Association Assessments: Critical for New CEO

 Association Assessments: Critical for New CEO

 On their first day, new Association CEO’s realize they are months away from making final decisions or presenting recommendations to their Board of Directors. Most of what they need to get their arms around is identified in a thorough Association wide assessment. It’s a challenging and critical task.  Done well, the new Leader can establish firm footing with their stakeholders, and launch their Association on a path of satisfaction and unheralded revenue and membership growth.

CEO’s who worked through this experience understand this process can be either a game maker or a game breaker. There is ample evidence supporting the connection between record performance and a well executed Assessment process.

Know What You Don’t Know

In any transition the Board of Directors expects a complete review of the Association. Consequently the new CEO should be prepared to aggressively pursue a thorough Assessment as much as they did their job. Some call the process ripping the bark off the tree while others view this initiative as peeling back the layers of an onion.

Utilizing the three step process, Data Driven Strategies, Core Connections and Member Engagement process, new CEO’s can inventory key gaps and include these and recommendations in a board presentation. It’s important to engage the staff team as much as possible throughout the process. Transitions by nature are disruptive; involving staff does help maintain good morale.

1. Data Driven Strategies – Measure the actual impact the association has in real time, and take extra steps to obtain business intelligence. Soon enough it will help align the association’s strategies to member’s “pain point” issues.

Action Steps:  Confirm veracity of the Association’s financial standing including cash flow and cash balances. Confer with the Auditors, review at least three years’ worth of audits. Conduct a market competitiveness assessment, define member pain points, review existing contracts, and confirm there are no pending or threatened or legal action against the Association. Become familiar with governance issues as quickly as possible.

2. Core Connections Determine to what extent the Association is positioned to help member companies achieve their business objectives.

Action Steps: Review staffing structure, annual budget, advocacy agenda, products and services, website, social media strategy, position descriptions and performance objectives. These all must mirror “pain point” issues, those that don’t can be included in a board action plan.

3. Member Engagement –  A new CEO must identify whether or not member company executives view participation as impactful. Why? Securing the member revenue base is critical, steps must be taken to understand if members feel engaged with their Association.

Action Steps:  Review participation data at all programs and conferences from all member companies.  Large Trade Associations should assess participation from their largest dues paying members. The data may reveal significant gaps that must be addressed.

Association Assessments: Critical for New CEO

With a completed Assessment, new CEO’s are prepared to share recommendations with their Board of Directors for feedback and approval. Board leaders appreciate the candor. A forward looking vision that engages members, achieves member satisfaction, and delivers durable revenue growth is a win for the new Chief Executive.

While the temptation to take more immediate action is tempting, a thorough assessment will help new Executives build growth focused Association (see blog post The process may take three to six months to complete, CEO’s will not regret time and effort  invested. It’s better to “identify the good, the bad and the ugly up front” says Paul T. Stalknecht, President and CEO, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

Commercial Real Estate Finance Council (CREFC) CEO Steve Renna completed an exhaustive assessment process. Experiencing double digit revenue growth and growing conference attendance confirms how important it is for a new CEO to learn as much as possible before moving forward(see blog post

New CEO’s please note: In an era of ongoing uncertainty, top to bottom assessments of can position you and your Association for revenue and membership growth.

association assessmentsFree eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives at,,and


Seeds of Association Growth Inside Strategic Plan

Seeds of Association Growth Inside Strategic Plan

 Association Executives can rely on their Strategic Plans to direct strategy, staffing and budget investment year over year. The document is developed on a foundation of data driven strategies, core connections and member engagement. Taken together these elements can assist Association’s achieve their mission, satisfy members and sponsors and attract non members to join. While there may be no certain way to success, the Strategic Plan is a likely starting point.


Based on recent history, CEO’s experience greater boardroom participation than ever. The great recession compelled Board members and leaders to play an increasing role as fiduciaries. For CEO’s this can be welcome news, after all Board Leaders want to solve problems and they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever possible to help their Associations achieve success.

It’s a perfect time to join forces, collaborate and achieve the win-win that makes an Association durable, relevant and successful.

