If IMI’s integrity, empathy, emotional intelligence, vision, judgement and passion – all qualities essential to working successfully with non-profit organizations – aren’t enough, what else compels organizations to engage IMI in ensuring their future success?
Experience:IMI’s team has 170+ years of combined non-profit management experience and expertise ranging from strategic planning and leadership development to finance, membership, marketing and communications, meetings and events, fundraising and all things in between. There’s not a non-profit situation or challenge IMI’s team hasn’t confronted and successfully met.
Optimal Size: IMI is a medium-sized association management company that is large enough to support clients’ needs, but small enough that they each receive individualized service and benefit from IMI’s collective expertise.
Individualization: Each client is assigned an account team of IMI employees that best fit the needs of the client. Specialists are drawn from a pool of personnel resources and are assigned on an as-needed basis to projects. We work with our clients continually to ensure that they are fully supported in the way that best develops their goals and objectives and meets their members’ needs.
Team Approach: Since IMI’s company philosophy advocates a team orientation to the workload, IMI clients have the added benefit of getting to know, and being known by, multiple employees within the company. For all projects, multiple people are involved from concept to completion so work can continue uninterrupted in the event that a team member is unavailable.
With 35 experienced employees, IMI provides exceptional customer service and a highly personalized approach to each client; in fact, we would tout that attribute as the single most important reason for the success of our clients. While we have great respect for the business needs and member satisfaction of each client, IMI clients are also our friends and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Are you interested in learning more about what IMI can do for your non-profit? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
September 2014 marked the month IMI introduced its blog, Let Your Association Take Flight. We’ve achieved great accomplishments since the start of this voyage, when we began with that single quote, “If you don’t design your week, it will get designed for you.”
IMI has always been an open, dynamic and collaborative organization. We aren’t content to simply sit back and foresee hurdles or potential challenges; rather, we believe in taking the proactive approach of seeking solutions and finding ways to overcome them.
IMI employees demonstrate this philosophy in their daily routines; while working with clients; and through the sharing of best practices, insight and industry knowledge online.
In honor of our blogiversary, let’s take moment to reflect on this milestone with some of the notable pieces (we think) IMI has had since 2014:
We are grateful for the many people and personalities who have dedicated themselves to IMI’s culture and growth. And of course, we want thank the individuals who contributed to our voice through this blog, including our most-recent authors:
Valerie F. Sprague
We get excited when we consider how far along our blog has come since it took flight, and the many adventures IMI will be experiencing and sharing with you in the future!
Our world is increasingly full of shortcuts to get where we’re going faster and how we communicate is no exception to that trend. Slang, abbreviations and memes are very much a part of modern communication. Your organization’s culture will often determine if slang and memes are appropriate to use in communication with your members, but what about acronyms and other abbreviations?
Note: For the sake of brevity (see what I did there?), in this post “acronym” can refer to any type of abbreviation your organization might be considering. You can learn about abbreviations, acronyms and initialism here.
One trend I see with non-profits is a steady use of abbreviations. When naming a new product, service or feature, the tendency is to reach for an abbreviation first. Perhaps you even started with the acronym first and worked backwards to create the full name (a backronym).
While acronyms are handy for typing, our challenge in non-profits becomes knowing when they will be useful and valuable to our members.
Here are some things to consider before naming your next program.
Know your audience. Consider where you want to use the acronym. We all have shorthand that we may use with fellow staff and volunteers who are deep in the trenches, but for more general member-facing communications such as emails, newsletters or social media it’s best to use full titles. No one likes needing to ask, “What does XYZ mean?”
Consider “why” the term needs an abbreviation. Is the name of your program simply too long? You may be trying to do too much with the name. Are you working with a “legacy” title? It might be time to consider rebranding if it no longer fits with the current nature of the program or the culture of the organization.
Keep focus on the important things. We can acronym away things that matter. An organization that wants to increase awareness about a specific aspect of their efforts (international, multilingual, legislative, advocacy, integrity, technology, etc.) would benefit from letting those words stand out when naming their initiatives. For example, an organization that wants to increase awareness about its global efforts should promote their International Work Groups rather than “IWG.”
