As DEI efforts face increased criticism, board diversity has stalled. To get back on track, remember why these efforts have such power in the first place.

This is a tricky time for conversations around board diversity. Organizations generally grasp the importance of broadening the pool of volunteer leaders: It creates space for new ideas, makes organizations more representative of their membership, and helps avoid internal toxicity. But there’s also increasing pushback around board diversity, as part of more vocal complaints around DEI initiatives. 

For instance, last week a federal appeals court announced that it would rehear a challenge to a rule by Nasdaq that the companies it lists disclose their boards’ race and gender composition. Edward Blum, president of the Alliance for Fair Board Recruitment, one of the organizations taking the challenge to court, told CNBC that the rule “promotes racial discrimination and polarizing personal disclosures.”

That’s debatable. But the fact that it’s become part of a debate has shifted the tone around board diversity, and perhaps chilled efforts around it somewhat: A Conference Board survey from late last year found that the percentage of women and racially/ethnically diverse directors has effectively stalled in the past year, mainly due to decreased diversity among new board members. The report notes that the long-term trendline points to overall increased diversity, but the short-term outlook is concerning.  

The percentage of women and racially/ethnically diverse board leaders has effectively stalled in the past year.

What to do? As ever with hot-button topics, it helps to tune out the politicized chatter and focus on first principles: Why do we put an emphasis on board diversity in the first place? In a piece on that subject published last week at the Stanford Social Innovation Review, nonprofit professionals Katie Smith Milway and Susan Wolf Ditkoff point to a few examples from the space about how and why they frame those conversations on their boards. “Leaders who succeeded in the hard work of changing their boardroom culture and growing engagement for all members started with honest conversations, with each board member and senior staff, about why inclusion matters and how it reflects the organization’s values,” they write.

One key to promoting board diversity, they found, is structuring board meetings around strategy more than “stand-and-deliver presentations.” By emphasizing big-picture organizational needs, the need for a wide range of voices naturally becomes part of the work. They cite one excellent generative question boards should ask: “What are board members seeing that we as an organization don’t yet know?” That’s a good, fiduciary-responsibility and foresight question. But it also prompts the board to look at what it’s missing—and who can help fill those gaps. 

On top of that, Milway and Ditkoff recommend another idea: “Bring views of those you seek to help into every board meeting to connect members directly to the work.” They’re writing about the charitable-nonprofit space, but it can be as helpful an idea for the association world, to get a sense of where its efforts are succeeding, and what it might be missing. (There’s also a potential knock-on benefit of identifying future board members as well.)

These ideas aren’t magic fixes. Board structures are complicated; their size, accessibility, pipeline process, promotion mechanisms, nomination process, onboarding process, leadership, and overall culture all have a substantial impact on who gets to participate and how inclusive they’ll ultimately be. But squabbling over whether diversity in itself is worth the while is a dead end. In uncertain times, you want all the input in terms of experience and knowledge you can possibly leverage. You only get that if you make an active effort to acquire it.

The post The Case for Board Diversity appeared first on Associations Now.

AHA’s initiative builds on research that find that oral-health issues can signal risks for diabetes, stroke, and other ailments.

The American Heart Association has launched a partnership with Delta Dental to support early detection of heart disease.

Healthy Hearts, Healthy Smiles, an initiative announced last month, leverages the ability of dentists’ offices to notice signs of heart disease; for instance, chronic gum inflammation can be associated with coronary artery disease, stroke, and diabetes. That knowledge, combined with the fact that fewer Americans have paid regular visits to primary-care doctors since the pandemic, encouraged the association to pursue the program. According to a release regarding the program, approximately 27 million patients visit a dentist annually but not another physician.

“We are constantly thinking about how we can get further upstream into primary care settings to prevent heart disease and prevent the progression of diseases,” said Juliana Crawford, National Vice President of Consumer Health Solutions at AHA. “Dentists are uniquely positioned—they are already doing high blood pressure screenings, or at least taking a reading. But are they talking to a patient about it, or not? They’re probably not, but they could, and it wouldn’t be difficult.”

Under the partnership agreement, AHA is using its research around oral health and heart disease to develop straightforward protocols that dental professionals can use in their offices. Delta Dental will use those protocols in five test communities. 

According to AHA, approximately 27 million patients visit a dentist annually but not another physician.

