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Client news

November 2017

  • General Data Protection Regulation Readiness

    November 20, 2017

    You may have heard about the upcoming European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that will be going into effect on May 25, 2018. What is it about, what does it mean to you, and more importantly, what is Virtual doing to address compliance?

    The regulation applies to all organizations gathering, processing and holding the personal data of European Union citizens, regardless of the organization’s location. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU. This data is not limited to banking information, medical information and address information. It also includes computer IP addresses, photos, email address, and even posts on social networking websites that can be used to directly or indirectly identify a person.

    Organizations may acquire this information through various methods.  Some is collected in website analytics, some is pulled from third party data sources, and some is even provided by the individual themselves. Regardless of how this information is obtained, the GDPR dictates new rules around user consent and greater rights for people to access and request deletion of the information organizations hold on them. It also contains requirements for mandatory security notifications. This is a serious matter, especially when considering that organizations will be jointly and separately liable for the data they handle and penalties for non-compliance will include fines of up to €20 million.

    We are now at T- minus 6 months to the effective date and a delay does not seem to be in the cards. We believe the organizations should take action and begin planning if they haven’t already.

    At Virtual, we are addressing GDPR compliance by focusing both on how we handle our own personal and analytical data as well as how we manage both for our clients. A key component in the compliance puzzle is third-party platforms. As such, we have been in discussions with our tools vendors and we are finding that we are a bit ahead of them.

    Here is what Virtual is doing to prepare for GDPR:

    • We are educating ourselves on the regulation and its impacts,
    • We have established an internal, multi-stakeholder task force to identify potential impacts and to determine our course of action,
    • We have compiled an inventory of tools our clients work with and are working with vendors to understand what they will be doing and when to ensure compliance,
    • We have identified clients who are at the most risk with this regulation and will be proactively reaching out to them,
    • We are looking at how we use data internally and how it could be impacted, and
    • Finally, we are consulting as necessary with privacy experts to aid in compliance activities.

    It’s not all doom and gloom though, the GDPR offers an opportunity for organizations to take an offensive approach on how they manage their data and the privacy of the people they interact with for the benefit for all parties involved before there is breach. We will be working hard to address GDPR as the compliance deadline looms closer. Stay tuned for more to come from us on this.

    In the meantime, the official PDF of the GDPR can be found here, organized by chapter and article:  https://gdpr-info.eu/.

     

  • Resisting the Purple Unicorn and Other Association Recruitment Tips

    November 14, 2017

    Non-profit organizations often have tight budgets that can make recruiting and training employees difficult in a competitive marketplace. With small budgets it can be difficult to hire top employees in the field. Here at Virtual, we’ve figured out ways for associations to get the most out of their recruitment budget.  Just last year, we hired several top-notch, senior-level executives for our 40+ non-profit, association clients. Below are my best tips to help stretch a recruiting budget and hire the top talent associations need to succeed.

    Resist the Purple Unicorn

    Purple Unicorns don’t exist.  Non-profits with a job opening can’t wait indefinitely to find the absolutely perfect person with the perfect qualifications – aka the Purple Unicorn.  Instead, I suggest you take a holistic view by identifying and prioritizing the requirements of the role to target the best candidate available. Think about the competencies that are most important and keep your mind open to candidates who come from various backgrounds and industries.

    Sometimes you’ll be surprised to find someone without your top list of requirements can actually quickly adapt and bring to the table an entirely different perspective.  Or maybe think outside the box and create a mixed position allowing the non-profit to leverage the best qualities of a candidate for a particular job. This could include hiring one person whose skill set fills multiple shoes, or hiring two part time employees whose different skill sets would align with meeting the end goal.  In short, execute a search and hire the best candidate for the position in a timely manner and keep in mind -there is no such thing as a Purple Unicorn.

    Register to hear from Wendy D’Ambrose, Bentley University’s Director of Graduate Career Advising & Employer Outreach and Cathy Butler, Endicott College’s Assistant Professor of Experiential Learning and School of Business Internship Coordinator at our Networking Open House on November 30  

    Which is More Important?  Direct or Indirect Costs?  They Both Are.