Beware “alphabet soup.” We’ve all experienced the confusion when multiple abbreviations in a document start to jumble together into “alphabet soup.” Acronyms can exclude some readers from your community, making it hard for them to feel a part of the organization. Practically, this means that the Super Cool Organization’s (SCO) Young Professionals Networking League (YPNL) may have difficulty drawing newcomers to their event (“Join us for SCO’s 2018 YPNL!”). Not only is alphabet soup hard on the eyes, but the purpose of the event is lost to anyone who isn’t familiar with the lingo or the context.
Watch out for a loss of clarity. If a photography non-profit organizes grant writing classes called Snapshot Funding (SNAFU) Workshops, they might find that attendees expect the class is about common photography mistakes.
Make your terms searchable. If you reference SNAFU in your promotions, be sure that a search of your website for “SNAFU” will bring up the Snapshot Funding Workshops. There’s nothing worse than wondering what an organization’s abbreviation means and getting zero results on their website.
Check your name with multiple sources. Always check that your desired name does not conflict with another company’s intellectual property. Also, make sure any abbreviations do not spell something inappropriate or ill-fitting for your organization.
Spell it out. If you decide an acronym is the right fit for your initiative, the first time the abbreviation is used in each document, article, or post always list the full name for clarity.
This statement really resonated with me. At my nonprofit, we have just kicked off our annual membership campaign and are in the midst of preparing our annual budget and coordinating an in-person Board of Directors meeting in November. These items are, of course, in addition to my regular day-to-day tasks. As a result, like many nonprofit professionals, my inbox is flooded daily with waves of items from members, staff, and volunteers that may or may not be related to the most pressing issues of the day. To further complicate matters, our policy is to turn around emails to everyone within two business days.
When I began my work as a nonprofit professional, I did not know how to satisfy these competing priorities. The easiest method is always the path of least resistance, so I would spend the majority of my time responding to emails. Eventually, I realized that, with the absence of a concrete plan of attack, emails were controlling my workflow and I wasn’t accomplishing work that needed to be done.
Over the past year, I developed an organizational strategy for managing my emails and work, which is shared below:
First I identified the functional areas of my work:
Board of Directors
Awards and Scholarships
Committees and Task Forces
Second, I created To-Do Folders in my email inbox for each of these functional areas.
Third, I established that the first thirty minutes of the day are dedicated to:
evaluating the state of each functional area through emails
deciding how much time to allocate to each functional area based on emails and outstanding work.
Following this, the first fifteen minutes of my day, I open every new email in my inbox and allocate it to the correct functional area To-Do folder. Then, in the second set of fifteen minutes, I create a daily work plan. In this work plan, I first write down any meetings that I have. Then, I allocate time to each functional area depending on the work that needs to be done that day. I make sure that, even if there are not pressing matters in each area, I allocate at least 15 minutes to each area so I get to all emails with the required two business days.
Fourth, I follow the daily work plan. With my entire day laid out in increments of time corresponding to functional areas, I am forced to prioritize what is important in each functional area instead of letting my email dictate it. In addition, because I make time for every functional area, I ensure that I am not dropping the ball on any items even if they are not pressing.
Since establishing this workflow, I have found that I work more efficiently. Instead of getting bogged down by emails for an hour or two every morning, I spend time focusing on the most important work of the day and answer emails as time permits and as needed within a functional area.
Though this method works for me, I know that everyone’s brain works differently and it might not be an effective strategy for all. I would be interested in hearing what works for you. Please feel free to share below.
Though one of my favorite college experiences was giving campus tours to prospective students, I remember waiting to be introduced to the tour group before my first tour, sweat rolling down my back, my hands shaking and my heart ricocheting around my chest like a pinball. I was terrified of forgetting the myriad facts I had been practicing or staring at a stony faced and silent group that didn’t react to my jokes. My tour ended up going smoothly, but after the fear I had experienced, I committed myself to developing a foolproof presentation strategy.
