Turbulent Non-Profit, Positive Community
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Here we headbang with Mike Moss, Strategy Catalyst for Non-Profits and momentum creator for positive change. Few professionals don’t belong to some not-for-profit association in one way or another. You might belong to a more formal one that is a governing body for you, like the Society for Professional Engineers. Or you might be a member and follow a group in your community like Creative Mornings. Whatever your affiliation, these organizations have a big influence on how we work, how we define success, and how our industry will evolve.
Turbulent Non-Profit, Positive Community
Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the Positive Turbulence Podcast, Stories from the Periphery. Here we journey to the edge to talk to Turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick, your co host. Today, we’re headbanging with Mike Moss, Strategy Catalyst for Nonprofits and Creator for Momentum for Positive Change.
There are a few professionals who don’t belong to some not for profit association in one way or another. You might belong to a more formal one. There’s a governing body for you, like the Society for Professional Engineers. Or you might be a member and follow a group in your community like Creative Mornings.
Whatever your affiliation, these organizations have a big influence on how we work, how we define success, and how our industry will evolve.
Karyn Zuidinga: Hi, I’m Karen Zinga, your co-host. Mike is here to tell you that there is a big change on the horizon to be more mission and experienced focused. Before you tune out and think that doesn’t apply to you as an innovator, take a beat and consider how much more brand focus or customer needs focus we’re seeing in the consumer good side of the world.
The changes Mike is seeing are likely changes happening to your association too. The vocabulary is just a little different. This is a periphery most of us don’t pay much attention to, but we should, because it is where we get our training, where we network, how we make new connections, and they influence our priorities.
Rob Brodnick: The Positive Turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI, an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals. You can learn more at aminnovation. org. Also would like to thank Mac Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor.
To hear our theme song, Late Night Sunrise, and other great music, visit macavenue. com.
Karyn Zuidinga: Mike, you are a strategist in the association world. You help associations. Drive their strategy. Is that correct? Actually, let’s just back it all the way up to that. What the hell does that mean? From a non association world place. I don’t know what that is.
Rob Brodnick: What do you do? Yeah, what is the association world?
What is the association industry?
Karyn Zuidinga: What does that mean? Like, I, I look at it, oh yeah, you know, there’s some conferences and things I go to and, you know, I guess I belong to an association here or there, but I don’t pay that much attention to it as a person in the world. So why do I care and what is it that you do?
Mike Moss: Great question. 28 years ago, I took my first association job and had no idea, same questions, I had no idea what it was. I knew it was the first people willing to hire me out of college. And give me money. So that was the first place I had to get a job. And from there, I learned about C6 tax filings. I learned about governance structures and I learned about all the mechanics of association management right out of the gate, since we weren’t incorporated when I was hired.
So there was a learning curve right out of the gate where no one was really prepared to help me because this was. Pre Google. This was walk down to the college library and find a wonderful person to help you, which I did. From there, the journey has taught me a lot, and there’s a lot to do with, are you community service based, professional service based?
I know the impact that can come from associations is often in the background and always societal forward. And I think that’s the piece that I’ve also learned over the last 28 years is that we don’t tell that story very well. Every time I move into a new neighborhood, the first question is, You do what?
You work for a non profit. And I know what they’re thinking is, How in the heck did you afford to buy a home, a car, a family? They’re like, You’re a non profit. How do you possibly support yourself? Your question is great because it really comes from, Well, first, we’re here to impact the greater good. And secondly, we run a business.
And our business is helping people do better. Whether it’s their profession, their community, themselves, their faith. Whatever that nonprofit is structured to do, our job is to impact the greater good and make everything. Better.
Karyn Zuidinga: So there’s been a model shift from what we all think of with bake sales to something else.
But what something else is that model shift? What are we talking about now? I get, yeah, okay, we’re running a business. I’ve had touch with a few nonprofits along the way in the last while. But they still don’t seem that business y
Mike Moss: to me. The shift that we’re undergoing as an industry, I think, is that we’ve gone from the lapel pin identifier saying, you know, I am a SCUP person, or I am a ASAE person, and I wear that as my professional identifier, to one of community.
So that there’s a big arc in there that includes the whole membership continuum. But as we move forward, that impact of community, I think, is the biggest shift that our industry is undergoing. And I don’t think it’s fair to say that millennials won’t join, therefore there’s no membership. I think that’s a false construct.
The understanding of how we have a greater impact and mission is through community, not just through membership. So there’s a, there’s a larger philosophical shift, I think, in how we can accomplish our non profit missions that has driven this community connection. And it definitely serves the paradigms of the younger generations better for their participation.
Rob Brodnick: expand on that question, Karen. For thinking Venn diagrams here, we’ve got our non profit world, but even within the large non profit world, the association world is a smaller group, and they have a particular nature and mission. Mike, how would you characterize the association world versus the nonprofit world and and what are some of the similarities and differences perhaps?
Mike Moss: Perhaps the biggest difference is just that community good versus professional support. For example, my wife and I participate in some community groups. They are nonprofits. It is bake sale driven fundraiser driven to provide money to schools and grants for teachers. So that’s that more non profit model where it really is just running for greater good.
No staff, no buildings, no certifications.
Rob Brodnick: Schools and churches and all of those kind of organizations that many people belong to.
Mike Moss: Soccer clubs and all those things that are really contributing for community betterment, right? And those things are super important.
Rob Brodnick: They operate as a non profit. They get tax breaks from the U.
S. federal government. They have to serve certain kinds of missions, whether it be education, research, spiritual, all of those different kinds of things, following the non profit. But, as you were saying, the association world has some kind of tie to professional life, in a way.
