Five Simple Ways To Ensure a Winning Relationship with Your Board

by Stevie Kernick, Owner Emeritus and Current Account Manager

As an Executive Director, you’re constantly working with new board members. Though it’s important to learn the particulars of how each individual prefers to communicate, there are five simple ways you can ensure a winning relationship with all board members.

Be Honest

It’s not easy to share bad news, but being upfront and candid with your board builds trust. Your board should never wonder if they are getting all the facts.


Keep your board informed on all association and staff activities. You don’t want them to hear about changes in staffing, committee activities or processes, whether these are positive or negative, by some other means. More communication is always better than less.

Be Responsive

No one is comfortable with a black hole of silence. It leads to speculation, sometimes erroneous. However, without information, it’s easy for board members to start constructing their own narratives. If a member of the board reaches out to you, then respond promptly even if it’s to say, “I’ll research this and get back with you tomorrow.”

Pick up the Phone

Not everyone communicates best via email where threads can become lengthy and confusing with hours or days passing between responses. Sometimes the best response is delivered by a personal phone call where give and take is more immediate and effective.

Be Supportive

The association belongs to the entire membership and not to the staff. The staff’s role is to support the leadership and be responsive to the membership. It’s all too easy to slip into a sense of ownership when you work for an association all day, every day, but remember your role is to make leadership shine and provide value to the members. 

Are you a board member looking for a responsive and supportive Executive Director? Contact IMI Association Executives today! You can choose from a wide array of valuable services. Each contract is customized to meet the needs of the board and the members. Contact us today!

How to Earn the Certified Association Executive Credential

by Caitlin Smith, Account Manager

The process of becoming a Certified Association Executive (CAE) is no easy feat and takes a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve. It’s for individuals ready to take the next leap in developing their professional career.

The CAE program is designed to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and designate association professionals who demonstrate the knowledge essential to the practice of association management. Earning the CAE is the hallmark of a committed association professional.

Earning and maintaining the CAE is a three-part process. One must first meet the strenuous and extensive eligibility requirements. These requirements include:

  • Five years of experience as an employee at the staff level or one year employed as a chief staff executive or C-suite-level executive at a qualifying organization.
  • Must be currently employed by a qualifying organization or have been employed by one within the last five years. 
  • 100 hours of broad-based, association management-related professional development, as defined by the exam content outline, within the last five years of the month in which you submit your application.
  • A bachelor’s degree or higher or, in lieu of a degree, eight additional years of professional work experience.

Once you have determined that you meet the requirements, the next step is to apply for the exam. Once your application has been approved, the next step is to sit for and pass the exam.

The CAE exam is offered twice a year, in May and December, at test centers throughout the U.S. and is based on anticipated candidate concentration. The cost to apply is $500 for ASAE members and $750 for nonmembers.

The exam is designed to test the ability of test-takers to apply fundamental knowledge to scenarios drawn from real-world association management challenges. It’s four hours long and includes 200 multiple-choice questions on the following topics:

  • Strategic Management 16-18%
  • Governance and Structure 10-12%
  • Membership Development 7-9%
  • Programs, Products, and Services 9-11%
  • Leadership 16-18%
  • Administration 15-17%
  • Knowledge Management & Research 2-4%
  • Public Policy, Government Relations, and Coalition Building 7-9%
  • Marketing, Public Relations, & Communications 6-8%

Once you have earned the credential, you must maintain it by fulfilling certification renewal requirements every three years.

If you’re interested in learning on the benefits of earning your CAE, see our other blog posts on How CAE Certification Expanded Linda Owens’ Professional Knowledge and  How CAE Certification Changed Lee Claassen’s Career.

Are you looking for a certified professional who can take your association to the next level? Contact IMI Association Executives! We’re a firm of skilled professionals who have provided association management expertise to clients since 1986. Submit an RFP today!

