The main reason is that top-level domains on the Internet are poised to change radically in the next couple years. (A "top-level domain" or "TLD" is the part to the far right of a domain name, .COM, .NET, .ORG, etc.) The .COM TLD is the gold standard today; but almost every conceivable word or name on .COM is already registered. It's very difficult to get decent names on it. The erosion of the dominance of .COM may already have begun.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
May. 23, 2010 - Breaking new ground: the Virtual Employee (part 4 of the series_
In a blog post titled “Managing Virtual Employees”, Nipah Shah cites an example of an employee working as a financial analyst for a company in the United Kingdom—and she lives in Michigan. Certainly virtual employees are not a new phenomenon, particularly in congested cities where traffic makes appearance at a work site a real problem, and in jobs where workers don't have to be at the office and are free to select a 'quality of life' surroundings
For the manager, virtual employees do present some human resource challenges: they need a clear set of work product deliverables, they need consistent communication, a sense of inclusion even when they are not physically present, and a manager who is capable of trusting the employee. Work and people management in a virtual environment means that you will have to learn new techniques and respond to an often more demanding and challenging personnel environment.
On the other hand, many association jobs can be handled by virtual employees working from home: help desks, education directors, professional standards administrators, GADs, and data entry positions need not have 9-5 office hours. In fact, many of those positions don't need an office presence at all. And many qualified and competent works are more than delighted to have a job where 'casual day' is every day.
Which brings us to the economics of running virtual associations. In an article in The Executive Update, Jean Allert points out that there are no guaratees that you will cut expenses by migrating to a virtual association—at least not in the short run. Rather, she says, you may find yourself shifting dollars from one line item to another: from rent, say, and facility maintenance to an upgraded technology infrastructure and more efficient software.
By the same token, don't count on going virtual as a source of income. Just because you have space on your website for advertising from affiliate members doesn't mean they will buy in to the opportunity. And just because you set up a Facebook page and tweet your education events is no insurance that members will visit the site and be any more likely to register for events.
What pushing your association toward a virtual environment does mean is that you are encouraging the organization to think in new ways, to involve more people, to encourage collaboration. It means the organization is positioning itself to envision new opportunities for members: if Realtors are no longer keepers of secret information about real estate, what are they? And how can we best assist their business success?
My favorite Clay Shirky quote is "process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity." That is to say, what once worked for our members no longer does. And what once worked for the association has become calcified past. Moving toward a more fluid structure will breathe life and discovery and energy into our organization.
I'll end with another Shirky quote (that guy speaks in delightful quotations):"Nothing says dictatorship like arresting people for eating ice cream. The problem wasn't the ice cream, it was the group."
Friday, May 21, 2010
By Mark McGuinness | 5/21/2010 | Add a Comment
I’m pleased to say that Age of Conversation 3 – Time to Get Busy is now available on Amazon. It’s a compilation of practical advice on using social media to make things happen in the real world.
It’s a collaborative effort between 171 authors, including yours truly. Each of us has written a chapter under one of the headings below (no prizes for guessing which I picked):
- At the Coalface
- Conversational Branding
- Getting to Work
- Corporate Conversations
- In the Boardroom
- Pitching Social Media
- Innovation and Execution
- Identities, Friends and Trusted Strangers
The book is currently available in three formats – I gather an iPad edition is in the pipeline.
Proceeds will be donated an international children’s charity of the authors’ choosing, so not only will you have a great (and useful) read, you’ll be helping a great cause.
Special thanks to editors Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton for their imagination in dreaming up the idea in the first place, and perspiration in seeing it through to completion for a third time. And to publishers Channel V Books, who are very generously producing and distributing the book.
Here’s the full list of authors, with links to their sites. Happy reading!
What a terrific idea--useful ideas, good cause! I ordered mine for my iTouch and am starting it today.
May. 21, 2010 - Virtual Memberships, part 3 of the series
One of the biggest challenges the Realtor organization has is the presence of the MLS. I've said it before and I'll say it again (“Aw, Lindenau, shut it!” “No, no, I gotta keep saying it.”)--Realtor associations rely on MLS services to provide a constant stream of new members, and retain existing members who stay around until real estate is no longer a viable business decision for them.
