3 Membership Lessons from a Kindergarten Basketball Coach

By Bruce Hammond, CAE

My guess is you’re asking one of two questions right now… “What were you thinking when agreeing to coach kindergarten basketball?” or “What could that experience possibly teach you about associations?” Believe me, as this post formed in my mind, I asked myself the same two questions and what I’ve found is, kindergarten basketball coaching and association membership are definitely related.

First off, to answer the first question, doing things like coaching my kids’ teams is really important to me and since basketball is a sport I played competitively when I was younger, I thought it would be fun. Boy was I RIGHT! It was an absolute blast! Maybe I’m inspired by March Madness, but aside from the pure joy of helping them learn the games they love, I realized there were lessons in it for me as well. Lessons and reminders perfectly applicable to the association world.

  1. Like little kids, new members need to know the basics. After the fourth week of basketball (out of six), my son said, “Daddy, I almost got the ball up to the ring.” Of course, he meant “rim” and at that point, I realized I hadn’t done a great job of helping the kids with the basics when we first started. I was so worried about helping them have fun and learn about passing, shooting, and dribbling that I forgot to teach them the real basics - you know, things like what the equipment is actually called. Rookie coaching mistake.

    Lots of times, new members need some coaching about the basics of the association and what they can utilize/take advantage of, just like new basketball players. How many of our fellow associations still simply send a folder of materials hoping new members read it all, and call that their onboarding program? Instead, what if we took time to bring them up to speed on the basics? How about a video series, an intro call from a staff member, or something that actually coaches the new member about things they need to know, based on what they’re looking to get out of the association? A well-informed (or coached up) new member is an engaged and retained member. This is great news for your association.

    basketball kids playing member engagement

  2. Everyone finds engagement and satisfaction in their own way, and that’s ok. Half the time during our basketball games, my son and his little buddy on the team whispered into each other’s ears about Pokèmon, their favorite pastime. They couldn’t care less that the person who they were supposed to be guarding on defense was dribbling unabated to the hoop for a short shot. Even with my yelling  urging to “stay between your player and the hoop,” they kept discussing their Pokèmon card collections. They were having fun and finding satisfaction with basketball in their own way, yet weren’t very engaged in the actual playing of the game. A coach’s dream (sort of!)

    In the same way, only a small percentage of our members will ever become volunteers. An even smaller number will serve on the board of directors. As staff, we often think the ideal way for members to show their engagement and satisfaction with their membership experience is by serving the association. But that’s not the reality, and many members are completely satisfied and engaged in their own way, perhaps by getting the magazine and publications, or by attending a networking reception in their local city (where they may have even been whispering about Pokèmon.) We need to understand and embrace the uniqueness of each member’s ideal experience and not assume that because someone isn’t a volunteer, they aren’t satisfied with their membership or interested in the organization’s work and success.

  3. Kindergarten basketball is a place for development, just like associations. On our team, we had a wide range of abilities. One kid was the best in the whole league, while my son and his buddy were more interested in their “discussions” than playing a lot of basketball. Even with their differences, during practice it was clear that each of the kids was eager to get better. And by the end of the season, I can honestly say that they all had improved and developed their skills, thus being more prepared to play again should they want to in the future.

    Kindergarten basketball players are similar to members in that way – they want a place where they can develop their skills. In many instances, young members specifically want to develop leadership skills so they can be more effective and marketable in their careers. An association provides a perfect opportunity for them to do just that. In fact, in my own organization, the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, we are working on a leadership development plan to ensure a growing number of opportunities since we know that’s what our young members crave.

    I’m a big fan of utilizing real world experiences to inform my blog posts, and I firmly believe that in just about every situation, lessons that relate to our work are there for the taking. In one sense, you might say comparing kindergartners to members is crazy. However, you might also think (like I do) that with a creative and inquisitive point of view, there’s much to learn by watching kids and the way they do things. The one thing I still haven’t learned by watching them though… Pokèmon.

Be the first to know about the latest news and events from AMC. Sign up for our bimonthly emails!

Time to Make our Association New Year’s Resolutions

By Bruce Hammond, CAE

It’s that time of year again – time to light the menorah, decorate the tree, and celebrate the end of what was hopefully a fantastic year! It’s also the time when many people make resolutions for the coming year and plan how they’re going to do things differently to make it even better than the one before.

This got me thinking – if wearing our association professional hats, we were to make some New Year’s resolutions for our associations, what might those include?  Here are a few to consider from my perspective:

  1. shoes on streetResolve to walk in your members’ shoes more often. One of the most important things we can do is know our members and the work they do, and I mean REALLY know the work they do. While we won’t ever be experts in their business or field like they are, we should resolve to know as much as we can and be able to speak their language.

    To make this resolution happen means not relying only on the Annual Meeting to see your members face-to-face. Encourage your staff to make member visits, to regularly connect with members by phone and email, and to be active in monitoring what is happening in the industry to be as up to speed as possible.

    My organization, the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology has our staff utilize time when traveling to other industry conferences to see our members. Staff recently traveled to Atlanta for one industry meeting and to San Diego for another, connecting with a member in those cities on each trip. They came back and shared what they learned with the remainder of the staff, which helped us better understand the field and our members’ day-to-day jobs, needs, and challenges.

  2. Resolve to systematically look at your processes and tweak if needed. Piggybacking on the importance of walking in your members’ shoes, oftentimes we do the same thing from year to year, assuming the old way is the best way to do things. I’d actually encourage association professionals to, regularly experience your association like a member would, to see if your processes or interfaces need updating.

    So what does that mean?

    Perhaps at monthly staff meetings, an organization’s staff could go through one process a member might go through – the join/renewal process, the registration for your annual meeting, the nomination process, the awards submission process, etc.

    Ask yourselves questions like, what was the user experience like? Was there a part that was difficult to maneuver that we could make easier? In what way can we streamline the process to simplify it? Is there language we’re using that could trip up a member? Does X, Y or Z need to be a required field for this specific process? The list of possible improvements is endless.