Below, you can find the strategy I created as an Admissions Ambassador to give engaging, informative tours. I continue to use this strategy in my association work to give high quality presentations.
I was recently invited to speak for a class at UNC-CH in order to explain how a specific course in my department gave me the tools to succeed in my profession. I’ll walk you through my preparation for this talk step-by-step below.
Take 30 minutes to plan out your talk: The night before a presentation, I sit down and follow the below steps to plan what I am going to say. In association work our schedules can fill up quickly. Set an appointment in your calendar to block off the time to plan your talk.
Introduce yourself with a connection point: Give basic information about yourself: name, job position, a brief description of your work and your organization. Then, think about the composition of your audience, your message, and how you can connect with them at the beginning of your talk to capture their interest. To do this, identify something about yourself that will help them relate to you or your association.
For my presentation at UNC-CH, I gave my name, my job description and briefly detailed my association. Then, as a recent graduate talking to college seniors at my alma mater, I knew that I should make a joke about being a millennial in the work force, “adulting,” and/or being a “real adult” to get a chuckle from the audience and let them know that I understood where they were coming from. An adult could have related to the audience by mentioning their own experience at that age or perhaps talking briefly about children or other family members in college.
Identify the BIG IDEA: Write down the overarching point of your talk: if everyone in the attendance remembers only one thing from your talk, what do you want it to be?
UNC’s Public Policy Capstone class, which I took during my time as an undergraduate, provided me with skills that prepared me for my current job.
Identify key points: Explain the BIG IDEA by supplying 1-3 supporting points.
I learned how to: (1) work effectively in a team and with real-world clients, (2) develop a work plan and utilize project management software, and (3) write succinct, professional reports
Explain key points: Once you have identified the key points, add information explaining how each of these points relates to each other and the big idea of your presentation.
In my current job, I work with a team of people of varying ages and professional and educational backgrounds who are at different points in their careers. In addition, I utilize the same project management software that we used in the course and, as the manager of several different program areas in my association, create work plans regularly. Finally, I often have to write reports to obtain Board approval for ideas that I would like to implement in my association. Thus, the skills that I developed in my Capstone course directly relate to my daily work.
Illustrate one or more key points with a short, relatable story: This gives the audience an anchor to remember the information that you’re trying to impart.
In my Capstone class, I wrote a final report detailing our proposal for continuity of our project. We had a limit of three pages. Right now, I’m working on a report for our Board of Directors recommending how to allocate scholarship funds. I am also limiting it to three pages because Board members are volunteers; we need to respect their time by providing all of the relevant information in a succinct format. I think that this class, and the UNC Public Policy department, prepared me for this skill by the short reports we wrote for projects.
Practice: You want the presentation to flow naturally; as such, you should run through the entire presentation at least three times. (I practiced my presentation the night before, the next morning, and in the car on the way to Chapeil Hill.) Also, ask a colleague to be your practice audience. If possible, ask one person who is familiar with the idea you’re presenting and one person who is outside of your group. The different perspectives will help you locate any points that need clarifying. Planning out how you are going to deliver each point will give you a strong foundation for your presentation and assist you in overcoming nerves when you are standing in front of the crowd.
What do you think about this advice? How do you prepare for presentations? Please feel free to leave your comments below.
Working with associations, we are always asking the question, “What can be improved?” We look for ways to expand member benefits, streamline processes for the Board of Directors, and otherwise improve the associations we serve. One part of that mission for greatness is conducting annual performance reviews of all our staff.
Lindsey VanMeter and Julia Volino of Capital V Consulting gave a helpful presentation on the importance of and best practices for employee performance evaluations during their January 6, 2016, webinar “Effective Performance Management & Discipline Webinar” offered by AENC. Below are the key points that I walked away with and hope to apply in the coming year.