Member recruitment? We only consider it in the most primitive of ways—for the most part, Realtors must belong to our organization to receive this necessary business service. And we as organizations become MLS dependent--for the income, certainly, but also as the main component of of membership recruitment and retention.
Imagine operating as if your members had a choice as to whether your association were giving them a valuable return on investment, that they were free to vote for the success of your association product with their dues. What would you change? If every service you provide, every education program, were judged by the dollars the member would pay to obtain it, what would your organization do differently?
“Well, that's not the case”, you say, “So why worry about it?”
Because the captive membership trap is lurking in the shadows. “Our members don't DO technology,” one AE told me recently. Maybe not, I thought, but your members are aging and being replaced by new, younger, professional members for whom technology is an essential component of successful business. There are many potential MLS alternatives these days—better, slicker technologies and vast amounts of enhanced real estate information. Often these tools are free and readily available for buyers and sellers as well as real estate practitioners. That abundance may not topple the MLS as we know it, but it certainly presents alternatives which challenge the value proposition of the MLS to both members and consumers.
It's a 'heads up' warning. And while your association may have a difficult time getting to the 'membership is totally voluntary' frame of mind, it's time to look at each and every program and service in light of whether or not there's a return on investment for an increasingly younger membership. Ask yourself: if we floated this program/product on the open market, would our younger members buy it? Internet guru Clay Shirky offers this advice to contemporary managers:"Don't hire consultants. Hire your own 23-year-olds."
(I know, I know. I'm a consultant, and significantly older than 23. But I like to think Shirky is identifying a frame of mind, not a chronology.)
On the subject of voluntary membership, the truth is that there are many types of Realtor association membership categories in which belonging IS voluntary, and those membership areas can substantially support your association and enrich your local real estate business community.
I recently worked with an association in facilitating a strategic plan. Since this association depended on member dues for approximately 80% of its income stream, and since the economy was impacting negatively on those membership numbers, the association had real financial problems. “Non-dues income!”, I advised from my perch as the former association manager of the Bake Sale Board of Realtors. And the most likely source of income was from new membership levels, particularly if the categories were not tied to licensees and sales practitioners.
Building a virtual association of industry affiliated members is certainly one way of increasing income. Real estate associations are surrounded by businesses which consider our members their target market. Invite them in! Give them access to members through website advertising, online education programs, email forums. Make their membership a good investment, one that they will willingly pay for. Consider setting a percentage goal of your total members who are not licensed salespeople—say 25%. That income will not be dependent on the economics of the times as much as the quality and value of the benefits you offer.
Another interesting experiment along those lines is the winning Game Changers Program from the Sacramento Association of Realtors: building a virtual community of property owners through an auxilary homeowner membership program. Called “Sacramento Home Advantage”, the program allows Realtor members to offer a valuable gift basket to new homeowners, and an axillary membership which brings with it access to an informational website and quarterly updates on local real estate information. In return, SAR expands its community profile, collects a contact list of homeowners for grassroots legislation and other relevant programs, and creates a potential income stream.
As you might expect, there are caveats in building online communities and recruiting members to them. First, the online member is demanding. The information and services he wants are available everywhere on the internet, at the click of a mouse. Want to see listings of real estate for sale? A zillion opportunities exist. Want to know about closing costs or tax proratiions? You have only to Google the keywords. If you are going to attract and retain interest in your association's site and its offerings, you will have to be easier to use, more efficient, more savvy than all of your competitors.
Secondly, your virtual services must provide something the member cannot get by herself. Social media gurus refer to 'crowd-sourcing': the idea that what's attractive is the wisdom of many, as opposed to the monologues of a few. That's the concept behind the un-meeting, and the very popular RE-bar camps: it is the contributions of everyone which create value. In a simplistic way, that means the creation of conversations must take priority in your virtual association—that members are given the opportunity for dialogue and collaboration on every level of the organization. As you might guess, crowd-sourcing is more than the point-to-point two-way conversation of email or the electronic delivery of a recorded education presentation.
Again, Clay Shirky says it best: "It's not just about delivering content to members, it's about the convening power to help members discover each other."
