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MASAE members are front line professionals in association and nonprofit management. They are chief staff officers, executive directors, senior staff and members of diverse teams including membership, marketing, financial, human resources, education and information technology (just to name a few). Members are also consultants, vendors and suppliers from a host of backgrounds, all committed to helping nonprofit and membership organizations from throughout the region continue to realize their missions and more. The community has come together to create this blog and share their experiences with the larger association community. It’s part of MASAE’s commitment to create real value, right in your back yard. We hope you enjoy the stories our guest bloggers share and that you join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.


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Top tags: engagement  relevancy  President  Tim Bower 

Finding a Community, Finding a Career

Posted By Joeseph Sapp, CAE, Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Updated: Sunday, October 1, 2017

Much like others who find themselves in Association Management, I was completely in the dark about the industry until I found myself right in the middle of it.  I did not study to become an Association Executive and I have never joined a membership society before therefore I did not know that there was an abundance of associations for almost anything.

At the start of my career in association management I was at the bottom – learning membership protocols, staffing a booth at a tradeshow, returning phone calls to the office, and stuffing envelopes.  As I improved my understanding of what this industry was, I sought resources that would give me more opportunity.  That first resource was DVSAE and, subsequently, MASAE. 

I attended a half-day workshop in Philadelphia and there I met a few people, heard some things that made no sense to me at the time and left overwhelmed.  A few months later I attended the Annual Conference.  I saw someone that I had met at the previous workshop, and they remembered my name. They welcomed me and said it was good to see I had decided to attend the conference. 

That was an “Oh Sh*t” moment that changed everything.  I was no longer working in Association Management, I had a career in Association Management.  I had found a community, one that gave me the tools I needed to grow professionally.

Since that day, I have been to nearly every MASAE event.  I have met colleagues and friends.  People that I trust, that I can call with a question and know without a doubt I am getting honest and professional feedback. 

I have seen what impact I can have on the industry as well.  From calling a member about renewal to planning the Annual Conference, I have seen the value the organization brings to people and their career.  I think about the different industries our members serve and the type of value they are bringing, and from time-to-time it still gives me that same “Oh Sh*t” moment I had years ago when I realized the value that MASAE gave my career.  

Tags:  engagement 

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How Did I Get Here and Where Do I Go Now?”

Posted By Ethan Gray, Sunday, October 1, 2017

If you’re like me, Association Management was not on your radar screen while you were in college. Since I finished my undergraduate studies in 2003, the industry has (in my eyes) gained much more visibility. I think that speaks not only to its vitality but the recognition of its essential role in society by institutions of higher education. That didn’t help me in 2003 though. I left college with enthusiasm, great memories, an economics degree and almost no direction. Instead of moving back home, I relocated to Philadelphia with my future wife and some equally wayward friends and signed up for AmeriCorps (an exceptional program with beautifully varied opportunities).

AmeriCorps introduced me to the non-profit environment and to real service. When my term ended, I envisioned two paths I could consider walking: 1) Go back to economics and try to find an entry-level role as an analyst or continue to pursue this foggy non-profit world. I chose the latter. I was lucky enough to convince several people that I had a real penchant for service and for contributing to a cause or profession designed to make a difference rather than simply generate a profit. Two jobs later I said to myself “I seem to have at least found a role that makes sense and might keep me gainfully employed for a while”. This was partly because I had been able to transfer skills I had acquired in my econ training (data manipulation, introductory project management etc.). This is an important point because I believe many concentrations teach fundamental skills that are applicable daily to this industry. In a way, that provides a diversity of opportunity that may not be so readily available elsewhere. Anyway, I found myself in another period of contemplation. And then it happened. I found a job at an Association Management Company. What was “As·so·ci·a·tion Man·age·ment”?? I didn’t know but would be quickly educated. When I fully grasped the concept, I knew I had found a career. Not only was I amazed but I felt gratitude for having somehow been delivered to this opportunity; an opportunity for a real professional life. Through that job, I was introduced to MASAE. Now, I had not only a career path but a community and resources to help me navigate, contribute and be successful. 

That all happened 11 years ago. Since then, my wife has walked a path that lead to the same industry (how cute) and her vocation has taken her all over the world as a volunteer specialist teaching people about the power of professional engagement and community.  Through this all, MASAE has been a place for learning, building relationships and becoming a better association manager. The organization was a principal reason I pursued and achieved the CAE credential. I have been grateful that MASAE has also allowed me to serve as a speaker, committee member and now board member.

Whether you have been recently delivered to Association Management or are seasoned, MASAE is your community and can be an indispensable resource should you choose to engage (come to networking events! access resources online! join a committee!). The community will be stronger with your contributions. My path to this profession was largely circumstantial. Since I arrived, I have been deliberate in my unwillingness to travel elsewhere. I know many MASAE members and I would like to meet and learn from more. I hope to see you at upcoming events. Feel free to connect at any time.

I now work in membership at the Society of Hospital Medicine in Philadelphia; or find me on LinkedIn

Tags:  engagement 

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Deconstructing the relevance fallacy: part II

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 21, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Editors Note:  Many thanks to Jeff De Cagna from Principled Innovation, LLC for being our first guest blogger.  We hope you enjoy his three part series that will run over the next two weeks.


In Part I of this series, I began deconstructing the relevance fallacy from the point of view of association thrivability. In this post, I will continue this process by examining relevance from the stakeholder perspective. 


What will your current and future stakeholders need to thrive over the next decade and beyond? 