    Direct hiring costs like advertising, recruitment fees and the like can be very costly. However, indirect costs can have an even more significant impact on a non-profit.  For example, how much money is a non-profit losing by not filling a position?  How is service or employee morale suffering because of hiring delays for a particular position?  Soft costs can be hard to quantify but, as part of the recruitment process, they can add up quickly.  Consider both direct and indirect costs in your recruitment process.

     It’s All About Timing

    This lesson learned seems obvious but it happens all the time.  Don’t target a January 1st hire date.  The majority of people aren’t looking for a job over the holidays.  Plus bonuses are usually distributed in December so potential candidates will want to stick around for their checks. I also suggest that you establish a streamlined timeline for the overall recruitment process. You lose candidates if they don’t hear from you in a timely manner, and they start to lose interest if they have to follow up with you, so keep the communication constant and just be honest about the expectations in regard to the expected timeline.

     These tips are important when considering the time and resources you have as a non-profit. If you can allocate your resources following the tips above, you may find that the recruiting process goes smoother for you and your association. If you’re looking to hire a Senior Executive be sure to check out the article our President, Andy Freed, wrote here.

    Register to hear from Wendy D’Ambrose, Bentley University’s Director of Graduate Career Advising & Employer Outreach and Cathy Butler, Endicott College’s Assistant Professor of Experiential Learning and School of Business Internship Coordinator at our Networking Open House on November 30  

     

  • New Association Start-Up: When “Do-It-Yourself” May Not Be the Best Option

    November 3, 2017

    When organizations see a need or opportunity for a new industry group or consortium, they sometimes wrestle with the conundrum of how to resource the formation and launch of the organization. For some, the prospect of taking this work on themselves is attractive for several reasons, including the perceived ability to tightly control decisions, realize potential cost savings, and accelerate execution. Given the complexity of getting a new association off the ground, however, the “do-it-yourself” approach can be fraught with hazards. Before taking the plunge, below are some aspects to consider at this most critical stage moving a new initiative from concept to reality:

