An Executive Director's point of view


June 29, 2016: Just the (real) facts

Category: Publications
Posted by: David M Patt
A recently published book about a Chicago neighborhood listed the wrong date for the election of an Alderman on whose staff I served. And I found other factual errors in the book, as well.

Unfortunately, those types of mistakes are not uncommon.

Sometimes, they are the result of an absence of fact checkers.

But those errors may be allowed to exist because some authors or publishers just don't think it matters.

The adage, "You can't believe everything you read," is becoming truer every day.

June 27, 2016: Intern or volunteer?

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Student interns are frequently treated as free labor, even though an internship - whether paid or not - is supposed to be an instructional experience.

The organization should be helping the student, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, interns are all too often assigned grunt work that won't teach them anything at all - stuffing envelopes, answering telephones, cleaning pantries, running errands.

Or, they may be assigned tasks that should be performed by paid staff, but no such staff exists. So, inexperienced students fill professional positions and work for free.

An internship should benefit the student, not the association. And it should not relieve the organization of the responsibility to pay for services - even if it can't afford to and even if the group pursues a "worthy" mission.

What is really happening in these situations is that students are receiving academic credit for volunteering (not for learning), and the organizations are lying by calling these arrangements internships.

June 24, 2016: No PDFs for journalists

Category: Marketing
Posted by: David M Patt
Email was a phenomenal innovation for journalists (whom we often refer to as reporters).

They would no longer have to edit typed press releases by handwriting between the lines, and then retyping them for publication.

They could now edit documents by typing right onto the original copies. That would save a lot of time. And they were more likely to cover stories that saved them a lot of time.

The now prevalent use of PDFs has undone that progress.

Reporters, like most of us, would like to do as much work as possible in as short a period of time as possible. Writing press releases as .pdf documents makes that difficult.

So, if you want media coverage, make it easy for reporters to write about you - and stop sending them PDFs.

June 22, 2016: Digital technology

Category: Technology
Posted by: David M Patt
"The assumption that people born after a certain year simply 'get' technology (and therefore don't need formal instruction or guidance) is fundamentally flawed..." says Courtney Hunt of The Denovati Group.

Here's what she says about that and about some other issues regarding digital literacy.

June 21, 2016: Web site timeliness

Category: Web sites
Posted by: David M Patt
Always keep your web site up-to-date.

Think of it as the front door to your association. Visitors need to be assured the information you've posted is accurate, current, and complete, so they'll trust it and visit regularly.

And they should be able to tell that you are vigilant about keeping it up-to-date.

Here are a few suggestions to make that possible:

1. Remove information about "upcoming" events as soon as those events have taken place. If you want to keep copy posted for future reference, add wording that makes it clear you know the meeting has passed and that you are retaining the info to help people who may need to refer back to it.

2. Replace all other information, as necessary (immediately). That includes such things as Board membership, committee chairs, committees, programs, dues amounts, membership categories, programs, employees, key public officials, membership directories, status of legislation, submission procedures, contact info, and absolutely everything else your association does.

3. Promote future events even if you don't yet know all the details. Provide dates and whatever other information you have and state when more complete info will be posted.

4. Clarify or reword copy if viewers claim it is not clear (even if you think it is).

5. If your site houses a member forum or listserv, routinely check it to make sure it is working properly.

6. Click posted links on a regular basis and correct, replace, or delete those that are no longer accurate.

7. Be sure the names, titles, and professional credentials of Board members and other leaders are correctly displayed.

8. Reread the site on a regular basis to identify and correct typos that you may have missed the last time you read it.

June 18, 2016: No secrets

Category: Employment
Posted by: David M Patt
When interviewing job applicants, share as much information as possible, not as little as you think you can get away with.

Look for the most qualified applicant, not the one who accidentally meets your secret criteria or magically knows the inner workings of your organization.

Share information about finances, strategic plans, staffing, programs, and other organizational activities.

Don't hide information - including salary.

Don't ask trick questions.

You'll get a better hire if you are honest and open with applicants.

June 16, 2016: Don't lie

Category: Business practices
Posted by: David M Patt
Don't tell people your association has 21,000 members when it only has 4,000.

Don't say your expo attracted 12,000 attendees when the truth is around 4,500.

Don't brag that your annual special event drew 2,000 participants when the real number was 700.

Don't report a magazine circulation of 50,000 when it is really a lot less - and can't be verified.

People often inflate figures - slightly.

But blatant lies will be uncovered quickly, and people will soon learn not to believe anything you say.

Don't lie.
Category: Employment
Posted by: David M Patt
When hiring high level employees, especially Executive Directors, you should want to view them in action and see them at their best.

So, instead of opening an interview by saying something like, "Tell us about yourself," ask the person, when scheduling the interview, to make a presentation of 5, 10, or 15 minutes - specify the amount of time - so the job aspirant can make her case for the position. You can ask questions after that.

You will get better information this way. The candidate can say everything he wants and then be more responsive to your questions, rather than watching for opportunities to insert selling points during your interrogation.

And you can see how applicants represent themselves and are likely to represent your organization.

Don't assume the person you are interviewing is embellishing, exaggerating, or lying and that you have to catch them in the act. Your goal should not be to reveal the phony hiding behind a curtain.

Your goal should be to conduct an effective job interview that enables both the employer and the applicant to communicate what they believe is important and to learn about each other.

A job interview should NOT be a competition with each side trying to outsmart the other.

June 10, 2016: "Overhead" is essential

It's time to stop referring to "overhead" as if it was something diverting resources from mission-related activities.

"Overhead" includes many items that enable us to more successfully work toward our missions. Reducing "overhead" reduces our ability to do our work properly.

So the next time you are seized by the urge (or the need) to budget cut, don't freeze salaries, or limit travel, or purchase cheaper (and lower quality) office supplies.

Revisit your mission and trim programs, instead.

Then ensure that each remaining program can benefit from all the resources it needs and will not have to limp along and try to survive with only limited support.

June 08, 2016: No raise is a pay cut

Category: Employment
Posted by: David M Patt
Many organizations, especially those with public interest missions, frequently deny raises to their employees.

They'll say they can't afford to pay more. Or that they'll have to cut services to pay more, even when salaries are pitifully low to begin with. Or that the group serves needy people and employees should be willing to sacrifice for them.

Don't let organizations guilt-trip you with those comments. You should not have to sacrifice your well-being to serve others.

Denying you a raise is the same as reducing your salary.

Your rent will still rise, groceries and medicine will cost you more, and everything you spend money on will be more expensive than it was before. Merchants and landlords will not discount their services because you work for needy people.

So, stick up for yourself. Don't let employers pit you against clients or members. You should be paid what you are worth, not merely what your employer thinks you should be willing to accept.

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