When done properly, annual performance evaluations can do the following three things:
Provide feedback and counseling
It’s important that the feedback is honest and constructive. Many managers don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations, but if these conversations don’t happen, we are doing a disservice to our employees.
Help to allocate rewards and opportunities
Conducted properly, annual evaluations encourage employees in areas where they are strong, and provide support in areas where they need to improve.
Help to determine employees’ aspirations and planning development needs
Making the employee part of the overall process is the key to helping them feel they have a say in their growth within the association. Providing time for the employee to share their feedback and personal goals creates a team approach that shows management’s interest in the employee’s role in the association.
Annual performance reviews of staff provide an opportunity to benefit the association through evaluating how the team’s strengths are being utilized. Take time to discuss with staff what skills they have that are not currently being used to the best advantage. You may find that someone is interested in helping with social media, HTML, or taking on more responsibilities in conference planning. Also, ask staff where they feel they are not working within their strengths. This opens up opportunities for professional development and training to improve skills where staff is lacking confidence. Or, in these conversations, you may find that some tasks can be shifted within the team so that each person is working within their strengths.
Now that we’ve discussed the “why” of performance evaluations, let’s talk about the “how.”
How to best prepare for providing an annual performance evaluation:
Keep a folder for each employee so you can file away examples during the year of where improvement is needed to use as input for performance review. It is always appreciated when you can share an example when giving constructive criticism.
Don’t forget to also keep track of the examples where the employee excelled and showed growth! You always want to give credit where credit is due.
Do your homework. Look over last year’s review to compare performance. In what ways did the employee improve? Where does the employee still need improvement? Are there goals that were not met? Are there goals that were exceeded?
If you are nervous about the meeting, practice. Take the time to practice, out loud, what you are going to say so that you are more comfortable when you sit down with your employee.
Do’s and Don’ts of an annual performance evaluation:
DO stick to your performance evaluation schedule. One of the most serious complaints among employees is NOT how the review is done, but those that are not done or are late.
DO keep a file on every employee. If you only keep files on problem employees, it can be seen as targeting.
DO give reinforcing and corrective feedback when needed. If the employee receives a low rating in a specific area during their annual review and it is the first time they have heard that the area needs improvement, it can feel like they have been blindsided. If the annual review is the first time they hear of an issue, you are not giving the employee an opportunity to improve which can be discouraging and frustrating.
DON’T rate an employee’s performance based on how they compare to another employee’s performance. Ratings should be based on objective, measurable standards.
DON’T use a template review tool. A template is a great starting point, but each evaluation should be customized to the job the employee is doing. It takes time to customize the evaluation but the end result will be more effective and meaningful.
DON’T draw your own conclusions. When you are documenting an area where improvement is needed, provide the facts and focus on the deficiencies, not the perceived underlying cause. Facts and solutions are the areas in which you should stay firmly planted.
Do you have any other advice for providing effective performance reviews? Share with us in the comments below!
Members are the lynchpin of most associations. Therefore, deciding to change your association’s membership system can be a big undertaking. After working with an existing membership system for a while, you may realize that doing it a different way could benefit the association more in the long run.
This happened with two of our associations that started their memberships on the “anniversary” system – members purchased a membership on August 21 one year and from that point on their membership renews on August 21 each year moving forward. This means the organization has 365 different renewal dates for members. Our associations decided they wanted to explore switching to an annual membership renewal system, where all memberships last for a certain time frame (say, January 1 – December 31). What exactly did this project entail?
We divided the project into four chunks.
Present the pros and cons of moving to an annual renewal period
Since this is a big decision to make, your association’s board will want a detailed rationale behind why you are proposing the switch. This means presenting a sound case including both pros and cons of moving to annual renewal period. One of the main pros is being able to run a target renewal campaign, since members are all expiring at the same time. Other benefits include a more streamlined process, a decrease in the amount of staff and volunteer time needed to contact members about renewals, and a likely decrease in the LOSS of members since the association will be able to better communicate with renewing members in multiple formats during the renewal campaign period. The switch can be tricky to navigate, especially if members or organizations have been with your association for a while and are very used to the original membership system.
