Improve Your Association Through Performance Reviews

2016-1-19 Performance reviews USE ME
Image Credit: Samuel Zeller

By Jennifer Rothman, account manager

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. DO keep a file on every employee. If you only keep files on problem employees, it can be seen as targeting.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Staff Spotlight: Allison

Staff spotlight
Image Credit: Eva Blue

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.

2A3A3993-Edit_WebAllison 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.

Favorite quote:

“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!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Your Association’s Strategic Plan – Getting from Development to Accomplishment

2015-12-1 Strategic Plan
Image Credit: Canva

By Stevie Kernick, owner emeritus, account manager

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.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at to learn more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

3 Ways to Avoid Convention Staff Burnout – At Conference

2015-11-17 burnout - during
Image Credit: Canva

By Jessica Garrett, Conference Manager

Burnout: It happens to all of us. The longer hours put in before the conference lead up to even longer hours on-site. Multiple site visits mean not sleeping in your own bed along with changes in your eating habits and generally being off of your schedule. All of these together can quickly add up to staff burnout. With burnout, you become more than just physically exhausted; it leaves you emotionally and mentally drained as well. But burnout doesn’t have to be a fact of life for convention staff. With careful planning and mindful preparation you can work towards a smoother, better conference season.

3 Ways to Avoid Burnout – During the Conference

Sleep is critical … if you can get it. You’re sleeping in an unfamiliar bed with unfamiliar sounds and you’re probably stressed about a million things that could potentially happen the next day. You also have to worry about missing your 5 am (or earlier) wake-up call. Use the first night to get acclimated to your room so hopefully you can sleep better the rest of the week. Adequate amounts of sleep will not only give you energy to last through the long days, but also helps recharge a positive outlook.

Keep your caffeine intake in check. You’re tired so your first thought is to have an extra cup of coffee or can of soda. It may not kick in as soon as you need it so you pound another one. Next thing you know you’ve had more caffeine in one day then you should have in a week. Increase your water intake instead. I used to always carry a water bottle but found I wasn’t drinking as much as I normally do so I’ve found it helpful to find times throughout the day where I can drink 8 – 12 ounces in one sitting. Find what system works best for you to stay hydrated and refreshed.

Know that you can’t control everything. There will be mishaps and attendees may get upset with you. In the moment it may be hard to keep your cool but afterwards take a deep breath, take a 5 minute walk and get back in there. You can’t control everything, so how you deal with the situations that arise and how you let it affect you is the important part. Don’t let the stress eat away at you. Focus on what is going well! Allow yourself to celebrate the “small” victories, too. They add up.

Don’t forget to check out our pre-conference tips for avoiding burnout!

What are your tips for avoiding burnout during an event? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.


3 Ways to Avoid Convention Staff Burnout – Pre-Conference

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

By Jessica Garrett, Conference Manager

Burnout: It happens to all of us. The longer hours put in before the conference lead up to even longer hours on-site. Multiple site visits mean not sleeping in your own bed along with changes in your eating habits and generally being off of your schedule. All of these together can quickly add up to staff burnout. With burnout, you become more than just physically exhausted; it leaves you emotionally and mentally drained as well. But burnout doesn’t have to be a fact of life for convention staff. With careful planning and mindful preparation you can work towards a smoother, better conference season.

3 Ways to Avoid Burnout – Pre-Conference

Plan ahead and get tasks done early. Of course, there are always going to be things that cannot be done until the week or two weeks before the conference. For everything else, get it done as early as possible so you are not bogged down with additional tasks the week before. Track tasks in a spreadsheet or use a program like Basecamp to help keep projects moving well in advance of deadlines.

Catch up on your sleep and stick to your nutrition habits as closely as possible. If you know you’re going to need to stay later at the office, plan ahead and bring extra snacks or dinner to heat in the microwave. No one particularly likes to eat multiple meals at the office in one day but it’s better than fast food at 9 pm on your way home. Try to go to bed at your normal time when at all possible. You may get a little behind on your favorite TV show, but just know there’s a DVR/Hulu/Netflix binge in your near future.