Why You Should Create an Event Risk Management Plan

by Kara Stachowiak, CMP, Meeting and Events Department Manager

Risk management is at the forefront of our current operations, but how do we make sure  risk management is not forgotten when the time comes to move forward with our face-to-face events?

The answer is simple, create a plan.

If your organization does not have an Event Risk Management Plan, then now is the perfect time to create one. When creating this plan, keep these tips in mind.

1. The venue(s) should already have a risk management plan in place.

Work with your venue contacts to make sure your organization’s plan works with, not against, the venue’s existing plan. For example, some large venues would prefer you contact their staff in an emergency instead of calling 911. Why? The venue has direct access and communication plans with emergency responders. The response will be faster if a venue staff member tells a paramedic that there is an issue in Zone 19 than if you call 911 and tell a dispatcher there is an issue in the back of a large ballroom where you do not know the room name.

2. Put your plan in writing.

Consider specific incidents and their likelihood and impact. Also consider how to mitigate the risk of the incident occurring, and if the incident occurs, who is on the team to make the decisions regarding the incident response. Finally, provide specific action assignments and include a communication plan. Sample Risk Management Plan

3. Make sure staff, board members, and volunteers understand their roles.

Your staff, Board members, and volunteers have a role in the plan, but those roles cannot be properly executed if people are unaware of their expected actions. Keep in mind that staff members who are not in attendance at the event may have roles as well. When assigning roles, take everyone’s strengths and personalities into account. While some may be calm and rational in emergencies, others may need to step away. It is expected that everyone will react differently, so accommodate the anticipated reactions in your plan.

Keep in mind that it is just as important to include actions not to take in your plan. For example, remind everyone who is responsible for communication regarding the incident, and if it is not their responsibility they need to keep their knowledge and thoughts about the incident to themselves.

4. Control the message.

Make sure your plan outlines how information will be communicated to attendees, your members who are not present, and possibly the media. Designate one person to make all statements and reinforce to others that spreading rumors makes the situation worse.

5. Review and update your plan regularly.

Review is not only necessary after an incident. Regularly look at your Risk Management Plan to make sure that you have addressed the incidents that are most likely to impact your event, that the proper personnel are in place, and the communications plan is clear. If there is an incident, it is important to debrief what happened, how it was handled, and what could have been done before, during, and after to mitigate the impact.

It is impossible to precisely prepare for any situation that may occur, but having a plan in place increases the likelihood of a quick and rational response regardless of the situation.

You don’t have to lose any more sleep worrying about your risk management strategy for your next event. IMI Association Executives can help you create a plan for your events. Call us today.

Sources: Information for the sample Risk Management Plan and for the checklist was derived from MPI and PCMA certificates, webinars, and resources.

Creating a Professional Development Plan

by Mallory Robinson, Account Associate

In recent posts, we’ve shared different certification options, tips from IMI colleagues for obtaining the certifications, and resources for increasing your professional development. Now what?

Today we’re going to focus on creating a professional development plan to help you achieve the Certified Association Executive (CAE) or Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification.

First, consider the following questions to help you think about your professional goals and how to get to the certification finish line:

  1. What’s my goal? Pick a certification option and move on from there.
  2. When do I want to achieve the goal? Pick a realistic timeline. Thoughtfully review certification requirements and prerequisites.
  3. What do I need to do to get there? Determine how many continuing education credits you have, if any, and how many you need to reach your goal within the previously mentioned timeline.
  4. What is my education budget? Determine your education budget and research your options. Are there local or other events you can travel to for credits? What free webinars can you participate in to earn credit? It’s a double benefit if these programs provide insight you need anyway.

Using this information, you can create a plan that is unique to your professional development goals. As you earn credits, remember to track, track, track. Make your own tracking spreadsheet using GoogleSheets or another cloud option for easy updating at work or at home.

Remember, it’s okay if your plan changes. We’re all busy and have things come up in both our personal and professional lives. Reassess your plan on a regular basis to determine if it is still viable and adjust if necessary.