Selecting the five test markets involved including diverse communities, with an eye toward health-equity issues in the United States, identifying places where many residents are less likely to have or visit a primary-care doctor. “We want to have geographic diversity, and both of our organizations are highly focused on health equity,” Crawford said. “So we want to start where we’ve seen populations that probably are not accessing primary care on a regular basis, with a strong geographic distribution. We also want to make sure we’re not missing rural settings too.”

The partnership, which was first developed in early 2023, is slated to run for four years, Crawford said. The first two years will focus on the test markets, with plans to reassess after that pilot.  

“It’s really important for us and our collaborators to understand that if you’re trying to drive change at this scale, one year is not going to work,” she said. “Four years is a healthy commitment, because we imagine at the end of four years, we’re going to understand what works and we’re going have the package to scale.”

By tracking doctor referrals and other metrics, AHA will determine if it wants to expand the initiative to other markets. But much of the work in the initiative’s early days will be determining what dental-office protocols make sense. “In the early days, process metrics are going to rule the day,” she said. “But as we move on, I think it’s going to focus on referrals and the follow-through on referrals. Did patients actually move forward and end up in primary care? Those are the sorts of things that show it’s really working and we’re moving the needle—if people take action.”

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Workers are still feeling uncertain about their role on the job, which has implication for association staffs and the industries they serve.

As a buzzword, “quiet quitting” is a thing of the past. But as a factor in the workplace, it remains very much a reality.

According to a new report from Gallup, employee engagement still hasn’t quite recovered from the pandemic, with 50 percent of workers categorized as disengaged—that is, quiet quitting. “Compared with 2020, employees still feel more detached from—and less satisfied with—their organizations and are less likely to connect to the companies’ mission and purpose or to feel someone cares about them as a person,” a report on the survey states

That stagnation has implications not just for association staffs but for how associations support the industries they serve. After all, every association leader wants people working in their industry to feel some kind of enthusiasm for it. 

Of course, the reasons for that disengagement can vary, and many don’t necessarily have anything to do with the organization itself. According to the Gallup report, remote- and hybrid-work policies still play a substantial role. But that particular problem speaks to the broader problem of workers who feel uncertain where they stand. As a JD Supra report on employee engagement notes, employees can feel uncertain at an individual level (work-life balance, professional development), at a team level (collaboration, communication), and organizationally (transparency, values, mission). 

Remote- and hybrid-work policies still play a substantial role in employee engagement.

So addressing engagement is in large part surfacing the reasons behind that uncertainty, which means gathering data from employees. The JD Supra piece has some good advice around structuring those questions, all rooted in identifying the kinds of challenges an organization wants to address. “It’s important to consider what aspects of employee engagement you want to measure,” the article says. “Are you interested in their overall satisfaction with their job? Their level of motivation and commitment? Their perception of communication with the organization? Identifying these key drivers will help guide your question formulation.”

In that process, the article adds, it’s important to ask specific questions (“Do you feel valued for your contributions?”) and avoid broad ones (“Are you happy?”). But the organization also needs to commit to doing something with the information it gathers. Corporate CHRO Anne Buchanan told HRO Today in a recent article that it uses both feedback and hard data, compiled in a quarterly dashboard. That process ensures “we understand what’s working, what people are interested in, and what to leave behind,” she said.

Once those concerns and solutions are identified, leaders need to be as clear as possible about what it’s doing, why, and how it serves their people. Speaking to Forbes, leadership consultant Jennifer Dulski are under more pressure to set expectations and provide support in remote and hybrid environments. “Leaders need to be much more intentional about building connection and trust between colleagues,” she said. “The good news is that it’s possible to create strong connections on teams, even virtually, as long as you put focus towards it.”

There are reasons to feel optimistic about that—despite these challenges, the Gallup report notes that the percentage of actively disengaged workers (“loud quitters”) is on the decline. A certain amount of disengagement is to be expected; association leaders can’t solve every emotional issue for every worker. But it can make good-faith efforts to understand the main ones, and support their staffs and industry community while addressing them.

What has your association done to address engagement in your staff or within your industry? Share your experiences in the comments.

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The Info-Tech Research Group’s study finds that many organizations have opportunities to use generative AI to bolster attendance and member engagement.

A new report found that associations have lagged behind the corporate sector in adopting generative AI, and offered some recommendations for catching up.