Mike Moss: So warehousing.
Karyn Zuidinga: and I, and as I was coming to the studio today, I passed the Nurses Union building, and that would be a different professional association.
Mike Moss: We start to define ourselves beyond just making a certain part of the community better to a certain part of our industry vertical supported. Oftentimes through lobbying as well.
Mm hmm. That’s more the C 6 side. On the C 3 side, it’s professional development primarily. Right. And so both, both C 3 and C 6, we all do, all the associations to have some form of professional development, but it is to a narrow sector of service. And for
Karyn Zuidinga: the non association people, and maybe for the non Americans in the audience, like me, when 3s and C 6s and so on, those are tax designations that
Mike Moss: are,
Rob Brodnick: IRS, yeah, tax code
Karyn Zuidinga: definitions.
Yeah, the IRS things. If you’re listening in from another part of the world, you can just like blot that out and think about non profit tax
Mike Moss: status. We don’t pay tax on our revenue. Regardless of how you couch it in your location, we don’t pay tax on our revenue. Okay.
Karyn Zuidinga: Good. That, and that’s the definition really of a not for profit.
You’re making money, but you’re not making money to pay taxes on. You’re putting all that money back into whatever that organization is.
Mike Moss: All goes back from mission support. Correct. You, you serve a group of stakeholders, not shareholders. That’s a huge difference globally is that we are supporting that stakeholder group by reinvesting all revenue and profit into mission, not into The profit of the participants.
Rob Brodnick: There’s a fine point that catches people off guard. Non profit doesn’t mean non revenue. The image in a lot of people’s eyes about non profits and associations, professional or other, is that, oh, we’re poor. My eyes opened as I got deeper into the association world, and I learned, for example, that the NFL is a non profit.
National Football League. Oh! The president or chairperson or whatever the head honcho is of the NFL is the highest paid…
Mike Moss: Right, and the beauty of this whole construct is that if there’s one association to support you, there’s four. There’s multitudes of versions of how to support an industry, and it’s, it’s very rarely one siloed pillar of support.
Karyn Zuidinga: Right, and why do you call that the beauty of it? Because, because to me that just all of a sudden felt really like, oh man.
Seriously, who do I
Mike Moss: tune into? The future of where we’re going, to Rob’s earlier question, where is the arc changing, is the specificity of being mission defined. We all deal with scope creep in our lives and mission creep in our, in our daily work. But I think that what I’ve noticed in our community is that we’re starting to really be careful and stay on those guardrails of the delivery of our mission.
And that actually is more attractive to the generations that are coming through. Is being, you know, that mission centric community inclusive, having experiences around that together. What’s great about that is there may be two organizations doing planning for higher ed, for example, while the outcomes ultimately may be the same, that an institution develops a successful strategic process.
How we get them there may be materially different, and your culture may ask for a different process as opposed to everyone using the same. Yeah. I see. The reason I think it’s beautiful to have competitors, actually, right? Yeah. Is that it challenges everyone to keep in mission and to develop that cultural centric delivery that that audience gravitates to.
And you can’t serve everyone. It’s an impossibility. But you can serve more if you stay within those guardrails.
Karyn Zuidinga: As you were talking, I started reflecting on an article I was just reading about the shift in the organizational dynamic. Rather than this linear, I want to climb to the top dynamic. What people are talking about now, particularly in the innovation space is don’t worry about the nodes.
work on the connections, identify that emergent idea, whatever that thing is that you’re, you’re going to, and find a way to connect to that emergent idea, to build your connections around that emergent idea, and you’ll find yourself progressing up anyways because your connections are stronger, your network is stronger around that particular idea.
And that seems to be a very prevalent idea, and that seems to me, I was feeling, oh my god, there’s a big parallel here with what you’re saying, Mike. Is that true?
Mike Moss: Here’s where I went with that. I think that’s a beautiful description is that the way it was taught to me is that it’s the, the sound of music is actually between the notes, not the notes themselves, music arguably can follow that linear progression up and down as you go through the measure and all that.
But it’s the sound that happens in between that takes up space and gives you more pathing than just following the notes. And so I think that’s the, what you articulated there, I think is exactly what we should be doing. For example, I listened to heavy metal exclusively. Yeah, I
Karyn Zuidinga: read that in your bio.
Mike Moss: That’s crazy. There is no way you’re going to talk me into chamber music. It ain’t going to happen. However, I respect that that chamber music exists, and if we both follow those patterns, we will end up with similar outcomes with different processes to get there. You know, assuming that the music brought us to a common outcome.
Ah. That’s why I think the association community is really going to continue to thrive more in the future with more competition. Perhaps it means more smaller associations, more regional thinking. Who knows? We tend to want to be the international behemoth over time, and there’s, there’s value in that too.
But what if? What if the sound between the notes allowed for more innovative, creative, and mission aligned discussions that impacted more people more frequently? Wouldn’t that be an interesting construct? And maybe that would lend itself to more local connections. How
Karyn Zuidinga: common is this in the world? I’m not seeing this.
Mike Moss: No, I think it’s the emergent aspirant thinking to some degree. I’m encouraged by the fact that the cohort that I’m involved with, I have been in this industry a long time, have friends in all different types of nonprofit and association verticals. This is becoming a common conversation with the challenge of implementation.
The challenge with implementation speaks to the other side of the association equation, which is, I have at my current position here. We have a staff of 20. I have 19 ridiculously good colleagues trying to do the work of 100 people, but I have literally hundreds of volunteers from within that commitment to SCOP and that membership that actually are doing a substantive amount of work while they have day jobs.