    Just think about how committing to this could benefit your members…

  3. Resolve to consider alternative revenue streams and alternative ways of getting work done. All associations, whether they’re in excellent financial shape or not, should be looking at streams of revenue and how to bring in more of it. As a wise person once said, “Just because we’re not-for-profit doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make money.” By bringing in revenue, we have increased ability to meet our mission on behalf of our members. So think of ways in which you can create additional revenue. Ways such as:
  • Repurposing content from your annual meeting and package it for people who don’t attend.
  • Developing a sponsored webinar series that delivers both member benefit and association revenue.
  • Creating an Industry Relations Council like many clients at Association Management Center have done to build revenue and develop relationships with industry.

There are many ways to benefit from trying something new.

Also, (and I SWEAR I am not writing this because I work at an AMC that provides outsourcing opportunities) I’d recommend you think about how you’re getting your work done in 2017. Do you have the capacity on staff to effectively fundraise or get corporate support, or should you consider outsourcing? Could you use an external partner to help with your governance/board performance? Would it be helpful to have assistance in redesigning your website or your collateral materials? There are experts within our industry who can help with these things, and who might be valuable to consult or work with to enhance your efforts. Consider using them!

So as the holidays approach and you think about your personal resolutions, I hope you’ll also put on your association professional hat (that I hope is insulated in some way) and think about how you can enhance your organizations next year. Good luck and season’s greetings!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback about what resolutions you’re making for 2017! Share them on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/connect2amc.

Who Is Us?

By Bruce Hammond

When reading Seth Godin’s blog post from back in January, Who Is Us?, I got excited. In only four sentences, he spoke volumes about numerous issues associations have had for what seems like forever without ever mentioning our industry.

As simple as it is (it’s only forty-eight words total!), Seth’s post hits on membership recruitment, branding, marketing, and being customer-centric. All of these are incredibly important for associations to be successful today.

Membership Recruitment

Godin says, “…you need to be really clear who 'us' is. Not just who am I joining, but what does it mean to be one of you?”

In other words, WHY should I join YOU (and not the other group who offers similar benefits?) Why do you exist and why are you the best place for me to spend my money/time? Simon Sinek is a big proponent of starting with why, and it’s hugely important in recruiting members.


Is it clear to those outside of your walls what “being one of us” is? Simplifying it even more, is it clear who “us” is to those outside of your organization’s staff and Board? If not, you’ve got a branding and messaging problem.

Looking internally, if you talked to members of your own staff or Board, would all of you answer similarly what it means to be a member of your association? Would all of you be able to clearly articulate why someone should “be one of us”?

If you want to, you should be able to, as Godin says, “build a tribe or a movement.”

Being Customer-Centric

group shot of peopleAgain, in not so many words, Godin speaks to the importance of thinking about the customer/potential member when doing your work. Articulate who you are, why they should join you, and what that commitment means for them. It should be all about them when you’re recruiting and marketing. It should NOT be about what’s in it for you.

In just four sentences, Seth Godin makes a powerful point. While he wasn’t speaking to associations specifically, his forty-eight word post was a powerful reminder for our industry about the need to be very clear about “who is us” and why someone should care.

Bruce Hammond, CAE, serves as a Senior Operations Manager at Association Management Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Other Posts by Bruce Hammond

5 Content Marketing Tips from and Industry Rockstar

Is Failure Absolute?

Three Ideas for Effectively Thanking Members and Volunteers

The Impact of Mobile

Dealing with Disruption and Competition to the Association Industry – A Q&A With Stephanie Mercado, CAE

By Bruce Hammond, CAE, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

On a monthly basis, AMC’s Management Team holds a meeting that includes a generative discussion on a topic of importance to association leaders. This month, the topic focused on competition to the association industry, and the discussion jumped from innovation to risk to Board composition to the speed at which associations make decisions.

Following that discussion, we asked Stephanie Mercado, CAE, who serves as executive director of our client the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ), to answer a few questions on some of the topics that were discussed. 

20160114 Stephanie M 389AMC: In the discussion, you mentioned that we need to be engaging with people who are on the leading edge to help us get ahead of the competition. Can you talk more about that concept?

Stephanie Mercado: Associations are known for convening people who have shared experiences or interests; there is a natural tendency for people to ‘associate’ with people like themselves though an association. The limitation of bringing like-minded people together is that experiences and perspectives are often similar(ish). Associations are wise to do market research to find out the needs of their constituents, but if we only ask the people who we know about what we know, we can limit our organizational perspective and potential. Exposure to outsiders who can offer market intelligence, in advance of market research, is a thoughtful business practice that helps round out insider thinking. Look for experts in your industry, but outside of your association, to offer fresh insights and perspectives to leverage your organization.

AMC: We all realize that Boards are often restricted by size, meaning that some of the people on the leading edge aren’t able to serve. How can associations build a Board culture that embraces the thoughts and opinions of those who are on the leading edge but not currently serving on the Board?

SM: For-profit boards are very strategic about board composition. They enlist board members based on specific criteria, not just for board service, but to ensure the purpose of the seat is achieved. For example, there may be seats designated for CFO-level talent if the organization is in need of savvy insights related to finance or acquisition. Or, there could be a seat designated for someone who serves as an industry influencer. Often in non-profits, board members are selected based on their commitment to service or to the profession. When this happens, the board is not always strategically balanced to support desired organizational outcomes. If your board is experiencing this, one way to expand thinking is to engage thought leaders. These thought leaders can support the board with one-off insights or could be integrated into the board through a director at-large position. The integration and touchpoints depend on what the board needs and with what frequency.

AMC: What are some of the strategies you are using to be sure you’re getting the insights from thought leaders on a regular basis?

SM: NAHQ leaders and I attend industry events monthly. We attend conferences, seminars and meet with organizational peers to keep our finger on the pulse of the changing healthcare quality environment. When the pace of changes outside of your organization is faster than the pace of change inside your organization, there is a risk of irrelevance. Physically attending events and building relationships with industry leaders keeps NAHQ leadership apprised of industry changes and helps our organization prepare to respond to them. My leaders include me in these meetings because they view me as the tie that binds the ideas and relationships together and because as Executive Director, part of my role is to lead innovation and growth.

