Association’s “To Don’t” List

Best Practices, CEO Corner : Article

It has been 25 years since the publication of one of my favorite business books, Built to Last, by James Collins. Given the title, it’s appropriate that its lessons have stuck with me for the 25 years since I first read the book.

Collins writes of what it takes to make a company that survives and prospers for more than 50 years. He has examples of companies like Proctor and Gamble, surviving changes like the advent of electricity or the transcontinental railroad. While we still have no real idea what long-term changes will come from the COVID-19 crisis, these lessons still hold true, even as we are all still working from home.

One of the strategies that Collins mentions is the need for every company to have a “To Don’t” list. If you’re operating at full capacity and want to do things on your “To Do” list, you need an equally long “Stop Doing” list. With that in mind, here’s my top 5 “Stop Doing” list items for associations:

  1. STOP thinking of your organization as just a “conference organizer.”

    So many organizations function as “meeting planning organizations that happen to have membership” rather than “membership organizations that have meetings.” COVID-19 has shown us how tough a stable market position can be for an organization. Think of yourself as being in the “information” and “networking” business—a face to face meeting is just one way to do it. Throw away the old paradigms and the world opens up.

  2. STOP running reports that no one reads.

    Particularly in the areas of membership, many organizations think they’re playing a strange association version of rotisserie baseball, with tons of stats on how many left-handed members have dropped out, etc. These stats are interesting, for sure, but just as a baseball game just comes down to the final score, an organization has to identify the 2-3 stats that truly matter, and watch them like a hawk.

  3. STOP worrying about the “doubters.”

    I’ve always liked the “Allegiance” construct for membership. It breaks down eight ways that people participate with organizations. One of the categories it lists is “doubters”—put another way, every organization has people who are there to be doubters and generally be dissatisfied. It’s just their way. What you can’t do is spend your days chasing the doubters—you can spend endless energy there to no avail. When I ran campaigns, I reminded candidates that winning meant that a lot of people will disagree with them. Same for associations—winners know that not everyone will be a member.

  4. STOP holding on to deadwood.

    Whether its staff, volunteers, or even board members, one of the things that can kill an organization is a reluctance to drop deadwood. Jack Welch would cut the bottom 10% from GE every year for a reason—it helped the other 90% grow. Healthy organizations need to do the same.

  5. STOP keeping this list to yourself.

    An organization should be as open with its “stop doing” list as it is with its “to do list.” Members, volunteers and staff need to know where the priorities are—and saying “no” is important to keep priorities heading in the right direction.

What’s on the top of your “to don’t” list?

Featured Author: Andy Freed, CEO, Virtual, Inc.

Andy FreedAs Virtual’s CEO, Andy Freed oversees the company’s client teams, along with the organization’s overall service quality and management practices. He has more than 20 years of experience working with associations, non-profits, and political organizations, and he has managed a wide range of entities, from small startups to multi-million-dollar organizations with members spread throughout the globe. With Virtual for the past 18 years, Andy previously served as Vice President and CIO of the Massachusetts Hospital Association and currently serves on the organization’s board, as well as the Board of Overseers of Wellforce Healthcare. He is a graduate of Harvard University, and he received his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. 


Connect with Andy on LinkedIn.

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