Last month, Info-Tech Research Group released its Generative AI Use Case Library for the Nonprofit & Professional Associations Industry, which noted that the nonprofit sector has been hesitant to use AI tools; it cites a study that says only 16 percent of nonprofit professionals were using the technology in 2022, compared industries like biotech, automotive, and professional services, where at least half had adopted it.

“Nonprofits are treading carefully, similar to their approach on digital transformation,” said Info-Tech managing partner, executive services Neil de Ridder, adding that many leaders are concerned about “funding dips, tighter budgets, program disruptions, the level of technology leadership, and concerns around organization and data privacy.”

Moreover, the report noted that many organizations have struggled to identify where to start. To that end, the report spotlights three main use cases: “authentic constituent chatbots” that can efficiently and personably respond to stakeholder questions; “fundraising/membership intelligence”; and “grant writing transformation.” 

Nonprofits are treading carefully, similar to their approach on digital transformation.

Info-Tech managing partner, executive services Neil de Ridder

For associations, de Ridder said, chatbots offer opportunities to both provide information to members and customers, and to gather information about them. “Real-time analysis of feedback received should help nonprofits to change and shift services so as to meet new and emerging needs,” he said. Similarly, AI can offer “real-time analysis of member data to identify trends, preferences, and potential areas for new services or improvement,” and personalize meeting experiences, “[advising] on sessions and identify[ing] the best networking opportunities.”

But the report stressed that each organization should develop a process for creating their own use cases, based on an assessment of their organization’s readiness, needs, and technological capabilities. “Successful pilots rely on the right use cases,” the report said. “The purpose of use case prioritization is to ensure that your organization can invest time and resources into a new initiative with the highest likelihood of providing value.”

De Ridder said this assessment requires “an all-hands-on-deck approach. The organization needs to determine its position on Gen AI adoption. The stakeholders should be executive leadership and all the major departments, such as program development and delivery, marketing, member services, fundraising, IT, and even the board of directors. The diversity within these organizations is huge, and each perspective is important.” Once that input is gathered, he said, “we suggest identifying and prioritizing initiatives that have the most value with minimal complexity.”

The report also notes that any assessment and pilot program be tied to a plan around AI governance, monitoring issues of data privacy and communicating with users about how the association is using generative AI. “Organizations should communicate with members on how their data is being used and guarantee their data is safeguarded,” de Ridder said. “And when using chatbots to engage members, let them know the AI’s role and offer alternatives for those preferring a more human interaction. Building and maintaining this trust is vital.”

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As a disruptive technology, generative AI has few peers. But old-fashioned planning can help you address it.

Sometimes it seems to be in the nature of CEOs to catastrophize: A PwC survey released last month found that a growing percentage of CEOs fear their organizations won’t survive the next decade, thanks in part to concerns about generative AI. Forty-five percent of CEOs expressed that worry in the new survey, compared to 38 percent the year before.

The caveat in the survey is that the leaders say they worry about their organizations’ viability “without reinvention”—so let’s take a look at what reinvention might look like. 

Writing at Inc., tech executive Soren Kaplan points out that digital transformation is in many ways no different than any other change process, something associations have been used to since the pandemic. “The best transformations, whether digital or not, focus on quick wins and early adopters to build momentum,” he writes. “While a bigger-picture strategy can be helpful, just getting started is what’s most important.”

Kaplan’s path for leveraging AI and other tools, as it happens, doesn’t look much different than the process around creating a new meeting or member benefit—define your goals, assemble a team, develop a roadmap, and set a path for implementation. Where AI differs from other strategic initiatives is the breadth of uncertainty that surrounds it. That’s led to a lot of anxiety about “getting started” among nonprofits: A 2023 Salesforce survey found that just nonprofits were lagging the corporate world in terms of using or planning to use AI in the next 18 months.

Where AI differs from other strategic initiatives is the breadth of uncertainty that surrounds it.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of large companies are working to encourage nonprofits to step it up: Last month Microsoft launched a dedicated Nonprofit Community focused on tech and AI, hoping that as more organizations talk to one another the fear factor will diminish. “Combining the power of AI with the community that we are building here means that everyone can be included in the opportunity of AI at this key turning point,” the announcement stated. “Nonprofits are the changemakers of the world: Who better to lead by example in the era of AI change that we now face?”