AMC: One of the concepts that was mentioned in the discussion was that for-profit competitors aren’t bogged down with the bureaucracy of associations and can bring things to market faster than we can. How can associations counter that?

SM: Associations by nature, and generally by design, move slower than their corporate for-profit counterparts. And, as a result, their growth is slower and impact is potentially lessened. This is particularly threatening when for-profit groups begin competing in space traditionally occupied by non-profits: annual conferences, online learning, content development and curation. A key to gaining a competitive advantage is decreasing time to market on products. Associations that are nimble are working differently and the results are impressive. Here are a few suggestions to decrease time to market:

  • Consider making product decisions on a rolling basis so that you are not bound by board meeting dates and annual budget cycles.
  • Develop a standardized product/idea evaluation cycle so that when ideas do come in ‘off cycle’ your organization has a predictable process to develop business plans and assess them with limited variability.
  • Use standing committees sparingly. Instead, opt for ad hoc work groups to develop products.
  • Hire a subject matter expert (SME) from your industry as staff who can help fill in the gaps between staff and volunteers between meetings.
  • Implement 90- or 120-day product development cycles.

AMC: Another concept that was mentioned in the discussion is that associations, by their nature, are risk averse. Boards want to make decisions only after seeing all the facts. How can association executives work to create a culture of calculated risk-taking on their Boards, and why is that important?

SM: When things feel uncomfortable, it’s likely that growth and progress are occurring. And, yet, most associations get into an annual rhythm that is predictable, reliable, and safe. Those same associations are often frustrated with the value the organization is offering to members, and may be experiencing declines in membership. Associations (aka association boards) will take on risk when they have confidence that their decision is informed, when the benefits outweigh risks and when they are sure that they have the human resources needed to complete the task and monitor progress into the future. Tools for informed decisions are product/service development processes, business plans and competency assessments. When it comes to taking on risk, the process is more important than the product. Association leaders need to provide a framework for innovation that advances new initiatives, while respecting the need to make innovation predictable, reliable, and safe.

AMC: When thinking about competition for the association industry, are there any other strategies that you use that help you look further ahead than the issues you’re dealing with now (without consulting your crystal ball)?

SM: Association leaders and executive directors have the challenging role of monitoring today and planning for tomorrow. The larger and/or more sophisticated the organization is, the more likely it is that the leadership can focus on tomorrow – middle management will handle the work of today. There are strategies to monitor trends in the industry. These may include keeping up with reading in your trade/profession, connecting frequently with thought leaders, and keeping up with innovations. The two characteristics that are most important for staying at or ahead of industry innovations are discipline and dot-connecting. Discipline is required to keep an eye on the future. It’s much easier to monitor what you manage, but this does not move an organization forward. Also, dot-connecting is key as it is a tool to help leaders identify trends and relationships between concepts. Dot-connecting helps leaders anticipate the future and to plan for it.

AMC: How often are you looking at the disruption and competition for the association industry versus the competition your own association faces? Can/should it happen more often?

SM: Good association leaders focus on managing the association. Great association leaders focus on understanding and leading their trade/profession and apply that to the association to build a better association value proposition.

Stephanie Mercado, CAE, serves as the executive director of the National Association for Healthcare Quality. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
And if you have any comments on the post, we invite you to take a look and comment on our Linkedin Company Page.

Photo Credit: Speed by snapp3r is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


15 Reflections from the Process of Earning the CAE

By Bruce Hammond, CAE, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

In December, I sat for the Certified Association Executive exam. Thankfully, I lived to tell about it, and as I write the About the Author part at the end of this piece, I get to put CAE next to my name, meaning it was a success. As I reflect on the process, the exam, and the post-exam timeframe, here are 15 anecdotes/recommendations/ideas I want to share with anyone considering taking the exam.

Earning the Credits

1. Identify a goal to take the exam and meticulously track your credits/education. If you are thinking about taking the CAE exam, identify when you’d like to sit, and begin thinking about how you’ll achieve the 100 education credits you need to compile. It seems daunting, but honestly, earning the credits is the easiest (and most fun) part of the process. It’s also important to TRACK your education diligently in a spreadsheet. It’s up to you to know what you’ve done – you can’t count on the organizations where you’ve earned your credits to help you remember what you’ve done.

2. Don’t lose credits! So in my preparation, I had set a goal of taking the CAE exam back in 2010, thus I gathered a lot of credits in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Well, stuff happened and I didn’t end up sitting until FIVE years later, making all of my 40 or so credits from 2008 and 2009 obsolete. Luckily, I stayed involved and gathered more, but I’m still kicking myself a bit for losing credits I had earned.

3. Find easy places to earn them. Your study preparation classes provide credits you can use. Webinars are easy places to earn credits. If you’re taking classes for a master’s degree, many of those count. Think about all of the education you’ve done and submit it. If it’s not usable, they’ll tell you.


1. Develop a study routine and be diligent. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most voracious reader. For me to be able to read all of the content, setting up a routine and a week by week goal was extremely important to my success. And having a supportive family is helpful as well. My wife and kids knew what I was trying to do, and they supported me going to the library in the evenings or on weekends to get my readings in.

2. Find someone to share your experience with. I was lucky to have someone at the office who was interested in taking the exam as well, so we formed a study buddy relationship where we would get together once per week and review. While she ultimately decided to wait to take the exam, it was invaluable to me for accountability and assistance.

3. Just the studying is really valuable. The amount of information I gained in areas where I don’t spend my time every day is really valuable. I am a more well-rounded association professional because of the studying I did for the CAE.


1. Stop studying about three-four days before the exam and try to relax. So I downloaded the cram chats from ASAE’s Collaborate and took a look at those, but I literally stopped studying around three days before the exam. I was not going to retain anything else, and frankly, I was a little burnt out from the previous 10 weeks of studying. It was time to relax and let what I learned sink in. This was the best piece of advice I received from people who had taken the test before me.

