Vote Closed: Who’s Your Favorite Association Innovator?

Last summer, we asked you to tell us about association “innovation stars,” and you did. Now, it’s decision time: Who should appear in an Associations Now cover story?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The poll has closed.  Read below to see the content, along with final vote tallies. Read our upcoming issue of Associations Now to see the best and brightest Innovation Stars!

The editors looked for programs or products that took a creative approach to a problem, addressed a specific need of members, staff, or the public, and yielded positive results.

In the home stretch of this year’s election season, we have a different sort of vote in mind for you.

Last summer, we asked you to tell us about the association “innovation stars” you know. You sent us some impressive examples. We’ve narrowed the field to seven for your consideration as candidates for a special cover package to be published in the February 2013 issue of Associations Now.

We promise: No campaigning. No commercials. No debates. Just a simple “ballot” describing our seven finalists. In choosing them from among the submissions, the editors looked for programs or products that took a creative approach to a problem, addressed a specific need of members,  staff, or the public, and yielded positive results in the form of enthusiasm in the community or, where possible, measurable revenue or growth.

We’re not revealing the innovators’ identities just yet. For now, we’re asking you to focus on their ideas. We can disclose that the seven hail from around the country and from associations both large and small.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in: Which innovator belongs on the cover of Associations Now?

Cast your vote in our online survey by Wednesday, October 31. We’ll feature the top three vote-getters—including their names and faces—in our February special issue. And please share this link and encourage others to vote: the bigger the crowd, the better the crowdsourcing!

The results won’t determine the future of our country or launch the next big musical sensation, but they’ll help us share some great stories—and possibly spark your next innovative idea. Vote now!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The poll has closed. At final count, the top three vote-getters were Innovator 4, Innovator 6, and Innovator 3. Read below for descriptions of the candidates.

The Winners

Innovator #4
A global governance system spanning 121 chapters in 40 countries

Total votes: 268, 1st place

Category: Governance

Why is it important? Associations that aim to become truly global organizations will likely find their traditional governance systems must adapt to accommodate a diverse, dispersed membership.

Innovator #4 has set an example by leading the association in building a governance system that gives its eight regional councils decision-making authority and the freedom to determine strategic direction and allocate budget resources accordingly—all with the goal of improving member value.

Now in its third year, the new structure has improved relations between the association’s global board and its regions. An added bonus:  The regional volunteer roles (each region has 10 volunteer positions) provide a training ground for future global board members.

Innovator #6
An interactive public education campaign

Total votes: 231, 2nd place

Category: Communications

Why is it important? Innovator #6 created a multifaceted public education campaign designed to address specific public concerns over this association’s industry by encouraging community engagement, education, and a pledge for personal action. The campaign leverages social media interaction and video to turn the public’s fear of the unknown into fact-based understanding.

Innovator #6 provided the campaign’s creative direction, recruiting and interviewing real people to be featured in the campaign, supervising editing and post-production of the video series, and integrating social media strategy and an interactive website designed as an engagement portal.

Innovator #3
A “freemium” membership model

Total votes: 39, 3rd place

Category: Membership

Why is it important? As associations stress over the sustainability of traditional membership models, Innovator #3 has set an example for other associations to consider.

In 2010-11, this innovator led the association in converting its membership structure from a primarily paid-membership model to one in which more than 90 percent of “members” join for free. Highly engaged members can join as a premium member with a few VIP benefits, though the dues rate for this class remains lower than the previous standard membership rate.

In the 18 months since the switch, the association’s membership base, now called its “community,” has increased by 400 percent, and revenue—driven via events, sponsorships, and education—has remained steady.

Other Candidates

Innovator #1
Easy-access data in real time

Total votes: 10

Category: Membership

Why is it important? Innovator #1 maintains an intense focus on membership value, ensuring that the association emphasizes doing things for members that they can’t do effectively themselves. It’s moved all of its technical training online and created an online benchmarking platform that gives members real-time financial data to help them make management decisions. This innovator is responding to members’ need to be served online in real time and satisfying their demand more granular, actionable data—efforts that have helped its net worth grow tenfold in the past seven years.

Innovator #2
A for-profit research and development subsidiary

Total votes: 38

Category: Business Development/Innovation

Why is it important? This association helps members develop innovations of their own through its for-profit R&D subsidiary. The need is particularly pronounced in this industry, in which the traditional business model has been upended by the internet in recent years.

Innovator #2, who heads the initiative, promoted a “failure-tolerant” culture, educated members about the essentials of innovation, and developed web-based monitoring tools to help them track the marketplace and develop responses. Today, when an association’s industry can be quickly disrupted by a surprising new market force, this innovator shows why making innovation part of members’ DNA matters more than ever.

Innovator #5:
Member “town hall” meetings across the country

Total votes: 11

Category: Membership

Why is it important? After noticing lower-than-expected customer service and member satisfaction numbers, Innovator #5 created a town hall series focused on reconnecting with members at the grassroots level. As of this fall, the association has held seven town hall meetings at member facilities in different regions of the country.

Attendance has ranged from 50 to well over 150 people, many of whom say they now have a better understanding of what the association does and how it can improve. The series also sparked an increase in the organization’s customer-service and membership-satisfaction scores by eight to 12 points, and the association credits the program with raising member-retention rates.

Innovator #7
Staff classes on the association’s industry

Total votes: 7

Category: Staff Development

Why is it important? To foster better staff engagement within the association, which represents a trade with a high level of industry-specific knowledge, Innovator #7 created in-house classes to help instruct and inform staff on the intricacies of their members’ industry.

Drawing on the expertise of industry insiders on staff, this innovator organized a fun, educational, and hands-on series of discussions and activities. The three sessions held so far have been “sold out” and received excellent evaluations from participants. Similar projects could be helpful to other associations where the staff is not primarily composed of industry professionals.

(TMG archive photos, Shutterstock)

Julie Shoop

By Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop is the Editor-in-Chief of Associations Now. MORE

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