Sounds nice—and flattering from a tech company plainly sensing a market opportunity. But what might it look like in practice for an association looking to transform but set realistic goals? There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit in terms of chatbots and similar tools; recently I’ve covered how associations have used AI to streamline legal processes and improve email marketing. But there are opportunities to think even bigger: Last week a story at Stanford Social Innovation Review laid out some ways that AI can help decisionmaking processes become more inclusive, addressing what the authors call the “perspective deficit” at organizations. It’s not hard to see how associations can benefit from that approach, from boards and committees to DEI initiatives and more.

All of which is promising and a little terrifying, as change often is. But associations have been here before, and the pandemic has primed them for it. The shifts that AI promise are still being written, but leaders have an opportunity now to open up the discussion about it.

What has your association been doing to leverage AI? Share your experiences in the comments.

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As association mergers and acquisition activity continue to increase, it’s important for association professionals to understand the ins and outs of a successful M&A. One expert shares how ensuring a good cultural fit can help associations ensure a smooth transition and provide greater value and impact to members and the organization.

Associations have seen an increase in mergers and acquisitions in recent years. From associations looking to broaden their reach to those acquiring new capabilities to expand their value propositions, associations are looking to M&A to drive greater value and social impact in today’s increasingly competitive landscape.

Given this increase, associations need to ensure that there’s proper integration and cultural fit once the deal goes through.

“No matter how well you plan, some issues will arise down the road,” said Pietro Macchiarella, CAE, director of the data and insights center of excellence at the Young Presidents’ Organization. “But, if you build a strong culture for the associations, you can deal with anything. For example, having management from both organizations can help lower the ‘us vs. them’ mentality, and people are more likely to operate as a team.”

Determining your organization’s non-negotiable items, recognizing the importance of cultural fit, and providing clear communication before, during, and after the M&A can help ensure the short- and long-term success of the deal.

Non-negotiable Items

According to Macchiarella, there are typically two categories of items that organizations want to protect during an M&A. The first are issues that may appear important but can usually be negotiated. For example, a longstanding annual event or tradition that members of one organization hold dear but may not align with the strategic goals or financial realities of the merged entity.

“While it’s cherished, it could be adaptable or transformable to fit the new organization’s objectives without losing its core essence,” Macchiarella said. “Figure out these items early, otherwise they could snowball into the post-merger phase and cause unnecessary problems.”

A non-negotiable item could be the organization’s core mission or purpose. For instance, if one association is dedicated to educational outreach and the other to professional development, any merger must ensure that the new entity continues to address both these aspects in some capacity, as they are integral to the identity and value proposition of the merged organization.

“Before a merger, associations should conduct a sensitivity analysis to understand which issues could be impacted,” Macchiarella said. “M&As can impact membership dynamics, current members, recruitment, and many other areas, so pay attention to the findings and try to distinguish between what is and isn’t negotiable.”

The Role of Culture

“Before the merger, assess the cultures of both organizations,” Macchiarella said. “Understand their values, norms, and practices to identify similarities and differences. Engage leaders, members, and staff from both organizations in discussions about the merger. Their insights can be invaluable in understanding the cultural dynamics.”

He recommends developing a shared vision and set of goals for the merged entity, which resonates with members of both organizations. This helps in creating a unified direction. In addition, it’s a good idea to create a plan for integrating the two cultures, addressing potential areas of conflict, and leveraging cultural strengths. This might include joint activities, workshops, and shared projects.

“Continuously monitor how the merged culture is evolving and be ready to adjust as necessary,” Macchiarella said.

Communication and Check-Ins

Consistent, clear communication is vital throughout the merger and acquisition process and after the deal has gone through.

“You want to keep staff and members informed about the progress and stages of the merger,” Macchiarella said. “This can be done through regular newsletters, emails, or special briefing sessions.”

He also suggests organizing sessions where staff and members can ask questions and express concerns as openness can foster trust and reduce uncertainty. Associations can establish specific channels like a merger webpage or hotline where updates are consistently posted, and inquiries can be made.

“Ensure that communication is inclusive,” Macchiarella said. “Acknowledging the histories and cultures of both organizations and emphasizing the benefits of the merger for all parties involved.”

The work doesn’t end after the deal is complete. Associations should develop a formal process for evaluating its progress and a clear path for the relationship in the short- and long-term.