That's the goal of the social media movement, and the ultimate deciding factor of migrating our organizations toward becoming virtual associations.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
May. 19, 2010 - The Virtual Association, Part 2
Migrating an association to a more virtual identity is, in fact, a necessary part of modern organizational management. Members expect it: doing business virtually is a part of today's reality. To neglect having a website or avoid using email is to abandon essential business tools, and the members who looked to their trade association for leadership and strength will begin to turn elsewhere for business support and new ideas.
Of course, staying contemporary is always a balancing act—that's why the concept of process, or migration, is crucial. For every election held online, some members will question the electronic results as not secure, not accurate, and lacking the congeniality of a general membership meeting or coffee and doughnuts at the polling booth. For every virtual home tour, somebody will complain that the only way to really get to know a house is to smell the kittylitter box and run their fingers over the greasy kitchen wallpaper. In a world of uncertain economics and failed business ventures, there is also solace in tradition and civility—these are the comfort foods of the modern world, and a good association manager is always careful about her menu planning!
Delivering member services is the core of the association. However, many of those services can easily be moved to a virtual workforce: you don't need a live body at the organization's headquarters to deliver help desk information, for instance. As you know from experience, the customer support line for your computer may be located in Delhi, but the answers you receive are still helpful and friendly.
Better yet, an association may design a web site which answers questions before they are asked, or perhaps incorporates an “Ask Jeeves” functionality which is always ready and willing to be of service. (And as an aside, the FAQ approach to answering questions has great benefits: as social media commentator Clay Shirky says, "Once one person solves the problem once, the problem stays solved for everybody." )
Of course there are some caveats for associations which are moving toward virtualization. First, make sure that no organizational memory or value is lost because there are no human beings present. For instance, a member may use a helpdesk to find out what paperwork is necessary to transfer from one brokerage to another—that routine information can easily be stored on a website. But a member who needs to discuss whether or not to run for an association leadership positiion may need a personal conversation with the AE or a volunteer mentor.
Secondly, as associations provide more resources online and use other virtual tools, they will need to understand who the role models must be in development of those services. In a virtual world, the customers' expectations change: you can't keep shopping mall hours. Amazon.com is open 24/7/365—and association operations must be the same. When a customer logs in, Amazon.com recognizes her, calls her by name, knows her purchasing profile, and makes purchasing easy—one click, in fact. The site sends out automatic reminders (“we've shipped your order”, “thank you for your business”, “how was the quality of your transaction?”, “there's a new book out that we think you'd like...”), builds community (“write a review of this book or product”), and forgives easily (“didn't fit? Send it back.”)
The atmosphere, despite the absence of a real person, is congenial and friendly. It's designed to encourage consumer use, not discourage them by complicated logins and security measures. (Last week I visited an association website where the only way you could obtain a new member application was to log in as a member. And I tried to buy a product from a site which asked for complete financial information over and over again—I gave up and established a purchasing account elsewhere.)
Moving toward a virtual association: it's complicated. Members want to see their trade association as knowledgeable and savvy about business tools and technology, and yet they want not only information, goods, and services but also they want to be valued and respected. (A lesson learned: when you buy an HP computer and set it up, software fills in your name for you--”Valued Customer”. If you want to be someone else, you have to erase the name the company has given you and insert your own.)
No matter what the technology, association members must always remain the “Valued Customers”.
Or put another way, it is like my father-in-law used to say: "Don't worry about who didn't come to the party; it's who is there that matters."
Give me an MLS that is cross-browser compatible, market data that is easily downloaded and customizable for my business, and resources and tools that are conceived not as best for the lowest common denominator but simply superior given available technology.
While you are out trying to grow your business, remember me. I am here already, and your business is, first, to support me in growing mine.
Kris Berg's comment from Inman News--a succinct and definative statment of what real estate agents really want from their Realtor associations.
Monday, May 17, 2010
May. 17, 2010 - I'm returning your call, Patsy.
“Judith,” the email said, “I need to talk to you about Virtual Associations. When can I call?”
The communication was from one of my favorite AE's, a manager of insight and good judgment, whose small association has always been a leading-edge kind of organization. I thought I should jot down a few ideas before I talked to her—in recent blogs I've been talking about how valuable IT people were to an association (thanks for all the hugs and handshakes in DC!): now maybe it's time to talk more about why we need 'em.