So that the big challenge for us is if we’re going to take that innovative pivot where we’re not just following the notes and we’re starting to find these new constructs. It’s going to take the work of the volunteers to come on board with that. And that would mean some governance changes. We would have to look at the whole governance structure of the associations differently.
We might be open to a different type of volunteerism that isn’t necessarily tied to certain types of financial commitments. There might be, have to be, some pretty strong challenges to our current construct to allow that to become more commonplace. Yeah. And that is turning the Titanic. So how do you turn the Titanic?
Long before you see the iceberg.
Karyn Zuidinga: But this is the thing, I think, I think that we’re saying the iceberg, like we can all see the iceberg.
Mike Moss: But that’s it, right? What I am encouraged by, and what I don’t think is an anomaly in the areas that I work, is there are more greenfielding permissions now. So people are getting more permission for project greenfielding, where they’re like, here’s some funds, here’s those ideas, go see what happens.
Boards are becoming more comfortable that the board of directors are ultimately responsible for funding and resourcing are starting to find some comfort with small successes. And then the sequencing and frequency of small successes in any construct, as we know, starts to lead towards big change. So I do see that there’s a little bit more flexibility in the governance structure as it exists, at least in the sense of resourcing small ideas in small ways, and then leading that to the bigger projects that, you know, typically the big project for an association in the past has been new infrastructure, new software, new platforms, pretty much standard investment.
constructs of, hey man, this might be sliced bread, but let’s just go try one loaf. You guys have X number of dollars to go do that. Let us know how it goes is becoming more common, and they aren’t just keeping the funds to grow for the next big infrastructure change. They’re using the funds now in small increments to drive change in the community, whether it’s product, whether it’s the constructs themselves.
I think that’s encouraging. It’s not going to be enough that everyone can see it yet. Right. But the leading associations in that space are well ahead of the rest of us. They’re in speedboat mode. Can you give me an example of that? There’s a couple medical associations that I am always watching because the medical community tends to move faster for reasons that are obvious.
The medical profession itself, not the health care side, the medical profession side, so stay away from insurance discussions, is moving quickly, right? The technology, the science, the ability to heal, all those things are moving really quickly. So the associations and their credentialing. Or their service has to move comparably as fast.
They come up with some pretty interesting ideas. And there’s a group in Denver who are leading the charge for what essentially is a co op, an ideation co op for nonprofits. And so it would be a chance for associations of varying sizes, varying industries to join as a co op member, to bring ideas that a group of.
Somehow filtered predetermined consultants can build solutions that are then shared within the co op. So it’s very similar to a co op farm in that respect is that we’re all going to take a portion of the yield from the, from the crop based on whatever size association we were, but the ideation for what the plant comes from the community of associations.
Supported by that vendor community at the base of the co op.
Rob Brodnick: Is that just starting or are they off the ground?
Mike Moss: That’s still basically in early beta.
Rob Brodnick: Okay, yeah, because that’s really
Mike Moss: interesting. Not knowing when this will come out, SCUP is in on it, so we’re very excited.
Karyn Zuidinga: Rob, I have said it before but I’ll say it again.
I love AMI meetings. They are so unlike any other conference or professional group that I go to. AMI meetings are an end to end curated experience. They are a thoughtful, connected, influential community. An AMI meeting is peer learning in a super creative environment. I encourage all you innovators, designers, product managers, and strategists
Rob Brodnick: Let me set up a question for you, Mike, and this is a hypothesis that I have. The world is really different now. And I’m going to ask you two questions, and I’m going to give you a little space between them. Then I want you to intersect them. First question is about the shifts in the industry over time, and the second question is going to be about the shifts in the consumer of what that industry produces over time.
So we have the person that has affinity for the association, not necessarily the member, and this is where we can maybe get into intergenerational stuff and all that, but first question first. Tracing the arc of the association world over time, I would say that we’ve seen growth. There was growth in associations, there may have been a saturation.
We’ve seen professionalization of the administration and the leadership, and people running associations are more now like corporate CEOs than I think they ever were. There are a couple of the trends that I know, my limited knowledge of the world, but could you add a few more, some of the forces, both positive and negative, that have come from within the association world or have acted upon it, that had brought us to this time of what I consider to be significant turbulence right now.
Mike Moss: I think part of it ties into one of Karen’s earliest questions in this conversation, which is the whole tax code thing, right? So, you know, I went straight U. S. centric, C3, C6, getting all about it. And actually, I think that is one of the biggest turbulent moments, is that the tax code is still woefully out of date against the missions that we need to deliver.
And so if you look at the construct of the U. S. tax code for the large part of this conversation around the C3, C6, that is based on U. S. tax code. But we’re serving largely a global knowledge network. Whether you tax us or don’t tax us, I think, is a whole separate conversation. But whether or not we have permission on our charters that were written in the 1950s and 60s to expand, contract, and explore a mission, I think, is a challenge.
And there’s this re designation moment that happens where a C3 starts to meet the needs of the community it serves and the IRS challenges its mission alignment and makes it a C6. And what that means is it comes with tax obligations and fines, potentially. So it’s, it can be a significant moment in your nonprofit’s journey.
But that is based on the fact that I think, in my opinion, and many of my colleagues opinions, the tax codes need to catch up with the fact that we’re working on a global, daily changing knowledge base. And so when we were founded, we were founded for networking. We were founded for support way back when, whenever that happened.
And for us, it was in the sixties and it’s been very successful. And those constructs still hold true. What’s changed. is I think that the people coming into the industry now, both as employees and as members or participants, they don’t want to be involved with the little engine that could. They want to be involved with the machine that allows the connections to be made for their knowledge, their network, or their own professional personal success, even if that is as simple as, I want to be a positive contributor to my local community.
