Friday, November 21, 2014

Green – Is it in your Business or Career Plan?

By Nancy Najarian

Whether you are a government contractor looking for new sources of income, an association looking for ways to guide your members, or a frustrated job seeker wondering how to apply your skills to a new type of job, now is a good time to think about green.

The US, state and local governments are moving toward supporting renewable and alternative energy, and energy efficiency through a series of grants, government contracts, and tax credits to individuals and companies. Educational and training opportunities available at community colleges and from associations are becoming more prevalent and accessible. The goal is to prepare a workforce, including displaced housing construction workers and those working in the fossil fuel industries, to take the helm in a green economy. Navigating the opportunities, whether to find a government grant, contract, or retrain your workforce or self can be confusing. Here are a few guidelines with which to begin.

Green Mandate

Green is a mandate for the US government. The General Service Administration’s (GSA) first Chief Greening Officer Eleni Reed told Federal News Radio in an interview on June 15, 2010, "the ultimate goal is to enhance the environmental performance of the GSA portfolio."
- The entire portfolio of public buildings owned and leased by the US government is nearly 10.000 buildings or 361 million square feet.
President Obama’s Executive Order of October 5, 2009 set the stage for the GSA and other federal agencies to implement energy efficiency. Ms. Reed explained that the order, "…sets out specific goals for federal agencies to really drive environmental performance…such as:
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
- increasing energy efficiency,
- reducing water consumption, and
- looking at preventing and reducing waste to name only a few.”
How are the GSA, the US military, and other federal entities going to implement these goals? Are there enough manufacturers, installers, and service companies to do the work? How can you capture a portion of this market in the coming years?

Next Step: Grants to Support R&D, and Commercialization of New Technology and Practices

Currently, the federal, state, and local governments are providing grant money to spur the development of renewable and alternative energy sources, and develop energy efficient practices. These grants are available whether you are an individual, educational institution, or for-profit company. A bigger challenge is to bring the results of R&D to the marketplace, and make the US competitive with foreign sources of renewable energy technology and energy efficient practices. To help accomplish this, Congressman Ed Markey introduced an amendment to HR 2454, American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed in June, 2009. Section 171 of the bill proposed Energy Innovation Centers, “to…ensure that the United States maintains a technological lead in developing and deploying state-of-the-art energy technologies.” Despite differences on Cap and Trade voiced during this month’s Senate debate on Climate Change, the need for “a comprehensive energy plan to address a whole host of issues… incentivizing businesses, providing grants and loans to our businesses…” was recognized. (Senator Brown, The Hill, June 16, 2010).
State grant money flowing from the Department of Energy was at first focused on R&D.
However, these grants are increasingly including an element of commercialization.
Foundations and other organizations with grant money are seeking applications to support the start up, incubation, and commercialization of green services, technology, and products. Grant funds are beginning to flow with the intent of bringing into mainstream business energy efficient practices, renewable energy technologies, and companies and trained workers prepared to support green industries.

Government Contracting, Where the Business Is

The US government wants to set an example of green. A mandate to make energy efficient all the federal buildings in the next five years has tasked the General Services Administration, Armed Forces, and other agencies with sourcing and using green contractors to renovate and retrofit their buildings and operations. Fulfilling this mandate with a nascent US green industry will require a workforce and manufacturing sector that is synonymous with all hands on deck. How do you get on board?
- Begin brainstorming as to how your company, association, or individual expertise can be applied to a government contracting company that needs to branch out into this area.
- For a nominal fee begin courses to learn how to transfer your company’s design, construction and/or renovation experience to retrofitting and renovating government owned and leased properties.
- Investigate online the building associations, both national and local, that are offering green certification programs. These programs train individuals in methods, materials, and designs for creating energy savings, using energy efficient practices, and incorporating renewable energy technology into residential and commercial facilities.
- If you are a resourceful person who has advised companies on other managerial, financial, tax, and operational matters consider transferring your skills to advising on green. Companies large and small are seeking ways to reap the benefits from tax credits, federal and state grants, commercial rebates, and green certifications.
One word of caution when embarking on this new venture, do conduct due diligence on any person, company, or educational organization offering you knowledge, licensing, or technology labeled green. Just as in any new industry, you can have good, bad, and so-so experiences. Make yours a good one.
It looks like green, both the color and concept, may help brighten the future for us all.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Helping Your Board to Be More Effective: Five keys for high-level governance

By Virgil R. Carter

Despite the great diversity among non-profit organizations, we all seek effective governance by our boards.

A critical starting point is to recognize what a vital resource time is. Recruiting new board members is challenging because volunteers are concerned about drains on their time. Governing well is critical because a board’s time together is limited. Thus, how you and your board use your time matters.