So. Virtual Associations. Defining what one is, I thought, is the toughest part. So, I went online (of course) to try and find an example of a purely virtual association. And I couldn't.
Now I know there are a couple of virtual AE's among our ranks: one of my friends just assumed the responsibility of a virtual AE for the Virgin Islands (I'll leave it up to you to guess his new title...). But a virtual association? One that is focused on an enterprise-wide commitment to functioning as a virtual entity? An association that utilizes a significant portion of digital communication and tools to conduct its operations? No.
What I did find were various levels of virtual activity within organizations. Using the NAR Association Models format, let's analyze this virtual activity on the three levels of the Models tool: Administrative, Management, and Leadership.
At the Administrative Level (that's the one where elected leaders play a significant role in the day-to-day administration of the association), there is usually an insignificant commitment to virtualization tools. Internet tools may be used to support some of the business functions of the association such as organizing and transmitting membership records, email communication and online banking. The association may produce an online newsletter, and may have a rudimentary Facebook page and web site. In other words, some services may be delivered on line, though often they will be duplicated in print or in person and there may not be a coherent strategy statement regarding the use of technology.
At the Managerial Level (which the Models document defines as one in which volunteer leaders determine the association's strategic vision and set the parameters for empowering staff), the virtualization effort is expanded, and many Realtor associations are establishing two levels of service, a traditional membership and one in which all service is provided virtually. The governance structure of these membership categories varies from one association to another, and often arises when there is a younger member demographic or a wide geographical area which can be best served virtually.
The Leadership Association is, according to the Models profile, is an organization which is positioned based on envisioned industry trends. It implements programs, products and services which are creative and innovative, and provide enhanced membership value. The Leadership model would suggest that an association would provide all services online including communication, education, membership recruitment and retention, collaborative (committee) work, and expos and trade shows. The association might maintain a physical location, though its commitment to bricks, mortar, and real-time employees may be increasingly minimal.
“Oh, Lindenau,” you say, “you're at it again. A real estate trade association can never be completely virtual! Look at our members—they don't understand technology. And they are in REAL ESTATE, for heavens sakes. They want buildings! Meeting rooms! They want to network and press flesh! They learn best seated in rows with a lecturer up in front! It's the Realtor Way!”
I'd like to take the next few blogs to explore virtual Realtor associations with you. And I'd like to hear your comments, your arguments, and your ideas for becoming 'virtual' associations—or not, as the case may be.
In the meantime, here's a couple of thoughts for you to ponder. First, how many of you are already running virtual associations—not well or intentionally, but what percentage of your members never physically see you, or any member of your staff or leadership? How many members never visit your building? Don't attend a meeting or party? They're 'virtual' members. How satisfactorily are you servicing them?
Secondly, if you went to the NAR meetings in Washington last week, you might have noticed a dramatic change in the profile of those meetings. And if you didn't go (and only 8000 or so of the members and association staff did go, out of over a million members) you may have noticed the change even more. Legislative briefings were held more efficiently, education sessions and other events were available on line, real-time communications took place in the form of blogs and tweets, and meeting results were available within minutes of the conclusion of the meetings. My congratulations to NAR for understanding the virtual dynamic that can make meetings more energetic, more efficient, and more fun! (I have only two suggestions, BTW: publish the Twitter hashtag along with the meeting registration materials, and get rid of the cheesy advertising name tags when Realtors head for the Hill!)
Of course no association will fit all one level of the Association Model descriptor: each association migrates between Administration, Management, and Leadership parameters. But there are reasons to push your organization toward greater levels of virtual activity, no matter how small or large your resources and membership. We'll examine these reasons in coming blogs.
Green Line's Herman Baumann Gives Virtual Trade Shows the Green LightIn recent years, Green Line Strategies LLC has emerged as a leading champion of virtual trade shows for associations looking to reach new markets, better serve their existing members, and open up significant new revenue streams. Under the leadership of Principal Herman Baumann, the Illinois-based firm provides association executives and their staff with training and the 6Connex software platform to move their trade shows into the virtual world.
