Thoughtful Remarks Blog

First Do No Harm: Creating an Ethical Mindset

By Cecilia Sepp, CAE, CNAP defines ethics as “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity, [e.g.] medical ethics also enter into the question.” Making decisions that affect the organization you serve as a board member requires the application of ethics within that activity as well.

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You Need to Keep Your Membership Team!

It's an audio blog! You need to keep your membership team!

Diversity/Equity/Inclusion: Speak up!

It's an audio blog! To support Diversity/Equity/Inclusion - speak up! Use these three questions to find your voice. It's too important not to act.

The Monopoly Game

It's an audio blog! What impact could consolidation of services and products have on choice for nonprofit organizations? 

The Monopoly Game

Question the Current Conference Model

It's an audio blog! It's time to question the current nonprofit organization conference model.

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BOD 101: What You Need to Know Before Joining a Board of Directors

By Amy Thomasson (Guest Blogger!)

Joining a board of directors represents both highest level of volunteer responsibility and the greatest opportunity to effect meaningful change within an association and its member community. The benefits of serving on a board are numerous, and range from profile enhancement, to skill building, to improving the careers, health, or lives of a particular population. While a seat on a board can feel like the ultimate validation of a career spent climbing the association ladder, it’s important to conduct thoughtful reflection before leaping to the next rung.

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Leading Your Association Through Crisis

Guest Blogger: Amy Thomasson

One definition of the word crisis calls it “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.” By its very definition, crisis necessitates action—but how do we ensure that our organizations, our teams, and ourselves as individuals take the appropriate actions in the midst of ever-evolving and ever-uncertain times? How do we lead rather than simply react? For answers, I reached out to Jacki Davidoff, Principal and Senior Consultant at Davidoff Strategy, an organization that provides consulting, training, and coaching services to enable non-profits, associations, foundations and corporations to implement highly effective strategy and high-performing cultures.

What is the difference between leading through crisis and crisis management, and how can association executives ensure that they are executing in both of these areas?

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5 Ways Associations Can Engage in Ethical Marketing

By Amy Thomasson (Guest Blogger!)

Even in the best of times, executing an effective marketing campaign isn’t easy. From research, to content development, to reporting and analytics, each component must be measured with multiple stakeholders and constituents in mind. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice at the forefront of our everyday lives, marketing—especially taking an ethical approach to marketing, has become even more complicated. How do we balance the need to produce and promote programs, products, and services to our members with the need to cover the operating costs for these efforts and ensure the survival of our organizations? How do we market to people who are facing real challenges to their health and safety? It starts with ethical marketing.

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Association Sponsorships: Partner with the Future in Mind

Originally published on the Partnership Professionals Network website
By Michael Butera and Bruce Rosenthal
Members of The 501c League and Consultants with Rogue Tulips LLC (

Is your association facing revenue issues with a new sense of urgency? No doubt, this is one of the facts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To be sure, you have a short-term fiscal issue to face. Among the many options for revenue is sponsorships. Along with other revenue streams, sponsorships are one of the mainstays in the association community.

However, at this time of crisis, it is important to see sponsorships as more than an immediate dollar contribution to the bottom line. A successful sponsorship program can not only address the current situation but be the foundation for longer-term sustainability for your association.

The traditional understanding of the board’s fiduciary responsibilities is addressed as care, loyalty, and obedience. Permit us to add foresight. A need to strategically address the scenarios of the future and our ability to learn with the future in mind.

In short, board members look at available options that align with the association’s mission and meet member needs now and in the future. How will the association fulfill these member needs? How will the association pay to fulfill these member needs? How will the association define its stakeholders?

If we see sponsorships as a one-way trip where businesses provide dollars and the association provides exposure and mailing lists, are we failing the test of future thinking? Are we blind to a deeper relationship built around mutual trust, reputation, and potential integration of mutual interests? Is the association investing in the sponsorship program as the business is investing in the association?
Now is the time for the board and staff to “step up to the plate.”
Two reasons:
  • Many companies have a desire to engage with association members now to help members with pandemic challenges. (Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, said in March, “Not by trying to push product out the door, but by being authentic and in their desire to be able to help their consumers directly.”)
  • Many companies begin working on their marketing budgets (that include sponsorship expenditures) May – August. Now is the time to begin discussions about sponsorships for the coming fiscal year.
 Roles for Board members regarding sponsors:
  • Understand that sponsors can be an important source of non-dues revenue for associations.
  • Understand that sponsors have a wealth of useful information about the association’s members. These companies conduct R&D and market research; they know members’ biggest challenges.
  • Understand that sponsorship programs can be managed so it doesn’t appear that the association is “endorsing” the sponsors and so the sponsors aren’t presenting “sales pitches.” Medical/health association can have successful sponsorship programs that are in compliance with various pharma-related regulations.
  • Approve budgets for adequate resources, staffing, and support for the association’s sponsorship program.
  • Be ready and willing to meet with top-tier corporate sponsors; not for “sales pitches.” To discuss strategic issues impacting the association and its members. Associations could establish a COVID-19 Task Force, comprised of Board members, corporate sponsors, and some association staff members.
  • Treat sponsors like partners to advance the association’s mission and each company’s business goals.
  • Understand that companies have choices regarding which associations with which they do sponsorships. There can be a significant competitive advantage for associations that reach out and offer enhanced sponsorship opportunities soon.
Roles of the Association CSE/CEO/ED regarding sponsors:
  • Be part of the solution by providing information, contacts, and respectful guidance to the board and staff on the advantages of building sponsorship partnerships.
  • Demonstrate a high level of empathy to the board and staff. They are going through a difficult period that affects them personally and professionally. They need to know you understand the problems they face at the personal and institutional levels.
  • Recognize the sponsor relationship as a partnership in moving the Association forward. Other crisis will occur and we do not want our colleagues to look back and say, “Just save us – not like the last time!” 
  • Be accountable in victory and failure. Make sure that the board and staff do not take failures (there will be some) as personal losses. Never is there a greater need to be brave and accountable in changing the perceptions of the sponsorship relationship than during a crisis.
  • Identify a pilot project using the collective knowledge of the association and a sponsor to meet and resolve member needs due to the pandemic.
  • Write down all the actions and ideas (those done and those not done), failures and victories as a learning exercise for future board and staff development. You want to be better prepared for the next crisis and opportunity to improve sponsorships.
  • Maintain a calming attitude and focus on what can and cannot be done as you, the board, and staff learn from the actionable intelligence you glean during the crisis that will move the needle in the direction of a sponsorship partnership rather than a simply financial exchange. There will be unexpected twists and turns.
  • Communicate with all stakeholders in the sponsorship continuum. Be proactive in how the association moves forward in building and maintaining sponsorship relationships.
Henry Ford once said, “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” Future value, reputation, and sustainability are more powerful when they are considered while making short-term decisions. As we face the current fiscal problems, we must understand that there will be others in the future. Thus, considering the future consequences as we make are short-term fixes is a must.

