ASAE Annual 2007 – Innovation through Sustainability, Inclusiveness, Customer Need

17 08 2007


Understanding the Strategic Social Responsibility Opportunity

Susan Sarfati is right when she says that Social Responsibility is potentially a major opportunity for associations as part of their long term strategy.

Unfortunately, people walked away from Chicago with a lack of clarity on the following important questions that could help people understand its potential:

  • What is the difference between the existing SR programs in which my association has invested and this thing called “strategic social responsibility” promoted by ASAE and the Center?
  • What is the business case for “strategic social responsibility?”
  • Who are the innovators leading the way in different industries or professions?
  • How does this impact our existing business model, strategies?
  • What are the resource costs?
  • Who can help me?
  • How can I measure results?

Monday afternoon, Robin Lokerman from MCI Group presented during the learning lab on strategic SR and how it will impact their business. You can download his slides here. It is worth your time, because it illustrates the difference in opportunity and effort required versus program-based social responsibility we have come to know. Lokerman’s fellow panelists from SDA and ADA represent the program variety – very worthy but not strategic in their impact across an organization.

In essence, what ASAE and the Center call “strategic social responsibility” is referred to in the mainstream business press and among business innovators as “sustainable business development.” Those who see the opportunity are rethinking their business models, core strategies, and the infrastructure needed to deliver and measure results so that they can deliver not only financial gain but also social and environmental gain.

In their view, traditional business “externalities” like regulatory costs in which many businesses must comply are examples of inefficiencies or waste that can be designed out of their businesses. In other words, it is a chance to redesign business to become even more profitable while making a positive measurable economic, social and environmental impact to Society.

ASAE and the Center ought to concentrate on highlighting the current market innovators like Herman Miller, Nike, Shaw Carpet, Interface Carpet and others who are pursuing this innovative path. We are talking huge opportunity for growth.

Here is the evidence:



If Monday’s general session didn’t explain it well enough for you. Listen to this Fortune 500 CEO of a $1.5 billion US company explain their business case.

Check out Interface Carpets’ sustainability website to learn more about their progress toward business sustainability.

Ungovernance – Become More Open, Inclusive & Participatory

Jeff De Cagna’s session was a breath of fresh air. We need more sessions like this willing to ask the tough questions that are likely to deconstruct old tried and true models that no longer work in favor of those which can foster innovation. His session was based on this month’s Association Now article.

It was great to start by having each table discuss what doesn’t work with the present governance models association use. Here is what I collected from the room when we debriefed:

  • Can’t change, always done it that way culture
  • Pushing personal agendas over real world data
  • Slow process, unresponsive, inability to execute
  • Board view not representative of membership POV
  • Desire to control
  • Lack of diversity of ideas
  • Myopic POV
  • Poor coordination
  • Misalignment to mission and strategy
  • Trust paradox (of the rank and file)
  • Poor leadership skills (e.g. strategic thinking)

De Cagna is right when he argues that we should be heading toward an ecology of stewardship that promotes openness.

Certainly the Decision to Join study suggests that the old “walled garden” strategy developed by volunteer leaders and staff in those ivory towers for the good of those outside the walls can not continue unless you wish further membership erosion.

Yesterday, I suggested that the D2J data suggests a fourth principle to add to the three proposed by De Cagna: associations exist to create value not to be governed, innovation is about creating new value, association stewards must focus on the business model.

The fourth might read like this:

The longer your association waits to implement governance and product development changes that are more “open and inclusive” to the rank and file member, the more likely you can expect to generate lower retention rates or product sales.

A last observation from our table discussion was that the strength of an association’s volunteer leadership development program plays a significant role (good or bad) in one’s ability to execute.

If you want to measure yours against a great model, consider the Project Management Institutes’s Leadership Program. They have mapped competencies including leadership and interpersonal development skills and incorporated them into their certification programs.

De Cagna views a more open governance model as having the following characteristics: simplicity of access and engagement, distributed responsibility to innovate (e.g. strategy, investment according to their ability and interest), and diversity of perspective and contributions.

For further thoughts on open innovation, business models, and product strategies:

Market Trends Are Less Important Than Customer Need

Hummer and Mini – Robyn Waters

Robyn Waters’ presentation was useful to help remind us that chasing trends especially now in an era of contradictory choices (Hummers versus MiniCooper owners) can be dangerous to your fiscal health.

Customers cant be fit into boxes anymore and labeled X or Y. More and more they pick products or services across customer segments. So Waters suggests that we focus on “what’s important to the customer and less on what’s next.”

Consider her old employer Target. It is upscale/retail (expect more but pay less). Provide high value but at less of a premium than Nordstrom.

This made me realize that sessions at ASAE ought to teach organizational strategy and how it should be aligned to product development. For instance, are you in the business of providing value to members as the low cost provider, the leading edge innovator or the one who knows you best and provides precisely what the customer wants?

Depending on how you answer, your organization strategy to align operations, product development and customer management would be different.

Waters also believes that in an era of overwhelming choices (an average dept store has over 30,000 skus), you need to focus on customizing products to customer need.

This argues for more open product development processes as described earlier. You cant do everything by traditional market research. You need to engage customers as part of the process of developing what you plan to sell them in real time.

Finally, if not to echo the important or growing importance of social responsibility, Waters believes the data shows that customers will make final product decisions by how socially responsible your business is. Ethical choice is driving consumer choice.

For further thoughts on customer-centric strategy:




2 responses

18 08 2007
Susan Paddock

I was interested in the post regarding D2J – I don’t know of any association that isn’t looking at membership retention and recruitment. I would like to get a link if possible to session on assoc. governance – this is a hot topic for my husband.

18 08 2007
Peter Turner


The study D2J can be purchased through ASAE and the Center from here

The slide deck from one of the sessions on this topic can be found here

The ungovernance session led by Jeff DeCagna can be obtained from his site via registration at

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