During a recent interview with Bottom Line Briefing, Baumann stated, "My primary customer segment is associations, and associations have had a double whammy in the down economy. Those that rely on member dues have been under pressure -- particularly the professional associations where the employer in the past may have paid the dues, they may not be paying the dues now. Also, sponsorship and advertising budgets have taken big cuts in the economy. There have been a lot of challenges. To survive, organizations have had to increase the value they provide both to members and to 'funders' so that they can maintain their market share or take market share away from their less capable competitors."
This is where virtual trade shows factor in. More and more exhibitors are encouraging the Internet-based events because they are so cost efficient. Baumann stated, "With virtual trade shows, the technology has gotten to the point where you can do just about anything online that you can do at a traditional trade show. Actually, you can do some things better. For example, if you are an exhibitor, you have a limited budget. Out of that budget, you have to get room, board, travel, staff time, entertainment costs, off-line meetings with your companion companies -- it costs an awful lot to have a booth at a show. There is the cost of the booth, then you have to ship the booth, and so forth. If I am trying to maximize my budget, I am going to minimize the shows I am not confident in. So, I may reduce the number of shows. But if I can do an online trade show with an organization and kick their tires and all it costs me is the price of a booth, I’ll do it! Then, if it works, I’ll probably show up at your traditional trade show."
Excellent article! Thanks to the Michigan Society of Association Execs for this interview. Visit their newsletter to read it in full: http://www.bottomlinebriefing.com/getArticle_nl.cfm?abid=2419AE111D0C&sid=241FA4
Monday, May 10, 2010
Keep Your Nonprofit Safe from Spam Complaints
Does your nonprofit send out e-newsletters, fundraising appeals by email, and/or group “email blasts” to your mailing list? And do those messages sometimes get refused or marked as spam? If so, that’s a problem – for your messaging and for your organization’s reputation – but fortunately it’s a problem you can do something to fix.
Here are a few good resources to help you keep your emails out of the spam filters, and improve your organization’s email deliverability rate:
Mailermailer’s Checklist for Email List Managers suggests 7 easy ways to reduce the chance of spam complaints from your email contacts, protect your organization’s reputation, and make sure those email messages keep getting through to your supporters. You’ll want to read the original article for detailed explanations, of course, but here are the highlights:
- Be careful how you word your "Subject" line (you can probably guess some of the key words to avoid!)
- Send a "Welcome" message to every list member
- Keep sign-up records
- Remind people that they subscribed
- Include an alternate means of contact
- Send your mailings regularly (so people don’t forget who you are!)
CAN-SPAM Friendly Emails that Work (also from Mailermailer) gives a great non-technical overview of the legal requirements for commercial emailers, penalties for spammers, and the rights of consumers under the United States CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 – as well as practical suggestions for your organization to avoid running afoul of the FTC and your audience.
Although CAN-SPAM is an American law, it sets the standards (and expectations) for best practices for business email in much of the world, so it’s worthwhile to take a good look at the Federal Trade Commission’s Compliance Guide for Business, which is set out like an FAQ so really quite readable.
Email Deliverability: Do's, Don'ts and How to Reach the Inbox, an excellent free guide from the friendly giant of email marketing, AWeber, lays out 7 simple steps you can take to get more of your mail delivered. “And to make sure you stay on the right path, we threw in 5 pitfalls that can derail an otherwise deliverable campaign” so you’ll know what not to do, too. AWeber will ask for your email address to send you the download link for the guide, but no worries there – you can bet that you won’t get spammed!
As more and more nonprofits rely on email contact with their members, donors, volunteers, and blog or newsletter subscribers as a vital communication channel, to keep supporters updated on the issues or as part of their fundraising programs, email deliverability is critical. When things go awry with your mailing list and your messages don’t get through, It can be tempting to blame the email services provider. As it turns out, however – sometimes the deliverability problem is you. Taking an hour or so to brush up on email marketing “best practices” could save a lot of grief for your organization, and maybe even boost your fundraiser’s bottom line.
Good advice for all associations! Thanks, Rebecca for this article!
