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Cleaning out Your Program and Service Closet — A Recap of the ISAE Workshop on Program Evaluation

Posted by Katherine Mandusic Finley, Ph.D., CAE, CFRE, CMP on Apr 8, 2015 12:00:00 PM

hangersYou are probably familiar with the commercial where the “Goodwill Guy” looks inside a closet and divides the packed closet into four parts — clothes you don’t wear, clothes you can’t wear, clothes you shouldn’t wear and clothes you do wear. He notes you should get rid of the first three categories of clothes to make room for more of the latter.

In the ISAE workshop on February 26, 2015, Indiana CPA Society President and CEO Gary Bolinger, CAE presented a workshop entitled “Evaluating Your Association’s Programs.” What does this program have to do with cleaning out your closet? Well, in many ways, it is the same. An association needs to look in its “program closet” and end programs that do not, cannot and should not fit the mission of the organization and cannot be justified as viable association programs.

During this most informative workshop, Bolinger provided attendees with a tool to effectively evaluate all the programs stashed away in your association’s closet. Much of the information presented by Bolinger was based on information from:

Although Bolinger’s presentation was interspersed with many quotes, the one that stood out for me was from legendary coach John Wooden who said, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” Just because your association has a huge laundry list of programs and benefits does not mean these programs are effectively meeting the needs of members. Thus, the first step toward more effective programs and an association is not to grow or add another program, but to develop a systematic policy to get rid of out-of-date and unproductive programs. As the 1960s Neil Sedaka song goes, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” but it must be done. 

According to Coerver and Byers, all programs, services and activities need to be rationalized. “Volume does not equal value. In fact, 80 percent of value from programs comes from 20 percent of the programs. A narrow product and service line allows the association to concentrate its resources and avoid the 'distraction of diversification.'" Moreover, when an association has too many products and services, there is a high opportunity cost. That is, the association may pass up opportunities that could be much more productive, effective and profitable for an association. Going back to my “Goodwilll Guy” and closet metaphor, cleaning out your “program closet” will allow you to offer more programs that fit your mission and provide productive opportunities for you.

Bolinger also presented the program tool evaluation. The criteria used to evaluate programs include:

  • Relatedness to mission.
  • Life cycle position.
  • Percentage of members who use the program.
  • Financial results or potential of the program.
  • Effective use of staff and volunteer time.
  • Whether the service is available from other sources.
  • Whether the association would start the program today.  

Bolinger made it clear this evaluation technique takes time and can make “your brain hurt,” but is well worth it. It is important every benefit, program and service be listed on the evaluation matrix spreadsheet. In a row across the top of the chart are the criteria for judging the program. Every program is rated on a scale of one to five, five as the highest rating. Staff, board members and even select members can be given this tool and asked to evaluate the programs. These scores are added up and averaged. The association needs to determine a cutoff point – e.g. every program receiving a total score under three are cut and the program receiving a three are discussed and evaluated.

As Bolinger aptly points out, the ultimate decision on programs and services has to focus on the core values of the association and success depends on one, maybe two, things—opportunity and values. The CEO of the International Congress & Convention Association noted, “Over the years, I have concluded that my association can never be more than a small segment of its members’ lives. So we strive to make that slice of time as valuable, enriching and constructive as possible.” This workshop and the program evaluation tool provided will make associations more valuable, enriching and constructive as we “clean out" our program and service closets.

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Topics: Association, Associations, Services, Programs

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