Creating a meaningful experience for volunteer leaders at a traditional leadership conference can be rather hit or miss for most associations. It’s that gamble that drove the Society for Marketing Professional Services to rethink and rebuild their program. In their session at ASAE’s Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference earlier this month, Tina Myers, CAE, senior vice president, and Mary Cruz, director of chapter services, shared their “Anatomy of a Kick A**Volunteer Leadership Program.”
There were three things that I thought stood out.
1) It takes a village … The program was designed not by staff “who know what the volunteers need” but by a committee that included chapter leaders, board members and staff. And their planning was a thoughtful process that began a year before based on feedback from past attendees and an assessment of leader’s needs.
2) Learning doesn’t happen in a day … It’s really inaccurate to refer to SMPS’s program as a single event. Rather, the program begins months ahead of time with a pre-survey and three pre-PLS webinars. This prep provides important orientation to key content as well as assessing what leaders need. Next is the main event followed by a post webinar to reinforce key concepts or go deeper into some content. An important part of the program is the social interaction to forms bonds between leaders. SMPS has added a reunion at the annual meeting to cement the relationships started at the spring event. They also add a 3-hour session at the annual conference to repeat some of the content for those who couldn’t make the original event or who need a little refresher.
3) Its about the volunteer … The content focuses on the volunteer and the building skills that will assure success. In fact, more than two-thirds of the time is focused on two critical areas: presentation skills and leadership communication. The presentation skills includes the opportunity for learning, hands-on activity and assessment … leaders leave with feedback and direction on building their own skill set.
The leadership communication is based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) thinking styles assessment tool. This is based on the idea understanding your thinking style opens the door is for improving improved teamwork, leadership relationships, problem solving, and other aspects of personal/interpersonal development. Each participant gets a personal assessment providing his or her HBDI Profile results along with interpretation of the results and suggestions for further exploration and development.
So many leadership conferences focus on making sure the leaders know all the rules and leave with dozens of ideas. This conference focuses on having leaders leave with skills they can use – and the knowledge of where to look up the rules and ideas.
Is their program perfect? Probably not (I did leave the session with some questions) but just those three lessons alone can guide a more thoughtful planning approach to creating a stronger leadership development program.