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Recent Avectra Blog Posts

Associations As Workplaces: Flexibility Can Lead To Results

Lyn Slater : August 18, 2014 5:04 pm : Association, Association Best Practices, People & HR

We’ve discussed the role of the association as a workplace on this blog in the past. Considering some associations employ up to hundreds, if not thousands, we think remembering the association’s role and responsibilities not only to its members but to the hardworking teams behind the scenes is paramount. We’ve discussed the need for a dynamic workplace culture as a part of the steps to take to ensure your employees are not only satisfied with their roles, but well-positioned to go above and beyond. A big part of that type of culture is offering flexibility while maintaining high quality results. Indeed, a certain degree of flexibility can even go a long way towards ensuring high quality results, depending on the employee and the type of work they’re doing.

Generally speaking, when we discuss flexibility we’re not talking about easing off on deadlines or relaxing certain job requirements—while those things may have a place on a case-by-case basis, they probably won’t be contributing to improve overall morale and productivity in the long run (quite the opposite, actually). But in some situations, a little flexibility goes a long way towards helping your employees and promoting the right type of culture.

There was an interesting piece on Associations Now recently detailing the work disruptions for many Washington DC-based associations during the recent summit of African leaders at The White House. Because of the disruptions, which included street closures, heavy traffic, and lack of access to certain buildings, some DC associations were offering flexible schedules to employees. From the post, which included thoughts from Elizabeth Keyes, COO of American Pharmacists Association:

“’We let folks know how to get in touch in the event that they couldn’t reach the person that they were looking for, but our phones were covered and emails were checked, so there should have been no disruption of service for our members,’ she said. ‘When you’re located in DC—and particularly where we’re located here among the monuments along the National Mall—we have lots of disruptions, and they just become kind of the course of our business activity. So we do what we can to adjust and make the best of it.’”

Allowing employees with the capability to work from home when necessary is a key component to productivity. While not every organization wants to promote full-time teleworking, offering this flexible option in certain circumstances or for certain positions can be an extremely attractive benefit. Not only can it help with productivity in a number of ways (for starters, employees staying home sick but who feel well enough to work can accomplish tasks without worrying about infecting their colleagues), but organizations with work from home options will attract a higher caliber of employee.

This type of flexibility contributes to your overall culture and answers the question of just what type of workplace your association will be. We aren’t arguing that rigidity is always a bad thing—as we stated, being too flexible could cause chaos and have negative implications throughout your team. But the APhA has provided a great example of just how much “rolling with the punches” can make a difference for employees, and that’s what will help you retain the best and brightest future leaders.

What are some ways your association has tried to promote a flexible working culture? How do you feel about telework? Let us know in the comments!

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How Can You Prevent Nonprofit Fraud?

Dan Murphy : August 7, 2014 3:17 pm : Accounting & Finance, Nonprofit Insights

It seems like a far-fetched theory – who would want to steal from nonprofit organizations, which are tasked to help individuals and groups involved in a host of worthy causes? However, fraud does happen at charities, and more often than you would expect, and nonprofit executives and board members need to know what to do to stop criminals in their tracks.

In the four years between 2008 and 2012, more than 1,000 charities in the United States reported losses of at least $250,000 due to theft, fraud or embezzlement.

Download our Fraud Prevention Infographic.

How can nonprofits best prevent and avoid fraud? Here are some suggestions:

Keep a close eye on people
Executives need to learn to recognize the warning signs. People who commit fraud tend to have a number of similar characteristics, like living beyond their means, having an overly close relationship with either vendors or donors, refusing to allow others to help them with some job functions, and working extra hours and seldom (if ever) taking vacation time.

Be more organized
A great way to identify wrongdoers is to be more organized. Separate duties between employees so that managers make sure everyone’s doing their jobs as they should. Holding external and internal audits is also a smart idea. Moreover, there should be a safe and confidential way for whistleblowers to report suspicious activity with no repercussions.