    • Resource the Initiative – and Gracefully: Forming a new consortium typically requires contributions and resourcing from across a number of business functions including accounting, marketing, IT, web services, and events management. While these cross-functional departments might collaborate well in support of an organization’s core business activities, will they still be able to do so in tackling the very different challenges of getting a start-up association off the ground? There’s also the very real issue of whether the departments in your organization are equipped to take on a burst of new activity that very likely was not planned for in the annual budgeting process.  By contrast, a full-service association management company such as Virtual is built for scale. By deploying a fractional resource model across our client base, we always have available capacity. Equally important, we always make sure those folks on our teams who are most experienced and best equipped to drive the launch and formation of a new group are available to do so.
    • Be Smart on Cost: More than just having the resources available to drive and support a new industry initiative, it’s also imperative to ensure the right resources are applied to the right tasks. This is especially crucial during the formative stage, when the amount of operating capital tends to be limited. In many company-driven start-up scenarios, the one person who happens to have some time available tends to absorb all the tasks needed to get done. We’ve seen first-hand less-than-ideal scenarios where principal engineers have ended up processing membership agreements and marketing managers have been on the front lines of adding users into collaborative work spaces. The built-in depth of a well-qualified association management firm can prevent such task-level inefficiencies. What’s more, at Virtual, we view the start-up of a new initiative as the best time to invest in our partnership with our client organization to ensure it gets off the ground efficiently and with the most optimal organizational and operating structure. As our goal is to help our client organizations succeed, we realize that having them saddled with insurmountable start-up debt doesn’t support those aims.
    • Build the Right Foundation: Getting a new organization off the ground is critical. Ensuring that it is well equipped for the long flight ahead is equally important. That said, the formative stage of a new consortium is where many decisions are made that have sizable impact on the organization’s future success. For instance, is the governance model right-sized for the composition of the group and the industry it serves? Are member dues set at the proper level to both adequately fund the organization’s goals and also deliver strong value to participants? Has your new initiative put into place the right set of tools to not only support your launch, but to drive ongoing operations with many more participants involved? In other words, starting a new initiative is a costly and resource-intensive undertaking. Having to revisit many of the same decision points just months after launch because some of the initial approaches were not designed for scale can slow progress and sap morale from participants. The benefits of a deeply experienced partner such as Virtual can make a big difference here. Having formed and launched dozens of associations over the years, we inherently know what it takes to not only build a new organization efficiently, but also bolstered by an organizational and operational structure that’s well-suited to support the organization’s long-term goals.
    • Anticipate Unplanned Scale and Volume: A funny thing can happen with new industry groups – sometimes they achieve success well beyond original expectations. While you might have an administrator ready and waiting to process inquiries from prospective new members or completed membership applications, are they equipped to handle hundreds of inquiries per day during the first few weeks after launch? Has your internal team prepared for the scenario of adding dozens of eager new participants into the selected collaboration tools? Is your new organization equipped to provide immediate participation opportunities and value to those members that joined immediately after launch? At Virtual, when we engage with new initiatives, we don’t just focus on the launch, but in parallel we plan the complex set of activities needed to support ongoing operations. Equally important, we have the depth of resources and capacity to support those operations – no matter how fast they scale.
    • Avoid the Unexpected Trip Wires: Even if an organization has the resources and wherewithal to drive the formation and launch of a new initiative, almost all groups that take the do-it-yourself path stumble into some operational aspect that their company is ill-equipped to handle. Some realize they can’t invoice anyone except company customers, and thus cannot invoice organizational members. Sometimes it’s against company policy to register domains and host websites for outside organizations. Other organizations find out the hard way that they have to work through a cumbersome bidding process in order to get vendors involved – even if it’s for work related to the new association. On their own, none of these types of issues may seem like a big deal. However, in the pressure of building toward a mission-critical launch, they can be painful showstoppers. At Virtual, our operations and service model is designed for one thing: the smooth formation and operation of industry associations.

October 2017

  • Emerging Professionals are Invited to Panel Discussion November 30

    October 17, 2017

    Virtual, Inc. invites emerging professionals to a networking open house and discussion surrounding the theme: “Finding a Great Place to Work.”
    If you are a recent grad, a current student thinking ahead, an entry-level professional looking for a new job, or someone switching careers, we know how overwhelming it can be. You want to play to your strengths, pursue your passions, and find a great place to work – but it’s not easy to figure out on your own. Luckily, you don’t have to.

    We’re going to help you carve out that path. Great workplaces are out there, and they’re waiting for your hard work and innovation. But what do you want out of a job — or, more importantly, a career? What steps do you have to take to get you from here to there?

    All emerging professionals are invited to a networking open house and discussion on November 30 at 6 PM surrounding the theme: “Finding a Great Place to Work.”

    Ask your burning questions to our expert panel, consisting of Wendy D’Ambrose, Director of Graduate & Alumni Career Advising and Employer Outreach at Bentley University, and Cathy Butler, Assistant Professor of Experiential Learning and School of Business Internship Coordinator at Endicott College. These career advising veterans will share with you a number of valuable tips and tricks that have emerged through years of experience. They have proven track records of helping students discover what they truly want out of a career, explore options that will make them happy, and achieve their goals. The best part is that they plan to help you in the same way on November 30 at our Networking Open House.

    After the panel, enjoy refreshments over conversations with the panelists, fellow emerging professionals, and young professionals at Virtual who have either taken the journey from intern through full-time employee or have supervised our interns. We know planning your career can be stressful, so come hang out with us and let’s talk about what you want out of your career, play some games, and enjoy some snacks. You will leave our Networking Open House with a full belly, a larger network, and actionable insights that will help you find a career that fits your skills, goals, and needs.

