Monday, January 18, 2016

Make Less Bread

Most association executives I know are working hard to create more butter. Butter in the Bilbo Baggins sense of the word, as this post from Seth Godin's blog recently reminded me.

Bilbo Baggins's great quote about being stretched thin (“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”) reveals a profound truth:

Most individuals and organizations complain of not having enough butter. We need more resources, we say, to cover this much territory. We need more (time/money/staff) to get the job done.

And Seth goes on to argue that there may be more success, not in getting more butter, but in reducing the amount of bread the butter you do have is trying to cover. In other words, do fewer things better.

I agree. But here's another thought, more specific to associations.

Getting more butter typically means asking your members to give more. More money, more time, more loyalty to the mission.

While you're asking them to give more, have you ever considered the impact of also communicating that you plan to do less?

Don't ask for more so that you can add more programs to an already undigestible list of activities. Ask for more so that the association can increase the impact of the programs that are actually working.

Few, I think, are motivated to give more when there is little evidence or understanding that what they are already giving is doing the job. If your members struggle to understand the scope and real impact of your programs, you may want to think about how getting more focused can actually help you get more resources.

Think about it from the volunteer's perspective. If you're going to ask them to do more, it might be helpful to let them know that there is actually less to do.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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