Switch things around

By having all your staff cross-train for other positions, you can sometimes move people to other tasks, which would reveal discrepancies and even deter would-be fraudsters. Simply enforcing regular password changes for everyone and limiting access to certain information should be routine.

Fall back on technology
There are many technological strategies leaders can implement in-house to help keep criminals out of the system. For instance, some databases and other repositories have permission-based security settings. On top of that, encryption and data masking is crucial for almost any company. Finally, administrators should consider setting up automated alerts that signal fraud could be taking place – like forged checks, modified vendor data and so on. Relying on secure accounting software from day one is also a smart move.

With the right work practices, safeguards and technology solutions, you can prevent fraud or embezzlement from taking place at your nonprofit.

Fraud prevention infographic


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This Year Add Online Fundraising To Your End-of-Year Campaign

Lyn Slater : July 30, 2014 12:25 pm : Abila Products, Fundraising, Nonprofit Insights

Now that we are already a month into the second half of 2014, many nonprofits are firing up their fundraising engines to begin the sprint towards a big end-of-year campaign. With many organizations raising anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of their total annual donations at the end of the year, the time is right to begin considering an online campaign. The year-end campaign has become even more essential as competition for donor attention becomes ever fiercer. And in this era where people spend much of their day on the Internet, an online campaign is essential to your overall efforts.

Online giving has remained at a steady seven percent of overall nonprofit giving in the last couple of years, and online donations grew by 14 percent in 2013 (compared to five percent growth in overall giving). How much will it grow in 2014 has yet to be determined, but will you be ready to claim a portion of that audience? When is the last time you considered your online donation numbers, and potential methods to improve them?

Here are a few ideas to kick-start your online fundraising plans for the second half of 2014, and beyond.  

Tell a Story with Pictures ­– As we have outlined in previous posts on social media marketing, in the crowded online space, pictures tell a thousand words. Posts on social media with photos, infographics, or other imagery receive far more engagement, reaction and feedback than those without. The same philosophy holds true for fundraising. Create some dynamic images that tell your organization’s story and, most importantly, show potential donors exactly what their money will be achieving. Whether it’s an infographic breaking down how donations are applied, or a simple picture of someone who will directly benefit from the funds raised, images can make a big impact. Integrate them throughout your efforts: into emails, landing pages, and on your social media channels.

Sharing is Caring – Speaking of social media, don’t forget to integrate this key element into your overall online fundraising efforts. If you only do this in one way, this is the most vital: allow your donors to easily share their experience with your organization on their social networks after they give. Taking this step can spread the word about your campaign to thousands, if not millions of potential donors—without costing you a dime. Set up buttons for sharing on the thank-you page, with interesting content that will pre-populate a post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks. Also, be sure you’re tracking these links so you can tell how much traffic your cause receives due to social sharing—the results may surprise you!

Get Mobile – We mentioned earlier that people tend to spend most of their days online. What we didn’t mention is that a huge portion of that time spent online is actually while using a mobile device. Smart phones are ubiquitous, there is an app for just about everything under the sun. Does that include your fundraising plan? If you’re not at the app stage yet, the simplest thing you can do is to make your website—include your online donation forms—friendly to mobile browsers, specifically iPhones and Android devices.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up - Retaining donors is paramount to healthy fundraising, so how can we make the online giving experience one that encourages donors to stick around after they hit “submit”? Gratitude is the first step. Certainly, an immediate email thanking the donor for their gift is a must-do. Consider going beyond that automatically generated message, however. No one ever feels special receiving a form email. Do you offer gifts to donors meeting certain levels? Allow them to select their gift immediately, and include a handwritten note. Also, make sure that you’ve effectively lowered the barriers to entry for someone to become a repeat donor. If signing up to give a monthly or bi-annual recurring gift is a simple process, a donor may be more likely to choose the “set it and forget it” approach to giving.

What are your best practices for online nonprofit fundraising? Let us know in the comments!

If you’d like help with getting started on a successful online fundraising campaign, the Abila Activate training and best practices could be the answer.

