C-Says / D-Says – April 10, 2018

Dealing with a rogue one
D-SAYS

In our last edition of C-says, D-says, I made brief mention of a few of the challenges that can often be faced by boards of directors and, more specifically, association executives. One of these was the dreaded ‘rogue volunteer’.

A rogue volunteer or (shudder) rogue committee is a person or people who act outside the parameters of an organization’s policies and procedures, often making unilateral decisions that have the potential to cause a tremendous amount of damage.

How? Well, in a lot of ways actually.

Rogue volunteers can be a resource drain, wasting an association’s valuable staff time or financial resources. They can also diminish the enthusiasm of good volunteers if they are perceived to be overstepping the decisions made by the wider group. And perhaps most damaging, a rogue volunteer can seriously impact the credibility of an organization, especially if they’re speaking in a negative way about the activities or stated missions of the association in question.

Sometimes, these volunteers are well-intentioned and truly believe themselves to be working in the best interest of the organization. But more often (and more dangerously) rogue volunteers are working for their own personal agenda, usually related to building themselves higher profile within their industry or perhaps in an effort to drive business their way. In either case, the situation has to be identified and diffused as soon as it’s discovered. Ignoring the effects of a rogue volunteer is often as egregious a crime as the rogue volunteerism itself.

To that end, volunteers gone rogue are situations requiring strong and experienced leadership, from both an executive and a staff perspective. This is one area in which AMCs excel.

C-SAYS

Great timing on this topic. Did you know April 15 – 21 is National Volunteer Week? I know you will join me in celebrating volunteers of all stripes, especially the ones that make the world (and associations) a better place.

Unfortunately, rogue volunteers can give all volunteers a bad name, or worse, drive good volunteers out the door. But hallelujah, rogue volunteers are few and far between as I have only spotted 5 or 6 in their natural habitat over 28 years.

The key to managing volunteers is recognizing their strengths early on, as well as their weaknesses.  We have sharp insights to both spot talent and identify problem behaviour that could be disruptive later on.  Allowing a volunteer to go “rogue” never, ever goes well. All the more reason to nip rogue behaviour in the bud.

So, when my intuition tells me that we have a rogue volunteer in the house my first step is to try and work with them to try and channel their “enthusiastic” behaviour into more acceptable and productive actions. Failing that, it is up to the association leadership (President, committee chair or someone else with authority/profile) to connect with the rogue volunteer; peer to peer, to let them know that their behaviour is not aligned with the association’s mandate and that it is not okay. This is when our best practices, collected, cultivated and refined over the years, come into play.

Often times we discover that the rogue volunteer may not be involved in the organization for the right reasons – i.e. they only joined a committee to get their name on the website or to gain access to potential customers.

And I think you will agree that It is incumbent upon the association’s leadership to focus their energies on what is in the best interest of the organization; not what is best for the volunteer.

 

 

C-Says/D-Says is a regular blog column created and written by Constance Wrigley-Thomas and Doug Duke of Essentient Association Management, Burlington, ON.

C-Says / D-Says – Feb 22, 2018

AMC’s vs. stand-alones: The same, but different
C-SAYS

In our last conversation, we chatted about the origins of our company name and the definition of an AMC (aka – Association Management Company).

Nothing pleases me more than a great segue so I thought that this would be a nice jumping off point to discuss the nature of the work we do and the expertise required to do it. I will call this segment “Not all AMCs are created equal.”

Essentient is a bit of a rare breed given that the majority of our staff have worked for a stand-alone association before they joined Essentient. Doug, you and I have been in the chief staff officer role for previous associations and we have also been senior staff in a variety of roles. We have a combined 50 years working in the sector even though amazingly, I am a youthful 39.

Working for an AMC is very different from being staff at a captive association. There is much more variety in the work we do across our client base simply because we get involved in every aspect of our association’s business as opposed to just one segment. But at the end of the day association governance is at the core of what our clients need and want, no matter their size.

You can’t fake governance expertise. While the internet can be very helpful in a pinch for searching things like templates and best practices, you really have to have a practical understanding of how associations function in all kinds of scenarios. Good governance requires knowledge gained from years of experience. Gosh, picture one of us sitting at the Board table responding to a governance question and responding by saying “Let me Google that!” Ain’t going to happen.

Governance expertise is one of the value-add features we provide to our clients and we don’t need an app to resolve issues.

I think the other factor that distinguishes us from some of the competition is that we are an AMC first. When Essentient was first established our goal was not to become an event company that just happened to provide admin support to its clients as a secondary service. We intentionally and strategically built a foundation of high-level association management support to volunteer led trade and professional associations. We have not changed this approach in 13 years and we probably never will even though at last count we averaged 55 to 60 client events per year. Oh yeah, we are pretty good at events too!

So, I am curious Doug, how do you think the AMC model is different from working at a stand-alone association?

D-SAYS

That’s a great question, Constance! And it’s one I’ve given quite a bit of thought to over the last ten months since my arrival at Essentient.