Macchiarella recommends providing staff with training opportunities after an M&A, especially for those from the merged or newly acquired organization. These employees need to adapt to new roles and operating systems, as well as any cultural differences between the organizations.

“This process can leave a long legacy,” Macchiarella said. “Conducting frequent check-ins, recognizing milestones, and offering training can help ensure that everything is operating smoothly and reinforce a strong culture and team dynamic.”

The post What Associations Should Know About Successful Mergers and Acquisitions appeared first on Associations Now.

The National Association of Benefits and Insurance Professionals hopes the new department will expand membership and improve its suite of services.

The National Association of Benefits and Insurance Professionals (NABIP) has launched a new department focused on innovation, dedicated to leveraging member insights and AI to develop tools to better serve its audience.

According to a release, the new Strategy and Innovation Department, launched last month, will focus “on identifying rising trends in healthcare, developing new marketing opportunities and expanding NABIP’s membership.” Conversations around the new department began shortly after CEO Jessica Brooks-Woods took the reins at NABIP last year, she said. Member surveys had revealed a gap between member needs and what the association was delivering. “The comments were that we needed to be more agile in terms of how we communicate, from the local chapter up to national,” she said. “They wanted more tools available to them.”

In addition to developing new tools, the department will look at ways to draw new members to the organization. “We want to foster strategic membership growth, particularly where we don’t have it today—in the under-40 demographic, of folks who are being introduced to this profession,” Brooks-Woods said. 

We want to foster strategic membership growth, particularly where we don’t have it today.

NABIP CEO Jessica Brooks-Woods

To address those goals, NABIP has promoted one internal staffer to head the department and made one external hire, with more to come. Because the issues NABIP wants to address are so wide-reaching, Brooks-Woods said, it made more sense to stand up a dedicated department rather than establish an “innovation czar” for each part of the organization. 

“It has to be its own focused division that is incentivized to ensure we’re on top of an ever-changing landscape,” she said. “We also want it to be responsive. The KPIs are greater engagement, membership growth, adoption of new tools and resources that aid not just our members but those that they serve.”

Though the department has only existed since the beginning of the year, it’s already planning to announce some of its initial work products at its Capitol Conference later this month. “Some of it will be new tools, some of it is evolving existing tools,” Brooks-Woods said. For instance, the association is revamping an online agent finder to make it more user-friendly, and is looking at ways to leverage AI to make other improvements. 

“Every department right now is engaged in leveraging a variety of different tools, inclusive of AI but not exclusive of other other tools, to help them be more agile and connect more quickly with our members, elevate the member voice and marketplace voice,” she said. “That’s happening already.”

But the new tools are just a means toward NABIP’s specific goals, which Brooks-Woods said are “membership growth, revenue growth, and impact.” Membership and revenue can be measured straightforwardly, but to get a sense of impact, the department will be standing up regular focus groups to assess progress and needs. “Are our members’ businesses growing? Do they recognize the role we play in helping people have affordable, high-quality healthcare? Is NABIP becoming a household name—are we being seen as essential? We’re positioning ourselves as thought leaders in the marketplace and creating change in the marketplace, not just being a part of change.”

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Strategic plans can help guide associations toward future achievements and developments. It’s also possible to give the plan a specific focus if your association wants to change make changes to a major area. Here’s a look at the positive membership changes the Indiana State Bar Association has seen since creating and implementing a strategic plan focused on member value.

When Joe Skeel, CAE, started his position as executive director at the Indiana State Bar Association in 2018, one of his charges was to help strengthen and grow ISBA’s membership.

“Unlike many states, joining ISBA is voluntary for Indiana lawyers,” Skeel said. “So, we need to convince members that there’s good reason for them to join. One of the things I thought we could be doing better was to be more intentional about the programs and services that deliver member value and how we deliver that value.”

In 2020, the association conducted a scientific member survey to determine where members found value from being part of the association. The study found that members received value through education, advocacy, and connecting with other professionals. The results didn’t surprise ISBA. The real task was how to elevate those categories for members.

“For that reason, our plan was largely internal and foundational, it changed or codified our approach to how we delivered member value,” Skeel said.

Determine Responsibilities

According to Skeel, prioritizing accountability and ownership among staff and board members was key to the plan’s success.