They don’t want to be like, that little non profit tries hard. That permission was there for a very long time, and when I started my career, we had that permission to run a good conference. Have a couple of newsletters and that’s awesome and it’s gone way beyond that now too. I need to be able to compete with a knowledge base that’s global, updated daily, accessible on every device that you own.
And we’re not going to do that from just getting out a couple of newsletters and having a really good conference. So the turbulence has come from two sides. In the U. S. it’s going to be a challenge on the tax codes that will have to work itself out soon. And then on the other side is the community that’s coming to your question, Rob.
It’s a beautiful group of learners. They are inherently lifelong learners. They just sometimes don’t describe themselves that way. But they pick up a device to learn something every day. They ask a machine now pretty much daily a question, whether it’s whatever device. And they just expect to be able to absorb that go and next.
And the best example is just yesterday, my son was trying to solve a complicated computer problem. And I’m a technician, so I was able to fix it. But instead, he goes, Nope. And he got out his phone, and he Googled a couple videos, and he fixed it himself in about a half hour. Yeah. And did he learn how to become a technician?
No. He doesn’t have all the dumb credentials that I have from eons ago. He just solved a problem, and he, he could have done that with an association membership or a community involvement, but he didn’t, he just went out to that ever changing daily knowledge base of the, of the world, fixed his problem, and moved on to finish the homework.
So I think that’s the construct. So let me
Rob Brodnick: rewind a little bit. I think you brought up something really interesting and I’m hearing in your words that part of what the association industry does is it serves as a continuing education base. You leave college, you get your degree, you start your profession.
And in fact, in certain professions, if you’re not continually certified and recertified. You lose licensure, you’re not allowed to practice. Lawyers, architects, accountants, doctors, many professions have a symbiotic relationship with an association because the association is providing continuing education, recertification, allowing you to continue your career.
Not every profession is that way. In fact, The world is changing and as you point out so quickly and so dynamically that the knowledge base, we have to learn 7 to 10 times, if not more faster than we had learned in the past just to remain current and relevant. So I imagine that’s a huge stressor on the association industry.
Because higher education institutions are not picking up that gap as quickly as they could. So it’s, the pressure’s on the association world, if you could talk about that for a little
Mike Moss: bit. Yeah, I think you nailed it. I mean that credentialing piece has always been an anchor for many associations. My professional ability to work or to be compliant with the regulatory environment I work in, in some cases those are global compliance requirements.
That’s an awesome space for an association to be in. as long as those technical specifications stay relevant. So one of the biggest challenges, I think, and it speaks to your question, Rob, and I think the Terminator robot that’s coming for associations isn’t anything more than AI. But what AI can’t provide that we can, and that we will continue to be able to provide, is there’s an inherent human AI,
A robot, whatever. That’s great. Those are a bunch of facts that I need to aggregate. The speed by which that has to happen, that’s the turbulent moment for us. We have got to get better at connecting the speed of that information to the beauty of a long time experience. Associations sometimes roll their eyes about their legacy members.
Like, Oh God, Rob’s been a member for 50 years and he still wants it to be like 50 years ago. But what we often forget is the 50 years of experience that he has brought into that industry conversation is massively important to everyone entering the profession. And so they can get the download from the AI aggregated newsletter of all the facts they need to do their job and boy, if they had access to Rob just for 15 minutes to apply that experience, there’s the value of the association knowledge base that a set of facts just pulled from the knowledge base of the world won’t provide.
But that has to happen fast, to Rob’s point, that can’t happen over, wait till next July, Karen, when we have our conference and you can talk to Rob. We have to apply those human experiences to that fast developing knowledge base very, very quickly and that’s very turbulent for us because in the absence of doing that, someone else will.
It may not be an association. Somebody will connect experience to that knowledge base and I think the association space is perfect to do that. But not if we keep talking about it. We have to start experimenting with how to do it. Right.
Karyn Zuidinga: But what kind of experiments can you run? Like, what do you think?
Mike Moss: one that causes the shifting in the seats at board meetings, which is stop talking about membership. So the first construct to break is one of membership. If I have to wait for you, Karen, to decide to join so that I will then serve you to do betterment in the industry, I’ve already lost you.
You’ve already found somewhere else, and I haven’t actually helped the industry at all. We talked about the consensual circles. There’s always going to be a core group of members. They’re awesome. They’re amazing. And then the next ring has to get bigger and more active, which is participation. To start this conversation, it’s not so much the software or the technology behind it.
It’s allowing more people to connect without the burden of… Membership. And I say burden in an affectionate way. I cannot do my job without members. But I don’t think the future association can do its business at all without participation. So that community ring has to be broader than the current construct of either you’re paid or you didn’t, either you pay twice as much or it’s free.
Let’s challenge ourselves to put a business model together and a governance model around that that is a little bit more inclusive. Values that core member, and there’s benefit to that that people would want. And the association is very comfortable operating in that participation sphere. That connects the experience with the information
Rob Brodnick: quickly.
That’s really interesting. And how do you monetize community? Mm hmm. If I think about the associations that I know, 40 percent of their revenue comes from membership, 40 percent of their revenue comes from the events they deliver, and 20 percent comes from other sources. You can change those percentages a little bit, but that probably covers three quarters of the associations out there.
If membership goes away… That sends panic for every executive director out there and board who’s worried about financial sustainability. So what does an association do if they replace membership with X? What’s
Mike Moss: X? I would challenge the industry that I will retire from to figure this out now. Let’s stop pretending, well, I’ll do a slow climb.
