Monday, August 6, 2018

We Are Making a Difference

It's not always obvious. In fact, sometimes it feels like you're not making any progress at all. But then, something happens that allows you to see what you've accomplished from an outsider's perspective, and suddenly, you realize that you ARE actually making a difference.

What am I talking about? Eleven years ago the association work for launched an affiliated charitable foundation to help raise money to support outreach, education, and research initiatives in our industry. The goal is to create a better educated workforce. They hired me as the association CEO at about the same time, and I remember being told that I was the CEO of the association AND its foundation after accepting the position. It hadn't even been mentioned during the interview process!

In the early years, the going was extremely tough. No programs to speak of. Not enough donations to fund the experimental programs we were trying to launch. Donors not feeling engaged or appreciated enough for their support. Only slowly, over time were we able to gain an understanding of what needed to be done, construct a strategy designed to provide it, communicate that strategy to our donor base, raise funds, and deploy targeted and effective programs. Any objective measure of our focus and activity today will show a tremendous advance over where we were when we started.

But still, the need is great, and most of the time it feels like we're emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. It's easy to lose perspective on all the good things we've accomplished when the problem we were tasked with solving remains unresolved.

This past week, however, I received a phone call from a colleague. She runs an association like mine and wanted to pick my brain because her association, like mine of eleven years ago, is contemplating the creation of an affiliated foundation to help them better tackle the workforce challenges that exist in their industry.

I'll admit, it was flattering to hear her talk about all the success she could see that we have had. She'd been on our website and had reviewed all of our programs. She had been observing us from afar, reading our newsletters and tapping into our social media feeds. She wanted to get my advice on how they should start and what they should focus on because we obviously knew what we were doing and had driven a lot of success for our industry.

That was good. But even better was the feeling I had when I started answering some of her questions. They forced me to go back in my mind and reconstruct the steps we had taken to build what we had now. And that, more than anything else, helped me see our progress for what is was: substantial and meaningful. Compared to where we were when we started, we -- and the many partners we have worked with along the way -- have made a tremendous impact for our industry.

We ARE making a difference. I don't think I will doubt that again.

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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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