Finally, if obtaining one of these certifications seems daunting, try to create smaller goals leading to a larger goal. For example, make a monthly goal to get a certain number of credit hours, and take time to ready or study exam material.

To learn more about the certifications and the IMI employees who have them, read the CAE Spotlights about Linda Owens and Lee Claassen or read the CMP Spotlight about Kara Stachowiak.

Are you looking for a certified professional who can take your association to the next level? Contact IMI Association Executives! We’re a firm of skilled professionals who have provided professional management expertise to clients since 1986. Submit an RFP today!

How CAE Certification Changed Lee Claassen’s Career

by Mallory Robinson, Account Associate

The Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential is the marker of a committed association professional who has demonstrated the wide range of knowledge essential to manage an association in today’s challenging environment. To obtain this prestigious certification, you must have at least five years experience in the industry, obtain 100 hours of broad-based, association management-related professional development, and then pass a four-hour examination.

Though obtaining this certification isn’t easy, Lee Claassen knew it would help her serve her clients better. She was kind enough to answer a few questions and share some helpful tips!

IMI: How long have you had your CAE certification?

Lee: I obtained my CAE in 2003.

IMI: What tips do you have for anyone who is working towards earning the CAE certification?

Lee: The requirements have changed since I sat for the CAE exam, but my number one piece of advice is to keep a record of every association management-related professional development activity in which you participate. Once you decide to work towards obtaining your CAE, you’ll need to build a bank of continuing education credits needed to sit for the exam. Also, read something every day that’s related to association management, whether it’s a blog, an article, a book chapter, etc. – work it into your daily routine. Finally, definitely plan to participate in an exam prep course. Don’t think you can cram overnight and pass!

IMI: How has having your CAE certification helped you in your career?

Lee: It helped me realize all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. It opened my eyes to all the nuances of the profession that I might not have been exposed to. Additionally, it helped me make connections and establish relationships that I may not have otherwise.

To potential employers, it sends the message that you are committed to ongoing professional development and continual self-improvement (education has to continue in order to maintain the CAE). In a competitive job market, it can be an employer’s deciding factor between you and another candidate without a CAE.

IMI: Anything else you think would be helpful for anyone that is working toward this designation?

Lee: Knowing and studying the content for the exam is important, but half the prep is learning how to take the exam. Put yourself in the shoes of the chief staff officer of a large association when answering the questions.

Are you tired of guessing what your association’s next move should be? Contact IMI to see how our association professionals leverage their expertise to achieve your association’s goals. Schedule a meeting today!

4 Tips For Getting Your Certified Meeting Professional Certification

By Mallory Robinson, Account Associate

The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) program is offered by the Events Industry Council (EIC) and is recognized globally as the badge of excellence in the events industry. Qualifications for certification are based on professional experience, education, and a rigorous exam.

Kara Stachowiak currently has the CMP certification and has been at IMI since March 2017. In her role at IMI, Kara is the meeting planner for INACSL and ILCA. She is also a member of Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). She was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding certification.

IMI: When did you earn the CMP?

KS: I received my certification in 2014. Early in 2019, I completed my first recertification which is required every five years.

IMI: What tips do you have for anyone who is interested in earning this designation?


Before Applying
Be organized in tracking your continuing education credits. Save everything in one place so it is easy to access. Anyone can create a free account on the EIC website to track credits. If you already have an account, any pre-approved CE opportunities for which you have registered, will be loaded to your account after the event and you can record your hours. Make sure you save any certificates or confirmations. These are required for any CEs that have not been pre-approved.

Exam Preparation
Make sure you have the most recent manuals (yes, there are several). I found the PCMA study course to be extremely helpful. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. The study course was set up to do a pretest, read the associated chapters from each manual, and do a post-test. The course was organized by Domain, so it did not involve sitting down and reading the pages in order from cover to cover. Make sure you have plenty of time to get through this process.

Answer based on what is in the manuals, even if you feel the information may be outdated (I took the last exam before new manuals were released, and felt that some of my answers were outdated.)

