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Find Your Association’s Snowy Owl

To see a snowy owl is a rare event, even in the blustery northern states that experience bone-chilling winters. That’s because they are usually higher north. Here in Michigan, we may hear of a couple dozen sightings of snowy owls – statewide – every winter. And if you happen to be lucky enough to see one, you stop what you’re doing and take notice, because you may never see such a majestic bird again.

When it comes to your association, you need to come up with your own “snowy owl.” What does this mean? Brainstorming seemingly wild, out-there ideas… new products or strategies or methods or projects that are out of the ordinary. These are ideas that alter direction, change outcomes, and freshen up what you do and offer as an association. And people – members – will notice.

We can get too caught up in the everyday work that we put off, or we don’t spend time dreaming up new and exciting ideas that could make a significant impact on our current and future state. Everyday work is important. Procedures are important to follow. But if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. As an association, you can’t afford to remain stagnant.

Enter the snowy owl. How do you brainstorm, plan, and execute when you already have so many things to do? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Make the time. This is the toughest one on the list… making the time to think of new ideas. Carve in some brainstorming time each day or week, but make it consistent. For instance, block off 30 minutes on your calendar and set a reminder. When it comes time, don’t dismiss the notification. Do it! If you travel a lot, use the time you’re sitting in a plane to let your mind wander or let an idea you’ve been mulling over to marinate further. Open your mind, approach an issue or pain point from every angle so that you start developing a solution, and always be on the lookout for ideas from other associations or businesses that could be applicable for your association.
  1. Nothing is off limits. Make a bulletin board or whiteboard available in your office or in a communal space so that others can add their ideas as well. Encourage that no idea is off limits, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. You need to think outside the box. Inviting others to participate also introduces alternative thinking and fresh perspectives.
  1. Accept the challenge. After careful deliberation, make a commitment to take one or two of these snowy owl projects on. It may be completed annually, or it may take two or three years to finish up. The first hurdle to overcome is to make an idea a focused objective for your team or staff execute. It may feel risky or foolish at first, but you’ll only find new non-dues revenue opportunities or way of doing things if you concentrate on making a change.
  1. Plan, plan, plan. Once you make the commitment, plan it out thoroughly from beginning to end as well as you can. Begin with outlining all of the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Within those steps, you can get more granular about what it’ll take to complete that step. Assign people specific tasks. Set expectations, too, about quality of work and working together.
  1. Make yourself and your team accountable. If someone is assigned a task, it’s their responsibility to see it done in the agreed-upon time frame. Of course, emergencies and hot items come up, but it shouldn’t postpone your due date by much. Meet on a weekly basis to get an update and to help keep momentum. Shift resources as necessary to make sure the snowy owl gets done.
  1. Market. Let your members and prospective members know about what you’re doing, especially as it pertains to them and their membership experience. If you have been working for a year on launching or re-launching a membership publication, introduce the first issue with a lot of fanfare. Build anticipation. Send the issue to prospects to show they get a tangible member benefit. Maybe you added a unique directory that is searchable, a resource your members can use to find clients or customers. This adds tremendous value to membership.

All snowy owl ideas aren’t good ones, but they make us think critically and creatively. You may find your first or even your second idea is implausible or too ambitious. You may get part of the way and need to completely start over. Don’t be discouraged if this happens. If you do enough research and planning, you will probably not find yourself in that situation. Take the risk of a snowy owl project for your association this year. It could really pay off.

Article written by:

Jillian LaCross

New Media Director, Managing Editor

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Traverse City, MI 49686