    Register
     

    Think the Open House is a great idea, but not necessarily for you? Feel free to forward it to your colleagues and friends if you think they might benefit from this thought-provoking discussion.

    Tweet: Entry level professionals, students & interns - don't miss @Virtual__Inc's Networking Open House on Nov 30 http://bit.ly/Nov30OpenHouse
    About Virtual, Inc.’s Networking Open House Series

    Virtual is the leading technology-focused association management company, serving over 50 small- to mid-sized clients with world class business operations. At the heart of our mission is a serious dedication to taking care of our greatest asset: our employees. Let us at Virtual show you what we’re doing to strive toward job satisfaction and high engagement rates among our workforce. Our open houses leave attendees feeling empowered to direct their careers, inspired to influence change, and attuned to Virtual’s mission and network (check out this recap from our May 2017 Open House). See you at the next one!

  • Virtual: A Day in the Life of Public Relations Associate – Mary Campbell

    October 3, 2017

    Q&A with Mary Campbell, Public Relations Associate at Virtual

    What do you do at Virtual?

    As a PR Associate on the Marketing and PR team at Virtual, I help associations drive awareness for their mission and vision. On a day-to-day basis, this might involve communicating new PR initiatives to members or reaching out to generate positive media coverage from media influencers. The Virtual PR team helps drive strategy and new campaigns, from comprehensive public relations programs to social media, speaking opportunity management and email newsletters. On any given day, I might assist with drafting press releases, reaching out to reporters, writing blogs, and actively finding speaking engagements for our clients. My role is rewarding in that it involves helping the team develop and implement PR plans to make a client as successful as possible.

    How did you learn about the role?

    A referral led me to connect with Virtual’s HR team regarding an open PR internship listing, I became Virtual’s PR intern the summer before my senior year of college and continued working remotely at school during my senior year. When the PR Associate job listing opened up, I applied for the position and was hired to start full-time once I graduated. I love how Virtual supports their interns and wants to be involved in their future – whether it’s with the company or somewhere else. When I started full-time, I already felt like a valued member of the team.

    What is the most rewarding part of your job?

    The most fulfilling part of my job is when a client is portrayed successfully to their key audiences. It’s gratifying to see the result of our press releases in the news and online. Then I feel like I’ve done my job. Because many association campaigns involve PR and Marketing, I work actively with the marketing team to collaborate to help drive common goals like thought leadership, brand engagement, and strategic message development. The ability to work across teams and collaborate with other departments is refreshing.
    I would not have learned half the things I know now about PR if it weren’t for my time here. There is nothing else in my experience at school or during other opportunities that was as informative and enlightening as my internship and current role at Virtual. I feel lucky to be part of the Virtual team because the company values the balance between work and play from company outings and Fun Committee events and surprises that make Virtual a unique and welcoming work environment.

     

     

     

September 2017

  • Lessons Learned from Hurricane Irma

    September 14, 2017

    We didn’t have a big conference this week.

    That’s not usually something worth writing about. But here is—as those of us old enough to remember Paul Harvey would way—the “rest of the story.”

    You see, until Friday of last week, we were scheduled to be running a conference for nearly 1500 people in Orlando, Florida from Tuesday to Thursday of this week.  Hurricane Irma had other plans.

    The storm was expected to hit the Orlando on Monday morning. After an initial decision to shift the conference to start on Wednesday, on Friday we elected to cancel the event altogether to allow the venue to provide more room to evacuees from South Florida. As a result, more than 1300 nursing home residents were able to take our room block.

    This was the biggest event we’ve ever cancelled on such short notice. Along the way, I learned quite a few lessons. Here are a few.