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Five Simple Ways For Nonprofits To Leverage Technology to Detect and Deter Fraud

Dan Murphy : July 24, 2014 11:06 pm : Accounting & Finance, Money, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Insights, Technology

Keeping an organization’s financial information secure and reliable is a primary concern for most nonprofit CFOs, finance directors, and financial managers. It isn’t uncommon to see these passionate individuals put a rigorous set of policies in place to provide strong internal control and oversight of financial functions. Operating under the “trust but verify” philosophy, internal control policies frequently focus on individuals, job responsibilities, and codified processes. All of these are important areas to address with effective policy controls, but if you aren’t integrating technology into your security controls, you might be leaving a gap in your financial security strategy.

Here are five ways to incorporate advanced security technology to help you consistently and fairly apply effective internal controls to your organizational processes:

1. Use role-based security features to enforce segregation of duties – Using the advanced security settings of your financial software, you can achieve a greater level of segregation of duties for your organization. Whether the software settings are process-based (which is fairly common), or if your software offers more sophisticated account level security that can limit information available to users at a granular level, these settings can be used to enforce your internal policies within your accounting system. When possible, only allow access to accounts that an individual needs for their role in the organization. By putting these security settings in place, you can reduce the opportunity for individual or collective fraudulent activities as well as reduce the risk of entry errors

2. Enable audit trail tracking of changes – Most accounting or financial software offers some form of audit trail tracking mechanisms. Depending on the application, this could capture more or less information. Make use of this feature and incorporate a periodic review of the information captured in the audit log. If possible in your application, be sure to review transactional information, vendor change information, customer change information, and always review security change information. Try to think of this tool as a proactive way to review system changes for questionable activity and not just a research tool for use after a fraudulent act has been committed.

3. Encrypt sensitive financial or personnel information – Many financial managers rely on the data protection practices of their IT department or a consultant. It is important to remember that protecting your financial data means protecting it from sources of internal and external harm. Be sure to leverage any data encryption functionality your financial application has to offer. This will reduce the risk of someone altering data in your system, either intentionally or unintentionally, as well as protect sensitive data you might have in your system such as account numbers or social security information.

4. Proactively enforce policies through system alerts – Some accounting software might allow you to create user-defined alerts that will notify you of certain activity within the system. These alerts can be triggered by processes such as checks issued for a certain amount, checks issued to a particular vendor, or  a low bank account balance. These alerts can help you enforce your internal controls by notifying individuals when specific events require action. Additionally, these can be used to save you time by automating some of your internal control processes. For example, if you require checks over a certain amount to be signed by multiple individuals – set up an alert that will notify your authorized check signers that the system has generated a check over the threshold amount. The message could ask the signers when they will be available to sign the checks. In addition to being a time-saver and helping you to consistently apply your policies, system alerts can be a great auditable trail that demonstrates your commitment to applying solid internal controls.

5. Actively manage your users – An often overlooked but critical component of maintaining your organizational security and making sure that internal controls are effective is actively managing your system users. Different applications offer various ways to achieve this. If possible, produce and review periodic reports on active users and access levels. Use standardized access groups for login creation to make sure that specific access is given to individual users. Create an organizational-wide password reset policy to ensure that active users are keeping passwords fresh and inactive users cannot login to the system. Lastly, some applications allow automatic termination of system rights to terminated employees in payroll, which can help automate an important but sometimes overlooked close-loop process.

Integrating these five technology-enabled steps into your internal control processes can greatly help protect your donors, you, your employees, and your organization from fraudulent activities. These proactive methods could help you detect questionable activity in your system much sooner than methods that rely only on after the fact detection in the audit cycle.

Using the technological capabilities of your accounting system to automate or enforce your policies not only promotes consistency in the application of your processes, but also provides verifiable proof to your auditors and stakeholders that you are proactively applying measures to safeguard the organization. By advancing your security controls, you will spend less time worrying about processes and have more time to focus on accomplishing your mission.