In a world being buffeted by the forces of transformation, association stakeholders will continue to encounter both complex challenges and compelling opportunities. The profound impact of these forces, especially the application of powerful technologies in every industry, profession and field, is reinventing the very nature of work (and not always for the better)while also enabling more convenient ways to connect, cooperate and collaborate, i.e., to associate, with peers anywhere in the world, in any language and at any time.  


On the surface, relevance thinking appears to be the exact approach associations should pursue to help their stakeholders thrive over the next decade and beyond. To further reveal the relevance fallacy, however, it is worth asking which players reallbenefit (or don’t) from this mindset and why. 


The relevance mindset benefits boards - As I have argued before, association boards frequently adhere to a membership ideology, which is understandable given that most board members make some connection between association membership and their own professional success. Since it is tied to membership, then, the relevance mindset reinforces boards’ existing orthodox beliefs and nurtures a misplaced clarity for the overarching purpose of their work as senior decision-makers. 


The relevance mindset benefits senior staff teams - For association CEOs and their direct reportsadopting and acting on the relevance mindset is an attractive alternative to the more challenging work of creating truly 21st century associations. This observation is not offered as a criticism, but as a clear-eyed recognition of reality. Building an association to thrive in a time of societal transformation is a highly complicated and unpredictable endeavor, while relevance thinking is an intuitive, if incremental, approach to making improvements 


The relevance mindset does not benefit stakeholders Contrary to popular belief, current and future stakeholders do not benefit from associations’ focus on relevance. The combination of problems, needs and outcomes these stakeholders face demands a stronger response from associations, a genuine commitment to create distinctive and meaningful value that effectively harnesses the forces of transformation for innovation. 


In the final part of this series, I will consider the relevance fallacy in the context of why current and future stakeholders should want to have relationships with associations over the next decade and beyond. 


Jeff De Cagna FASAE is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, located in Reston, Virginia. He can be reached at or on Twitter @pinnovation. 


Tags:  engagement  relevancy 

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Deconstructing the relevance fallacy: part I

Posted By Jeff De Cagna, Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Editors Note: Many thanks to Jeff De Cagna, founder of Principled Innovation LLC for being our first guest blogger.

As I travel around the country for both client work and public presentations, I hear a growing number of association decision-makers staff and voluntary alike - repeating a very familiar refrain: we need to make our associations relevant. Whenever someone expresses this point of view, I have a decidedly mixed reaction. On the one hand, I feel genuine empathy because relevance thinking usually is shared as a sincere, well-intentioned response to the complicated challenges created by a volatile and uncertain marketplace.  


On the other hand, I almost always feel a strong wave of frustration wash over me whenever I hear the word “relevance” used in this context. As a long-time association contributor who is committed, as a matter of both purpose and passion, to building 21st century organizations, it is difficult for me to view the relevance mindset as anything other than a serious threat to the real work of building associations to thrive in the years ahead. 


To better understand why relevance is a dangerous fallacy that associations must immediately abandon, I will use my guest posts on this blog to examine and deconstruct the fallacy by applying the three core questions that underpin long-term association thrivability: 


1. What will it take for your association to thrive over the next decade and beyond? 


2. What will your current and future stakeholders need to thrive over the next decade and beyond? 


3. Why should your current and future stakeholders want a relationship with your association over the next decade and beyond? 


Legacy organizations of all kinds are asking themselves the same questions, even if their versions use different words. For association decision-makers, these three questions provide a helpful structure for encouraging both greater discipline and greater creativity in their thinking about the future. 


What will it take for your association to thrive over the next decade and beyond? 


Over the last 25 years, the comparatively stable experience of linear change to which we have all grown accustomed has been supplanted by a profound, intensifying and accelerating experience of societal transformation, driven primarily by the relentless impact of technology on every field of human endeavor. In 2015, we are still closer to the beginning of this transformation than the end, and associations must act now to prepare for even more significant developments yet to come. 


Thrivability is about creating an association that can flourish in a world experiencing transformation. To be thrivable, associations need to be both adaptable to rapidly shifting conditions and resilient in the work of co-creating distinctive new value. While thrivability is about nurturing the development of new organizational capabilities for the future, the relevance mindset leads associations to limit their thinking about the future in (at least) three important ways: 


The relevance mindset is tied to membership. For the most part, when association decision-makers speak of making their organizations more relevant, what they are really talking about is making membership in the association more relevant. The focus on thrivability, however, challenges decision-makers to think beyond the sacrosanct orthodoxy of membership and act to develop meaningful relationships with distributed networks of stakeholders, including those who will never join, to collaborate on the creation of value. 


The relevance mindset ignores resistance and risk. Many decision-makers honestly believe that diminished relevance explains their organizations’ inability to realize their full potential. The work of thrivability acknowledges the true problems - the unchecked influence of internal resistance to transformation and the misplaced fear of the external risk of innovation - and focuses organizational attention on addressing those problems directly to build adaptability and resilience. 


The relevance mindset is not generative. In my experience, association decision-makers see relevance as something that can be addressed with a combination of fairly incremental programmatic and promotional initiatives. Thrivability, in contrast, demands a truly holistic and generative approach and, as I have previously written, “[w]hen we focus on being generative, we can create new dimensions of success both organizationally and for our stakeholders, but only if we’re willing to think differently about how we do our work. 


In Part II of this series, I will look at the relevance fallacy through the lens of what association stakeholders will need to thrive over the next decade and beyond. 


Jeff De Cagna FASAE is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, located in Reston, Virginia. He can be reached at or on Twitter @pinnovation. 


Tags:  engagement  relevancy 

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