Get your personal affairs in order the week before. Pick your outfits and start packing for the conference in advance. You don’t want to stay up late packing and frantically doing laundry the night before your trip! Catch up on laundry before you leave so you are not coming home to chaos. If you are the main cook in your household, stock your freezer with pre-made, ready-made foods so you’re not stressed or hearing complaints while you’re gone.

Stay tuned for more tips on avoiding conference burnout!

What are your tips for avoiding burnout in the weeks leading up to an event? Let us know if the comments below.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Race for Relevance

Image Credit: Canva

By Whitney Thweatt, account manager

As an association management professional, I find myself constantly wondering how to improve the association and member benefits. In an age of almost limitless free resources available online, associations are faced with the daily challenge to show value and relevance to both current and potential members. What are some strategies association professionals can take to address this challenge?

The book, Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations, by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, proposes five fundamental changes in the way we think about association governance and management:

  1. Overhaul the governance model and committee operations.
  2. Empower the CEO and leverage staff expertise.
  3. Precisely define your member market.
  4. Rationalize programs and services and focus on those that have the maximum effect.
  5. Build robust technology framework.

Not sure where to start? Here are five high impact ideas to implement in your association.

5 Tips for Keeping Your Association Relevant:

  1. Members and volunteers face a work/personal life dilemma. “I don’t have time” really means “I have better things to do with my time.” Volunteers expect a return on investment of time so make sure you are offering some short-time volunteer opportunities as well as ones that are worthwhile to the volunteer.
  2. The board should focus on potential and possibilities; staff on implementation. Ideally you should have a competency-based board made up of five or six people.
  3. Specialization is key. Associations should focus on their strengths instead of trying to be all things to all members. Members will narrow their memberships to those with highest return on investment.
  4. Concentrate on the products that deliver the most value. Unused services and unneeded programs have no value. Prune obsolete services and your message becomes simpler.
  5. Every association function can be enhanced or performed via technology. Not only can automating some tasks free up staff time for other important member projects, it may also increase involvement. Find out what technologies and services your members are already using and integrate current member resources into those systems.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

5 Steps to an Awesome Onboarding Experience

Image Credit: Canva
Image Credit: Canva

Anna Morris, administrative manager

When a new staff member joins your team, it can be a challenge to find a balance between providing a welcoming environment while bringing them up to speed as quickly as possible. Here are a few tips to ensure a seamless onboarding process for new hires.

1)  Have a designated Welcome Committee
While your first thought might be “How am I going to teach this person all this information?” keep in mind the way your new employee may be feeling. The first few days or weeks can be overwhelming for new staff members. They are trying to learn new names, processes, procedures, new everything! Through it all, you want new employees to feel welcome and valued by their new team. One way to ensure your employee feels welcome is to have a designated “Welcome Committee” or even just a “Welcome Person” that is accessible to answer any random questions the new person has. Other simple gestures like personally introducing the new hire to other staff members and making sure they have plans for lunch the first few days can go a long way to determining the tone of an employee’s time with an organization.

2) Provide an itinerary for the first few days or weeks
A detailed schedule broken down by day and time can help keep everyone on the same page by letting both the new employee and other staff members know where to be and when. If the employee will have important deadlines to meet right off the bat, providing a detailed “What is Due When and to Whom” document can help everyone keep their heads on straight. If you have a complicated building structure or specific parking instructions, make sure to help navigate those areas within the first few days as well.

3) Present new information in multiple forms of representation
Any new job comes with an overabundance of new information. Keep in mind that people process information in different ways, so being able to verbally explain a task in addition to having a written explanation of a policy can be a great way to help your new employee retain everything being thrown their way. Additionally, make sure to allow some down time for things like “office set-up” so they can process everything they have learned so far and see if they have any outstanding questions.

4) Provide documented processes and procedures for complex tasks
Depending on the type of tasks your new employee will be working on, providing step-by-step instructions or videos can be helpful in ensuring your employee has an ongoing resource to refer to. With membership entry into a database, for example, there are often many different buttons or items that may or may not need to be used for a certain task. While an experienced staff member may train the new employee on a task initially, if that person has questions the next time they do the same task, they can refer back to the written instructions or the video before going to the staff person. This type of documented procedure can help everyone save time in the long run.