It’s 3 percent decline as I figure it out over 10 years is, is let’s stop that. So if nothing else, let’s agree that we’re going to solve this problem now. All right. I got like 19 Apple devices on me right now, right? So it’s not about me being a technophobe. I’m probably overly teched. I don’t think the solution is tech.
I think the solution is actually finding more interesting ways to have people come together to share their experiences, supplemented by technology. It’s not always going to be about technology, but it will be technology enabled, but the driver is still getting people to connect together. And I think if we can figure out a continued pace to do that, Rob, the X is the human connection.
So the innovation around keeping people connected where they feel the value of the emotional connection. Not just the value of having more knowledge than the person I’m interviewing against. The human connection piece is the X. And I think that does come from being open to having more ways to get face to face other than your annual conference or your predetermined for conference a year cycle, be comfortable with your brand.
Being the driver for people to connect, which means sometimes staff and board won’t be in control. And if we would be willing to kind of just step back and trust the community with the brand of that connection, like, Hey, I learned something at scalp and then at a coffee house and they’re throwing your name around, but you have no control over the conversation or the construct.
That’s okay because they’re connecting under your knowledge base in a participatory way for your industry. That’s a huge challenge because we’re like, what if there’s an antitrust conversation there under our brand? We’ll figure it out. I doubt it. They’re trying to solve problems. They’re not worried about the competitive nature of your tax laws.
So there, there’s some interesting things there, I think, in that X Rob that we have to address, which is the. Encouraging your brand to be the human connection, not just your location or your Zoom labeled account. Let them use your brand to connect to the solutions, and I think you will have a longer mission centric viability, because you’ll have more people in that sphere.
Rob Brodnick: Does subscription replace membership in some kind of way? Or is it sort of pay as you play kind of thing? Because it sounds as if you’re suggesting things are going to get a lot more experiential. Absolutely. And it’s about engagement in communities. How does the association generate revenue in that new
Mike Moss: kind of model?
We’ve all been Netflixed, right? Yeah. It’s some version of that subscription process. The streaming services are coming a mile a minute at us right now. And, you know, the price wars are upon us between all the different providers of content. So it’s a common consumer model and members of associations are consumers.
And so meet them where they’re at, meet them, what they understand. We’ve all been Amazon, embrace those models for how you monetize your knowledge. Right? So pieces of our knowledge base should be free and available now to encourage those conversations and maybe some of the tested community solutions that lead to certain things become firewall by subscription, or maybe there’s some really strong golden nuggets still in the membership conundrum.
It has to be monetized, to your point. Otherwise, you know, this isn’t, the knowledge won’t be created for a solution and nor will the connections be made by humans if we aren’t having some central piece. And that central piece needs to be funded. So we do have to figure out how to monetize that, but it probably could be as simple as it’s the Netflix and Amazon model molded together.
It’s available now when you want it, at a price that you can afford, and if you want to commit for longer, hey, we’ll take a rebate over an annual subscription. Membership now says I’m going to prepay you this amount of money for stuff that probably might happen over 12 months, as opposed to that immediacy of, of being able to get what I need with the people I need it.
At that point in time, the subscription model probably has better viability for us. This
Rob Brodnick: pulls us right into the second part of my question. And it seemed like it was a long time ago when I said there were two. But, here we are. And, you know, consumer behavior is changing pretty dramatically. And I think people who consume the services that associations provide.
We’ve got a lot of people that are 55 and older. And I think the second and third waves of the Millennials and the other generations are going to come through their tolerance for certain kinds of membership behavior and other things is radically different from what we’ve seen in the past. Hopefully, this doesn’t mean that the Association.
Revenue model is going to crumble, but the world is going to adapt to this turbulence. So, how do you see some of that adaptation? What are some of the characteristics of new association participants, for lack of a better word at this point? Talk about
Mike Moss: that a little bit. Well, it goes to the false, I believe, to be a truly false construct, which is the Millennials and Youngers don’t join.
They absolutely join, they just subscribe. So some of it is, is that kitchen cabinet of terms. And when I’ve tested this with other younger people, whether it’s family members or friends, membership sounds exclusive, community sounds inclusive. And the generations behind us are super strong advocates in a beautiful way for inclusivity.
So some of it really is pay attention to the terminology of the future. Don’t, don’t be anchored in the legacy language of the past, all in all, on a piece of paper, on a balance sheet, the membership may look like the membership it did before, even though it has a different label on it, but we got to be really careful about how we label these connections.
So I think some of it just starts with be open to changing the language of your association and your brand. Is that community is inclusive of membership and participants and donors and, you know, so broaden your horizons. And off of that, the monetization is going to come from the data overload that we have.
We know what’s being used, we know what’s not being used, we know what’s accessible and what’s not. And associations ability to be nimble to the responsiveness and responsive to the needs of their community is everything. So if I got nine clicks deep for you to get the best paper ever, they’re gonna stop coming very quickly.
Yeah, I got two click tolerance,
Rob Brodnick: right?
Mike Moss: Man, I’m almost at, like, if you didn’t know, I clicked on it. I’m over it, right? So, I mean, and we’re, you know, I got gray hair, right? So… The generations behind me think even faster than that. That’s true. If it didn’t hit the watch before it hit the phone, it’s a problem.
So I think that, that responsiveness to the wishes and desires of your community, that is a technology issue, but it still starts with the human connection. If I don’t know what they want and why, I will never figure out how to get it to them. And I think that’s the first question we need to start. What do people want and why?