No one wants to be associated with a governing board that is unsure of its role, unproductive, boring, or contentious. Effective (and enjoyable) governing boards tend to be forward-looking, and provide the maximum effective (and enjoyable) leadership, especially when time is limited. Effective boards tend to focus on the one role that they, and no one else, can fulfill: organizational strategy and priorities designed to fulfill the organization’s mission. What are strategic boards? Strategic boards spend the majority of their time identifying broadly important outcomes, setting priorities, ensuring needed resources and monitoring the way the staff and other volunteers implement major initiatives designed to achieve the desired strategic outcomes.

Here are five steps volunteers may take for an effective, productive, and rewarding governing board.

1. Define success. Establish and practice a shared definition of organizational success. No matter how well an organization may perform in any 12-month period, if it can’t perform effectively year in and year out, it can’t really be called a successful organization. Thus, success has a lot to do with organizational consistency and continuity over time.

2. Understand your core assets. Every organization has core assets. Typically they include: 1) knowledge, 2) community, and 3) advocacy. These are the resources for an organization’s accomplishment of its mission. Volunteers and staff must be strategically focused on the welfare of core assets that cause members and customers to value the organization.

3. Think the unthinkable. Ours is a rapidly changing world in which we face unprecedented competition. To remain both up-to-date and competitive, focus on and prepare for the unthinkable—both opportunities and threats. Effective boards consider the one thing that would most revolutionize their organization and the one thing that would most jeopardize it. Thereafter, boards focus strategically to realize the opportunity and head off the threat.

4. Set priorities and monitor them. Resources are always finite—there are never enough. So develop strategic priorities and communicate what is truly important. To maintain a strategic perspective, boards must think in terms of what is important, not how to achieve results. The staff and others of the organization’s operational side are the ones to be held responsible for executing the action.

5. Establish a respectful staff partnership. The professional staff of an organization offer important resources—so important that it may be impossible for a board to be truly strategic without them. For example, staff members may have access to knowledge, contacts, and resources that may be unknown to a board. The staff is uniquely positioned to help develop and implement a definition of organizational success that’s built upon consistent performance, year after year.

Effective boards are both enjoyable and productive where it matters most: achieving the organization’s mission.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Associations as Investments

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

There’s a saying coined by the French — "the more things change, the more they stay the same." It’s a phrase that, until recently, didn’t apply much to the association world. Outside of perhaps the church, associations were among the only dependable islands of stability in a sea of social and economic change. Association members were loyal and leadership turnover was slight. Associations were, to paraphrase the theme song from "Cheers," places you could go where everyone knew your name.

Those days started to fade during the merger and acquisition frenzy of the 1980s and were definitely relegated to the history books with the arrival of the global economy a decade later. A few years ago, a roundtable conference was held entitled, "Evaluating Trade Association Membership." Executives from major corporations compared notes on how each determined which associations their companies joined. It was fascinating!

All had a similar story. Their budgets had been cut, forcing them to reduce the size of their staffs. And their budgets for association memberships had been cut as well. One executive of a very large corporation reported that her budget had been cut by 30 percent, so she simply told all the associations her company belonged to that they would be cutting their membership dues contributions by the same amount.

Another executive had a different approach. Five years ago, he had a staff of 15. Now that number is reduced to three, yet his company expects him to do the same job he did before with a staff that was five times as large. He saw the company’s association membership, which he controlled, as a way to help him do his job. In fact, he had constructed an "association report card" that helped him evaluate how well an association served his and his company’s needs. Those associations that "failed" were simply cut from the list. Those that "passed" received an additional infusion of funds — depending on how well they scored.

This executive said he used the report card he had invented as a tool for evaluating his company’s "investments" in trade associations. In this era of highly publicized, lean, innovative start-up companies that are aggressively seeking and creating new markets around the world, even those of us who don’t have a dollar invested in the stock market are beginning to know the difference between a good and bad investment.

As nonprofits, associations have long held that they "do well by doing good." Now even this truism has changed. More than ever before associations are not only being compared to for-profit companies, they are competing with them as well.

What association has not had to adapt to some or all of the following trends? For-profit corporations increasingly contributing to and participating in cultural, environmental, and civic causes — subjects that were once the exclusive domains of nonprofits. For-profits attracting away the employees of nonprofits with salaries and benefits packages that are many times more generous. And, for-profits making in-roads into education, training, and certification that all used to be reserved for nonprofit organizations.