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Membership Practices of Associations With High Retention Rates

Deirdre Reid : July 16, 2014 6:00 am : Uncategorized

Do you ever wonder how your association’s membership practices stack up against others? Maybe you don’t because you know that every association is unique given the profession or industry it serves and its size, budget, location, culture, along with a host of other factors. But I can’t help but wonder what thriving associations are doing that others are not.

I found some answers in Marketing General Incorporated’s 2014 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. This year’s benchmarking survey was completed by 865 association executives, with another 178 executives completing some portion of the survey for a grand total of 1,043 responses.

I’m going to focus on what’s happening at associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher, but if you haven’t already, check out Associations Now’s coverage of some of the major findings and interesting tidbits from the report. Download the report for yourself so you can get more detail (and ideas) on membership practices.

Associations with renewal rates of 80 percent or higher raise dues annually. Apparently, members don’t mind paying more when they know they’ll receive high value in return for their dues investment.

They’ve added member research and mobile apps to their benefits package. With the increase in competitors providing content to your members, find something unique and valuable to provide, like member research. If you deliver what your members seek to the palm of their hand, even better.

Their top methods for creating brand awareness are personal sales calls and association-sponsored events. The personal touch is always effective for making an impression and mobilizing members to action – as long as you can get past their voicemail! Look beyond your conference and trade show for branding opportunities. Become more open to your professional community by hosting happy hours, small group lunches or dinners, tours, community service events and free webinars. Don’t be so predictable and boring – experiment!

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the most effective method for recruiting new members. Members are your best ambassadors. Reward them for sending prospects and recruits your way. Share written and video testimonials on all your digital platforms.

Members join for discounts on products or meetings. That’s not usually the primary driver for joining an association but if you have these “golden handcuffs” then you’re likely to have a competitive edge.

They use volunteer or staff welcome phone calls and/or mailed welcome kits to welcome new members. MGI pointed out that fewer associations are using these methods — the email welcome is outpacing them — but those who do have higher retention rates than those who don’t. Test what works best with your new members.

Engagement doesn’t always mean committee service or volunteering. Associations that reported growth have also seen an increase in event, education and webinar attendance, purchases of products and services, and members-only website visits. The biggest percentages were for webinar attendance and visits to the members-only section of the website — online engagement makes a difference.

Increasing non-dues revenue from members is a top goal for them. Members who spend money, beyond dues, on webinars, subscriptions, products and event registrations are becoming more tied to your association — that’s engagement their way. If they rely on you for their professional and/or personal development, or for the tools that help them do their job or make more money, they’re engaged.

They start the renewal process three or more months prior to expiration. Emails get lost in the inbox. Or, they get forwarded to someone else to pay who also has a full inbox. Build some time into the process.

They extend renewal efforts more than three months after expiration. Give your expiring members time to second guess themselves. Make your case – they need you, right?

Direct mail is their most effective membership renewal channel. The inboxes on our desk aren’t nearly as cluttered as our email inboxes. Remember to test and to personalize direct mail.

They offer installment renewal payments and automatic annual Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). It should be as easy to pay your association bill as it is to pay your Visa bill – and hopefully a lot less painful.

 Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who loves benchmarking reports.


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AICPA 2014 – Five Takeaways To Help Your Organization Detect Fraud

Dan Murphy : July 14, 2014 4:50 pm : Accounting & Finance, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Insights, Process

I recently attended the AICPA Not-For-Profit national conference and was able to speak to nonprofit leaders and auditors about fraud in their organizations. A common refrain I heard was that their organization was too small to have to worry about fraud. Others believe they can trust everyone in their organization, so there is no need to protect against fraud. Unfortunately, everyone who has had it happen to them felt the same way at one time.

Too often there are stories in the headlines about employees taking money from nonprofit organizations, overshadowing the efforts of other employees who are working diligently to move the organization’s mission forward. It is astounding to see how easily fraud is committed within these organizations when due diligence is not taken and available tools are not put in place to help detect this type of activity early on.

