Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts

Have a general question? Looking for feedback on a procedure? Looking for a referral? Want us to share a best practice? Whether it’s about your conference, your survey, your membership campaign or your technology -- there’s no one better to ask than our experienced members and/or the headquarters staff of NYSAE. To submit your question, please email info@nysaenet.org.

Readers are solely responsible for how the info, content or material in Ask the Expert is interpreted and how its applied. NYSAE shall not be liable for any indirect, special, incidental or consequential damages arising out of action, use of or reliance on any content or materials contained in Ask the Expert. The reader releases NYSAE and its directors, officers, members and authors from and against any and all such liability.

Question: I work for an association headquartered in New York City. I know we’re not going back yet but I’m already nervous about when that will be. I don’t want to take public transportation and I’m scared I’ll catch COVID and bring it home to my family. Can my company fire me if I insist on working remotely? What can I do?

Answer: Unfortunately, while your fears are understandable, you aren’t legally protected from being fired if you insist on working remotely. An exception could be if you can demonstrate a specific medical reason for not coming in, such as cancer or an organ transplant which weaken your immune system, in which case you’d be within your legal rights asking for an accommodation to work remotely. Keep in mind that if you’re fired for refusing to come to work, you wouldn’t be eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits.


Answer submitted by Andrew A. Kimler, a partner at Vishnick McGovern Milizio LLP. He heads the Employment Law, Commercial Litigation, and Alternative Dispute Resolution Practices, and is a key member of the LGBTQ Representation Practice. He can be reached at akimler@vmmlegal.com and 516.437.4385 x122.

Question:
Our awards program is not doing well. We have fewer entries in today than we had last year at this time. Since there’s a dollar amount attached to each entry, we’re very worried about the budget. Can you please share any tips with us that we may not have thought about to increase the amount of entries and revenue?

Answer: Here are a few tactics to consider:

  • Special promotions targeted to those who have already submitted this year. Thank them for their submission and offer them a special discount if they enter additional entries at $x each. Consider 50% savings (loyalty rate).
  • Check entry contacts against the last 2-3 years. Contact those who have entered before and not now. Let them know you notice, we’ve missed them and offer an incentive to return. Contact the honorees from the last 2-3 years and do the same – you’ve won before, please submit again, and provide an incentive.
  • Make a few 1:1 calls. Make sure that the technology is not a barrier and you’re communicating the full value of the program. Once the awards program is finished, be sure to evaluate the process via a survey and include a space to input suggestions for improvement.
  • or next year, if you’re not instituting already, consider multiple early bird deadlines for submissions.

You don’t want to learn at the 11th hour that you haven’t come close to budget and the number of entries dropped. Good luck!


Question:  After several years of essentially flat membership, our numbers are now declining. What can we do to turn this around? (our members are individuals, not organizations)

Answer: Here are several initiatives that can help strengthen your membership, are relatively easy to implement and not expensive.

  • Onboard (welcome and orient) your new members.  Send a thank you message when they join. In their first few months, tell them about their benefits and how they can get involved; most association web sites today also have a 'get involved' page.  Share member testimonials. Messages can be from the membership chair, president, or others to be more personal , rather than "Membership Dept."  Make a welcome phone call to them; it could be the high point of their day!
  • Engage them.  Members in their first and second year, and those who must upgrade to a higher paying dues category, generally have higher attrition rates. Give these members extra attention to communicate your value and to get them involved. Engaged members - whether they are volunteers or attending events - are more likely to renew, and to become 'ambassadors' who refer others.
  • Make their day.  Be timely in responding to member and nonmember inquiries. Ensure that joining and renewing are smooth and easy processes.  
  • Get Feedback. After multiple contacts for renewal, ask why they didn't renew with an easy 5 question survey.
  • Develop a dashboard.  Track key membership data from the past several years and going forward, such as total members, renewal rates, recruitment numbers, broken down by member type, tenure or other factors pertinent to your organization.
  • Competitors and your UVP.  Has a  competitor stepped up their game?  Monitor them through their web site and anecdotal information. Know your UVP - unique value proposition - and determine what you can do to better compete.

A free and useful resource is Marketing General's annual Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. Download a copy for yourself today! Best wishes!

Answer submitted by Jennifer Ian, MBA, CAE

Question:  We’re on a calendar year, but it’s already November and we’re projecting below budget on a number of revenue items. Any advice for a last minute push for revenue?

Answer: A few things:

  • Open registration early. If you have a major event in 2020 and registration doesn’t generally open until a few months beforehand, consider opening now and incentivize (discount window) for early registration. You can target just members or those who attended in 2019 and call it a special “Loyalty Registration Rate” that they can take advantage of from now until December 31st.
  • You don’t have to be a charitable organization to develop innovative promotions for Giving Tuesday, this year on December 3rd. You can leverage Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays with promotions tied into gift giving – give a gift of membership, a gift of learning, a gift of mentorship, etc. Incentivize – give a gift to your colleague and receive X discount. If you have a lot of educational offerings, create something like a “Passport to Learning” – offer a great deal for a full year of education at a discounted price, but they have to take advantage of this now, during this window.
  • Now is the time to get next year’s dues renewals out. Don’t forget about those members who may have skipped this year but were members in prior years. Create a “win back” campaign with a limited run in November and December. Offer incentives like reduced dues and complimentary registrations for renewing now.