Companies, like individuals, are increasingly reluctant to pay dues to a membership organization. They will pay to attend conferences, to purchase books, and to obtain advice; or they will pay for education, training, and certification — but don’t ask them to pay for something as intangible as "membership." Those associations have done best that have succeeded in increasing the ratio of nondues to dues revenues. Many of those that are struggling have not. Associations are becoming providers and sellers of products and services — just like commercial companies — and this, too, is further blurring the line between for-profits and nonprofits.

Many associations are finding that they need to rethink the very reason that they exist. Indeed they should. Their members are. With our economy making ever increasing demands on us, all of us are having to become more circumspect about where we invest our time and resources. Whether we are conscious of it or not, all of us have our own "report cards" in which we evaluate where we invest and where we cut back our investment.

As an association executive, where would you place your association? Are you a "good" investment?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Opportunities in the Face of Declining Membership How to Survive While Dealing with Industry Consolidation

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Like the animated cartoon figures that keep on running on thin air over and past a cliff, until they suddenly realize there is no longer any ground underneath them, assns often continue functioning in a "business as usual" mode until they realize their traditional membership support is not coming back.

While it is funny watching the expression on cartoon figures' faces change the instant before they drop like rocks, it is not so funny watching the decline and fall of assns. As an assn leader who might be faced with declining membership due to mergers and acquisitions, what, if anything, can you do to avoid this fate?

First you should be reassured that your assn is far from being alone when it comes to declining membership. This nearly universal decline in membership, for trade assns and professional societies alike, is due to four overriding trends:

1. Over the past two decades, a globalizing economy has led to increased levels of mergers and acquisitions in virtually every economic sector. Companies are seeking increased efficiencies and are trying to better position themselves to serve and compete in new markets.

2. Technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate causing whole industries to disappear.
Computer leasing is one industry that was thriving in the 1960s, ¹70s and ¹80s when computers were huge and expensive. Now that computers are pocket-sized and affordable this multimilliondollar subsector of the leasing industry disappeared virtually overnight. However, technology is also creating new industries (such as in healthcare with the MRI and PET scan equipment manufacturers and users).

3. As a communications vehicle, the easy to use, inexpensive, and instantaneous Internet has made networking, education and training, business transactions, marketing, and the exchange of ideas affordable and available to virtually everyone. Faced with this reality it is not unusual that the value and relevance of traditional assn membership should be increasingly called into question.

4. A generational aversion to "joining" borne of watching the upward and downward ties of loyalty dissolve between employer and employee. Many younger staffers believe that loyalty does not pay and financial security is based on networking and having and maintaining the skills set and credentials needed to be relevant in a rapidly changing economy. Among many in the younger generation there is perceived to be no intrinsic value in joining an assn; you buy what you want and move on, even if it means paying a nonmember price.

These trends have certainly created a changed scenario for the assn world, but not a totally bleak one. Despite what is happening to the majority, some assns are actually seeing their membership grow. Some assns have indeed benefited from these trends and increased their membership by pursuing niche strategies. Others seem to have resisted the laws of physics and have grown their programs, publications and finances despite declines in membership.

The niche approach includes growth through acquisition - picking off competing assns that have fallen on hard times - or by creating a new assn to serve the needs of a new growth sector in the economy. This approach is not long-term focused - tactical, not strategic. A strategic perspective is needed if an assn is to enjoy any sort of security beyond the next few years.

Managers must realize that while the four long-term trends present undeniable challenges, each also present "critical opportunities" (I use the word "critical" because, to adapt a phrase from "The Godfather," these are opportunities you can't refuse!):

1. Business consolidation is a reality that will continue for the foreseeable future. Rather than pinning their futures on diminishing membership numbers, assns that are thriving are seeking to make themselves indispensable for what they can do that for-profits cannot.
Assns can serve as liaisons between government or the public-at-large and private sector interests; compile industrywide statistics on business, social, human resource, and other economic trends; design and promote professional and manufacturing credentials; and serve as a resource for continuing education and training.
Some assns, seeing declines in their traditional US market, are designing globalization strategies of their own - taking their considerable store of intellectual and financial resources into fast growth markets abroad where sister societies have yet to take root.

2. The pace of technological change will only continue to increase, as will its impact on business and professions. Assns that have adapted best to this have made the change part of their culture.
They annually undertake top to bottom strategic planning, and identify emerging trends.

3. The Internet's impact simply cannot be underestimated. Assn publications are now available through the Internet. Education and training programs, virtual conferences, and networking through listservers and chat rooms are also important services assns can provide. Online testing and certification services are likely to follow. If your assn is not on this train, it should be!

4. Assns that are growing the fastest are measuring growth by users/consumers of products and services and not members. Rather than trying to fight this trend of declining membership loyalty, successful assns have defined themselves according to the market they serve and taken steps to ensure they serve it well.