Top Stories of 2014

By Hank Berkowitz • December 12, 2014

Hank Berkowitz, Association Adviser
Hank Berkowitz, Association Adviser

From NextGen to NDR, there are infinite ways to grow and sustain your organization in these challenging times. As our analysis of Association Adviser’s 30 best-read stories of 2014 showed, career development, communication tools, leadership, networking and technology bubbled to the top of the rankings. No surprises there, as these topics are longtime staples of the association content menu. What did surprise us was the different flavors and techniques used to prepare these familiar dishes.





Non-dues revenue, communication tools, membership trends and tech topped the list—but not always in the ways you’d expect. RealLilTweetables

Sometimes the littlest things can yield the biggest results whether it’s staff appreciation, membership development or taking care of sponsors. RealLilTweetables

Leadership, professional development and organizational culture will increasingly occupy our minds in 2015. RealLilTweetables

For instance, we all know how important is to get the best and brightest young minds to join our associations, but how about working for us? That doesn’t get much coverage, but it must have hit a nerve as Katie White’s insightful piece How to Welcome New Staff to Your Association emerged as our second most-read story of 2014. And with the economy and job market improving, minimizing staff turnover is a key objective for association leaders. Sometimes it’s the little things you do that pay the biggest dividends. As Tara Ericson explained in How Cake and Parking Spots Can Increase Productivity “you should recognize staff members’ birthdays and anniversaries even when you have a task list that’s a mile long.”

Career/Workplace Issues

How to Welcome New Staff to Your Association Rank 2
How Cake and Parking Spots Can Increase Productivity 18


Jill Andreu, vice president of content strategy and development at Naylor Association Solutions, said she expects to see more emphasis on retaining members and staff in 2015. She points to the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA) as an organization that has been very effective in this area. “They’re like a big family,” she observed. Andreu also expects to see more emphasis on the power of goal setting. “It’s not just about setting goals for your association, but for your staff and yourself as well.”

My colleague Kelly Donovan Clark predicts members will increasingly expect career services from their associations in 2015. “Associations are in a prime position to help professionals maintain their skill sets and advance their careers with the help of online career centers and networks,” she wrote in today’s issue. That’s especially important because, as Peter Weddle points out in “The Truth About Talent,” the most talented people in your industry or profession aren’t active job-seekers. They’re “career activists” who don’t really look for jobs, but are “always searching for ways to advance themselves in their fields.”


What Smart Associations Do Differently Rank 6
What I Learned About Leadership from Arnold Schwarzenegger 10


In her work with many associations across North America, Andreu is seeing great emphasis on preparing the next generation of leaders and many organizations are forming “emerging leader groups.” She also thinks more associations will become “Sinek-ish” in the coming years. In other words, they’ll really be digging deep and asking themselves why they do what they do to borrow a page from management guru, Simon Sinek (author of business bestseller Start With Why).

“The worst thing is just doing things the same way because that’s how they’ve always been done in the past,” explained Frank Rudd, president of the Florida Society of Association Executives (FSAE). “We continue to look at every program every year. Is it something that members want? Are they participating in it? Is it something they’re going to be involved in?  See today’s Corner Office Profile for more leadership insights from Rudd.

Association leaders should be good at “connecting the dots,” said Pamela Hemann, president of Association Management Services, Inc. and executive director of Leadership California. “You need to be a really good listener and aggregator of what you hear. It’s the ability to take all those opinions—the variety of things you see happening in the environment—and pull them together in some meaningful pattern or trend. Then you have to bring recommendations and give options.”

Young Professionals

Reaching Millennials (Gen Y) with Mobile Rank 5
What 15-Year-Olds Can Teach You About Content Strategy 7


Andreu expects to see more emphasis on ways that associations can engage young professionals through special events at conferences, age-appropriate roundtable discussions, better university outreach and recruitment, and more.


How Can Your Association Show Members More Love? Rank 13
Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide 16
How Smart Associations Grow Membership 24
Weeding Out Members From Pretenders 25
How Smart Associations Grow Membership 30

Hemann, winner of the 2014 ASAE Key Award for Leadership Excellence, said one of the keys to a strong member organization is “engaging all of the people who have valuable knowledge to contribute to the organization. “A lot of members are out there, and they just need to be asked,” said Hemann. “Sometimes we forget to ask.”

There’s constant and heightened discussion around the membership value proposition, according to Charles Popper, Naylor’s vice president of association relations. “Associations are asking themselves, ‘What is it that I’m trying to bring to the table for my members?’” he said. The competition for associations has never been tougher. Are you combating it in a unique and compelling way?


Are You Engaging Your Meeting Participants? Rank 21
Making Conference Connections 27


According to Andreu, associations will be looking closer at finding the ideal mix between education, professional networking and fun at their events. You need all three ingredients to get people coming back.

