Monday, March 19, 2012

Innovation Circle on Member Engagement

I'm leading another innovation effort for WSAE. If you followed me when I blogged at The Hourglass Blog, you know that I previously chaired their Innovation Task Force, and was the lead author on the White Paper on Innovation for Associations that the Task Force published.

Building on that foundation, WSAE is now launching something called Innovation Circles: informal professional networks where people interested in exploring innovative approaches to specific issues do so and share their experiences with the broader community.

I'm leading one on Member Engagement. Someone else is leading one on Search Engine Optimization. And rumor has it that someone else will soon be leading one on Association Mergers.

My own focus on Member Engagement arises directly from the challenges facing my own association. When I came into the CEO position five years ago, I frankly inherited an association that was already benefiting from high levels of engagement among a group of leaders on our Board of Directors and our key committees. And much of the success we've since experienced is a direct result of their dedication to our mission and their involvement in our activities. However, over the last year or so, we have begun to realize that we are not building an appropriate pipeline of engaged members who are ready to step into the leadership positions of the future. As a result, our momentum is slowing, and we have started looking for ways to engage a broader pool of our members in our activities and the strategic and operational mechanisms that determine and create them.

We've begun a number of experiments--a future leaders group, reforming our committee structure, aligning our volunteer tasks with the professional interests of our members--but at this point they are all just experiments.

The Innovation Circle is an opportunity to share these ideas with peers who are facing some of the same challenges, and to hear from them some of the experiments they're thinking of running in their own organizations. So far, we've been meeting roughly every other month by conference call (our next one is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1) to share war stories and help each other brainstorm possible solutions to specific challenges. It's been productive, but my hope is that we will evolve into a kind of clearinghouse for innovative practices in this area. Each of us will hopefully commit to true experimentation within our own organizations, and use the Innovation Circle to report and disseminate information about the actual successes and failures that we experience.

I think it's safe to say that given the generational, technological and economic changes that are actively reshaping our environment, the question of keeping members engaged in building productive leadership capacity for our organizations is one of the central challenges most of us are facing. As I tackle this issue for my own association and hear what other folks in the Circle are doing, I'll use this blog as an opportunity to share information and add even more voices into the conversation.


  1. Thanks, Eric. I look forward to reading about the evolution of your group. Amy Landis has initiated a fourth Innovation Circle for people interested in member recruitment strategies. Watch the WSAE Connected Community for more information.

  2. Thanks, Ann. We're off to a great start with four Innovation Circles. I'm looking forward to seeing how they all progress.