Don’t let fraudsters thwart you and your donors from achieving your mission!

Here are my top five takeaways from the AICPA Not-for-Profit Industry Conference on how your organization can easily detect fraud:

  1. Put the processes and tools in place to alert you of suspicious financial activity. This means that your accounting solution should be able to notify you when employees may be engaging in activities that could be detrimental toward your organization, such as when a vendor name is changed or when an employee writes a check to himself. Software automation can help turn good internal controls into great internal controls.

  2. Create a culture of transparency. In small organizations, employees may seem more like family members than business associates or employees. It must be a priority for leadership to create a culture of transparency within the organization. A few key components to creating a transparent culture is to ensure all leaders within the organization are onboard, communicating vital issues to employees on a regular basis, treating employees like adults when delivering bad news and preparing managers to answer tough questions. All employees should be subject to the same checks and balances, despite their title or tenure.

  3. People often steal money over a number of years from a series of small transactions. Headlines talk about the large amounts of money that fraudsters steal from an organization. Many times this is accomplished through a large number of small transactions. This means that it is important to have segregation of duties in place to ensure financial reports, bank and credit statements, expense reports, and any other important financial records are appropriately monitored by several people. Having the right technology available can make this easier for your organization.

  4. Checks and balances are extremely important to ensure that all employees, especially your most trusted employees, have their activity monitored within your accounting technology. Making sure that the security settings are appropriately configured within organizational technology is extremely important during set up and implementation. It is also important to audit these settings periodically, as business processes and internal roles change over the lifecycle of the organization. It is important to ensure that job titles appropriately align with the user rights within all organizational technology.

  5. Offer an anonymous hotline for staff members to report suspicious or unethical behavior. Especially in small organizations, employees may be reluctant to blow the whistle on other employees with whom they have a close relationship. Setting up third-party hotlines and/or e-mail addresses is easy, inexpensive, and could be the most effective option you have when it comes to exposing fraud from your most trusted employees.

For more information on detecting fraud in your organization register for this live webinar, Putting the Tools in Place to Detect and Deter Fraud.

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New Association Represents Reality TV

Lyn Slater : July 11, 2014 3:47 pm : Association

While there are numerous trade groups and associations with long histories in the entertainment business, most notably the Motion Picture Association of America, until recently no group has represented the interests of producers and crew working in the country’s bustling reality television industry. With new reality shows launching practically every week, unscripted television is big business in the U.S. For those working behind the scenes, finding a job on an unscripted show is often a way to get their foot in the door in an extremely crowded Hollywood job market.

Unfortunately, recent reports have surfaced of employees in reality television working under difficult circumstances. A series of reports on the popular entertainment blog Gawker has revealed that pay and working conditions have raised concerns among those in the industry. As one anonymous reality producer told Gawker, the situation is often quite dire: “My best hope is a huge lawsuit for production companies who set the working conditions…More people will have to die or get hurt in order to change the reality TV industry. If audiences quit watching reality shows, duh… the networks will make other kinds of shows. 

These troubling reports may have been one of the driving forces behind the news this week of a new association, the Nonfiction Producers Association, a new trade group designed to promote and grow the reality television industry.

As reported by Variety, “The launch of NPA comes on the heels of a deal-making frenzy during the past two years that has seen a slew of sizable independent unscripted producers scooped up by larger congloms in the U.S. and overseas, from Time Warner and Discovery Communications to U.K.’s ITV and Tinopolis to France’s Banijay. That process has been part of the maturation of unscripted business to a point where industry leaders believe that a trade org focused on the unique needs of the reality-docu sector was necessary.

‘These companies are all maturing at such a quick pace,’ Feldman told Variety. ‘The unscripted arena has gone from the Wild West to a mature business. In talking to people in the business, there was a real desire among some companies to figure out a way in which they could speak with one voice.’”

