Spring Cleaning is for Associations, Too

Best Practices : Article

Most of us know the routine from our personal lives: as winter breaks and the warm weather appears, we get the urge to clean up a bit. We tackle that hallway closet we’ve grown somewhat afraid to open. Or we contemplate an attack on the overcrowded garage, rekindling the dream of one day getting the car back into it. Such spring cleaning efforts are important because they force us to take the time to remove clutter from our lives.

Spring cleaning projects are also highly recommended for associations. Unlike on the home front, though, the focus of associations in their seasonal cleanouts should be around content and programs, not necessarily material goods. (Although it never hurts to thin out those stacks of outdated tradeshow brochures or the giveaway bags with the association’s old logo on them.) Like many organizations, associations tend to apply strategic direction and goals on an additive basis. That is, they continually look at the challenges facing their members and their industry and create new programs and work items to address them. Most times, the group’s existing programs and activities continue as-is even while a slate of new work is introduced. While such forward planning work should always be applauded, such net-additive efforts tend to simply expand the universe of activities that require volunteer effort and staff or vendor resource. What tends to happen, then, is that either previously running activities start to get impacted by the dilution of focus and resource, or the newer activities don’t get the right traction because there are too many competing priorities.

So what’s the best approach for an association spring cleaning? In general, your organization shouldn’t feel the need to pull up a trash dumpster and start tossing programs into it. Instead, groups should use their spring cleaning time to sort through their programs and activities carefully, keeping the ones that deliver the most value to members or which have the most potential impact on achieving organizational goals. As for the work items that don’t meet these thresholds, it doesn’t mean they should all be thrown away. Instead, they should be examined closely in the light of day and evaluated against the organization’s current strategy and goals. Some activities can keep going as they were. Other may see their focus or approach adjusted or optimized. Some activities may be stopped if they’re clearly not adding value or, conversely, draining resource or focus away from key priorities. Perhaps most importantly, a spring cleaning effort should not introduce pressure to act. After all, just as when cleaning the garage at home, even if you don’t end up throwing anything out, there’s always value in taking everything out even just to give the garage floor a good sweeping.

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