As Elsbeth Russell explains in Making Conference Connections, one of the greatest benefits that associations can provide new members and introverted members is making them feel welcome at their events. “You may feel a bit like a DJ at a middle school dance,” wrote Russell, but it really all comes down to planning opportunities to steer your members and attendees toward the middle of the room, toward each other and toward that goal of building a network.”

Joel Turner, an event manager at Naylor’s Global Exchange Events, believes your vendors and associate members will increasingly want to meet one-on-one with pre-qualified buyers in more intimate setting away from the crowded show floor or exhibit hall. See his column in today’s issue for more insights.

Non-Dues Revenue

10 Things You Need to Know About Non-Dues Revenue, Part 1 Rank
Got NDR (Non-Dues Revenue)? 15
Adopting Responsive Design Without Abandoning Non-Dues Revenue 17
10 Things You Need to Know About Non-Dues Revenue, Part 2 26
Need More Non-Dues Revenue? 29


Advertiser and sponsor expectations continue to increase, according to Popper. “It’s not just about delivering ROI on the ‘media buy,’ it’s about helping sponsors meet specific marketing and business objectives. The days of slapping a sponsor’s logo on a lanyard and ignoring them until next year are over,” he said.

Social Media & Communications

Reaching Millennials (Gen Y) with Mobile Rank 5
What 15-Year-Olds Can Teach You About Content Strategy 7
Plan to Succeed in the Magazine Production Process 8
Members of All Ages Less Likely to Be Using Email 9
5 Recommendations for a Winning Communications Strategy 11
Cutting Through the Clutter is Just the Beginning 12
Adopting Responsive Design Without Abandoning Non-Dues Revenue 17
Debunking Five Myths About Google+ 19
10 Ways to Communicate Better With Instagram 20
Turn Your Social Media Goals Upside Down 28


Content strategist Andreu expects more associations to adopt and leverage their Klout scores—a numerical measure of one’s social media influence. She also expects associations to look closer at their content leadership roles. They need to examine the extent to which they’re pushing vs. pulling information and whether they’re making the national media aware of their most important issues.


Incorporating Text Polling at Your Next Live Event Rank 3
Members of All Ages Less Likely to Be Using Email 9
How to Tackle Technology 14
Adopting Responsive Design Without Abandoning Non-Dues Revenue 17


Our latest unscientific reader poll revealed that nearly half of Association Adviser readers (43 percent) believe mobile apps had the single greatest impact on their organizations in 2015 (See Did You Know). As Donovan Clark noted in today’s issue, we’ve now crossed the tipping point at which the majority of Americans now own a mobile device. She said responsive design is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, if you want your association’s website and online communications to be accessible to your increasingly mobile-reliant membership base.

Meanwhile, nearly three in 10 reader poll respondents (29 percent) said cloud computing had the single greatest impact on their organizations this year, and another 14 percent said collaboration tools had the single greatest impact. Andreu agreed, and she said she expects to see more emphasis on productivity tools and on collaboration tools, such as BaseCamp, Dropbox, Google Docs and more.

As Richard May of the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO) observed, “Technology has the stigma of isolating people, but it can actually bring people (i.e. members) closer together.” And that’s something that everyone from small the smallest association to Fortune 500 tech companies is starting to figure out.


Five Easy Ways Associations Can Go Green Rank 4
Advocacy Do’s and Don’ts 22


Clark explains in today’s issue, “Advocacy doesn’t have to mean expensive trips to Washington, D.C., or stuffy meetings at City Hall.” You can take personal and professional causes to the public via running races, community breakfast, blogs and so much more. Not only can it be more meaningful and experiential—a must-have if you’re trying to connect with NextGen members—it can be fun.”

Data & Metrics

View Our Open Polls  Rank 10
Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide 16
How to Gain Strategic Insight from Digital Metrics 23


Andreu said you should survey your membership “early and often” and make the survey process rewarding for members. You should also make members are aware of the power of their feedback. “This stems from a conversation we had with an association that recently relied on a survey from 2005!” exclaimed Andreu. In fact, one in seven respondents to our latest reader poll (14 percent) said that “Big Data” was the one thing that had the single greatest impact on their organization in 2014.

As my colleague Ken Agramonte explained in Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide, “Good research, with good information, adds value to your association, your association’s communications and your members. When members see that you are making a concerted effort to understand more about them and their concerns, the more benefit they see in being a member of your association.”



Wishing you and your families a happy holiday season. Enjoy. Rest up. We have a lot of work to get done in 2015. Think big. Set ambitious goals. But remember, sometimes it’s the little things like birthday cakes and parking spots that produce the biggest results with your team. And don’t forget to measure.

Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser eNews.