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Investing in growth.

Janet McCallen, CAE, might well have seen her role as director of communications for the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry as a precursor to the future. At TAPPI, she says, "I developed expertise in turnarounds. If we had a real problem in an area, my boss would assign it to me. I would take it apart, learn what the economic drivers were, and figure out how to fix it."

Now, as executive director of the International Association for Financial Planning, Atlanta, McCalien is applying her turnaround skills to the interrelated challenges of increasing and retaining membership while strengthening the association's financial picture.

Since her selection by IAFP in 1991, McCalien has risen to those challenges. During the past five years, the association membership grew by more than 33 percent - 18 percent in 1996 alone. The membership retention rate has also increased by more than 20 percent on McCallen's watch.

"To attract new members we try to focus on our uniqueness," explains McCallen, "which is the diversity of our membership and the fact that we bring together individuals and companies committed to using the financial planning process to help people achieve their financial goals. We are definitely an umbrella organization." This latter fact helps explain McCallen's estimate that IAFP, with 17,000 members, has achieved only about 10 percent penetration of its membership market. The potential membership, she remarks, is "huge."

Results through communication

McCallen calls communication skills "absolutely essential in association management," and the Georgia State University journalism graduate's emphasis on the importance of those skills is evident in three IAFP membership-satisfaction techniques:

* Listen a lot. "We try to act on what we hear. We try to make sure we are providing value to our members and that we are communicating to them about that value - which is based on what they told us they need."

* Visit the members. "I'm also a big believer in intuition. When you visit with members, you see their offices and how they work, and things will come to you that they may not have thought to articulate. Definitely we use objective market surveys, focus groups, and subjective market research. But member visits really help us focus on who members are an.d what they need."

* Remind members of what's available. "Four times a year our 'member benefit' mailing includes a free marketing or practice-management audiotape. Since our members tend to be 'tape-aholics,' we've gotten a tremendous response to that - and it costs about $4 per member per year. We've tried very hard to increase the perception of the value members are getting."

Effectiveness through efficiency

Whether considering the use of human or fiscal resources, McCallen is a careful steward. The IAFP staff of 32 has held steady until the end of 1997, but "they were stretched pretty thin," she says. "They are extremely hardworking and have been able to pull off some 'quasi-miracles' in the last year or two. We have added several new staff positions this year to try to relieve some of the pressure and to enable us to keep improving and increasing member services."

For McCallen, the keys to getting the best results through people are straightforward. Choose the people you work with carefully - "if you only work with people who have integrity, everything becomes so much easier" - and keep tasks meaningful and focused, particularly as they relate to volunteers. She also advises expanding your efforts through strategic alliances, something that paid off for IAFP recently in the achievement of "a correction in a provision relating to 1996 revisions to the Investment Adviser Act that was causing problems for small advisers. By working with related organizations," explains McCallen, "we've been able to do together what it is unlikely that any of us could have done separately in the regulatory area."

When it comes to fiscal resources, McCallen necessarily leverages IAFP's assets. With a limited advertising budget, for instance, the association's public awareness initiative relies heavily on public relations efforts. "We work with most of the major consumer media throughout the country," notes McCallen.

IAFP achieves visibility through activities such as sponsoring a financial planning hot line with USA Today and running the "Mastering Money" program, whereby materials are sent out monthly to IAFP chapters for distribution to local media. According to McCallen, such plans seem to be working. When Wall Street began its October 1997 roller coaster ride, IAFP's chief elected officer, Peggy Ruhlin, was tapped for an interview with Peter Jennings to give the financial planning perspective on the dramatic changes in the stock market.

Support through relevance

In the program area, McCallen cautions to invest in "programs that members naturally get excited about. Don't pick the program first and then try to get people to support it." A good example is IAFP's "Planning Pays Off" campaign, launched in September at the association's Snccess Forum '97. The new theme and logo are intended to coordinate the association's public-awareness-building efforts under one banner - and basically resulted, as McCalien explains, "from the fact that we kept hearing that there ought to be some kind of theme that ties all these initiatives together."

On the financial side, McCallen is optimistic. The association subsidizes operations with a spend-down from its investment account. "Recognizing that the level of subsidy we had set didn't necessarily provide for investment growth," explains McCalien, "we have reduced the subsidy and increased dues beginning January 1, 1998. We've had board support from the beginning, and they understand the importance of investing in the development of benefits for members."

Looking to the future, McCallen predicts that the association will continue to invest in developing new services members need to be successful. "My plan over the next several years," she explains, "is that we will be able to occasionally make contributions to the investment account rather than withdrawals." She notes, "And when you are dealing with financial planners, it helps to have a plan."

Management Maxims

* Understand your priorities and work on first things first.

* In creating new programs, try a few things and solicit feedbackhand then adapt, focus, and refocus your ideas.

* Choose people to work with who say what they mean and mean what they say.

Carole Schweitzer is principal, Cameron Publications Services, Arlington, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:association improvement
Author:Schweitzer, Carole
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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