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It's the thought that counts.

Treating your volunteer leaders like VIPs doesn't have to cost a fortune.

It's the Thought That Counts

Not long after Don Tharpe started his job as executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International, a past president pulled him aside to impart some words of wisdom. "Son," he said, "as long as the board goes first class, you don't have a darn thing to worry about!"

Tharpe takes the advice seriously. "We try to accommodate our board members whenever we can with extras that make them feel special," explains Tharpe, whose 700-member association is headquartered in Reston, Virginia. "If our board members are happy, then we're ecstatic."

Extras often take the form of gifts or mementos given out at meetings. Some executives eschew the bells-and-whistles approach in favor of publicly recognizing the board members' contributions or of providing a special service. How you prefer to pamper your board of directors depends on your volunteers' personalities--and on your association's budget.

Here's how some organizations make their top elected leaders feel special without spending a fortune.

Travel arrangements. "We handle board members' airline reservations, make sure they know how to get from the airport to the meeting facility, and provide the names and home phone numbers of staff members to contact in case any problems come up," says Sylvia Rottman, director of meeting services for the Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN), Denver.

In 16 years of being on call for board members, she's been called twice. "Because they know they can call, they usually don't," Rottman explains. In addition to saving the board members the time and trouble of making their own travel plans, handling arrangements in house helps the association control and defray travel costs, Rottman points out.

Personalized meetings and greetings. "A lot of hotels can provide limousine pickup at the airport, which is a nice way to welcome board members to a new city," notes Ken Doyle, CAE, executive vice president of the 300-member Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, Reston, Virginia.

Only once have his good intentions gone awry--when a prearranged airport limousine whisked one of SIGMA's elected leaders off to a property that had never heard of the board member, his association, or his meeting. "Sometimes the harder you try, the more mistakes you make," laughs Doyle, who relocated his missing board member after a few phone calls.

Many hotels, if armed with arrival schedules, will appoint a key staff member to greet your elected leaders at the door, guide them through the check-in process, and escort them to their rooms. "I'm delighted by what hotels have been able to do for us," says Doyle. "It's all in the art of negotiation."

Upgraded accommodations. Doyle's negotiations always include obtaining suites for SIGMA's top three elected leaders. "My board members have the money to get a suite for themselves, but they wouldn't think of it," says Doyle. "The association provides the suite as a perk, and the board members love it because they have a place for entertaining."

If suites aren't available or affordable, treat your VIPs to a hotel's concierge level, recommends Keith Patrick, director of convention services for Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, California. "On the concierge level, a board member receives personalized attention, plus a complimentary breakfast, newspaper, and separate check-in," says Patrick. "Most hotels will automatically upgrade to concierge level if they have the list of board members."

In-room amenities. Providing a hotel with a list of your board members--and their likes and dislikes--may mean the difference between shampoo and champagne.

"I provide a list, then leave it up to the hotel," explains Rottman, of AORN. "A good facility makes sure the amenities will be there, and a hotel often surprises you with its creativity and special touches. All I ask is that whatever is done for one board member is done for all board members."

"We rely on the meeting planners to have done their homework," confirms Patrick, of the Disneyland Hotel. "We'll ask, |What is your board like? What is each person's favorite drink? Does he or she have a favorite character?' If the meeting planner has the answers, we'll make sure the in-room bar is stocked with the appropriate beverages and have a plush Disney character waiting with a |Glad you're here' note attached.

"Hotels like to be hospitable and individualize rooms in any way they can; amenities aren't necessarily something that costs a lot of money," continues Patrick. "With computers we can now track and store information related to each association VIP's likes and dislikes. If, for example, you have a board member out for a site inspection who loves golf, we'll make sure there's a golfing book in his room when he returns for the annual meeting."

When a meeting planner doesn't know much about a board member, hotels often provide an amenity basket containing items from the region. In Wisconsin, for example, a regionalized amenity basket may contain cheeses, salami, and a cookbook featuring dairy products; in Canada the amenity basket may take the shape of a maple leaf and include maple syrup.