In the case of our two associations, the pros and cons were evaluated, and both boards decided to move forward with switching to an annual membership renewal system.
Provide an outline of the timeline for adoption
Once the decision to transition is made, it is imperative to have a very clear timeline for adoption. The timeline should include how and when you are going to communicate with members, how the pro-rating of membership during the switch will happen, and when you will follow up with members about the change. One of our associations decided to pro-rate membership monthly, so that the membership cost decreased each month leading up to the date when the “annual membership” time period would start. Another option would be to pro-rate quarterly. But either way, make sure you sketch out the whole timeline beforehand, including specific price points and when that information needs to be changed in the database system.
Also, make sure you are sharing the timeline internally as well as externally with your board. Depending on the size of your AMC, you may have different staff working on membership, conference logistics, and accounting. In the case of a big change like a membership renewal shift, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows how to answer any member questions that come up.
Provide a timeline for future years (post adoption)
Because considering switching from an anniversary membership system to an annual membership period makes things a whole lot easier, the timeline for the years post-adoption should be much more straightforward than the timeline you developed in step (2). For this step, be sure to clearly lay out the NEW system, including when rates would potentially pro-rate during the annual membership system, and when communications should be distributed to members.
Planning out all of these items ahead of time ensures nothing falls through the cracks, and that the annual membership system can be implemented without a hitch.
Provide a letter to members for further explanation of how the change will be implemented and communicated during the change
A constant theme throughout this project is communication, communication, communication. The whole goal of the project is to ultimately make things easier for both the association and members (eliminating confusion regarding when their membership expries), but this goal cannot be accomplished if people are confused along the way. As part of our initial membership project, we found it important to prepare the communication that would ultimately be distributed to members once the switch occurs. This is another opportunity for everyone to see the facts in writing and raise any potential questions or concerns that might arise. In addition to the draft letter, have your staff, and any new staff that come on, practice explaining the switch in system (including the new benefits), in order to prepare for tricky questions that members may call in with.
Have you considered switching your association’s membership system? If you took the plunge and made the switch, what are some tips that you found helpful? Share in the comments below!
In this new feature, we ask our team members some quick, fun questions to show a little spotlight on the staff that makes IMI great.
Allison Winter, account associate
My favorite aspect of association management is:
I really love getting to know the association members. Also, watching relationships grow within the organization and members’ desires to help one another along is always inspiring.
On my desk right now:
Currently, I have a Rifle Paper Co. calendar, my bkr water bottle, a picture of my husband and I on our wedding day, today’s to-do list, and membership renewals for 2016.
My favorite blogs:
I’m a big DIY blog fan, so The House that Lars Built and Oh Happy Day are just two of my many favorites. For wise words, however, Lara Casey’s blog is my all-time favorite.
My media mix:
My husband and I joke that we’re the oldest 20-somethings you’ll ever meet. I love NPR (Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, anyone?) and anything found in the classics section on Netflix. LibriVox is great for free public domain audiobooks and Goodreads is where I go to learn what the “average” person is reading now-a-days. Also, Pinterest is certainly a guilty pleasure of mine.
What I’m reading:
I’m working my way through Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.
Who to follow on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram:
I’m mostly an Instagram gal, so if you’re looking for cute cat pictures both @catandclay and @caturdaymornings are a must. @tinyatlasquarterly is great for wanderlust. @getwordwise is perfect for the English nerd in me, and @jengotch is just plain fun. Finally, @laracasey and @shereadstruth are where I go to for inspiration.
What I do when not at work:
I’m a bit of a homebody, so you can usually find me curled under a blanket with a good book or movie and a cup of tea. In addition, I love to bake, and visiting the NC Art Museum is one of my favorite Saturday afternoon activities. I have also been known to spend hours in one of my favorite local coffee shops chatting with friends.