2. Briefly look over notes the day before. I did take one final look at my notes the night before the exam, but only to get things back fresh in my head before the next morning. It was not a cram session, but a light look at the material I needed a little refresher on.

3. Stay in a hotel the night before to eliminate as many distractions as possible. I live around 30 miles west of the test site, so I decided to get a hotel room in the city to avoid any potential traffic or transportation issues the morning of the exam. It was an investment that I could not recommend more highly if you live in an area that has the potential for traffic/transportation issues.

The Exam

1. Have the right mindset. I went into the exam with the mindset of “I’m confident, but this is not the one and only chance I have to pass this test.” It’s important not to get psyched out about it, and to be confident that you know the material. Ultimately, you can take the exam as many times as you need to, so stressing isn’t a valuable use of your energy.

2. The exam is different than any I’ve ever taken. Most of the questions are experience-based “If X happens, what would you do?”-type questions. You need to be able to apply the concepts rather than just be able to pass through rote memorization. I had never taken a test like this before, and it was difficult, but trust your studies and experiences.

3. Some of the tips/shortcuts that helped me the most were: SPIE (Scan, Plan Implement, Evaluate), LERP (Legal, Ethical, Reasonable, Practical), the option to spend money is typically not correct, asking legal counsel is usually a good response, polling the members is always a good idea, and volunteers should talk to volunteers and staff should talk to staff when issues arise. Antitrust is a big part of it as well, so know about it and the laws that govern it.


1. Immediately post-exam, celebrate! I walked out of the room not having any idea how I did. In my mind, there was a chance I passed and a chance I failed miserably. My Dad happened to be in town the weekend I was taking the exam, so after getting my luggage at the hotel and driving home, the first thing we did was go to a local brewery so I could celebrate/decompress. After 10 weeks of studying that culminated in 3.5 hours of intense thinking, I thought I deserved a beer. You will too. Do it.

2. Share your experience with others. When I got back to the office, the few people who knew I was taking the exam immediately asked me what it was like. I talked through it probably five times the following Monday, and it was helpful to reaffirm concepts I thought I knew, and to find out what people thought about ones I thought I missed.

3. Be prepared to wait for your results. So yeah – the waiting for the results stinks. ASAE tells you it will take between 6-8 weeks for you to receive your results. For me, it took 7 weeks and 6 days. The last week was excruciating, but luckily I was prepared. I encourage you to be prepared as well.

Ultimately, studying for and taking the CAE exam was an incredible experience, and I encourage all association professionals to at least go through the process of studying. It will make you a better professional for your association and your members. If I can provide any thoughts or ideas, please feel free to reach out at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bruce Hammond, CAE, serves as Senior Manager of Corporate Marketing & Communications at Association Management Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Have any comments on this post? We'd love it if you share them on our Linkedin Company page.

Other Posts by Bruce Hammond

5 Content Marketing Tips from an Industry Rockstar

Is Failure Absolute?

Three Ideas for Effectively Thanking Members and Volunteers 

Ask the Management Team - Question of the Quarter

By Bruce Hammond, CAE, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

On a quarterly basis, we ask our executive level leaders (our Management Team) to provide their insights on a pressing question for the association industry. Here's the next question and answers from a subset of our leadership.

What would you tell a young professional who asks you “what are the one or two most important skills I should master to be successful working with volunteers?”

Jeff Engle, AMC Principal

I think one of the best things a young professional can do to be successful working with volunteers is to gain a better understanding of what it is like to be a volunteer in a professional organization. My advice is to serve as a volunteer. It’s important to serve in an organization that is run by professional staff rather than one that is completely reliant on volunteers. The goal is to have a “volunteers experience”, to learn what you, as a volunteer, can expect and appreciate about good staff support and leadership. As a volunteer, you are needed for your content knowledge, perspective, and experience. You rely on the staff for administrative support, project management, and to do everything possible so the volunteers can be successful in their assignment. Building a strong volunteer/staff relationship hinges on having a great understanding of the roles for each.

Marilyn Jansen, Director, Marketing & Business Development

You only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure your first encounter with the volunteer is positive, be friendly and dress professionally. If there is any question, err on the side of being dressed up rather than being too casual; it lets them know you care and volunteers love that! Also, listen very carefully to fully understand their needs/goals. Volunteers come and go but you are the constant, however they may not remember that. You may have heard it all before, wanting to jump in with a response to solve the problem, but be patient and hear them out before you answer. When they feel heard it enhances their volunteer experience and allows you to deliver ultimate value.

Karen Nason, CAE, Executive Director, Association of Rehabilitation Nurses

Two important skills young professionals should work on to be successful working with volunteers are project management and clear communication. For project management, it’s important to have an understanding of the outcomes you need to achieve and the timeframe required. Then you can draft a detailed plan, identifying who will do what and when. Reviewing existing processes or plans with the outcomes and deadlines in mind to determine if anything has changed since its previous implementation, if there were suggestions for improvement by the last committee or staff liaison, or if the ultimate goal has changed, are also important.

With this complete project plan in hand, your chances for clear communication have already increased. Clear communication should start with the chair of the committee or workgroup to ensure you and she/he have agreed upon expectations. If possible, a call with the chair or volunteer lead is important to establish a strong relationship. The telephone is also an excellent tool if there seems to be a miscommunication brewing since there’s nothing like the immediacy of real-time feedback to clear up misunderstandings. Plus, picking up the phone creates a more human connection. 

Phil Saigh, MA, Executive Director, American Academy of Pain Medicine

Two very important skills that will help staff in working with volunteers are the following:

Trust: Work to develop trust by establishing realistic expectations and then meeting or surpassing them. In the rare case that you see yourself poised to fall short of an expectation, be sure to advise the volunteer leader while there is still time to do something about it. The volunteer will learn to count on you if you’re true to this.

Honor their relationships: Remember that volunteers are likely to have some relationships with one another outside of the association relationships that are apparent to staff. It is important to honor those relationships as those relationships will usually influence decisions that volunteers make. If we recognize this, we are in a better position to account for these.

