Canadian Society of Association Executives Puts Its Cards On the Table

As part of ongoing work to improve its business model, the association went out on a limb and launched a crowdfunded campaign to garner support for a new board resource—a BoardReady Card Deck to help improve nonprofit board effectiveness.

There’s a lot of experimenting going on at the Canadian Society of Association Executives lately. And it seems to be paying off.

Last week, CSAE launched its first-ever crowdfunded campaign to support a still-in-the-works board resource concentrated on helping association and nonprofit boards operate more effectively.

Both the method of raising support and the actual resource—the BoardReady Card Deck that provides “board ready” information on physical cards as well as a digital repository accessed via a QR code on each card—are part of a series of experiments aimed at improving the association’s business model.

“Everything that we’re looking to do here is around the role of an experiment,” said Michael Anderson, president and CEO of CSAE. “The philosophy we took was let’s do a number of different things. We’re certainly going to be making an investment in those areas, but let’s not blow our brains out and, most importantly, let’s learn from the segments that we’re going after. Let’s get their input. Let’s get them involved and let’s refine and reshape the experiments going forward.”

Crowdfunding then became a way to measure potential support for the card deck, and early indications show there is genuine interest in the resource. The campaign, which launched on the online platform Indiegogo last Monday, reached its goal of CA$7,500 in less than a week.

“I was blown away by how quickly this thing took off,” Anderson said of the campaign, which is now working toward stretch goals, including a U.S. expansion pack that would features cards specifically geared toward U.S. nonprofits and associations.

Everything that we’re looking to do here is around the role of an experiment.

In addition to raising the needed funds, the campaign also created a community through a network of interested supporters who want to work on improving the way boards operate—a key element of CSAE’s business model transition, according to Jeff De Cagna, FASAE, chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, who is consulting with CSAE on its business model transition.

“When you look at boards of directors of nonprofits and associations, [board members] come with different experiences and different perspectives, and what we see with this particular experiment is our ability to help those volunteers fully understand those roles and responsibilities but also balance it against staff roles and responsibilities,” Anderson said.

For example, a difference among members is often an uneven relationship with technology, De Cagna said. “So, a card deck seemed like a good approach for that. Something that gives you the benefit of small amounts of information, consistent with where people are today in looking for very specific and meaningful chunks or micro-chunks of information, and then marry that kind of physical component with the benefit of a digital element.”

There’s also the benefit of being able to add and update information within the digital component, as well as later being able to add additional value in branding online content to specific groups creating more unique offerings.

In addition to the card deck, which will be further developed during a “content jam” in July and planned for distribution to supporters this fall, there is already a BoardReady newsletter and a soon-to-be online community built around the issues of improving board performance.

Each of the experiments CSAE is trying are the result of some deep thinking on the part of the organization as a whole, as well as courage to consider alternative means of doing what they’ve always done, Anderson said.

“Collectively people have to be prepared to do things differently, to take a chance, and to be prepared that if we do fail, we’ll learn from that. We’ll pick ourselves up and keep going.”

Has your association experimented with new products and services or with crowdfunding? Please share your experiences (good and bad) in the comments.

(via CSAE's Indiegogo page)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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