aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Lessons Learned at the End of the Year

Posted by Ellen on December 31, 2011

Lesson One

It’s been a hectic year — we traveled more than 11,000 miles, driving from the West Coast to the Atlantic and back again, straying northward during those scorching summer weeks.

What we learned is that free Web access — despite the fact that we’re a dozen years into the new millenium — is still elusive. We knew when we sold our house in early 2009 and became “full-time RVers” that we’d need to watch our expenses, so we chose not to spend money on a satellite system or any of those plug-in cards for Internet access. When you’re living on a modest, fixed income, $60 or more each month just isn’t feasible.

Besides, it’s much more fun to spend that on 100 miles of USA (at $4.00/gallon and 7  miles to the gallon on an average trip).

So when we stop for the night — whether it’s to crash in the parking lot of a casino or rest area, or at a regular RV park or campground — we’re glad to discover free Internet connections. In many places, access is fast, easy, and free.

But not always. We spend time in Southern California this time of the year, tucked away in the foothills, and Web access is tricky and expensive.

What does all of this have to do with you?

Plenty. If you’re not tuned in to your members’ ability to easily access the Web, you’re overlooking a basic requirement for a successful online program.

You might have quick, easy access via your office or even on the road. You need to be connected, after all.

But what about your members? Or others you serve?

If you want to reach road construction workers, for example, you’ll need to look at mobile solutions or scrap the idea of elearning. They work long, physical hours away from laptops and iPads. They might have a few minutes to check messages and access quick elearning tutorials via their mobile devices, but don’t expect them to spend a lot of time online.

How are your members accessing the Web? Do they have a regular, high-speed connection? Or are they reliant on public libraries? Free wifi hot spots? Other alternatives?

You can offer it, but they won’t come if they can’t get from where they are to what you have.

Lesson Two

A year ago my husband and I became members of a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation. All members are expected to volunteer in whatever way they can, so he joined the kitchen committee (among other things) and I jumped onto the long range planning committee. After much encouragement, I decided to throw my at in the ring when they made the call for candidates to the board of directors.

It’s a long story, but after just a few weeks, I withdrew my name. With five candidates and five spots to fill (three regular spots plus two vacated by those leaving prior to the end of their terms), I was guaranteed a position on the board. The only question was how long I’d be serving.

As soon as my name went out as a potential board member, my phone began ringing and people started pulling me aside for whispered conversations. I likened the experience to being the tie-breaking vote before a tribal council on the reality show “Survivor.” There were alliances and people were trying to figure out which one I’d be joining.

It took a lot of time. I had meetings every day for various committees to learn how they function. I was spending evenings reading bylaws and pertinent nonprofit corporate codes and regulations.

I was ready to quit before I started.

Then I discovered a breach of the bylaws and found out the sitting board members had known about it and chose to overlook it because it was convenient. There was a clear alternative to violating the bylaws but for whatever reason they chose not to take the alternative. This disturbed me.

As I said, there’s a lot to this, but here’s the lesson learned: board members are not exempt from the rules. If you allow them to do what they want regardless of the rules, you’ll suffer consequences you can’t imagine.

I’m still hearing from people who are kind enough to say they wish I hadn’t withdrawn. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to walk into a mess, alone. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of knowingly joining a board that’s proven to violate the corporation’s bylaws.

I questioned their ethics. I wondered what sorts of battles I would be putting myself in the midst of.

How much was I willing to do as a volunteer?

Not that much.

The lesson learned is that your board needs to exemplify the best that is your association. Anything less and you risk losing volunteers, contributors, sponsors, and other much-needed support.

Take a close look. Be ruthless. The future of your organization depends on it.


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