Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Burgers and Fries! Should Your Chapters be More Like Five Guys?

Burgers + Fries = Focus!

Focus! Focus! Focus! That is not only the title of this blog, it's what your chapters should be all about. And for a role model, I am recommending Five Guys Burgers, the fastest growing restaurant chain in the United States. 

"We do two things really well, burgers and fries. That's it!"

I was listening to an interview with Five Guys' founder, Jerry Murrell, as he explained, "We do two things really well, burgers and fries. That's it!" Perhaps that's explains why Five Guys was voted America's favorite burger chain

Fastest growing! America's favorite! Burgers and fries! Got it?

"Our chapter does two things well. That's it!"

Do two things well. That seems like a good formula for success, especially for chapters. After all, the typical association chapter has limited resources and staff (if it has staff). What if, in lieu of submitting the typical strategic plan, each of your chapter had to complete the following: "Our chapter does two things well. We do ____ and we do _____. That's it." 

Let's think about how this philosophy plays out this in terms of a chapter's image/brand in the mind of its members.

The member on the right is clearly happy, that's obvious. But what's up with the member on the left: why complain about the coffee? To understand, consider this statement by Jerry Murrell, “My fear was that we’d add something new and not be good at it, then some reviewer would write about how bad our coffee was and not how good our burgers and fries are.” 

Get it? You want your members talking about what your chapters did well, not the other stuff. A chapter might be doing something really well, but if it overextends then something suffers in terms of quality. When that happens, it will stick in the mind of the member. 

The Bottom-Line:  I offer this a "food for thought" (pun intended). Ask yourself, "Are we asking our chapters to do too much with their limited resources? Would our members be better served by learning a lesson from Five Guys Burgers? Or would we rather have our chapters known for their bad coffee?"

'nuff said!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Vicious Dog and a 357 Magnum: A Tale of Mutual Respect

Mutual respect between staff and volunteers, between staff and chapters: it is a goal for which we constantly strive. At times it can be challenging, frustrating and bewildering. Sometimes there are conflicts and hostile situations. But in all probability, you have never faced a situation involving a vicious dog and a loaded gun (and not just any gun, a 357 Magnum!). Let me tell my tale...

The Vicious Dog

A number of years ago I worked as community organizer in a low-income neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa. As you might imagine, I encountered a range of emotions during my efforts from welcoming to hostile. One day, however, I knocked on the door of a young woman - her name was Bonnie. I explained my purpose (to help the neighbors organize a community action group). She told me she wasn't interested and asked me to leave.

A few days later, I returned hoping she might change her mind. She answered the door and shook her head. "C'mon in," she said, "I want to show you something." Once inside, she led me to the kitchen and opened the door leading down to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs was an extremely large German shepherd who, after taking one look at me, snarled and charged. Bonnie shut the door just in time to save me from the vicious canine. "My dog and I don't want you around here." 

The Gun

I nodded meekly and made to leave. "Wait!" she said, picking up an oversized purse that was on her kitchen table. From it, she retrieved an unnecessarily large gun. "It's a 357," she declared ominously. "I don't ever want to see you on my street again." I gulped rather loudly and began tiptoeing away. "And yes, it's loaded," she explained.


Mutual Respect!

What I did next might have turned out to the stupidest thing I have ever done (as well as the last). I happened to notice a drawing above the kitchen table in the style of a political cartoon. It portrayed the mayor of Des Moines being kicked in the butt by a woman who looked like Bonnie (the very same Bonnie who was, at that moment, threatening me with a gun). "Is that you in the drawing?" I asked.

"Yes!"  Suddenly her expression changed; she seemed pleased.

"It's quite a good drawing," I observed, "Who's the artist?"

"I drew it," she said proudly.

It turned out Bonnie had a softer side, a side with considerable talent: she was an artist. We began talking and I asked if she had any other cartoons or drawings she might show me. She fetched a folder and for the next half hour, we sat at her kitchen table discussing her drawings, many of which were quite wonderful. I then confessed that I had wanted to be a comic book artist, but lacked the talent. At that point, she patted me on the arm and said encouragingly, "Babe, you can do it; you just gotta practice your drawings."

Can you imagine, in a space of thirty minutes we went from a possible homicide to a shared interest in drawing cartoons and comics? As I got up to leave, Bonnie said, "It's okay for you to come around the neighborhood. Feel free to drop by anytime." We had achieved mutual respect!

This was, granted, an extreme case, but it illustrates that the challenge of building mutual respect between staff and volunteers may not be as daunting as it sometimes seems.

The Bottom-Line: I am committed to helping associations build productive partnerships between their staff, volunteers and chapters. How can I help your association?

In addition, check out:  How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nine Questions to Measure the Strength of the Volunteer - Staff Relationship

Here are nine questions volunteers can ask to help measure the strength of the Volunteer – Staff relationship. If your volunteers answer “yes” for most or all of these questions, congratulations! you have a healthy partnership!
  1. Do I know what is expected of me as a volunteer? Are we in agreement about: a) which activities and functions should be done only by the volunteer; and b) those activities and functions that should be done only by staff?
  2. Does staff provide me with the materials and support I need to do my work well?
  3. Does staff understand and appreciate the priorities of the volunteer?
  4. Do I receive recognition or praise from staff for doing good work?
  5. Does the staff at staff seem to care about me as a person? Even better, do I have a friend among staff?
  6. Is there someone on staff who encourages me, either to take on a new challenge or to learn from a failure?
  7. Does my opinion count among staff?
  8. Does staff believe the work of the volunteers to be important? Do they make me feel important?
  9. In the last few months, has someone called to see how things are going and whether I have made progress towards meeting my goals?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do You Have a Gameplan for Listening to Volunteers and Chapters?