 

Question:  I have heard a great deal recently about Sustainable Investing and ESG investments.  Can you explain what is meant by that? 

Answer: Sustainable investing is an umbrella term for investment disciplines that consider Environmental, Social and Governance criteria when selecting a company stock. Sustainable strategies go by a tangle of many names that are not uniformly applied and sometimes lack distinction, including Ethical, Green, Impact, Mission, Responsible, Socially Responsible, Sustainable and Values. All of these strategies, however, regardless of the label, use ESG criteria and can be classified into three general strategies:

  1. Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
  2. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).
  3. Impact Investing.

Answer submitted by David P. Murphy, Senior Vice President The Murphy Wealth Management Group at UBS, Portfolio Manager, PMP

Question: We’re a small membership based association. My Executive Committee just asked me to put out an RFP for an audit. They are perfectly happy with the firm we’ve been using, the pricing, etc. but they believe its best practice to do this every 3 years. My feeling is, if we’re happy with the firm, why do it? Or why make another firm respond if we’re just going through the motions? Plus, they’re going to make the current firm respond. What could I say to my Board?

Answer:This is an issue that many nonprofits deal with.  How do you balance the role of good governance with the underlying cost benefit?  Such an exercise should never be about “going through the motions”.  If an organization does go out to bid for any services, there should be a fair opportunity for firms bidding to win the work.  It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort by firms bidding to participate in the proposal process.  Procuring for the independent audit is one of the most important tasks that a board is delegated with.  Organizations look to the independent auditor as a sounding board and to provide assurance that management is fairly presenting information contained in the organization’s financial statements.  There should already be a process in place at an organization where the audit relationship is evaluated on an annual basis.  Such evaluation typically takes place during an annual planning meeting with the external auditor where the audit plan is presented to the board or a committee thereof and when the audit engagement letter is signed.  The current auditor should be continuously evaluated on whether they are proactively brings fresh ideas to the table, always available to the board and management to answer questions, shares industry best practices, etc..  When the organization hired the existing auditor and went through a thorough evaluation process, concluded that the pricing was reasonable and has given the auditor incremental price increases over the years, pricing should not be a significant metric.  There will always be someone out in the market place willing to perform the current work at a cheaper cost.  Some nonprofits gravitate towards the “low cost” provider model which can cause more harm in the long term if that service provider doesn’t possess the skill set to do a thorough job.  A viable alternative might be to request the current audit team rotate team members to bring a fresh perspective.

 

Amish Metha, CPA - Partner and Not-For-Profit Practice Leader, Friedman LLP

 

Question. Our conference sponsorship numbers are down, any recommendations?

Answer. Here are a few ideas to try if you haven’t already:

  • Research competing conferences online and look for the companies that are sponsoring or exhibiting.
  • Run down the individual attendance list and see who might be registered as a regular attendee but is really a supplier/supporter that could potentially be bumped up.
  • Check out your social media followers, especially Twitter. They’re already engaged and there will be recognition when you send an opening email.
  • Look at your speaker roster. It’s possible that some of them are suppliers and eligible to support.

Question: We have a long time Board member who is unwilling to take on a leadership role. This Board member shows up at meetings, which is helpful, but that’s it. Plus, there’re other volunteers who want to serve on the Board and chair a committee. This is a sticky situation. What can I do?

Answer: There are a few tactics you can use to help and solve the situation. Without knowing more about the board member and the relationships around this board member, here’s a few thoughts:

  • First and foremost, make sure that you have a Board Expectations document that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each director. Make sure it is updated every year during orientation time, and consider securing signatures of confirmation. Once the expectations are defined and communicated, that will be your document to point to for all these kinds of discussions.
  • The next step is to find the appropriate person to handle the situation. WHO is the right person to address the issue, the Executive Director? The President/Chairman? A “friend” on the Board? You don’t want to gang up on the Board member, and you don’t want the member to feel like they are being kicked out. Make sure the right person addresses the Board member.
  • If an open and honest discussion needs to happen, be careful of how you frame it. It’s not about what they haven’t done all along, it’s asking what they want to do in the future. If this Board member does not sign on to a committee, a project or flat out says “I don’t want responsibility for anything,” that’s your cue for a deeper discussion.
  • When you look at foundation, advisory or charitable board models, oftentimes there are individuals or companies listed for reasons you wouldn’t know unless you sat on their board. They could be offering pro bono services, endorsements, access to something or someone important. There’s something to be said about having these kinds of “influencers” serving on your board, even if they don’t roll up their sleeves. Consider the value of just having that person’s name included, or their company, serving your organization. Just this person’s presence alone might be helping to generate revenue, recruit members and/or increase followers.

Answer submitted by Holly Koenig, CEO of NYSAE and SVP of Kellen.