Morning Buzz by Kirsten Wyatt
- What I’m Reading: Code Girls: American Female Code Breakers by Liza Mundy
- What I’m Watching: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix
- What I’m Listening To: Today’s Hits on Apple Music
- My Plans for the Fourth: Camping, cooking hot dogs over an open fire, drinking domestic beer
- TL;DR: observations from my one year anniversary as ELGL’s executive director.
My work anniversary was on July 1 so today’s Buzz is about my first year serving as the ELGL executive director, and some of my observations about managing a professional association.
First, the fact that we only had one staff person was definitely a challenge as we attempted to grow the organization. We don’t make a huge deal of ELGL’s lack of money or staffing because we recognize the immense value that a member-run, volunteer-driven organization brings to the local government space.
But there were times in the past year when throwing money or staffing at an issue or challenge would have been a heckuva lot easier than throwing a request for assistance out to the internet with crossed fingers that we’d get the assistance we need.
Ultimately, what I learned is that ELGL members DO provide. In the form of Morning Buzz bloggers, event planners, Supper Club conveners, question answerers, and more. The management of volunteers is really fun and engaging and I’ve been #blessed to meet so many more members this year as we’ve worked on projects together across the country.
I also reflected many times over the past year about how easy managing ELGL would be if we had unlimited resources or fell back on things like raising dues or gouging sponsors to raise money.
It reminded me of managing a city in Oregon where property tax limitations make it really hard to solve resource challenges. It’s easy to get frustrated but it’s even more rewarding when you find ways to grow and thrive without taking the easy way out.
Second, the formalization of a board of directors was a tremendous asset to ELGL. Previously, we had a more ad hoc leadership structure where Kent, Ben, and I ran the organization from three different vantage points.
The streamlining and maturity of creating a “real” board/staff relationship resulted in better decision making and a more transparent organization. I went into the year thinking it would be really weird to have Kent on the board and therefore one of my bosses but that ended up not being an issue at all <<insert corny joke about who the REAL boss in our family is here>>.
I loved getting to know the new board members really well and working with them on big projects, and I’m also really excited to continue this work with the board with the addition of Melissa, Joey, and Christian.
Third, I travelled a lot in the past year – more than I ever thought I would in my career. I learned how to be a more efficient packer.
That there’s a #13Percent issue with first class seating (seriously – the next few times you fly, check out the gender imbalance in first class seats).
And most importantly, that there are parts of the country that I never knew were so delightful. It was an honor to visit so many great places and conferences, and see the good work that’s being done with local government associations from coast to coast.
Managing a Professional Association
Last summer, I attended a professional association conference for people who manage professional associations (yes, that’s a real thing). I was fired up and so excited – I was sure that I would learn things that would put me – and ELGL – on the fast track to success. The conference was a huge bummer.
What I learned was that even though there are associations that have been around for a hundred years and have a very focused mission and huge budget (I’m lookin’ at you, Soybean Association of America…) their longevity and money doesn’t mean that they have anything more figured out than our start-up association.
There’s no easy answer to how you grow an organization, or provide the programs that your members want. The conference made me realize that what we lack in status or finances, we make up for tenfold in grit, determination, and hard work.
I also came to the realization that there’s not a great network for people who cofound nonprofit professional associations with a core value of not charging outrageous dues or sponsor fees.
So, I’ve set a goal for this upcoming year to build out my own network of people who are doing similar work as me, and find a cohort I can lean on when I have questions about the day to day management of a professional association.
It was my honor and delight to serve as the ELGL executive director for this past year and I’m looking forward to the wonderful things we’ll accomplish together in the year to come. Questions? Want to offer me feedback or advice on how to serve you better? Tweet at me!