Stacy Sochacki, MS, Executive Director, Certification of Disability Management Specialists Commission and American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers

It is very important to for the young professional to understand that volunteers have a “day job” and their volunteer experience is usually not their first priority. It would help if staff could visit a volunteer in their workplace to understand what they do in their day job. Meeting volunteers where they are is a valuable experience that can enhance future interactions. This perspective will heighten the staff’s sensitivity to a volunteer’s time commitments on the job and definitely help the staff member when working with volunteers on specific projects. The other tip is determining what specifically the staff member can do to make the volunteer successful and enhance their volunteer experience. Being able to adapt to various styles of the volunteers is extremely important and will set the staff member up for success as well.

Chris Welber, MBA, Executive Director, North American Neuromodulation Society

I would say one of the skills someone should consider mastering is diplomacy. When working with your board(s), you’ll encounter a myriad of opinions and ideas on different matters and it will be important to make sure that everything is considered with appropriate perspective. I find this useful when trying to lead or weigh in on discussions where some opinions tend to be louder or more forceful than others.

Previous Ask the Management Team Questions:

What is the issue that will affect the association industry the most (either positively or negatively) over the next decade? 

To learn more about the AMC Management Team, please visit the Our Experts section of our website. 

5 Content Marketing Tips from an Industry Rockstar

By Bruce Hammond, CAE, Senior Operations Manager

She may not have the name recognition of Beyonce or Dave Grohl, but in the content marketing world, Amanda Todorovich is a real rockstar. She is a regular presenter at Content Marketing World and other large industry conferences, and was named a Direct Marketing News 40 Under 40 recipient in 2015. And that’s in addition to her day job – leading the content marketing efforts for the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world’s leading health systems.

Last December, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage at the Association Forum Holiday Showcase with Amanda (who also happens to be a college classmate of mine) where we talked about Cleveland Clinic’s content marketing efforts, and how associations can turn some of her strategies and tactics into content marketing success.

In prepping for the session and then facilitating the conversation with her, I was able to whittle down how they have been so successful into five tips for associations in creating an effective content marketing program.

1. Articulate a content strategy.

Cleveland Clinic’s content strategy is very simple: Engage users in daily conversation using health, wellness and clinical content that is unique to Cleveland Clinic. They’ve boiled down their content strategy to one sentence. Amanda mentioned that is valuable for a few reasons – it is a roadmap for the type of content that they should (and shouldn’t) be posting, and having it in writing is an opportunity to share it regularly and consistently with people who participate in writing for their blog. As a resource, take a look at this post from Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, about creating a content marketing mission statement.

2. Have your customer/member/reader top of mind all the time.

Amanda and her team have created Judy – a fictional 60-year old grandmother who is an avid Facebook user and who makes the majority of the medical decisions for her family. They go into much more detail into this “person’s” psychographics (even going so far as to creating a Pinterest board for things that Judy might like). This is the person who is top of mind in every piece of content they produce, and is who they create every piece of content for. By spending the time to create this “person” and ensure they understand her, they ensure they are crafting content that will be read and gain traction. So what does your main persona look like? Who are you trying to reach?

3. Your blog is just where your content goes. The “marketing” piece of content marketing is more important.

Your blog is essentially just a container. It’s where you put the content you create. The real success of your strategy comes from getting eyeballs on that content. Doing so means utilizing a variety of strategies to get it in front of your target audience and knowing where and how they like to consume the kind of content you are producing (more in #4 below). Amanda and Cleveland Clinic got the vast majority of their traffic early on using Facebook as the place to post. They knew Judy was on Facebook looking at her kids and grandkids’ photos, connecting with friends, etc. So they invested in building their following there and they saw tremendous success. Today, their #1 traffic source is from Search Engine Optimization, which is an important tool to ensure you’re being found in search engines.

4. Fish where the fish are.

A question was asked near the end of the presentation from an audience member regarding whether his organization should be on social media platforms where he wasn’t sure if his members were interacting. Amanda’s response, which after she said it seemed a little obvious, was that you don’t want to be the first somewhere hoping that you can convince others to come join you. Why be on Twitter if your target audience isn’t there? You’ll be wasting a lot of time marketing your content with little potential for success in reaching your goals. Do your research to find out where your customers/readers are now, and invest time and resources in helping them find your content there.

5. Constantly use data to inform and enhance your efforts.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway I got from my interactions with Amanda was the incredible importance they place on data and using analytics. And for a 20-person content department with a large budget, interestingly they only use Google Analytics and the free insights programs provided by the social platforms they are on. They invest very little money, but a great deal of time in learning about what works/doesn’t (through A/B Testing), as well as finding out when is the best time of day for their specific audiences to engage with their content.

By following these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to launching a new hit content strategy, and perhaps one day you’ll be seen as the Beyonce or Dave Grohl of association content marketing. 

Bruce Hammond, CAE, serves as a Senior Operations Manager at Association Management Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Have any comments on this post? We'd love it if you share them on our LinkedIn Company page.

Other Posts by Bruce Hammond

Is Failure Absolute?

Three Ideas for Effectively Thanking Members and Volunteers

The Impact of Mobile



Our Top Five Posts of 2015

By Bruce Hammond, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

The year 2015 was a good one for a number of reasons – not the least of which here at AMC is that we launched our blog and began developing and publishing our own unique content on our own website. With more than 220 staff members, there is a lot of leaders within our walls, and we are now better able to share their expertise more consistently with the association community.

So with that being the case, we though we would share our top 5 most trafficked posts on our site since our launch. Take a look and let us know what you think on our Facebook or Linkedin pages. 

1. Seismic Shift – How Workforce Changes Will Alter the Face of Association Membership in the Next 10 Years 

Written by the Director of our Catalyst Consulting team, Sue Stock, this post discusses the impact the generational changes in the workforce will impact associations. Included are the importance of thinking about “customers” when cultivating and retaining members, as well as how the engagement model needs to change in the future to attract millennials to our organizations.