Then we’ll figure out the how. We tend to start with the how, with the latest and greatest software of X. Right. Learning management system, association management system, community platform. And we make these huge investments before we figure it out what they want and why they want it. And if we could just flip that question set at the board level, I think a lot of us will move quicker.
That’s part of moving the Titanic to a speedboat. It’s simple, right? Like you guys have been advocating AMI forever. Ask a better question, get a better answer. That’s right.
Karyn Zuidinga: I was struck by the comment around, pay attention to the language of the future. What I suddenly felt when you were saying that was, there’s a, a potential cynicism in here too, where you just change the language, now you call it subscription, but you still behave in the same old way, and you are maybe cynically trying to grab data, without.
delivering the service, right? The thing that is really needed. You know, as I’m asking the question, I’m like, Oh yeah, of course, but that’s the cynical organization who really wants to be part of the cynical organization. But, you know, you see a lot of that, right? Or you see people getting caught in this hyperactive, You know, we have to do this, we have to do that, without really sort of thinking it through.
Do you have some, maybe, you know, to use the more modern expression, hacks, for how you could help someone, you know, maybe slow it down, or to change that perspective. Like, how do they, how do they begin? What’s their starting place? If we go back
Mike Moss: to your point earlier about the person who wanted to hear how the person in Denver got stuff off the ground, like, what do you do?
It’s, it’s actually, if you, if you’re inauthentic, you’re over. Right, so authenticity is everything, because it’s behavior, not vocabulary. So while you do need to be attentive to the vocabulary, all it comes down to is behavior, and it’s really culture. Is that if the culture of organization is even smells of inauthentic anything, you’ve become a shelf document.
You are over. Because that authenticity is what I think all generations are looking for, but it’s certainly much more important in a visible way to the groups that are getting ready to come into our communities. Is they are looking for authentic conversations that are based and your behavior better represent that.
And so it comes down to how attentive are you to your organizational culture and are you anchored in legacy and tradition? And what that means to you is defined by your own culture, so choose one. Keep your traditions or keep your legacies, but keeping both keeps you way, you start to become inauthentic.
Because you’ll become buzzword y, and you’ll talk about all that cool stuff, and yet your subscription is still 12 months non refundable. You know, it’s the same
Rob Brodnick: thing. Mike, I think you just said something really profound that I didn’t understand. Difference between tradition and legacy? What is that? What were you
Mike Moss: getting at there?
I would advocate each group has to define it because it will mean something differently, but legacies and traditions you can’t, I honestly don’t believe, and my experiences would bear this out, you can’t protect both. A legacy could be your founding board had a culture in mind for the support of this industry and that has carried for 50 years that behavioral culture of the board and the governance and the construct the organization has carried forward, so the legacy is this strong governance legacy.
And the traditions may be that there’s a way that the nominating process works and there may be a tradition of how we run our conference and there may be a tradition of even the sequencing of our event at the conference. And so those are strong. We always end with a gala. Right? Those are strong traditions.
If you try and protect both, change is pretty darn well impossible. Gotcha.
Rob Brodnick: Okay. Now I understand. Yeah.
Mike Moss: But there’s value in some of those things. There’s value in arguably all those things. But if you really want to be in an authentic moment that says, Yeah, we’re here to change and my behaviors will visibly show you that.
Pick one. Pick what’s important to your organization, and then protect that, and live it, and love it, and make that part of your visible commitment to culture, and then allow the new to come in around that, because it will be new, and it won’t always be right, but be open to that, too. So that that’s where your behaviors have to exhibit the willingness to accept change, reject change for the right reasons, not because of I’m protecting the legacy of this organization, that’s my job.
As I’m hearing
Karyn Zuidinga: you, I’m thinking, oh my god, this isn’t just about associations. It’s this, it’s
Rob Brodnick: this, it’s this. All organizations
Mike Moss: All
Karyn Zuidinga: organizations who are, who are struggling with change in some way and, and perceiving change as negative turbulence. I think, if I think about them, and I think about the ones that I know well, I think, oh, wow, they’re all trying to hang on to tradition and legacy, and they can’t give up either.
Oh, well, if you could pull on one, maybe you start to make some space to allow some change in. If you can just say, okay. We’re going to give up legacy for a while, hold on to tradition because that’s more important to us. Then you suddenly start making space for change.
Mike Moss: Talk about a hard choice. Making a choice of a software platform may seem nightmarish, but make a choice between legacy and tradition.
At the board of directors level, with the founders of the organization still with you in the audience, those are real challenges that organizations have. There’s books about the founders principles and all the challenges that come with that. A lot of associations still have their founding members sitting in the front row at the annual conference in the same attire that they wore at the first annual conference.
Right. So it’s hard choices. It’s only a problem if you refuse to address it. And I think if you ask about one of the impediments to the association space right now is, I don’t believe it’s courage. I don’t think it’s bravery. I think those are overused terms. But having the ability to socialize change so that the board feels comfortable to make choices on legacy and traditions.
Is a really important skill set for, for management and nonprofits is being able not just to be a good steward and soldier of the plan. I think that’s, that’s inherently what we’re supposed to do, make that strategic plan go, but if we can’t drive a comfort to have. Tough conversations, critical conversations.
Organizations will start to fall by the wayside over the next 10 to 15 years. As an
Rob Brodnick: association, as a chair of a board or as a executive director, president, whatever it may be leader in any kind of capacity, when you find your association. Getting to that point, you’re starting to operate close to the edge financially.
Let’s say it’s not because of corruption or some upheaval in a market that causes this, but you’re bleeding members and your attendance is starting to wane. You’ve not put any new programs or services in play for the last five years. And things are starting to look dire. Give us a top three or five.
