Ctrl, Alt, Belief: How to Reboot Your Association

Fear and doubt can be fatal to associations, but rebooting the way you think about problems (they're actually opportunities) and about trying new things can bring an organization back to life, said leadership consultant Holly Duckworth, CAE, at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference.

Many associations are dying, and not for reasons that are showing up on org charts, balance sheets, bylaws, or policies, said Holly Duckworth, CAE, president and chief connections officer of Leadership Solutions International, at ASAE’s 2014 Great Ideas Conference on Monday.

“Fear, doubt, and lack [of resources] are putting more associations in the coffin than you can even imagine,” Duckworth said. “And all of these things, if we shift our mindset and shift our energy, have common solutions.”

Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and inspire your staff and volunteers to recognize now is the time for a reboot?

How can associations escape the fear, doubt, and lack and stay alive? One solution is to reboot by hitting  “control, alt, delete”—a phrase Duckworth reframed as “control, alt, belief” to help association pros focus on what they believe about their organizations (and because many associations have a hard time deleting programs and services, she said).

Here’s how it works:


First, you want to take control of your attitude and shift it toward the positive, said Duckworth, who tells her clients that they can never have a problem. Problems represent opportunities.

“That opportunity often causes us to do one thing: Step outside of our comfort zones,” she said. “Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and inspire your staff and volunteers to recognize now is the time for a reboot?”

Next, let go of controlling vision statements, missions, bylaws, policies, and procedures. Duckworth gave the example of one association that rewrote its mission statement and condensed a paragraph into three words that more directly addressed what the organization is truly about. “Get a vision and mission statement that your people are excited about,” Duckworth said.

Third, ask for forgiveness not permission. Duckworth gave the example of one association that wanted to reboot its learning opportunities but was afraid of doing it the wrong way. So they put up a note on their website explaining that their next meeting was going to be reinvented in terms of the way content would be delivered, and the note asked attendees to come willing to come “play” with them and share their feedback.

Lastly, let your customers co-create the organization. “It used to be, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Duckworth said. “It is now, ‘If you build it with them, they are already there.’”


Alt is all about looking at alternate solutions. One way to do this is to move from strategic planning to strategic visioning, Duckworth said.

For example, does your organization have a plan, or does it have a dream? Try a visioning activity. Envision what your association could look like and how you would get there, Duckworth said: “Really give people the opportunity to get outside of their comfort zones and have a little fun.”

Next, combine two best practices—two things that work—and create a “next practice.” For example, combine the popularity of gamification with your membership events to create something new. “Have a little bit more fun, and you’ll be surprised at the alternative, creative solutions that can come as a result of that,” Duckworth said.

Finally, beta test. “Create a beta test environment for your members to try new things,” Duckworth said.


Belief means taking the time to examine how you and your members feel, not simply think, about your association.

Ask yourself what you believe about your membership, your leadership, and so on, Duckworth said. You’ll begin to see how those beliefs support or do not support what you want to believe about your organization.

“Once we get clear about what we believe, we can reboot those beliefs and really ignite change in our associations,” Duckworth said.

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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