Based on the data, ISBA engaged in meetings with its board and determined a strategic plan. The board laid out major goals and then staff fleshed out how to best reach those goals.

After the board approved the plan, ISBA assigned most of its staff members with specific tactics from the plan on ways to deliver value to members. In addition to giving staff clear responsibility over certain tactics, the association also held weekly and then monthly strategic planning meetings so staff could keep one another updated on their progress.

“Accountability was definitely missing in previous iterations of our strategic plans,” Skeel said. “But this plan was driven by the board, and we kept it on track by having three layers of accountability: the board of governors, myself as the executive director, and staff. You need strong accountability to make a strategic plan successful.”

According to Skeel, assigning specific tactics to staff helped ensure that all the organization’s departments were more focused about how to deliver member value and individual staff members approached their own roles and purview more strategically using the plan as a guidepost.

“Staff think about how to incorporate elements form the strategic plan into their purview, whether that’s the member magazine, advocacy efforts, or programs and events,” he said.

Elevate the Value

The survey revealed that ISBA members received a lot of value from their association sections, communities that practice in specific areas such as family law, criminal justice, or trust and estates.

“To bring more value to our sections, we created a decision-making matrix for volunteer leaders to help them decide and plan virtual, in-person, and hybrid programs. We included recommended criteria, key must-haves, and what to avoid for each type of event.”

ISBA also identified five important career stages and career types for members. The association then created personas based on those stages and career types, which helped ISBA determine its approach to educational offerings.

“Through that decision, we launched more cohort groups such as the Young Women’s Associate Empowerment Group, which is open to women in a certain stage of their career,” Skeel said. “We listened to the cohort wanted in terms of education and curriculum and we brough tin speakers and peer to peer support for them.”

Through its work with the group, ISBA was able to cross all three areas of value members had identified—advocacy, connections, and education. Since launching the cohort, that group has developed its own network and mentorship program. Based on its success ISBA plans to create a cohort for managing partners and one for lawyers working in-house.

The association has found that its strategic plan to deliver better membership value has been successful. Not only has the retention rate among young attorneys been steadily climbing, but also members are renewing at a higher rate than they were before the plan was implemented.

“In these ways, we’ve been able to take our strategic plan and reshape how we deliver programs and services to members that are meaningful and valuable to them,” Skeel said.

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People want autonomy and a feeling of inclusion more than ever. So it’s a good time to check if your culture promotes it.

Association executives have a lot of teams to manage—boards, staffs, committees—all of which are prone to disruption. There are all sorts of reasons for that, but one underappreciated one is how included participants feel they are—or aren’t—in the team.

Or, worse, participants are passive-aggressively told what their role on the team is. In a recent piece at the MIT Sloan Management Review, business scholars David Hollis and Alex Wright call this practice “managerial ventriloquism.” This is different than simply telling team members what their tasks are; rather, it’s where people in the middle presume to say what top leadership wants. (Think “The CEO wants….” or “The board would like…”) 

It’s a recipe for alienation all around, they write: “Speaking for others in this way engenders a managerial culture where responsibility is forever being passed on to someone else, with no one willing to take ownership of decisions.”

Little has changed in terms of favorable characteristics among leaders, with one notable exception: Inclusiveness

What’s so wrong, exactly, with middle managers or committee leaders saying what the CEO or board wants? Isn’t it their job to relay the word from the top? The problem is twofold, according to the article. First, it erodes the authority the middle managers have; can they stand up for themselves or their teams in the moment when they’re always appealing to a higher authority? Second, and most critical for top leaders, it suggests a broken culture where those top leaders are denying them any agency, a situation where “managers possess too little autonomy and are compelled to speak the words of others.” Some of this may be a matter of leadership skills and learning to be more assertive; but it’s worth a gut check to see if your leadership style is closing off the ability to assert.

Cultivating a feeling of autonomy in your organization is increasingly important: In the latest Harvard Business Review, author Sylvia Ann Hewlett reveals results of surveys she conducted with executives in 2012 and 2022. Not a lot has changed in terms of favorable characteristics among leaders, but there’s one notable exception: Inclusiveness. “Inclusiveness, in all its manifestations—respecting others, listening to learn, telegraphing authenticity—has shot onto the list,” she writes, a change that “reflects the new weight of diversity, equity, and inclusion in business strategy.”