    • Get Great Information. Gordon Gekko had it right in Wall Street 30 years ago (note:  second reference revealing how close to 50 I am getting).   Information is the most valuable commodity there is.  I spent last week monitoring forecasts, talking to security and operations personnel at the venue, reading about prior hurricane damage to our hotel, and more.    Along the way, I found quite a bit of misinformation and rumors—it’s critical to dig deeper to find the correct, accurate info.
    • Critical Communications. We sent daily email updates, tweets, mobile app alerts and more to our attendees as our plans evolved through the week.  Once we made the decision to cancel, we got word out within minutes.   Doing so enabled people to change plans and avoid being stranded at airports.
    • Six members of our team were on site during the storm.  The resilience and commitment of the hotel staff, nursing home staff, and others was inspiring.  A favorite moment was a singalong in the lobby with nursing home residents as the storm was starting to hit Orlando.  That’s our staff mixed with the crew of a movie that was filming in Orlando.  https://youtu.be/PpzduSeiZs
    • Money Matters. Of course, canceling an event of this size has significant financial implications.  Our advance planning with event insurance has been critical, as has keeping lines of communication open with all vendors.

    We’re fortunate that the storm did not do damage to our hotel.  Others in the area weren’t so lucky, with problems from downed power lines to flooding.   More critically, our decision to cancel made a huge difference for the residents of Atria nursing home—as soon as we cancelled, buses filled with nursing home residents began arriving.   Having seen the heartbreaking photos from Harvey of nursing home residents in waist deep water, we were pleased to be a very small part in preventing a situation like that.    And we sure learned a lot along the way.

August 2017

  • Virtual: A Day in the Life of a Staff Accountant – Jessica Jimenez

    August 17, 2017

    Q&A with Jessica Jimenez, Staff Accountant at Virtual

    What do you do at Virtual?

    I work on the Finance and Accounting team at Virtual. As a staff accountant, I handle accounts payable process for our association-based clients. I track everything from what invoices and dues are coming in to how much is being paid out. Since non-profit and for-profit organizations have different regulations and rules regarding managing finances, my department provides organizations with access to an entire finance department, from the part-time services of a CFO for budgeting and forecasting to accounts receivable and payable staff. As a result, I work with the larger financial services team to ensure our clients always have a clear picture of their organization’s fiscal health.

    How did you learn about the role?

    I applied for a part-time accounting role, which led to a full-time opportunity three months later. My part-time role enabled me to gain first-hand experience in nearly every part of the Virtual accounting services department. This year, I will be celebrating my seventh year in accounts payable at Virtual, and am very happy with where my career has taken me.

    What is the most rewarding part of your job?

    I love that my role enables me to give back valuable time to each association. Many organization leaders already have a full-time day job – in addition to running their association. By providing a clear picture of their organization’s accounts payable and other accounting information, I know that the organization’s Board and staff can focus on other strategic activities.

    From a Virtual perspective, I love that my department and managers are always encouraging me to grow in my role. I recently took advantage of training at a financial services conference, which provided me with new insights that I was able to apply to my client projects. Virtual’s flexible work schedule makes me feel trusted to do the work I know I need to do in order to appropriately serve my clients.

     

     

July 2017

  • Looking for an Executive Director? Here are five tips for an effective search

    July 21, 2017

    Every year we have a handful of clients that conduct searches for Executive Directors. I’m often involved in those processes as a search committee member or key player on the search.

    As I’ve watched searches unfold, it struck me recently that you can generally categorize the archetypes that organizations look for in an executive director into five main profiles. Here’s my list:

    1. Steward:  Sometimes things are going well, and all an organization needs is someone new and trusted to “mind the tiller.”  This tends to be the case in mature organizations in stable industries.  On a side note, this is a role I am not particularly suited for.
    2. Change agent:  Kind of opposite the steward— this type of ED is well-equipped to drive an association to make some hard decisions to take the group in new directions.
    3. Evangelist:  An outward-facing individual whose primary responsibility is to be an advocate and spokesperson for the group and/or its work product.  Someone in this role often comes to the table with significant external relationships and deep gravitas in the industry(s) served.
    4. Subject matter expert:  This type of person knows his/her stuff on the subject matter of the association—e.g., a leading cardiologist running a cardiology group.  This skillset is often needed in groups with a significant technical focus.
    5. Growth champion:  Essentially a sales person for the organization—someone who excels at growing memberships and sponsorships.  This capability is often particularly critical in the early days of an organization, or perhaps when an organization is trying to stake out new directions.