Thursday, May 6, 2010
May. 6, 2010 - My New Best Friend: Dialogue with an IT Guy
Matt: My industry colleague Judith recently posted brilliantly about Associations having an IT strategy outside of MLS (http://www.realtown.com/Judith2/blog/it1). I'm also hearing from more and more Associations evaluating how to distance themselves from MLS functions - some just by governance changes, others going all the way to the point of having Association dues pay for Association functions and MLS dues pay for MLS functions, with no money flowing from the MLS to the Association.
Especially with but not limited to smaller organizations, it is difficult to get all the way to that latter point, and there will be payments to the Association for use of facilities, staff time, and other resources - but just like RESPAs "no unearned fees", in this case Associations are providing specific value to the MLS and earning the money they receive from the MLS. To get back to Judith's point, whether there is full separation from the MLS or some staff are shared, this means that IT staff at the Association have time devoted to specific association activities and carrying out the Association's IT strategy. If the IT staff is shared with the MLS and 60% of their time is billed to the MLS, then they should be able to show how they spent 40% of their time working on the Association mission. But I rarely see this happening in practice.
I'll spend a little more time on the shared resource question, as it is quite common. If there is not complete Association / MLS separation, there may be some shared IT infrastructure. For example, overall network management and associated costs may be split evenly between the organizations - but if the organization's workstations and servers are 80% Association identified, then 80% of the costs of server management would be allocated to the Association. If a common billing infrastructure is used, costs for that infrastructure and its management are split between the organizations. Likewise, I know when I visit some organizations to perform an information security audit, the cost is split between the Association and MLS budgets.
Judith: You're absolutely right on! I have suggested in earlier blog posts that good financial management of any association demands careful financial tracking of activity centers - not only the ones that have had direct income and expense, but also programs where the cost is buried in the overhead. Professional Standards is a good example: running an ethics enforcement service is very costly in terms of education for members and staff, volunteer time, clerical time - even if an association only hears a very few complaints a year, the infrastructure must be in place and ready to be utilized.
Certainly associations with MLS operations should set them up as separate cost centers, and factor in staff time and other overhead costs separately for each area. It's not difficult to obtain a rough working percentage allocation of resources. Usually staff can pretty accurately estimate time spent, or a manager may want to maintain a time log for a period of time in order to substantiate the operation.
Matt: So, let's talk about how IT supports the Association's mission. As I recently blogged about on the Clareity Consulting blog, the Association mission is not homogeneous across the country (See: "Taking a Good Hard Look at the Realtor Association Mission" [http://www.realtown.com/clareity/blog/realtor-association-mission]). But, some of the more common Association strategic components include:
- Member profitability / success
- Advocate for ownership / property rights
- Support professionalism / competency
- Support ethics / integrity
- Advocate for REALTORS(R) / interests / public policy
- Provide member services / resources / education
How can the IT strategy support those mission components? I see "member profitability and success" and "professionalism / competency" as pure mission components and "member services / resources / education" as strategies for helping to achieve them. Not that the latter components need to be cut from the mission statement - it's okay to describe a bit of the "how" in a mission statement. Anyway, these days, technology supports member services, resources and education. What kinds of things would IT staff do to support them?Judith: What is really the point here is that if we, as trade associations, are concerned primarily with the professional welfare of our members, then all of our organizational activities must be directed that way. And certainly member education, product and service delivery, community building through electronic media, and developing technology strategies and budgets are crucial functions. That sounds to me like the components of a job description for an IT person.
Matt: So, the IT person might do any or all of the following: manage the servers and workstations and all associated software used by Association staff, manage hands-on computer classrooms for training, manage or develop online education along with subject matter experts or third party companies, create and manage a virtual technology tradeshow develop or gather content about 'tech tips and tricks' for success, provide software training, provide computer support, create, manage and innovate the Association website, facilitate online external communications - IP Telephony, social networking and community building, email, fax-blast, voicemail-blast, etc., facilitate internal communications - intranet, internal newsletters, instant messaging, help desk tracking, call tracking, and/or create statistical market analysis for internal, member, and external uses.
Obviously, as mentioned previously there are general IT infrastructure components that aren't directly tied to the mission but are necessary anyway. An association wouldn't work without billing which - unless it's entirely outsourced - requires PCI Compliance [https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/] at the office, association management software, and merchant account levels - so staff must manage information security and IT risk mitigation. IT staff must also help plan and test disaster recovery planning and business resumption planning (BRP), since the Association must be able to deliver on its mission reliably - even if, and perhaps especially if, there is a disaster.