Things to look at or things to do over the next five years so that you can, you know, not only survive but perhaps thrive in the future.
Mike Moss: The first one will be fairly silly and it’s not meant to sound that way, but just own it. Just own it. That’s where you are and that’s what happened. Full stop. All good.
Now start moving towards solution. And in my experience, that own it piece has been very hard for some boards and some senior staff to have. Not because of embarrassment or fear of failure, but… It’s just, it’s, it’s different when you say, this is where we’re at, own it, move, all right, let’s fix it. As opposed to like, well, you know, I can’t control this, and you know, those volunteers do that, and you know, you start to deconstruct the problem into so many things you can’t fix anything.
So just own it. It’s cool. Next. And I think from there, obviously innovation is a big part of this, but I think the challenge that I’ve had in my career in associations is innovation is seen as Apple. It is seen as billion dollar problems. When it’s really small step progress that we’re talking about. So being able to build the comfort for those small investments we talked about earlier.
The first step to correction is to take a chance on something small that definitely may make some people uncomfortable. Those legacy members in the front row may cross their arms and cross their legs when it’s announced from the main stage that this will be the vision of the next year. Making sure that you have a strong enough governance culture in place, it goes back to culture, that can take that criticism in a positive way and help people through it.
I think the board has to become an active player in that transition. It can’t just be put on the staff to transition those kind of moments. And not just to take the heat. We don’t need shields. We need participants. So when the board can come forward and also own that with the staff and say, here’s the next step to change, green fielding this and small ideas here, and then we’ll react as the audience reacts.
I think the next step in all that is, it’s four steps. Listen, learn, help, then lead. Leadership does not come first. This comes out of a ton of books I’ve read on military thinking. Leadership comes last. Often we’re like, I’m gonna lead us out of this problem, I’m a change agent, I can make things happen.
And yes, I agree, good sir, you probably can, but you haven’t listened to the community. You haven’t learned where their problems are and why they can’t progress, which is why they you. You’d need to help them solve their current problems so that you can lead them into the true future of your association.
But with that, that four step progression, I think it, it’s just listening, listening, listening, listening. And then if you, it goes back to earlier conversation, if you don’t understand. Why? Why did they stop investing in you? Well, ask them. Talk to them. Most people will tell you why they don’t want to buy your car anymore.
I mean, the people are actually really want to help. Learn all the mistakes you made because you’ve owned it. You’ve owned the problem. So learn all the ways that you failed. Then start to help that community come back to solutions. Don’t require a membership to do it. Help, just get out there and help.
Help that community recover so that you can lead them into the investment of the future. It is probably the easiest thing to talk about and career changing moments happen along that path. That is really hard.
Karyn Zuidinga: I was listening to the talk about small steps. Try something small. Build on your wins. Do you also sort of struggle with that sense of impatience?
Like, damn it, I just want to, like, take a big leap,
Mike Moss: you know? I use a much softer word than I usually use when I’m frustrated. Darn it usually isn’t the first thing out of my mouth. One of my challenges as a professional in this field is that, man, I just want to sprint. I’m so tired of jogging, but yet when I get my clarity and get over myself and get back on mission and realize that our job is substantially faster than our walk of the past.
Breathe. Take that next step towards sprinting. I will not deny or pretend that there’s not moments of massive frustration by staff, by boards, by members. That transition is so hard. So I think, yeah, there’s a lot of frustration there. But if you take the step back because you’ve made progression on small stuff, There’s a lot of victories to talk about.
Karyn Zuidinga: Okay, I hear that, but I’m also thinking about the mounting pressure, and as your horizon is long, and so you must be seeing emergent opportunities coming in the next decade. So I feel like those two ideas are colliding.
Mike Moss: Yes? No? That’s a great question. You asked me early in the conversation, and I don’t think I answered it very well, about what it means to be a strategist in an association.
I will be the first one to admit, and can be supported by everyone I’ve ever worked with, I haven’t had an original idea in the entirety of my life. I am a great aggregator, oh God, . So I am the great aggregator, right? Yes. But I mean, I’ll be the first to admit great aggregator. I having original thoughts since birth from 1968 to today aggregating and with those aggregations.
So I think that’s what makes me more of a strategist than a visionary, is that I can hear the futurist better than I could be a futurist for sure. And where I’m trying to challenge myself on that journey to avoid those collisions being catastrophic is, is it, what’s that balance of foresight? So if we pick that term, foresight to me feels like it’s in the middle of the strategist who knows how to align resources and capacities to get those visionaries work done on a progressive path.
And I think that’s where I feel most comfortable, I think, currently in my, my practice. Where I’d like to get is a little bit ahead of that on foresight, where I can understand the visions faster for, for the strategist activities. But that visionary collision with strategist work is often catastrophic because the vision can all of a sudden want to be funded.
And the strategist is like, man, I’m just trying to keep the door open, right? So there’s, I think you’re right. There’s an interesting, on that continuum, there’s an interesting moment that I think is filled in the middle by the ability to do foresight, which is taking the most forward thinking pieces of your current strategy with probably the laggard pieces of the person’s vision that’s leading that charge 20 years out from the board.
That makes sense. I mean, I think that’s the Lego connection is in the middle. Oh,
Rob Brodnick: yeah. Yeah. That’s extremely well said. I really appreciate that, Mike. Yeah.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. What are those big chunks on the horizon that you’re seeing? We just determined a few minutes ago that all the things you’re saying really do apply to all kinds of organizations.