2. Five Considerations When Rebranding Your Association 

An excellent primer from Louise Ristau and Liz Giannini from the Awards and Personalization Association, which went through a renaming and rebranding in 2015. Their considerations included engaging with volunteers, communication tips, checking your inventory, and considerations surrounding the launch. If you’re considering going through a rebranding process, it’s a must read.

3. Ask the Young Professionals – Question of the Quarter 

We compiled the responses from 10 of our young professionals on the question If one of your friends was considering joining the association industry, what would you tell them is the best thing about working for associations? Their responses speak to the impact that can be made by association staff members, and what makes our industry unique.

4. Ask the Management Team – Question of the Quarter 

In the first of what will become a regular series of asking our Management Team to answer a big question for our industry, we asked them to answer What is the issue that will affect the association industry the most (either positively or negatively) over the next decade? The responses received spanned technology, diversity, generations, the economy and relevance. It provides a snapshot into the thoughts of senior association leaders on the issues that need to be addressed over the next decade.

5. 12 Content Marketing Terms to Know

June Pinyo, a managing editor on AMC’s Creative Media Services team and lead of the company’s internal Content Management Users Group, penned this glossary of 12 terms to know if you’re interested in content marketing. She discusses a number of important tools in this bookmark-worthy post.

Thank you for reading the blog and for engaging with AMC! We hope you’ll continue to do so in 2016 and in the future.

Is Failure Absolute?

By Bruce Hammond, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

In the vast majority of cases, especially in the association industry, the answer is no. While we may not always hit our goals, the overwhelming likelihood is that we haven’t completely (and absolutely) failed.

This idea piqued my interest and got me thinking when I recently read a post titled Certain Failure on Seth Godin’s blog. In the post, Seth talks about how in everything we do, we are certain to fail to some extent, and that we need to accept that for what it is as we push toward making an impact. Failure is certain, but rarely absolute.

So let’s think about how this manifests itself in the things we do every day as association professionals. We aren’t going to convert every prospect into a member, which means we failed to some extent. We aren’t going to get every person to whom we market the annual meeting to register. Failure! We aren’t likely to get every member who is eligible to sit for our certification exam. How can we even get out of bed after that failure?

In the purest sense of the word, they are “failures”, but would any of us really consider them so? Not likely.

So let’s up the ante a little… What happens if we fail to achieve one of the aspects of our strategic plan? Did we fail to hit our goal? Yes. Is our organization still better off because of the progress that was made toward it? Likely, yes.

It’s unlikely that we converted zero prospects into members, got zero registrants for our annual meetings, or had zero of the members eligible to sit for the certification exam. It’s also unlikely that we made absolutely no progress toward our strategic plan’s goals. That would be absolute failure, and it rarely happens in our work.

So even though we can and should be frustrated when we don’t meet our goals, we should also take heart to know that we are making progress, having success toward achieving our mission and goals, and moving the association forward.

So as I close, let’s flip this concept on its head for a moment. While we may not always hit our goals or achieve our strategic aspirations that the Board and leadership lays out, in likely every one of those situations there has been not only failure but success. As you do your daily work, think about all of the successes you are having and keep pushing toward your goals.

While some level of failure is all but a certainty, in most cases, so is success.

Bruce Hammond serves as Senior Manager of Corporate Marketing & Communications at Association Management Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Photo Credit: "Do not fear failure" by Tomasz Stasiuk is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


Ask the Young Professionals - Question of the Quarter

By Bruce Hammond, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

As we have done with our Management Team, we have plans to develop questions for our young professionals to answer on a quarterly basis. Here’s our first question, as well as answers from 10 AMC young professionals.

If one of your friends was considering joining the association industry, what would you tell them is the best thing about working for associations?

Emma Thompson, Digital User Experience Coordinator, National Association for Healthcare Quality

We have many volunteers that we get to work with and they make our work meaningful and rewarding. The people that have passion and drive and share the mission of the organization make interactions and day-to-day work enjoyable and exciting. With such a wonderful group supporting the organization, we can’t help but be successful in fulfilling our mission and elevating the profession we serve.

Mason Good-Turney, Member Services Representative

It is so diverse. One moment you are helping a trade client the next you are speaking with a doctor. You never know who you will speak to and how you can help them. It makes for a very exciting day.

Brendan Sugrue, Marketing & Membership Coordinator, National Association of Neonatal Nurses

My favorite thing about working in the association industry is the opportunity to wear many hats. Coming out of college a few years ago, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do and how I wanted to utilize my degree. The association industry allowed me to work in many different facets, from working with volunteers on an upcoming conference to developing email marketing campaigns for new resources that benefit members. Every day is a new adventure and you really are able to see your work make an impact.

Allison Whitley, Operations Coordinator in AMC’s Professional Relations & Development department

I would say the best things about working for an association are definitely the people and the ability to make a difference to critical industries. The association staff are some of the most service oriented team players, and the industries we support are critical to the medical and trade professions. The work in the association industry helps members’ careers develop and aids in field innovations, while also connecting individuals, thought leaders, and industry with one another. That is rewarding to help facilitate.

Val Good-Turney, Account Administrator, National Frame Building Association and Metal Construction Association

I would say the best thing about working in associations is you really do get to help them “achieve what they believe.” Association leaders are volunteers, so their actions are driven by passion and the desire to expand their industry and that industry’s knowledge base. On another level, I think what’s great is that you get to wear a lot of hats, so to speak, when working with associations. In one day you might be assisting with a membership strategy, planning a conference, organizing meeting and registration logistics, communicating with volunteers, developing sponsorship opportunities, or processing invoices for vendors. You get so much exposure into this developed market, and gain a lot of valuable skills/work experience.

Jennifer Broome, Grant Development Coordinator in AMC’s Professional Relations & Development department

The best thing about working in the association industry would be the diversity of subject areas that you are exposed to. There truly is an association for everything. In my position, I work with multiple associations in several different industries. My day is never the same. One day I’m learning about different drugs that pharmaceutical companies have in their pipeline to assist with pain management. The next day, I’m learning about different safety standards in the post-frame building industry. Before working at AMC, these were industries that I either didn’t know much about or know of their existence.