Hewlett lays out a few strategies for cultivating inclusiveness, one of which she describes as “informed empathy.” Using the example of a resorts company, she notes how it came out of the pandemic successfully by empowering its middle managers. It promoted a “culture of yes” that involved “authorizing managers to say yes to employees—whether they were seeking three-day workweeks, short shifts, or the ability to move from hourly work to the management track.”

Associations will have their own goals around a “culture of yes”—standing up new products, changing up the membership model, or tweaking meetings formats to draw new audiences. But the concept is the same—good things can happen when top leaders not only clearly communicate their big goals, but empower team leaders to express their autonomy within them. The top leader is the ultimate decision-maker, but stronger teams develop when others get to be decisive as well. 

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In February, Gmail and Yahoo will begin to require email senders to authenticate their emails, make it easy to unsubscribe from email lists, and stay under a reported spam threshold. One expert shares how these changes may impact organizations—and what association professionals should know about the requirements and how to prepare for them.

On February 1, Gmail and Yahoo will begin to enhance email security measures to lower phishing and spam problems.

These requirements for senders fall into three buckets: email authentication, requiring senders to authenticate their email with one of the three widely known email authentication protocols; easy unsubscribe, requiring senders to offer a one-click unsubscribe option for users; and spam reduction, requiring senders to stay below a reported spam threshold.

According to Dean Canellos, manager of deliverable operations at Higher Logic, Yahoo and Gmail have taken what have long been considered best practices for email marketing and have made them requirements.

“Most providers advocate for customers to authenticate their mail because it’s the best way to prove to recipients that the mail is from the person who claims to be sending it. And it’s not a bad time to look at your list acquisition process and ensure you’re emailing people who want your mail,” he said.

Understand the Requirements

Gmail and Yahoo want all senders to authenticate emails with a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). Bulk senders—those who send more than 5,000 messages per day—will also need to use a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) protocol. These authentication methods help prevent unauthorized parties from sending emails on behalf of a domain they don’t own.

“SPF is an authentication protocol that lists IP addresses in a Domain Name System (DNS) TXT record that are authorized to send email on behalf of domains,” Canellos said. “DKIM is like an ID or passport that can verify who you are. Meanwhile, DMARC helps domains address domain-spoofing and phishing attacks by preventing unauthorized use of the domain in the friendly-from address of email messages.”

Bulk senders will also need to ensure that users can easily unsubscribe from their emails, also called one-click unsubscribe. According to Canellos, this does not refer to unsubscribe links that organizations may include in the footer of their messages; rather, there’s an email protocol that exists in the header of the message. This isn’t visible in the user interface, and it’s referred to as the “list unsubscribe header.”

Lastly, Gmail and Yahoo will enforce a spam rate threshold that senders must be under—below 0.1 percent and not exceeding 0.3 percent. This only pertains to messages people mark as spam, not to all messages in a user’s spam folder.

How to Prepare

While the email authentication and spam complaint protocols will start in February, providers won’t initially reject messages that don’t meet the requirements. Instead, they’ll defer messages and provide signals back to senders that messages aren’t in compliance.

“Gmail has said that they will begin temporarily deferring messages for senders not meeting their authentication requirements beginning February 1st. They will begin to reject messages that do not meet their standards in April,” Canellos said. “Yahoo has not said when they’ll reject messages that don’t meet the standards.”

Gmail and Yahoo will not enforce the one-click unsubscribe requirement until June. According to Canellos, this is often handled through the infrastructure organizations use to send messages.

“Higher Logic Thrive Marketing includes a list-unsubscribe header by default for customers, and it automatically excludes those who unsubscribe from future sends. You can also implement message categories and email preferences to give members greater control over their email subscription,” Canellos said.

Before February, Canellos recommends bulk senders review their current setup to make sure they have email authentication in place. Most providers have something in the user interface that will allow senders to search what they have or reach out to their support organizations to make sure they have SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.

He also suggests checking the metrics to determine your organization’s spam complaint rate. When monitoring data, work with your information technology team on domain validation. Google has Postmaster Tools that allow senders to sign up with a Google address and start tracking and monitoring data as Gmail sees it.

“Make sure you’re doing the right thing as far as collecting email addresses and validating,” Canellos said. “The gold standard is a confirmed opt, so where possible, leverage that and make sure you send mail to folks who want your messages.”

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