5) Solicit feedback
In addition to implementing these tips, the best way to improve your onboarding process is to get feedback from someone who just went through it! Make sure to ask the  employee if they have any thoughts on how their experience went that you can incorporate to improve the process for the next new hire. This is also a great way to continue building a relationship so the new employee knows their voice is valued by the organization.

What other tips and tricks do you have for a great onboarding process? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

9 Tips to Recruit & Retain Volunteers

Image Credit: Aleksandr Kozlovskii
Image Credit: Aleksandr Kozlovskii

By Whitney Bertram, operations manager

We’ve talked before about how volunteers are at the heart of every association, but how do you recruit volunteers and then keep them engaged? The executive directors at IMI Association Executives met together to discuss this very issue and here are 9 ideas they came up with.


  • This may seem like a no brainer, but make sure all your members are aware of the volunteer opportunities available.
  • Encourage volunteerism on everything you send out. Need help thinking of creative places to ask for volunteers? Here are a few ideas we came up with:
    • membership application
    • conference registration forms
    • membership renewals
    • link on website home page
    • make a volunteer page on website
    • member surveys – you can even use the exit landing page
    • social media
  • Don’t forget to credit the committee when work projects are completed. Members will make the connection that not only are there volunteer opportunities available, but they are making a difference in the association.


  • The #1 reason why people volunteer is because someone called them personally and asked them to volunteer. Not only is a face to face request more difficult to decline, but if the volunteer has questions moving forward they know they have a personal contact ready to help.
  • Volunteers make friends in the organization, take advantage of all that your association has to offer, and ultimately you create a member for life.
  • Clearly ask people what their interests are and how much time they are willing to give. When you connect members with a volunteer position that suits both their interests and their lifestyle they are more likely to be engaged.


  • Remind volunteers that there is a career benefit to volunteering for your organization. Dedication to your industry looks great on a resume.
  • Ask volunteers why they are interested in volunteering. This will help you plug volunteers in where they will get the most personal satisfaction – and keep contributing. Volunteering really can be its own reward!
  • Be sure to thank and recognize your volunteers frequently. Whenever possible, make sure to connect with your volunteers through an email, phone call, or in person to show your appreciation.

Interested in more about volunteers? Check out 7 Evergreen Ideas to Engage Volunteers.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Is Your Association Board Nimble?

Image Credit: Alex Jones
Image Credit: Alex Jones

By Jalene Bowersmith, Executive Director

The board for the Widgets of the World Association (WoWA) is having their monthly meeting. During the meeting the president announces that the National Thingamajig Association (NATA), a rival organization, has just released an online certification program. The program will provide NATA with additional revenue for years to come and may pull members from WoWA.

Let’s face it, in today’s fast paced world boards need to make well informed decisions quickly. The above example is fictitious, but the concerns are real. Deliberations that linger on meeting after meeting can be draining and leave your association rehashing the past, focusing on barriers to progress (like WoWA) while more nimble associations (like NATA) are focusing on the future, creating the next big thing. How do you get all your board members on the same page and help them make well informed decisions quickly and concisely?

Effective board members aren’t born, they are developed. Most volunteers don’t join a board knowing the skills needed to be effective, efficient board members. (In fact, a recent Stanford study showed that most nonprofit boards are largely ineffective.) Providing board members with effective tools, an understanding of expectations, and a common vocabulary is crucial to the success of any board. In addition, having difficult conversations about the barriers to success, before they arise, provides board members with a basic understanding and underlying foundation to become effective board members.

In 2014, I attended a session facilitated by the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) Center for Leadership Development, at ASAE’s Conference in Nashville. The session presented by Bill Shepherd and Elaine La Chappelle outlined training materials developed by OREA to combat the problems stated above.