    No doubt, every organization needs a bit of all of these—but ask yourself which one will benefit you the most the next time you’re involved in a search.

  • Consent Agendas: Freeing Boards to Be More Strategic

    July 10, 2017

    It’s the common pining of many Boards of Directors: They want to be focused more strategically, but struggle to get out of the weeds of operational or tactical matters. One effective way to achieve this goal of up-leveling a board’s focus is to keep them out of the weeds in the first place. Based on experience, using consent agendas can be an effective tool to help accomplish that.

    A consent agenda is a practice that bundles standing reports and routine decision items into a single board meeting agenda item. Therefore, a single motion can be made to approve all items within that “consent package.” In short, the use of consent agendas keeps these important but routine matters necessarily in front of the board, but does not absorb precious board meeting time.

    What if someone on the board objects to an item in the consent agenda package, or feels that item warrants more discussion? It’s simple: Boards that use consent agendas should adopt a standing policy that any board member can have the ability to request that any item be removed from a consent agenda and brought into the regular meeting agenda under new business. That safety valve provides an assurance to all board members that the consent agenda is being used as a means to streamline board proceedings, not to give the board leaders or staff a means of keeping controversial items off the radar screen.

    Interested in adopting the consent agenda approach for your board? If so, consider these basic rules of the road:

    • Establish a consent agenda policy: This doesn’t need to be more than a few paragraphs, but it should put in writing what types of materials will be allowed on consent agendas, the voting threshold to approve them (if not defined in other governance materials), and the steps needed for a board member to request movement of consent items into the regular agenda.
    • Distribute consent agenda materials well in advance: The goal of using consent agendas is to streamline board meetings, not to give board members less exposure to or information about what’s happening in the organization. Thus, consent agendas are really a means to give board routine updates and action requests in written form versus in the format of in-meeting updates. To support that practice, though, it’s necessary to give board members plenty of time (at least a week is highly advised) to review all of the materials that they’ll be asked to approve in a consent agenda.
    • When in doubt, put it on the regular agenda: Again, consent agendas are intended to be a means for boards to address routine association matters more efficiently. If, in developing the agendas for a board meeting, the staff or leadership is in doubt about whether a particular item is the right fit for a consent agenda, leave it out. Any matter that might readily initiate a discussion among the board should be left for the regular agenda. On a related note, boards that adopt consent agendas should always build time into their meetings to address any items that were requested to be removed from the consent agendas.

     

June 2017

  • Happy Tenth Birthday

    June 29, 2017

    My 10th birthday was a good time. The Yankees had just won the 1978 World Series behind the bat of my hero at the time, Reggie Jackson. Presents no doubt centered on slot cars. And I’m sure I got a Carvel cake (because is it really a birthday without one?).

    But the reality is, I hadn’t done much in my 10 years. Sure, I’d learned to walk and talk, but that was about it.

    Today, we’re celebrating another 10th birthday. The iPhone was first released on June 29, 2007.

    Much as I hate to say it, the iPhone’s first 10 years were more impactful than my own.

    Consider that 10 years ago, the vast majority of people did not carry a smartphone.  Since then, smartphones have ushered in a new era of communications that we couldn’t have imagined back in the day. The ubiquity of social media and the widespread availability of information are just the beginning. Today, iPhones—well as Android devices, which are more than a year younger—are at the center of mobile payment, navigation, digital assistance, and so much more.

    Much of this work is grounded in standards. From the NFC chip in the latest iPhones to bio metric security to data interoperability. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, we’ve all been part of a global village that’s helped speed the amazing evolution of the smartphone.

    But the exciting part isn’t what’s happened, it’s what’s still to come. Only a decade ago, no one had touched or seen an iPhone. Today, of course, you’d have to go to the most remote parts of the world to find someone in that category.

    Which makes me think: what new technology will we be saying that about 10 years from now?