Seeds of Association Growth

CEO’s can develop a performance dashboard, match it with the strategic plan and develop a priority list of possible solutions to engage the Board of Directors. This level of transparency will breed trust and display the level of leadership they expect in uncertain times.

Understandably Strategic Plans in a number of cases are out of date, this creates an even bigger opportunity:

Data Driven Strategies – Survey the membership, include non members and sponsors. Organize an internal marketing committee and conduct a competitive intelligence exercise. Develop themes and match them with current strategies and investments.

Core Connections – The updated dataset will help Associations reconnect or establish an even closer connection with their members business objectives.

Member Engagement – Data and participation metrics could either reassure Associations or cause them to transform their culture once again. Members want to know they are having impact on policy direction, otherwise they invest their time somewhere else.

Throughout this effort Associations are planting the seeds of growth, because data driven strategies, core connections and member engagement are key to member satisfaction and long term revenue growth.

Make Revenue Growth Possible

CEO’s can now deliver to their Board an action plan based on actionable data and member business concerns. They’ll know they had a hand in repositioning their Association. By all means suggest quarterly progress updates, reinforce the partnership achieved in the process to keep them engaged.

It’s now a good time to ask for their help, however the request should focus on Pain Point Initiatives identified in the Strategic Planning Process:

Deploy member recruitment campaigns – Your requests must reflect the Association’s policy agenda and require just a few minutes of the Board Member’s time. Show how the new revenue helps the Association achieve objectives outlined in the updated Strategic Plan.

Invite participation on at-risk member strategies – As Board participants they know the value provided to members and can be very helpful.

In these and other cases where you engage the Board, express appreciation and report the outcome. Tally the successes and then acknowledge the individuals who were helpful.

Seeds of Association Growth Inside Strategic Plan  

One CEO utilized this approach to realize a new revenue stream and grow membership. In another case a CEO doubled sponsor sales. Planting the seeds of Association growth in ground fertilized with data driven strategies, core connections and member engagement works.

It’s useful to leverage every approach available to drive member and sponsor satisfaction while Association’s achieve revenue growth. While boards hold CEO’s accountable, Board and CEO success or failure are inextricably linked. In baseball terms we know this approach “as stepping into the pitch.” Today CEO’s should step up to the plate and swing away.

strategic plan Free eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives at,,and


Change Culture, Deliver Value and Grow Associations

Change Culture, Deliver Value and Grow Associations

 Every Association needs to add more member value, and, they want to grow revenues.  However, they first need to change their culture. Why?  Culture is the predominant determining factor that sets the stage for Association growth. If the Association’s culture doesn’t buy the change in focus, it won’t happen.

Culture is the Leverage Point at an Association

 Change Culture, Deliver Value and Grow Associations

If a CEO want to shake things up and make some changes, success will be governed by the Association’s culture. In other words, culture is a shared set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that drive how people in organizations behave – because the people in the Association have come to believe that is what works.

Over the years, I have witnessed or participated in many attempts to change Association cultures. The only approach I have seen that works consistently is when the senior management team changes the underlying system of management, and then supports that action by modeling a new set of behaviors.

Implement a Management System at Associations

Management system” is a new idea, and it is not something often taught to leaders or even a term many use. A change in the management system is enabled by a conscious shift in behaviors by senior management.

An Association’s management system includes all the processes, routines and roles associated with:

  •  Setting direction
  • Defining accountability
  • Getting work done
  • Checking in on progress and results
  • Adjusting resources and actions in response to results
  • Solving problems
  • Acknowledging success

Make It An Association Growth Management System

An effective Association growth management system makes clear how things work, what is expected of people, and what actions are taken when things get off track.

Accountability and transparency are the foundations of great management, but these values come to life when surrounded with functional expectations rather than lofty ideals.

Change Culture, Deliver Value and Grow Associations

If Associations want to make significant shifts in culture, they must first change their management system. And CEO’s and Senior Managers have to model the way to an Association where delivering value and driving growth define the culture.

About the Author:  John M. Bernard. Passionate about employee engagement and the elimination of fear. Author of BUSINESS AT THE SPEED OF NOW and Contributor at Potomac Core Consulting’s Blog