This new association will represent the interests of workers who have raised concerns about conditions, and also provide a platform for new complaints. Member companies will further benefit by having a voice for the broader industry when it comes to legislative issues, new innovations, and more.

The NPA has agreed that worker reality employee concerns regarding pay, benefits and other issues are valid concerns and have vowed to look into the issue. According to Associations Now coverage, “’Part of the motivation for doing this is to be a place where everybody can get together to find an intelligent, common-sense way to solve these problems,’ said Feldman, a former president and CEO of the National Association of Television Program Executives. ‘These companies have all had conversations with lawyers, and parameters are being set for the industry. We’d like to get everyone in an association to give their thoughts on the best way to handle these issues.’”


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Electrifying Digital Relationships and Online Giving

Amy Quinn : July 10, 2014 4:34 pm : Fundraising, Grants & Giving, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Insights

Sometimes, for better or worse, we realize how connected we are to one other.  Fortunately, Acts of Kindness  seem to reverberate in the nicest way. Even the constant frenzy of digital activity on our cell phones, computers, or tablets serves to remind us that we’re always staying in touch, even if remotely and in some synthetic fashion.  When applied to fundraising, it’s worth asking if digital technology brings us closer, or perhaps farther apart, from our donors? From my point of view, with regard to online giving, I’ve got good news to share.

Let’s begin with the numbers. In 2013 online giving grew by 13 percent over the previous year. Monthly giving increased by 25 percent in 2013, accounting for 16 percent of total online giving. Nonprofit websites, third party online portals, employee giving campaigns and peer-to-peer platforms also experienced growth.  Although response rates were 11 percent less than in the previous year, email fundraising accounted for 33 percent of overall online giving. (Source: 2014 eNonprofit Benchmark Study)

As donors learn to make their gifts through a variety of online channels, technology is enabling charity. We are connecting with supporters through digital tools. We Are Social suggests that “digital connectivity is becoming increasingly like electricity”!

Do you have a high-voltage online giving program?

Here are four ways to spark your online interactions: 

1. No “One-Offs”

Study your overall online giving data versus just one campaign sourced by email. Identify the combination of outreach that touched your supporter using social media, email, website interactions, mobile, peer-to-peer, and third party sites. Consider which online channels worked most consistently over the year. Integrate your communication data for a more complete picture.

2. Branded Versus Generic – Personalize Landing Pages

According to the Network for Good Digital Giving Index, 2013, branded landing pages raised six times more money than a generic page, or $139 versus $105 for an average donation. Creating continuity through consistent messaging and visuals increases the chance of higher donations in addition to keeping your supporter emotionally connected.


3. Fluidity and MetricsGiving behavior graphic

In 2013 website visits grew by 16 percent. Make sure your website is easy to read and navigate, and that it offers a seamless mobile experience or, in other words, adopts “responsive design” practices. 

Understand your user by developing a website persona: “personas are fictional characters with real-world attributes that represent your customer/constituent base” (Source: Wikipedia).   

Your website is the “base of operations” for your constituents. Get to know how they interact with your site! Sean Hudson, COO, of Denver-based Vermillion, an interactive and design agency, recommends setting up Web analytics to track traffic, search queries, social demographics, social media use and advertising impact.

4. Raise Big Money on Small Screens

Abila’s recent infographic maintains that 49 percent of the general population use smartphones regularly. Nonprofits don’t want to be left behind. According to the 2013 Chronicles of Philanthropy Technology guide, “nonprofits are taking diverse approaches to make it easy for people on smartphones and tablets to give.” Consider text messaging, customized apps, integration with other digital mediums and gaming. For some inspiring examples see “Racing to Get Ahead of the Mobile Explosion” or “What every nonprofit should know about Mobile: Lessons from Global Development Nonprofits”. To test your email’s adaptability to mobile devices try Litmus.

Although nothing can replace face-to face opportunities, digital tools still electrify your interactions and augment donor relationships.  The more seamless the digital experience, the higher impact on charitable donations.

