Incredible breakthroughs are made when someone says, “Hey, let’s try something different.” Otherwise we’d have no assembly lines (and likely no automobiles) and we’d all have farms in our back yards. However, in the admittedly sometimes-bureaucratic association world, “let’s try something different” can sometimes be an almost treasonous phrase. Many long-established leadership structures are very reluctant to bust out of “what works” and into the unknown.

How to implement change in your association

That’s when you step in. Do a little reading and research when you have time. Find out how specific projects are being done by other organizations and identify a few smaller tweaks that could lead to some big changes.  We talk a lot about thinking outside the box here on the MC Talks blog and there’s a good reason for that. Creative thinking is what led to Association Management Systems, our bread and butter, coming about in the first place! It was one association professional saying, “You know what? I bet we could do better than this membership spreadsheet.” 

When you propose a change that might be faced with resistance from your board or members, have the following lined up to support your argument: 

1)   Examples of when similar organizations have tried this technique (if others have)

2)   Some ideas about how this change could be successfully implemented

3)   Projections of how the change would lead to a successful future

4)   A clear time line of the changes

5)   Details about the work involved and who, specifically, is responsible for what

6)   Costs, costs, costs of time and money

Try to anticipate any other questions as well. Depending on what change you are trying to get going, there may be other things to consider and of course your individual association no doubt has unique needs.

There are environments, however, where experimentation just can’t happen. In those situations, you are sometimes better off working with the protocol already in place. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Maybe you’re meeting with resistance of your new ideas because the old ways really do work. Despite the excitement and innovations that often occur when new ideas come into play, it’s still true that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Sometimes the reason that your innovative idea won’t take off is financial. There’s no real way to overcome that in the near future. If that’s the hang-up, don’t let the idea die entirely. Table it, even if it’s just in your mind, and take a second look next quarter or even next year.  Also it might be a good time to explore some sources of non-dues revenue like job boards.

Often association leaders complain that there is just no support for new ideas. When that’s the case, innovation is often a waiting game. Now might be the time to get creative with your pitches or tweak your idea to be a little less jarring to your board.

Finally, and this is somewhat rare but it does happen, sometimes a board is flooded with new ideas and it’s overwhelming to consider them all. Sometimes there’s a particularly revved up member enthusiastic about the association and considering future leadership, and sometimes the board itself is ready for some big changes. If that ever happens and your creative toes are being stepped on, so to speak, celebrate it. It might be tough, but turn the cheek on your leadership role and go from innovative to supportive. Really talk out and discuss these new ideas and throw your support behind the good ones. Your help and brainstorming will often give those blooming ideas the room they need to grow and a new leader and champion for your association can come out of it!

Creativity, whether embraced or rebuffed, can be hard to infuse into an association, especially one well-established. But don’t give up!

Another great way to get and spread new ideas is to get your membership involved. But could your member engagement use some work? Check out our free guide to member engagement for expert tips and tricks to get the most out of your membership interactions.