Back to basics
Much as she believes there’s a point where cuts would go too deep, Byers also thinks that many associations have a long way to go before they reach that point—and that this challenging time offers a good opportunity to quit thinking that “the more we do, the more we matter.”
With limited resources, she said, it’s important to get “back to basics”—which you can’t do until you know exactly what your basics are. Make time to carefully evaluate all the bar’s programs and services, she advised, and make everything (yes, everything) “audition” to be retained. Going forward, Byers added, anytime you add a new program or service, automatically build in a sunset review for two years later, to evaluate whether the new addition is working or not—and if not, whether it can be fixed or should be eliminated.
Also helpful, she said, is to write for each program and service a brief statement of purpose describing what it is, what it costs, how it works, and when it is expected to break even. Not everything the bar does must break even, she added, but it’s important to make sure that enough things either break even or make money in order to carry the things that cost money and that the bar must do anyway.
Sharpening the bar’s focus makes it easier for members to see and understand what it is you offer, Byers said, adding that it’s important to realize that the board—and the rising officers in attendance at BLI—are very different from the average member. Assume that the average member has no idea what it is that the bar really does, Byers said, and make sure you “tell your story” clearly on the website and in other communications.
But what do you do about the fact that the programs and services are provided to average members who almost certainly are not in the room when decisions are made? That’s where research comes in, Byers believes. It can be expensive, she conceded, but “the associations I work with who are doing research are thriving.”
And whatever else you decide to eliminate, Byers advised, “Invest heavily in technology.” Especially now, the right systems and tools provide critically important infrastructure, she explained, and spending there can also help you save in other areas. For example, she said, you might decide to eliminate some face-to-face meetings—and if you do, you might also consider upgrading to videoconferencing so people are less apt to surf online or do other things during the meeting.