If I weren’t in association management, I’d:
It’d be a dream to just sit around and paint all day. However, on a more serious note, I’d like to work with an organization that helps combat food inequality. The amount of food waste compared to the amount of people that regularly miss meals is disconcerting.
“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” ― A.A. Milne
For more about Allison, don’t forget to check out her full bio on the IMI website!
We’ve all been through it…the highly anticipated Strategic Planning Meeting of your association’s board of directors.
The facilitator has been retained and has conducted the necessary due-diligence. The board and, perhaps, other members of your association’s leadership, have committed the compulsory two-days (or more) for a face-to-face meeting requiring them to travel to and from the meeting site. The staff has printed lists, exported membership and conference attendance metrics from the association database, updated financial histories, done five-year budget projections, prepared the opening PowerPoint presentation and is well-prepared to answer those inevitable, random questions that will surface during the planning process.
Everyone has done their homework. They have reviewed the association’s governance documents and attempted to commit to memory the mission statement and goals which will provide a reference point throughout the planning process.
Everyone arrives at the planning meeting eager and anxious to begin planning. Depending on the facilitator, the process will take different forms for different associations but the objective is the same – a roadmap for the association’s future spanning two-, three- or five-years; hopefully not more than that.
A skilled facilitator will keep the discussion within bounds while still allowing the creative ideas to propagate. Day one tends to involve visioning for the future of the association, while day two defines the nitty-gritty of the strategic priorities, goals and action steps.
Everyone leaves the planning meeting inspired by the cohesiveness of the group throughout the process and enthusiastic about what the future of the association.
And then reality hits.
Members return to their offices and the bulging in-box. The staff returns to headquarters and is submerged in the day-to-day activities of managing the association. Enthusiasm dissipates…not from lack of desire but for lack of time.
When the board looks at the new (or updated) strategic plan two weeks later, they begin to consider critically the results of their effort and question how all of this can possibly be accomplished within the established timeframes!
Without budgetary support and operational resources, strategic priorities will languish incomplete or not even launched.
Each time the board reviews progress on the strategic plan those same deliverables will not show progress. The concept might have merit but without a concise directive, financial support and staff resources, it will never have the traction needed for action.
How do you avoid this all-too-common syndrome?
Frequently, this question is lacking during the excitement of the planning process, “Is this idea/goal/strategy fiscally viable and operationally doable?” This is not a rhetorical question, but one that needs to be asked and answered each time a strategic initiative is proposed.
Yes, it can be a bubble-buster in the midst of the euphoria of planning, but reality-checks are an important element of the development process and can prevent unrealistic goals and strategies from being included in the final strategic plan.
Staff should not hesitate to ask the all-important question, “Is this fiscally viable and operationally doable?”
To get from development to accomplishment we absolutely must have doable goals that are supported by the association’s resources.
At IMI Association Executives we hold it as a key value to continue to advance our skill through professional development opportunities so we are able to better serve our clients. We also encourage our team to be involved in professional associations in order to learn from other like-minded individuals.
On Friday, November 20, 2015, IMI was pleased to send two team members to the Association Executives of North Carolina (AENC) Marketing & Communications Conference and Luncheon at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley. At the AENC meeting, one of our very own, Sabrina Hunt, was honored with the Operation Annual Meeting Scholarship for the 2015-16 year. Hunt proudly accepted her award from Nancy Lowe, Scholarship & Awards Chairman. Sabrina will have the fortune to attend the 2016 AENC Annual Meeting in Williamsburg, Va., with all key expenses paid.
AENC’s mission is to advance the field of Association Management by providing networking and professional development, while increasing the recognition of the Association community. AENC offers five scholarship opportunities to association members for a variety of professional development advancements.
Sabrina Hunt joined IMI in 2015 and has more than 13 years of experience in Executive Support, Office Management, HR, Process Improvement and Project Management in the different industries of medicine, manufacturing and executive suites. Her favorite part of the AMC industry is working with a team of expert professionals and seeing how the shared resources strengthen the team as a whole and draw out the best in the individual. Learn more about Sabrina here.