When in doubt, says Patrick, turn to the fruit basket. "Sure, they're old standbys, but fruit baskets are still a good idea," he notes. "During meetings, VIPs are busy and usually don't have the time to eat right or at all, so having fruit in the room is helpful."

How do you know what your board members would like in their rooms or in their fruit baskets? Because many elected leaders work their way up the leadership ladder, association executives pick up cues over the years; they develop a sixth sense for knowing what would please their volunteers. AORN's Rottman, however, takes the direct approach: She asks her association's board members to complete a personal profile.

"When a board member is first elected, we send out a profile asking things such as, |Are there any foods you're allergic to?'" Rottman explains. "You can also ask questions about favorite beverages, whether someone prefers a smoking or nonsmoking room, or whether the person would prefer a basket of fruit or flowers. It's a very thoughtful thing to do."

Special destinations or events. Many associations select resort properties or exotic locations for their board meetings, as a compensation for the time and talent each volunteer contributes. Another way the Association of School Business Officials International says thank you is to offer a postconference tour in the convention city exclusively for the board members and their spouses.

"After the convention ends, we pick up the bill for one more hotel night and take everyone on a tour for the day," explains Executive Director Don Tharpe, who has escorted ASBO's board of directors around the tourist attractions EPCOT Center and Niagara Falls. He also plans breakfasts and special tours for spouses when board meetings are in session.

Mementos of meetings. At ASBO, elected leaders receive one gift at each of the first three board meetings they attend: first a notepaper holder, next a clock, and third a letter opener. All three items carry the association's logo.

"After the first three meetings, each board member has a complete desk set. It's something no one else has, because we don't sell those items to the general membership," says ASBO's Tharpe. "Essentially, we thank them in advance for all the work they'll be doing during their terms."

He also supplies each new board member with blank greeting cards, imprinted with the association's logo, for professional and official correspondence and with association business cards reflecting the volunteer's elected title. For board members who pen articles for ASBO's magazine, Tharpe has another gift: a customized coffee mug.

"They're small but important gifts," he notes. "For board members, it's the thought that counts." In associations with formalized programs, gifts may run the gamut from inexpensive pen-and-pencil sets to engraved crystal bowls to gold jewelry containing a different semi-precious stone for each year of service to the association. Many associations, however, turn traditional when a board member's term ends: They present an engraved plaque.

"Everybody gets a plaque when they finish a term, right?" asks Tharpe. "Well, we give ours at the start of a term, so it's on the wall the entire time a board member is serving the association. At the end of the term, the president receives a plaque engraved with his or her picture and the signatures of all the other board members. It's a nice reminder of all the friends the person served with over the years."

"We give traditional plaques but make them special by listing the names of all the committees the person has chaired and the offices he or she has held on the board," says Doyle, of SIGMA. "When the plaque is hanging on a member's wall it's sure to attract attention and make the member feel special about everything he or she has done."

Recognition. Doyle publicizes his elected leaders' accomplishments in newsletter and magazine articles and during conventions.

"I may have 10 staff members working 18 hours a day on a convention, but I'll get up at the closing luncheon and thank the convention committee chair and members for all their work," he says. "Most people join an association for ego satisfaction, so we provide recognition in front of peers whenever possible." On a more private level, Doyle sends personalized thank-you notes to his association's committee members when they complete their terms.

Doyle also provides elected leaders with colored ribbons to wear at SIGMA's annual convention; at a glance, association members can tell who serves on the board of directors or on a committee.

"Inevitably, people come up for their badge and say, |Where's my ribbon?'" says Doyle. "Everyone downplays the ribbon recognition until it's missing from their badge."

At the Association of Operating Room Nurses, professional recognition comes in the form of special invitations to the annual meeting, sent by the association to people designated by each board member.

"The association invites doctors or other people from the medical facility to attend the meeting free, in recognition of the board member's contributions," explains AORN's Rottman. "Above all, we like to keep the personal touch in all our dealings with board members."

Sandra R. Sabo is a freelance writer in St. Paul, Minnesota.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; treatment of volunteer leaders
Author:Sabo, Sandra R.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Peer to peer.
Next Article:Common sense for royalty income.

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