AEs Share Best Practices at FAA's First AEC Retreat
By Josh Gold, CAE, CMP
FAA Executive Vice President
For three days in late April, Florida Apartment Association staff and local affiliate executives from throughout the state got together in Florida’s Panhandle to talk about challenges and offer up solutions about how to better serve our members. The meetings were inspired by the very successful Association Executives Roundtables that the National Apartment Association has hosted since 2014. As with the NAA event, the Florida AE Roundtable was an opportunity to engage with peers in a collaborative, energetic and friendly environment. AEs identified topics to ensure discussions would be relevant.
A survey was sent to all local association executives by Chip Tatum, chief executive officer of the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando and chair of FAA’s Association Executives Council. Key discussion points were identified from the results, and each local AE agreed to lead a discussion on one or more of the topics. The role of FAA staff was largely to listen, learn, and support our local affiliate colleagues.
We also enjoyed a little down time and a couple of team-building activities, including shopping for and cooking a delicious meal and a friendly competition between two teams of AEs to see who could build a better sandcastle. Interestingly, each team decided to build an apartment community, complete with pools, tennis courts, and other amenities. It was fun seeing how each team approached the challenge differently. And while the sandcastle communities are long gone, key learnings and takeaways remain:
- We’re more alike than we are different. FAA’s local affiliates have budgets ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million, and staff sizes ranging from one part-time volunteer to a half-dozen full-time paid staff. Still, the survey results and the weekend’s interactions revealed a number of shared concerns, and it was helpful to learn that we’re all in the same boat.
- Member engagement is the key. No matter how many educational programs, trade shows, or networking events a local apartment association puts on, an involved membership is the true measure of the health of an organization. If associations are going to remain viable, we need to look for ways to engage our members.
- It’s tough to break through the “noise” to get the attention of our members. Many other things compete for your time and attention — other organizations, your own management companies, even suppliers sending out messaging regarding their events. We need to look for ways to ensure our members are hearing what we’re saying.
- Being financially sound is paramount. The AEs agreed on the importance of maintaining a strong reserve and ensuring that events are bringing in a reasonable revenue. In addition, accurate, clean accounting is critical, so staff and leadership have a good sense of the health of an organization. We need to know where we are in the present in order to plan for the future.
- It’s time to lead the “sacred cows” to slaughter. When it comes to events and programs, they need to generate a solid return on the investment of time and other resources, or fulfill the mission of the association, or — ideally — both. If not, it may be time to take a serious look at whether they should be continued. It can be difficult, however, to sunset programs and services that are no longer impactful for the membership because tradition often outweighs usefulness.
- Innovation is paramount to continued relevance. In order to break through the noise and increase member engagement, the AEs agreed, they will need to be innovative. Members aren’t going to be active in an organization just because they or their companies have been in the past.
The first FAA Association Executives Roundtable was just the beginning. These conversations will continue throughout the year and, hopefully, at future roundtable events.
In the meantime, your AEs and your FAA staff want to know your ideas. Send an email to your local AE or to me at Josh@faahq.org. We’d love to hear from you.