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Nonprofit Workplace Culture: Providing a Healthy Workplace

Lyn Slater : July 3, 2014 5:55 pm : Association Best Practices, Non-Profit, Nonprofit Insights, People & HR

We’ve talked before about the association and nonprofit organization as an employer and workplace, and steps you can take to promote a great workplace culture to attract and retain top quality employees. Now that the economy is doing better – the Dow just broke 17,000 for the first time and there were 288,000 new jobs created in June 2014 –employee recruitment and retention is going to be an even hotter topic. One aspect of workplace culture we have yet to discuss is promoting healthy living among your employees.

This is important for a number of reasons. With two-thirds of American adults overweight or obese, healthy living has become paramount—and promoting this topic in the workplace (where most of us spend eight- plus hours or more per day sitting at a desk) is vital. Additionally, workplace health programs are popular with employees. Thanks to the Internet, more information about healthy lifestyles is available than ever before, and health and fitness trends (such as Crossfit, juice cleanses, and gluten-free diets) are sweeping social media. Tap into this audience among your employees, and encourage everyone to improve their health.

Why, you might ask? Well, for one thing, it can improve productivity. Studies have shown that regular exercise and a healthy diet improves sleep habits and accelerates focus and brain activity, which will lead to more productive employees bringing their best ideas and energy to the table. Additionally, healthier employees obviously means fewer sick days. We’ve all seen it before, the “domino effect” during cold and flu season: one person comes down with a bug and one by one employees start calling in sick. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the flu alone costs U.S. employers over $10 billion per year.

Here are some ideas to get you started promoting health and wellness in the workplace?

Got a Meeting? Take a Walk!The West Wing, a popular show about staffers in the White House featured the infamous “walk and talk,” with characters walking briskly down a hallway while making decisions and crafting strategy. The creative team behind the program probably thought this approach was more visually interesting than watching people seated around a table, but it’s not a bad idea to get people up and moving during the day. While this approach may not be feasible for meetings with more than three or four staffers, it’s a no-brainer for smaller brainstorming sessions. Walking meetings are a great way to get out of the office for fresh air and exercise, and are endorsed by the American Heart Association.

Consider “Active” Workspaces – While most people have seen colleagues sitting at their desks on exercise balls before, there are a number of ways to integrate daily activity into the drudgery of a desk job. Many workplaces are now offering employees the opportunity to work at a “standing desk” for part or all of the day, as health experts agree that even standing still to work is better than sitting for the duration of the day. To take the idea even further, some offices have installed “treadmill desks” for employees who would like to keep moving throughout the day.

Organize Company Sports Clubs – Active workspaces and walking meetings are great ideas to encourage employees to move during the day, but they aren’t always convenient or possible for everyone. But never fear, there are other options that are not only great ways to encourage exercise, but also promote a fun and collaborative workplace culture. Why not start up sports clubs in the office? While many dread the idea of the company softball team, many other options exist these days. Running and triathlon events are more popular than ever, an office running club could meet before or after work to get in some miles and have fun. For the less athletic among your employees, many cities even offer leagues for adult kickball teams and other more casual sports that are less intimidating, but still get people moving.

What are some ways your office promotes health and fitness? Let us know in the comments!

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Adopt the Turnaround Mindset at Your Association

Deirdre Reid : July 2, 2014 9:00 am : Association, Association Best Practices, Social CRM for Associations, Strategy

The budget’s approved. The consultant’s contract is signed. Your existing data is clean. What else do you need to prepare for the successful selection and implementation of a new AMS? Yes, the title gives it away: you need a turnaround mindset.

Looking back several years to my last AMS selection and implementation, my association did not have a turnaround mindset – which probably explains why we drove our AMS support team crazy, and, even worse, imploded once the recession hit.

At the recent digitalNow conference in Nashville, Kevin Whorton (president, Whorton Marketing & Research) and Lance Clark (associate vice president of membership and student development, American Pharmacists Association) explained how to apply the turnaround mindset to association “business.”