Judith: I think the other thing we need to discuss is, "OK, what kind of money are we talking? And how do I get it? And is there any ROI on these nerdy guys that I can explain to my Board of Directors?"
Matt: Wow, those are tough questions! I'll take them in reverse order. I'm not sure we can talk 'return on investment' / 'ROI' when it comes to staff unless the association is going to use that staff person to start a new business with tracked profit and loss. What's the ROI on your education staff or on your receptionist? They're just part of the business of providing association service - and in terms of getting the money, association dues should support association services. Sometimes associations - especially smaller ones - just can't afford a specialized IT person. Some outsource some of the tasks I described previously to a local IT company - and that's a valid business decision. I do find that when IT is outsourced a lot of the more creative and innovation oriented tasks I mentioned previously just don't get done. Even if non-technical staff comes up with an idea, the organization has a hard time getting a budget on-the-fly for the technical help they need to execute that idea.
Judith: That stands to reason. When you subcontract something, you really are defining a job to be done, usually at a specified price. The subcontractor does the job, and takes her check to the bank. But there's no incentive to for her to spend any other resources on the organization: she did what she was paid for. A full-time employee is certainly more likely to be creative, and to see solutions that might be missed by a task-focused subcontractor.
But that's what I was thinking about the "ROI factor". An IT person can in fact discover and implement certain efficiencies which save the association time and money - data record management and accounting are good examples. And in my association management job, my excellent IT person was able to implement many additional association income centers - website advertising, featured listings, a vacation rental website. We couldn't have even thought of these possibilities had we not had a really imaginative and skilled IT person on our staff.
Matt: About your question, "What kind of money are we talking?" associations get what they pay for. A general rule of thumb in IT is that you can get a junior person for 40-60k, a mid-level person for 60-80k, and a senior person with lots of skills is going to cost more than that. But, doing a lot of technical recruiting and staff evaluations, I can tell you that there are bargain employees to be had, and I've run into some highly paid IT people with little skill at strategy execution.
In your post "Part 4 of Life after MLS: Your IT Manager is Your New Best Friend" [http://www.realtown.com/Judith2/blog/it4], you referenced a NTEN survey from which one could draw the conclusion that, "In an association where the CEO makes $100,000, the IT Manager makes three quarters that much." I disagree - they are paid what they are worth, and depending on the amount of skill required and desired. The NTEN figures don't seem to be supported by real data from our industry either. Take a look at the figures from this industry survey I recently conducted (note, this is only a partial chart, for reasons of space). If the NTEN survey was accurate for our industry you would see almost all of the IT Director salaries in the yellow-highlighted area of the chart. Instead, you can see that where CEOs are lower-paid, sometimes the IT person makes as much as - or more than - the CEO does. And where CEOs are highly paid, sometimes the IT person makes less than the NTEN survey would have indicated.
Again, the salary will reflect the skills and experience required and desired by the association.
Judith: So the NTEN figure was a misleading generality. What I was trying to get at, though, was that the IT position is not only a necessity in the evolving and healthy association, but also that function should represent a significant investment in the organization's personnel cost.
I was the AE of a smallish association, but we had - as I've said - one terrific IT person. Not full time, but I was fortunate enough to find someone who was brilliant and considered flat food (like plenty of pizza and Hershey bars) a real fringe benefit. He grew in skills, we grew in capacity, and it was a good relationship all around. My point is, there are ways to build your IT capacity, no matter how small the organization or how lacking in resources it may be. You've suggested subcontracting parts of the job, and often that's all an association can afford to do. I'd go one step further, and suggest that in our current environment where everyone is examining ways to consolidate services and share resources, sharing an IT person between associations is certainly a logical way to go. Many of the basic IT tasks don't vary that much from one association to another, and it would be a natural to share an IT position between 2 or 3 similar sized Realtor associations.
The important point here is for Realtor association managers to look beyond MLS in defining what an IT position can contribute to their association's capacity to fulfill its mission. As I said before, if you're an AE, your IT manager is indeed your new best friend.