Karl Kofmehl, Application Developer in AMC’s Information Technology department

Working with non-profit associations is both challenging and rewarding. Innovation and creativity are important to move associations forward while staying on tight budgets. This can be particularly difficult for a young professional. Generally speaking, we bring in new exciting ideas, but can often have difficulty implementing them. It takes hard-work and perseverance to keep up that struggle but the rewards come from the appreciation shown by the members and the relationships forged with colleagues. So if you love a challenge and love working with good people, the association world is calling.

Allison Lundberg, Account Manager, Hospice Medical Director Certification Board

The best thing about working in associations is the people. Not only the culture within the workplace, but also the volunteers within the associations. Our volunteers, members, and customers are extremely passionate about their niche and dedicate a lot of time to bettering their industry. Every time we have a board meeting, the volunteers reaffirm why I work where I do.

Olivia Schmit, Education Administrator, American Association of Neuroscience Nurses and International Transplant Nurses Society

As a young education professional, I never would have pictured myself getting the opportunity to work so closely with passionate nurses. Working with associations allows you use your skill sets in a diverse setting that you might not have been exposed to previously.

Amanda Duski, Meetings Coordinator

The best thing about working in the association industry is the closeness you feel to the end product. The work we do directly impacts the association members and their field, and you can physically see that by looking on their website, attending their annual conference, emailing volunteers, etc. You actually feel like you are making a difference, and that is a unique benefit you can only find in the association industry.

Three Ideas for Effectively Thanking Members and Volunteers

By Bruce Hammond, Senior Manager of Corporate Marketing & Communications

It's that time of year again – time to eat some turkey and pumpkin pie while watching the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions play in their annual Thanksgiving Day games. But Thanksgiving is also a time where we should do as the holiday’s name instructs – give thanks – to our friends and family, to people who have helped us, and for those of us in the association community, to our volunteers and members.

To be the most effective and genuine, giving thanks to volunteers really should be an ongoing process, not a once a year project. At the same time, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to purposefully set aside time to do so.

So how can we best do it? Here are three ideas for effectively giving thanks to members and volunteers:

  • Make it personal - Don't just give them a certificate. Make it something they're really going to enjoy. If you don't know what your volunteers are going to enjoy, you're not working closely enough with them (or you haven't documented enough)...
  • Make it regular - Don't wait until the end of their service to thank them or give them something to show them how much you appreciate them. Develop a system that ensures that you are doing so on a regular basis. Send regular notes. Send regular updates about something you know they are passionate about within the organization. Decide to be intentional.
  • Don’t be stingy - I use Thanksgiving as the perfect time to send a regular annual thank you to everyone who has made an impact on my work throughout the year. I use a template but personalize each person's note for something specific they've done to help make my job easier or how they've made an impact on the organization. Imagine the impact that could be made if everyone on your staff did something like this.

As we think about thanking and recognizing our members and volunteers, we need to realize it takes time and dedication. It needs to become an integral part of our culture. We MUST devote time and energy to keeping track of those who need/deserve praise and thanks, and our organizations (and leaders) must embrace that. If they don’t, the positive things and continued engagement that comes from really energized volunteers - those who feel the love and want to give it back – will not be realized. You see, when you recognize volunteers for their work and reward them for effectively serving in their role, they are more likely to continue working hard on behalf of the organization.

So what are you going to do to thank your members and volunteers this Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts on how your organization does it. Please take a moment to head to our Facebook page and comment on the post or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Bruce Hammond serves as Senior Manager of Corporate Marketing & Communications at Association Management Center. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Image Credit: “Thank You” by Jen Collins is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ask the Management Team - Question of the Quarter

By Bruce Hammond, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

On a quarterly basis, we will ask our more than 20 executive level leaders (our Management Team) to provide their insights on a pressing question for the association industry. Here's our first question and answers from a subset of our leadership.

What is the issue that will affect the association industry the most (either positively or negatively) over the next decade?

Karen Nason, Account Executive/Executive Director, Association of Rehabilitation Nurses

I think the continued stagnating economy will challenge most segments of the association industry. Without an increase in discretionary spending dollars for consumers, nonprofits and commercial entities are all vying harder and harder for the same dollars. We see this in my association where employers are not paying for membership, continuing education, or other resources. The professionals in our target market have to pay for these things out of their own pocket. We talk so much in the association community about providing value to members and customers, and we all try to do just that. However, the cost to create a great offering often makes the end product too expensive.

Phil Saigh, Account Executive/Executive Director, American Academy of Pain Medicine

I believe “relevance” will continue to be a critical issue for associations. Many of the offerings that once made associations distinctive (information, networking with peers, and a chance to participate/ volunteer) are now available through so many other means…often without a dues invoice attached. I believe that associations are being forced to confront this reality or risk losing relevance. And while I don’t pretend to know what associations should do in this “brave new world,” I believe that one of their core strengths has always been to gather and convene parties with similar interests… and therein, perhaps, lies their continued relevance.

Marilyn Jansen, Director of Marketing & Business Development

The retirement of the baby boomers is perhaps the most significant issue that will affect the association industry the most over the next decade. It has been reported that 70% of association members will retire by 2021 – that is only 6 years away and that 62% of board members are over the age of 50. With that said, the 80 million boomers in the workforce are keeping associations alive. The 100 million Millennials are in place to step in and fill the void but associations have to think differently to attract and engage these individuals. For example:

  • There needs to be more of a personal invitation to attract younger members because they hate to be sold to, are in debt, want relationships and don’t join out of obligation.
  • They want tangible career development; 60% of Millennials are unemployed/underemployed and they are tens-hundreds of thousands of dollars in college loan debt. They want to develop practical work/career skills that were not taught in college and many feel their degree has little value.
  • Because of being underemployed and in debt, they desire cost savvy engagement options.
  • They want micro volunteer opportunities because they do not live to work like the Boomers did.
  • They want rapid board involvement because they are capable and will not wait around until they have “paid their dues” like the Boomers.
  • They want technology: mobile friendly access, collaborative social media, on demand entertaining education.
  • They do not want to be marginalized as being young.