At just over two hours in length, the tutorials OREA developed – Nimble Decision Making – provide a basis for board training, a common vocabulary to work more effectively together, tools to communicate and help board members think more strategically, as well as a candid discussion of barriers that can derail a board. The video recorded sessions are divided into three tutorials, which provide flexibility of delivery, and include workbooks with activates, discussion topics, and template tools which keep members engaged.

  • Tutorial 1 – Emerging Trends and making timely decisions
  • Tutorial 2 – Barriers to nimble decision making and Inspiring behaviors
  • Tutorial 3 – Planning, communicating and monitoring decisions to evaluate results

The tutorials come with a facilitator’s guide, so the Executive Director and/or President can lead the sessions without bringing in an outside facilitator.

Through a donation to OREA, our organization received the materials and we implemented Nimble Decision Making last fall. I have found it to be well received and very successful. Since implantation our board meetings have become much more effective. Our board members understand what is expected of them and can now take ownership in meeting since they understand their roles. We have improved communication at meetings by instituting several of the tools provided in the tutorials, such as briefing notes, discussion guides and dashboard. Board members are more engaged and excited about their role in shaping the future of the organization and when the board needs to make a difficult decisions, such as whether to raise membership dues, we can have a candid conversation about the barriers that are holding us back, so we can move forward together as a united board.

We are now incorporating Nimble Decision Making into our new board member training and all board members will review the tutorials at a face-to-face meeting once a year to general discussion and keep their focus on the future of the organization.

For more information on Nimble Decision Making contact Elaine La Chappelle with the Ontario Real Estate Association Center for Leadership Development. Email: Phone: (416) 445-9910

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

Volunteers – At the Heart of Every Association

2015-4-14 Volunteers
Image Credit: Mayur Gala

Stevie Kernick, owner emeritus

Volunteers are at the heart of every association’s mission. It’s volunteers that serve on the Board of Directors and lead strategic initiatives. It’s volunteers that donate time to the committees that drive strategic plan deliverables. It’s frequently volunteers who deliver educational content to an association in the form of webinars, as conference session leaders and producing work products and papers. And it’svolunteer icon volunteers that provide support to both small and large staffs in high volume situations like annual conferences, workshops and seminars.

So how does an association ensure the continued commitment of volunteers? Some members will step up to volunteer with little or no enticement. Other members will never volunteer no matter what the incentive. And, then, there are the “other ones.”

Every association has a pool of untapped volunteers. They are the “other ones.” Let’s focus efforts on how to reach that audience of potential volunteers with so much to offer to the association.

There are some simple steps to take to keep volunteer opportunities in the forefront with all members.

  • Add a checkbox to indicate interest in volunteering on all collateral sent to or available for members – correspondence, membership renewal forms, membership applications, conference and event registrations
  • Place a link to volunteer opportunities on the homepage of your website
  • Devote a section of your website to providing information about volunteering
  • Utilize the association’s Facebook page, Twitter feed and other social media outlets to alert members about a need or when new volunteer opportunities are presented

Engage your members in a dialogue about the volunteer process when you are face-to-face at conferences or special events. Include this as a standing agenda item for the Annual Membership Meeting. In person is an ideal opportunity to promote the association’s activities to the membership and ask for their participation.

Never underestimate the power of the “ask.” Members who won’t reach out and volunteer on their own may willingly respond if an opportunity is presented to them in person. The one-on-one discussion also provides a chance to assess the member’s interests and strengths allowing you to match them with an ideal volunteer position. There are very few who, when asked, will say no.

Try to offer a variety of opportunities to provide volunteer support beyond the traditional committee appointments. A taskforce within a committee or an ad hoc taskforce are traditionally more short-lived than a committee appointment and allows new volunteers to experiment with a short-term project and then, hopefully, take on a more significant role.

Some members may not have the bandwidth to commit to a committee or a taskforce appointment but would willingly proofread newsletter articles or white paper drafts.

It’s important to think beyond the usual volunteer roles and consider different models with which to engage members in volunteer activities.

Remember that not every method will be effective for every organization or for every potential volunteer but with a bit of creativity you can increase the emotional buy-in and participation of your members in the important work of their association.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.