Embrace your turnaround

The need for a turnaround is obvious when you’re faced with a challenge, for example, declining revenue or membership. Something has to be done if you’re going to remain in business. The need is not so obvious when leaders don’t see the gap between their perception of the association and the reality experienced by others.

Turnarounds also coincide with transitions, for example, governance restructuring, or a new CEO or new AMS. However, the opportunities that arise out of turnarounds will be squandered if you don’t invest appropriate resources – time and money – into them.  

In hindsight, I would have insisted on hiring a consultant with business analysis and project management skills to help me gather and document AMS requirements, analyze business processes, make the right selection, and oversee testing and implementation We missed the opportunity to improve processes, break down silos and get the best AMS for our needs.

Turnarounds can be times of great opportunity, but Kevin and Lance recommend having a turnaround mindset every day, not just in times of transition or distress. By adopting the turnaround mindset, staff becomes more adept and agile at responding to and embracing change, stretching their comfort zone and trying new things.

People, processes and technology

Any turnaround or change, including an AMS implementation, is affected by three factors – people, processes and technology. You must identify how each of these factors affect implementation and are affected by implementation.

People: Who needs to be convinced of the need for change? Who are the influencers? Who needs to be involved in requirements gathering? Whose job will be affected by changes in process? Who needs additional training? Who needs to change their attitude?

Processes: Which existing processes are redundant or ridiculous? Where can streamlining or automation help? Which processes need a major overhaul?

Technology: Which existing systems need to integrate with the new AMS? Which existing systems will no longer be useful or necessary? Is the network infrastructure affected by this change?

Ingredients for a successful turnaround

Before embarking on a turnaround, establish a baseline so you can measure the effect of subsequent changes. You want to be able to prove that all the pain is worth the gain and show colleagues that change can be a good thing. The metrics you use will depend upon the project goals, but could include processing time reductions, expense reductions, user experience ratings, member renewals or satisfaction ratings, or Web traffic statistics. 
Politics and organizational culture play a huge role in change. Every turnaround needs a champion – a change agent – especially if you have to convince others of the need for change. Turnarounds must have leadership sponsorship and support and must be an enterprise-wide effort, otherwise staff will never become as invested as you’d like, and your AMS will always be the “membership database.”  

Communication will make or break a turnaround. Many stakeholders – staff, members and others – may not be aware of the need for change. Many of them may not like the idea of change – they were happy the way things were. You can’t communicate with them all in the same way. Your messaging content and style must vary depending upon your target audience and their relationship to the project.

  • Your staff project team have bought into the need for change – they’re easy.

  • Staff leadership must be encourage to continue their role as change agents and influencers.

  • The board and other member “insiders” have a different understanding and appreciation for the change.

  • Members and others who are “outside the tent” may not understand the need for and impact of the change. 

Have a communication plan in place for each of these audiences. Write as a human, not a legalese- or jargon-using institution. Be very clear about the purpose for change. Make no assumptions about members’ understanding of association goals, strategies and operations. They could be completely clueless.

Manage expectations. Don’t promise more than your AMS will deliver. Make sure everyone understands what will be delivered (the requirements) and what won’t be delivered (their wish list).

Change is easier to bear when you can show incremental improvements.  

  • “This process now only takes X minutes per member. That saves you X hours a month, and it will probably get even better.”

  • “We’re receiving only X member service calls a week instead of Y because of this new Web function.”

  • “Our email open rate has improved X% because we can now segment and target our blast emails.”

 Sustaining change is difficult. After a big turnaround (or implementation), take advantage of the momentum and find ways to continually improve processes and programs. 

If you aren’t in the position to move your association’s culture toward a turnaround mindset, you can reap its benefits in your own work. Sometimes, just doing the fundamentals better has a big pay-off. Innovation doesn’t have to cost anything – experiment where you can. Change one of your own processes or talk regularly to members about ways the association can help them improve their business or advance their career. 

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who wishes she knew back then what she knows now. Sigh, don’t we all?



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