I have been working in the association realm for 15 years. Now I’m no math-magician, but according to my calculations, that means you were just four years old when you began working in the association sector. That’s pretty impressive C! But I digress …

To your point, most of my previous experience has been with ‘stand-alone’ associations as chief staff officer (CSO). And while the goals of associations in general are pretty consistent, the approaches taken to reach those goals can be vastly different with unique sets of priorities. Some associations are focused on professional development, some on business to business networking, some are big into government or media relations and others give a lot of attention to awards programs or some kind of certification or standard. Let’s face it, all of those things are about creating value for members and raising profile for the industry or sector.

Irrespective of in what order an association lists its working priorities, I have long found the most meaningful skill in an association expert’s toolbox to be the ability to approach things professionally and tactfully, using thoughtful language that is sensitive to multi-stakeholder group environments. In short, you have to be able to maintain a smile while walking a tightrope and keeping everyone as happy as possible. That’s not always an easy task when you’re dealing with squeaky wheel sponsors, rogue volunteers, mysteriously absent leadership and committees that want to wade into the weeds.

In both the AMC model and the stand-alone working world, that unique skillset is critical. Relationships matter to the association executive and honest-to-goodness people skills and emotional intelligence are required by every senior level association management professional.

So where are the big differences?

I would say that they’re found primarily in the difference between how CSO’s and AMC executives are viewed by volunteers. In the AMC world, it can be easy for association board members and volunteers to treat AMCs as ‘guns for hire’ or ‘service providers’ as opposed to association staff. As a result, the relationships can be a little trickier to navigate and that aforementioned tightrope-walking skillset becomes all the more important.

AMCs and stand-alones … in the association management realm, it’s the same, but different.

 

C-Says/D-Says is a regular blog column created and written by Constance Wrigley-Thomas and Doug Duke of Essentient Association Management, Burlington, ON.

C-Says / D-Says – Jan 23, 2018

Ask me no questions; I’ll tell you no lies

D-SAYS

After more than seven months, I’m still the ‘new guy’ around the offices of Essentient Association Management. So it should come as no surprise that when I get asked a difficult question, I sometimes have to go to a higher authority for the answer.

I consider myself to be a pretty smart guy, so I do my best to figure as much out on my own as I can. Or, depending on how I’m feeling, I just go on instinct, hold my breath, and hope nothing awful happens.

Since taking the position of ‘new guy’, I’ve been asked a couple specific questions dozens of times and no matter how many times I hear them, they always manage to cause me some consternation.

What is an AMC and what the Hell does Essentient mean?

It doesn’t help that these are questions are most often by friends and family. Try as I might, it’s hard to pull the wool over the eyes of those who know me best.

But for those who don’t have the pleasure (or misfortune) of knowing me well, I’ve come up with a pretty awesome B.S. answer for the former. I simply tell them I’m the VP of Business Development for AMC. “You know, the television network responsible for The Walking Dead? Yep, that’s me!” And then I run away before they have a chance to ask any incriminating follow-up questions like whether or not I’ve had lunch with Norman Reedus.

I’m not saying it works often. Actually, it’s never worked. Not once. Ever. But it’s a heck of a lot less painful than trying to explain what an Association Management Company is because that almost always involves having to explain what an association is. When it gets to that point, that’s when I wish I had of chosen to become a teacher, or a lobster fisherman, or an organ grinder. At least when you tell people you’re one of those things, they don’t stare at you blankly for the next five minutes.

As for that other question, let’s just say I haven’t figured out my go-to answer yet. Come to think of it, I don’t even know what the actual answer to that question is.

Gonna have to see what Constance says about that one …

 

C-SAYS

Way to put me on the spot ‘new guy!’ But I wholeheartedly agree with you, it’s not easy trying to explain what we do for a living to folks who may not even know understand the association sector.

But allow me first to explain the origins of Essentient, a word that will not be found in any dictionary or book of baby names.

Essentient is an amalgam of two words – essential and sentient.

Essential is an adjective denoting something that is absolutely necessary or extremely important. It defines the nature of what we know and are capable of doing. Our staff perform the necessary and important tasks, projects, events, etc. that help our association clients thrive and grow. I also like to think that we are essential to the volunteer/staff team.

Sentient is an adjective that means able “able to perceive or feel things.” Because of our deep commitment to our clients, their members and stakeholder and because we are also volunteers during our off hours, we feel what associations experience as stewards of their community or sector.

So schmoosh those two words together and you’ve got ESSENTIENT, the name of the company that I founded in 2005.

Now as to that “What is an AMC?” question, I often find myself explaining my life’s work to glassy-eyed inquirers who were only being polite in the asking.

We are a full-service, associations-first AMC and a founding member of the AMC Institute Canadian Chapter. Therefore, it makes sense that I quote the AMC Institute’s definition rather than make up one of my own.

According to them “Association management companies, or AMCs, are for-profit businesses that manage associations to help them grow and prosper. They offer the expertise, staffing and resources that allow professional societies, trade groups, not-for-profits and philanthropic organizations to effectively manage day-to-day operations and advance their long-term goals. AMCs deliver high levels of expertise and accountability so that associations can continue to increase their value and relevance to members.”

Essentient is that and so much more!

But perhaps that is another C-Says/D-Says topic for another day.

 

C-Says/D-Says is a regular blog column created and written by Constance Wrigley-Thomas and Doug Duke of Essentient Association Management, Burlington, ON.