Taking a two-pronged approach in which you face the present and adapt for the future offers the strongest practical approach. Tell us what you think.

Butera is a consultant to Associations in executive coaching, strategic planning, and board governance and can be reached at. Rosenthal creates successful association sponsorship programs that increase revenue and member value; he is founder and convener of the Partnership Professionals Network.

What are Your Premises? Business Ethics

We take Radio Free 501c to the airwaves! 

Susan Robertson Named ASAE President & CEO -- BUT . . .

Radio Free 501c breaks its silence over some breaking news at ASAE. And someone needs to say this so it might as well be me, Cecilia Sepp, CEO & Founder here at The 501c League. 

Like many of us here at The League, I'm also a member of ASAE. Having been a member for several decades, I've seen a lot happen over the years. 

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The League is now a CAE Approved Provider!

The 501c League is proud to announce its new status as a CAE Approved Provider through ASAE!

Our first course is “The Ethical Nonprofit” and fulfills the new one (1) hour ethics requirement for CAEs renewing in 2020. Sign up for our course now! Use this link:

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Mentoring Program Becomes Member Benefit July 1

The 501c/Association Mentoring Network is changing its name as of July 1, 2019 to the 501c Professional Mentoring Network.

The Mentoring Network will become a Member Benefit of The 501c League as of that date.

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The Hell of a Broken Promise

Last week, I was invited to a brainstorming/networking event to help an association reconsider their component relations program. As a former CRP (that's component relations professional) it's one of my favorite topics. A good turnout was expected -- 14. I thought, "wow, this is going to be a blast!" 

The hosts were excited too, and even catered dinner to thank us for our help. Four people showed up. That's right. Out of all the people who said "yes" 10 didn't keep their promise to show up. 

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Stop Sticking It to Consultants & Industry Partners

Many 501c organizations -- and this relates to professional societies and trade associations -- follow a very similar membership model. The organization establishes different member types, sometimes related to career arc and sometimes related to revenue. What differs is the amount of dues that are paid. 

The amount of dues (which are really participation fees) varies based on what tier you fit into, and these tiers are defined by the group you want to join. Now, one would think that the more dues one pays, the more one gets. We all know that this is not necessarily the case. (See this opinion piece for more on this topic:

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20 Matches Since July 27, 2018!

Woo hoo! The 501c/Association Mentoring Program has made 20 official matches since July 27, 2018!

We are so happy that this program -- which began with a question and someone who said "I'm someone -- I'll do something" -- is growing so well. The gift of mentoring is wonderful for both the Mentor and Mentee. And all it takes is time and the willingness to share. 

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Do you REALLY Have to attack another resource?

So today I was listening to what I had long considered a valued podcast. The host noted that there was an event coming up in January and to check out the website. My jaw actually fell open when I read the description of the event. It included a very specific smack and attack at another resource for 501c organizations that I also value. 

Is this really necessary? Do we have to rip each other apart? Can't we stand on our own merits in the marketplace? 

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Are We Taking on ASAE? Uhh ... could be.

The 501c League is the culmination of years of conversations with my colleagues coupled with years of observation. There's been lots of discussion about what people like and don't like about belonging to a professional organization. So I started collecting all this, solidifying ideas, and making a plan. 

As a 501c professional, I started asking myself: what are you going to do to address the exclusionary tactics, the high fees for access -- that lead to MORE fees -- and prevent some people from being able to get involved, and the general frustration of my colleagues who are consultants or small to mid-size businesses that can't afford crazy high prices to reach their markets. 

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The Fear Factor

I sometimes forget that everyone is not like me. Yes, it's easy to do because when you are with yourself all the time you take your attitude and way of doing things for granted. 

Doing new and sometimes risky things doesn't bother me so when I see someone else do something new/risky/different I think, "wow. Look at that!" I like to see what others try and if it works and I do my best to support them. But not everyone has that attitude. 

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Welcome to the League!

Today I am very excited and pleased to announce the official launch of The 501c League. It's a concept I've been talking to people in the 501c profession about for 5 years. A few months ago I decided to make it a reality. 

So what's really different from other groups? Radical inclusion. This is a concept I developed a few years ago. But what is radical inclusion? 

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