I definitely recommend logging in to record education as you earn it and not all at the end. Recertification can be done with 25 hours of CE credits or a combination of 15 CE credits and a choice three industry support activities. Industry support activity options can be found on the CMP website.

If you’re wondering how to run a fun, effective event that also turns a profit, contact IMI Association Executives! We specialize in conference, meeting, and tradeshow management and assist in every area from developing a budget to coordinating contracts to managing onsite. Schedule a meeting now to see what we can do for your association!

Black Lives Matter

We cannot remain silent about the oppression and systemic injustices that people of color are facing every day. We are not willing to do “business as usual” as our friends, loved ones, colleagues and communities are hurting.

We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

As staff and leadership for 22 local, national, and international organizations we have a unique opportunity to impact the world. We are small, but passionate and determined to make a difference in our communities and the organizations we serve. We are committed to listening to the voices of people of color on our staff and in our organizations and making changes that address systemic racism.

To start, recently we hosted a conversation on professionally addressing racial disparities which was open to all IMI staff. This was the first of many such conversations to help us process, listen, learn, and grow. We were honored to have Gracie Johnson-Lopez, CEO of Diversity & HR Solutions, join our discussion and provide guidance on how we can respond to racial disparities at an individual and corporate level.

We recognize that we have a long journey ahead of us to see diversity, equity, and inclusion be represented in our company and our profession. This is only a small step on this journey. As we navigate this new territory, we encourage you to consult some resources that have assisted us and to reach out to us with any additional suggestions:

Resources for Further Learning:
A Detailed List of Anti-Racism Resources
75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
Anti-racism Resources
Historian Ibram X. Kendi On ‘How To Be An Antiracist’

How CAE Certification Expanded Linda Owens’ Professional Knowledge

By Mallory Robinson, Account Associate

The Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential is the marker of a committed association professional who has demonstrated the wide range of knowledge essential to manage an association in today’s challenging environment. To obtain this prestigious certification, you must have at least five years experience in the industry, obtain 100 hours of broad-based, association management-related professional development, and then pass a four-hour examination.

Linda Owens decided to pursue CAE certification so she could serve her clients with excellence. She was kind enough to answer a few questions and share some helpful tips!

IMI: How long have you had your CAE certification?

Linda: I obtained my CAE in 2015.

IMI: What tips do you have for anyone that is working towards earning the CAE certification?

Linda: Don’t wait to start studying until you are close to being eligible, start now! Even if you don’t sit for the exam for 2+ years, the studying portion is so valuable. I also feel you get a lot more from studying if you aren’t cramming. As I was studying, there were quite a few things that I earmarked to come back to later simply because I was on a strict study schedule and didn’t have the time to explore some topics further as I would have liked.

IMI: How has having your CAE certification helped you in your career?

Linda: It has helped me to feel more confident, and though I don’t remember every last thing that I studied, I at least have a frame of reference and oftentimes pick up one of the study books to refresh my memory on a certain topic. It has also broadened my knowledge which is so critical when you work with an AMC. We’re more likely to experience or be exposed to most of the topics covered under the CAE simply because we work with such a variety of non-profit clients.

IMI: Anything else you think would be helpful for anyone that is working toward this designation?

Linda: Offer to present about one or more of the CAE topics to your colleagues! Studies cite that the average person retains 90% of what they learn when they teach the concept or immediately put it into practice. When teaching or applying a concept, you’ll quickly identify your areas of weakness. Revisit the material until you feel confident in your ability to explain it in a presentation. Linda is passionate about using her expertise to provide the highest level of client service.

If you’d like to find out what IMI Association Executives can do for your association, then give Linda a call! She’ll work with you to create a customized plan based on your association’s needs and goals.

5 Tips For Negotiating a Cancellation With Your Event Venue

By Stevie Kernick, Owner Emeritus, Account Manager

A long-term client had its Annual Conference scheduled for mid-August in Milwaukee. Already questioning the wisdom of proceeding with plans to host the conference with the uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 and shelter-at-home directives, the association’s board of directors was weighing the pros and cons of a cancellation recognizing that steep penalties were possible. 

