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!

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.

3 Must Haves For a Successful Affinity Program

by Allison Winter, Communications Associate

Is your association looking for a way to generate non-dues revenue? Affinity Programs can create additional income while also adding an incredible new benefit for your members.

Simply put, an Affinity Program, as defined by the ASAE Handbook of Professional Practices in Association Management, is:

“a relationship between an association, an association’s members, and an external business.”

So, basically, an association receives compensation for giving a business permission to promote certain products or services to its members. In turn, the member traditionally receives lower prices for certain products or an enhanced customer experience they wouldn’t receive otherwise.

Though starting an Affinity Program may seem intimidating, ensuring you have these three must haves will help the program run smoothly and generate your association that desired non-dues revenue for years to come.

1. There Must Be A Need

First, and most importantly, there must be an actual need for the product or service the external business will be promoting. Today’s member isn’t interested in a small discount or a product unrelated to your association’s mission. They’re looking for unique products and meaningful services that meet their specific needs.

An easy way to see if this product is something your members will get excited about is to email a simple poll to gauge their interest. Make sure to provide your members with as much information as possible about the business and products so they can educate themselves and answer accurately. You don’t want your members thinking they’re receiving one thing only to find out it’s something entirely different once the program officially rolls out.

2. You Must Have A Strong Agreement

Behind every successful business relationship is a strong and clear agreement. This is no different for Affinity Programs, so make sure to contact your legal counsel once you decide your association wants to work with an external business. While your legal counsel will know what is best to include in the contract in regards to your specific agreement, some items you may want to consider including are:

  • Marketing Responsibilities
  • Performance Expectations
  • Legal Obligations and Liabilities
  • Reporting Expectations
  • Causes For Termination

3. There Must Be Ongoing Monitoring

Finally, part of any thriving Affinity Program is ongoing monitoring. Depending on the size of the program, ensure that the external business will be sending you quarterly reports. Additionally, setting up in-person meetings or conference calls at least twice a year can ensure both parties are receiving their desired results.

Do you have questions about creating that perfect Affinity Program for your association? Or do you need help managing or revamping a current program? Contact IMI Association Executives! We’ve helped our clients create and maintain successful Affinity Programs, and we’re ready to help you. Contact us or submit an RFP today.

7 Things You Don’t Want to Hear About Membership Management

by Nancy Haywood, Account Associate

As a new Membership Coordinator, gaining and retaining members may seem intimidating. Here are seven things to keep in mind.

1. Gaining members takes time.

New and existing associations can go thru lulls in attracting new members. It’s ok to have a lull, but don’t let it be your norm. 

2. Mass emails sometimes equal “OMG”.

When someone joins a new group, they are usually flooded with emails. Don’t take it personally if they complain to you. Listen to their concerns and ask what communications they would like to receive. If your group doesn’t have a way to opt members out of specific emails, then keep a spread sheet of the members who prefer to receive less emails.  Then, when it is time to send certain, emails simply remove their name from the recipient list.

3. You don’t know everything, and that’s ok.

You probably have a lot of great ideas on ways to increase membership. Remember to take time to see what has worked and not worked in the past. You might be surprised that some of your great ideas have been tried before.

4. Work hard to show them why should they join.

What incentives does your group provide for members? Be it discounts on purchases for webinars, conferences, or access to free CE credits, give them a reason to join versus always hanging on the sidelines as a nonmember.

5. Membership forms are incredibly important to get right.

You want to gain knowledge on new members and their background, but remember General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and other US state privacy laws. If you are asking for members for information, have an actual need for why you want it. The information you can garner from their application can be a gold mine for your marketing department. Suggested info to collect is name, address, phone number, email.  Depending on the type of group you have, you might consider credentials, primary area of employment, if they are decision makers for their company, and why they joined.

6. Members can ask a lot of questions.

Remember when you were new at your job? You most likely asked tons of questions because you were new to the company and its processes. It’s the same way for new members. Many new members are excited about their new group and want to make sure they are making the most of their membership. Start to take notice of the questions you seem to be asked over and over. Create a welcome email that has tips and tricks that you can send them once they join.  It will cut down on your emails and empower your new members.

7. Reports are your best friend.

Membership is picking up, now what? You want to show off your results and the best way to do that is with membership reports. If your database system is capable, create membership reports on a monthly basis. This will allow you to identify trends on when people are joining, who is joining and their reason for joining. The more info you know the better you can be at gaining new members. It takes time to see the trends but it is well worth it. 

If you need help growing your membership, then IMI Association Executives can assist you! Contact us today to see how we can help grow your membership and keep your retention rates high.

Why Great Customer Service is Crucial to Nonprofits

by Ashley Wilson, Account Associate

At its core, customer service is a knowledge of services and experience that achieves results — and connecting to your customer so you can reach the best possible outcome. No matter the sector, the human relationship that is customer service is critical to success.

So why is that?

A company is just a business without the people who work there. It’s the people who make any company great. The same can be said for a non-profit. A non-profit is just an association, without the people there to organize, serve, and support. Without the people there is no success.

So, you have people? Great!

That one factor means you can provide great customer service, right? Wrong.

Customer service means connecting to the members. Members, or the community your non-profit serves, are the heart of any organization. The bonds you build between people are what can cause an association to grow or to fail. With strong bonds and a real connection to the needs of your organization, the association can grow. 

Like any relationship, being in tune to the needs of your community are key. Not sure how best to serve your members or how to select your next new member benefit? Ask! Give opportunities for your community to provide feedback.

Without these connections and a strong customer service focus, non-profits will struggle to succeed in membership growth and retention. Ultimately, customer service is intrinsic to a well-run non-profit organization. 

If you’re searching for assistance with customer service, then contact IMI Association Executives! We build relationships and deliver solutions. Submit an RFP today.

Moving From an Anniversary to a Calendar Year Dues Cycle

by Linda Owens, CAE, Owner and President

Are you a smaller non-profit that is spending lots of time and energy on anniversary dues billing each month? Switching to a calendar year dues cycle could save staff a lot of time!

Have you considered these benefits to moving to a calendar year dues cycle?

  • Aligns your organization’s budget and activity year with the budget and activity years of your members.
  • Smooths your organization’s cash flow throughout the budget year.
  • Improves the accuracy of your organization’s budget since the dues revenue is typically received in the first three months of the year. If dues are not received as expected, then the organization has the remaining nine months of the year to reevaluate expenses.
  • Saves staff time with handling dues billing once a year vs. twelve times throughout the year.

Once the decision is made, how do you notify your membership?

  • Send an email or letter to each member notifying them of the change. Be sure to include an outline of how this decision will benefit the organization.
  • Give your members options on how to transition to the new dues cycle.
    • A single payment: pay a pro-rated amount for the remainder of the current calendar year along with the annual dues for the next calendar year.
    • Two payments: pay a pro-rated amount for the remainder of the current calendar year and be invoiced for the annual dues for the next calendar year.

A calendar year cycle has been more common among smaller non-profits while anniversary-based dues cycles are more common among individual membership organizations. Calendar year cycles tend to align with an organization’s fiscal year and are easier for a small staff to manage since billing takes place during a specified span of time vs. all year, freeing the staff to focus on other management tasks. Are you interested in learning more about what IMI can do for your non-profit? Email me at for more information.