This situation can be a negative or a huge opportunity if association professionals have the courage to think differently. I prefer to think of this as an opportunity but we can’t keep on doing it like we always have if we plan to survive!

Michael Bourisaw, Director of Professional Relations & Development

How can associations stay relevant to a changing workforce that seeks information in different ways and who may not value the current membership model?

Joan Kram, MBA BSN CAE, Account Executive/Executive Director, American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, American Board of Neuroscience Nursing, and International Transplant Nurses Society

The generational transition from boomers to next presents both opportunities and challenges for organizations. The preferred communication channels have already shifted and will continue to shift. The challenge of effectively communicating and engaging members of all generations will continue to impact organizations (positively, negatively or both depending on how an organization approaches the challenge.)

Stephanie Mercado, CAE, Account Executive/Executive Director, National Association for Healthcare Quality

The pace of technical change will affect associations tremendously, particularly because associations are generally not well funded to keep up with technical innovation (through IT itself or staff competencies to be on the leading edge) and because outdated governance models enable a slow and political decision making process that limits change and innovation.

Steve Smith, MS CAE, Account Executive/Executive Director, American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine

Increasing diversity within our member communities and professions offers both the greatest challenge and opportunities for associations. The days of “one size fits all” member programs and services are nearly behind us. We need to find new ways to attract and engage people based upon who they are and what they need. That requires association leaders to be nimble, sensitive and welcoming to members with various identities – both personal and professional. Our in-person events and online presence should reflect greater choice, customization and appeal to people early and late in their careers as well as those who are often overlooked, underserved and therefore, unrepresented.

Do you have any thoughts you'd add to what our Management Team had to say? If so, please take a moment to comment on the post on our Facebook page 

Five AMC Staff Members on 2015 Forty Under 40 List

By Bruce Hammond, Senior Manager, Corporate Marketing & Communications

An impressive FIVE Association Management Center staff members were named to the association industry’s 2015 Forty Under 40 list, sponsored by Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE News.

The Forty Under 40® Awards recognizes 40 up-and-coming association or nonprofit professionals who are under the age of 40, demonstrate high potential for success in leadership roles and exhibit a strong commitment to the association management profession.

This year’s AMC recipients include:

amanda web


Amanda Belknap, senior manager, marketing & membership development (client: American Pain Society)


liz web


Liz Giannini, senior operations manager (client: Awards and Personalization Association)


stephanie web


Stephanie Mercado, account executive (client: National Association for Healthcare Quality)


emily web


Emily Muse, communities and programs manager (client: American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine)


jordan web


Jordan Wildermuth, health policy and advocacy manager (clients: Association of Rehabilitation Nurses and the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association)


According to AMC principal Mark Engle, DM FASAE, “Here at AMC, our staff members are our biggest assets, so when they are recognized for their efforts we are extremely proud. These five emerging industry leaders are very deserving of the honor they will be receiving, and on behalf of AMC’s more than 220 other staff members, I’d like to congratulate them on this outstanding recognition.”

This year’s Forty Under 40 class will be honored with profiles in an upcoming issue of USAE’s weekly newspaper and during the Association Forum of Chicagoland’s Holiday Showcase to be held in Chicago this December.

Including this year’s group, eight AMC staffers have now been named to the list in its first three years.

The Impact of Mobile

By Bruce Hammond

As we worked through our website redesign, I took a look at our site’s Google Analytics to get a wide ranging understanding of our site’s traffic.

It was a really great exercise to help me get a handle on how we need to be thinking about content moving forward.

One of the biggest takeaways from when I went back to 2011 and did an analysis of the types of devices being used to access our content, was that mobile and tablets are exploding. It shouldn’t have been a surprise I guess.

Here are the numbers:

Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of people accessing our site by a tablet went from .02% of our traffic to 5.3% of our traffic. Additionally, those accessing our content from a mobile device went from 4.7% to 13.6% of our total traffic.

While I wasn’t a math major in college, even I can figure out that adding those together, our share of traffic coming from mobile and tablets rose from 4.72% in 2011 to 18.9% in 2014.

So what does this mean for us and how will it inform our efforts? Here are three ways it did so already and will continue to do so:

  1. It was imperative for us to design the site responsively. Meeting the needs of that fast growing segment of people accessing our content on the go is incredibly important, and by designing the site responsively, the content will look great no matter what kind of device they use.
  2. Content needs to be considered from a mobile-first mindset. As we move forward with the creation of our content for the site, we are asking the question “how will the experience be for someone accessing it on a mobile device?” That’s an important shift in our mindset.
  3. Sharing this information internally with our client teams, we have been able to help them critically look at their data and analyze the impact mobile is having on them. That allows them to have more informed conversations with the Boards and volunteers about how they create content for their own sites in the future.

While mobile’s impact on associations isn’t new, regularly looking and comparing to see how it’s impacting your group is important in understanding how you can take steps to improve your online presence. It certainly helped us!

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Do you agree? Disagree? Are there things we’re missing?


By Bruce Hammond

It’s an exciting time for AMC—we’ve launched our redesigned website!

The site’s redesign was the result of an amazing collaboration between departments at AMC, and it would not have been possible without the work of our Creative Media Services and Information Technology teams.

How is the site different than our previous one? We made significant changes to better the user experience. In fact, the site now features

  • responsive design which makes content easily accessible on all devices. We’ve seen a major uptick in traffic from mobile devices on our site so this was a necessity
  • images of AMC staff members doing the work of our client associations
  • Web-optimized content to allow users to more easily digest our messaging in bite-sized chunks
  • a Thought Leadership blog providing engaging information for the industry created by AMC staff leaders
  • case studies that showcase the successes we help our client partners accomplish
  • an expanded Careers section providing prospective employees with a sense of what it’s like to work at AMC.

We are excited that you’re here and welcome any This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. you have. The site will be change regularly, so we hope to see you back soon!