also get everything in writing, right down to the color of the napkins on the hors d’oeuvres table (some venues will charge extra for any color other than white or the dining room’s “signature color.”) Do not assume that because something was discussed verbally it will be included. While an oral contract may be legally binding, a written contract is always the best protection for your organization.

Part two of the above–read the contract carefully. Many hotels charge fees for items about which most of us would never think to inquire, and these fees are very often open to negotiation. Items such as maids’ fees when your group will only be staying in the hotel for a single night, tips for the wait staff that are built directly into the price of a meal, or penalties for early or late check-in are all items that usually can be successfully negotiated if you know about them before you sign the contract.

Think about amenities. Very often you can negotiate the use of hotel amenities for your group for free if you do a bit of homework beforehand to see what amenities your group might enjoy. Some hotels may allow free use of the pool and hot-tub but charge prestigious fees for a massage. If your group is small and you don’t plan on using the pool, for example, perhaps you can negotiate free neck massages for anyone who wants one on the first afternoon of the event. On the other hand, if your membership does not mind giving up some amenities, you may be able to use that fact to negotiate a lower room rate or a free continental breakfast.

Another suggestion is to never, ever pay for the use of meeting rooms. Virtually every hotel has more meeting rooms than it ever uses, or it uses them once a year for a single event. You can easily capitalize on this knowledge. Offer to hold break-out groups in the smallest meeting rooms for free, rather than paying to hold a single discussion group in the one large room available. This leaves the hotel the option of scheduling a profitable last minute meeting in the larger conference room; you save money, and your attendees will most likely be more productive.

Finally, think ahead. It is almost always less expensive to book a hotel a year or even more in advance. If your organization has been around for a few years and your membership is stable, or growing at a relatively stable rate, it is reasonable to assume it will continue to do so. Furthermore, as long as you give the venue enough advance notice, you will rarely be penalized if you need to add or remove attendees shortly before the event. Most meeting places require thirty to ninety days notice of cancellation in order to avoid a penalty.

Remember, too, that the recession is still taking its toll on the United States and world economies. Rates for almost everything in the hospitality industry are significantly lower than they were a few years ago and it is safe to predict that they will increase as soon as the economy stabilizes. Do not be afraid to capitalize on this by reserving ahead, thereby locking in your rate a few years in advance.

Obviously, managing a non-profit organization is a tremendous challenge no matter what your vantage point. Whether you are a manager trying to maximize your available funding, a community liaison locating and recruiting new members, or a meeting coordinator working to creatively negotiate the use of affordable venues, working in the non-profit sector offers untold opportunities to make an important contribution to your community.  Keep up the good work!

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Non-Profit, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , , , , ,

November 2017
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