I have posted a draft of a new guide: A Gameplan for Listening to Volunteers and  Chapters. Please take few moments to review and send any comments to:


The Bottom-Line: I am committed to helping associations build productive partnerships between their staff, volunteers and chapters. How can I help your association?

Check out my guide to partnership building!
Click here to download

In addition, check out:  How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Problem-Solving Exercise You Can Download

Here is a group exercise you can download and use with your volunteers or staff. It is based on an earlier post, Solve the Right Problem.  

Happy problem-solving!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"We need a Mission Statement because...well, I'm not sure why."

Mission Statements...what are they used for? What difference do they make? Let's consider a scenario that has probably taken place in your organization: there is a meeting (staff, board, whomever) and you are trying to maintain focus and help the group make a sound decision. Will the Mission Statement help the group achieve that?

Challenge yourself to imagine a real-life scenario in your organization where the Mission Statement will make a practical difference. What are the circumstances under which this would occur? Who is involved? The real test of a Mission Statement is not how poetic or inspiring it sounds; the real test lies in its practical application.

No wonder developing a practical Mission Statement seems a Herculean chore! To get started, try completing these two sentences.

What were your answers?

The Bottom-Line: Too often, the process of crafting a Mission Statement becomes an exercise in wordsmithing, developing pithy yet lofting sounding statements of an ideal future. While I have nothing against well-written, inspiring Mission Statements, I happen to believe that there ought to be a practical purpose to the exercise. Completing the two sentences above will help you to do that.

'nuff said!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Three Practical Strategies for Tough Economic Times

Here are three practical, “association-friendly”strategies for these tough economic times.
  • Go for low cost or no cost: Before spending more money, maximize the impact of what you already do. Use a “guerilla marketing” approach to find smart, quick, inexpensive and creative techniques to deliver your message.
  • Strengthen your message before spending more money: The more powerful the message, the better the ROI from your marketing budget. Begin by strengthening your association's ability to articulate the benefits of membership.
  • Start with the low hanging fruit: A practical starting point is the search for “low hanging fruit” – the easy opportunities to introduce new products and services or to create cost-effective synergies between programs and departments.


The Connecting With Members Workshop

These hands-on workshops put staff and volunteers to work improving your association’s marketing materials. You will learn to:
  • Strengthen the selling power of your message.
  • Refocus on target specific segments within your membership.
  • Utilize guerrilla marketing approaches to priority setting and action planning.

 The Membership Marketing Workout

This team-based program focuses on specific ways to improve membership recruitment and retention. The team sets specific membership targets and then gets to work:
  • Creating a “Membership Marketing Opportunity Matrix.” This tool maps out benefits, target audiences and delivery vehicles so you can maximize synergy among departments.
  • Using the Matrix to identify “low hanging fruit” – opportunities for improved marketing and cost-savings.
  • Using Creative Problem Solving techniques to brainstorm new benefits. 
  • Crafting hit-the-ground-running-action plans.

The High Performance Chapter Collaboration Workshop

This goal-oriented workshop teaches chapter staff, volunteers and national staff how to:
  •  Apply the principles of Trust-Based Leadership™ to move past old issues.
  •  Organize Grassroots Innovation Teams so the best ideas from the chapter level can be used everywhere.
  •  Launch successful partnership programs between chapters and the national office.

For more information, contact me at:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

From time-to-time, friction arises between an association and its Commercial Members, between buyers and sellers. It is a common occurrence and while no one enjoys dealing with complaints or griping, there is a way forward that improves the relationship:  The Partnership Tune-up.

A few years ago, I conducted a tune-up that helped repair fraying relationships between an association's Institutional Members and its Commercial Members. The results were well worth the effort, getting both sides back on track, culminating in a stronger partnership.


1. Ask, "What role should the association play in strengthening the relationship?"

This was the central question emphasized throughout the tune-up process. It conveyed an important message, "Let's get beyond finger pointing and blaming to figuring out what is necessary to improve the relationship. Tell us what needs to be done. We are all members of this association; it is important that we collaborate to make things better."

The goal of this question was to shift the conversation towards a positive state.

2. The Commitment to Listen Means Conversations, not Surveys

We wanted to hear what both sides had to say. To accomplish that, we conducted two sets of phone interviews: one with the directors of member institutions and the other with the Commercial Members. Conducting in-depth interviews was essential if we were to give members the chance to have their say (and yes, even rant a bit). It allowed for a richness of interaction that a survey could not provide.

The reaction was encouraging. Nearly every member interviewed expressed his or her gratitude; they appreciated the fact that someone took the time to listen (FYI: the average time for each interview was 40 minutes). 

3. Emphasize Shared Goals for the Path Forward

There was good news! It turns out that despite what seemed like numerous complaints, there was more agreement than disagreement between the two parties. In other words, they were in sync about priorities and what improvements to make. This provided the foundation for a Path Forward plan agreed to by a working group consisting of Institutional Members and Commercial Members.

Bottom-Line: The partnership between associations and its commercial members requires maintenance from time-to-time. Does your association need a Partnership Tune-up?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Building Productive Partnerships with Volunteers and Chapters

Review the draft copy at:  Productive Partnerships

I have posted, for review, a draft of Building Productive Partnerships with Volunteers and Chapters. It is a quick guide to the basic components of partnership building and includes several articles about building trust and strong partnerships. 

You can view it online at: Productive Partnerships Your feedback would be appreciated.

The Bottom-Line: I am committed to helping associations build productive partnerships between their staff, volunteers and chapters. How can I help your association?

In addition, check out:  How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?