We’re not just talking about not for profits anymore. And I suspect those things that are emergent for you are also emergent for everybody
Mike Moss: else. We talked about machine learning and pervasiveness of technology. That’s a given for all of us. The human connection pieces off of that, I think is what’s emerging is that whether we’re talking about privacy issues that are coming up more and more as the data becomes more ubiquitous.
And we talk about basically ubiquitous technology. So everywhere you go, you’re connected to something and you’re on a camera for somewhere, right? I mean, you’re just, it is what it is. What we have to figure out the emergent trend that I see there is the humanization of all that and making it relationship and experience centric is huge for the nonprofit association industry.
And then probably all industries. I just, I’ve never been in manufacturing to see its impact, but that there’s so much to talk about in career development and work pathing for people now, before the full ubiquitous tech interruptions happen that I think all industries need to be figuring out that workforce of the future.
There’s entire industries will rise and fall in the next 10 years that are being driven by forces that we can only imagine right now. They’re only in movies, but five years ago, people were telling me, be ready for AI in 2025, that was wrong. So that speed will only get faster. So that human workforce, human connection pieces, how are we repurposing all this beautiful talent we have on the planet to be forward thinking against those changes, because.
We don’t know what it looks like yet, but what we do know is that training is involved, constant learning is involved, you know, the lifelong learner is no longer a choice. You darn well better be in that mode. So how are we helping the K 12 generation come up as lifelong learners now? And not just test to test.
Mike Moss went test to test, I will fully admit that. I was a beautiful crammer. Couldn’t tell you what was on the test the next day. All that kind of stuff has had to change. So I think it’s a… Kind of a circular answer to your question, but that focus on the human workforce Supplemented by technology and that’s balance is where all industries need to be spending a whole lot of their foresight right now Because it’s not just about the efficiencies from automating my line.
That’s great. That’s bottom line. That’s super That’s that’s today. But what about the 10 20 30 thousand people that now had to be repurposed somewhere for something? How are we really putting all these industries together through lifelong learning continuous connection and learning? All industries coming together through the community colleges and higher ed and K 12, vocationals, or just getting together at a coffee shop under a brand to talk.
That’s what we have to focus on. And I don’t quite know how to do that either, but I think that’s the beauty of all industries together, is that’s the global economy.
Rob Brodnick: You pose some really good challenges, I think, for the future to think about.
Karyn Zuidinga: You know, cool conversation, lots of big ideas. If you had a magic wand, like if you could change one thing today, in your world, Maybe in your world specifically, like, make it really micro.
What string would you pull on or what thing would you tap with that magic wand to make a change and do something to move this whole, to change the Titanic into a speedboat? What one thing do you think you want
Mike Moss: to jump? We’ve all figured out how to just organically do inclusion. If we could pull that string, everything changes.
What we often call inclusion right now is compliance. That’s not inclusion. So the string to pull there, if we could collectively as a, as an organization or an entity, or just even in this period, pull that string on inclusion so that it’s just an organic behavior of all of us, everything changes for the better, for speed, for solutions, for everything.
I think it’s the, the compliance check mark is not inclusion. And if we could figure that out, oh my gosh, that would be amazing. Thank you so
Karyn Zuidinga: much, Mike, because I have really enjoyed this conversation. You know, I didn’t really have a lot of expectations, I can’t say it wasn’t what I expected, but it also wasn’t what I expected.
You know, we talked about all kinds of different things and, and, you know, I see the applicability in the way that you’re thinking. In so many other places that I’m touching that I’ve got nothing to do with an association and everything to do with
Mike Moss: connection. Yeah. Awesome. I appreciate that. That’s very kind.
And this has been an awesome conversation. Your questions were challenging. And I think that’s also part of what I hope to bring back to my association. And I volunteer at a bunch and I serve on a couple of boards. Is that innovative investigation spirit, you know, those questions and positive inquiry.
That y’all brought to this conversation is a skill set and something that I need to continue to bring into my cohort So those circles can get bigger so we can have more people in the conversation because that’s the association impact Yeah, more people more industries more impact as you said that that’s where we’re going And I think if we can continue to do that and pull that inclusion string.
Oh my goodness Awesome. All right. Thanks for the time
Karyn Zuidinga: so much
Thank you to AMI, who have nurtured us in developing this podcast, is the source of so many of our guests, and of course the founder, Stan Griskevich, is also the author of the original book and, dare I say, the Jimmy Page of Positive Turbulence.
Rob Brodnick: Stay tuned for our Positive Turbulence Moment, where Mike shares his music preferences.
AMI is a pioneering non profit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research, and recognizes innovation in creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation.
org. And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise. And here’s our positive turbulence moment.
Mike Moss: So, one of the things that I think is going to be silly, but my creative spark right now is Tool’s new album. And you must listen to it with headphones on, because every time you listen to it, it’s completely different.
You’ll hear different things. But it keeps that, it really has inspired some creative thinking, for me anyway. And then I listen to Metallica every day because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
Rob Brodnick: If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at podcast at positiveturbulence.
Karyn Zuidinga: Be sure to tune in next time when we’ll be talking to Pete Angstrom, currently the co founder and board president of At Home Chesapeake, an innovative, not for profit program. They want to create a new social covenant on aging so that seniors can age in place. Prior to this gig, Pete served in the U.
S. Air Force in intelligence, innovation and international negotiation. He is also a founding leader of AMI. Pete brings deep experience and wisdom about managing change, leadership, innovation and strategy to the table. Head over to PositiveTurbulence. com to find out more about us, our wonderful sponsors, Positive Turbulence, our guests, or check out our very cool and very diverse reading, watching and listening to list.
Until next time, keep the turbulence positive!