No decision had been made until…

The morning of April 2, 2020, news outlets reported that the Democratic National Convention was postponed from mid-July to mid-August in Milwaukee. That was the tipping point in the board’s decision. 

Imagine hosting a conference in the same city at the same time as a national political convention with a projected attendance of over 50,000. Restaurant reservations – unavailable.  Shared ride services – impossible. City sidewalks – jammed. Hotel lobbies – overrun.

Within minutes, staff reached out to the hotel to inquire about cancelling for 2020 and rescheduling for the next year. Though this association would typically be booked several years in advance for their annual conference, the 2021 contract had stalled when the hotel sales manager was furloughed because of COVID-19.    

One hour after we reached out to the hotel, an electronic vote was distributed for board approval of the cancellation. Three hours later, the hotel issued a contract addendum moving the entire Annual Conference footprint forward to August 2021 without penalty. The following morning, the hotel contract addendum was signed, sealed, and delivered.

Just when you think you’ve seen and experienced every possible meeting calamity, you realize you haven’t.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you’re encountering a similar situation:

  • Start the discussion with your leadership as early as possible if there is the slightest chance that you might cancel or reschedule a meeting.
  • Prepare multiple scenarios that would work for your group and, hopefully, the hotel.
  • Get everything in writing. In the event of a cancellation, be sure the terms of that cancellation are in writing beyond just the wording in the contract.
  • Search for a win-win solution.
  • Check the CVB website often for other events and meetings that may be in the city at the same time as your conference. These other events may not end up affecting your group, but it’s good to have all relevant information.

If your association is struggling with the decision to cancel a meeting or move it to a virtual platform, IMI Association Executives is here to help. We have 30+ years of conference experience and can help you choose and execute the best event strategy for your organization. Call us today.

5 Things To Remember When Creating Emails During a Crisis

by Allison Winter, Communications Associate

With the current COVID-19 crisis, it may be hard to find a balance between inundating your members with emails and going completely silent. While we don’t want to overwhelm our members, we also don’t want to leave them wondering what our organization is doing and how it impacts them.

I recently attended two helpful webinars, Email Marketing During a Crisis: Lessons & Advice by Brightwave and Best Practices for Email Marketing During a Crisis by Litmus, that shared helpful tips to avoid either scenario. Here are a few takeaways.

Check Automated Messages

First, check all automated messages that your organization sends. Remove any information that refers to events that have been cancelled or moved to a virtual platform. Also, don’t forget to edit any information regarding office hours or services that have changed. 

Cull Images

Make certain that the people in your images are following all social distancing guidelines. Remove any images that include groups of people, individuals shaking hands or hugging, and other actions and activities that are currently discouraged.

Consider Your Tone

Though we’ve all been taught “This Is Your Last Chance” and similar subject lines generate opens, now is not the time to create a heightened sense of urgency. Instead, consider communicating in a way that creates a sense of safety and security for your reader. Before sending any email, read it several times to think about all the different ways your tone could be interpreted and edit as needed.

Create Brief Messages

Don’t send an email just so your organization’s name appears in your member’s inbox. We’re all being inundated with information every day, so keep in mind that your members may be experiencing email fatigue. Only send messages when you have something to say. Keep your email brief and, most importantly, provide value to your reader.

Choose Empathy

Above all, remember there is a human being sitting on the other side of the screen. Think about where your members are, what they’re doing, and the experiences they may have encountered that day. One of the most powerful quotes I took away from the Litmus webinar is, “If you wouldn’t feel comfortable sending it to a family member, then don’t send it.” Now is not the time to let the bottom line cloud our judgement or use manipulative scare tactics. We must choose empathy.

If you’re struggling to send emails with a consistent and empathetic voice, then contact IMI Association Executives. We specialize in creating content that engages your members and advances your mission. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.